Advent 3 2019
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 15, 2019
Isaiah 35:1-10, Jame3s 5:7-11, Matthew 11:2-15

 

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I don’t remember if I was in middle school or high school at the time, but I was living with my family in Virginia and I distinctly remember a feeling of great disappointment about Christmas.  Teenagers can be moody and I know I was, but somehow Christmas did not meet my expectations.  I remember, however, not being able to understand or explain exactly what my expectations were.

As a young child the excitement of Christmas morning is almost overwhelming and I think that as a teenager I had somehow raised my expectations of Christmas to where it was somehow going to magically solve all my troubles.

Expectations can be problematic.  If you go to a restaurant and you expect it to be solid, simple food and you get solid, simple food it is all good.  If you go to a fancy restaurant and expect an extraordinary culinary experience and you get solid, simple food you are disappointed.  The food was the same; your expectations were different.

I have joked with Jeannette about life with me, “keep your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.”

What about our expectations of Jesus?

In our Gospel reading today we learn something about John the Baptist’s expectations of Jesus.  John is the one sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord.  John is the bold prophet speaking God’s word to the people and calling them to repentance.  Last week he was the voice of one preaching in wilderness.  Today we find him sitting in Herod Antipas’s prison.  He is there for being a bold prophet, for calling Herod to repentance over being with his brother, Philip’s, wife, Herodias.

John, the bold one, the free spirit servant of God living in the wilderness is now chained to the wall in a dark cell with nothing to do except to wait for someone to come to the door.  And every time the door opens he does not know if they are bringing food, or coming to execute him.  John sits in the dark and waits for Jesus to free him from this bondage.Because of his situation John expects Jesus to free the captives as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) 1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,because the Lord has anointed meto bring good news to the poor;he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,to proclaim liberty to the captives,and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[1]

John waits in expectation.  The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  It is here in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth.  The axe is already at the root of the trees!  His winnowing fork is in His hand ready to clear the threshing floor.  As John sits in the darkness he must be very much wanting Jesus to swing the axe.  Cut down Herod Antipas, throw that fruitless tree into the fire and free John from prison.John wants a powerful Jesus to free him.And so he sends his messengers to ask, Matthew 11:3 (ESV) 3 … “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”[2]  John is kind of saying to Jesus, “You are not meeting my expectations.  Are you really the one that we are waiting for or is someone else coming to finish the job?”

Matthew 11:4-6 (ESV) 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”[3]

Jesus tells John that He is indeed fulfilling many of the promises of the Prophet Isaiah.  He is the one who is to come, but He is not yet proclaiming liberty to the captives and opening the prisons to those who are bound.

The reign of God has broken into history in the person of Jesus; He is the Coming One.  Jesus is King and yet the power of evil remains strong. Christ will not overthrow that evil…not yet.

Jesus encourages John and He encourages us.  “Blessed is the one who it not offended by me.”  Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me; the one who is not caused to stumble by me.  Jesus causes people to stumble, Jesus scandalizes, Jesus offends, because Jesus does not meet expectations.  We see this so much today.  People are offended by Jesus.

We so much want Jesus to be who we want Him to be.  We want Him to play by our rules.  We want Him to fully deliver on His promises right now. But He does not fully deliver.  We live in this incredibly frustrating time of “Now and Not yet.”

Now you are a baptized child of God in the Kingdom of Heaven with Jesus as your Lord and Master.  Jesus is King right now.  And yet Jesus still has not yet swung the axe and cut down the fruitless trees.  Evil people still flourish.  Sin and evil still oppress the world. The devil is still active.  Jesus is going to destroy the devil, sin and evil, but not yet.

This is a great stumbling block for many.  People ask, “If God is all powerful and God is all good then why is evil allowed to continue?”  It is thought that either God is not all powerful or God is not all good.This is a massive stumbling block for people today.  It is a stumbling block for John the Baptist, “If you really are the Messiah, why haven’t you rescued me from this prison?”

            We so much want Jesus to be who we want Him to be.  We want Him to play by our rules.  We want Him to fully deliver on His promises right now. But He does not fully deliver.  We live in this incredibly frustrating time of “Now and Not yet.”

Jesus does not meet our expectations.  You hear this expressed by those who say, “I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen.” We want God to get rid of all evil and support all good. And He will, but not yet.  God is patient and that is good news because while God is patient with the evil in the world, He is also patient with the evil in you. He is patient in calling people to repent and confess their sins.1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV) 4 [He] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.[4]

Your expectations of Jesus can be colored by so many different things.  You want Jesus to help you out of difficult situations and illness and trouble.  You pray for help and relief; comfort and healing. Sometimes Jesus delivers what you ask for, sometime you have to wait.  Sometimes the wait is short.  Sometimes it is long.  Sometimes you will have wait for the perfect final renewal that is coming on the Last Day.Jesus is now the King, but He has not yet fully renewed His creation.

Remember, God’s ways are not your ways.  Remember that the reign of God; the kingdom of God, is yours to live in, but it is not yours to fully understand.

The day is coming when Jesus will swing the axe.  The day is coming; the great and terrible day of the Lord; judgement day.  Pray that your expectation of Jesus is that He has declared that you are blessed in Christ on that last day.  He has promised He will save you on that day and bring you into the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem to live in eternal peace.

In this season of Advent know that a holiday cannot solve all your troubles.  Keep your expectations appropriate.  Know that family and friends will still have conflicts.Know that others will disappoint you and you will disappoint others.  Keep your expectations focused on the anticipation of celebrating God coming in the flesh and look forward to Jesus coming back to save you from all the troubles of this life.  Keep this a season of anticipation and know that even though it is a long wait, Jesus is coming again to rescue you and to conquer evil forever.  We now live in the time of not yet, but Jesus is coming back.  Amen.

 


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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