March 24, 2019
Fixed expectations leave us in the dark about God’s purposes.
I. John needed to accept God’s purposes for Jesus (Luke 7:18-23)
II. The crowds needed to accept God’s purposes for John (Luke 7:24-29)
III. The pharisees needed to accept God’s purposes for themselves (Luke 7:30-35)
I’ve found that just when I think I know what God is doing, he does something else. I’ve also found that what he does do is ultimately better than what I had planned, or expected Him to do. Two examples: When I approached the end of seminary, I entered the normal placement process. We talked to several churches and even visited a couple. But it was a while before we were offered a candidating visit at a church in Pennsylvania. This, we thought, must be the opportunity God had in mind for us. We had assumed after seminary we would head east, to be closer to Gail’s parents and other relatives. Plus, we liked Pennsylvania. It had rolling hills, cool weather, snow. We liked the church. The search committee was gracious and welcoming, the congregation was a nice mix. So, we went. I preached, we answered questions, we socialized.
Now the way the system worked there, they saw us one weekend, and then voted on whether to call us to the church the next. We felt good about what we thought God would do. We started planning our move and our lives. But that Sunday we found that our expectations had been totally wrong. They voted not to call us. God didn’t have that in mind for us. For a while we were crushed: couldn’t understand what God was doing. Later we found that that disappointment led directly to Houston, to Trinity, to decades of ministry to people we love.
Second example, more recent. In 2010 I was actively pursuing a doctor of ministry degree through Dallas Seminary. I had taken many of the required courses and was working on the first stages of my thesis. Then God brought Johnny and Bobby Pinard into our home, and suddenly my plate, which was already full, overflowed with new responsibilities and cares. It became apparent something had to give. I had to choose between my plan, a doctoral degree, and God’s plan, caring for my suddenly larger family and supporting my wife in that. I had never, up to that point, heard the phrase ‘people over projects every time,’ but that was God’s purpose for me. I had to let go of my own expectation.
I think that’s something all of us need to grow skilled at. Often, we are called to set aside our expectations by our own choice. because to cling to them is not ultimately to our benefit. Our expectations can blind us to God’s purposes, n leave us in the dark about what God actually wants to do. And so, we ought to resolve to patiently wait until we can recognize and accept God’s purposes. That’s what everybody in our Scripture today needed: To recognize that their own expectations left them in the dark about God’s purposes. They needed to patiently wait until they could see God’s actual, wonderful, plan.
The first of these people whose expectations were off was, surprisingly, John the Baptist. He needed to accept God’s plan for Jesus. This is Luke 7:18-23: The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Luke 3 tells us that John the Baptist was in prison, but in that culture, prison did not completely cut you off from the world. In fact, friends and family had to bring you food and anything you needed. John’s friends were also telling him about the ministry of Jesus. But apparently John became dissatisfied with what he heard. We don’t want to speculate too much, but probably John was still looking for a Messiah who bring judgment. You remember how he described Jesus: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” John seems to have been expecting Jesus to come as the conquering Messiah, and to do those kinds of things right away rather than the ones he was doing. He sends two of his followers, and through them, he asks “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” “Are you really it, Jesus? You’re not doing what I expected you to do. This isn’t going the way I thought it would.”
Are those John’s thoughts? Or maybe yours. “Jesus, this isn’t going the way I thought. This is not what I expected you to do.” Maybe your plans have been jumbled beyond recognition. The unexpected has occurred and your hopes for your circumstances, for your relationships, for how things would work out have been shattered. I don’t have to run down the list of names of people in the room this morning whose lives have been thrown up in the air in the past weeks or months. You know who you are, and I’m not exempt either.
When Jesus does the unexpected, it’s easy for our hearts to slip into turmoil, or into doubt, or distance, or even antagonism, toward Him. But Jesus doesn’t want that, never intends it. Through every change and through every turmoil, he longs for us to stay close to him. In fact, that is part of the reason he introduces change into our lives, so that we don’t get the false security of thinking we are in control. He wants us to find the true security of depending on Him in faith.
What he’d like is for us to set aside our expectations, and rejoice in what he’s doing. Again, Crisis Response has a good summary of this that they share at the beginning of every team week. “I can make you two promises about this week. God is going to show up, and any plan we lay today will change.”
When those messengers came from John, Jesus let them see what he was doing: curing many who had diseases, sicknesses, or evil spirits; giving sight to the blind. So when they finally ask their question, he says “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” The answer points to what Jesus, in Nazareth, said his purpose would be. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” “John, this isn’t how you saw this part of my mission, but it is my task to fulfill these Scriptures first.”
