Matthew 11:4-6 (the message)
Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on:
The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.
Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!”
A gorgeous Saturday morning in my part of the world. Sunshine, a few wispy clouds and a light breeze. My elderly neighbors are out mowing the lawn and weed eating (they are like the husband and wife tag-team of lawn care! Shannon’s dream!) The mail truck is making its way around my cul-de-sac and I’m enjoying a cup of coffee in my Adirondack chair on the front porch. I have some things on my mental to-do list for today. Get the brocoli from the garden washed and put in the freezer, laundry, a run to the store for more diapers, etc. You know, life. So, I have a tentative plan. I have expectations for how my day will probably go.
As I enjoy my coffee (or should I say cream with a splash of coffee), I feel drawn to the 11th chapter of Matthew. Verses 28-30 are bright green in my Bible…a life-line in Jesus’ invitation to rest…find grace. But today I decide to read the entire chapter for a bit of context. Wondering what exactly was going on as Jesus invited His listeners to come and find rest in Him.
In the 11th chapter of Matthew, John the Baptist (who had baptized Jesus in the Jordan river and believed Him to be the Messiah) is in prison and has sent some of his own disciples to ask Jesus this question:
“Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?”
My heart is touched this morning as I consider John’s question and the answer Jesus gave in the scripture above. It seems to me John definitely had expectations for what the Messiah would do when He came. What it would look and feel like. I’m thinking maybe John had not penciled “go to prison” on his to-do list as a mighty prophet clearing the way for the coming King. Mighty John the Baptist, eating locust and wearing camel-hair clothes living out in the desert. Telling those that came for baptism to get their lives ready for the Messiah! Now he’s in prison and wondering if he had gotten it wrong. I mean, Son of God is walking around with a group of fishermen and tax collectors telling stories to teach people. He’s having dinner with sinners and publicly challenging the religious elite. When, oh when, will Jesus be taking His place as King of the Jews? When will He liberate God’s people from the Roman government? When will Jesus meet John’s expectations?
Let’s consider the answer Jesus gives to John’s question. He doesn’t placate John or even reassure him. He doesn’t say, “tell John he was right all along…not to worry…and I’m sorry for any confusion.” He just says tell John the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the wretched of the earth are learning God is on their side. And then Jesus asks a question…Is this what you were expecting? If so, you are blessed!
What about us? What do we expect? Do we expect Jesus to meet our expectations and what do we do if He doesn’t? Here is my most humble thought this morning…we may do ourselves a disservice when we try to make Jesus fit our expectations. I believe we are safe to believe and expect Jesus to be who the Bible says He is. We are right to expect Jesus to live up to the promises God gives us in His Word. But sometimes, like John, we can’t help but have a picture in our minds of how that works out and looks in our lives. And when it doesn’t we hit a high and hard speed bump. We slow down in our hot pursuit of God and deep inside ourselves ask, is Jesus really the one I was expecting?
So here is a Saturday morning shocker. Maybe the answer is no. Maybe Jesus is not who you expected Him to be. Maybe following Christ does not look and feel like you expected. See, I wonder if John expected liberation for God’s people and the coming Messiah to have an earthly kingdom. As in overthrow the current government. I’m no Bible scholar, but obviously Jesus wasn’t going about Messiahship the way John had envisioned. And sometimes that happens to us, too. It’s not the way we thought. We had a vision and a plan. We had our expectations. We know what the scriptures say and we accidentally try to make God fit into our box of expectations for how we think life should work instead of just expecting Him to be who He promised to be to us in the middle of our lives. Messy as they are sometimes. Jesus absolutely liberated the people He touched. He set them free from a bondage far more sinister than their government. Jesus liberated His people from darkness, sin, death. God had a far bigger and better plan than the meager one John was picturing. No doubt John rejoiced as understanding dawned more deeply in his heart.
If you continue to read chapter 11, Jesus then turns to the crowd and talks to them about yep, their expectations! Who they thought John was. How in the Kingdom of Heaven John the Baptist, in all his greatness, would take a back seat to the lowliest person. After calling out to His Father, Jesus paints a word picture of this intimate flow and connection He has with God the Father and tells them, “I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.” And you know what comes next? Verses 28-30:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
What if Jesus is telling us that sometimes it’s this strenuous effort in trying to make Him fit our expectations that is wearing us out? What if we get burned out on religion and even disgruntled with Jesus because we can’t check this Christian thing off line by line and make it work the way we want it to sometimes? What if Jesus is asking us to reassess the way we think? Could we be asking the wrong question? Instead of expecting Jesus to fit all our notions in order to believe He’s God, maybe we could accept His offer and begin watching Him be God.
I have this thought that once John realized Jesus was not on board with the “earthly kingdom” plan He embraced God’s plan. Because God’s plan was far above anything John could have hoped or dreamed or imagined! John had not paved the way for an earthly King who would liberate perhaps a few generations, John had called for repentant hearts to prepare for a Heavenly King who would liberate all men and women for eternity. And still today Jesus is setting captives free. Sometimes free from our own expectations of how religion is supposed to work and fit life. Free to get away with Him…know Him…discover Him. Freedom from the striving and burn-out that comes with trying to make God fit into our plan instead of just expecting to see Him be God in our lives and work out His plan.
Always more and better than we could ask or imagine or think. This we can expect.