Ancient Israel had a really big problem with idol worship. This meant that instead of following God, serving him, worshipping him exclusively and asking him for what they needed, they built statues, carved images, and sacrificed on alters to made up gods.
Idol worship also included some strange fish-human images, weird rituals, sacrificing babies, temple prostitutes, alcohol, and lots of blood.
Reading the Old Testament you think these people are crazy. God does something awesome, they forget about it, they worship false gods, God takes the awesome things away, Israelites are confused and sad, God reminds them why they are sad, and they repent (repeat for 39 books).
We don’t do those things! Modern Christianity has seen nothing like ancient idol worship.
But we still visit temples and bow down to false gods.
The reason people are predisposed to worship something that isn’t God is because it’s easy. It’s safe. Worshiping idols means we can put our hope in something that looks familiar and acts predictably. Our idols make excuses for us and meet our need to live comfortably. Whether we’re wandering in the desert or we just need to make it through another week, our idols are simple and easy to understand.
Modern idols take the shape of money, power, sex, relationships, jealousy, technology, knowledge, and anything else we allow take the place of God in our hearts, like our own expectations.
My idol of expectation lives inside of my head. She looks just like me but 30 pounds lighter and has better skin. Her family is perfect and her house is straight out of HGTV. She speaks eloquently and wrote a best-seller. She accomplished all of her dreams before turning 27 and didn’t start getting gray hair at 22.
She never fails at anything and doesn’t disappoint anyone.
What she does do, however, is rob me of my joy and sows seeds of doubt into everything I do. My ministry suffers when I visit her alter. My marriage suffers when I put her on the throne of my heart. My heart is heavy when I let her made-up accomplishments blind me to the opportunities that are real and right in front of me.
This all might sound crazy to you but you do it too. Your god just doesn’t look like mine, it looks like you.
Our idols of expectations have a more sinister purpose than just making us cranky and unsatisfied with our lives; our idols of expectation cause us to miss opportunities to see Jesus. Sometimes we miss seeing Jesus because we put lofty expectations on ourselves and sometimes it’s due to the expectations we place on Jesus himself.
Our Expectations for Ourselves
In Luke 10 Jesus visits his favorite siblings- Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. While Lazarus sits with the other men hearing Jesus teach, Mary decides to sit down with Jesus as well and listen to his message (I’m sure there is a lot to unpack in that decision alone but we can talk about Mary another day).
While everyone is with Jesus, experiencing him, taking advantage of God-in-the-flesh, hearing Scripture brought to life by the Word of God . . . Martha is cooking.
Martha lived in a time where she had heavy expectations on her shoulders. There were cultural norms to consider, gossip to avoid, and work to be done! If the men in the house weren’t going to pitch in someone would still have to feed all of these people. Martha was living up to her expectations. She was doing what she knew she was supposed to do and how she knew to make other people happy.
The unfortunate thing about Martha wasn’t that she was a humble servant (she was and continued to serve in Jesus’ ministry) her biggest problem was that she missed out on really experiencing Jesus because she was catering to the expectations placed on her by others and herself.
Maybe Martha was hoping that Jesus would be proud of her. Perhaps she wanted to stand out as someone who always followed through on her job. Would Jesus notice her hard work? Would he appreciate the sacrifices she was making?
All of these things are important and good, but Martha had an opportunity to see Jesus, hear him teach, and experience him in a way very few people on earth were able to. Martha was serving her expectations instead of her Master.
In Jesus’ own compassionate words, “Marth, Martha, you are worried and upset about many thing but few things are needed- indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10: 41-42, NIV).
I hear this as an invitation for Martha to put down the plates and come join her sister at their Master’s feet. I like to think that Martha did just that. She must have because we see her faith grow.
After the death of their brother Lazarus, Martha finds comfort in her Lord and even proclaims that he is the Messiah ( John 11:27). This moment defines Martha’s faith and reveals that Martha had indeed experienced Jesus fully and put her trust in his teachings. Martha saw Jesus for who he was.
