One of my favorite stories in the gospel accounts is Luke 24:13-28. Two of Jesus’ disciples were walking on a road from Jerusalem the village of Emmaus. It was a short walk but the topic of discussion was focused all the events that had transpired in the past few days culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion. Without them knowing it, the risen Christ joined them in their walk and conversation wondering, “What are you two discussing as you’re walking?”
They then began to unfold for Jesus all the events that had happened but in honesty, their disappointment “leaked” out because they had firm expectations that Jesus was the Messiah who would redeem Israel. In that statement, they revealed their nationalistic hope that when Messiah came He would restore Israel’s prominence again. “We hoped that he was the one… and it’s been three days since it happened.” Their expectations that He was the One whom the Scriptures pointed to were dashed.
Expectations are a necessary part of life. Like it or not, we all have expectations of life, of others, of ourselves, and of God. Some expectations are legitimate others are illegitimate. What I mean is that if I promised to meet you someplace and don’t show up, you might conclude that there was some circumstance that kept me from coming. You might even offer me grace. But if I did it again, you would at least think that I didn’t value time spent with you or I had the character of a cockroach. If I clearly promise to meet you at a certain time or place, you are on solid ground for expecting that I will be there.
It seems to me that it’s not the expectations that are said and agreed upon that are illegitimate but the expectations that are hidden, just assumed, or not stated clearly. We all know the madness growing up when we got in trouble for something that we didn’t even know we were expected to do! We all have experienced the craziness of relationships with others where the hidden expectations make it very difficult to establish trust and mutuality. We all know the crushing weight of expectations that others put on us silently and when we don’t perform, we are called out.
How do we know when we have hidden expectations of God? The disciples on the road to Emmaus had certain expectations for Messiah and when those expectations were not met, they became confused and experienced despair. One of the sure signs that we have hidden expectations of God is when we feel like our will is being frustrated because God is not acting according to our plan, not giving us what we want (or brashly assume we deserve). Sometimes frustration, anger, or anxiety can serve as gracious pointers to the hidden and false expectations we have of God. We assume that God has promised us something that He never said He would do.
Easter is the great “surprise” in history, the pivotal moment of God’s redemptive work in space and time where God makes clear what we can expect Him to do. The cross and resurrection are His clear and inviolable promise to us. The cross of Christ is the clear promise from God that the deepest sin we have is only conquered by much deeper grace. Christ’s resurrection is the visible inauguration of God’s Kingdom, the promise that He is working to restore everything that is, as we know it, situated between the two gardens. The Holy Spirit is given at Pentecost as the personal promissory note that He fully intends to carry this out in you! This is the greatest expectation, the truest hope because it is the promise of God’s power to meet us right where we are at and to actively redeem our lives along with the rest of creation. NT Wright wrote in Surprised by Hope,
The resurrection isn’t just a surprise happy ending for one person; it is instead the turning point for everything else.