Not So Great Expectations
In Dicken's Great Expectations Pip has them, realizes some, not others, and ultimately his expectations are changed. Most people have expectations; most are not great, and many are not so great.
Here's a not so great expectation: expecting Christ's activities to fit your timing. You heard the preaching of John last week. The ax lies at the root of the tree; fruitless trees are going to be whacked and cast into the fire. The Christ will clear his threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire, i.e. the fires of hell. So where's the separating going on in Jesus' ministry? Where's the judging, the burning, the whacking, the casting? Where's the first place Jesus is recorded going after being baptized by John? To a wedding. What did He do there? Make about 900 bottles of wine. Go home and keep on reading Matthew 11: Jesus will point out that John came neither eating nor drinking while He came eating and drinking, and He was doing it not just with sinners but with Pharisees and Herodians. And what about the sermon Jesus preached in His home down? His text is Is. 61:1-2 which ends with the ministry of Christ described as "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of our God's vengeance." But Jesus stopped with "proclaiming the Lord's favor" and then said that today the text was fulfilled.
What a bummer. This wasn't what John was expecting. He had been preaching the day of vengeance of His God that the Christ would bring. Jesus came and what happened? John's imprisoned. Does Jesus lift a finger to help him? No, He gives light to the blind and leaves John in a dark prison. He frees the lame to walk and leaves John in chains. He opens the ears of the deaf, and keep John's prison closed. He raises the dead to life and leaves John to die. Jesus preaches the Gospel to the poor and tells John's messengers to warn John about falling away. But that's not the worst of it: John is rotting in prison because he declared the king was living in sin for taking his brother's wife. Tell me where Jesus is recorded as taking up John's message? Show me where He says John is right? Point out where Jesus condemns Herod? And you wonder why John, the Elijah who was prophesied to return "before the great and terrible day of the Lord", can send to Jesus, "Are you the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
How many times have I told you that the only absolute proof I have that God doesn't exist is that He doesn't do what I want when I what it? How much more would I think that if I were rotting in a stinking, dank prison for preaching the truth? I can't blame John the Baptist for his doubts. Can you? Don't you have similar ones? Unbelief mocks God's Son and salvation in song, art, and life, and what happens? Nothing. God the Son descended all the way into the womb to redeem life from its very root, and yet where's the fire and brimstone raining down on the abortion clinics that murder that life? Where's His judgment on the most prosperous nations ever that declares abortion to be a right, a legal viable choice? God did rain fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; I don't know if they legalized LGBTQ-ism, but they certainly practiced it openly, unashamedly. Our government has declared all these normal and protected by law, and those who oppose them to be racist. Where's the fire? Where's the brimstone?
Aren't my expectations that God will not stand idly by while the unborn are slaughtered and His divine institution of marriage is desecrated reasonable? But how does Jesus answer John? He points him back to the fact that He is doing what Scripture said the Christ would do. How about now? Is Jesus doing today what He said He would do at His first coming? After rising from the dead, that is after He had fulfilled the Law condemning all humanity to hell and paid that punishment in their place, what did He send forth His Church to do in His name? To preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. To make disciples of all nations baptizing and teaching whatsoever things He commanded. He sent forth His ministry with the Spirit to absolve and retain sins. He sent forth His Church eating the Bread which is His Body and drinking the Cup which is His Blood thereby proclaiming the Lord's sacrificial death in place of sinners until His Second Coming. Is baptizing into Christ, absolving in Jesus name, and eating and drinking His Body and Blood going on today? Yes, and the gates of hell itself can't stop it.
So my expectations are not only not so great, they are plain wrong. I am expecting that Jesus do this my way, in my time, and so with John I am in danger of falling away on account of my Savior. The Greek is much stronger: Jesus says: "Blessed is whosoever doesn't even begin in Me to spring a deathtrap." The noun of the verb is the name for the part of the trap that the animal springs which kills the animal. Jesus says: blessed is whoever doesn't even take a step down the road to making Him, and Him alone, into a deathtrap. And He said this to a man suffering in prison for proclaiming God's Word. Do you think I've ever said a similar thing to someone suffering in a hospital with a terminal illness? How about to someone in prison wrongly? How about to someone in crisis because their God wasn't meeting their expectations? Nope I haven't, so now I am. The problem is not with your Jesus, your Savior, Redeemer, God and Friend. The problem is with your expectations, and unless you repent of your not so great expectations you're in danger of falling away.
