What are your biggest disappointments? I’m a pretty positive guy but sometimes it seems like life is just one long cascading parade of crushing let downs. The more you look forward to something the worse it is—and the longer we live, the worse it gets. Like, when we were kids, we looked forward to everything—couldn’t wait for whatever was gonna happen next. So exciting. Start looking forward to our birthday like five months out. But then one day the attraction of a Walmart sheet cake covered in blown-out candles and child spit isn’t quite as glamorous as it used to be. Eventually you realize that if you want a birthday party with lots of expensive food and gifts—then you’re the one who’s gonna have to pay for it. That’s the day when most people start saying something like, “I don’t really want anything fancy for my birthday.”
My son Angel says I don’t look forward to anything—don’t get excited about anything. It’s not true, I do get excited, but I temper my enthusiasm, try not to get my hopes up too high. I’m pretty positive overall, but life has a way of letting us down, you know? I think happiness is what happens when reality exceeds our expectations—there’s gotta be a little surprise if there’s gonna be delight—so I hope for things to be really great but I expect them to usually be a little painful, you know? That way I might actually be happy with what really happens on occasion. It’s not a bad strategy because if what we’re hoping for isn’t based on what’s really gonna happen then we’re gonna be disappointed.
And if whatever you’re hoping Jesus is gonna do for you isn’t really what He’s gonna do, then you’re gonna be disappointed with God—which is a bad place to be. Disappointed with God is a bad place to be. I’m gonna try to help you avoid going there.
Prayer: Father in heaven, King of Glory, strong and mighty, hosanna—save us. Save us from false hopes, misguided expectations, baseless assumptions. Help us to understand what the true hope and promise of the Gospel is, what it means for us, and the difference that it makes in this life and in the life to come. AMEN
Matthew 21:1-11 This is called Jesus’ Triumphant Entry
“As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. 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 its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“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.’”
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. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”
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.”
Today is Palm Sunday. Why is it called “Palm Sunday,” why did Jesus ride a donkey as He entered Jerusalem, why did the people shout “hosanna” and lay their coats on the road? It’s called Jesus’ triumphant entry—but is it really? It all seems pretty strange—what does it all mean?
Hardly anything happens in the Gospel of Matthew unless Jesus says it’s gonna happen first—it’s fun to read through Matthew and notice how many times Jesus makes things happen just by speaking. So the Palm Sunday passage starts out with a cool little story about Jesus being in control of some odd details—He had been doing some incredible things in the preceding chapters: He had just healed some blind people, they were probably traveling with Him now—the Gospel of John says that He had also just raised Lazarus from the dead and people were eager to get a glimpse of him—at this point in Jesus’ ministry, there were a lot of people paying attention to whatever He was up to next—Jesus tells two of His disciples where they can find a young donkey, tells them to go get it and if anyone asks what they’re doing horking someone’s private property, they’re supposed to do the Jedi mind trick. “These are not the donkeys you are looking for—the master has need of them.” The whole story shows Jesus in complete control of everything that’s about to happen to Him—that it’s all part of a divine plan. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, written hundreds of years earlier, that said:
“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.’
So, that’s why He was riding on a donkey—prophecy. Also, when a king rode into a city riding a donkey, rather than a war horse or a chariot, it meant they came in peace.
Roman Procession. But history tells us that there was another stately procession happening in Jerusalem that same day. On the other side of town a Roman official named Pontius Pilate entered the city with all the pomp and ceremony of a conquering hero with his war horses and chariots and an army marching in formation—lofty and proud.
Jesus Procession. But Jesus arrives in humility, on a borrowed donkey, probably with His feet dragging the ground. The disciples had used their coats for a makeshift saddle. The crowd, who were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, were singing Passover Psalms, shouting “Hosanna” which means “Save us!” and using their own coats and palm branches to make a red carpet for Jesus. This Savior. This Messiah. This miracle working prophet. This anointed King of Israel.
Their hopes couldn’t have been any higher.
But that’s the thing about hope. It’s only any good if the thing we’re hoping for is true. We’ll never be satisfied with anything if what we’re hoping for isn’t really gonna happen.
