January 10, 2016 - Luke 3.15-23

“What Did You Expect?”

Luke 3:15-23

January 10, 2016


15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. 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 granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.   21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 23Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work.


On Halloween night, 1938, an amazing thing happened.  It happened in Grover’s Mill New Jersey.  If you go there today, I am told you can still see the shotgun blast marks on the side of water tower. You see, the local residents were convinced that they were shooting down a UFO and that Martians were invading their little New Jersey town.  Really.  It all started with the performance of the Mercury Theater of the Air’s production of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  Orson Welles was the creative genius behind the project as well as the host.  The idea was to host a mock invasion by Martians, and to dramatize it, and they picked the little New Jersey town as the setting.  They made sure to announce up front what they were doing, but the problem was that they did such a good job dramatizing it, that the people believed the dramatization more than they did the disclaimer.  So people in Grover’s Mill were so convinced that they were being attacked by UFO’s, that when they ran outside and saw their water tower, they tried to shoot it down.  “Shoot it!  Shoot it down!  Kill it with fire!” They expected to see a UFO, so they did, even though it was their water tower that they had seen a thousand times before.


Expectation is a powerful force.  It shapes our experience.  Many times we see precisely what we expect to see, simply because we long so much to see our expectations realized.  A five year old on Christmas morning proclaims, “Santa Claus has come!  Santa did come!” exactly because she expected Santa to come, and there are the presents.


When the people came out to hear John the Baptist preach, they did so with great expectations.  It wasn’t just that John was a powerful preacher – indeed, he was.  It was not simply that he offered baptism, either.  It was that John matched their expectations of what a real prophet should be.  They heard that he dressed like Elijah.  He did.  He lived in the wilderness.  He challenged the hypocrites.  In fact, John so perfectly matched the expectations of the people that they began to talk about John being the Messiah.


In the same way that the farmers of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey saw the Martians they expected to see, and the little girl decides that Santa visited her home, the people on the banks of the Jordan River looked at John and saw what they wanted to see.  John was a made to order, straight from the catalog Messianic candidate.  The people saw what they wanted to see.


All of this would not be a problem except for the fact that John the Baptist was not the Messiah.  Thank God that John pointed the way to the real Messiah! 


Expectations can make us see something that isn’t there.  But, expectations can also make us blind to what really is there, too.


I once participated in a psychology experiment in college.  It is a study of perceptions and paradigms.  The subject (me) is flashed a playing card, and the subject is asked to name the playing card.  Ace of Spades.  3 of hearts.  Ten of diamonds.  The image of the card is flashed in front of you at a high rate of speed as long as you get them correct.  I did fine until I got to what I thought was the 7 of hearts.  Then the instructor said, “Wrong, try again after we slow it down.”  They began to show me the card at longer and longer intervals.  Each time they were showing me the 7 of hearts...I thought.  When they finally froze the image in place, I could see that I was looking at the 7 of spades...a red 7 of spades.  The deck was fixed.  My expectations were so fixed on my usual way of seeing things, that I could not process something as wild as a red 7 of spades.


Someone has changed the rules, prevented me from seeing what was there.  We don’t want to see a red 7 of spades because spades are supposed to be black.  And it is true with other things in our life, including our walk with God.  However faithful our expectations might be, they may prevent us from seeing what is really there.


In the movie the Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is struggling to deal with his patient, a young boy that is convinced that he can see dead people.  The tremendous shock comes at the end of the movie when we discover that Bruce Willis’ character has been dead all along, and has helped the boy deal with his problem while coming to grips with his own death.  The movie has such a shocking ending because no one saw it coming.  We didn’t expect the main character to be a ghost.  We were not expecting it.  But, after all was revealed, it was much better than what we were expecting.


Thomas Long writes, “Because the people expected a Messiah that looked like a Messiah should look, they overlooked Jesus.  They were looking for a prophet, something like Jeremiah or an Elijah, perhaps, and what they got was an itinerant preacher who said things like, “Blessed are the poor.”  They expected a great judge who would shovel a pitchfork under the mixed stubble and stalk of history and burn away the enemies of the faithful.  What they got was a roving preacher whose ministry was financed by women and who healed on the Sabbath Day.  They expected a hero like King David who would restore the fortunes of a nation.  What they got instead was a teacher who wept over Jerusalem before riding into town on a mule, only to have himself nailed to the cross.” 


What are your expectations of God?  What are you expecting out of your relationship with God?  When was the last time you saw God doing something in your life that was outside the realm of your expectations?  Could it be that God is doing things outside of what we expect, but because we are too wrapped up in how we think things are, we don’t recognize the work of God in our lives?  Do we miss out on it?  Do we leave God hanging because we are too hung up on our own ideas?  The great logical failing of atheism and agnosticism is that neither allows for anything outside of our own understanding or expectation.  God is beyond our expectations – we should allow God to work in our lives without our permission.