“Blessed is the man who does not get offended,” which could be translated “does not stumble,” “when he sees the things I came to do.” “Don’t trip up John, don’t cling to your expectations and miss the work I’m doing. Ask your messengers about the centurion’s servant whom I healed. Ask them about the widow’s son whom I raised from the dead.” Jesus might say a similar thing to us. “I’m might not be doing what you expected, but look what I’m doing, God’s compassionate will, fulfilling his purposes.” Jesus can quote Proverbs 19:21 to you or to me “Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.” He might say to each of us “blessed is the man who does not stumble over me. Don’t let the differences between my purposes and your expectations cause stumbling or discouragement or anger. Cling to the truth of my goodness. Trust my compassion. Let this draw you closer to me.”
Let me add that even during trials, Jesus often allows his people to experience his work. Joni Eareckson Tada recently testified after fifty years of paralysis “It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him.” Elizabeth Elliot, who lost two husbands, one a martyr, the other to cancer, says “I've come to see that it's through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons and if we'll trust him for it we can come to the unshakable assurance that he's in charge, he has a loving purpose and he can transform something terrible into something wonderful.” Sometimes our expectations for how life is going are disrupted. But at those times God works his purposes in unexpected ways.
The next group of people who need to accept God’s purposes is the crowd. Luke 7:24-29 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John).
Jesus turns to the crowd and talks to them about John the Baptist. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” What were your expectations? “A reed shaken by the wind?” No, that’s not what you were looking for. Not someone who could be daunted by the pressures of powerful and sinful men. John the Baptist was not that kind of person. Remember Luke 3? “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Luke 3:19 “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” John was not easily daunted.
Well, was he instead a man dressed in fine clothes? Soft clothes, Someone dressed expensively and living in luxury, making a profit off his prophecy? No, that’s not who they went out to see. The gospels tell us that John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. This was not a man of luxury, not seeking riches or fame.
What was he then? A prophet? Yes, he was a prophet who challenged the people and the leaders, who called them to repentance, to follow God in righteousness. That’s what they went out to see. But even this expectation was too limited. They expected a prophet to resume the old order, to condemn sin and call for repentance. And that’s what they got. But Jesus wants, at this moment, to stretch their expectations. He wants them to see John’s special role, which was greater than any previous prophet. He was, in fact, also the fulfillment of prophecy. Malachi had written: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” Luke has already used that prophecy twice. John was here to prepare the way for someone else. He was more than a prophet because he was the forerunner to the Messiah, to Jesus. That’s why Jesus wants this crowd to see God’s unique purpose for John.
“Among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John was given the honor, the greatness, of introducing Jesus face to face. Just as at a banquet or convention, its an honor to introduce the keynote speaker, so John was honored to be the forerunner of Christ. But John also stands at the close of the Old Testament. New Testament believers are given privileges even above Old Testament prophets. We have the honor of knowing Jesus as Lord, knowing what he has done for us. We have, moreover, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as John promised. With the Spirit dwelling within, we can experience daily the fullness of God’s presence. It’s a wonderful privilege for even the least in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is trying to stretch the crowd’s expectations, give them a fuller picture of God’s purposes. How do they respond? It’s almost surprising but the crowd responds in a wonderful, memorable way. Verse 29 “When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John.” They acknowledged that God’s way was just, or literally they acknowledged the righteousness of God. They saw God’s purposes. They honored God and recognized the rightness of what he had done and was doing. If we get stuck in our expectations, we stay in the dark about God’s purposes. It’s far more glorifying to affirm that God is righteous in what he is doing.
Think of your own situation, or those here in the body who have been rocked by changes. We want to learn not to let our limited expectations distort God’s purposes. This happens if we become cynical and expect all people to follow the way of the world, being shaken by the wind, or pursuing only the soft clothing. We assume everyone else in the situation is going to do worldly and unrighteous things. If all we see is the greed, selfishness and indifference around us, we might be justified in thinking that way. But that’s cynical about God’s purposes. Or maybe our expectations are a little better. We recognize that God is at work, as this crowd recognized a prophet, but we don’t expect him to do anything new. As one of our budget committee members said about Trinity’s finances, we tend to limit God to the size of our bank account.
There are times it’s hard to affirm that God’s way is right. When an innocent person dies in a car accident, but the drunk lives. When your government can’t even vote to preserve the life of babies already born. When a man’s wife is lost to cancer before she has finished raising their children. At those times it’s hard to acknowledge that his ways are above ours, to acknowledge what we cannot understand and that we cannot understand. Only gradually do we learn to rely not on events we see, but on the God we know, the God revealed in Scripture.
For example, Elizabeth Elliot says “I can’t answer your questions, or even my own, except in the words of Scripture. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” “The creation was made the victim of frustration, the victim of all that suffering, not by its own choice, but because of him who made it so; yet always there was hope. And this is the part that brings me immeasurable comfort: The universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God.”
