When God Doesn’t Do What We Expect
When God Doesn’t Do What We Expect
by Lonnie Lane
Who was more sure than John that Yeshua was the promised Holy One of Israel? John was, after all, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” (John 1:23) He’d known Who Yeshua was from the day He came to the Jordan to be baptized — along with the sinners!. “I need to be baptized by you,” John told Him, trying to prevent Him. But Yeshua had responded saying, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt 3:15)
Then it had happened just as John had been told it would. As Yeshua came up out of the water, the heavens opened and John saw the Spirit of God descending from heaven like a dove and settle upon Him. At that same profound moment John heard the very Voice of God say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:16,17) What could be more confirming? In full confidence John proclaimed to his disciples, “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)
John knew that his ministry as the precursor would decrease and Yeshua’s would increase, which is as it should be. But he never expected to be locked in a prison cell. Why now, he may have wondered? Though he had been preaching scathing messages to the religious leaders, they had not taken a stand against him. Yet he had been taken captive for preaching conviction to King Herod for making his brother’s wife his own. Now, from what he was hearing, the way Yeshua was going about establishing Himself as Messiah certainly wasn’t what John expected to happen either. What was happening?
The prevailing Messianic expectation of the day, particularly among the religiously inclined was that when the Messiah came He would bring about an apocalyptic end to sin and evil, and He would especially judge the Romans who violated so many of God’s laws and cruelly subjugated Israel. The Essenes had retreated into the desert to await the judgment, having withdrawn from apostasy in expectation of being found by Messiah as among (or perhaps the only) righteous ones. The Pharisees likewise expected to be counted as righteous as they kept the Temple purity required of priests while serving in the Temple even outside of the Temple in their daily lives — being sure to touch nothing unclean, whether food, thing or person.
Their expectations were well grounded. They based their faith on hundreds of prophecies given over centuries by Israel’s prophets foretelling the re-establishment of a righteous Israel as a sovereign nation under God. A David-like King-Messiah would come to bring it about. And just as Scripturally valid were their expectations regarding the apocalypse of God that would precede the Restoration against all unrighteousness. The Messiah would come to facilitate it, bringing an end to the sin-inspired chaos in the world, which including the dominion of Rome over Israel.
Since childhood John knew he was called by God to be the “Messenger” the prophet Malachi had spoken of 400 years earlier when he prophesied God’s words: “Behold, I send My messenger. And he will prepare the way before Me.” John had been “preparing” himself for this time his whole life. His heart resonated with Malachi’s message of correction for Israel and of judgment for those who would not repent and return to God. “Return to Me and I will return to you, says the Lord of Hosts….lest I come and strike the earth with a curse….. But to you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise, with healing in His wings…. says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 4:1-6) John’s hope for himself and for those who repented aligned with the Lord’s promise through Malachi for those who fear His name.
As John made a clear distinction between sin and righteousness, he also made a clear distinction between his own ministry and Yeshua’s: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance…., He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt 3:11, 12) John’s anticipation was that Messiah’s initial role would be to bring the fire of judgment upon sin and evil, separating the wheat from the chaff.
But what John has been hearing about Yeshua has nothing of the beginning of the apocalypse he expected. Instead of bringing judgment against the sinners, he hears that Yeshua is spending time with them, eating with them, healing them, meeting their needs. He even included a hated tax collector among his disciples. Who could be more sinful than someone who would betray his own people for money to side with the Romans? As for the Romans he expected would be severely judged by God, Yeshua seems to have no concern about them at all. And rather than wiping out Israel’s sinners, Yeshua is miraculously feeding thousands of them at a time, and even raising them from the dead! Obviously He has great power, but the judgment against sin that John had been long expected is not taking place.
With much time to ponder all this, John is now greatly perplexed. Is it possible that this man upon whom he’d seen the Holy Spirit come down as a dove from heaven is not really the long awaited Messiah? Expecting a forthright answer, John sends a message through his disciples to Yeshua: “Are You the Coming One or do we look for another?”
What he’s asking is are You the one that was prophesied by Moses when he wrote, “The Lord said to me…I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him, And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him”? (Deut 18:18,19)
John is questioning if the words that Yeshua is speaking were really given Him by the Lord. Because if they’re not , then every word he himself declared about Yeshua is false! If Yeshua is not the man John thought Him to be, then Moses’ next verse could explain why he’s in prison sensing that he’ll never get out alive: “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” (Deut. 18:20) Was he being given a death sentence by God because he’s been a false prophet? He anxiously awaits the answer his disciples will bring him from Yeshua.
The message comes back: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matt 11:4-6)
This would have been a shock to John. At the least confusing. He knew the Scriptural references but likely he believed they would be for the time after the Restoration, not before. But his disciples report what they have seen taking place that confirms Yeshua’s message to him. Why, John is now asking, would God extend such mercy to sinners? He likely sat in his gloomy cell trying to understand what was happening as he contemplated Scriptures that might have been behind Yeshua’ message:
- “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.” (Is 29:18)
- “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb sing.” (Is 35:3-6)
- “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” (Ps. 22:26)
- “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…to comfort all who mourn.” (Is. 61:1-2)
John would have had to reassess his own ministry and Yeshua’s. It was now obvious that the Messiah didn’t come as John and many in Israel expected. He came not with the fire of judgment but with grace and mercy; He came with a message of hope and a welcome, not a rejection, into the Kingdom of God for whosoever was willing to come to Him. Now he began to understand Yeshua’s final words to him: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matt 11:6)
Faced with the humbling reality that, even as The Messenger, he had not correctly interpreted what would take place when the Messiah did come to Israel, how he now responded was critical in his relationship with God. Evidently Yeshua knew he might be tempted to be offended, especially considering the stress he was under, or why would He have warned John against it?