Martha realized that to fully worship Jesus, sometimes she would have to lay aside her expectations and follow him completely. Martha figured it out. I hope one day I will too.
Our Expectations for Jesus
In the New Testament we see how expectations caused several people to miss out on experiencing Jesus completely. For hundreds of years the Jewish people were waiting expectantly for their Messiah. They had the prophets as guides but no one really knew who to look for. Most of them believed he was going to be powerful, influential, a militant leader, a revolutionary, an important person who could change their lives.
Jesus was who they were waiting for but not who they were expecting.
Everything about Jesus’ life was wrapped in humility and humanity:Born to a young girl from Galilee; a refugee in Egypt while Herod tried to kill him; raised by a carpenter. He was followed by fishermen, tax collectors, and thieves; touched by unclean women. Homeless. Dirty. He was accused of being a rebel; tried, beaten, and crucified. He hung naked on a cross. Mocked. Dead.
Only those who were able to see past their limited expectations were able to fully believe and experience a Risen Messiah. No one saw his resurrection coming. No one expected it.
The way in which God chose to bring his Kingdom to Earth looked nothing like people thought it would. They wanted the version in their minds. They wanted their Messiah to look like the idol they had carved in their imaginations.
James and John argued over who would sit next to Jesus when his Kingdom was to be established. They thought they needed to be important and have authority. Little did they know that to sit next to Jesus meant taking the seat of a servant.
Peter drew a sword and cut a man’s ear off thinking that it was time to rise up and finally take on the Romans! He would quickly find that it was time for Jesus to lay down willingly and take on Death.
Even Judas, was his betrayal part of a plan to force Jesus’ hand to be the Messiah he wanted him to be? Was he shocked, angry, embarrassed, that Jesus didn’t end up being the King Judas was waiting for- a military leader, a fighter, a judge for those who persecuted the Jews. I don’t know for sure but if that’s the Master he thought he was following for three years it makes sense for Judas to be disappointed.
The Triumphal Entry- people crowding the streets and worshipping their version of Jesus. “Hosanna! Save us! He’s here! He’s finally here!” Only days later, unsatisfied with the Jesus they were given, sitting with their unmet expectations. “Crucify Him. Save yourself. Take him away.”
Who do you expect Jesus to be?
Does the image in your mind look like the Jesus we see in the Gospels?
Does he look more like you?
I set expectations for myself that set me up for failure. I get in my own way of experiencing the joy and ministry Jesus has waiting for me when I get caught up in my own disappointment. The expectations I place on myself leave me scrambling to do a lot of things that aren’t as important as worshipping my Savior.
I also expect Jesus to do a lot of things he doesn’t intent to and I get frustrated when he does things I’d rather he not do. Reading the Bible is a challenge for me sometimes because God doesn’t always work things out the way I’d like. He doesn’t make life easy for me and his words really are a sword through my spirit.
But if I’m not experiencing Jesus as he truly is and if I’m not worshipping him based off of the truth I find in his words then I’m worshiping an idol.
There is only one way God deals with false gods and man made idols- they get smashed.
Everyday when our flesh and our weakness wants to kneel before a god that isn’t Yahweh, when our spirit is thirsting for something that isn’t the Living Water, when our eyes search for an image that looks more like us than Christ, we have to get busy destroying it.
This is done through prayer, study, and true worship. I read the Gospels to remind myself who Jesus is. I sing about calling on God’s name even when I’d rather trust myself. I pray that I get out of God’s way when he calls me to do his work. I love people and sacrifice for those who don’t love me back. All of this to remind me that I can’t serve myself, only Jesus. I don’t want to bow before my expectations, I want to bow before my King. I want to get out of my way, smash this idol, and experience Jesus for who he is.
What false gods are you worshiping? Do you bow down to the idol of expectation? Do you expect Jesus to bend to your own will? Do you expect so much out of yourself that you can’t rest in him and put your trust in him?