Have you ever considered the reality that God is at work, though we may not see or understand it at the time? Perhaps you are hesitant to answer without knowing where the question may be leading!
For example, had I told you that God would send His Son to earth for a 33-year visit—stepping from eternity past and into time—who amongst us would have guessed that He would have come just as one of us! This wasn’t what we were expecting!
Had I told you that the Son of God would make his entrance into this world through the womb of a virgin, and be born in a barn, you would have said “Certainly not! He is the designer and creator of the universe! He shall be born of royalty, and in the finest castle!” So this wasn’t what we were expecting!
Pretend for a moment that we actually grasp the humanity of the eternal Son of God. Let’s say that we can fathom a child being born to a young virgin. However, when we consider that the young lad grew up in ancient Nazareth, we would rightly ask ourselves, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth, of all places?!”
Yet, listening to the conversations in the Synagogue, and observing the elders, we’re taken aback by the wisdom pouring with ease across the lips of this lad of twelve! We would turn in disbelief to each other, acknowledging, “This wasn’t what we were expecting!”
From that day in the Temple, it seems earth’s Heavenly guest drops off the radar, but the author and finisher of our faith emerges by the water’s edge, requesting baptizm by the eccentric evangelist, John the Baptist. That clearly wasn’t what John expected; hence, in Matthew 3:14 (ESV) …
… John tried to stop him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?
No, that wasn’t what we were expecting, was it?! However, after seeing the Spirit of God descending like a dove and finding a perch on Jesus, we hear a heavenly voice saying, “This is my beloved Son! I take delight in him!”
Then, He’s gone again … this time into a wilderness area, where he fasts (and no doubt prays) for forty days and nights. Well, we certainly weren’t expecting that, since many of us seldom pray for 40 minutes at a time, let alone 40 days … and Americans aren’t known as the fasting types exactly now, are we?
When hunger pangs must have been indescribable, the shadowy figure of the underworld—Satan—the tempter himself—approached Jesus, and began tempting him to turn stones into bread … to take a flying leap from the pinnacle of the Temple … or worst of all, after showing Jesus the splendor of all earthly kingdoms, Satan promised to give them all to Him if Jesus would fall down and worship the great liar.
Well, this wasn’t what we were expecting, was it? However, from His obedience in baptism and victory over temptation, it appears as though there’s a new sheriff in town.
Jesus relocates from Nazareth to the seaside at Capernaum, and begins a preaching ministry, and while doing so, recruits a dozen associates from such diverse backgrounds as fishermen, tax collectors, and medical doctors.
Ah, but that isn’t all—as he speaks, this carpenter of Galilee unfolds truths in the New Testament that were in-folded prophecies in the Old. This wood-worker becomes the miracle worker, unstopping deaf ears, opening blinded eyes, cleansing the untouchable leper by the touch of this master’s hand!
Well, that certainly wasn’t what anyone expected, was it?! Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and wherever this miracle-working man travels with his authoritative message, we increasingly discover a divided crowd.
Many who have experienced his miraculous power follow him wherever he goes, bringing their sick for healing, and singing his praises. You would think with that track record, everyone everywhere would be thrilled; but in the background is another group—grumbling and griping at his every move and miracle!
Well, that wasn’t what we were expecting, was it?!
However, let’s join the celebration—in Luke 19:36-38—near the Mount of Olives—at Bethany and Bethphage. Lining the street is an endless crowd, chanting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Many are tossing fig leaves and even their jackets into the street to carpet his path, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes riding into town, not on a stallion, but rather on a young donkey!
Well, this wasn’t what we were expecting, was it?
On Palm Sunday, consider the meaning of this progression that has lead us to this point. While the crowd surrounding us shouts “Hosanna!” you and I surely have reservations about their celebration. Why?—because we know how fickle this crowd really is.
We know how the plot will take a sinister turn in a matter of hours. These exultant echoes of “Hosanna!” will soon give way to sinister shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
What?! This wasn’t what we were expecting!
Backroom plotting by haters of the Messiah will quickly result in a thespian trial of Jesus … a mockery of justice … and the miracle babe from the manger of Bethlehem … the man of miracles from Galilee … will soon become the man of sorrows!
This wasn’t what we were expecting, was it?
After being swapped for a hardened criminal named Barabbas, he will be beaten beyond human recognition. The timbers of a tree will be thrust upon his bleeding back, and the compassionate Christ who raised to life the children of broken-hearted parents and called a dead brother from his grave in Bethany, will stagger in his frailty beneath its heavy load, along the Via Dolorosa to the place of the skull.
No, this wasn’t what we had in mind … not at all!
Yet there on Golgotha’s rocky knoll, we witness a collision of justice on the one hand with the grace and mercy of God on the other. Two thieves, convicted for their crimes and sentenced to death—one on either side of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world as he lays down his life.
Through clinched teeth, an unrepentant thief rails sarcastically on the man in the middle, “If you really are the Son of God, come down from your cross! Save yourself, and save us also!”
Yet, on the other side, a frail and broken thief repents … admitting to his sinfulness. Listen to his supplication! After rebuking his colleague in crime, he feebly appeals to the miracle man in the middle, saying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
With vision of palm branches still in our minds, and the now-distant shouts of “Hosanna!” reverberating in our heads, gaze for a moment at the middle cross. Beneath the abuse and the blood is the marred resemblance of the man who was once the innocent babe in Bethlehem!
Force yourself to continue looking intently! That man was once the lad who caused the scholars of the synagogue to marvel. This is the man who was moved with compassion for hungry people, and who would borrow five barley loaves and two fish from a little boy and use them to feed 5000 hungry people!
Why, pray tell, is he hanging on a cross after all the good he had done for so many helpless and hopeless people? Why doesn’t he call 10,000 angels to release him from the cross and set him free?!
This wasn’t what we were expecting, is it?
However, I can answer your question. I can tell you why he didn’t come down—because he hung there for you and me—paying for our sins, rather than his own. He who knew no sin became sin for you and me! He whom God loved has now become what God hated!
The one who always was, who is, and who always will be the giver of life, now willingly lays down his own life—to pay a price in our place. Through parched and swollen lips, He cries out—“It is finished!” and yields His spirit. This really wasn’t what we expected, is it?
It would appear that the sinister forces of evil have won the battle of the ages. But let’s hit the pause button for a moment. Let’s remember how this story ends!
While the situation looks bleak and hopeless from our perch on Golgotha’s hill … after all, we’ve experienced an earthquake, the day almost instantly turned to the blackness of night, the veil has been torn in two, and our hopes that this was the Messiah would certainly have been dashed … except for one thing. We know how the story ends, don’t we?
Yes, a few lady friends will anoint the miracle working man from Galilee. Our friend Joseph of Arimathea will loving bury the bludgeoned body. The tomb will be sealed with a stone and closely guarded, lest someone rob the grave.
Oh, but this tomb will soon be empty! While no power from without could challenge the guard and empty that grave, consider the power inside the sepulcher! … Remember Jesus’ words?
John 10:18 KJV No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
And because He lives, I can face tomorrow! Because He lives, all fear is gone! Because I know, I know, He holds the future! And life is worth the living just because He lives!
John 14:19 ESV Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live
That, my friends, is the hope with which we wave palm branches today! That is the hope that carries us through the deepest and darkest valleys! And when the world has done its worst and become its darkest, our hope remains in Jesus, the Christ!