Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Have you ever noticed how our expectations don't always match reality?
Nowhere is this more immediately apparent than in advertising. We all know in some way how advertising makes things look good. That is the job, after all, of advertising. But the scene is all too familiar when you place the advertising up against the real thing.
For example a McDonalds Big Mac has this certain iconic look in advertising. The expectation set up by McDonalds is that the Big Mac is going to look a certain way. Of course, reality doesn't always follow through. The expectation of a Big Mac isn't matched by the reality of ordering one.
McDonalds isn't alone on this. Subway presents their sandwiches opened with toppings spilling over. Seasonally, when they have guacamole it's piled high on their sandwiches that they picture in the ads. They want you to pay the extra dollar for the guacamole. But when it's spread on, it's just a smear, and you can hardly tell it's there.
In the food world, nowhere is this gap between expectations and reality more apparent than in the realm of frozen food. If walk up and down the frozen entre cases at any grocery store there is great packaging inviting you to try. It's a quick meal, but you will think you are eating something that took hours to prepare. But anything that takes 3 minutes and 30 seconds on high cannot taste as if it took 4 hours to prepare. --come to think of it, it can't look like it either.
But of course, it's not just food. Maybe it's that craft project you saw on Pinterest or in a magazine. Sure I can make it, it says its only 12 easy steps. But the finished product looks nothing like the example. You don't know where you went wrong, but the reality sure didn't match the expectation.
Or that family vacation. You had the perfect destination in mind. The perfect plans for when you arrived. But as soon as you got there it began to rain. Now with everyone cooped up inside things begin to deteriorate. Aunt so and so starts to complain about how the teenagers are always on their phones, even while she is always looking through magazines. The political debates begin. The bickering begins, and what was supposed to be a week of joy and rest turns into a harsh reality of hurt feelings and desires to head home.
We all know what it is like for reality not to live up to our expectations. And so much of this leaves a rotten taste our mouths. Too often we feel bad about this and are disappointed.
I have imagine that is what John felt when he was sitting in prison. Last week we talked about John the Baptist. He was this prophet sent by God to prepare humanity for the coming of Jesus. He announced the coming of Jesus, he even baptized Jesus. And when he baptized Jesus, he recognize that Jesus was the one he had been talking about. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the one promised by God to save the world. Early on, John recognized Jesus as the one he had been waiting for.
And John had his opinions about what Jesus would do. John had his own expectations of who Jesus was and what Jesus was going to do. We read about these expectations that John held in Matthew 3:11-12. Here John says:
The one who is coming after me is stronger than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”
In this, John is using an agricultural metaphor to tell us what his expectations of Jesus are. John is telling that he expects Jesus to get dirty. The husk or chaff is this dry, scaly protective casing around the grain. But casing isn't any good for food. The casing needs to be removed so the grain can be used to feed people.
John is using this imagery to show that he expects Jesus to separate the good people from the people that get in the way, the chaff. That Jesus will judge and clean up the world and get rid of the chaff, those that don't follow him, those that don't love, those that harm others. From these statements, it seems that John thinks that Jesus is about to be some type of military savior that is going to overthrow the government and create a new kingdom where people are treated fairly and those that do wrong are severely punished.
But we know expectations don't always live up to reality. John's expectations are turned on their head. You see, John is thrown in jail by Herod, the local ruler. The local bad guy. John thrown in jail by one of those people that he expected Jesus to get rid of. And John is confused.
Wouldn't you be? You think that your side is about to win. That the criminals who govern the land and steal from the poor are about to be done away with. But then, you are arrested. You are arrested by people that are supposed to done away with, by people that are supposed to be destroyed.
Then sitting in jail, John realized that his expectations of Jesus just hadn't been accurate. John realizes that the reality of Jesus is not what he had been expecting. And now, what is he to do?
The consequences here are much more severe than getting a big mac that doesn't like the picture.
We read in Matthew 11:2-3 what John does next:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Remember, John is the one that baptized Jesus and recognized him was the Messiah. Now, sitting in prison, he isn't so sure. Now, seeing the reality of who Jesus is, he isn't so sure. John's experience with Jesus caused him to question if Jesus really is who John expected him to be. So he asks, "Are you the one? Or do we need to wait for someone else?"
John's expectations think Jesus is one who would bring fiery judgments. But now it seems that John is the one under judgment. How could he have been so wrong? In fact, it is true that Jesus did not live up to John's expectations. John would die in prison, never to have his expectations realized.
When Jesus responds to John's question, he recognizes that things do look different than what John had imagined.
We read Jesus' response in Matthew 11:4-6
4 Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. 5 Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them.[a] 6 Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”
Here, Jesus tells the messengers from John to go back and report to John. In this report, Jesus don't give a comforting answer to John. He doesn't say, "Wait a second buddy, it's coming." He doesn't, "Don't worry, I am who you thought I was." Instead, Jesus just recounts the things he done and taught.
He reminds these messengers and John about the things that has been doing. Jesus has been healing people. Helping people walk. Helping people see. Helping people hear. Helping to clear people's skin from terrible disease. Not only this, he has also raised the dead. And then, Jesus reminds them that he has continued to preach good news to the poor.
Jesus might not have lived up John's expectations, but lives have been transformed because of the presence and power of Jesus.
Perhaps John expected Jesus to change things through violence, but Jesus brought change through love, through health, through goodness.
You know, when our expectations don't match reality, it's usually a bad thing. That hotel that you expect to be a great value and comfortable has wet carpet and a lumpy bed. The weather that you expect to be nice on your wedding day doesn't cooperate. The car that you expect to start in the morning just won't turn over. When reality doesn't meet our expectations, it's usually not a good thing.
But Jesus did not meet expectations. Instead of this being a bad, we find that people's expectations of Jesus were too small. John expected one thing from Jesus, but John's expectations of Jesus were too small. Time and time again when people expected Jesus to do one thing, he did something else and something better.
Jesus defied expectations; Jesus is better than anyone expected.
We often judge the success of something by how it meets our expectations. This just doesn't hold up for Jesus. We can't test Jesus against our criteria for what a Messiah should or savior should be. Our expectations are just too limited. We have our own values and ideals of what is good, but Jesus is not some perfect version of us. One commentator wrote, "Jesus is not the best example of values we already have."
If we claim that Jesus is this savior, if we claim that Jesus is this Messiah, if we claim that Jesus is God our expectations of what a savior is or God is are just too limited, too small.
If we make this claim, that Jesus is God, we have to let go of our expectations of God and of Jesus. Because our limited expectations don't match the reality of a God who became human in the body of fragile baby boy. Through Jesus, God presents us with different set of expectations and reality.
It's a reality that presents a message of peace amongst all nations. It's reality that presents a message and expectation of ending all cancer, all disease, all death, all mourning. Through Jesus, we get to see a glimpse of these new expectations of this new reality. And Jesus calls us, as he called John, to let go of our expectations and preconceived ideas of who God is and what God can do. Jesus calls to let go of these and trust him. Partner with him. Live with him.
This is the kind of thing that really shatters expectations, but I'm it does. Because I could never expect how good God is and how marvelous Jesus is. Through the birth of baby, how things change. How marvelous, How wonderful.
Decatur United Methodist Church
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