Jesus was the red Ace of spades, and people couldn’t see him for what he was because they expected something else.   And thank God we did not get what we were expecting.  Where would be today if Israel had gotten the Messiah they had expected, instead of one much greater?  How much hope would we have if the Messiah had been a mere military hero?  What if the Messiah had been just another prophet like Isaiah and Amos?  Where would our hope be?  What future would we have if the actions of God in our lives were limited to our expectations?


How much greater are God’s plans for you than your own?  What kind of things are you hoping to accomplish with your life, and what do you think God would accomplish with your life if it were left up to God?  Would you be the kind of thing people are expecting?  Or would you be like Jesus, who was a red Ace of spades, a Messiah that came not to restore Israel, but to save and redeem all humankind.  Thank God that God is not limited to our expectations.


Elizabeth Ballard of Chesapeake, Virginia tells the story of a schoolteacher named Miss Jean Thompson and her student Teddy Stallard.[1]

She used to say to her fifth grade students, “I love you all the same.”  But that wasn’t really true.  Like most teachers, she had her favorites.  She usually got what she expected from her students, and the ones she expected the most from were her favorites.  Teddy was not one of her favorites.  She expected Teddy to make “F”s and he did.  She expected him to be dirty, and he was.  She expected him to come late half the time and he did.  She expected him to be a poor student all around, and he was, and he was not one of her favorites.  She should have known better.  Teachers have records on their students, and she should have read her records.

First grade:  Teddy is a bright little boy with a lot of potential, but poor home situation.

Second grade:  Teddy is a good boy, but far too serious for a 7 year old.  Mother is very sick.

Third grade:  Teddy is a poor student, and a sullen child.  Mother died this year.  Father shows little interest.

Fourth grade:  Teddy is a troubled child.  He is need of much help and possible intervention.

Then at Christmas, the children all brought presents to Miss Thompson.  All the presents were wrapped in pretty colorful paper, except for Teddy’s; it was wrapped in newspaper.  But she really didn’t expect Teddy to even bring one.

When she unwrapped the present, a shabby rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing fell out along with a half empty bottle of cheap perfume.  The students all giggled and snickered, but Miss Thompson quickly put on the bracelet and admired it.  “Isn’t it lovely?” she asked.  Then she put on some of the perfume on her wrists and let some of the students smell it.  “Isn’t it a beautiful scent?” she said.

Then at the end of the day as the students were leaving, Teddy stopped by her desk. 

“I’m glad you liked the presents, Miss Thompson.  All day today you smelled just like my Mama did.  That was her bracelet.  I’m glad you like it because she would have wanted you to have it.”

Right there in her room, Jean Thompson fell to her knees and cried and cried and cried.  “Lord, forgive me,” she prayed.  She never would have expected anything like this.

The next day, her students had a new teacher.  It was still Miss Thompson, but she was a new teacher.  She cared in ways that she have not before.  She expected more out of all her children than she did before.  She loved all her children in ways she had not before.  She put aside her own expectations and taught beyond them, especially where Teddy was concerned.  He became a special little student to her, and by the end of the year, he had caught up with the class.

Then Teddy moved away after the school year.  Seven years later, she got a letter from Teddy. 

Dear Miss Thompson, I am graduating this year.  I wanted you to be the first to know.

Love, Teddy.

Then four years later, she got another letter. 

Dear Miss Thompson, I am graduating from college this year.  I wanted you to be the first to know that I am second in my class. The university has been hard but I have thrived.

 Love, Teddy

Then four years later, she got another letter.

Dear Miss Thompson, as of today, I am Theodore J. Stallard, M.D.  Can you believe that?   I wanted you to be the first to know.  I am also getting married on June 12th, and I want you to come sit where my mother would have sat.  Dad died last year, and you are the only family I have left.

Love, Teddy

She did.  Then, something that Miss Thompson would have never expected happened.  Later toward the end of her life, Teddy Stallard was the only family she had in the world.


Let us not be blinded by our own expectations.  Let us all let Jesus Christ have his way in our lives, rather than fencing him to our own ideas.  Let us thank God that the kingdom of God is not limited to our expectations.  Steven Curtis Chapman wrote and sings a song called “Great Expectations.”  He sings about coming to God and “believing the unbelievable, receiving the inconceivable.”  No matter how great our expectations of God are, they are not nearly as great as the reality of what God would do if we would simply rely NOT on our expectations, but God.


What does God want to do in your life?  What does God want to do in you that is outside of your expectations?  Don’t be blind to something just because it doesn’t look like you think it should.  God wants to do something new in you, and will do it, if you will just let God work.  Let God work.  Give God your life. Pray that God will open your eyes that you can see what it is God is calling you to.  Don’t wait.  Let God in now.  Let God have his way now.


[1] Campolo, Tony; Let Me Tell You a Story, [Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000] p. 167-169.

  April 2018  
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