April 3, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Dealing with My Expectations Mark 11:1-11

Expectations really are a funny thing...we have expectations for just about everything in life, but hate to live under them ourselves. We have expectations for our kids, our bosses, our parents, our friends, our spouses...and they, in turn, have expectations for us. Everyday we are bombarded with realistic and unrealistic, met and unmet, conscious and subconscious, internal and external expectations, that can empower or dishearten us. We gain them through our life experiences, our family, books, music, the media. Most of the time, we don’t even realize the expectations we have.

Some expectations are realistic. We expect that our kids will do the best they can in school. We expect our car to start when we turn the key. We expect our 100% beef hamburgers to have 100% beef and not pink slime. These are reasonable and realistic expectations.

But sometimes we have unrealistic expectations. Expecting our children to act more like an adult than a child. Expecting our spouse to always be in the mood. Expecting that friend to always be available to talk about our problems. I have my own unrealistic expectation. I expect that the contract Bri made with me when she 3 years old that she will not date until she is 36 to be a valid and legally binding contract. That is probably unrealistic. So I am going with plan B and buying a gun.

Our expectations, though, have a dark side. There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous adage that says, ““Expectations are preconceived resentments.” Whether our expectations are conscious or subconscious, realistic or unrealistic, when they are not met we become frustrated, angry, and conflict occurs in the relationship. Over time, if these expectations are left unmet by the person or unchanged by us then bitterness and resentment can set in.

This happens all the time in marriages. The wife has certain expectations about what a husband should be...and then discovers that her husband lacks the genetic synapses allowing him to pick his underwear up off the floor or put the toilet seat down or remember to take the trash out. Add in the missed anniversaries, the forgotten flowers, the times he didn’t notice the new hairstyle and color (for the 10th time this month)...the beer belly instead of the Taylor Latner abs...and after several years, these frustrations build because he has failed to do and be what was expected. Pretty soon there is a coldness to relationship...a distance sets in between the two of you.

Tensions grow higher when you add the unmet expectations of the husband.

Children feel the pressure as well. The parent expects the good grades, but no matter how hard they try they still get the “C.” Or the pressure to not make the parents look bad in front of company. The pressure to go to college when they are not ready for college.

There are expectations at work from the boss expecting more work in less time with lower pay. There are expectations in every relationship we have...and if you add all the internal expectations we place on ourselves...it becomes exhausting to think about.

For Jesus it was no different...there were expectations flying everywhere. In fact, for most of the Gospel of Mark Jesus has been healing, teaching, and leading people, and then saying, “Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!” I finally realized why he told people not to tell others. It was because everyone had expectations of who and what He should be as the Messiah.

For First Century Jews, their expectations of the Messiah was nothing like the Jesus. They wanted the warrior like King David, who would establish a Kingdom, raise an army, and defeat the Romans. They would be free, and more than just free, they would be elevated above their enemies and proclaimed right in the eyes of God. They were looking forward to that kind of Messiah...what they got was Jesus.

They wanted a warrior riding in on a warhorse to save them...and then we see how Jesus entered Jerusalem.

Mark 11:1-11
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

   “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

People had expectations of Jesus...
And as Jesus approached the city, his band of followers joined with others to welcome Him to the beginning of the Revolution! He is entering Jerusalem, the capital city, and there is no better place than Jerusalem and no better time than the Passover for Him to reveal what everyone else knows! It is time to rise up and overthrow the Romans!

He enters to the people shouting and cheering. They are laying branches and clothing on the ground forming an impromptu Red Carpet welcome for the man whom they believe will assume control and put the Romans down. This is how they would welcome Royalty into the city.

Their cheers and shouts filled the air...

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The word “Hosanna” is a single-word prayer for God to act to save His people, and Jesus certainly intended to save them...but not the way they expected. They shouted, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” They wanted the Kingdom to come just like King David brought, but that was not the Kingdom Jesus was offering. The people were chanting and rallying around these cries, but their expectations made them clueless to the deeper meaning of what was happening.

So when Jesus failed to meet their expectations their shouts of “Hosanna” quickly turned into cries to “Crucify!” Within a single week, they went from applause to murder.

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells how the mind becomes blind to things because of expectations. If you send someone into the room to look for a certain book but describe it as blue many people will be unable to find it if the book is actually red. Their mind is expects to find a blue book and automatically excludes any book that is not that color.

So these men and women were looking for the Messiah, but weren’t able to see Him, because their expectations blinded them to reality. They had shut out all other Prophetic ideas about the Messiah.

Today’s passage is a visual form of Zechariah 9:9...where it describes the Messiah’s entrance into the city It says,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
   Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
   righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
And yet their expectations of a Revolutionary Messiah in the way of King David blinded them to true Messiah right in front of them.

Let’s not be too quick to judge these men and women. We too are guilty of missing God in the midst because of faulty expectations. Our unmet expectations of God are often the cause of our deepest spiritual struggles, conflicts, spiritual stagnation, and abandonment of the Christian life. They blind us just like they blinded these men and women.

Our expectations affect how we pray...Abba Nilus, an early Christian writers, says,
"Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer." 
We expect God to answer our prayers...then we become angry and impatient when he doesn’t answer them in the way and the timeframe we have set.

We expect God to protect us and our family from the bad things in life...and then the scare of cancer strikes...or our loved one passes away that we prayed for...or we lose our job. It becomes a challenge for us to believe God is good and loving. That He loves and cares for me when I am hurting.

