Eclectic Expectations

Delivered March 24, 2002 (Passion/Palm Sunday) by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper.

Sermon Text:
John 12:12-19

…a great time of celebration in the Christian church. And as we look back on that first Palm Sunday and the people welcoming Jesus in to Jerusalem, we think yes, that’s the way it should be. The problem is that the triumphal entry as it is often called wasn’t really triumphant. In fact, for Jesus it was very bitter sweet, because the people who were welcoming him into Jerusalem weren’t really welcoming Jesus. They were welcoming and praising their image of who they wanted him to be. There were a lot of expectations that day and I am not sure any of them were right except for Jesus himself. But turn with me as we look at our Scripture this morning. It’s the count of Palm Sunday from the Gospel of John, as related to us through the Apostle John, who was with Jesus that day. John, Chapter 12, beginning at Verse 12. You can find this on page 762 of your red pew bibles. Let’s read God’s word.

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and they went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, Do not be afraid O daughter of Sion:see. your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt. At first the disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they done these things to him. Now the crowd that was with him, when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

Please join me as we pray. Lord we do thank you for these, your words to us through John. And Lord we ask that you would take this story and the words that you have recorded for us. Lord that you would use them to change our hearts, to mold us that we might be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Open our eyes, ears, and our hearts this day to receive you anew. For we ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

This first Palm Sunday there were high expectations. In fact, the expectations were so high that they were destined to be disappointed, dashed by reality. In many ways it is sort of like the young man who was a clerk at a fabric store. He saw a very attractive young woman approaching the counter and he said “May I help you” and she said, “Well yes I really like this fabric.” And she brought him a bolt of cloth, “But I can’t find a price anywhere. How much is it?” The man sort of got a smirk on his face and said, “Well actually it’s a kiss a yard.” The woman was a little bit taken aback, but she said, “Well okay, I would like ten yards please.” So he began to measure it out you know as they do and after ten yards he cut it and folded it up, put it in the bag and as he is giving it to the woman he is leaning over the counter and she says, “Oh, actually my grandmother is taking care of the bill today!” High hopes, great expectations dashed by reality. And in many ways that is what happened.

The first folks we see who had high expectations were what” called in Verse 12, “the great crowd”. The great crowd was there for the feast, the feast of Passover, and the greatest feast of all for the people of Israel. And the pilgrims who came for it, they might have come from Galilee, a 3-5 days journey, but they often came from all over the Roman world. They came to Jerusalem, many of them this was their one time to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. They were excited. They had high hopes and every year people hoped the Messiah would come and free them. And so we have this crowd with high expectations, expecting something great to happen. In fact, what they expect they communicate in their actions. It says that they took palm branches in order to welcome Jesus, which by the way was not a common thing. In fact, two times in history where we know it did happened in a major way similar to this is, 200 years before Christ when Simon Macabeis(?) whose exploits are celebrated in Hanukkah, when he won the freedom and the independence for Israel away from their oppressors, their Syrian oppressors. Actually for decades they did have their independence. They welcomed him after his victory into Jerusalem with palm branches. 100 years later another rebel who was looking to create an independent state, they welcomed him as well with palm branches. Even the Greek word that John uses to talk about palm branches is used no where else in the New Testament, but it is used in the Greek translation of the Jewish texts referring to Simon Macabeis coming into Jerusalem. John uses that term to tell us that was their expectation. They were looking for a conquering king to come and to give them independence again, to restore the kingdom into Israel and to drive out the foreign elements, the undesirables. Not only did they proclaim that through the palm branches, but also through what they even say. “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Well actually that is a quote from Psalm 118. It is a messianic Psalm that is actually read every Passover meal. Let me read for you where it comes from in Psalm 118, Verses 25 and 26. It says:

“O Lord, save us;” and by the way Hosanna means save us. It’s a direct translation from here. O Lord save us, O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord, we bless you.”

Now looking at Jesus being the Messiah who will save them, save them from their oppressor’s realm. Interestingly enough, just a couple verses ahead of this, Psalm 118, Verse 22 listen to what it says:

“The stone which the builders rejected, has become the cap stone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The very Psalm that they used to praise Jesus and to put false expectations and hopes onto Him, is also the very Psalm that predicts that they are going to reject Him because He does not meet their expectations for who the Messiah is suppose to be.

