If you live in Wyoming sometimes travel can be a surprise, especially in the spring. When it’s sunny and in the 50s you may expect easy travel with clear and dry roads, but in Wyoming there is no guarantee. The joke here is if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute, it will change! And unfortunately, this reigns true for many. I live near the mountains, and often travel through them to visit my family. There have been many trips where the first 30 miles are beautiful, if not a bit windy, but when I reach those mountain roads all bets are off. I remember one trip specifically where my expectations did not match my reality. I had checked the road report before my departure to see what I should expect. The map showed “slick in spots” for about a 30 mile section. I thought- I can handle that, no big deal! So I headed out expecting to have a relatively uneventful drive. As I got closer to the mountains I could tell the weather was maybe not as good as I had hoped. Snow started to fall and quickly I realized my expectations were going to be proven false.
There is a spot on this specific road where it feels like you are almost driving into a different world! It could be sunny and beautiful in the valley, but when you hit this section of highway you very well may be entering a winter wonder land! And on this day that is exactly what happened. I suddenly was driving on a sheet of ice. Snow packed ice, but ice none the less. On top of that, snow was falling and the wind was blowing, making visibility poor at best. “Slick in spots” was a highly inaccurately description of what I was experiencing. The highway could not be seen at all through all the snow and ice packed on it. And this persisted for the whole 30 miles. Stressed out would have been an accurate descriptor for what I was experiencing at that moment!
Now I still made it to my destination safely. I was admittedly a little more stressed than when I first began, but I made it. I simply took it slow and steady, talking myself out of the nervousness I was obviously feeling. My expectation had led me to believe that I would have an easy drive and dry roads. I thought the drive would be uneventful and I could simply listen to my favorite music and enjoy the scenery. Instead, I was met with a situation that put me on high alert. I white knuckled that 30 miles and prayed the entire time that God would calm the nerves running rampant in my heart. If I had been prepared for the situation maybe my reaction would have been different, I could maybe have controlled my anxiety and fear a little better. But this is just one of many examples of how expectations can affect how we expect our lives to proceed…
Does your reality ever fail to meet your expectations? I think many of us experience realities that fall short of our expectations, or circumstances that shake our expectations to the core. An unexpected illness. A loss of a job. A death in the family. Whatever the “shock” to the system our expectations can sometimes make it difficult to adjust to our new circumstances. When I expect my life to go a certain way and then life throws me a curveball, I can really struggle to accept that new reality because I try to cling to what I know and desire. My response, when life fails to meet my expectations, can be anywhere from fear to anxiety, even to anger. I had a plan! I knew how life should go! And all too I often I begin to question God and His purposes when that curveball comes in hard and fast.
As I reflect still on the season of Easter and all that the biblical characters experienced, I think perhaps this story didn’t unfold exactly like they were expecting. They experienced a curveball of epic proportions. Jesus Christ proved to be very differently from what they had come to expect. The reality of what He came to do and how He chose to live were very much different from what the Jews had culturally learned to hope for.
Culturally we know that Jews expected a Messiah that would be a conquering King. The Savior would show up and show the nations just how powerful the Jewish God really was. He would show all those pagan nations, that had oppressed and ruled over Israel for so long that they had messed with the wrong nation. Many Jews expected the Messiah to come and overthrow the powers of Rome. He would come and make Israel “top dog.” And really these expectations made some sense. They served the one and only God. The God who had enough power to spare, enough strength to show those pagan nations who really was the boss. But those expectations were filtered through years of bondage and slavery. They had made the nation of Israel desire vindication more than they desired God’s love to be manifested. They wanted to prove to all those world powers that they were right! They had chosen to serve the All Mighty God.
When Jesus showed up that expectation was turned on its head. Jesus says in Matthew 20:28 that the “Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He over and over again tells the disciples that His goal is not to gain political or cultural power. He didn’t come to overthrow the government or religious leaders. He didn’t come to prove all those pagan nations wrong. He didn’t intend to become powerful in the eyes of men. Instead, He came to love people. To show them who God really was. He came to heal the sick and free the prisoners. But He did it in a way that not many expected.