When things don’t go as we have put our lives on the line for, when we’re forced into very stressful situations we can’t seem to escape, when it seems that God is sending us no word of comfort for the season we’re in but just moves forward with what He appears to have in mind, we can tend to doubt if God is really there for us, or if He can really be trusted. We might feel “offended” that God isn’t caring for us as we thought He would. That is a time to cling to what the Word says for truth, not our experience. What Yeshua was exactly warning John against or what John was tempted to feel is only conjecture. But he was faced with choosing to humble himself before God and praise and trust Him regardless of, and IN these various circumstances.
Many of us have well defined expectations of what will happen in these last days (assuming those are the days we are in), or in our nation, or in our lives or the circumstances in which we expect to find ourselves. But despite prayers or prophecies rarely do the events of God happen as we expect. God’s ways really are higher than our and therefore He does do things differently than we expect of Him. That’s one of the wonders of God; He’s always fresh and new in what He’s doing. It’s never old or ho-hum with God. But sometimes He does challenge our theology, that is our concepts of Him, and our sense of how things ought to be, of what is required of us and even what is God-like.
We live in a very “me” oriented, comfort and pleasure seeking society today. Our seeker-friendly churches proclaim a message that attempts to make everyone feel comfortable and “at home.” It’s a “feel good” experience to come to such a service. Revelation 4:11b declares, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Some translations say, “…for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” This verse recently brought me up short as I realized that I have largely lived my life in God — indeed we largely live our lives in God — for our own pleasure, rather than for His. I’m committed to doing His will. But we can want to do His will for our benefit. But living for His pleasure, that’s entirely God-focused. It changed me when I began to be accountable to that verse. I began to feel a love and joy in God in a new way when I considered bringing God pleasure in the daily tasks and choices of my life, rather than assessing them on the basis of what I felt like or didn’t feel like doing.
The point is that I had to reassess my motives. I had to let God make a major change in my way of thinking. Had it been someone rather than the Holy Spirit Himself who brought me that awareness, I could have been offended, wanting to justify myself, hurt that they even suggest I might be at all deficient in the way I relate to God, and entirely missed a critical move of God in my life.
What if God unfolds history in our day in a way that we do not expect? What if our experiences cause us to rethink our theology? What if our eschatology (theology of end times) is suddenly challenged with a direction we didn’t expect, and it’s no longer “comfortable” for us, let alone pleasurable? One seeker-friendly charismatic denomination has chosen to have no eschatology so as not to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable, lest they disagree and become “unfriendly” and stop “seeking” as a result. This lopsided view of God and His ways, has left the entire denomination of people with insufficient moorings for times of difficulty, and incidentally, unaware of God’s interests in Israel because the two go together, end-time events and Israel. They are, therefore, relatively unprepared to Scripturally interpret much of what takes place regarding Israel and related issues. Not wanting to deal with potential difficulty doesn’t alter the fact that we may find ourselves faced with events that challenge how we relate to God.
Keep this key in mind: In times of a “New Testament” crisis, we would be wise to go back and find the roots of what’s taking place in the Old Testament in order to assess it properly. Yeshua’s message to John is a perfect example of Old Testament Scriptures giving light and understanding to Kingdom business, that John hadn’t understood. The same can be true for us today to gain insight and understanding in our own day.
There’s a good chance that the unfolding of events and God’s dealings with us may not be what many of us expect. For instance, there are likely to be Believers today who expect that Yeshua will come and extend the same grace and mercy to them that He came with before only to find He’s dropping a plumb line to sharply divide between those who choose to follow Him by faith in true righteousness, who take seriously all that the Word says as if God really meant His Word to be followed, as opposed to those who, while calling themselves Christians, are doing what seems right in their own eyes, not believing they will be judged by every Word of God.
Another example might be the many who expect a pre-tribulation rapture that would air-lift the church “outta here” before it gets uncomfortable. But what if it doesn’t happen as expected? Religious leaders in Israel in the first century were looking for wrath and judgment on “the other guys.” What if we find ourselves still right here with the “other guys” in times of great tribulation and trial? Having a mind-set to bring pleasure to God with our heart attitudes and choices will go a long way to fitting in with His plans, even joyfully.
We must let God be God and follow the Lamb wherever He goes, in whatever He’s doing. Would it not be best to lay ourselves before God now and pray, Whatever the cost, Lord, whatever the turn of events, I want to always be completely Yours. Replace any lies of the enemy I’m believing with the truth of Your Word. Help me to stay humble and flexible and responsive to Your Spirit always. Put Your love for others in my heart. that I might be pleasing to Your Heart.. And as You do unto me, Lord, do unto Your entire Body, that we may together bring glory to Your Name.. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.