Well what is Jesus’ response to all of this? Well is says he got a donkey and he sat on it and he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Now how is this any kind of an answer to them? Well, a couple of things. First of all, a donkey while being more of a lowly beast often is ridden by kings and people of high station, but it means something when a king rides on a donkey. It means that he is coming in peace. When he comes in on a horse, it often means he is coming in because of victory or coming in because of war, but Jesus chooses a donkey. He wants to say that I am the Messiah coming in peace. In fact, if we look at Zechariah,it tells us that He fulfills a prophecy from Zechariah, but let me read for you Zechariah 9, Verse 9 and 10. Because riding on a donkey recalls these verses.

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It goes on to say in Verse 10, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim. I will take away the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River until the ends of the earth. He will proclaim peace to the nations.”

Gentle riding on a donkey. Jesus was trying to communicate something to them. Of who He was as the Messiah. They expected He was going to actually wipe out the foreign elements. When Jesus was trying to say, “I come to bring peace to the nations. I am not trying to get rid of them, I am trying to redeem them.” What they didn’t realize was that if Jesus brought his kingdom right then, not one of them would be a part of the kingdom. Jesus was riding to his death. That was where his victory was going to be found. In fact, the main problem with their expectation is that they thought, in fact they demanded that Jesus fill in that moment what God had only promised to do at the end of time. They were demanding that Jesus fulfill now, all the promises of God, including those that He promised only at the end of time, when Christ returns. They were very disappointed in Jesus, which is why just a few days later their disappointment turned to anger and turned to shouts of “crucify” rather than “Hosanna, save us.”

But you know the expectations back then aren’t so different from expectations today. We also as Christians even today often wish God and think that God should in today’s world fulfill the promises that He has only given us for the end of time. It often gets worked out in too close of a connection between our patriotism and our interpretation of God’s blessing. We look at Israel and say, “Oh, they were naive.” But how often do we find the American church joining those two things together? And expecting that God will bless us through military victory. God will bless us and make of us a great nation, a great Christian nation again, as if we ever really were one. We have always been a nation full of sin and we will be that as long as this nation survives until the end of time or Christ comes back.

We also take on the tone of, Lord cleanse the undesirable elements from amongst us. In fact, if you were to ask the average non-Christian, the average unchurched person, how does the church feel about you? What do you think they would say? Do you think they would say, “I think the church just loves me? They want to know what I need in life, and they want to serve me and sacrifice for my good.” Do you think the average person would say that? Probably not, right? Because what often gets communicated to the world out there is, we want to cleanse this place and you’re in the way. We would actually like to get rid of you. Now hopefully that’s not true of us. But I think if we are honest, we often do have that temptation to feel that way. But if we are followers of Jesus Christ, if we are seeing him for the Messiah that he really is, and willing to walk in his footsteps, what does that mean? It means sacrificing, being willing to die to reclaim those foreign elements, to reclaim what is often considered maybe the undesirables. Not to make life better for us, or the way that we want it to be, but to live as Christ’s body in the world and to live as His instruments, to reclaim in love and sacrifice the world to God. They did not understand the symbol of Jesus coming in on a donkey. Not even his closest disciples understood it, it tells us. It says, they didn’t even understand it until after the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s as if they are speaking a different language. It’s like if you were to go to Mexico and you were to take a shower and you were to assume the “H” knob meant hot and the “C” knob meant cold. You would be in trouble because “H” in Mexico stands for “aloudo” and it means cold. “C” in Mexico stands “caliente” which means hot. If you miss the signs because of your assumptions and expectations, you will get burned. Of course, the reality is that whenever I was in Mexico there was no hot water to begin with! But that’s another story.

The point is, we often miss the signs because we just expect the world to be a certain way. Are our eyes open to see who Jesus really is, what He really wants to do in and through us in this world?

Well there is another crowd with another set of expectations. We find them toward the end where it tells us there was a crowd who had been with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead. Now here’s a crowd it says that they heard about His miracle and they wanted to see Him, they wanted to see more. This is a crowd that went after Jesus because they were wondering what might Jesus do for me? What miracle might He perform? How might He make my life a little better, a little easier? What might I get from Jesus? The problem is that if you’re just coming to Jesus out of, I need this, I need this, I need this, are we really going to see Jesus for who He is? And just as they did it back then, we’re not really so different today are we? Many people today come to Christ and want to know what can Christ do for me? How can Christ make me more successful? How can Christ make my life easier? Not realizing that when Christ calls us to Him, it’s not about making life easier. It’s about making life fuller and more meaningful. But the way that Christ does that is He calls us to follow Him into sacrifice, into a love that is willing to die for the sake of others. Willingness to be rejected out of love for others, that’s who Christ calls us to be. Christ says that whoever would obey me and be my disciple will follow me. It even tells us that we will do even greater things than Christ as we follow in His footsteps. We do not come to Jesus Christ for an easier life; we come for a fuller life, a life of purpose and meaning and eternal significance.