When I look at the disciples reactions sometimes it seems silly that they didn’t get it. Jesus tells the disciples 5 different times that He came to die. Jesus knew what the end goal was. He knew He would have to die to pay for the sins of the world, and He wasn’t shy about discussing this with the disciples.
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.'” Luke 18:31-33
I look at their reactions and want to just scream sometimes! How can you not get this guys? He is directly telling you what will happen! But then I think about their expectations. Would you want to believe what Jesus was saying if your whole life you had been raised to believe that the Messiah, the Christ, would come to be their King? Would you so quickly give up a life long expectation of a Ruling and Powerful King? Especially when the alternative was a God who had to die to fulfill His purpose? When I think about it in those terms I begin to understand their confusion. Verses like Isaiah 9:6 help me understand where that expectation sprang from. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And when you pair this verse with a nation that had constantly been oppressed by neighboring power houses. They had been ruled over most of the nation’s existence. Now let’s not forget that this was all of their own making. Their disobedience led to the consequences of other nations ruling over them. If they had been faithful to God and serving Him the story may have been very different. Nonetheless, the nation of Israel wanted to be proven right. Vindicated. They served the one true God and they thought the coming of the Messiah would show all these other nations the truth. They expected this truth to be made evident in a show of strength and power, not in a show of mercy and love.
They couldn’t understand verses like Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Their expectations prevented them from seeing the truth. Hindsight is 20/20, and I have the benefit of seeing the whole picture when the disciples were living through the story. They couldn’t look back and have the hope of knowing how the story would end. The truth was that the Son of God would have to die, conquer death, and rise again to become the Messiah they needed! Without this sacrifice we would forever be separated from God by our sin, our iniquity, but because of Jesus Christ we now are able to be in deep and intimate relationship with the God of the universe. The disciples’ reaction was one of sorrow and pain when Jesus was crucified. Their expectations had been blown to bits on that Good Friday. When Jesus died they thought all they had believed had been for not. But when Jesus appeared to them that resurrection Sunday their hope was renewed. He was alive! He had risen! Their expectations may still have been proven wrong, but the person they had put their hope in wasn’t! Their lives took a turn they never saw coming, but to their credit they ran with it! Jesus wouldn’t reign as King of the earth, but as King of their hearts. He would forever be Lord of their lives, because he had been willing to sacrifice his life so they would no longer be slaves to sin. He gave his life so that they might have a new and purposeful life.
So in this I see a challenge. The disciples didn’t allow their lives to be taken off course by their foiled expectations. They could have said- “Well Jesus, this isn’t what I signed up for, count me out.” Instead, they let this change of course direct their lives. They were spurred on toward love and good deeds! The Messiah wasn’t want they expected, but He was what they needed. And they graciously recognized this and moved forward on a different path. His plan was infinitely better than their own, and to their credit they recognized this and used it for fuel in their lives. It propelled them to live lives completely sold out for God, putting Him first in all they did. Now my questions are these: How do I respond when my expectations are proven false? When a curveball mucks up my life plans and desires, what is my reaction? I can’t confidently say I responded like the disciples did every time. Sometimes I allow fear or anxiety to rule instead of Jesus. But my desire and hope is that I could see this example and use it to encourage me.
Don’t let failed expectations or plans change your view of God or His plan for you. The life I am living now I would never chose, in fact I actively prayed against it! But here I am. No amount of hoping will change my reality, so in light of my changed reality, my thwarted expectations, how will I respond? Like the disciples will I trust that God’s plan is greater? That God’s purposes are higher? The goal here is that my expectations would begin to shift. That I would let God shape my heart enough for Him to lead my hopes and desires. And if those end up being different than when I started this journey with God, so be it! If my life looks different than what I had once expected- oh well! Because serving God is worth every course change and curveball. He is eager to lead your life. He deeply desires to love you well, and in loving well, lead you to a life of fulfillment and joy. Let’s be like the disciples, let God’s grace lead us today and every day. His grace is always enough…