Let me set the scene for you. Fast forward 33 years from the baby in the manger. Jesus has just spent three years with His disciples, teaching and performing miracles. Now Jesus is finally ready to enter Jerusalem, and as He does, He is given a king’s welcome. The people lay down their cloaks and palm branches before him and shout “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They celebrate with singing and dancing. They’re beside themselves with excitement because they believe that Jesus has come to lead the uprising against Rome and to free the Jews from Roman oppression. I imagine that as they lined the streets for His procession, the parade route was set to end right at the steps of the governor’s mansion. But as He nears the center of the city, He asks the crowd to part and He takes another road. I wonder if the cheers quieted slightly as people asked one another, “What is He doing? Do you think He’s lost? He’s going the wrong way.” Maybe the crowds ran in front of Him and tried to redirect His path, recalculating like a thwarted GPS.
I wonder at what point they accepted that Jesus had a different destination. Maybe some of them figured it out and told the others, “He’s going to the temple! That’s where He’s going to announce His plan to seize power!” So they wait at the temple gates with eager anticipation. Their gaze shifts back and forth between the Roman guards patrolling the temple walls and their processing king. They relish the fear in the eyes of the guards as this man comes with the full support of thousands of angry, long-oppressed Jews. But as Jesus reaches the entrance, He pays no attention to the Roman guards. It’s as if He doesn’t even see them. Instead, He walks right up to the money changers and the people selling doves and starts flipping tables. Coins and feathers are flying in a chaotic whirlwind around the temple courts. And Jesus rebukes not the Romans but the Jews: “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!” Because more so than the political regime occupying Israel, Jesus is chiefly concerned with the religious officials who are exploiting God’s people and desecrating God’s house.
This is not at all what the people expected. They wanted a different kind of king, a king who would restore to them the land which they believed was theirs by birthright. They wanted a king who would punish and humiliate their enemies. They wanted a king who would put them back on top. In going up against the religious leaders of the day, many believed that Jesus was fighting the wrong battle. Was He blind to the bigger problems at hand? Didn’t He care? If He was who He said He was, couldn’t He handle bigger fish than the petty temple money changers?
Looking back, we can see how near-sighted the people were. We can see how the life and death and resurrection of Jesus crushed a much greater stronghold than the Roman empire. We can see how God’s plan was so much bigger than the people’s expectations. We can understand that God wanted to give them a gift that was far better and far more important than a life of comfort and freedom from an earthly enemy.
But I think we are too often guilty of the same near-sightedness. We pray to God like our personal Santa Claus. “God, I really want such-and-such. Please give it to me.” “God, I have this thing I want to do. Please bless my plans and clear my path as I walk in it.” “God, I really have a problem with so-and-so. Help them to realize they’re wrong, or please just make them go away.” And when God doesn’t show up with a poof or a bibbity-bobbity-boo or a tidily wrapped present laid out right under the tree where we expect to find it, we think He hasn’t heard or doesn’t see or doesn’t care. It is absolutely true that God cares about the tiniest details of our lives. But I think we sometimes expect God to fight a different battle when we should be celebrating the victory He has already won. Jesus has done the impossible work of bridging the gap between a broken, sinful people and a holy, glorious God. He is reconciling His entire creation to Himself. While we are caught up in the mundane space and time of the day-to-day, God sees the whole grand picture of eternity.
So this Christmas, I encourage you to think about where you expect God to show up. Are you waiting for Him to take down your own personal Roman empire? Have you made up your wish-list of requests? I encourage you instead to look at the grand scheme of redemption. Ask God where He is working, what battles He is fighting, and what victories he has already won. Allow Him to be the King He actually is, and celebrate that He came to earth to offer you a gift far greater than you could ever imagine to ask for: the gift of eternal life with Him.
Verses to read: Psalm, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, Amos 2:6-16, 2 Peter 1:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11
Robin (Giberson) Lawrenz has been connected with Delanco Camp for 24 years as a scamper, camper, counselor, craft lady, music leader, teacher, activities director, and assistant dean. She currently lives in Boston with her husband Jason and their eight-month-old son Judah.