I know of many Christians who when God does not answer their desires for a better life, they get angry with God. God, why didn’t you come through? But when Christ does not meet our expectations, is it my fault or is it His? Is it His fault that I put these expectations on Him that He has never communicated? He has been pretty clear about His expectations. He has been pretty clear through Scripture, if we are willing to hear what He desires to do in and through us. It is my problem when He does not meet my expectations. But you know we don’t only do that with Christ, do we? We do that with each other. We often put expectations on each other that are unrealistic and they are not based on who the other person is, they are based on my own neediness. Just as I project my neediness onto Christ and say that Christ needs to fulfill these things, we do that with others as well. It happens in the family all the time, doesn’t it? Parents, children, spouses that’s a big one isn’t it? We have all sorts of expectations for our spouses. In fact, I remember some friends in Alaska for whom when they both became Christians, they became Christians at the same time, their marriage actually got worse because when they came to Christ suddenly their expectations for each other skyrocketed far faster than their lives and their behaviors and their attitudes could actually change. In fact, they began to expect more of the other person than they really expected of themselves. Thank goodness after a period of rocky times, love, patience, sacrifice and forgiveness brought them out into a wonderful marriage, but it meant adjusting expectations to who the other person is rather than what we necessarily want from them, based on our own self-centered perspective of need.

It’s often the same with churches, when we come into churches. Often those who last longest are those who come in thinking you know, how can I become a part of this community? How can I serve along side and with? Those who generally last the shortest time are those who come in thinking what can this church do for me? I have this need, who is going to fulfill it? When we lead from our neediness, we will almost always be disappointed. But when our lives are led by our desire to serve and to love, then we can be joyful because others are more likely to enter into that same attitude and together we find that we can do amazing things together. I would even throw out, what about this new pastor that I know will eventually come? What will our expectations be of this new pastor? Will they be based on our individual areas of need, that we think the pastor needs to fulfill this? Or are we willing to let that pastor follow the call of God to minister among us? Allowing the pastor to be who God has called him to be, who he has gifted him or her to be in our midst. And maybe for us to lead not with what our expectation of the new pastor ought to be, but with how can we serve together?

Having proper expectations is difficult. But there is really one simple way to get the clearest expectations possible. And we learn that through the thief on the cross, because of all the people that Jesus encounters on Holy Week, I think the thief had a clear picture of who Jesus was as a Messiah than anyone else. Why? Because the thief had no illusions as to the kind of Messiah Jesus was. Jesus was hanging on the cross and this thief was willing to see on that cross, this is the Messiah. This is the Holy One being punished for my sin. I deserve my punishment, He does not. The thief had no illusions because he viewed Jesus through the limbs of the cross. And as we view Jesus through the limbs of the cross, it gets rid of a lot of our superficial expectations of who we want Jesus to be, even who He called us to be and what He desires to do in our lives. May God give us open eyes to see Him, not through the limbs of our neediness, as needy as we are, but through the limbs of the cross, allowing Christ to be who He has said He would, who He said He is and to do what He said He would do in and through us. And as we look as Jesus Christ and see him for who He is, as we see his sacrifice on our behalf, as we see that we have been called to sacrifice on behalf of others, may our expectations not only of Jesus be clear, but of each other as well, that we might truly love each other in a way that brings glory to God and brings peace to the nations, because Christ’s peace and love flow through us and into the world.

Please join me as we pray. Lord, we do thank you. We thank you for Jesus Christ. We thank you for his sacrifice on our behalf. And Lord you know our hearts, you know that we desire to know you and we desire to serve you rightly and clearly. We desire for you to show us your truth and we want to live based on that truth. Lord help us to deal with our anger and disappointment at times when you don’t disappoint us, but when we have had wrong expectations of you and have disappointed ourselves because of that. We also pray Lord that you would help us to gain loving and right expectations for each other, that together we might move forward as a church, as families, as people ministering together in your name, that we might live for your glory and honor, that the world might know you and might know that you sent Jesus Christ for us, for we pray it through Jesus Christ, our only Lord, our only Savior. Amen.