• Introduction: In our Gospel reading for today, John the Baptist provided an example of something we all feel at times – despair.  Admittedly, this is a slight reading into the text, but I don’t see what else would motivate John to send some of his followers to ask Jesus straight up whether Jesus was the Coming One prophesied about throughout the Old Testament.
    • It appears the source of despair was John’s expectation a Messiah would come and restore the earthly kingdom.  There are many places throughout the OT where the Lord prophesies a restoration of the Kingdom, but one example is in Zec 14:9 – 9And the LORD will be King over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one[1].  Many people at the time of Jesus fell victim to a misinterpretation of these prophesies, because they were looking for an earthly kingdom, whereas God meant a heavenly kingdom apart from sin and corruption that will last forever.
    • Expectations unfulfilled are what lead to despair.  John displayed despair despite some time earlier confessing Jesus as the Son of God.  The Apostle John recorded John the Baptist having said - “And I myself have seen, and have testified that this *is* the Son of God.[2]
      • The point being made here is not to criticize John for displaying a weak faith moment.  We too experience times of weak faith and a lack of trust in God’s holy word.  However, when we feel a similar despair to what John displayed, we need to have confidence Jesus already has restored the Kingdom, and hope it is only a matter of time when we will experience the full benefit of it.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, like John the Baptist, we too display despair.  We read Your word and want all prophesies to come to pass on our time. However, to You a thousand years is as one day.  We interpret as slowness Your patience with calling people to faith so that none perish (2Pe 3:8-9).  Please send the Holy Spirit to grant us faith and trust in You in a greater measure, and not despair over what we see and experience that is contrary to Your will. We pray this, Father, through Your Son Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
  • Background: Recall from a portion of last week’s Gospel reading from Luke 3:4-6, John the Baptist was sent to clear the path for Jesus to start His earthly ministry.
    • That preparation for Jesus’ ministry was founded on John preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).  People who responded favorably, by heeding the Holy Spirit’s call by the Gospel, would make fruit worthy of repentance (Luke 3:8).
    • Just a little further down the page in Luke ch#3 below last week’s reading, there was an indication not everyone took kindly to John’s call to repentance. ☹ We read from Luke 3:19-20 - 19 But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by [John the Baptist] regarding Herodias, his brother’s wife, and regarding all the evil things which Herod had done, 20 Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison[3].
    • To be clear, John was tossed into prison for calling Herod to repent from his sins (Luke 3:19), and by doing so, make fruit worthy of repentance.
      • You might question the wisdom of making a ruler upset about anything.  Back in the 1st century, it was a sure-fire recipe for being locked up or worse. But, wasn’t the call to repentance the very thing John’s ministry was supposed to be about?   Even before John was born of parents who were past child-bearing age, God had purpose for John’s life as recorded in Luke 1:17 - 17“And it is he who will go as a forerunner before [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF FATHERS BACK TO THEIR CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.[4]”  One would think if God ordained something to happen, nothing would stand in the way of it coming to pass.  John’s father, Zechariah, had to have mentioned the mission and purpose of John’s life to his son.  And both Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, as devout followers of God, would follow this prophecy and raise John to accomplish the Lord’s purpose.
  • Analysis: With this in mind, John the Baptist had to have known what he was going to do when he grew up.  I can imagine the rearing of John by Zechariah and Elizabeth had to be focused on preparing their son for the ministry.
    • Since faith comes from hearing the word of the Lord, what could have changed in John’s faith to the point of wondering whether Jesus was the One who was to come?  John’s disciples had reported to him miracles Jesus performed as recorded earlier in Luke ch#7.  They reported the miracle performed by Jesus in healing a centurion’s faithful slave who was sick to the point of death (Luke 7:10).  They reported to John the raising of a widow’s only son who had died.  How was she going to live if both her husband was dead, and now also her only son?  Jesus had compassion on this woman and raised her son from the dead in a town called Nain.
      • Wasn’t this the same John who confessed Jesus being the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world?  There are two places in the Gospel according to the Apostle John ch#1 where John the Baptist is recorded having referred to Jesus as the animal sacrifice made to God the Father that is the one sacrifice to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29,35).
      • This is also the same John who questioned Jesus on why He wanted to be baptized.  The Apostle Matthew recorded Jesus arriving at the Jordan river and coming to John to be baptized by him.  14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have the need to be baptized by You, and yet You are coming to me?” 15 But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he *allowed Him[5].  This is prima facie evidence that John the Baptist was very aware Jesus was the Messiah who was to come.
      • I said a few moments ago, “Expectations unfulfilled are what lead to despair.”  John knew by faith Jesus was the Christ, the only Son of God who was foretold of throughout the OT.  So why the despair after he was tossed into prison?  My best guess is John thought Jesus would be the 2nd coming of David, and what that would mean for the nation of Israel.  For example, there is clear indication in the OT Book of Ezekiel God intended for the line of David to once again rule over Israel.  This prophecy from the 7th century BC is just one prophecy from several prophets inspired by God in the OT.  Draw your own conclusions as I read to you from Eze 37:24-28 - 24 “And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes and follow them. 25 And they will live on the land that I gave to My servant Jacob, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and My servant David will be their leader forever. 26 And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and set My sanctuary in their midst forever. 27 My dwelling place also will be among them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.[6]”’”  John the Baptist would have learned this prophecy from his father, Zechariah the priest. Again, this is theory, but it appears John may have thought Jesus came to restore the kingdom of David.  Maybe John also thought he would be part of Jesus’ ruling court.  That didn’t look so possible while sitting in a dungeon.
