March 7, 2023 / Miranda Zapor Cruz

Jesus Subverts Our Messianic Expectations

The Messiah We Expect

The Messiah has come and is coming to remove the powerful from their thrones and restore David’s kingdom. This Messiah will deliver God’s people from under the oppressor’s heavy arm, cast down the mighty, raise up the lowly, and re-establish the self-governing might of the kingdom that Babylon destroyed and Rome occupied. At least, that’s what Mary expected. That’s also what Peter, James, and John expected. That’s certainly what the people lining the streets shouting “Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:8-10) expected. The Messiah Emmanuel – literally, ‘God with us’ – wasn’t Jesus the long-promised one who would overturn unjust regimes and elevate those who have been trampled?

And that’s what Jesus the Messiah did. But the Messiah Jesus did it in a way that so far defied expectations that his followers had to thoroughly re-orient what they believed about God’s deliverance and the manner of its coming. The swelling crowd around Jesus as he approached Jerusalem thought that they were waiting for a Messiah who would restore God’s people to what they once were – a people with a king to govern them according to the divine law. Instead, they received a Messiah who would transform them into what they had not yet been – a people whose citizenship is in the eternal Kingdom.  

The swelling crowd around Jesus as he approaches Jerusalem thought they were waiting for a Messiah who would restore God’s people to what they once were – a people with a king to govern them according to the divine law. (1/2) Share on X Instead, they received a Messiah who would transform them into what they had not yet been – a people whose citizenship is in the eternal Kingdom. (2/2) Share on X

Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of God, completely subverted their messianic expectations. In light of this reality, the liturgical season of Lent is an invitation in part to acknowledge the false messiahs in which we’ve placed our hope, to repent of our man-made messianic idols, and to turn to the true Christ whose redeeming work comes through the power of death and resurrection. 

Like Jesus’ first followers, we are susceptible to reducing the Messiah’s work to fit within the boundaries of what we deem necessary or desirable in our present circumstances. Even as the preacher boldly proclaims the message that Jesus subverted messianic expectations, we return to the assumption that the Messiah’s kingdom is of this world. Even as she explains that Jesus came lowly, born in a manger, we seek evidence of Jesus’ power in military might and legislative action. Even as she says that Jesus refused the devil’s offer of worldly power and told Peter to put away his sword, we count it victory when we wield weapons and broker influence. Even as she proclaims the Savior crucified, we seek ways to protect our own comfort. Even as she assures the congregation that Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the government, but to overthrow the power of sin and death, we treat sin and death as the cost of gaining government power.

Like Jesus’ first followers, we are susceptible to reducing the Messiah’s work to fit within the boundaries of what we deem necessary or desirable in our present circumstances. Share on X  

Cognitively, we know the truth about the Messiah. And yet, far too often Jesus’ followers betray a deeply held expectation that the Messiah has actually come to restore our political fortunes, to reclaim an imaginary era when we were governed by righteous leaders according to divine law, to make us famous and fabulous. Our messianic expectation wanders from what the suffering Son of God actually did to what our own efforts can bring about in the world. We betray a fear that the persistence of Christ’s Body, the Church, depends on our ability to convince the world that we deserve a seat at the head of the table. We profess faith in the Christ who has come and is coming, even as we place our hopes and fears in elections and legislation, as though they hold eternal promise or existential threat. We cannot proclaim the suffering Messiah, the Man of Sorrows, during Lent only to return to the hunt for our next political or cultural messiah – our next president, or court case, or law, or celebrity conversion.

Far too often Jesus’ followers betray a deeply held expectation that the Messiah has actually come to restore our political fortunes, to reclaim an imaginary era when we were governed by righteous leaders according to divine law. Share on X  

The Messiah Who Came And Is Coming Again

The Messiah has come and is coming to subvert our messianic expectations. The Kingdom of God breaks in, despite our misplaced allegiances and misguided agendas. Lent is an invitation to reacquaint ourselves with our Messiah and to critically appraise our own distorted notions about how his rule is made manifest in the world. We must ask whether we are so focused on arraying our weapons to wage war against the chariots on the horizon that we miss the Son of God, humble and riding on a donkey, walking to his death with the silent confidence of one whose power is unmatched and whose victory is certain.

We walk with Jesus into the wilderness at Lent, to fast and to seek the face of God the Father, trusting in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the journey. But somewhere out in the desert we become more like the Israelites of Exodus, wandering and rebelling and constructing idols. Jesus issues the invitation to follow him into the way of self-sacrifice, which is the pathway to life itself. This Lenten season we are invited to return our eyes to Jesus, allowing the Messiah to disrupt our warped expectations. We are invited to hear the Spirit calling us back to the one who has come and is coming to deliver us, even from ourselves. We are invited to repent of our messianic idols, to acknowledge that we have sought power without sacrifice, influence without humility, resurrection without death. We are called to turn around, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

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*Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article, originally written during the Advent season, was published here, on Miranda’s personal site.

We are invited to repent of our messianic idols, to acknowledge that we have sought power without sacrifice, influence without humility, resurrection without death. We are called to turn around, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Share on X