What Were You Expecting? (December 17, 2017)
What Were You Expecting
John 1:6-8, 19-28
What are you expecting for Christmas this year? What kinds of things are you looking forward to? For me, I always love singing well-loved Christmas carols by candlelight. Then going home and enjoying those special Christmas treats late at night. I think mostly, however, I always look forward to the family time. However, that family time has not always been the same. I still remember when that all changed. Every year as a child I eagerly looked forward to my older brothers coming home from college so we could all be together and talk about all the kinds of things that amuse Ehlers boys. But then, one Christmas, my oldest brother didn’t come home. He was married now and began to establish Christmas family time in his own way. As years went by, soon I was the one who wasn’t able to come home. And although it was a shock as this change was taking place, I now enjoy my new norm. Now my family has our own Christmas traditions and with the magic of technology, I’m still able to gather with all my siblings each Christmas. It’s a little different than I was expecting, so much better as I enjoy time with my expanding family
In the Bible reading today, we see also that sometimes our expectations are a little different from reality. John must have been thinking as the priests and Levites questioned him, “What were you expecting?” I also ask you, “What were you expecting” of John, of Jesus, and of yourself?
By now, John was getting a lot of attention out in the wilderness. So much so, that the leaders in Jerusalem felt that they needed to send an official fact-finding delegation. Their question was simple, “Who do you claim to be, and what place do you aspire to?” Interesting enough, it seems that they thought that John might possibly be the Messiah! To which John confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah” (Jn 1:20). I find that interesting because they readily asked John if he was the Messiah, but they never asked Jesus. In fact, in John’s denial of being the Messiah, he pointed people directly to the actual Messiah! Yet this fact-finding delegation wouldn’t believe it. Even when Jesus clearly claimed to be the Messiah, they accused him of blasphemy. How set in their expectations these leaders were! So boldly assuming that John must be the Messiah, yet adamantly opposing the real Messiah when he so clearly spells it out for them. What were you expecting?
So, if John wasn’t the Messiah, as they expected, who was he? They still needed an answer to bring back to the leaders of Jerusalem. Why is his preaching so moving?! “They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’” (Jn 1:21). You see, they had a false understanding of the prophecy of Malachi (Mal 4:5). Malachi describes the forerunner of Christ as one who would possess the spirit of the Old Testament prophet Elijah – not the prophet himself resurrected for a renewed ministry. John was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. He indeed preached with the spirit and power of Elijah. So they asked again, “’Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’” (Jn 1:21). “The Prophet” is from a prophecy spoken by Moses regarding Christ (Deut 18:15). Again, the Jews must have misunderstood this prophecy, considering that “prophet” to be some other special prophet yet to come.
Perhaps now the delegation was getting a little frustrated, but they still needed an answer to take back. “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (Jn 1:22). John answers, not with what he says about himself, but with what God says about him in Isaiah. “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (Jn 1:23). Still not connecting the dots, they press him further, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (Jn 1:24).
John the Baptist came with a very specific, God-given purpose. John, the apostle, says it very clearly at the beginning of the section, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (Jn 1:6-8). John’s purpose and message were simple. “Don’t miss him!” “Don’t miss the Messiah!” “He may not be what you are expecting, but he is exactly what you need!”
God’s purpose for John was so important, because that’s exactly what happened. The Messiah wasn’t what people were expecting and they missed him. Well, what were you expecting? They were expecting a mighty king who would rule the decedents of Abraham with power and might. And so they traced their lineages back to Jacob, through Isaac, to Abraham himself. They expected a Messiah who would hear them because of their lengthy and complex prayers. And so they prayed long prayers with outstretched arms on the street corners. They expected a Messiah who would praise them for their tithes. And so they carefully gave a tenth of everything all the way down to their spices – mint, dill, and cumin. They expected a Messiah who would elevate, commend, and declare as righteous all those who kept God’s commandments ever since they were young…. Were they in for a rude awakening.