So what were all these people hoping for?
There were definitely some people in the crowd that day who believed Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. The king, the Messiah. Here He was, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling Scripture, people are yelling “Hosanna!” They had been looking forward to this day. This is the day when God was gonna save them from their enemies. A descendant of King David was about to sit down on the royal throne—this is the season finale—the game of thrones has ended once and for all. This is it! They were probably starting to feel a little sorry for all these helpless Romans who were about to be wiped out by the mighty power of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
But we know better, right? That’s not what Jesus is up to. Those people who were looking for Jesus to be a conquering king were gonna be disappointed.
There were others who thought Jesus was a great prophet—so they were hoping that He was gonna go into Jerusalem and call down the judgement of God like Moses or Elijah—but if their hopes were only in Him as a prophet, they were gonna be the ones who’d be judged. For sure, Jesus was gonna go into the Temple, drive out the money changers, flip over the tables—He was definitely gonna play the part of a prophet—but rather than calling down fire from heaven, He was gonna bring the wrath of God down on His own head. One week later He would be executed—this little Palm Sunday parade is a big reason why that happened. The people who were looking for Jesus to be a prophet were gonna be disappointed.
And there were certainly all the people who thought Jesus was just a man like any other man. These were the ones who were gonna crucify Him to try and get rid of Him. They were gonna be disappointed, too—although for very different reasons, but it was gonna take a few more days for that disappointment to really kick in.
On one side of Jerusalem we have Jesus and His Palm Sunday budget parade—people getting their hopes up for a king or a prophet to wipe out the Romans and solve all their problems. On the other side of Jerusalem there’s a grand procession of almighty Rome—come to make sure the Jews and their Passover festival are orderly and peaceful. There were probably an extra 300,000 people in town—Pilate had direct orders from Caesar to make sure there was no trouble. It was gonna be an interesting week—everyone was gonna be very disappointed.
You came to church today—what were you hoping you’d get out of it? What exactly are you hoping Jesus is gonna do for you? Whatever it is, whatever we’re all hoping for, it’s only worth anything if what we’re hoping for is true—otherwise we’re gonna be disappointed.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. Like I said, hardly anything in the Gospel of Matthew happens unless Jesus says so first. He rides into Jerusalem—the city of the King—on a donkey (which was like taking out a front page ad in the newspaper saying “I’m the Messiah, I’m the King of Israel, today’s the day!”). The people got the message and shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Save us!” Their hopes were so high—couldn’t have been any higher.
And they weren’t completely wrong, Jesus was gonna save them, but the whole thing was a lot bigger than they were thinking. Jesus knew what He was doing. Everyone had their part to play in how this was to go down. The disciples played their part, they got the donkey. The donkey played its part, it carried Jesus into the city and let everyone know who He was. The crowd played their part, they shouted “Hosanna! Save us!” —which made the religious leaders upset enough to start planning a crucifixion. The religious leaders were gonna play their part, too.
But they were all gonna be disappointed—they were all hoping for the wrong things. Jesus had told the disciples a bunch of times that He was gonna go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and on the third day raise again—but they insisted on hoping that they’d get to rule and reign in this kingdom and that it would be on earth, of this world, now. They were gonna be crushed with disappointment. Everyone was gonna be disappointed. The donkey might have even been disappointed. He might have really enjoyed the attention and the crowd cheering for him—maybe it went to his head, maybe he came back the next day without Jesus, hoping for another parade and songs—he might have thought they had been cheering for him. I know that’s silly but I think we do things like that all the time. Jesus could have walked into Jerusalem on His own feet, He didn’t really need the donkey for that—the donkey’s job was to signify something special about Jesus. See what I mean? Jesus wasn’t signifying anything special about the donkey. Sometimes I think Jesus asks us to do something for him and we find ways to turn it around and make it about us instead.
