"When Jesus Disappoints Us"
(Delivered Sunday, March 12, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we come to a turning point in our study of the Gospel of Matthew, and of the story it tells us of Jesus' earthly ministry.
Prior to this point, Jesus' earthly ministry was - for the most part - warmly received. Many marveled at His teaching, and wondered at the miracles He performed. But when we come to Chapter 11, we find that Jesus began to experience opposition. We find that the people to whom He came did not receive Him. The Pharisees and the religious leaders began to bring accusations against Him. Even members of His own family began to turn against Him; and the people of His own hometown rejected Him. We find that His teaching became more and more controversial in the minds of those who heard it. His authority became increasingly challenged. His actions became increasingly viewed as a threat to the religious culture of the day. The opposition against Him grew and grew; until, eventually, He was betrayed into the hands of wicked men, and He died alone upon a despised cross - with His few remaining followers having abandoned Him.
If I may put it this way - with the utmost reverence - Jesus, at the end of His earthly ministry, proved to be a great disappointment to those who followed Him and expected so much from Him.
But then, three days later, He rose from the dead - just as He promised; and now ever lives as our Savior!
He always exceeds expectations!
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Before we begin our look at Matthew 11, let me share another story with you. Do you remember the story of the two disciples as they walked along the road to Emmaus, shortly after Jesus had been crucified? It's found in Luke 24. As I read that story, I can't help but notice the "disappointment" they felt over Jesus.
Without their knowing it, Jesus had risen from the dead in victory; but their eyes were restrained, and they didn't know that He had come along side the road bodily and walked with them. They were mourning His death; and as they strolled along, this fellow traveler - Jesus Himself - asked them why they were so sad. And they were astonished at the question: "Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?" And when He asked what things they spoke of, they said,
"The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He is alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see" (Luke 24:19-24).
Now think of the disappointment they expressed. They said, "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel." They - like so many of that day - were expecting Jesus to be the conquering, victorious Messiah that the Jewish people were hoping for and had long been expecting. They were looking for Him to be a mighty military and political leader - one who would overthrow the Roman govermnent, and bring a victorious end to their occupation of the land; and who would then take up His rightful upon the throne of King David, and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel to its former glory and majesty.
Instead, what happened? Jesus - the One upon whom they had pinned their hopes - was crucified on a humiliating Roman cross like a common criminal; and all their expectations of Him were abruptly cut short. Clearly, they still loved Him; but just as clearly, they were disappointed in their hopes of Him.
And yet - ironically - there He was alive, walking along and chatting with them! And as we read on, we find that He even rebukes them for misunderstanding the situation as it really was. He says,
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (vv. 25-27).
They were disappointed with Jesus, you see, because He hadn't fulfilled the expectations that they had for Him. And yet, He rebuked them for not having the right expectations, and for not believing what the Scriptures had said WOULD happen to Him! And so, He began speaking to them from the writings of Moses - and on throughout the rest of the Scriptures. Point-by-point He proved to them that, in dying on the cross, He actually fulfilled everything that the Scriptures promised concerning the Messiah.
I would have loved to have heard that sermon; wouldn't you? The Bible tells us that their hearts burned within them as He opened the Scriptures to them. I believe that they began to see that the problem wasn't with Him - but with them! They had not believed what the Scriptures had said concerning Him; and so they had come to expect Him to do things that He had never promised He would do. And naturally, when He didn't do what they expected Him to do, they were disappointed with Him.
What humility of heart they must have experienced when they finally came to understand this, and to repent of their misunderstanding! And what joy must have been theirs when He revealed Himself to them, and they realized that He truly had done what He had promised - and more! And what even greater joy still - and what glorious hope! - must have been theirs when they realized that He truly WILL fulfill all the promises about Him that were yet to be accomplished!
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Now; let's be honest this morning. Have you ever been disappointed with Jesus? Did you ever approach Him with a set of expectations, and find that He did not fulfill them? Have you ever felt as if Jesus had let you down?
I'll never forget a conversation I had with a woman once, many years ago. She used to work in a place where I worked; and when she found out that I was a Christian, she walked up to me and really let me have it. "I was in to that 'Christianity' stuff once," she said; "but turned away from it, and I'll never return to it again. I want nothing to do with the kind of God you Christians worship. He let me down when I needed Him most."
I was shocked; but I had the presence of mind to ask her what she meant. She told me that she had a sister that she loved very much. They were best friends. But she came home one day to the horrible sight of her sister in her room - hanging by the neck at the end of a rope. "If there's a God in heaven," she said - in some of the most bitter tones I think I've ever heard - "then why did He let my sister commit suicide? Why didn't He stop her? If that's your God, then I want nothing to do with Him."
