Easter (part 1)

February 24, 2008     Time: 00:44:44

Today we celebrate the day called Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem one week prior to his crucifixion and death. In case some of you were wondering why this is called Palm Sunday, it is because according to the Gospel of John the crowds in Jerusalem came out to meet Jesus carrying palm branches which they either waved in the air or laid in his path as he came into the city.

We have two independent accounts in the Gospels of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. One is found in the Gospel of Mark, and the other is found in the Gospel of John. Historically speaking, this fact is very important because one of the most important proofs of the historicity of some event is the existence of independent accounts of the same event. Marcus Borg, a prominent New Testament scholar, explains it in this way. He says, “The logic is straightforward: if a tradition or story appears in an early source and in another independent source then not only is it early but it is also unlikely to have been made up.” Of course, as Christians we believe in the inspiration of the New Testament by God and so we know wholly apart from historical evidence that these accounts are not made up, but still I think it is nice to know that even when you consider the Gospels on the level of ordinary historical documents they do pass the tests of reliability which historians use in examining secular history. I think this can strengthen our confidence in the truth of the Gospels and also give us a way to commending their truth to our non-Christian friends who haven’t yet come to believe in the inspiration of the Bible.

In the case of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, this is narrated in the earliest of the four Gospels – the Gospel of Mark – and then also independently in John’s Gospel. Moreover, although the accounts of the triumphal entry that you find in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are largely dependent upon Mark, still many scholars think that Matthew and Luke also have other independent sources in addition to Mark for their narratives of this event. So the historical case for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is pretty solid. We are on pretty good bedrock when we assert that Jesus of Nazareth did ride triumphantly into Jerusalem during Passover at the beginning of the final week of his life.

Although the accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry found in Mark and John differ somewhat in various circumstantial details, they fully agree on the core of the story. At the beginning of the final week of his life, Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem seated on a colt and was hailed by the crowds who had come to the annual Passover feast with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” as they anticipated the coming of the Kingdom of God. Today we want to focus in our lesson on the earlier of these two accounts – the one found in the Gospel of Mark 11:1-11.

And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it. And those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go.[1] And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Before we examine this passage in detail, let’s set the scene geographically and chronologically. It is the spring of the year, the time of the great Passover feast in Jerusalem during the Jewish month of Nisan. No, this is not referring to the Japanese automaker; this is talking about the Jewish month by the name of Nisan which roughly corresponds to early April on our modern calendar. Passover always began on the fourteenth day of Nisan which that year fell on Friday. Scholars using the data of astronomy have determined that the date of the Passover feast during which Jesus was crucified was either April 3, AD 30 or else April 7, AD 33.

Jesus and his disciples are on their way up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast like thousands of other pilgrims who are coming to the feast. They just passed through the ancient town of Jericho where, according to Mark 10, Jesus healed the blind man Bartimaeus on the way out of town. If you take your map, Jericho is located along the Roman road seventeen miles east of Jerusalem. The pilgrims would come along the Roman road mounting up to Jerusalem with an elevation of about 2,600 feet and up to the top of the Mount of Olives which stands opposite the Temple precincts across the Kidron Valley. Pilgrims from Galilee in the north where Jesus was from would typically follow this Roman road to Jerusalem and on their way would pass the villages of Bethany and Bethphage which are mentioned by Mark in verse 1 of chapter 11. Bethany lies on the south slope of the Mount of Olives, somewhat off of the Roman road, while Bethphage was probably located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. It was virtually an extension of the city of Jerusalem itself.

As you read Mark’s account, you might wonder why Mark mentions Bethany at all since Jesus would not literally pass through Bethany on the way to Jerusalem since Bethany lies off the Roman road somewhat to the south. You might speculate that perhaps it is the unnamed village that is referred to in verse 2 where he tells the disciples to go and find a colt. But in that case it would make Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem almost two miles long. That might seem a rather long-ish distance for people to strew with branches and garments as they did. So it might seem rather odd that Mark would mention Bethany in connection with Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.

When we read the account in the Gospel of John, however, we discover a very interesting fact. Jesus and his disciples actually spent the night in Bethany on their way to Jerusalem, for Bethany was the home of Mary and Martha whose brother Lazarus Jesus had raised from the dead. So John reports in John 12:1-2, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him.”

So having set out from Jericho that morning, Jesus must have arrived in Bethany sometime in the late afternoon and then enjoyed supper with his friends.[2] It was during this supper that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. It is interesting that Mark also knows about this incident with Mary and the foot wiping at Bethany, but he tells about it in another context in chapter 14 of the Gospel of Mark. But it is also interesting to note that in Mark 11:11,19 Mark says that Jesus did not spend the night in Jerusalem during the final week of his life. Rather, he says he would go back out to Bethany each night and would stay there with his disciples.

