BCC Note: In this post and the next, we will look at an issue that is often central to change in our counselees: shattering their unbiblical assumptions about life and the Lord. As you read, we invite you to consider how Jesus’ ministry should alter old ways of thinking—whether in yourself or your counselees—so that you are open to being further conformed to his image.
“That’s Not How I Think about God!”
After one of my college Spring Breaks, during the week of Easter, I struck up a conversation about Jesus and the gospel with my mom as she drove me back to the campus. As she always does, Mom listened patiently to what I had to say, and then she replied, “I just can’t believe in a God who would open the earth and swallow people.” She was remembering a dramatic scene from The Ten Commandments, which we had on the TV the previous weekend. In this scene Charleton Heston comes down from Mt. Sinai with the two stone tablets, and he sees the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf. In his indignation, he raises the tablets above his head and throws them to the ground. The earth cracks open and a lot of those idolatrous Jews fall to their deaths.
“I just can’t believe in a God who would open up the earth and swallow people.” That did not match Mom’s expectations about God. That’s not the God she likes to think about existing somewhere in heaven, well removed from life here on earth. This was not the first time I had tried to share the gospel with Mom. So, I was not going to pressure her with more arguments, as I had done in the past. I simply said to her, “But that is the God with whom you have to deal.”
As it turns out, Mom stands in a long line of people throughout history whose expectations about God were shattered by how he actually revealed himself in history and in the Bible. The most dramatic way in which people’s expectations about God were shattered was in the ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Forces People to Think Differently about God
In Matthew 21:1-11, we read about how Jesus entered Jerusalem at a time when Jews from all over the Mediterranean region were flocking to the city because it was the Passover season. They were coming to commemorate the Exodus when their forefathers were delivered from Egyptian bondage and oppression. By participating in their Passover celebrations, these devout Jews would in effect be symbolically joining with their forefathers, because they were anticipating a deliverance of their own. Like their forefathers, the Jews in Jesus’ day were oppressed. They were subject to the Roman Empire. They no longer existed as a sovereign nation. But they fully expected that God would one day deliver them out of this oppression, much as he had many centuries before.
Of course, these pious Jews in Jerusalem had celebrated Passover many times in their lives, but this Passover, there was even greater sense of anticipation. There were frenzied speculations during this Passover swirling around the man who entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. That, by itself, would not be anything noteworthy, because donkeys were popular beasts of burden used by rich and poor alike. But this man—the carpenter born in Bethlehem—had often been one to stir up controversy. Even his birth, for those old enough to remember, was very mysterious—and a little suspicious, since his mother claimed to have been a virgin while she was pregnant with him. For the previous two years, everywhere Jesus went, he attracted a lot of attention, drawing crowds, creating traffic jams, and engaging the Pharisees in numerous debates.
There were three major reasons for the heated debates with Jesus. First, his teaching was too radical for the conservative Jewish teachers to accept. He claimed to be the unique Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah ushering in the kingdom of God. Eventually, he would be charged with blasphemy by the High Priest for such claims.
Second, people got healed around him. There had been others who claimed to have the power to heal. But it was shockingly evident in Jesus’ case: blind people could see; mute people could speak; paralyzed people could walk again! Even more jaw-dropping were resuscitations of dead people. In fact, not too long before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he had visited the tomb of his dear departed friend Lazarus. Jesus called out to him and literally woke the dead. Now no one else could do that.
Third, Jesus offered forgiveness of sins, on his own authority. Only God could do that, which he did through the sacrifices offered at the temple.
Because of his forgiving of sins, his healings of the sick and the handicapped, and his claims to be the Son of God & Messiah, Jesus’ riding into town on a donkey took on an incredibly heightened significance for those who remembered what the prophet Zechariah had predicted several centuries earlier:
“‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
Zechariah was predicting the arrival of the long-awaited messianic King, a son of David. This Messiah-King would be riding a young donkey—not a war horse—to symbolize the nature of his reign: a reign not of domination or oppression, which was common among pagan rulers, but a reign of humility, gentleness, and self-sacrifice.
The crowd surrounding Jesus during his entrance into Jerusalem shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” “Hosanna” was a Hebrew term that originally meant “save,” but later had come to be used as a general expression of blessing. Joining “hosanna” with “Son of David” who “comes in the name of the Lord” surely indicates that some in the crowd saw Jesus as the Messiah-King whom the prophets had foretold would come to reestablish God’s reign from his city Jerusalem. When the people threw down their cloaks in front of the donkey Jesus was riding, they were showing their willingness to submit to him—or at least their willingness to submit to what they thought he had come to Jerusalem to do. The waving of the palm branches was also a common way of honoring a ruler, especially one who had returned victorious in battle.
Some of these people expected Jesus to be a political and military deliverer who would lead them in overthrowing Roman rule in Judea. Others in the crowd, perhaps those who had come to Jerusalem from a long distance away, asked “Who is this?” They had yet to learn about the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. As it turned out, however, everyone would have their assumptions and expectations turned upside down.
Join the Conversation
Before anyone’s wrong assumptions or expectations can be shattered, they need to be identified. How have you done this successfully in your ministry? How quickly did people catch on to what you were trying to accomplish with them?