Psalm 46 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” It calls us to “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” It is only in knowing what God is like that we begin to sense his purposes, to acknowledge his ways, beyond what we could expect or imagine. Our home group is studying Michael Card’s book on the word ‘hesed.’ He says that this central character quality of God is “when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” That’s the God revealed throughout Scripture, the God whose purposes and acts we can fully trust.
But Jesus closes with an example of people who held on to their own expectations. Verses 29 to 35. (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) 31“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
Notice the contrast. The people, even tax collectors declared God just. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected the purpose of God for themselves. Literally, they ignored God’s will. And they did so, Jesus says, by remaining critics. Picture a group of children playing in the town square, but they’re a gang, bullies. One among them is the target of their mockery. Hey, when we played the flute, you were supposed to dance, and you didn’t. When we sang a dirge, you were supposed to weep, and you didn’t. cry. These kids are bent out of shape, full of criticism, because someone won’t meet their expectations.
This is how Jesus characterizes the Pharisees: just like these childish children. “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” The leaders of Israel felt threatened by anything that was outside their little circle of safety. So when John the Baptist came, he was a threat. They dismissed him by pointing to his clothing and fasting, saying “this man has gone over the edge, he’s a crazed fanatic.” Then when Jesus came they were threatened by him, but they couldn’t criticize the same things, so they went all the way over to the other side and accused him of sinful indulgence. Their criticism was a defense and an expression of their narrow expectations. God will not do anything outside our control. We won’t allow it. In fact, the Gospels show that these leaders carried their rejection all the way to the cross. They rejected God’s purpose for themselves, ignored God’s provision.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Do we ignore God’s purpose by criticizing? Do we find fault with everyone, everything, every opportunity? Do we cast doubt on every idea not our own? Do we assume that the worst will happen in every situation? Do we look for the negative in every person, and presume they will fail in every endeavor, and make every wrong choice?
I mean think about this. Who were the two people they were criticizing? Jesus, and John the Baptist. Jesus was sinlessly perfect. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t, yet Jesus calls him the greatest. Yet it was possible for perverse human nature to find fault with both of them. John you got to loosen up. This diet of locusts and honey has gone to your head. Jesus, you’ve gotta get a hold of yourself. You’re hanging with the wrong crowd, spending a little too much time with the food and the drinks. But that same perverse spirit of criticism is available to us, free of charge, just for being members of the fallen human race. We are all tempted to this. We find fault, we criticize. If someone doesn’t agree with us, or serve us or pay attention to us, we find fault them. Two hours before I wrote this paragraph I went on an entirely bogus internal rant at someone over a text I hadn’t even read. We need to examine ourselves critically in this area.
In summary then, God makes his purposes clear in our lives through circumstances, through his word, and through others. When we find ourselves fighting against our circumstances, or ignoring what his word is saying, or being critical of others, we may be letting our expectations stand in the way of his purposes.
Are you fighting against your circumstances? Do you hear yourself thinking things like: “Why did this have to happen God? Why this trial? Why this suffering? Why this relocation? Why this conflict? Why this sickness?”
God really doesn’t mind us asking ‘why?’ or ‘how long?’ But he does want us to honor him by being convinced that his purposes are good, and by focusing on Him. As Reela said at our Harvey One-Year-of-Rebuilding dinner last September, “But I found out that Harvey was an awakening for me. It restored my faith. It made me realize that when things are down, you can always come back with God. . . As long as I live and have a memory I will never forget the kindness. You not only rebuilt my house, but you rebuilt me, as a person.”
Second, are you embracing the conviction of that comes from God’s word at work, even in unexpected ways. The crowd expected John to be a prophet, but they saw, when Jesus affirmed it, that he was something greater, and so was Jesus. Can you and I embrace enough of that big picture to affirm that God’s ways are right? No matter what our doubts, no matter what our fears, no matter how much we would like to diminish what God is doing, his ways are right.
Third and last, are you pushing back on the fullness of God’s demand by being critical. We defend our comfort zone by cutting others down. Our spouses, our children, our work associates and our bosses, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our elders all can be used of God, consciously and often unconsciously, to reveal his purposes. But like the Pharisees, you can reject God’s purposes for you by criticism. Examine yourself. If you find yourself looking for ways to criticize and create unreasonable expectations of another person, that may indicate that God is looking to change you, not them.
Jesus closes his comments with the pithy comment that wisdom is proved right by all her children. In other words, wise people behave wisely. They set aside human expectations, and accept God’s purposes. My prayer is that each of us will be a wise child, confidently affirming that the ways of God are right.