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The Problem is in the Expectations January 19, 2014

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Isaiah 49:1-7

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 19th, 2014

Focus: God is faithful.

Function: That the hearers are called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Structure: Not this…or this…or this…or this…but this.

 

The Problem is in the Expectation

 

In the Quarterlife young adult Bible class last weekend, we talked about our expectations.  We looked at how people are always telling us that things will be harder or better when we get to “real” life.  When you’re in high school, it’ll be tougher.  Just wait till college, that’ll be harder.  Just wait until you get a job, get married, have kids, that’s when life really begins.

The problem is in the expectations.  We build up to one milestone in our life, we build it up so much, that the event itself has no chance of meeting our expectations.  When it finally comes, we’re disappointed and let down.  We immediately target the next milestone in life and start building new expectations.  It’s a never-ending cycle.  We become like the horse with a stick tied around his neck, dangling a carrot just out of reach.  He keeps walking, eyes on the prize, but he never gets there.

Expectations have always been a problem.  The Israelites, God’s holy and chosen people, fell right into this trap.  They’d read the Old Testament, they’d heard and lived the prophesies.  Surely, we know what our Messiah will do for us.

They’d take a text like the one we have today, Isaiah 49.  Isaiah tells us that the Messiah has been “called from the womb to lead.”  Surely, our Messiah will be a powerful, political leader.  All of this strife, the wars among nations, will cease.  We won’t have to put up with this wretched king anymore, the one who enslaves us, taxes us, steals our children as servants, warriors, and members of his harem.  We’ll finally be rid of him!

Or, maybe they focus on the words of Isaiah, that He’ll be a “sharp sword.”  Our Messiah, our King, is going to come with swords in hand.  He’ll raise us up as an army and together we’ll fight back against our oppressors!  King Herod, no problem.  Pontious Pilate, we can handle.  The Romans, just bring ‘em on.  With our Messiah, we’ll conquer the earth!

Perhaps others heard instead Isaiah’s words, “hidden in the shadow of His hand.”  You didn’t think spies, ninjas and assassins were only popular today did you?  The account of Ehud slaying Eglon in the Book of Judges is huge.  The spies sent to Jericho were a big deal.  Our Messiah will come in stealth and take down the highest officials until we’re left in charge.

Or, maybe they heard different words still.  “A polished arrow in His quiver.”  Like David choosing five choice stones to slay a giant, our Messiah is God’s chosen weapon.  It will be quick and swift.  Rome won’t see it coming.  God will send His mighty warrior.

Now to us, it’s easy to say that they were wrong.  They were blind and had no clue what and how God would work on their behalf.  Surely they missed the fact that Isaiah prophesied of a Suffering Servant.  He didn’t say Jesus would come to conquer.  Instead he said that the Messiah would be “One deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the Servant of rulers.”

That kind of Messiah didn’t meet their expectations.  In fact, that’s the problem.  The problem is in the expectations.  As Jesus first arrives on the scene, His power is obvious.  His love for the people, even the lowest of them, was unparalleled.  He healed the sick, He cast out demons, He calmed storms, walked on water, turned water into wine, and fed the masses.  Doing things like that, of course His following grew.

But things don’t stay that way with the Messiah.  As He continues teaching, the crowds begin to doubt.  His teachings are hard, they don’t line up with what Isaiah told us to expect.  And then we get the verse from John 6:66 “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.”  After Jesus suffers and is arrested, even His chief disciple, Peter, turns his back.  After His death on the cross, the disciples locked themselves indoors and hid.

The problem is in the expectations.  Expecting a warrior, an assassin, a conquering or political king, then yes, it’s obvious why they abandoned Jesus.  But we know the truth; we know why Christ came and what He had to do.  Surely we get the Messiah, our expectations of Him are good and sound, right?

I’m not so sure they are.  If He was “called from the womb to lead,” why do things in this world still work the way they do?  Why doesn’t everyone just follow Jesus?  Why do so many people remain blind and stuck in their sins?  Why doesn’t God just make them believe?  We know how God should be acting, so why doesn’t He act that way?

If He’s a “sharp sword,” why do we still have enemies?  Why do our children have to put up with bullying?  Why do our loved ones die?  Why does Satan still rail against us with disease and illness, injury and pain?  Why are our bodies still ravaged by sin and death?  Why isn’t the enemy done away with?

Or if the Messiah is hidden in the shadow of His hand, things should go well for His followers. If we just live the way He wants us to live, believing in Him, things ought to go our way.  After all, He’s working the behind the scenes.  We shouldn’t lose our jobs, our marriages shouldn’t fall apart.  Our children should respect us.  When we pray, we should be answered.  Car accidents shouldn’t happen to us.  What are we doing wrong?  Why is God against us?

If He is truly the “polished arrow in His quiver,” why does evil still exist?  Why do people die?  Where is God in the midst of my struggling?

The problem is in the expectations.  Not long ago, I was speaking with a brother pastor.  He was struggling to figure out how to counsel someone who was angry with God.  I tried to tell him that we have no right to be angry with God.  He disagreed and questioned me.  “Sure we do,” was his response.

