There’s a picture in a pile of old family photos that’s worth a thousand words. I’m about six years old, my brother, about seven and a half. We’re sitting in front of the Christmas tree with our newly opened gifts. Me with my new doll and my brother Jeff with his GI Joe truck. Only one of us is smiling. Jeff grins ear to ear; he holds up his truck with two hands like it is the best thing since sliced bread. I hold my doll by the hair and let her dangle in the air. I refused to smile for the camera because I was soooo disappointed in my gift. I was a tomboy through and through and didn’t want a girly gift for Christmas.
My mom found my angst so funny that she decided to capture it on ﬁlm. I didn’t see the humor at the time. We laugh about it now. It took me a while to admit it, but I eventually fell in love with that doll. Over the years my mom not only checked a few things off of our Christmas lists that we wanted, but she also surprised us with gifts that we didn’t ask for but ended up loving most of all.
Over and over, Jesus disrupted the status quo. The Jewish people expected one thing and Jesus gave them another. They expected Him to make His grand entrance with pomp and circumstance, but He entered the world through the womb of a poor, teenage girl. They expected a powerful king that would overthrow Rome. Instead, they got a humble servant who suffered and died for His people. And, consequently, whose resurrection victory overthrew the very powers of hell. They expected a king who’d abide by the law and maintain social distance from those who’d made a real mess of their lives. Instead, they got a King who broke tradition and yet fulﬁlled the law, and who crossed social barriers to reach the messy, hurting, humble heart.
Jesus continually frustrated those with rigid expectations, yet He delighted those who expected nothing but at times dared to hope for something.
Before getting to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped at Jericho. Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner and chief tax collector, shimmied up a tree to get a better look at the man who was the talk of the town. To Zacchaeus’ great delight, Jesus smiled at him and invited Himself to dinner. Once again, expectations blown to smithereens. Jesus enjoyed food, laughter, and rich conversation with a group of thieves most everyone despised. He knew this move would upset many, yet He did it anyway. Not for the sake of disruption but for the sake of a heart ready to receive his King. Zacchaeus and his friends were thrilled. Others, aghast; they gossiped and grumbled their way through the crowd. Jesus didn’t always do what the people wanted Him to do, but He did what the world needed Him to do. He took His cues from the Father and saved souls, one at a time. While at Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus declared:
“Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
Like Him or not, people wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. Next, He told the parable of the king’s ten servants. He did so to correct the impression that the kingdom of God would begin right away (see v. 11). Once again, people assumed that once the Messiah made His appearance, culture and systems would change practically overnight. And permanently. No more Roman oppression. There was a new king in town. But instead, Jesus explained that the crowned King would arrive, but then He’d go away for a while. And His servants would be assigned the task of stewarding the kingdom until His return. What? He’s not staying? And when He returns, He’ll take inventory of how we stewarded the ﬁrst phase of His coming kingdom? Not what people expected.
Next, fulﬁlling a prophecy, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts and praises of the people:
“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
The people had no idea how prophetic their praises were. But Jesus knew full well that those very praises would soon turn into curses. Yet He stayed on mission. As Jesus drew closer to Jerusalem, His passion surged for the city, for the lost, and especially for those with hearts so hard, they’d never admit to needing a Savior. He was so moved by their lostness that He broke down and cried. Imagine.
Who is this Man that the wind and the waves obey Him? That children are inexplicably drawn to Him? That the poorest of the poor and the marginalized adore Him? That demons ﬂee because of Him? That leprosy is no match for Him? That sinners want to spend time with Him? That the rigid religious would despise Him enough to kill Him? And that His closest friends and followers would rather die than deny Him?
Jesus is still surprising people today. Has He bewildered and astonished you as He has me? I can’t count the number of times when I, much like Mary and Martha, felt that Jesus waited too long to come to my aid. My dreams died. Heartbroken, I wondered where He was and if He cared, only to later learn that He was there all along, waiting for me to discern His presence when all I felt was His absence. Jesus taught me this unexpected lesson: While He cares deeply about the desires of our hearts (and is tending to some of those even now), any gift from His hand pales in comparison to the treasure of knowing His heart. His heartbreaking delays sent my roots deeper into the soil of His love, which proved to be a far more substantial gain than my temporary desire.
I’ve been startled by His unexpected goodness in moments when I was only focused on my predictable badness. I’ve been amazed by His mercy when I knew I deserved judgment. I’ve been astounded by His faithfulness when I’ve only given Him a few seeds of feeble faith.
Over and over, Jesus shows Himself to be strong and gentle, patient and powerful, tried and true. He doesn’t belong in a box, and He’s not bound by formulas. He is the King of an everlasting kingdom, and we are His joint heirs. He promised we’d have trouble in this life, but He calls us to be of good cheer because He’s already overcome, which means we will overcome.
Susie Larson talks about the joys of Christmas this Tuesday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from Prepare Him Room by Susie Larson. Copyright ©2021 by Susie Larson. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.