So I don’t think that the triumphal entry occurred on the same day that Jesus set out from Jericho. Rather, John says that Jesus spent one or perhaps two nights in Bethany and that the crowds, learning of his arrival in Bethany, were already coming out of the city of Jerusalem to Bethany in order to see him.

So when did Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem occur? John says that Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before the Passover. According to John, Passover was eaten Friday night. John repeatedly says that the Jewish leaders wanted to eliminate Jesus before the Passover meal began. He says this in John 18:28 and again in John 19:14. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus killed, gotten out of the way, before the Passover meal began.

According to Jewish regulations, the slaughter of the Passover lambs in the Temple began at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 14th of Nisan. At 3pm on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, the slaughter of the Passover lambs began in the Temple. Then the lambs were to be eaten that night after nightfall had come. Listen to this. According to John’s chronology, when Jesus died on the cross at 3pm on the 14th of Nisan, it was at the very same time that the chief priests in the Temple were beginning to sacrifice the Passover lambs to God. They didn’t realize that in instigating Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, they were in effect offering a sacrifice to God that would once and for all abolish the animal sacrifices that they were carrying out at that very same hour in the Temple as Jesus was being crucified. As Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.”

So on John’s account then, Jesus died at the time of the Passover sacrifice – prior to the Passover meal that night. The problem here is that according to Mark and the other Gospels, Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples in the upper room on the night before his crucifixion. In Mark 14:12 we read, “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, ‘Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?’” Jesus then gives instructions to the disciples to prepare the Passover in the upper room. John agrees that Jesus did share a last supper with his disciples on Thursday night in the upper room prior to his betrayal by Judas and his arrest. But how could this have been a Passover meal if the lambs weren’t slaughtered in the Temple until three o’clock on Friday afternoon, as John says? How could Jesus be eating the Passover with his disciples Thursday night when the lambs weren’t even slaughtered until 3pm the next day?

Various solutions have been offered to this puzzle. One of the most plausible, I think, is that due to competing calendars that were in use in first century Palestine, the sacrifices may have been offered on more than one day.[3] According to the Pharisees and the people from Galilee, they reckoned the days beginning at sunrise and ending at the following sunrise. So days would begin in the morning at 6am and they would end at 6am on the following day. But the Sadducees and the people from Judea reckoned days as beginning at sunset and ending with the next sunset. So for the Judeans, their calendar reckoned days from 6pm in the evening until 6pm the next evening. In our modern day and age, we adopt what I think is the very weird convention that the day begins in the middle of the night at midnight and then goes until the next midnight, which when you think about it is really a crazy way of reckoning days. This difference in reckoning days completely throws off the dating of certain events as you can see on the chart:

Diagram on the date discrepancy of passover

According to the Galilean reckoning, the 14th of Nisan begins at about 6am on the day that we call Thursday. But for the Judean, the 14th of Nisan didn’t begin until twelve hours later at 6pm on the day that we call Thursday. So when the Galileans following Jewish regulations slay the Passover lamb on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, what day does he do it on? Well, he does it on Thursday. But when the Judean offers his lamb and sacrifice on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, what day is that? Well, it is Friday. When night falls he then feasts on the lamb which by his reckoning is the 15th of Nisan. Thus in order to meet the needs of both Galilean and Pharisaical sensibilities on the one hand, and of the Judean and Sadducceean sensibilities on the other hand, the Temple priesthood would have had to have made Passover sacrifices on both Thursday and Friday. Jesus, as a Galilean and aware of his impending arrest, chose to celebrate the Passover Thursday night, whereas the chief priests and scribes responsible for Jesus’ arrest went by the Judean and Sadduccean calendar as John says. Although we have no evidence that Passover sacrifices were made on both days, I think this solution is very plausible on the face of it. The population of Jerusalem swelled to around 125,000 people during the Passover festival. It would simply be logistically impossible for the priests in the Temple to sacrifice enough lambs for 125,000 people between 3 o’clock in the afternoon and 6 o’clock in one day. They must have sacrificed on more than one day in order to furnish enough Passover lambs for the pilgrims that were in town. That would make it entirely possible for Jesus and his disciples to celebrate the Passover Thursday night prior to his arrest.