Do we?  What makes us angry with God?  Why would we get angry with Him at all?  What’s the root of our anger?  I stumbled across the blog of a Pastor Darrel Cline this week and I thought he answered this pretty well.  “There have been times with me when my expectations were so profoundly disappointed that I’ve found myself angry with the God who died for me.”

The problem is in our expectations.  When do we get angry with God?  When He “fails” us.  When He fails to live up to our expectations of Him.  It’s just like that opening question, when does your life really begin, we’ve set our expectations of God.  And when He doesn’t meet them, we get upset.

While it is not good for us to be angry with God, there’s a more dangerous issue going on here.  When we’re angry, we question Him, we doubt Him, and we turn away.  I would go as far as to say there’s not a person here today who doesn’t know someone who’s walked away from their faith.  And I’d say that for the bulk of them, it had something to do with false expectations.  The Messiah didn’t live up to what they thought He would be.

When we have our own expectations of something, just like the Israelites, we miss out on the whole picture, the true picture.  The Israelites got so hung up on the oppression they faced, that the mighty warrior sounded good to them.  They couldn’t hear the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy.

“It is too light a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and His Holy One, to One deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen You.”

 

The Israelites missed out on the idea.  The Messiah wouldn’t just come for them.  He would come for all the nations.  Why would He slay the Romans if He came to save the Romans?  Why would He kill their king if He came to save their king?  The Israelites miss out on the fact that the Messiah would be deeply despised, and they end being the ones who despise Him!  And when we get angry, that anger can quickly lead to us despising Him, too.

But, when we reflect on Pastor Cline’s words, we realize what we too have missed.  “There have been times with me when my expectations were so profoundly disappointed that I’ve found myself angry with the God who died for me.”  We miss the ending.  When we get angry with God, we’re getting angry with the God who died for us.

What right do you have to be angry with God?  Because of your sin, because of my sin, you and I have no rights.  We don’t deserve anything good.   As sinners, the only thing we deserve is death and damnation.  We deserve Hell in its full and brutal entirety.  We can’t complain and argue with God when things don’t go right in our lives.  We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it.  We only deserve death.

When we start to see it this way, this is why we can’t be angry with God.  “Because of the Lord, who is faithful.”  Israel missed those words.  Faithfulness, whatever that means.  We miss those words.  But those words are true nonetheless.  Despite your sin, despite our wickedness, despite the fact that we deserve nothing good, GOD IS FAITHFUL.

In fact, He’s even more faithful than we know.  How many of you are Jews?  Pause.  God’s promise of salvation only applied to Israel.  But He has chosen to include us!  “It is too light a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  He has chosen to include us!  He gave His life for us.  He died the death we deserve to take death away from us.  The gates of Hell no longer stare you in the face.  The faithful God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has delivered you from the enemy with His own flesh and blood sacrifice.

The problem is in the expectations.  The solution is to let God be God, because we know that He is faithful.  Throw away your expectations of a perfect life, of paradise now, and let the Messiah, Jesus Christ, be the Messiah He came to be.  He will save you, because He promised He would save you.  And He is always faithful.

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King of Kings January 5, 2014

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Matthew 2:1-12

Epiphany

January 5, 2014

Focus: God sent His Son to be King of Kings.

Function: That the hearers make God’s reign known to the rulers of the heavenly realms.

Structure: This is the historical situation of the text…this is the meaning for us now.

King of Kings

They’d studied the stars.  They’d read all the scrolls.  They double-checked all the prophesies.  This was it.  Without a doubt, this was the one.  Quickly, they gathered together all of their scrolls and their star charts.  They packed up a few sets of clothing into their sacks, which they filled to brim with food.  They saddled their camels and hung their belongings on the sides.  This was it.  This was the star they’d been waiting for.  It must be followed.

In what would have taken anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months, the journey was long and treacherous.  They walked along lakes and forded rivers, they crossed mountains of sand and desert heat, the journey was not for the faint of heart.  They eluded thieves and hunger and made their way mile after mile, following that star.

At long last, their journey was close.  The moment they’d long been waiting for was upon them.  “Where is the One who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

History has debated who these men were.  Wise men?  Three kings of orient?  Or perhaps simply as Matthew describes them, Magi.  Magi were priests of another religion, they were well trained in astrology, studying the stars.  But whatever it was, the prophesies reached their ears.  They followed that star to the little town of Bethlehem.

And more than that, they knew something would be under that star.  They came bearing gifts of abundant wealth.  Frankincense, gold, and myrrh, these are not your normal Babies ‘R Us registry gifts.  They’re not looking for just some ordinary child.  They are looking for the king of the Jews, and they’re not talking about King Herod.

As they arrive on the scene in Bethlehem, sometime shortly after the child’s birth, days, maybe weeks, they provided one more gift.  These wise men, kings, or magi, they bowed low to the ground.  They worshipped the One born King of the Jews, they worshipped their King.  They traveled hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of their King.

