Friday, March 9, 2012

Sermon: Great Expectations

Audio: Great Expectation

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.
The problems began when Chippie's owner decided to clean Chippie's cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.
The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, the reporter who'd initially written about the event contacted Chippie's owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares."
It's hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.
~Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 11.
I would like to share from Matthew 11:1-6.  In this passage we will see how John the Baptist had been sucked in, washed up, and blown over, and how Jesus pointed John the way to restore the song of his heart.  Let’s pray.
When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.
Matthew 11:1 (HCSB)
Jesus had just finished giving instructions to his disciples.  These were the manner in which they were supposed to go, the persecutions that they could expect, that they should fear God and acknowledge Jesus, and the rewards of being a disciple of Christ.  At this point the disciples were prepared then to go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  The text is not clear whether they went out as on group or as it indicates in other places that Jesus sent them out in pairs.  We do know that Jesus went on a circuit of preaching from town to town around the Sea of Galilee. 
John the Baptist was in jail.  John had been imprisoned for preaching the truth. 
For Herod had arrested John, chained him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, since John had been telling him, “It’s not lawful for you to have her!” Though he wanted to kill him, he feared the crowd, since they regarded him as a prophet.
Matthew 14:3-5 (HCSB)
It was Herod Antipas (an-tee'-pas) that arrested John.  Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great.  His father Herod the Great had been married 9 times some say 10.  He was infamously known for killing his wives and sons.  It was Herod the Great that ordered the execution of the young boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to prevent Jesus from becoming king (Matt 2:16).  So Herod Antipas did not have the best role model.  Herod Antipas married the daughter of an Arabian King Aretas (The Works of Flavius Josephus).  Herod Antipas had half-brothers two who are interest to this story are named Herod Philip and Herod Aristobulus.  Herod Aristobulus had a daughter and her name was Herodias.  Phillip married Herodias (his niece) and had a daughter Salome.  Sometime later Herodias caught the eye of Antipas.  He decided to leave his first wife and be married to Herodias (both his niece and wife of his half-brother). 
John the Baptist was troubled by Herod Antipas’ complete disregard for common morality.  He abandoned his first wife to marry another that was his both his niece and his sister-in-law.  He said, “It is not lawful for you to have her!”  I can imagine that he might have had a few more words than this, but that is what we have recorded in the Bible.  Antipas was displeased with John’s preaching so he had him arrested.  John was arrested for preaching the truth. 
As John was in jail he began to hear about Jesus’ ministry.  He became puzzled.  Remember it was John who said early in Jesus’ ministry:
 “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’ I didn’t know Him, but I came baptizing with water so He might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I watched the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He rested on Him. I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One you see the Spirit descending and resting on—He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God!”
John 1:29-34 (HCSB)   
He also said:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.”
Matthew 3:11-12 (HCSB)
God reveled to John that Jesus was the messiah and savior of the Jewish people.  He saw Jesus at the One that would bring judgment against the evil that was in the world.  The expression “but the chaff He will burn up with a fire that never goes out” is a very powerful statement.  It is one of glorious victory over the wickedness and unfaithfulness that John saw in his day. 
However what he heard is that Jesus had selected 12 disciples and was now on a preaching tour around the Sea of Galilee.  He did not hear about power, fire, winnowing shovel, clearing the threshing floor, fire that never goes out.  No what he heard was about a group of fishermen, a tax collector, and other unknowns going from town to town preaching.  I think he also reflected on his present circumstance as well.  He was put in jail for preaching the truth.  What injustice.  In his mind I imagine he was confused how Jesus whom he believed came to restore justice would allow for him to remain in jail for speaking the truth.  Jesus was not what he expected.  So naturally he began to question.  God is this really what your plan is or should I be looking for something else.  So he sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire on this very question and they asked Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Are you the one?  Or Should we expect someone else?  As I think about how we might apply this state that John was in I do not think that we have to search our memory very hard to find a time that what we expected was not what happened.  We can think of relationships, jobs, health,  and losses in our lives that just were not what we expected.  Perhaps you can think of a time in your life when with great disappointment and discouragement you though as John thought, “God is this really all it is about, or should I be looking for something else?”  “God don’t you see how unjust, unfair this really is?”  If you stay on that path you may even despair to the point of questioning the goodness of God, your salvation, or even the existence of God.   Maybe you are in that place this very morning.  Doubt and fear has closed in on you like a dark night, like a jail cell with a death sentence hanging over you.  If we are honest I think we can all identify with John the Baptist in this moment of uncertainty, in this moment of dashed great expectations.
You see human beings generally prefer a Hollywood ending.  In his book Great Expectations, Charles Dickins tells a story of a boy named Pip growing up and  becoming a young gentleman.  He starts out from humble beginnings as the apprentice of his brother-in-law a poorly educated blacksmith.  He falls in love with a girl Estella whom is educated and prideful.  She tortures him and so he decides that what he needs is to become a gentleman that he might win her heart.  He then has an opportunity to become a gentleman when an unknown wealthy benefactor adopts him and sends him to London with the great expectation of becoming a gentleman.   Pip makes the transition only to discover that the transfer somehow makes him less compassionate and caring in exchange for being more prideful and sophisticated.  He loses the fortune and returns to live with his brother-in-law.  He later reunites with Estella.  She also through misfortune had become more humble.  In the last scene of the book they are hand in hand with Pip hinting they would never part from each other. 
