You don’t always get what you expect with God. John the Baptizer had been preaching and teaching a message or repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand, he proclaimed in the wilderness many came to him. The threshing floor is the world and the winnowing fork is in the hand of the one who will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Repent! Turn to God! Turn away from wickedness. The unrighteous will be burned up with fire! Unquenchable fire!
This was John’s message he was preparing the way for the one who would come after him. The one coming was better and bigger and more powerful than John! John couldn’t even untie this one’s sandals! John’s message caught on many came to him and many heard him. Including Herod who put him in pon after he called him to repentance for his adultery. Luke leaves out this detail of imprisonment, but we get it in Matthew 11. John is locked up by the ruler of the earthly kingdom for the preaching a message preparing the way for the king of heaven and earth. This wasn’t what we would expect. But we don’t always get what we expect with God. We wouldn’t expect the confident prophet of God to be questioning the ministry of the one he was proclaiming, but he asked, “Are you the one to come or should we expect another?”
John was looking for some light in the darkness of his days. What was the point of this message of preparation? Was his life’s work for nothing? According to our earthly measures we would consider him a failure on some levels. He is restrained for preaching repentance. We don’t see what we would expect for someone who so clearly proclaimed the Good news of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
We don’t always get what we expect with God. If it was up to us to write the history of the world we would probably put the good John, greater than others born of woman, in a place of power, not in a position of weak powerlessness. We wouldn’t expect someone with such a strong convicting and true message to be questioning the place of the great one he was called to prepare. But that’s what John did, he questioned Jesus’ work and standing sending his disciples to ask, “Are you the one to come or should we expect another?”
The great one doesn’t always look that great. Jesus calls John great. “I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John.” This is understandable in light of the great message and deeds that John did. I mean, after all, John even baptized Jesus. The man who prepared the way has gone a difficult and dangerous way. Granted Herod was afraid of executing John. He was amazed by John’s preaching. But in spite of his amazement toward John, the man herod needed to save face so he exercised his power putting great John in a place of great weakness. Yet this great one doesn’t seem that great, I mean great people aren’t often behind bars.
You can understand why John may have had his doubts at this time. He expected the messiah to bring judgment and to rule with power, putting the corrupt in their place and ridding the world of the unrepentant unrighteous. But that is not what Jesus did. He simply went about teaching goodness and giving mercy to the weak and weary.
Why wasn’t Jesus bringing judgment against people like Herod? Why was John’s righteous ministry being slammed into the slammer? This wasn’t the greatest place for someone as great as John to be in! You can understand why the question of “are you really the one?” would be going through John’s head. John was a man just like you and me, prone to bitterness coming through present situations.
We don’t always get what we expect with God. We expect that faith in Jesus, the ruler of the universe who was there when the foundations of the world was laid would led us to a life free from suffering and illness. Our jobs and families should be secure and we should be free from unemployment and underemployment. Our families should be understanding and supportive of a life following Jesus. Our families should be healthy and happy. Why would we need to endure difficult relationship difficulties when we are walking in the way of the righteous one? Why should we have to feel lonely and alienated in the midst of a relationship with the one who gives all? These are not things that we would expect and not things that seem that great but yet these things come our way and cause us to doubt.
We lose jobs. We endure unfair bosses. We are afflicted with illnesses. People mistreat us. We lose loved ones to untimely deaths. We have people who won’t trust us and we have people we cannot trust placed close to us. We are betrayed and slandered wrongly by the ones we are called to care for and support. The world around us is filled with headlines of persecution and killings of undeserving and even faithful people. Wickedness seems to thrive while righteousness seems to wither. The things that happen to us and things around us can cause us to doubt what a faith in Christ is really doing for us. Is faith in Christ really that great when our lives don’t feel great? Doubt creeps in and can overwhelm us.
John doesn’t stew in his despair. He turns to the one who is capable of repair. Sending his disciples John wants to know “what gives?” The disciples go with the question and arrive in the midst of the answer. Jesus in that hour is healing people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits. He is giving sight to the bling he is doing great things in a great way that great John was forgetting. The great deeds of compassion and mercy and healing by Jesus weren’t the great things John was looking for. He had forgotten the way of the one he was preparing.
