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Evan Earwicker: God of Our Disappointment, Matthew 21:1-11

March 25, 2024

Audio Recording

The same crowd that recognized Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday soon rejected Him, calling for His crucifixion. Unmet expectations continue today among the followers of Jesus, but we don’t have to walk alone as we wrestle with doubts and disappointments.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: God of Our Disappointment, Matthew 21:1-11
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

Across the world, christians today are celebrating Palm Sunday, and it memorializes that moment that we're going to read about today, where Jesus enters into Jerusalem. And because he has just healed and raised Lazarus from the dead, he makes his way into Jerusalem, and word has spread. And this is the tipping point where now the crowds have come to attach Jesus to the old prophecies that foretold the coming of a savior, of the messiah, a king who would save his people. And it's remarkable because Jesus enters into the city, and the crowds are elated and incredibly supportive for now. So we're going to read this. Matthew, chapter 21, starting in verse one, says, as Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, and Jesus sent two of them on ahead. Go into the village over there, he said, as soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there with his colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. And if anyone asks what you are doing, just say, the Lord needs them.

If you get caught shoplifting, just say, the Lord needs it.

I apologize if I've told this story, and I apologize for so many anecdotes about my young son. He'll get older and the stories will become less funny, so I won't tell him anymore. But about a month ago, my wife is driving Jack to school Monday morning, and she looks back in the backseat, and he's sitting there, and all around him are these little communion cups. Some of them have been eaten and the juice has been drunk, and some of them are still there. And she goes, why did you steal all those communion cups from the church and from the backseat? He goes, the Lord gave them to me.

So if anyone asked what you were doing, say, the Lord needs them, and he will immediately let you take them. This took place to fulfill the prophecy. And here is where Jesus, or, excuse me, Matthew, is quoting from the prophetic words out of the old Testament prophets, as well as the psalms. Tell the people of Jerusalem, look, your king is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey, riding on a donkey's colt. And the two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, quoting out of psalms 118, praise God for the son of David. Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Praise God in the highest heaven. And in John's gospel, we find that they're also shouting this word, hosanna. It means save.

They are penning their hopes for salvation on this man, Jesus.

Verse ten. The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. Who is this? They asked, and the crowds replied, it's Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. This is not the mood of the average rabbi coming to town for the Passover celebration. This is the mood of a victory parade. This is the kind of event that would happen if a new king had just been coronated. As the people tear off palm branches from the trees and they weigh them as a sign of victory and the coming peace that they were expecting, this was the sign of someone great coming to town. This is the tipping point when the people correctly identified Jesus really for the first time. Now, the disciples had seen this. Peter had acknowledged that Jesus was Messiah. We're going to find out today that John the Baptist, even years before, as Jesus approached him to be baptized in the wilderness, John even said, look, there's the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So people here and there had begin to suspect that Jesus might be the one who was promised. But now, because Lazarus has been raised and word has spread, finally, the crowds decide collectively, this is our guy. This is the one who will save hosanna, save us. God has come close, and it looks like Jesus. But the strangest thing, in just a week, those same crowds will be crying something different, crucify him. How is it that this atmosphere of joy and celebration and pomp and circumstance can so quickly turn, and the crowds who in this moment are lifting up and adoring Jesus as he enters the city in just a few days, could be calling for his death. What we see in this crowd is something that happens often in our own hearts, that the expectations we place on Jesus and the reality when he shows up don't match. And what happens in response to that is everything when it comes to our faith. I would imagine in the midst of this crowd, who is so joyfully lifting up this man, Jesus. His disciples were walking with him and thinking, finally, this is happening. Finally, our messiah, our rabbi, our teacher, he's going to take the throne and he's going to conquer Rome. This is amazing. We're finally doing it. But then Jesus does something really strange after he enters in Jerusalem. To all this fanfare, he sits down, and he begins to talk to the crowds. And in John, chapter twelve, verse 24, we see this. Jesus says for sure. I tell you, unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will only be a seed. And if it dies, it will give much grain. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. He said this to indicate how he was going to die, and the crowd responded. We understood from scripture that the messiah would live forever. And right here, we find that the crowds come to realize that the Messiah they were looking for is not the Jesus who stands in front of them. He begins to disappoint their expectation, and all those things that they placed on him on Palm Sunday begin to fall off as they realize that while they've got his identity correct, they've missed his mission. They have correctly identified him as Messiah, but they have no idea why he's here.

