Is Jesus Disappointing?
This is a special, Good Friday edition of the blog. Please offer a warm welcome to guest writer Tim Schultz. Thanks, Tim, for taking the time to share these powerful thoughts on the message of Good Friday.
* * *
As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, He’s being praised by the crowds as a conquering king. Within one week, the crowd has transformed into an angry mob calling for Jesus’ execution. What happened?
I’ve always had a hard time connecting with this part of the Easter story. Until recently, I couldn’t think of any modern examples of such mass emotional schizophrenia. Even during Watergate, President Nixon didn’t suffer such a radical collapse in his approval rating. And the people on his enemies list didn’t call for his execution.
Now, it occurs to me that we do have an example of a public figure whose approval rating recently went from 100-to-zero in about 3.2 seconds. This man’s public career has even been branded with the messianic nickname “The Chosen One.” I’m talking about NBA superstar LeBron James, who last year went from being the most popular man in Cleveland, Ohio to having his jersey publicly burned when he announced his decision to play for another team.
Now LeBron of Akron is no Jesus of Nazareth. Still, I think the crowds’ unanimous turning on their would-be Messiahs tells us something terrifying about the human heart – and about my own heart.
Cleveland is a sports-crazy town whose fans carry more emotional baggage than any other city in America (if you’re not a sports fan, trust me on this). When the Cleveland Cavaliers landed a local kid with perhaps the most amazing skill-set in basketball history, their overstatement in nicknaming him “The Chosen One” and “King James” was understandable. LeBron was a secular messiah, promising to deliver Cleveland from nearly a century of sports misery.
Compared to the people of 21st Century Cleveland, the psychology on the streets of 1st Century Jerusalem was even more tortured. Israel had a strong sense of national identity, but they had been governed by foreign occupying powers for over two centuries. If you’re an American, try to imagine our national psychology 200 years from now if, today, we were conquered and colonized. By France.
Jesus spent more than three years performing miracles and giving speeches like no one had ever seen. His earliest biographers note that huge crowds pressed violently to get near Him. (Luke 5). When Jesus went out in public, the scene was like LeBron James entering a Cleveland sports bar at the height of his popularity.
Every Israelite knew of the ancient prophecies of a coming Messiah, a righteous revolutionary who would evict the Roman blasphemers and lead their nation to its long-awaited comeback. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, that’s exactly what the crowds were expecting, but like LeBron, Jesus’ plans would greatly disappoint them.
So how are these cases similar? Both crowds completely turned when their Messiahs revealed an agenda different from theirs. LeBron James revealed a self-centered agenda to take his talents to another city. Jesus of Nazareth revealed a self-giving agenda to set up a Kingdom utterly unlike what the crowds were expecting – or wanted, for that matter.
During Easter Week, I join most Christians in giving Jesus a 100% approval rating. But I can promise you that no matter what your opinion of Jesus, He will disappoint you and me at some point in the next year.
If you’re an “I think Jesus is a great teacher and prophet of love” person, you will be disappointed when you encounter His constant claims to be God Himself. If you conclude your prayers “in Jesus’ name,” you will be disappointed when some of those prayers are not answered with your preferred results or timing. If you’re a political type, you will be disappointed to find that His way doesn’t perfectly overlap with your political party, and that He definitely calls you to seek the good of your political opponents.
We won’t understand Jesus in these moments, any more than His earliest followers understood what was going on that horrible Friday. None of His followers called it “Good Friday” at the time. I’m sure they thought, “You can raise the dead, Jesus! How can You let these evil Romans do this to You?” – the same way I think “How can You not grant my legitimate prayer request, Jesus?”
And I think Jesus is saying to all of us: “Trust Me. Just trust Me, okay? I may not be what you expected, but I’m not pulling a LeBron James on you.
“If I had a purpose in going to the cross, I have a purpose in doing things the way I’m doing them. And what I did for you on that Friday – the torture, being rejected by those I held dear, including Father God Himself – that proves you can trust Me. I turned crucifixion into resurrection, and I will turn your disappointment into resurrection as well.”
Though He may have dashed Israel’s expectations that Friday two thousand years ago, we still call that Friday “good,” because He is good – even when He dashes our expectations today.