I wish I could make a really happy ending out of this story; but I'm afraid I can't. I was still very young in the faith; and I didn't know what to say to this poor woman. But if I could go back in time, I certainly would listen to her pain for a while and weep with her over her loss. I'd ask about her sister's life, and let her share with me what she loved about her. But then - after a whole lot of tender and sympathetic listening; and after affirming her pain and frustration over her loss - I think I'd want to gently let her know that she was mad at Jesus for failing to keep a promise that He never made. She had an unfair expectation of Him. She had expected Him to violate the will of one of her loved ones and to prevent her from ever doing anything harmful to herself. And so, when He didn't do what she apparently expected that He had a duty to do, she became disappointed with Him, grew to resent Him, and finally came to rejected Him.
That was just one incident. But since then, I have encountered many people who became offended at Jesus in much the same sort of way - that is, because He didn't do what they expected Him to do. Some folks expected that, if they asked, He would get them out of some particular situation or problem they had gotten into; and when He didn't, they became disappointed in Him. There are many people sitting in a prison cell somewhere - very disappointed and bitter toward Jesus for that very reason.
Others have expected that, if they pray and ask Him, Jesus is obligated to take away their illness - or the illness of some loved one. But many people have sat in a funeral director's office somewhere - very disillusioned and disappointed with Jesus for not fulfilling that expectation.
Others have heard from a preacher on television - or have read in a book somewhere - that if you turn to Jesus and follow Him, He will most certainly bless you with material prosperity and riches. They were even promised that if they gave generously to some particular ministry, the Lord Jesus was guaranteed to bless them a hundred times over. And yet, as a result, many people have found themselves broke - and very disappointed with Jesus for not fulfilling their expectation.
I've heard many such stories. Many times, in one way or another, I've been told, "I've tried trusting Jesus; and I found that He didn't help me. It doesn't work to trust Him." Those kind of stories break my heart. But I have say this with love; the problem is never with Jesus when He disappoints our expectations. The problem is always with us and our expectations of Him. We expected Him to do something that He never said He would do. We expect Him to fulfill our expectations on call. And yet, the plain fact is that He isn't obligated to fulfill the expectations we place on Him.
But on the other hand, the more I've gotten to know Him, the more He surprises me. As I have gotten to know Him better, I have found that He isn't always what I expected Him to be. But I have always found that He does everything that He promises to do in a way that exceeds my feeble expectations of Him!
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I'm so glad, then, that the Lord has seen fit to include this morning's story in the Scriptures. At first glance, it seems like a very bad piece of P.R. to have in the Bible! After all, it tells us of how the man who was appointed by God to be the greatest advocate for Jesus in His earthly ministry - a man who, in fact, had been prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures as the 'forerunner' and 'herald' of our Lord's earthly ministry - expressed a growing sense of disappointment in Him.
And yet, the Lord took his doubts seriously; and answered them. And what the Lord told Him in this passage gives encouragement to the rest of us who have those times of doubt - those times when Jesus seems to disappoint us.
First, notice . . .
I. THE PROBLEM: JESUS DOES NOT ALWAYS FULFILL THE EXPECTATIONS THAT WE PLACE ON HIM (vv. 1-3).
The setting of this particular story was the completion of Jesus' commission to His twelve disciples. He was sending them out with orders to preach about Him to the cities of "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6). Jesus gives them many instructions and warnings throughout Chapter 10; and then we read,
Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities (Matthew 11:1).
I believe that the Holy Spirit intentionally included this particular story at the beginning of Jesus' preaching ministry throughout these cities of Israel. As we read on, we find that the people of Israel didn't receive Him or repent at His preaching. In fact, we're even told - in verses 20-24, after His preaching ministry was completed -
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you" (Matthew 11:20-24).
You would have expected, on a strictly human level, that the Messiah would have been warmly received by those who were waiting for Him. But the fact is that you would have had a wrong expectation. And the Bible prophesied long ago that such would be the case. Isaiah wrote - in one of the clearest Messianic prophecies in all of Scripture:
Who has believed our report?
No one, then, should have expected the Messiah to be well-received by His own people at His first coming. The Scriptures never promised He would be. In fact, they promised the very opposite.
* * * * * * * * * *
Matthew then goes on to suggest to us what was happening within the mind of John the Baptist during this time.
John had been thrown into prison (Matthew 4:12); and may have been in prison for quite some time. He had served faithfully as God's prophet; and had even confronted open sin in the life of the king. He had confronted Herod Antipas - tetrarch of Galilee - because Herod had married the wife of his own brother in disobedience to the Scriptures (Matthew 14:4; Leviticus 18:16). Luke, in his Gospel, puts it this way: "But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison" (Luke 3:19-20).
Try to think with me what might have been going on in John's mind, as he sat in prison for being a faithful prophet of God. He knew that he had indeed been sent by God as "[t]he voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD, Make His paths straight"' (Matthew 3:3; see also Isaiah 40:3). He knew that it was given by God for him to announce the coming of the Messiah (John 1:26-27; 3:28) - and to point Jesus out to the people and declare, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (v. 29).