What is interesting about this book is that the ending was changed from the original.  In the original ending Charles Dickens wrote Estella’s first husband had passed away and she remarried a poor fellow and they were living on her fortune.  She explains to Pip that suffering has made her more humble and that she has a greater appreciation of Pip and realization of how poorly she treated him.  You see Charles Dickens was persuaded to write a different ending to his story.  One in which the boy gets the girl. 
We do the same with our lives.  We tend to want to control how the story of our lives turns out.  When we don’t get our way we question, blame, complain, and fight against it.  Let me just say that life does not have Hollywood endings.  Life is coarse and often unpredictable.  I am not saying that to be pessimistic, but it is better to be honest than to live in a state of great expectation leading to great disappointment.  Better to live according to God’s design for life.  Let’s look at how Jesus responded to John to see if there is something we can apply to ourselves with the trials of life come to us. 
Jesus said:
“Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”
Matthew 11:4-6 (HCSB)
Jesus did two things in his reply to John’s disciples.  First He pointed them to look at what God was doing.  When we are faced with difficult circumstances in our lives we often become consumed with them.  We can only see the desperation of our present state.  Our focus is on the tragedy, the injustice, the disappointment, the discouragement.  We lose sight of what it is that God has done in our lives.  We lose perspective on what God is doing in our lives and we lose hope that anything good could come from the trial we now face.  Jesus pointed John to consider what it was that God was doing, “the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.” 
I believe that we would do well to do this very thing when the circumstances and trials of life lead us into a time of doubt.  Turn your mind to the good that God has done, is doing, and will do as He has promised. 
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8 (HCSB)
Jesus is pointing John and us toward faith.  When we can see the things that God has done we are reminded of our hope.  Hope leads us to be at peace in very difficult circumstances.
Jesus also pointed John the Baptist to scripture.  The wording that Jesus used closely reflects important passages in Isaiah.  John would have recognized the key phrases and would have been pointed back to Gods word. 
Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you.” Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
Isaiah 35:4-6 (HCSB)
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn,
Isaiah 61:1-2 (HCSB)
Jesus in pointing John to Scripture was reminding him of what God had said through the Prophet Isaiah.  We can also learn from this.  How many of us lengthen our despair when facing a crisis because we neglect the Living Word of God.  God’s word can be a great comfort in our greatest time of need.  God uses the Scripture to strengthen us when we are weak. 
Remember Your word to Your servant; You have given me hope through it. This is my comfort in my affliction: Your promise has given me life. The arrogant constantly ridicule me, but I do not turn away from Your instruction. LORD, I remember Your judgments from long ago and find comfort.
Psalm 119:49-52 (HCSB)
This perfectly describes what Jesus was doing for John.  Hope, comfort in affliction, promise of life, remembrance, finding comfort, this is what the word of God can provide.   It also describes what God’s Word can do for us as well.  Edmund Calamy a preacher from the 1700’s put it this way:
the excellency, transcendent the comforts, that are to be found in God's promises, they are the good Christian's Magna Charta for Heaven, the only assurance that he hath to claim by. There is no comfort, no true, real, virtual comfort, but what is built and founded upon a scripture-promise; if otherwise, it is presumption, and cannot properly be called true comfort. The promises are pabulum Juki, et anima fidei, the food of faith, and the very soul of faith. They are a mine of rich treasures, a garden full of choice flowers, able to enrich the soul with all celestial contentments, and to sweeten the sourest of conditions. The truth is, there is no promise of God, but if He be pleased to enlighten unto us, and show us our interest in it, will afford a plentiful harvest of everlasting joy, and that which is true and real contentment indeed.
Jesus in his reply to John the Baptist went on to say, “And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”
This seems a peculiar statement to send back to John.  John was not saying he was offended by Jesus.  In fact John proclaimed Jesus
John responded, “No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John 3:27-30 (HCSB)
Part of the difficulty lies in the word that is translated into English “offended.”  In the Greek the word is “skandalizō.”  This word is not easy to translate into English.  It means to entrap or trip up.  Jesus was not saying that John was angry or resentful.  He was saying that he was tripped up by his expectations.  John had a specific view of what Jesus was going to do.  However, his view did not match what Jesus was doing.  In this way John was tripped up between what he expected and what he saw Jesus doing. 
When we face trials we can be tripped up and offended.  “God what are you doing?”  “God where are you?”  “A loving God would not do this?”  We can get to a place that we doubt that God cares for us.  We can believe that God is displeased with us.  In extreme cases we can even doubt God Himself. 
On the other hand if we can accept things as they are and trust that God has been and continues to be at work in our lives then we will not be offended.  Quite the contrary we will be supremely blessed.  Through acceptance we can have joy in the midst of our trials.  When can be “Reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy in the next.”
The Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Perhaps you are in a place of trial right now.  Maybe you are facing the discouragement of unmet expectations.  We all will face these hardships in our life.  At that moment we can face a crisis in our faith.  If John the Baptist in his difficult trial could have doubts and wonder if Jesus was the one he expected, then certainly we can fall into a season of doubt when things do not turn out the way we want.  However, Jesus says that we are blessed if we are not tripped up by this.  If we can celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future then we can experience renewed hope.  If we can turn to and trust the Word of God then we can experience comfort in the midst of our darkest life moments and experience the spiritual victory that we are longing for.  Let’s Pray.