Their assumption, even looking back in scripture, is that somehow he's going to save them from their great enemy, which they assume is Rome. And here Jesus says, listen, I'm not here to conquer. I'm here to die. But something's going to happen through that. And Jesus comes to be king, to be the messiah, not to save the people from their enemy, Rome, but to save them from a much darker and deeper and more ancient opponent, sin and death. And it's in this mismatch of expectation and reality that the people so easily turn from adoring him to wanting to crucify him. It's striking how the prophets correctly say that he's going to come in on a donkey. And if the people are really paying attention, as they're expecting this great general, this great king Jesus, to come to lead the people in an uprising against Rome, they might think, wait, a donkey.

That is not a general's ride.

This is like the 84 civic. We're expecting something more impressive.

And yet Jesus rides in on a donkey. He'd be better off on foot. Do you realize this?

How do you lead a revolution from the back of a donkey? How do you lead a revolution? Humbly and gently? That's not how it works, Jesus. And he says, but I'm not bringing in a kingdom like you've ever seen before.

When the kingdom is different, the king also looks different. And so Jesus rides into town, absurdly, on this donkey, and it's as though every step of the way, he is trying to reinforce what you're expecting is not what you're going to get with me.

And Jesus is so comfortable disappointing so many.

And if you've lived any length at all following after Jesus, you realize that he is still disappointing many of our expectations.

And this is what I want to share with you today is this question. What happens to our faith when God does not do what we think God should do when the Jesus we expect is not the jesus we get? What happens to our faith?

What happens to our faith?

I was talking with a friend about a song we used to sing quite a bit here. I still like the song, but my friend was talking about the bridge, where these are the words of the bridge. You're never going to let. You're never going to let me down.

And because it's a worship song, bridge, we would just sing it over and over and over.

You're never going to let. You're never going to let me down. Over and over and over.

And that is a really beautiful sentiment. And it's actually a bridge that I have held on to in various seasons of my life. God, you're not going to let me down.

And yet my friend, who had experienced a lot of loss and was grieving a lot of things that had gone away, said, but he kind of has.

He kind of has let me down.

And I love Jesus, but I'm just not sure I can sing that song with any kind of confidence that he's not going to let me down again.

And if you're sitting here, maybe there's two reactions to that. Some of you might really relate.

Some of you might be taken aback a little bit, like, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Don't go there.

Don't open that door. Because if you open that door that maybe God's not going to come through, where will that leave our faith?

So let me help us with another passage of scripture that might draw us in to what we wrestle with in John the Baptist story.

As I said, he correctly identified one of the first to identify that Jesus was the one that they were waiting for. And then we get to Matthew, chapter eleven, and in verse two, we find that John's situation has changed. This is John the Baptist, who was the cousin of Jesus. He was baptizing in the wilderness when Jesus himself came and said, I want to be baptized by you. So these guys go way back.

And in Matthew, chapter eleven, verse two, things have changed for John. It says this John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the messiah was doing. And so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, are you the messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?

And Jesus told him go back to John and tell him what you have heard in the scene. That the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the good news is being preached to the poor. And he added, God blesses those who do not fall away because of me. Why would he say that?

He would say it because he keeps missing people's expectations, and he knows that when people get close enough to him, they're going to find some disappointment there.

And so John, his situation changes. And he goes a couple of years back from saying, this is the messiah. This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. To now he's saying, are you even who we thought you were? What's changed? He's in prison.

He's in prison, and in prison you have a lot of time to think and you have a lot of time to question.

And so John is sitting isolated in this prison cell, and he starts to wonder if my cousin Jesus is really who he says he is.

He's the son of God, and he has power over the winds and waves, and he heals, and he raises the dead and he cleanses lepers. And why am I here?

Can you relate?

If God is, then why doesn't he? If Jesus can, why has he not?

These are the questions of everybody who has truly and with intention explored the depths of their faith while walking through times of trouble. If God is this, why is my circumstance this? John is in prison and he's wrestling with doubt.

So going back to that song, you're never going to let me down. If today you say, yeah, I would struggle saying that honestly, too. Here's the great news. If John the Baptist can have doubts and they get recorded, then you have permission to have doubts today that maybe Jesus won't come through in certain ways and maybe that will create issues in your faith. And I want to say you have permission in this place to wrestle with doubts and uncertainties and fears. And Jesus, I believe this would welcome you to come to him with your doubts.

I think one of the most dangerous things places like this can do is create walls that say, you are not welcome to bring your doubts here, that somehow we've got to so protect everybody staying in line with their beliefs, that anytime your faith is shaken, you need to go figure that out somewhere. No. Jesus says, come on, let's talk about this.