And what's more, He knew that this Coming One would be a conquering and victorious Messiah. He told the people who came to be baptized by him;
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:11-12).
And yet, here he was languishing away in prison; and he couldn't help but notice that the mighty 'conquest' does not seem to have happened yet. His disciples had apparently told him what Jesus was doing (Luke 7:18); but it wasn't going the way he thought it was supposed to go. Where's the winnowing fan? Where's the unquenchable fire? The things Jesus was doing where certainly wonderful. He was healing people. But they are not at all what John was expecting. He expected Jesus to be riding into Israel on a white stallion. Instead, it seemed as if He were strolling across the land with a first-aid kit!
In fact, I would suggest to you that Jesus often surprised John. John apparently couldn't tell that Jesus was the Son of God just by looking. It took an act of the Holy Spirit to identify Him to John (John 1:33-34; see also Isaiah 53:2). And then, when Jesus came to John to be baptized by him, John clearly didn't expect it. "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" he said (Matthew 3:14). In fact, Jesus didn't even act how John thought the Messiah should act. John's disciples once came to Jesus and asked, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?" (Matthew 9:14).
And now, John sits in prison and sees that Jesus was not even behaving like the conquering Messiah that he - and all of Israel - expected the Messiah to be. Perhaps, then, you can relate to John's doubts and growing disappointment when you read,
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2-3).
* * * * * * * * * *
So; there's the problem. We have expectations about Jesus; but He doesn't always fulfill the expectations we place on Him. It seems to me, as I read the Bible more and more, that we should get used to the fact that Jesus often surprises us. Just when we think we know Him, we find that He is quite a bit different from what we thought He was. He always proves to be more than we thought He was; and He will always prove to be greater than our expectations of Him were. He will always exceed our understanding.
Now, John was right about the things that He expected Jesus to do. He was right to expect Jesus to be the "conquering Messiah" that He believed Him to be. But the error of the Jewish people to whom He came - and the error also of John, who was the greatest and the best of the Jewish people - was in thinking that that was all Jesus was - a conquering Messiah. It's true that He would eventually be the 'Conquering King' that the Scriptures promised He would be; but first, He came to this earth to be the 'Suffering Sacrifice' that the Scriptures ALSO promised Him to be.
This leads us then to acknowledge something that we, ourselves, should always remember when Jesus disappoints our expectations . . .
II. THE FACT: JESUS KEEPS HIS PROMISES IN GREATER WAYS THAN WE EXPECTED (vv. 4-5).
Luke, in his Gospel account of this story, tells us that the disciples that John had sent actually spent time with Jesus when they came with this question. Luke tells us that they were with Jesus "the very hour" that "He cured many infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind gave sight" (Luke 7:21). I even secretly wonder if they watched for a while; and then had Jesus turn to them and say, "Now, boys; you had some kind of question for me from John. What was it?" How would it have been at such a time to say, "Lord, our master sent us to You with doubts in his heart. He sent us to ask, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?' But now that we have seen for ourselves, how could we ever ask such a thing?"
I greatly appreciate how Jesus deals with John's doubts. He loved John and respected his sincere question. Our Lord didn't rebuke John for asking; but He did give him the answer he needed. We read;
Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see . . ." (v. 4).
And if I may just offer a quick aside? Perhaps there's a lesson for us in this. Sometimes, our doubts and disappointments are alleviated through the experience of another brother or sister Jesus sends to us. Perhaps there are times when doubts about Jesus are meant to be taken away through the eye-witness accounts of friends or loved ones who can testify - from personal experience - that Jesus truly is the Son of God; and that He powerfully changes the lives of those who trust Him.
He may not fulfill our own fallible expectations of Him; but if we listen to others who love Him, we may well be reminded that He does so much more than we expect!
* * * * * * * * * *
Jesus then goes on to pass on His messianic credentials to John. He tells the disciples of John to tell him what they both see and hear - both what they have watched with their own eyes, and what they have heard through the testimony of others with their own ears:
". . . 'The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them'" (v. 5).
These, of course, were all things that Jesus had done. The disciples of John saw some of it with their own eyes; and they heard the testimony of much of it from others. And I remind you that you and I have the same testimony recorded for us in the Scriptures; so that we, too, might believe in Him.
But there's more. The report of these things would have been tremendously significant to any Jewish man or woman who knew the Old Testament promises about the Messiah. Every Jewish person who was truly paying attention, and who knew the Scriptures, would have remembered such passages as Isaiah 29:17-18 and its promise of the glorious days of the coming of the Messiah;
Is it not yet a very little while
Or perhaps they'd remember Isaiah 35:4-6;
"Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
Or Isaiah 61:1-2; where the Messiah Himself prophetically speaks - words that Jesus once even clearly attributed to Himself during His earthly ministry;
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
I believe that when the disciples of John went back and told John these things that they heard and saw, John remembered these promises; and his heart was encouraged that this - indeed - was the Messiah that he and his people had been waiting for. Jesus was truly doing what the Scriptures promised that the Messiah would do.
