Palm Sunday. The first high of the emotional roller coaster the disciples would ride the following week. On Thursday night, on Friday, on Saturday, don’t you imagine they each classified this week – this moment – to be the very worst of their lives? This grief, this loss to be the most unbearable they had ever known? Only days before, they had danced into the city on the wave of a great party. Riding beside them, the Savior they’d been waiting for. They shouted and sang and clapped and announced to anyone who would listen, “This is Him! This is the guy who’s going to deliver us!”
The problem was in their definition of Deliverer.
They believed He would still be their momentary conqueror, the one who would crush the oppressive Romans, give them a taste of their own medicine, and set the Jewish people free from their terrible reign. They were celebrating their own idea of a savior.
They believed he was there to be a new king.
The highest high for them became the lowest low on Thursday night when He was arrested before their eyes and taken away. Their wildest dreams of freedom came tumbling down on Friday afternoon when their would-be king died on a Roman cross. Their spirits were crushed afresh when they woke on Saturday morning and remembered it had not been a terrible dream but a real, lived-out nightmare.
The problem in all of this was simple. He wasn’t who they thought He was.
He wasn’t there to conquer a temporary oppressor for one group of people at one point in history. He was there to offer spiritual and eternal freedom to every captive. He wasn’t there to defeat a group of cruel Romans. He was there to defeat death. He wasn’t there to be a new king. He was there to be THE King.
He wasn’t who they thought He was. He was so much more.
The Palm Sunday celebration ran out of steam in a few hours. Onto the next thing. The next step in a Passover Festival they could all walk through in their sleep. But the Easter Sunday celebration? Oh, it’s still going. Hasn’t stopped one day since. Because the party for an earthy king is simply no match for that of a Savior who was carried into a cold dark tomb on Friday and walked out confidently on Sunday morning.
Conqueror of Death.
Prince of Peace.
King of Kings.
On this side of the story, we celebrate the Savior we love riding in to save us. But in looking at those early faces of the people who laid down coats and palm branches for their approaching king, it is a piercing reminder of how we are so often the same. A mirror to our own simple expectations. We praise Him for what we believe He will do, the answers we’re sure He will give to the petitions we bring before Him. We wait for him to deliver us from temporal discomforts and hardships, thinking all the while that this is the biggest thing we can ask for. This is the pinnacle of our desire. And we stand confused and angry while we watch Him do what looks to us like nothing.
But could it be that our dreams are too small? Could it be that our prayers are too measured? Could it be that He is waiting for us to clasp our hands around the truth that He is “able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine”?
I’ve been reading a book by Max Lucado during this lent season: And The Angels Were Silent. In chapter 13, “What Man Dared Not Dream,” he says this about Jesus:
“…no one could ever dream a person as incredible as he is. The idea that a virgin would be selected by God to bear himself….The notion that God would don a scalp and toes and two eyes….The thought that the King of the universe would sneeze and burp and get bit by mosquitoes…It’s too incredible. Too revolutionary….In our wildest imaginings we wouldn’t conjure a king who becomes one of us. But God did. God did what we wouldn’t dare dream. He did what we couldn’t imagine. He became a man so we could trust him. He became a sacrifice so we could know him. And he defeated death so we could follow him…it is the very impossibility of it all that makes it possible. The wildness of the story is its strongest witness. For only a God could create a plan this mad. Only a Creator beyond the fence of logic could offer such a gift of love. What man can’t do, God does.”
In these days between our current Palm Sunday and our upcoming Easter celebration, I wonder if it wouldn’t be beneficial for us to pray a new prayer. A prayer for God to increase our daring. To expand our imagination to include what Lucado calls “a divine insanity” and “a holy incredibility.” Maybe we pray something like this:
Lord Jesus, my expectations are so often too small, too dull, too unimaginative. I’m asking for relief from temporal bindings, and while I know You are fully capable of delivering me from anything, I want to look higher. I want to expect greater things. I want to look for an eternal Savior, conqueror of every darkness, not just the one I happen to be looking at now. I want to see You as You are. To celebrate the true and highest King. Show me this week, Lord. Unearth and break down any untrue beliefs about who you are, and show me your unwavering glory. You are greater than all we could ever ask for. Our wildest dreams are small points of color in the greater strokes you are brushing across the canvas. You want to do more. Help us, Holy Spirit, to expect more.