If we count back six days from John’s date of the Passover when Jesus arrived in Bethany we have Jesus arriving in Bethany on Saturday night, the 9th of Nisan. Depending on how long he stayed in Bethany, he then entered Jerusalem on the following day Sunday or else on Monday. I. H. Marshall, who is a prominent New Testament scholar, has furnished the reconstruction of Jesus’ final week that is furnished below:

A reconstructive diagram of Jesus’ final week

Notice that on Marshall’s reconstruction, Jesus arrives in Bethany on Saturday. On Sunday, the crowd came out to see Jesus. On Monday his triumphal entry into the city takes place. Tuesday is the cursing of the fig tree and the day of the cleansing of the Temple. On Wednesday they find the fig tree withered, the Temple controversy takes place, and Jesus delivers the Olivet Discourse.[4] Then on Thursday is the last supper of Jesus with his disciples, his betrayal, arrest, then the trial before Annas and Caiaphas. On Friday, Jesus is tried by the entire Sanhedrin, taken and tried before Pilate and Herod, and then finally crucified and buried late on Friday afternoon. Saturday Jesus lies dead in the tomb. Then Sunday, Easter morning, is the day of resurrection.

Having set the scene chronologically and geographically, let’s look more closely at Mark’s account. The first part of Mark’s story deals with Jesus’ obtaining a colt on which to ride into the city. Since Jesus and his disciples would be returning from Bethany back to the Roman road, the colt is probably located in the village of Bethphage as they begin the descent down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. Jesus sends two of his disciples on ahead of him to bring the colt back to him so that he can ride down the descent of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and in through the so-called Golden Gate in the eastern wall of the Temple precincts as is illustrated by the red line charting the route of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city:

A map of Jesus' procession from Bethphage into Jerusalem

Mark doesn’t tell us what kind of colt it is that Jesus rode, but we know that there were three kinds of equine animals that were in use in Palestine during those days: horses, donkeys, and mules, which are hybrids of a mare (a horse) with a male donkey. The other Gospels, however, tell us that Jesus chose a donkey. Donkeys are very strong little pack animals that were widely used in Palestine as beasts of burden. As we’ll see, Jesus’ choice of a donkey is deliberate and significant.

In Mark’s story Jesus displays an uncanny foreknowledge of highly particular events which the disciples will experience in connection with getting the colt. And the simple explanation they are to give, namely “The Lord has need of it” shows Jesus’ sense of sovereign mastery over the events. Somebody reading this story might think that Jesus had simply made prior arrangements with the colt’s owners without telling the disciples about it. But this seems to miss the lesson that Mark is trying to teach here, namely, Jesus’ foreknowledge and control over the events leading up to his suffering and death. Mark wants us to see that Jesus in not the hapless victim of events which are spinning out of control; rather he remains the sovereign master of his fate as he chooses to go to the cross.

This emphasis on Jesus sovereign control is even more evident in Mark 14:12-16, where in response to this disciples’ question about the Passover and where they should celebrate it, Jesus tells two of them,

“Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them. (Mark 14:13-16)

It seems even less likely that such an encounter with a man carrying a jar of water was something that was prearranged; rather Mark is again illustrating Jesus’ supernatural knowledge and authority. Jesus is displaying the credentials of a true prophet. For example in 1 Samuel 10 when Samuel anoints Saul as King, he says to him[5],

“When you go from me today, then you will find two men close to Rachel’s tomb . . .; and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found.’ . . . Then you will go on further from there, and you will come as far as the oak of Tabor, and there three men . . . will meet you, one carrying three kids, another carrying three loaves, and another carrying a jug of wine; and they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread . . . . Afterward you will come to . . . the Philistine garrison . . .; and . . . as soon as you have come there, . . . you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them . . . Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you . . ., and you shall prophesy . . . .” (1 Samuel 10:2-6)

In 1 Samuel 10:7 it says that the fulfillment of these predictions given by Samuel were signs to Saul that God was with him. In a similar way Jesus’ predictions and instructions are signs to his disciples of Jesus’ sovereign control over his fate. To treat these predictions as merely natural arrangements like someone’s planning for a trip is to miss the theological lesson that Mark is trying to teach us here.

The events of Jesus’ passion or suffering did not catch him by surprise. On the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem he had taken the twelve disciples aside and in Mark 10:33-34 he tells them,

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

In fact, it is something of an understatement to say that these events did not catch Jesus by surprise. On the contrary, he provoked these events, as we see in the second part of Mark’s story. With his triumphal entry into Jerusalem Jesus deliberately set the ball rolling that would by the end of the week crush him under its weight.

