Broken Expectations

Have you ever had this happen to you?  You’re at a friend’s house and they offer you a glass of sweet tea but hand you lemonade by accident. You don’t realize the mistake until you take a sip and experience a moment of instant revulsion and confusion. Your mouth was all set for something sweet but tasted something tart instead. Your expectations were turned upside down. Or how about this example? Perhaps you’ve listened to a radio personality for years but have never seen them. We all tend to create pictures of what they look like based on their voice. But our expectations are often shattered when we see their real life picture. We have all had broken expectations. Jesus’ disciples had them as well.

From Mark 10:32-45. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, took the disciples aside for a moment to set their expectations. He warned them about what was going to happen in Jerusalem, and that most of it wasn’t going to be pretty. He told them that he would be arrested, beaten, mocked, and killed. He also told them that he would live again. Jesus shared his heart with his closest friends but they had broken expectations that stopped them from hearing what He was trying to tell them.

Without missing a beat Mark reports that the Sons of Thunder, James and John, had a request.  “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” (Mark 10:35, NASB95)  Translators often tone down the way how this is phrased. That little word “ask” isn’t as soft as it sounds being closer to the rather harsh tone of a demand. “We want you to do whatever we want.” Now to be fair to James and John, Jesus did invite this kind of request.

For example, Jesus said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16, NASB95)  If their approach wasn’t bold enough their request was doubly so. “They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” (Mark 10:37, NASB95)  That’s like asking to be the Vice-President and the Secretary of State! This wasn’t the first time that the disciples jockeyed for position within the group. It seems to have been a constant within their relationship. They didn’t understand or consider that they had broken expectations.

The expectation of James, John, and the rest of disciples was that Jesus was going to establish a kingdom and fix all that was wrong. It’s not clear if they expected an immediate earthly kingdom or an end of days kind of kingdom. Either way, their presumptions clouded Jesus’ words. The teaching and hope of that time was that God’s Messiah would return Israel to its former glory.

Jesus was coming to establish a kingdom, but something entirely different and more encompassing than they could imagine. During the exchange we’ve been considering, Jesus pointedly told his disciples, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Jesus’ kingdom was going to be something the world had never seen, an upside-down kingdom that wasn’t focused on power, territory, and might but on love, grace, and servant-hood.

We can also have broken expectations of Jesus and His kingdom. Allow me to turn just a shade theological. How we view the Kingdom of God affects everything we do. If the kingdom is only promised and waits for Christ’s return then we are nothing more than Elijah’s. Preparing the roadway for the coming king. In that view of the kingdom, our job is cleaning up the world for Jesus’ return. But in His earthly ministry, Jesus announced the arrival of the kingdom at that moment.

Another view holds that God’s kingdom, His reign and rule, is completely here right now. That all we have to do is live as “King’s Kids” and we won’t experience poverty, disease, or brokenness. That leads us to a rather self-centered conclusion — If we do experience any of those it’s because we lack faith or because we have sinned.

My personal view is drawn from George Ladd. Although I grew into it through my own studies.  Ladd’s view of the Kingdom places us in a “time between times.” A time when God’s kingdom has arrived in Christ, but not yet here in its fullness or completion. During this time Christ’s kingdom exists alongside the Kingdom of darkness which began in the Garden of Eden. This thought can be condensed to the phrase “already, and not yet.” The Kingdom of God is already here, and it is not yet completely here. This time between times ends when Jesus returns.

Why is that important?  Satan loves to set up false expectations so that he can shipwreck our faith. It’s what he did to Adam and Eve, and what he does to each one of us. Our faulty expectations, the coral reefs that threaten to wreck our ship of faith, can be about anything. Folks have shipwrecked on prayers that seemed to go unanswered, on church stuff, on unforeseen tragedy, on their sin and the sin of others.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus touched the broken expectations of others, often pulling them back to God’s ultimate faithfulness. The list of examples is very long. Expectations play a role in many of the encounters recorded in the Gospels. Whether an expectation was rooted in pride or worthless Jesus reshaped it towards Himself and His heavenly Father.

We are rightly encouraged to pray with expectation instead with weak wishes. The problem isn’t having expectations, the problem is that we tend to put them where they don’t belong. At times the distinction can be very large and easy to see. At other times it is very subtle. This is why Paul encouraged, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95) Part of being renewed and transformed is the healing of our broken and misplaced expectations. I love that Paul uses the language he does. While we may experience immediate refocusing of some expectations there are many others that we grow into as our minds are transformed and renewed by Jesus Christ.

The gut check is understanding that even if we think we have it all together. If we believe we have it all figured out. Even if we have taken many steps on the journey of knowing Jesus there are still plenty of broken expectations, wrong understandings, and misplaced beliefs we don’t yet see. The good news is that Jesus knows all about them.    

Dale Heinold
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