Not The One We Expect, But The One We Need

Text: Matthew 11:2-10

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

John the Baptist had seen better days.  He had been in prison for about a year, for he was arrested by King Herod.

While John was in prison, Jesus was traveling around the land bringing the dead back to life, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and calming storms. 

To make a long story short, some confusion came about, though.  While John the Baptist was in prison and while Jesus was healing and preaching some of John’s disciples became confused.  That confusion was this: John’s disciples began to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah or not?  Was Jesus the one who was to bring salvation or not?  There was doubt as to the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. 

You see, John the Baptist had said before Jesus’ ministry began that Jesus was the one who would baptize with fire – fire being understood theologically as judgment.  John had said that Jesus would separate the wheat from the chaff with His Judgment Day winnowing fork.  John portrayed Jesus as the one who would bring release and freedom and prosperity to those languishing in bondage and despair.  However, this was not what happening.  Jesus was not living up to these expectations of the coming Messiah, according to the followers of John.   They could not regard Him as the Messiah, for Jesus did not fit the bill – at least according to their own criteria and outlook.   

You see, these disciples of John the Baptist had heard about these images of judgment tied to the coming Messiah.  They heard John describe Jesus as the one who would baptize with fire.  And then they were pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. 

When they first saw Jesus, they must have thought to themselves,

“Finally, here is the one that we can expect big things from!” 

However, instead of big things happening, John gets arrested and is put in prison.  And instead of dropping the hammer and putting an end to all of this misery and suffering and bondage and oppression in the land, Jesus is out preaching and healing.

Indeed, Jesus was not living up to the expectations of some of the people at that time.  They were hoping that Jesus would shake things down with those who were violating God’s Law.  It appears that they wanted a Messiah who would only get after lawbreakers, beat them down, and go after other bullies that oppressed, such as the Roman Empire.  They wanted a Messiah of fire.  They wanted the burning of the chaff.   But a Messiah who gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, granted hearing to the deaf, and restored life to the dead… well, this is not what they were expecting.  This kind of Messiah actually offended them. 

Now, we must pause briefly here to make sure that we are clear.  Do not think that John the Baptist is all about the Law and that Jesus is all about the Gospel.  No way!  Jesus proclaims Law and Gospel.  Jesus is the Redeemer and the Judge.  He comes to save humanity by his life, death, and resurrection on the cross and He will come back to judge the living and the dead at the Last Day.

So, to say that Jesus is only about Law and Judgement is incorrect.  And to say that Jesus is only about Grace and Miracles is also incorrect.  But rather, Jesus’ first coming to earth was to accomplish salvation; His second coming to earth will be to judge the living and the dead and to take Christians unto Himself. 

But, back to John the Baptist’s followers. 

According to John’s followers, Jesus was probably not the Messiah because He was not bringing the kind of salvation and deeds that they were expecting, which resulted in them thinking that they should maybe begin to look for another Messiah.  In other words, they began to doubt Jesus and they maybe even became offended by Jesus, for He was not living up to their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. 

Tragically, this way of thinking has continued to our present day and age.  It typically goes like this.  Jesus does not measure up to what we think He is supposed to do, and then we say to ourselves,

“Maybe I should look for another or something else that will fit with my personal spiritual expectations.” 

That is to say; we say to ourselves,

“Jesus is the problem, not my expectations; I will look for something else!” 

And so, people will hop from church to church and hop from spiritual fad to spiritual fad to somehow get their expectations met.  Sadly, the whole world is filled with such people, constantly offended that Jesus does not meet up to their own expectations.  As a result, they become spiritual nomads, traveling from church to church and from spiritual fad to spiritual fad in search of that which will appease their unrealistic expectations.  They become wanderers, never having a permanent home, always at unrest.  Always searching and never finding; always dissatisfied and always offended.            

Given this, we must ask ourselves, this question today: do we get offended by Jesus?  Does Jesus live up to our expectations all the time?  And when He does not live up to our expectations, do we doubt and say to ourselves,

“I wonder if I should look for
something else that will fulfill my expectations”? 

Jesus apparently disappointed the followers of John the Baptist, for He was not acting the way that they thought He should.  And Jesus will continue to disappoint us, because He does not act the way that we think He should, for Jesus is not the Savior that we want, but the Savior that we need. Bluntly stated, the problem in our Gospel reading is not with Jesus, but it was with the disciples.  And when we struggle with Jesus and the Christian faith, well… the problem is not with Jesus, but it is with you and me and our unrealistic expectations. 

The followers of John did not need another Messiah, but they needed to repent.  The same is true for you and me.  We do not need to look for anything else, except the Jesus that we already have before us – the Jesus that came to us in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago and the Jesus that will come again to take us home with Him forever.  Repent brothers and sisters of our unrealistic and misguided expectations.    

So, what does this all mean?  It means that the salvation that Jesus comes to bring is not social justice warrior cause where Jesus beats down a bunch of mean people, as many hoped for in the first-century.  No, the salvation that Jesus brings is welcomed with open arms only by those who know themselves to be blind, deaf, lame, and dumb; it is welcomed by those who have been ground to a fine powder by the Law in repentance.  Yes, the salvation that Jesus gives is rejoiced in by those who know themselves to be the poor who have broken hearts that need mending, and those who sit in a prison they can’t get out of, a prison with walls higher than any jail in Palestine:  the prison of sin.  To such prisoners, Jesus comes bringing good news.

Dear Baptized Saints, drop your unrealistic expectations and fall before the feet of Jesus in repentance, for Jesus has come to break into the prison of sin and set prisoners, like you, free.  Dear friends, “If [you] are too blind to see God’s miracles and works, He will lighten [your] eyes.  If [you] are too deaf to hear God’s Word, He will open [your] ears.  If [you] are too mute to confess God’s glory and truth, He will open [your] mouth.  If [your] hands and feet are too lame and lazy to serve the poor, He will make them straight.  If [you] are leprous and stained by false doctrine, He will cleanse [you] through His Word.  If [you] are dead in sin, He will wake [you] to life by His grace.”[1]

This is the kind of Savior who came to humanity some 2,000 years ago and was laid in a manger.  This is the kind of Savior we receive and discover in Word and Sacraments.  This is the Savior who cleanses us in the waters of Baptism.  This is the Savior who at the Table puts into our mouths the very ransom with which He purchased our freedom and destroyed the prison that held us fast:  His body and blood.

Jesus Christ is not the Savior that we expect, and thank goodness for that.  But rather, He is always the Savior that we need. 

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – Jesus Christ, your Lord. 


[1] Johann Spangenberg, The Christian Year of Grace: The Chief Parts of Scripture Explained in Questions and Answers tr. Matthew Carver (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), 29.

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