In order to appreciate what happens next in the story, you need to understand something about Jewish feelings toward Rome. In the year 63 BC Roman legions under Pompey had put an end to an independent Jewish state, conquering Jerusalem and deposing the Jewish King. Although Israel had returned from its exile in Babylon hundreds of years earlier, the golden age that had been predicted by the prophets had failed to materialize. Instead Israel labored under the oppressive military dictatorship of a pagan nation – the Roman empire. The Jews chafed under the yoke of Roman rule. Within 35 years after Jesus’ death, Israel would be in full-scale rebellion against Rome, finally resulting in the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the annihilation of the Jewish state. In the meantime, Israel was a seething cauldron of unrest. Jews yearned for a messianic deliverer who would once and for all restore to Israel the throne of David in Jerusalem, throw off the Roman yoke, and establish God’s Kingdom in the land.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming of such a Davidic king, and the Jews longed for the fulfillment of those prophecies. During his ministry, Jesus had shunned the public pronouncement that he was the promised Messiah. New Testament scholars have long discussed the so-called “Messianic secret” motif that runs through the Gospel of Mark. In Mark you find that Jesus never publicly claims to be the Messiah. Rather, when people do recognize him as the Messiah, as in Peter’s great confession in Mark 8:29 “Thou art the Christ” or “You are the Messiah,” Jesus strictly charges them to tell no one about his identity.

But now in Mark 11, with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, everything changes.[6]

Jesus was steeped in the prophecies of the Old Testament, as we know from his discussions with the Jewish scribes. He knew and understood the prophecies of Israel’s coming king who would restore the throne of David in Jerusalem. In particular he had absorbed the prophecies of the book of Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah had spoken of a shepherd who would be appointed by God over His people, and in the 13th chapter of his prophecy, Zechariah says that the shepherd will be struck down and the sheep will be scattered. Jesus in Mark 14:27 applies this prophecy to himself. He says to the disciples that they will all desert him. He says, “You will all fall away, for it is written, (quoting Zechariah 13) ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’”: Jesus is applying to himself Zechariah’s prophecies about the Shepherd-King.

So what is Jesus doing when he mounts a donkey’s colt and rides down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem? Notice that this is the only recorded instance in the Gospels where Jesus rides, rather than walks. Pilgrims coming to the Passover feast normally came by foot. But Jesus does something very singular and unusual in riding down the Mount of Olives into the city. What does it mean? What is this all about? The answer is that Jesus is deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah chapter 9, versus 9-10. Listen to this, from the book of Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus is deliberately and provocatively claiming to be the promised king of Israel who will re-establish the throne of David. His action is like a living parable, acted out to declare his true identity in a public way. The Messianic secret is now open news. The triumphal entry shows us Jesus’ messianic self-consciousness and who he took himself to be. He identified himself with the Shepherd-King predicted by Zechariah.

The point was not lost on the crowd. People began to spread their cloaks on the road for Jesus to ride over like a red carpet. This was an action reminiscent of the way the crowds in the Old Testament spread their cloaks on the ground in 2 Kings 9:13 when Jehu was anointed King of Israel. They cut palm branches and other leafy plants as Jews did at other celebrations and they began to strew them on the road for Jesus to ride over. And then people, perhaps remembering how the blind Bartimaeus back in Jericho had repeatedly cried out to Jesus as the “Son of David,” now begin to chant the words of Psalm 118:25-26 “Hosanna! (or God saves!) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and others respond, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

You see, the crowd thought that at last God’s anointed king had come to Jerusalem, the teacher and miracle-worker from Nazareth, who would cast off the pagan rulers of Israel and establish God’s true kingdom, centered not in Rome but now in Jerusalem. And so amid shouting and singing, with the crowds surrounding him on all sides, Jesus rides in through the eastern gate of Jerusalem, into the Temple precincts, and does—nothing![7] He does nothing. In the accounts of Matthew and Luke, the story of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple comes on the heels of the story of the triumphal entry, giving the impression that these were consecutive events. But in Mark 11:11 we read, “And he entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

Talk about an anti-climax! Jesus doesn’t cleanse the Temple; he doesn’t lead the mob in revolt against Rome; he doesn’t even give a stirring speech. He just looks around and leaves! That may explain why Jesus wasn’t arrested on the spot. His triumphal entry into the city was not anticipating by the Romans nor something they would have understood, and Jesus’ procession probably just melted away into the Passover crowd once they got to Jerusalem.

But what a disappointment for those who had hailed his triumphal entry! What kind of a Messiah is this? What sort of a deliverer is this? In the ensuing days, Jesus did cleanse the Temple, but he didn’t even raise a finger against the Romans. In fact he didn’t even raise his voice against them. Instead when questioned whether they should render tribute to Caesar, he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17) – a very anti-revolutionary slogan. Who needs a king like this?

