John the Baptist struggled with his own sermon. He had preached about the Messiah’s kingdom coming with power and justice. But instead, Jesus’s ministry centered on preaching and on acts of mercy, and John found himself unfairly wasting away in prison near the blistering shores of the Dead Sea. Gentle Jesus hardly seemed the political Deliverer everyone expected.
Unable to reconcile the contradictions and imprisoned in his thoughts, John doubted his own preaching. John sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). In other words, the Expected One had certain expectations placed upon Him . . . and Jesus had failed to meet them.
Put yourself in John’s cell for a moment. Has it ever seemed to you as if the “good news” of the Bible doesn’t really work in the real world? Ask yourself this, If the gospel “worked,” what would it look like? What do I expect from Jesus?
While we may not say it out loud, often we expect that if we believe and live correctly, we’ll have marriages without struggles, bank balances in the black, well-balanced and obedient children, peace among peers, and freedom from the incessant temptations of the flesh.
Even when our expectations are biblical, as John’s were, we still see them through the lens of impatience. We suppose that if God has promised to act, He should act now! As if God’s whole universe orbits around our timetable.
I think when we find ourselves most disappointed with life, it’s not because something in life has failed us. Rather, our expectations of what life “ought to be” have failed us. Or understood a different way, when we find ourselves most disappointed with God, God has not failed us—our expectations of God have failed us.
In response, Jesus graciously challenged John the Baptist to shape his expectations from the Word of God and not from the circumstances that seemed to contradict it: “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matthew 11:6).
We should always hesitate to assume the gospel doesn’t “work” when we simply cannot see the big picture. When we struggle to connect truth with life, we must embrace the limitations of our understanding . . . and also the limitlessness of God’s. Our inability to understand Jesus should give cause for worship, not cause for doubt.
Jesus was willing to disappoint everyone but the Father. Everyone. Ponder that for a moment. Jesus loved His followers enough to disappoint them, to allow them to question His power and to struggle against their own expectations, in order that they could experience true joy in the long term.
Jesus is willing to disappoint you for the same reason.
Article adapted from Wayne Stiles, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey through the Lands and Lessons of Christ (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 2008).