Everyone has expectations of what Jesus should and should not be. It was no less true is Jesus’ day than it is today. Today, some people have the expectation that if they follow Jesus they will be given the gifts of good health, a happy family or even monetary wealth. There are others who refuse to follow Jesus because he does not meet their expectations. They cannot understand why Jesus would allow diseases to take the lives of their loved ones, or why wars exist, or why there is so much economic injustice in the world. They cannot understand why Jesus is not the Jesus they expect him to be.
John the Baptist had expectations, not necessarily of Jesus, but of the Messiah and what the Messiah would do. This is shown clearly in his preaching of the judgment that will come with the arrival of the Messiah. John told people to flee from the wrath to come saying, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
When we come to our text today, John is in prison and probably starting to second guess himself. He had pointed out to people that Jesus is the Messiah and he had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and remain with him. He had stood in the Jordan with Jesus and baptized him, against his own protests. But now, in prison he is hearing reports about Jesus’ ministry and message. Jesus is performing great act of mercy through healings, and his teachings are about the love of God which is inherent in the coming kingdom. Where is the judgment? Where is the ax or winnowing fork? It is not exactly what he was expecting. Could he have been wrong?
The questions that John sends to Jesus reveal the issues he is having over his unmet expectations. He is starting to struggle with doubt, so he asks, “Are you the one?” Jesus sends the messengers back with a message that John would understand: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” He knew that John would understand that these words are the fulfillment of the prophecies ( Isaiah 35:5–6, Isaiah 29:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-3) found in Isaiah. Judgment would also come, but not in the way John expected. Knowing the scripture as he did, I feel certain that John would have understood Jesus’ answer.
Turning to the crowd Jesus talks to them about their expectation of John, and their expectation of him. With regard to their expectations of him he said, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation?” Jesus compares them to children who are playing a game. This game, which is still played by children in Palestine, has to do with meeting the expectations of the other group. Two groups of children challenge each other to either dance with joy when they pretend to play the pipes, or to mourn when they pretend to play a dirge. The music can change instantly from one to the other, so children must be able to quickly change from one expectation to the other. Jesus is comparing people to children who cannot be satisfied in this game, because others are not cooperating to meet their expectations. The crowd cannot be satisfied because Jesus will not meet their expectations.
What expectations do you have of Jesus? If he is expected to smooth out the rough places in your life, bring health, wealth and good fortune? In that case you, like the children playing, will be sorely disappointed. If your expectations of Jesus are to have a savior who will abide with you through the “valley of the shadow of death” giving you the love and comfort you need to face and overcome every obstacle of life and death, then you will be satisfied.
Jesus did not come to meet your expectations or mine. He came to meet those of our Heavenly Father. If this is what you are expecting, he will meet and even exceed your wildest and greatest expectations.