That’s what the crowd was doing. Jesus is riding into Jerusalem as the Messiah, the one who’s gonna save His people and the whole world—but the crowd is making it about themselves. “Save us!” “Establish your kingdom now!” “Get rid of those pesky Romans!” They didn’t know Jesus was riding to His death. They were gonna be horribly disappointed. The religious leaders were gonna get Pilate to do their dirty work for them, and Jesus was gonna die—but they were gonna be massively disappointed too.
Jesus was gonna disappoint all of them—because they were hoping for the wrong things.
What about you? What are you hoping for?” You’re here, you’re in church, He’s asked you to play a part in what He’s doing in this place, in this community. What He’s doing in the world, what He’s doing in your life. You’re here to worship God and love people, but are you turning it around and making it about you instead?
The difference between whether you’re gonna be disappointed or not depends on if what you’re hoping for is true or not. Are you building up your hopes to be disappointed in God?
When we get all excited about something, our body has this physical reaction that starts pumping our brain full of dopamine and other chemicals that make us start to feel happy, elated, in anticipation of whatever amazing thing we can’t wait to happen—it’s gonna be so exciting! Our heart starts pounding and it’s almost like whatever we’re hoping for is already happening! Like we walk around on this level— and when we get excited about something, get our hopes up, we’re at this higher level in anticipation. But if that thing doesn’t happen—if we’re disappointed—we fall hard from that elevated place. We crash. The pain of disappointment isn’t just the simple inconvenience of something not happening—it’s a double blow—because we already tasted it. All those chemicals in our brain that got us so worked up—they make us crash like we fell out of an airplane without a parachute.
So it’s important to hope for things that are true—things that God has actually promised are gonna happen, things He really gave us His Word that He’s gonna do. There’s been a lot of false hope in the church for a long time, and it’s led to a lot of people being disappointed in God.
WHAT HAS GOD PROMISED US? People get confused and think God has promised all kinds of things that He hasn’t really promised. That He’s promised to keep us from getting sick and dying, that He’s promised to make us rich, that our kids are gonna turn out great, that nothing bad is gonna happen to us and if we have enough faith then our life will be #blessed. That the Christian life is gonna be healthy, wealthy, happy and wise. But if we hold onto those false hopes then we’re setting ourselves up for massive disappointment in this world.
Jesus promises that if we believe in Him that we’ll be saved—but salvation probably isn’t gonna look exactly like we want it to look. If we follow Jesus, we’re gonna follow Him to a cross—that’s where following Jesus always takes us. True hope is that if we follow Him to a cross, then we get to follow Him in a resurrection. But there’s no such thing as a resurrection without a death.
Can God heal you? Of course He can—with God all things are possible. Will He heal you? Yes. Will He heal you miraculously, like today? Like He gave sight back to the blind and rose Lazarus from the dead? Maybe. He doesn’t promise to heal His people in this life every time we get sick—if that were the case, there’d be a whole bunch of two thousand year old Christians walking around. True hope is that He does promise to heal us and raise us from the dead when He comes again in glory—so that’s pretty cool—hold on to that.
Can God bless you with wealth and riches? Of Course, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth is His and the fullness thereof—but He doesn’t promise to give us financial prosperity. He promises that He will take care of us, that we will have what we need, that we don’t need to worry about it. That’s our true hope—that He will Give us this day our daily bread.
Will following Jesus insure that our kids turn out great? No. But they’ll have a lot better chance of living a good and meaningful life if you show them what it looks like to trust God and live faithfully. If we teach our kids what God’s promises for them really are—because the life of faith isn’t a path around suffering, it’s the only way to navigate through suffering—it’s the only chance we have for a life of hope and meaning.
So let me help you avoid being disappointed: Believe in Jesus. Put your trust in Jesus—put your hope in the things He’s actually promised you. Your life is still gonna be filled with trouble and pain but He has promised that He will never leave you or forsake you, that even though you die you will live, that the world is full of trouble but He has overcome the world. Walk by faith, not by sight—Nothing is as it seems. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways—but He is good, He loves us, and He will save us if we put our faith in Him. He rode into Jerusalem to die for His people—if you believe in Jesus, His suffering, death and resurrection are for you. That’s your hope. Hope in that and you won’t be disappointed. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. AMEN