There is a story about a man riding on a train who happens to notice that the woman sitting across from him is reading Charles Dickens’ famous novel “Great Expectations.” He asked her what she thought of the book and she answered, “Well, it’s not everything I hoped it would be.” That is pretty much the way life goes with our expectations. In the end it is not always what we hoped it would be.
The story of the Passion of our Lord is full of expectations. On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem in such a way that everyone knew he had to be the Messiah! The people had expectations. They shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us!” They had expectations of the restorations of Israel, with a king who would be like David. The week would not end in the way they had hoped that it would.
The disciples of Jesus had known him better than any other followers. They had come to understand that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They had seen every miracle, every exorcism and the responses of the crowds. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God. They knew that he was destined to rule a kingdom. James and John had even requested to sit at his right and his left when he came to power. They had exceedingly great expectations of what would happen in Jerusalem. Nothing turned out as they had expected, and they all fled into the darkness.
The Jewish authorities had their own set of expectations after Jesus came to Jerusalem. They realized the inherent dangers in the expectations of the crowds following Jesus. In John’s gospel Caiaphas says that “It is better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish.” They believed that Jesus was a danger to the peace and the “status quo.” They expected his death to put an end to it all. They thought that it was a good Friday for them, but ultimately the week did not turn out the way they had hoped that it would.
The detachment of Roman soldiers who were in charge of this crucifixion started their day with certain expectations. They had participated in numerous crucifixions before, and I am sure they were expecting the simple routine of soldering for the day. They certainly were not expecting the drama that unfolded on Golgotha. The Centurion, who was in charge of the crucifixion, was certainly surprised at how it all transpired. He concluded by saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”
When Pontius Pilate awoke that Friday morning he had expectations of how his day would turn out. As governor, I am sure that he or his clerk had a “to do list” of things that needed to be accomplished. He had no idea that his day would spin so out of control. He certainly did not expect that this would be the day that would define his place in history.
Think of even the minor players in this story. None of them expected the things that happened to them that day. Barabbas began his day expecting death, but ended the day as a free man. Simon of Cyrene was a visitor who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Suddenly, he found himself carrying the cross of Jesus and witnessing the crucifixion.
There is only one person involved in the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ whose expectations were met. That person is Jesus. Everything transpired as he had said that it would. God is one hundred percent in charge of everything that transpires. They do not take Jesus’ life from him; rather, he gives it willingly. In the upper room at the Last Supper Jesus said, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.” The Passion is God’s amazing plan to bring salvation to a fallen world.
God’s great expectation, which is powered by an even greater love, is to redeem each and every one of us. It would cost God the life blood of his only begotten son, but God’s love is great enough to bear that cost. It was not what anyone was expecting. It came to the world as an absolutely shocking surprise. The cross was not what anyone was expecting from God.
This brings us now to our own expectations. What are you expecting from God for your own life? What are you expecting from God for your family? What are your expectations of God for your church? Whatever your expectations are (I hate to tell you this), but they probably are wrong.
I’m not saying that your expectations will not be met. I am saying that they will probably be met in ways that you are not expecting. How then should we expect God to act? Our expectations should be to expect complete surprise! Ultimately, we will find that we have a God who is greater than even our greatest expectations.
Today we look at the cross of Christ, which many thought was the end of the journey. They had not expectations that could see beyond the horror of the moment. But we, who are in the know, realize that there is a surprise waiting that will far exceed anyone’s expectations. We will celebrate that at the Great Easter Vigil.
Painting is titled “The Way of the Cross” by Giovanni Battista