In such a situation John’s message of repentance is needed all the more. Repentance is turning to Jesus. And in the midst of doubt, turning to Jesus is repenting of doubt. John looks to Jesus to resolve his doubts. Jesus resolution for John is to point John to the works he was doing. He tells the disciples of John (after demonstrating it in their midst), He says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus points John to his great deeds and in doing so also points the great prophet John to another great prophet. Isaiah in 35:5-6 and 61:1-2 pointed to one coming who would do exactly these things. Jesus answers his question not with empty words but with the fulfillment of the full word of God.
There are many things that we would want God to do in our life. We would want him to give us job security and safety and health and perfect relationships, but in the midst of these broken things, Jesus keeps doing what He came to do. He preaches good news to us healing us in our spirits and giving us something much more lasting than earthly comforts. He gives in the midst of things that don’t seem great, the greatest thing we need, saving faith in Him. He gives it to us and to us and John he gives the word, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Things that are offensive plague us. Imprisonments for John and many broken things in our lives. But in the midst of these broken things and messes, Jesus is still the Jesus we need.
Jesus is without a doubt the one we need in a way we would never ask Him to be for us. We would never expect that God would work in the midst of messes to cleanse us perfectly forever, but that is exactly what He does. We look around at our situations and we say, who is this God? We have a resume in our minds that we expect God to fill but God knows Himself and His ways better than we ever will and along with this, God also knows us better than we ever will.
He knows our broken situations and difficult trials and He knows what we’ve contributed to make these situations the messes they are. But He doesn’t leave us to deal with it on our own. He gives us everything we need that we would never ask for. With God you always get what He promises. God has not promised us an unshaken existence, He has promised to be with us through the shaking. God has not promised us soft splendid clothing and luxurious lives in palaces but he has promised robes of righteousness and a place with Him in the manions of the world to come. With God you always get what He promises. And for Him to deliver on these promises He had to be delivered over to death. Like John, Jesus was wrongly accused and the trials of the days put Jesus on the cross in a place he didn’t deserve. Jesus didn’t spend time in the dungeon but He spend time in the tomb. And like we will, Jesus has risen from the dead.
All of this he has done to deliver on His promises. He knows who we are better than we ever will and He knows what we need even better than we ever will. The answer that Jesus sent to John was a “make no doubt about it” reality check. In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And He told John’s disciples to go tell John what they saw and heard. The healings and miracles he brought bring peace and wholeness to a world that is in pieces. In Him the fullness of God dwelled so that He could make a way for John and for you to dwell with Him forever.
Jesus commended John to the hearers around Him, saying he was a prophet beyond prophets. He was the one preparing the way. He commended John to the crowds saying there is none greater born of women. And he commends you as well. Jesus commends you to the father saying that there is no one greater in the kingdom than you. By becoming the least in the world by taking on the sin of the world, Jesus has made it so that you can be commended as never having sinned. Never having failed. Never having contributed to the brokenness around you. Even though you are deserving of all the blame and all the doubts you carry are founded, God the father finds you without a doubt deserving of all the glories of heaven.
In the midst of the darkness of these days this light continues to shine. The light overcomes the darkness of unemployment and underemployment. The light of the world gives you cause to rejoice in the midst of broken relationships and broken promises and broken homes. In the midst of slander and slams from those closest to you, Jesus clings even closer giving you all goodness and righteousness that you could never have on your own. In the midst of failing health our unfailing savior stands ready to restore even better than before the perfection of all that God intended for us.
In advent we light four candles and three of these four candles are blue like the blues of this world. But this week we lit the pink candle representing the joy that comes into this world of blues. The truth remains even though everything around us would tell us the one who we know is not living up to His end when in all reality it is who he is that makes us live up to everything worth living for.
May God continue to be with us in the midst of our missed expectations. When our experiences cry out with doubt may we be given strength by the spirit to bring these to the Lord. Are you the one or should we expect another. And Jesus answers us with word and action. Go and tell what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed are you who is not offended by Jesus.
In His name.