But no matter how frustrated and angry I get...no matter how much I whine and complain...God doesn’t seem to care. He is God. When we force our expectations on God...He refuses to live by them...not because he can’t meet them, but because He won’t. Jesus refused to be defined by the expectations of the people around Him...and He still refuses to be defined by our expectations.

Those at the Triumphal entry were both wrong and right. Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for, but did not fulfill that role in the way they expected. He is no less King, but He has a different Kingdom than they expected. And no matter how much they pushed and pressured Him, Jesus was not going to live up to their expectations. He resisted because Jesus sets the agenda. He is in control of how his ministry is going to be defined and what His Kingdom was going to be like.

Mark 11:1-6 says, “1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’

 “4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.”

Jesus had prepared for the colt, he clearly defined what this entry was going to look like...how His Messiahship was going to be defined. Jesus knows what everyone else misses. While they are attempting to force their expectations onto Him...He is maintaining His course of action.

The crowd, the disciples everyone missed that Jesus was the messiah. One writer says, “His action was a veiled assertion of both the fact and the character of his messiahship; it affirmed that the royal way involved humility and suffering. Only later did the disciples recognize that the Scripture had been fulfilled, and that Jesus had come to Jerusalem as the Messiah.”#

We too face God’s refusal to meet our expectations. Not because He doesn’t love us or care for us, but because He is God and He alone sets the agenda. The next few chapters of Mark show us some of the responses people had because of unmet expectations. They are the same responses we have when God doesn’t live up to our expectations:

  1. We become disillusioned and disappointed abandoning Him like Peter and the rest of the disciples. Mark 14:66-72
  2. We become angry and go on the attack shouting “Crucify!” with the rest of the crowd. Mark 15:12-15
  3. We shake our fists and say, “Come down from the cross and save yourself!” Prove you are God by doing what I think you ought to do. Mark 15:29-30
  4. We submit our expectations to God and say with the Guard, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:39

When Jesus enters our lives we have to subject our expectations to His reality, and for those willing to subject their expectations to Jesus’ reality, they find something far greater than they wanted or desired in the first place. First Century Jews expected a Messiah to save them from the Romans...what they got...what we got...was a God willing to do far more than establish a political, earthly Kingdom. He came to save us from ourselves...from our sinfulness and selfishness...from the real problem.

We are so quick to hold God responsible for unmet expectations, but never see our own failings...our own sinfulness which really is the root problem of all humanity. We have sinned...rebelled against God...we don’t need a Messiah to defeat the Romans...we need a Messiah who addresses the real problem.

Our anger and frustration are a symptom of that deep inner selfishness in need of God’s forgiveness and healing. This is where the Gospel steps into our lives on a continual basis to bring healing. This is why we continually confess sin to God. Because wrongs expectations of God damage our relationship with Him.

God is not to blame for our unmet expectations, as One writer says, “The Christian gospel asserts that in fact God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”

That is the Gospel for us this morning...that as we surrender our expectations to God He meets us and gives us renewed expectations beyond anything we can imagine. As we strive for realistic, biblical expectations this plays out in a very practical way. We have to stop and ask ourselves a series of questions

“What does Scripture tell me God is like?” As Christians we start with Scripture. The Bible reveals how God has acted before us, and how He will continue to act into the future. It tells us what God is like.

Then we evaluate our expectations. “Based on what I read in Scripture, do I have the right expectations of God?” We have to take a hard look at what we expect from God and realign it with what Scripture tells us God is like.

Finally, “What do my spiritual advisors and friends say?” We can not live the Christian life in a bubble. We are independent thinking Americans so we want to, but God calls us to live in community. There are times when our friends are able to tell us their stories and help us gain perspective. This is why church and small groups are so important for our spiritual growth. We need people who are seeking God...people who make every effort to live their life as God would want. They are able to pray with us. They are able, if we allow them to be so honest, to tell us when we are acting the fool and blinded by our expectations.

Just a word of caution, though.  We need the right friends doing this. One friend of mine was contemplating divorce, and posted her thoughts on Facebook. Unfortunately it was the swarm of angry divorcees who made the most comments. Not one person recommended counseling, attempting to work it out, and seeking help from a real authority. Only lawyer recommendations.

We live with all these expectations. We expect the people around us to act and do certain things. We expect God to do certain things. And when they fail to meet our expectations...we get hurt, frustrated or angry. So expectation management is an important part of growing as a Christian.

If we want healing in our relationship with God...we have to start with our expectations of what God is supposed to be like and how God is supposed to act. The same thing holds true with others around us. Because just as our unmet expectations affect our relationship with God...so our unrealistic and unmet expectations affect our relationships with others. If we want healing in our relationships with others...we have to start with our expectations about who they are and what they are supposed to be like.

A few years ago, I went to visit my father. He was in the final stages before the cancer took his life. I had only seen my father about 5 times in my entire life, and wasn’t too sure I wanted to see him then. I actually drove to Piqua a few times, driving past the house and then returning home before I actually stopped.

But I went hoping to get something from the visit...some closure...an apology...something. I did not get what I expected. I did, however, realize that his absence affected my expectations of so many things in life. Some for the better in the internal expectation I have laid on myself about being a present father for my daughter. And some for the worse in the expectations I had laid on my mentors, leaders, and pastors to somehow replace my father...which they can never live up to.

Our expectations affect every relationship we have, and if we are every going to find healing those relationships we have to surrender them to God, discover His healing and forgiveness, and work to overcome those wrong expectations.

What expectations have we placed on God that He can not meet?

What expectations have we placed on others that they can not possibly meet?

Are you willing to let those go? Because those bad expectations are only keeping you from being what you could be...

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