Rather than expecting God to do the great things He promises He will do vindicate the righteous, punish the wicked, judge unbelief, rescue the innocent, and slay all who ignore His word right now. Expect that He will do what He promises to always do: Open the eyes of unbelief; make those deaf to His mercy forever hear; give the riches of heaven to poor miserable sinners, and to correct the expectations of those like me overlooking the least in the kingdom of heaven. And just who is the least in the kingdom of heaven?
Who was scorned as either Mary's son' wink, wink or Joseph's son' wink, wink after Mary turns up pregnant before they had come together as husband and wife? When His hometown heard the words of God's grace pouring out of His mouth, what do they say? Where did this son of carpenter get them? What about the sad words of John 1:10-11? "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." This is expressed already in Isaiah 1. Even farm animals know their masters but the OT church didn't know their Creator. Kids are sad because Rudolph isn't allowed to play in any of the reindeer game and that there is a whole island of misfit, rejected toys. Well amp these rejections up when you're talking about humans rejecting the Person of their Maker in favor of the false science of evolution and amp them up to ever more tragic levels when you're talking about sinners rejecting their Savior.
But that's what happens. And Scripture told us to expect it. Who wants a Man of sorrows acquainted with grief? Who wants One stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God? Who wants One who has no form our beauty about Him that we should desire Him? In this marvelous Isaiah 53 passage you see two things. The sinner's rejection of the Christ while straying from the Good Shepherd, and Jesus continuing on His suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying to redeem sinners. Jesus wasn't what we expected but He continued to be what we needed. Even now I long to see the mighty acts of God in judging, redeeming, and vindicating His Word and His people. I don't get what I expect, but Jesus continues to do what He promises. I never find that my Baptism has tried up. I never find that His absolution fails to send my sins away from Me. I never find that His Body and Blood in Communion are there for anything but for my forgiveness, life, and salvation.
But like John in prison and the crowds outside, I am in danger of falling away. Jesus warns both John and the crowd about their expectations. He warns John about not falling away on account of what Jesus is doing or not doing, and He warns the crowd about overlooking the Least in the kingdom of heaven. And who can that be but Jesus? The Father literally chose everyone before Him. Because we could not keep God's Commandments at all, He chose His Son to take on flesh and blood in a virgin's womb and keep them all in our place. We get mad when a child isn't doing their chores and we say, "Give me that broom; I'll do it myself." We might be right in being mad, but God wasn't even mad. He willfully chose you before His Son and willingly God the Son did the chores men wouldn't do. But the Father didn't choose the Son to humble Himself just to the point of doing chores but even to the point of death, even death on a cross to pay for all we didn't, couldn't, wouldn't do. Whatever prison you find yourself in: sickness, pain, sadness, worry, loneliness, fear, I can promise you it's not to pay for your sins. No, the Father chose the Least in His kingdom to do that.
Yes, the Father turned away from Jesus on the cross, so He could make His face shine upon thee; He turned down His countenance on Jesus to lift up His countenance upon thee; the Father gave the Son war in order to give thee peace. Don't miss Me; that's what Jesus told the free crowds. Don't stumble over Me; that's what Jesus told the imprisoned John. Both of these are a matter of focus. John in prison can focus on the bars in front of his face or on the fact God is fulfilling His promises by what Christ is doing. The crowd can focus on the powerful John who drew them out into the wilderness or on the only One born of a woman ever to be forever risen from the dead. This One lays claim to the title Least in the kingdom of heaven and this One is greater than even John. Therefore Jesus is the greatest expectation and He never disappoints. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Advent (20191215); Matthew 11: 2-11