When God turns out not to be who you expected
Or maybe a better title would be when you realize you don’t fit into God’s plan the way you thought you did. Either way. The fact is it happens often enough. Some man or woman spends the better part of his life serving the Lord. He studies his Bible for years, often in solitude, so he can understand who the Messiah really is. He boldly proclaims the truth of the living God to others whenever he can, often to the dismay of those in authority. In great humility he is willing to take the low place so that the glory of the Lord Jesus will be magnified. And then his entire faith is shaken to its core.
Of course, I’m speaking about John (the baptist). Matthew 3 records some of what John was like. He was a humble and obedient servant of the Lord who boldly proclaimed the truth to the common people of his day – and also to the powerful. He had the very authority and calling of the Lord behind him. And this John would have the distinct pleasure to be called by the Lord Jesus Himself, “more than a prophet” (Mat 11:9). All the prophets of the Old Testament foretold of the day when the Messiah would come. But John was more than all of them because he had the honor of actually pointing him out: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
And yet despite all this, John’s faith in the Lord Jesus, the One he identified as The Lamb of God, would come into question because of what happened next. As John was going about his business one day, the authorities (who didn’t much like what he was preaching) came and arrested him (Mat 3:7,4:12). Because John was a faithful follower of the living God (and indeed, “more than a prophet”) it isn’t hard to imagine he may have been confused by these events. It wasn’t yet well understood in John’s time that the Messiah would first suffer for the sins of the world (1 john 2:2) and be raised up from the dead and then return to Earth to put down evil and reign in righteousness. God’s people back then were expecting their Messiah to immediately put down the political enemies of Israel. They would certainly not be expecting the faithful servants of the King (as John was) to be languishing in prison.
John’s confusion is apparent when he sends two of his own followers to ask Jesus a question: “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Mat 11:2-3). Note that it says he heard the “works of Christ.” This doesn’t simply mean he heard what Jesus was doing, but rather that he heard that Jesus was, in fact, doing works he expected the Messiah to do (Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ). The Lord Jesus replies, “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, 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” (Mat 11:4-5). He points John’s disciples to what He’s been doing which is a perfect fulfillment of what works the Old Testament prophets said the Messiah would do (Isaiah 61:1-2, and others). And then He adds, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Mat 11:6). John would never leave that prison alive (Mat 14:8-11).
I like the sequence leading up to this as recorded by Luke. Luke 4:40 records a time when the Lord Jesus was thronged with people coming to be healed: “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.” Then another time a little later when the crowds came to be healed by Him: “And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all“ (Luke 6:19).
And then there’s this time. When the disciples of John came from prison, Luke records, “When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities…” (Luke 7:20-21). I can’t help but notice that in this case the Word records only “many” of them were healed unlike the previous cases where we are told they were “all” healed. Maybe just a language thing. Or maybe there were people who went home that day disappointed, still suffering in their infirmity. In a sense, John did. There was no release from prison for him. He didn’t get what he wanted and almost certainly expected. God didn’t turn out to be doing what John thought he was doing (at least not yet).
What is our response when we are caught off guard by the workings of God, or when we come to realize that God is not who we expected Him to be? There are so many misconceptions of God in the world. Too many to even count. But anyone with a true desire to know who God is will learn because God will reveal Himself through His Word. And when He does, Quite often (maybe most often) He is simply not what we expect. What will your response be if this happens to you? Luke 7:23 records after the Lord Jesus showed the disciples of John the evidence of who He is, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” We can be stumbled [offended] by our surprise and reject what we learn because He’s not what we thought, or we can rest in the realization that our preconception was far inferior to the reality of who He really is!
And for the believer (as John was) we can face difficult faith-shaking events. In fact, it may be that people who genuinely know the Scriptures well are taken by this the hardest. Perhaps you thought the Lord was doing one thing in your life or moving you in some direction and you’re learning you were wrong. What will your response to Him be? Offended? Or in simple humility trusting that He is in fact the Lord and we (more often than not) just get it wrong. He promises “never to leave us” (Heb 13:5) so we have every reason to just move on, despite any hardship.
I suspect John’s disciples returned to his cell and shared with him what the Lord Jesus had done and said. And based on what we know of John, I’ll speculate further that John went to his death in peace, knowing that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Christ, who would with certainty return one day and fulfill all the promises of the Old Testament. … Perhaps John even came to understand exactly what he meant when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” — that the sinless Messiah would first suffer for his (John’s) sin and be raised up again from the dead.
For those searching, may you find peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). For those struggling with their own expectations, may you learn to enjoy again the peace you have with God through the Lord Jesus Christ,