At a previous church where I was an associate pastor, I was once sent out in between services to get some items we had ran out of and needed for the next service. I was in a hurry and as I tried to drive quickly back to the church I ended up behind a car that wanted to go slower than the posted speed limit.
I did the “Christian thing” and told them to hurry themselves up, after all, I had important work to attend to. It didn’t work. They couldn’t hear me from my car. Go figure. As I intently examined the back of their car, I noticed their license plate frame. Along the sides of the frame were various symbols, like with old cartoons in the paper when a “bad word” was trying to be disguised. Then, to make things worse, at the top of the license plate frame I quickly read the first two words across the top, written in big letters: “UP YOUR…”
Now, I am not only painfully aware of their horrible driving abilities, but as I started to read this “profane” license plate frame I was ready to go to pray for this person. As I entered the church parking lot, the driver of this car did as well, and with all that I had experienced with this short ride back to the church, I felt they were headed to the right place. As we both drove through the parking lot, I finally allowed myself to finish reading the license plate frame. The whole frame read: “UP YOUR EXPECTATIONS!”
Gulp! In my hurry and self-justification and in a pharisaical way, I assumed way too much about this person and missed something much more important.
In Mark 2:23 and following, Jesus had a significant moment with his disciples and the religious leaders of the day. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field on the Sabbath and were caught by the Pharisees picking heads of grain. The Sabbath was a holy day of rest. No work was permitted and what they did was considered work. The religious leadership of the day, in all their haste and prominence, question Jesus about what had happened.
In a moment of great importance, Jesus responds with: “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry ...”
Of coarse they had read. The exploits of David were told around every campfire and reenacted by small children in every village. His prayers and psalms were shared and sung in every community. Being Pharisees means they had done so well in school that they had memorized, word for word, much of we call the first five books of the Old Testament, so of coarse they had read Scripture — they knew it very well.
How Jesus responded was clear and powerful. Mark records no argument and no comment after their initial question. What Jesus did in that moment was two-fold: He told the religious elite to expect more than mere legalism, and secondly, he demonstrated for those who follow him, to expect more then just showing up and existing, that God has mighty plans for those who follow him.
Jesus compared his disciples to the mighty men of David we read about in 1 Chronicles 11 and 12, which had to be a defining moment in the life of those disciples. These were stories and examples of the miraculous working of God in the life of those truly living under the authority of the Lord. Stories, not possible with man’s best effort alone. Stories that could only ever happen with God, in full control.
To the religious elite, Jesus commands them: up your expectations — don’t settle for mere performance-based religion. To the disciples that day, Jesus says: up your exceptions — that he believes in them and knows what they are truly capable of. For us today, that message remains: up our expectations — be not consumed with mere performance and nor settle for average. Jesus came to fulfill Scripture by redeeming and restoring us all, so that we can live an abundant and grace-filled life. We must expect more, remembering what he sees when he looks at you, his beloved, mighty men and women of the Lord God almighty.
Up your expectations for your spiritual growth. Spend more time in the word of God and prayer. Connect more faithfully with others to share what you are learning and where you are struggling. Pray more. Serve more. Love more. Share you story of God’s glorious redemption in your life more. Up your expectations for your marriage and relationships. Look for more opportunities to radically demonstrate the hope and holiness of God to the watching world around that is all around you.
So then, whatever “car” you are stuck behind today, let it be a subtle reminder to slow down, and to consider the words of Jesus when he said: “I am charge and stay close to me — I have greater expectations for you as you seek me with all of your heart!”
Nick Emery is pastor of Hope Crossing Community Church and executive director of Life Choices Community Pregnancy Clinic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.