What Did You Expect?

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  December 11, 2022

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Read Matthew 11:2 – 11 (NIV)
Today is already the third Sunday in Advent and our attention is focused on the theme of Joy… that follows hope from week one which led us to peace just last week… and joyfully prepares the way as we move forward to love next week.
Now, our New Testament lesson this morning is found in the Gospel of Matthew.  It is one of the suggested texts that comes from the Lectionary for this week… however, I must admit, it is not a passage of scripture that immediately lends itself to our theme of joy for Advent. 
But because this is a season that is characterized by preparation, anticipation, and expectation…  I want to pose what could be considered the question of the day that comes out of this passage.  It is a simple question really that I want us to keep in mind as we dig deeper into our text.  And that question is:  WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
Now, as we take a closer look at our New Testament lesson, we find that John the Baptist was in prison… essentially for the crime of having the audacity call out Herod for his flagrant sin of committing adultery by marrying his sister-in-law, Herodias.
Although prior to his imprisonment, John the Baptist and Herod had shared an amiable relationship… speaking out about Herod’s sin seemed to cross the proverbial line. 
One might even ask John, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? … pointing out the transgressions of a ruler like Herod Antipas… speaking truth to power like that… making Herod the object of public ridicule… there was clearly a price to be paid for such actions.
Now, having heard various things from the vantage point of his prison cell, it’s not all that surprising that John began to question and have doubts… considering he had been called to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah… John might have wondered exactly how and why he had landed in prison. 
Could it be that Jesus was really not the Messiah after all?  Was there someone else they should have been expecting instead?
And because those thoughts had begun swirling in his head, John sent some of his followers to see Jesus so they could ask Him these troubling questions…
Now, it is interesting to note that Jesus’ response to John’s questions was not one of incredulity or even rebuke… Jesus did not seem to be the least bit offended or even surprised that John was having doubts and was looking for answers.
No… Jesus simply sent word back to John, encouraging him to look at the evidence and see for himself…  Jesus told John’s followers to tell him about all that they had seen and heard…
“The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.  Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!” (v. 5-6).
It was almost as if Jesus was saying, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT, John? 
Here is more than enough evidence that should convince you that I am who I am… We can only hope that brought John a little peace and gave him some joy… knowing that his work had definitely been in vain.
Now once John’s followers left to take word back to him about what Jesus had said… Jesus did not turn around and start bashing John…
On the contrary, the scriptures tell us that Jesus actually commended John. 
Listen to verses 7-11 again as they are found in the Message Paraphrase.  Jesus asked the crowd:

What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That’s right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you’ll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, ‘I’m sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.’
It is important for us to understand that the changes in John’s circumstances… his imprisonment that seemed to lead to his doubts and questions… none of that disqualified him or negated his purpose in life… to prepare the way of the Lord... and in the midst of all that John was dealing with… Jesus took the time to lifted him up as the best of the best!
And that is really good news for us today… because that means even if our circumstances change and we find ourselves in unexpected places with doubts and questions running through our minds… none of that will disqualify us or negate our purpose in life either…. We can still forge ahead.
The key is for us to let our doubts and our uncertainty turn us TOWARD Christ… not steer us away from Him. 
Keep in mind, when John began to have doubts, he went straight to the source.  He made it a point to get a message to Jesus…
He did not waste time simply commiserating with his followers over his plight… expecting them to have pity on him… Instead, he looked to the One who had the answers he so desperately needed.
And that is something that we should be doing as well… looking to the Source to get the answers that we need… not spinning our wheels moaning and groaning to one another… Besides, it doesn’t do any good and nobody really wants to listen to it anyway.
Now, it is no secret that we are living in the midst of times that could be described as difficult and distressing, chaotic and confusing, as well as turbulent and tumultuous…
But the question of the day remains the same, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
The scriptures tell us further down in Matthew’s Gospel (24:5 – 14):

For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.   Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.   All these are the beginning of birth pains.
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…
Certainly, hard words to hear but thankfully, Jesus goes on to say, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
In essence, what is happening in this world… all the things that have our minds spinning day by day… none of it has caught God by surprise… none of it was unexpected… and all of it will align with God’s ultimate plans… and we know this because of what we find in the Word of God.
And here is the really good news… when we keep reading to the back of the book… guess what?  Despite all of the schemes the enemy tries to use to defeat us… WE WIN!
The fact of the matter is that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for all of us… so that we could have eternal life… and as a result the victory is already ours! 
The Apostle Paul said it this way in his letter to the Corinthian Church:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54 – 57)
That is why we do not need to live in fear and anguish or in despair… despite what the circumstances around us may look like.  We can live in the hope, peace, joy, and love that we reflect upon during this season of Advent… and beyond.
So, let me ask you… when I started out the sermon today with this text from the Gospel of Matthew and said that it was not a text that lent itself easily to the theme of joy… WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
Did you think I would simply forget about Advent and the theme of joy and talk about something different altogether?
Did you think it would be too far of a stretch to find joy in a passage of scripture that starts out with a man in prison raising questions about Jesus being the Messiah?
Or did you figure out that anytime Jesus is in the midst our circumstances, it is still possible to find joy?
You have heard me say it before, joy is different than happiness.  Happiness hinges on what is happening… it is dependent upon the circumstances that exist around us. 
But joy is much deeper than that… joy is found down on the inside when we accept Jesus as our Savior and the center of our joy.
Now, there is a song that was written by Bill and Gloria Gaither and Pastor Richard Smallwood that is entitled “Center of My Joy.”
The chorus to the song simply says:
Jesus, You’re the center of my joy
All that’s good and perfect comes from You
You’re the heart of my contentment
Hope for all I do
Jesus, You’re the center of my joy

(Written by: Gloria Gaither, Richard Smallwood, William Gaither.
Lyrics © Conexion Media Group, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC).
And if we think back to our text for today, despite John being in prison… in spite of his doubts and questions… there was still a reason for him to have joy because at the center of it all… Jesus was still blessing people with every good and perfect gift…
Blind folk could see, lame folk could walk… those who had leprosy were made clean, the deaf could hear, the dead were raised, and there was good news being proclaimed to the poor.
That should have been more than enough to fill anyone’s heart with joy, including John the Baptist
So, on this third Sunday in Advent, in the midst of the news reports that can leave us scratching our heads sometimes… let me suggest, Jesus is still in the blessing business.  There are still praise reports that abound and that ought to fill our hearts with joy as well.
And with that thought in mind, I want to invite us to stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship [Rejoice You Pure in Heart (1, 3, 5) #15]