Where do you feel like you've been abandoned? Where do you feel like God is far away?

Because the disappointments are real.

And so Jesus sends word back to John. Well, listen, John, I know your circumstances hard, but you got to know that God is still working.

So the blind are seen and the lame are walking and the lepers are cured and the deaf here and the dead are raised to life and the good news is being preached to the poor. John, please, in your circumstance, don't assume that what feels like silence to you means that God is no longer at work in his world. God is at work in so many different ways.

And I know this. There's moments in my heart and my life when I've wrestled with doubt. And you start to believe and assume that God is not at work in any way.

And yet we hear whispers, God's still doing something. And I hope this is true for you, that if you are in a season of doubt, of wrestling, of disappointment with God, that maybe today you would be stirred to understand that God is not done, that he is not far away, that one circumstance will not dictate the whole of what God intends towards you.

John gives me hope that my doubts and my disappointments can be shouldered by a good God.

These expectations that we put on Jesus, I think we do that with the best information we have. Right?

And yet sometimes our expectations come from a place that is lacking maturity. Not in an unhealthy way, but much like right now, we're headed into wedding season. And so about now, we start getting the calls for pastoral counseling before couples step into marriage. And especially if these couples have never been married before. There is a certain elation and love struckness between these couples, right? It's our job not to kill that.

They'll do that all on their own.

And yet you don't want couples going in completely blind to the fact that maybe what they are feeling four months before their wedding day will change. Can we say that married people? Can we say that? Change? Yeah. And so it's actually a great process where we begin to talk through things that maybe have not come up and hopefully get to a place where there is at least some level of eyes opened going into these marriages. And that's of course, good and healthy because many times our expectations are sky high. And I would never sit before a young couple who is in love and be like, well, you shouldn't be in love. That's stupid. Tone it down. Be realistic.

Killer of love up here, right? No, of course not. That is good and right and healthy. But maturity will change the relationship, hopefully in a deepening and enriching way for that couple, that a couple who walks into a healthy marriage and has a healthy marriage 1015 years down the road. Their relationship is going to be much more rich than four months before their wedding day, when it was all rose colored glasses on everything. And this is, I think, the process many times of our faith is that we come into it and we put all these expectations of perfect circumstances onto the shoulders of our messiah, on Jesus.

And there is nothing wrong with, I would never come to someone who say, I want to follow Jesus, and I believe that he has the power to heal and that he can raise me up and that he's going to provide everything I need. I'm never going to be like, oh, well, good luck, buddy. No, but we understand that a healthy faith is a growing faith, and a healthy faith is one that is going to walk through times when circumstances do not go all the way. Right.

And in those times, the invitation is to not run away from our faith, but to enrich it and find it to be deeper than we thought it was. And George McDonald wrote this. He said, do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true?

Where there are no doubts and no questions and no perplexities, there can be no growth. So what if this, what if you wrestling with your faith, feeling disappointments, feeling like your expectations have not been met, are not a sign that your faith is crumbling, but a sign that your faith is being made rich and deep and growing? When we're disappointed there, I think two really natural responses to disappointment and doubt in our faith. I think these are normal. And I think at different times in my life I have felt these responses when it feels like God has not come through in the ways that I expect. First one is this, I'm going to find another savior. Jesus has not come through in the ways I wanted, so I'm going to find somebody else who will come through for me. I think this is one of the things that I find so concerning about our current moment, is our willingness and our propensity to look for saviors outside of Jesus, especially in our politics.

And I am completely on board with discussions around governance and policies and finding ways that even the political system can lead to the flourishing of humanity.

What is really concerning to me, as I read in one interview with someone not from around here talking about their preferred presidential candidate, said, well, he's the only savior I can see.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. We just stepped away from this idea of we desire good governance into, we desire someone to do a better job than it seems like Jesus has done.

And that's dangerous, and this will always be. The temptation is give me a solution. I can see Jesus on that donkey coming in gentle with a new kind of kingdom that is quaint, outdated and ineffective. Give me something that will work for me. And so we turn to lesser gods. And the second is this idea that I'm going to have to save myself. Nobody else is going to care for me. No one else is looking out for me. No one else is going to be my salvation. And so I'm going to turn inward, protect what's mine, not put myself out there.