Worship is one of the things that identifies God.  From studying Scripture, we can see that there are three unique pieces to God’s identity.  He’s the sole Creator of everything.  He’s the sole Ruler of everything.  And He alone is worthy of worship.  By bowing down in worship, the Magi are acknowledging that this child is true God.  This baby Jesus that they’ve found is Christ, the King of Kings.

Paul, an apostle of our King, says this about Him:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God, through His Son Jesus Christ, is reclaiming His kingdom.  Through Jesus, He’s restoring His rule and His authority over heaven and earth.  He alone is God.  He alone created everything.  He alone rules over all of creation.  He alone is worthy of worship.  As the Son of God, Jesus is no mere king.  Jesus has all authority and God has made Him King of Kings.

This isn’t a new idea.  Even aside from God’s people, the world has always known its Creator.  Sure we forget and go astray, but there will always be moments where God is recognized and acknowledged.  Like these magi, the King of Salem, known as Melchizedek, worshipped God.  He even blessed Abraham and all of his children.

Nebuchadnezzar, the supposedly wicked king of Babylon, also knew God.  Multiple times in the book of Daniel, he stands in awe of the Lord; he worships God alone.  Twice, Nebuchadnezzar is plagued by his dreams.  Only Daniel is able to help him.  Only Daniel, God’s messenger.  And Daniel was sure to point Nebuchadnezzar in the right direction.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to Him. The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and King of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” (Dan 2:46-47 ESV)

When he had thrown Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace, he saw with his own eyes an angel of the Lord rescue them from that fire.  Nebuchadnezzar praised the Lord that day.

There is something about this God of Israel.  There is something about this Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  Isaiah prophesied that “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  ‘Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm.’”

All the nations of the earth are drawn to God.  The baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ, is King of Kings.  He’s the King over all of creation, heaven and earth.

It’s all too easy here to point out our shortcomings.  Sin is rebellion.  That’s what Adam and Eve did in the Garden.  They rebelled against their God and their Creator.  They rebelled against their Lord and their King.

How often do you and I want to be the only ruler in our own lives?  How often do we get stressed out over micromanaging everything around us?  We worry over our jobs.  We stress over our finances.  We trust in ourselves for safety.  We trust in our own ability to provide for our daily needs of food, clothing, and shelter.  We rebel against God.  We try to control our own lives, rather than allowing our King of Kings to do it for us.

Herod denied this vehemently.  He denied that anyone but himself could be the king of the Jews.  His rage and his jealousy at the thought of another king is obvious.  At first he tries to play subtle, to craftily use the Magi to locate this King.  But once he realizes this attempt failed, he takes his jealousy to a whole nother level.  Herod commits mass murder, trying to kill off this King.

This jealousy, wrath, and attempt to control gives us a glimpse at the character of Satan.  This whole topic, this whole issue of King of Kings is exactly what’s been eating at Satan all these years.  He’s jealous of God.  He’s angry that he can’t be in complete control of everything.  His subtle, crafty attempts in the garden show just that.  He sparks rebellion against the true King, as he tries to put himself in power.

And while Satan’s power grabs may have worked for a while, they don’t anymore.  Christ is the King of Kings.  His birth in Bethlehem, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the tomb demolish Satan’s authority.  Any attempt Satan makes today, is futile and in vain.  Christ has come.  Creation is God’s, not Satan’s.  Christ is the King of Kings.

It’s truly awesome to look back at history and see times when earthly kings have acknowledged God.  Charlemagne was the emperor and king of the great Carolingian Empire from 800-814.  In his will, he directed that his throne should be placed in his tomb, surrounded of course by his wealth.  But, he also mentioned that his body should be seated upon the throne, with his Bible open in his lap, and his fingers pointed at Matthew 16:26: “ For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”  Charlemagne, a great earthly king, acknowledged it.  No matter how much wealth or control you can muster on this earth, it won’t do you any good.

It’s a good thing it’s not up to us.  It’s not ours to control.  There’s an old story that tells it well.  There was a boy standing on the sidewalk just waiting for the bus.  An older man walked by and thought he’d give him some gentle guidance.  “Son,” he said, “if you’re waiting on the bus, you need to move to the street corner. That’s where the bus stops for passengers.”

“It’s OK,” said the boy. “I’ll just wait right here, and the bus will stop for me.”
The man repeated his argument, but the boy never moved. Just then, the bus appeared. Amazingly, the bus pulled over to where the boy stood, and the child hopped on. The man on the sidewalk stood speechless. The boy turned around in the doorway and said, “Mister, I knew the bus would stop here, because the bus driver is my dad!”

If the bus driver is your dad, you don’t need a bus stop.  If you’re mom or dad is a US Senator, you don’t need an appointment to get into their office.  If God is your God, you don’t need to do it all yourself.  You needn’t fret or worthy about the little things in life.  You don’t have rebel and fight to control your destiny.  God will take care of that.  Christ alone is the King of Kings.  He is our Creator and Ruler, and He alone is worthy of worship.