We see this in the life of John the Baptizer (aka. John the Baptist). As we read the Gospel accounts of John we notice that he understood who Jesus is. First, in Luke 1 we are told about this remarkable story of John leaping in his mother’s womb when Mary, the mother of Jesus, came for a visit (verses 39-45).
Second, when Jesus came to John to be baptized, John at first refuses to do it, because he knows who Jesus is. Jesus has to tell John why it is important for Him to be baptized, only then does John relent and immerses the Lord in the waters of the Jordan. When Jesus comes up out of the water, the Scriptures tell us, the heavens open up, the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) lands on Jesus, and the Father proclaims Jesus as the Son. This event leaves no doubt in John’s mind that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. John is so sure that Jesus is the Messiah, this is what he tells those following him :
“Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’ 31 I didn't recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 John also testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I didn't recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The person on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen this and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34; ISV)
John the Baptizer was very confident that Jesus was the Christ, so much so he proclaimed that reality to the people who were following him. At this time things are going well for John and he was with the program of what God is doing. That was about to change.
A scandalous situation arose in the Palace. King Herod has stolen his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias (who is also a niece), and John speaks out about the sinful nature of this relationship. Since no one likes to hear that they are doing wrong Herod, at the urging of Herodias, had John put into prison, where John spent the better part of a year.
Now while John was rotting in prison he began to hear things about Jesus. Things that John did not expect from the Messiah. Remember, John the Baptizer was a man of extreme piety. He lived in the wilderness and had a diet of wild honey and locusts. Jesus comes onto the scene and he spends his time partying with sinners. Jesus did not follow John’s strict piety, and therefore Jesus didn't match John's expectation of the Messiah.
Not only doesn't Jesus live the type of life John expect the Messiah to live, Jesus hasn't gone to Jerusalem and declared his kingship. There has been no movement to overthrow the Romans. So here John sets, rotting in prison, while Jesus is enjoying life, doing nothing about John's situation. At this point all the certainty that John had about Jesus being the Messiah is thrown out the window.
How does John the Baptizer handle this situation? He sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him a simple question. The question John wanted to know was: Are you the Messiah? John wanted to know if he could continue to hope in Jesus. This is the reply Jesus sent back:
“Go and tell John what you have observed and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear again, the dead are raised, and the destitute hear the good news. 23 How blessed is anyone who is not offended by me!” (Luke 7:22-23; ISV)
Jesus’ answer contained well known passages from the book of Isaiah which summarized the work of the Messiah. While John expected Jesus to dole out judgment Jesus reached out to a hurt and dying world. John the Baptizer, even though he had divine truth, suffered from the same problem that his religious contemporaries had: wrong expectations.
In verse 23 we notice that Jesus also gives John a warning. According to Dr. Brad Young, in his book Jesus the Jewish Theologian, this warning in Hebrew is far sterner than it is in either Greek or English.
“The verb ‘to stumble’ in the response of Jesus is a strong word for John. It means to sin or fail in a serious matter. John had missed the significance of Jesus’ work. Jesus told John’s disciples to go and tell him what they had observed as eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus and caution him, ‘Blessed is he who does not stumble over me.’ In reality Jesus was both defining the messianic task and giving a stern warning. He was earnestly inviting John to accept his mission as it was being fulfilled in the midst of the people.” (p. 59)
According to Dr. Young, John was in danger of missing the point of Jesus’ mission. John was stumbling over Jesus because Jesus didn't fit his expectations of what the Messiah was to be. Because of his expectations John was being led away from Jesus. This was in spite of the fact that John had been given a huge amount of evidence pointing to Jesus as the Messiah.
I think we run into a similar problem. We expect God to do certain things. We expect our lives, as Christians, to be good and problem free. We expect Jesus to make things easy, and when God doesn’t act in according to our expectations, then it becomes very easy to question Him and His very existence.
The point of the message Jesus sends back to John was to base your faith in the Messiah on the words of Scripture and not your personal expectations. Jesus points to Scripture and says: “I am doing exactly what the Scriptures say I would do.” When our expectations come from pop Christianity or systematic theology rather than Scripture there are going to be times when we wonder if the way of Jesus really is The Way for life.
Our expectations must be measured by the truth of Scripture and be prayerfully considered. I have seen too many people walk away from Jesus because things did not turn out the way they expected. If we expect the Christian life to be about health and wealth we will be disappointed when we loose our jobs or sickness hits. If we expect the Christian life to be about comfort and ease then we will be disappointed when tragedy hits and problems abound. Don’t let your expectations cause you to sin by stumbling over who Jesus really is.
- Point to Ponder: Our expectations must be measured by the truth of Scripture and be prayerfully considered.
- Passage to Remember: Luke 7:22-23
- Question to Consider: How have expectations hindered your walk with Jesus?
The Chronological Life of Christ: From Glory to Galilee by Mark E. Moore
Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young
The Barbarian Way by Erwin Raphael McManus