By Friday, enough of the multitude were sufficiently disenchanted with Jesus that the Temple priesthood who had engineered his arrest and delivered him over to the Romans on the treasonous charge of claiming to be “King of the Jews” were able to turn them against him. And now they chanted, not cries of “Hosanna!” but “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And so to the cross he went, to die as he knew he must.

What lessons can we learn from the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? Let me mention two. First, we see the Lordship of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident that befell him unawares while visiting Jerusalem. Rather Jesus understood and embraced his calling to undergo so excruciating a death. In fact he deliberately provoked the events that would eventually lead to his execution. He understood himself to be the Shepherd-King prophesied by Zechariah and openly assumed this role in his provocative triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Throughout the process he displayed his foreknowledge of the events of his passion: the finding of the donkey, the arrangements for his Last Passover mean in the upper room, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s three-fold denial, the disciples’ deserting him, his deliverance to the Gentiles, his scourging, humiliation, and execution. He announced all these things in advance. He thereby showed himself to be Lord over history.

There is a theology today that is making inroads into the Christian church called “the Openness of God.” It claims that God does not and cannot foreknow the free acts of human beings and therefore can only guess at what is going to happen in the future. He is said to be a God who takes risks, who gambles, and who sometimes loses. The passion predictions such as the ones we’ve seen today show that Openness of God theology is just wrong. Jesus knew, and he knew in sufficient detail that it couldn’t have been guessed, exactly what was to happen to him that week in Jerusalem. Openness of God theology therefore inevitably depreciates the person of Christ. In the story of the triumphal entry we see disclosed Jesus’ sense of lordship as he directs events toward their predetermined ends.

The second lesson is related to the first: Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. The Jews were expecting a king who would be a great military leader like David, who would throw off the yoke of Rome, and establish God’s kingdom by force.[8] When we read some of the Old Testament prophecies, I think we can understand why they had such expectations; they weren’t at all unreasonable. But Jesus was radically different than their expectations. When he rode into Jerusalem, he did not do so on a horse, the chosen symbol of warfare and the choice of conquerors, as Pompey had done. He did not even pick a mule, the steed of Jewish kings like David himself. Rather, he chose a donkey, a pack animal, a lowly beast of burden, as his royal mount. As Zechariah had prophesied, he came humbly and bringing peace. The Kingdom of God which he preached and inaugurated was not an earthly, political kingdom, but rather the rule of God in the hearts of people who know and serve Him. But this was not the kingdom which the people expected or wanted, and so they rejected Jesus as their Lord.

In our Christian lives, as we grow older, we all encounter situations in which God does not fulfill our expectations. Perhaps he doesn’t bring a marriage partner into your life. Or maybe you find that your marriage hasn’t lived up to your expectations. Or maybe you’ve been passed over for a promotion or a position you really deserved. Or maybe illness or tragedy has struck your life in an unexpected way.

And the temptation in all these situations is to bail out of what the Christian faith teaches and to try to do things your own way. You marry that non-Christian who’s in love with you. You file for divorce. You grow resentful and bitter over missed opportunities. You give up confidence in God’s love for you and no longer trust Him. As I’ve grown older as a Christian, I’ve seen these sorts of things happen again and again in the lives of Christian friends. When God doesn’t live up to our expectations, then we jettison God and do things the way we think they should be done or resent him for not giving us what we think that we deserve.

And what I want to say here is what the first lesson taught us: Jesus is Lord. He’s under no obligation to live up to our expectations. If he chooses to give you a life of suffering and hardship, of disappointment and failure, he is Lord. So many of us seem to think that if Christ doesn’t fit our expectations then we’ll just reject him, as the crowds in Jerusalem did. But Christ is Lord, and he doesn’t have to fit our expectations of him. Christ never promised his followers a happy or an easy life. The disciple is not above his master, and the Master has chosen the road to Golgotha. If you are called to tread that same path, that is the Master’s prerogative.

What I’m saying is that we must tailor our expectations to what God decrees, not try to tailor God to our expectations. Christ is Lord, and he knows what is best. If we try to make him fit our expectations, what is acceptable to us, or else we will reject him, then that is the guaranteed path to self-destruction. We must not be like the people in Jerusalem, who hailed Christ as their king, just so long as he fit their image of what a king should be. Rather, let us acknowledge Christ truly as our King, our Lord, our Sovereign, and receive from his hand whatever he should decree.

[Closing prayer.][9]



[1] 5:05

[2] 10:15

[3] 15:09

[4] 20:10

[5] 24:58

[6] 30:04

[7] 35:03

[8] 40:03

[9] Total Running Time: 44:44 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)