John says, “among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1:26-27). Jesus was already on the scene – living in Judea. Jesus was a contemporary of John’s. So yes, living in your very land is one you do not know. He has not yet revealed that he is Immanuel, God with us! The words are fairly broad, but how amazing would it have been if Jesus was not just among them in the region, but what if he was there in the crowd that very day! “Among you stands one you do not know!” Not only do you not know the Messiah because he hasn’t revealed himself yet, but you, leaders of Jerusalem, you don’t even know what you are talking about. You seem to know a lot about this Messiah whom you are expecting… but John points out the reality, “You do not know him.”
They expected one who would elevate the self-righteous and rebuke the wretched sinners. But what does Isaiah say about the Messiah? Who should we be expecting? It is actually the Messiah speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion” (Is 61:1-3). “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. [Jesus has] not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).
He wasn’t what many were expecting, but Jesus was a far better Messiah than all we can ask or imagine. Like those leaders in Jerusalem, we might have expected a Messiah to come and validate those who are righteous in all their words and action. And realizing that we can never compare ourselves to such righteous people – realizing that we can never live up to God’s standard of righteousness – we might hope and pray that the Messiah would be one who is at least a little bit merciful. One who can bend the rules a bit and let in more than just the super righteous. We will try hard and do our best if the Messiah could just be a little lenient and merciful – meeting us half way.
But that’s not at all who your Messiah is. Your Messiah is far more merciful and far more loving than you can ever imagine! He not only forgives your little sins, he forgives your big sins, your ugly sins, your hidden sins, and your secret sins. He forgives all sin and declares you righteous without you even lifting a finger. Believe in his mercy and grace! Rejoice in the peace that he leaves you!
There’s a devotion I read this past week which I think illustrates this point very well – that God is far more gracious than we ever expected. It started out talking about Alexander the Great, who during his short 12 year reign established an empire the size of which the world had never seen. During Alexander’s reign, a respected philosopher needed money to carry out his work. Alexander told his treasurer to give the philosopher whatever he needed. The philosopher’s request, however, turned out to be a massive one. The treasurer hesitated and decided to check with Alexander before he turned the money over. When he did, this was Alexander’s reply, “The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity. Give him what he requests.”
Do you understand your Savior’s wealth and generosity? Do you understand the depth of his love and the vastness of his grace? Do not short change your Savior on the honor he deserves. Do not hesitate to lay all your sins at his feet. And rejoice because there is no end to his mercy and grace. There is no limit on his love. God knew that this is the kind of Savior you needed. Not one who would meet you half way, but one who would go all the way for you. He came all the way to you when he was born in the flesh long ago. He went all the way to the cross all while living a perfect, sinless life. He went through death and ascended all the way up to heaven where he now reigns over all things.
Anyone who truly understands this and has known the depth of God’s mercy and grace for their own sins will be fundamentally changed. Those who experience God’s compassion will then also overflow with actions of love and praise to God. They will spread this amazing news with every opportunity. They will be active in the outreach efforts of their church whether by volunteering or by praying and offering their support. And for the times when it seems like your motivation is lacking. For the times when the thought of mission work is exciting, but the effort is daunting, remember once more the story of Alexander the Great and how that relates to your God. Go to him in prayer. Ask to dip into the richness of his courage and wisdom. Because the Savior who does everything for you in regards to your salvation, also does a lot through you. He gives you the privilege of being an active part in bringing others to faith! So be bold as you pray about the person you know needs to hear about Jesus. And be bold as you pray about the work that we do here at Trinity. Be bold and dig deep because you will never find a limit to what God is capable of.
So what are you expecting of the Savior who comes? What are you expecting of your Christmas this year? A lot of people still just want the twinkling of Christmas tree lights and the glitter of tinsel. They do not want the Light of the world who will dispel the darkness of unbelief with the light of the gospel. They may want something at Christmas that looks a little religious so that they can feel good about their own righteousness. But they do not want to confess with John that they are all darkness and foolishness, all sin and perversity, until the Light comes to expel the darkness of unbelief and save by his works and not your own. Expect great things from him.