* * * * * * * * * *
And then - although we're not told this - I believe that John even remembered more. I believe that the connection that he would have made in his mind to the promises in the Book of Isaiah would have also reminded him of another set of promises made there concerning the Messiah's suffering. Perhaps John's mind would have gone back to Isaiah 53; where it says this about the Coming One:
Surely He has borne our griefs
We're not told this of course - I'm only speculating. But I suspect that John reflected on what was told him about the works of Jesus; and that he began to realize that this "Conquering Messiah" was so much more than what he had expected. His expectations of Jesus were biblical - but (if I may put it this way) not biblical enough. He now knew Jesus will prove to be the conquering King of kings; but that Jesus must first come to serve as the suffering Sacrifice for sinners - and truly be the Lamb of God.
I believe our doubts and disappointments with Jesus begin to disappear, when we realize that He is so much greater than our expectations! He fulfills all His promises; but always does so in ways that are greater than we could possibly imagine.
* * * * * * * * * *
And I have to pause at this point and ask. Are you disappointed with Jesus? Has He failed in some way to fulfill your expectations? Perhaps it's because you have not really expected enough of Him! Perhaps you've only looked to Him to provide something for you that you "want"; but didn't realize that He first comes to provide something that you "need". Perhaps you have not yet trusted Him as what He first came to be - the Lamb of God, who sacrificed Himself for our sins on the cross.
This leads us to one final thing. It's a word that Jesus spoke to John; but I believe it is intended to be an encouragement to all who have doubts and disappointments about Jesus:
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT: BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO IS NOT OFFENDED BECAUSE OF HIM (v. 6).
To John - and to all who have mistaken expectations of Jesus that He does not fulfill - He says,
"And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (Matthew 11:6).
The word that is used here is the Greek word skandaliző; and it means "to be caused to stumble" or to "be offended". The New International Version translates it, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." And I believe that truly captures the spirit of Jesus' word of encouragement in this verse.
When Jesus disappoints someone's illegitimate expectations of Him, it's easy for them to turn away from Him. It's easy for them to think that He has let them down; and so, they want nothing more to do with Him. Many, as you know, have said just that. It was the attitude that even John the Baptist was being tempted by. But here, Jesus encourages that man or woman not to give up.
It's always dangerous to put words in the Lord's mouth; but I believe that it really is as if He says to the disappointed man or woman, "Hang in there, dear suffering one. I know I haven't been what you expected Me to be. I know you think that I've let you down somehow. But the problem is not Me. The problem is the expectations you have laid upon Me. Realize that I am much greater than the little box you put Me into. Remember that I am not yours to command. Repent of your expectations. Believe what the Scriptures say about Me. Trust Me to do - not what you want Me to do - but what I have pledged Myself in the Scriptures to do for you. And if you trust Me in that way, I will never disappoint you. You will find that I will have accomplished everything I said I would do, and more! You will find that I am far more than you ever thought I could be; and that you will - in due time - be eternally satisfied in Me."
* * * * * * * * * *
Did you come here this morning in some way "disappointed" with Jesus? Do you struggle with doubts about Him because He hasn't done what you have wanted Him to do? Has He, in some deeply personal and painful way, grieved you by fallen short of your expectations? Then please know you are not alone. In fact, you are in good company. Even the great John the Baptist struggled in the same way.
If that's your experience this morning, then please know that Jesus loves you. And please allow me to offer you some counsel from this morning's passage.
I recommend that, first, you step back and examine your expectations of Him. Have you been expecting Him to do something for you, or be something to you, that He never promised in the Scriptures? Remember - the disappointment never comes from Him. It comes from our wrong and unbiblical expectations about Him. Perhaps you have some "expectations" of Him that you have created in your own mind, or that you have been taught from those who misrepresented Jesus to you. Perhaps you have come here today with some expectations of Jesus that you need to repent of and let go.
But second, I would urge you to go to the Scriptures and get to know Him better. Find out what He is really like. Learn what He has truly promised to do. He always surprises those who get to know Him. He is always greater than our expectations; and He always does far more exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think. His word assures us that He always fulfills His own promises; and will always do so in ways that far exceed our greatest expectations of Him.
And third, remember His word of encouragement: "[B]lessed is he who is not offended because of Me." Hang in there. Don't give up. Hold on to Him and never let go. Admit that you don't always understand Him, but that by faith you will cling to Him.
If you embrace Him with all your heart as the Suffering Savior who died on the cross for you, then you can rest assured that He will never prove to be a disappointment to you.
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