I hated it as a kid, but as an adult I’ve learnt that delayed gratification can be as enjoyable as the event itself. Assuming, of course, the event being anticipated isn’t a root canal.
Perhaps this is why I enjoy using a charcoal BBQ for outdoor grilling and smoking. It takes time to prepare. It takes time to warm up. It takes time to cook. And all the while, the smell of smoke and food tease about the good thing to come. Usually, the final product is pretty good. Occasionally, it is great. Never, though, is it exactly what I anticipated. The pursuit for the perfect BBQ is endless. I will try again.
People who love to fish can relate, “Just one more cast. One more lure. Maybe this time will be that extra-large bass or pike.”
This is not unlike the experience of the ancient people of God who eagerly anticipated the One promised to come and fix all their problems. This One would reunite a divided country, provide political freedom, economic prosperity, and social influence over all the world. Time and time again their hopes were raised. Every time they were disappointed. And they kept looking forward. Someday, someone . . .
And then one day a quiet carpenter appears at a rally hosted by a fellow named John. Along with several others, He steps up to be baptized. Seemingly just another disciple, there is nothing extraordinary about Him. But John recognizes his cousin and proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And then the first of many unusual things happens - God, the Holy Spirit, appeared in a visible form similar to a dove. This One baptized was Someone special.
News of this unusual event quickly spread. It was just the beginning. For three years the reputation of this carpenter continued to grow. The rumours of His unusual nature and giftedness spread broadly. Except they weren’t just rumours. People were healed. The dead were raised. The hungry were fed. Was this not the Messiah?
He didn’t just do the miraculous. He also taught in a way no one had heard before. He was gentle and at the same time authoritative. He boldly confronted the religious elite and gently restored the broken-hearted. His popularity soared.
Two thousand years ago this past weekend, He was warmly welcomed into the city of Jerusalem. He sought no praise of on His own, but the mob-mentality took over and He was celebrated as a King. After all, in one week they would celebrate the Passover, and everyone knew the Messiah would come at Passover. For three years they had observed Him. They loved Him. There could be no doubt now - He Is Messiah.
They weren’t mistaken. But they were confused. Delayed gratification often has misplaced expectations. It is hard to get our heads around that. We expect “A” and what happens is “B.” In time, we learn that “B” was so much better. In the heat of the moment, though, we find it hard to accept “B” because we were so certain that “A” was better. I never expect to burn a burger or dry out the ribs. Sometimes it happens.
In a few short days all their hope would (seemingly) be destroyed. There would be no uprising. No overthrow of the Romans. No economic explosion of prosperity. So social dominance. He would be arrested. He would die. It would (seemingly) be over. It was a good, three-year run but it was over. The pattern continues. Time to find a new candidate for Messiah. Someday, someone . . .
They had to wait for Sunday morning. Last week, everything looked great. By Friday night it was a disaster. They didn’t know about Sunday. They had to wait in a state of confusion, anger, and even depression. Delayed gratification: it can be so misleading.
The waiting isn’t completely over. On Sunday - Easter Sunday as it has come to be known - everything changed, and it changed in ways they would not fully comprehend for years to come. We still don’t full comprehend how everything has changed.
God’s people continue to live with anticipation and expectation. We understand more clearly than did the ancient people of God that we live with delayed gratification. Yet, like them, we too struggle with confusion, anger, and distress. It doesn’t always make sense.
The Messiah’s engagement with His creation hasn’t ended. Not only are we certain of His daily engagement, one of these days we will also see Him return to world He created to bring all things to their final culmination. Until then, we observe injustice, chaos, inequity, disease, and all sorts of evil. We may be tempted to wonder if this One really is the Messiah. Like the first century skeptics we may ask, “What is there to indicate He is returning?” (2 Pet. 3:4)
The Messiah’s first tour-of-duty in His creation didn’t happen as expected. Not much seems to have changed. Yet, everything has. We have a new hope, a new understanding of God, a new type of relationship with Him. We have a stronger foundation upon which to build our faith. And that is the key word: FAITH. It still defines the nature of our relationship with God. It still trumps - but doesn’t eliminate - our confusion and distress. What happened to the Messiah did not define Him as Messiah. It created the backdrop so His true nature and mission could be better understood.
In this week of anticipation of Easter let us also pause to put into this larger context of Messiah the events in our lives that are overwhelming, confusing and distressing. They don’t make sense. Neither did Jesus’ death on the cross. But we know about Sunday. We have hope. We know what will be - it is just gratification delayed. Let’s guard the wonder of anticipation!