Who Do We Expect Jesus To Be? (Matthew 11:2-15)

Sermon Text:  Matthew 11:2-15

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Two of the most important questions that you can answer in this life are the questions, “Who is this Jesus and what is my relationship to Him?”  Indeed, these are two of the most important questions that you can ask yourself.  They are important because your answers reveal who you believe Jesus is and who you believe you are.  You see, how you understand Jesus dictates and defines how you understand the church, how you read the Bible, how you live, and how you understand truth.  My friends our understanding of these two simple questions have lasting ramifications in this life and the next.

So, who do you say Jesus is?  Is Jesus a mascot that cheers us on in this life with inspirational slogans, as we stumble and get up?  Is Jesus a Life Coach that coaches us and shows us how to live; a mere example that we must follow?  Is Jesus an overconfident Jewish Rabi preacher that found the true path to right living and the secret knowledge that opens up the flood gates of wisdom?  Is Jesus a new Moses?  A new Moses that came to give us new and improved commandments to follow? 

Depending on whom we believe Jesus to be will lead us to yet another question.  That question is, “Who do we expect Jesus to be?” 

Both you and I know that expectations are very powerful.  There is not one of us here who hasn’t expected something to be one way and it ends up being totally the opposite of what you expected.  Therefore, what do expect Jesus to be and do for you?  And has Jesus always met up to your expectations?

As a pastor, over the last 10 plus years of interacting with people over the Christian faith, one of the most painful things that I have encountered is that of unfulfilled and failed expectation.  My heart grieves when I hear of the pain, misery, and tears that people experience in life when hopeful expectations of marriage, family, and the church are shattered.  Painfully though, the greatest heartaches that I experience as a pastor are when I hear of people’s expectations upon Christianity and our Triune God.  You know what I am talking about.  The expectations that God will do something, only to realize that He won’t fulfill those expectations. 

John the Baptist, in our Gospel text today, is no stranger of failed expectations.  In our Gospel reading for today we see that John the Baptist had been arrested and imprisoned.  From prison he sent word to Jesus by his disciples with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Yes, John raised these questions and sent these questions through his followers to Jesus.  You see, this is important for us to understand because before John went to prison he confessed and said the following about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  This is the One who will baptize you with fire [fire being understood theologically as judgment].  This is the One who will separate the wheat from the chaff with His Judgment Day winnowing fork.  This is the One who will bring release and freedom and prosperity to those languishing in bondage and despair.”  But now, in prison, John is experiencing the frustration, doubt, and pain of false expectations.  Keep in mind that “prisons in those days weren’t like prisons today.  There were no TVs or beds or showers or medical care or three hot meals.  Prison was essentially a dark, dank dungeon where people basically wasted away.  If and when death came, it was a blessing.”[1]  Therefore, in John’s question to Jesus, “you can almost hear John’s angst screaming out from the question.  ‘Hey!  I’m dying here!  The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all of this misery and suffering and bondage and oppression!  If you really are the Messiah, now’s the time to pull the trigger!  If you really are the Messiah, how about putting an end to this bondage and oppression?!  Start with me!’”[2] 

The issue at hand with John the Baptist is that he, like others, questioned Jesus because all he heard about was Jesus’ works of grace. Both John the Baptist and the people ‘expected’ a Messiah of grace and ‘judgment.’  Therefore, when Jesus did not meet up to his expectations, he questioned and he doubted. 

You see, John the Baptists was right to expect a Messiah of Grace ‘and’ Judgment.  However, what his expectations were not ready for was that Jesus’ coming in the manger was His coming in ‘grace’ and that Jesus would return later at His second coming with ‘righteous judgment, power, and glory.’  In other words, John’s expectations were not prepared for the suffering and misery that came between Jesus’s first coming in the manger and His second coming at the end of the age.   

Is this not the same struggle that you and I experience as Christians living in between the two comings of Jesus? 

“You and I both know that it’s very easy to proclaim the joy and wonders of God when things are going well in life, but as soon as things go south the first words out of our mouths often echo the questioning of an imprisoned John the Baptist: ‘Why is this happening to me?  Should I be looking elsewhere for some help?  Is all this just a sham?  Is it a waste of time?  If you really are almighty God, make something happen!  Fulfill all that talk about victory and release from bondage and prosperity and life and health and joy!’ As soon as life hits a rough patch the very first thing we often do is question God and His means of grace.  ‘I’ve been baptized.  I go to church.  I eat and drink this bread and wine that I’m told is the very body and blood of Jesus, yet nothing has changed in my life.  I still languish while the foul unbeliever gets ahead.’”[3]

My friends, as baptized believers in Christ we live in this strange paradox.  We live in between the two comings, the two advents of Jesus, and in so living in between the two comings of Jesus we believe, teach, and confess that the powerful kingdom of God has broken into human history in Jesus Christ in that manger some 2,000 years ago.  However, we can know and expect that the power of the evil world still remains strong and Christ will not overturn evil until His second coming.  We also believe, teach, and confess that Jesus has come to save us from our sins, yet we know and expect that the world stands in opposition to the truth of the Gospel and that we daily war against this sinful nature that still clings to us.[4] 

Therefore, you may ask, “What does all this mean for me then?  Should I trash all my expectations of Jesus and simply learn to pull myself up by my bootstraps as I live in between the two comings of Jesus?”  No, my friends, for you and John the Baptist need to hear and see what Jesus has done and will do.  You see, after John the Baptist’s question was brought to Jesus, Jesus responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  In other words, Jesus is proclaiming to John that He is indeed the Messiah despite John’s doubt, for Jesus was truly fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, even though it was not happening according to John’s expectations. John needed to hear in the midst of that prison the message that Jesus was indeed the Messiah regardless of what his expectations told him about Jesus.  John’s expectations of Jesus needed to be refined.  John’s doubt, his questions, his false expectations were met with the reality of Christ and who Christ was and what He was accomplishing. 

It is same for us today.  In the midst of our false expectations, in the midst of our helplessness, and in the midst of our lives in between the two comings of Jesus we are to see and hear what Jesus has done.  And get this, unlike John the Baptist, we get a complete picture of what Christ has done and we can hear the promises of what Christ will do.  Therefore, when you find yourself saying, “Where is God when I needed him the most?”  The scriptures answer you and me saying, “He is on the cross, where you need him the most.  There Jesus fulfilled God’s promise for you: ‘Neither death, nor life … nor anything else … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  There we discover ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose.’”[5] 

Who is Jesus?  He is the suffering Messiah who came in a manger and the glorious Lord coming again.  Who is He to you?  He is the one who came to ransom you from sin, death, and the Devil.  He is the one who atoned for your sin. What can you expect of Him?  You can expect Him to continually come for you in His Word and His blessed Sacraments, where He declares you forgiven and delivers to you real grace.  You can expect that He will never leave you nor forsake you and you can expect that He is coming back to you to take you with Him to paradise forever. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Jason Zirbel, Christian Expectations: Advent 3, Series A Sermon (www.pericope.org: Accessed 12-13-2013).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Jeffery Gibbs, Concordia Commentary: Matthew 11:2-20:34 (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 557.
[5] Richard Eyer, Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1994), 143.

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