Sometimes, I’m not particularly good at it.
I can get impatient in traffic. I get frustrated at how long it takes my computer to boot up, or an app to load on my phone. I get antsy before I have to be somewhere for an appointment or speaking engagement, and often leave early rather than be at loose ends.
I don’t like waiting.
But there’s lots of it in the biblical story.
I can’t imagine, for example, what it was like for Abraham and Sarah to be promised a son of their own, only to have to wait 25 years for the promise to be fulfilled.
I can’t imagine how the people responded when the prophet Jeremiah told them that God had plans for them, plans for a hope-filled future — but that they would have to wait 70 years (Jer 29:10-11).
And I can’t imagine what it was like for the people of God to wait for the promised Messiah for generation after generation, to have their hopes repeatedly raised and then dashed again.
How long would it have taken, in any of these scenarios, before you gave up? How long before you no longer believed? And what would it have taken to awaken that hope again?
It would have taken a miracle.
Several, in fact.
Jesus had chosen an inner circle of twelve men to be his disciples — just as there had been twelve tribes of Israel. It was a sign that through Jesus, God was renewing his people and about to make good on the ancient promises.
The Twelve had been with Jesus, up close and personal, for three years. They had marveled at his miraculous signs, his demonstrations of power. They had been enthralled by his authoritative teaching, even when they didn’t understand what he was saying. They had reveled in the adulation of the crowds on Palm Sunday. And they had looked on with perhaps not-so-secret glee as Jesus won debate after public debate with his opponents in the temple courts.
The signs all pointed in the same direction. This was the one. This was God’s Messiah-King. The wait was over. The glory days were about to be restored.
And then, they watched in fear and helplessness as their Master was arrested and dragged away. Do something, Jesus. Show them who’s boss!
Their hopes died on the cross. And they did not expect the resurrection, though Jesus had tried repeatedly to tell them.
All that to say: you can’t blame them, after the resurrection, for going back to their original hope.
As we saw in the previous post, the risen Jesus told his followers to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy. “As a result,” Luke tells us, “those who had gathered together asked Jesus, ‘Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?'” (Acts 1:6, CEB).
Now, Lord? We’ve been waiting so long for this. We’ve suffered under foreign oppression. We’ve had our nation scattered to the winds. You are clearly the King. Are you going to get rid of the Romans now and restore Israel to its rightful place?
Suffice it to say that Jesus’ answer isn’t the one they’re looking for.
To be fair, it’s not as if the disciples were engaging in purely selfish wish- fulfillment. They thought they understood what was next on God’s program, and were eager to move the action along. We’ll see in the next post how Jesus responded to their question, redirecting their expectations.
But for now, it’s worth pondering how easy it is to assume that we know what the plan should be, as we wait for God to sign on. We treat God like a tribal deity, co-opting him into our nationalistic or personal hopes, as if God was obliged to serve our agenda rather than the other way around.
So what are you waiting for?