        • Remember, John wasn’t alone in thinking this way, because a few of Jesus’ own disciples also thought this way.  Just before Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after He rose from the dead, the disciples asked, “6b…Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?[7]”  Few people seemed to understand Jesus was not ever going to be an earthly king.  Why would Jesus want to take a demotion from being a heavenly king who at this very moment is the Father’s right-hand man? It also wasn’t something Jesus was going to determine who would be His right-hand man.
    • We too like John the Baptist have been called by God to be faithful.  Why then do we have times of doubt? 
      • The prophet Isaiah wrote - 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it produce and sprout, And providing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it[8].  That sounds to me like if God called us to accomplish something on behalf of Him and His kingdom, it will happen!
      • Shouldn’t we therefore have a clear path in life to get the work of God completed?  I mean, shouldn’t the path made straight for Jesus now be a path made straight for us?
        • I confess to often times falling into that errant line of thinking.  After all, I work full-time in a very difficult job leading the Information Technology effort for the Pima County Sheriff Department. I come home at the end of the day, and I’m worn out from 9-10hrs of rapid-fire pounding of issues, demands, and failures.  It is a good thing you didn’t see me this past Monday evening after only a half day of work.  I was truly in despair, despite me knowing in my heart the Lord called me to get a job done for the Sheriff’s Dept, that job being to get new camera and Internet technology working trouble-free for 400 deputies and another 300 corrections officers. And if that isn’t enough demanded of me, the Lord called me to be a pastor of a congregation I’ve grown to love. I spend 10hrs/week just preparing a sermon and planning the worship service.  I want to do so much more.  I want to conduct visits with each member here at Christus Rex.  I want to evangelize and establish relationships here in Santa Cruz County.  I’m constantly reminded of the missed opportunities I have as a pastor and that leads to despair.  I’m one pastor of thousands just of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, each of whom deal with their own frustrations and failures.  Why is the ministry so tough to be successful on behalf of the Lord whom we love and serve?!  And why is it so many of us pastors have had to deal with despair leading to depression? We have the Gospel in our heart & soul.  Despair should have no place anywhere near us.  I suspect each of you have your own similar bouts with despair despite knowing you are a child of God.
        • Like John the Baptist, the reality is our expectations are out of line with the calling all of us have as children of God.  Listen to what Jesus told His disciples - 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. 17 But be on guard against people, for they will hand you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings on My account, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles....21 “Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved[9].  It sounds to me being a lover and follower of Jesus will actually bring misery while we have life & breath in this Age.  I’m pretty sure though, after Judgement Day, everything will be the opposite with lovers & followers of Jesus.  We will have everything of our eternal life go as it should.  But for the Jesus-haters and Jesus-deniers of this Age, they have nothing to look forward to except eternal separation from the God they wanted nothing to do with.  They will have achieved what they worked at all their life. They will eternally parish in hell, but away from God like they wanted.  Now that is real despair if you ask me.
  • Conclusion: Once again, let me say despair comes from unfulfilled expectations. So what are the righteous expectations by a child of God?
    • I have three (3) suggested expectations inspired from the scriptures.  These expectations will apply until we enter into heaven.
      • The 1st: Christ came to liberate us from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus said to those who believed in Him, “34b…Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 Now the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free[10].  Sin nor death has no power over a child of God, because Jesus accomplished for us what we could not do.  He led a perfect, sin-free life in our place.
      • The 2nd expectation is Christ did not come to rule in this Age, because His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  Jesus made that clear to Pontius Pilate as Pilate cross-examined Jesus to find out why the Jews wanted Him executed under Roman authority. Do not put faith and trust in Jesus to return for a 1000yr reign.  That is the same mistake John the Baptist and some of Jesus’ disciple fell into.  When Jesus returns to this Age, that will be the second and final time He comes.  Until He comes, life might actually suck at times for a child of God.
      • And thirdly, Christ came that we would have hope in the midst of the suffering He warned us about that I read earlier from Mat ch#10.  The Apostle Paul wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit - 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only that, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, through perseverance we wait eagerly for it[11].  Let us leave here on today with the reminder that despair comes from unfulfilled and maybe even unrealistic expectations.  None of us likes to wait for something good to come into our life. And yet, God’s word reminds us to stay focused on the hope through and in Jesus Christ that the day is coming when we will live with Him for eternity.  There will be none of the despair we experienced in this Age.  May the Holy Spirit keep us in this hope until we are with Him and the Father and the Son. Amen!


 


[1] Zec 14:9 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/zec/14/1/s_925001

[2] John 1:34 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/jhn/1/1/s_998001 emphasis by this author

[3] Luke 3:19-20 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+3&version=NASB

[4] Luke 1:17 from NASB20 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/luk/1/1/s_974001

[5] Mat 3:14-15 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+3&version=NASB

[6] Eze 37:24-28 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=eze+37&version=NASB

[7] Act 1:6 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts+1&version=NASB

[8] Isa 55:10-11 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isa+55&version=NASB

[9] Mat 10:16-18,21-22 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+10&version=NASB

[10] John 8:34b-36 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+8&version=NASB

[11] Rom 8:22-25 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rom+8&version=NASB