I'm going to love in measure. I'm going to trust people, but guardedly, because I know everyone else is out there to hurt me. And so I am going to find in myself what I need for peace. And both of these reactions are deeply cynical. And the invitation of Jesus humbly from the back of the donkey he rides into Jerusalem on is if you'll follow me, you'll find that the path to salvation is not found in turning inward or finding a lesser savior. The path to salvation is that you would follow me to a place that looks like a lot of pain and trouble and a cross. And Jesus said it so clearly that if we want to find our lives, we'll lose them. And that by emptying ourselves out for the sake of love that we would experience resurrection. But to do this is radical, and it requires dying to ourselves and letting go of some things that we'd rather not let go of. Here's a few of them. One, we let go of the idea that Jesus will always meet our expectations, that our vision for our future and Jesus'intention towards us will line up. The goodness of God does not mean the exact picture of your dreams being fulfilled.

So we have to let that go in order to follow him, as many of the disciples had to do what they thought he was doing and what his actual mission was, were different, and so they had to abandon those expectations. Number two, we have to let go of a house of cards kind of faith. I would love it, naturally if someone would just stand on stages like this, tell me exactly how everything's going to work, everything I should believe, and then I wouldn't have to do any of the homework myself. But here's the problem with that kind of faith. If one piece of what you've been told is pulled out or it turns out to not work in your own life, you lose your moorings, the whole house collapses, and you're left with nothing. And so I would much rather you be led into a kind of faith that wrestles with God over doubts and disappointments and comes out with a faith that can be sustained even in the darkest of nights. And number three, we let go of the idea that joy and pain cannot coexist. James, chapter one, he opens up with this, and it's so frustrating. He says, consider it joy, brothers and sisters. Pure joy. When you endure trials of many kinds.

Boo.

Boo. James, who put this in the Bible, get it out of there.

Consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, when you endure trials of every kind. He could have said it different ways. He could have said, it's okay. You're going to go through trials. Just push through. It'll be all right or you'll survive, or what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Said James says it's pure joy, which makes me have to consider that disappointment doesn't equal the absence of God, but it actually is the place where joy meets us. And I know there is tough stuff represented in this congregation. I know there are marriages that are struggling, and there are bodies that are failing, and there are relationships that have not gone the way that we thought they would.

And I will fault no one in their dark night for reeling from the disappointment of unmet expectations. Instead, I'm going to continue to go before God and say, God, would you meet us with joy in the trial? I don't know if you're going to change the circumstance. I don't know if you're going to change the situation. I don't know if you're going to heal. I don't know how this is going to turn out. But God, with confidence, I would ask you, would you show up in the dark night? There was another guy named Paul who also was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Romans.

And he was talking about this very thing. Something about first century prisons must have not been great.

All these guys have all these doubts that rise up in these roman prisons.

And Paul writes this, and I want you to catch this. He likely had a scribe with him, riding by candlelight as he is sitting there in the dark, dictating these words. If we already have something, we don't need to hope for it.

But if we look forward to something we don't yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.

And right there, I would imagine Paul stopped because he knows how hard it is to wait patiently and confidently. Verse 26, he tells us, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. My heart is so full for so many who have felt like they can't have doubts and they can't have disappointments when it comes to their faith, and that when they have and they've had weakness and fear and felt like they don't have the strength to continue in their faith, and that you felt shame because of that, I want to tell you that the Holy Spirit comes to help you in your weakness. You don't have to bear the weight of your shaky faith on your own.

You don't have to embrace the disappointment that you felt when expectations have not been met by Jesus. You don't have to bear that weight by yourself. Because Paul said, from experience, from the cell, from the prison, I know how you're going to make it. I know how you're going to wait patiently and have confidence in your trial. It's because the spirit of God is going to come close to you. Later he would write in his letter to the Corinthians of his own struggles. It says, two Corinthians, twelve, nine. This is God's response through this wrestling moment that Paul has. He says, my grace is sufficient for you, and my power is actually made perfect in weakness.

That same weakness, that the Holy Spirit comes alongside to lift you up when you want to give up, when your faith might fail. That same weakness is how my power is going to come to you. Here's the promise. Here's the promise.

When things aren't working out, the spirit of God will come close to you.

And if the spirit of God is close, that means even when I haven't got the answer that I've been looking for, he's close enough where I can still keep asking that the closeness of God is an open invitation, an open door to never stop talking to God. I know circumstances haven't been good, but would you be close and would you still heal even when you haven't healed yet? Would you still come through even when you haven't come through yet? My expectations haven't been fulfilled at this point. But I'm still here. I'm still here in the middle of my doubt, in the middle of my disappointment.