Giving Up Expectations

  • Giving Up Expectations
  • Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • February 25, 2018
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2-25-18 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Today is the second Sunday in the season of Lent, which are the forty days, not counting Sundays, that lead up to Easter.  Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and simple living. It is a time we as Christians intentionally set apart so that we can be mindful of all that Jesus Christ went through on our behalf as He suffered death on a cross and then rose again so that we might be able to know and experience eternal life.


One of the most common practices of Lent is that people will often give up something such as soft drinks or chocolate or social media during this period of time. The idea is that by giving up such things each time we desire to have a coke or eat an Oreo or update our status on Facebook it will cause us to pause and consider Christ’s sacrifice.


In theory, the idea is that by giving up something it is a way of making room in our lives — our very busy, crowded hectic lives. This in turn gives us space to take up more of Jesus Christ.


While it can be a powerful experience to give up things like watching television, this year we are challenging folks here at LakeRidge to consider giving up some more untraditional sorts of things.


Take last week for instance, we examined the idea of giving up control as a way of observing lent. Although we might not like to admit it, many of us have control issues. There is a little bit of control freak that resides down deep within many of us and that can get in the way of our ability to trust God to lead us. So rather than living tight fisted and clinging hold of control of our lives we were challenged to follow the model of Jesus Himself who trusted in God’s plans and purposes even when He was tempted.


This morning we are going to look at how our faith would be impacted if we were able to give up our expectations. But before we do I want to ask you to join me in quick prayer.


Expectations are funny things. We usually have such high expectations about life and how we think it will be, but all too often our expectations end up falling short of what we thought life would be like.


But what about when our expectations don’t match up with our reality on the really important matters of life? What about when our expectations of God don’t match up with our experiences? What then?


We generally don’t say it out loud, but often we expect that if we believe and live correctly, we’ll have great marriages, healthy bank balances, well-balanced children, and freedom from major problems. That’s just an idea that many of us allow to take up residence in the corners of our minds.


Of course, we know better—but we still lean on the side of expecting blessing for obedience. The truth is, we have expectations of God. Sometimes, honestly, He fails those expectations.


If you’ve ever felt that way you’re not alone in your expectations. Do you remember that John the Baptist struggled with his own expectations of Jesus? He had preached about the Messiah’s kingdom coming with power and justice. People had been moved by his message.


But instead of happening just as he had expected it would, Jesus’ ministry looked different than he expected. It centered on preaching and on acts of mercy, and John found himself unfairly wasting away in prison near the blistering shores of the Dead Sea. Expectations and reality were not a match.


Gentle Jesus hardly seemed the political Deliverer everyone expected when

they thought of the Messiah. Unable to reconcile the contradictions that where

imprisoned in his thoughts, John doubted his own preaching. In Matthew 11:3

John sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we

look for someone else?”


In other words, Jesus had certain expectations placed upon Him that He had failed to meet in John’s eyes.


Has it ever seemed to you as if the “good news” of the Bible doesn’t work in the real world? Ask yourself:

  • If the gospel “worked,” what would it look like?
  • What do I expect from Jesus?


Even when our expectations are biblical, as John’s were, we still see them through the lens of impatience. We suppose that if God has promised to act, He should act now! As if God’s whole universe orbits around our timetable.


When we find ourselves most disappointed with life, it’s not because something in life has failed us. Rather, our expectations of what life “ought to be” have failed us or understood in a different way, when we find ourselves most disappointed with God. God has not failed us—but our expectations of God have failed us.


We should always hesitate to assume the gospel doesn’t “work” when we simply

cannot see the big picture. When we struggle to connect truth with life, we

must embrace the limitations of our understanding—and also the

limitlessness of God’s.


In response to John, Jesus graciously challenged him to shape his expectations from the Word of God and not from the circumstances that seemed to contradict it. In Matthew 11:6 Jesus says, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.”


Jesus was willing to disappoint everyone but the Father. Everyone. Ponder that for a moment. Jesus loved His followers enough to disappoint them, to allow them to question His power and to struggle against their own expectations, in order that they could experience true joy in the long term.


Jesus is willing to disappoint you for the same reason.


A powerful example of all of this comes to us in the form of an encounter that Jesus had with a man named Nicodemus. We find his story in John’s gospel account beginning with vs. 3.


John 3:1-17 – There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “We all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”


3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”


4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”


5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”


9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.


10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.


16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.


Nicodemus was Jerusalem’s most outstanding teacher and a member of the Jewish Ruling Council. Only the High Priest gained more recognition in the capital city than Nicodemus. Nicodemus had status.


Yet, despite all his learning and privileges, he did not know God. He knew about God, but he did not know God. As we listen to Jesus engage this man in conversation the darkness in his soul quickly becomes apparent.


Pretty quickly Jesus reveals to Nicodemus the reality of his need.  The story begins with Jesus saying to him that those who are outside the Kingdom of God cannot understand the things concerning the Kingdom.  What does Nicodemus say in response to this? “I can’t understand what you’re saying! I don’t get it.”


Nicodemus’ inability to grasp what Jesus was saying was symptomatic of his fallen heart. We don’t understand spiritual matters because we aren’t smart enough to do so. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t understand your need for a savior, spiritual truth can seem like nothing more than utter nonsense or foolishness.


Until we come to realize the gravity of our condition — that by nature we are all outside of the Kingdom of God, we are all sinners — we can make no progress toward addressing our problem.


Jesus comes right out and tells Nicodemus what the solution is for the problem that he has. He tells Nicodemus that he has to be born again.


Nicodemus is so stuck in his own expectations and assumptions that he literally, asks how exactly he could enter again into his mother’s womb and be born!


But Nicodemus is still thinking in terms of something he can achieve, something that he can do for himself. Jesus says to him. “Think of the wind. You cannot command it to come; all you can do is to feel it when it blows. The new birth is like that! You cannot command it to occur by something you do; you must resign yourself to doing nothing and let God do this work in you.”


The solution to our inner darkness is God’s ability to transform us. All we can do is cry for mercy and ask Jesus to change us, cleanse us.


Then Jesus lays it all out on the line. He tells Nicodemus to put his trust entirely in
Him. Since Nicodemus is a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus alludes to an incident in the time of Moses when the Israelites were cured from venomous snake bites by simply looking at bronze replica of the serpent that was hoisted into the air.


The point is that Jesus too, will be “lifted up” – first on a cross, then into the clouds in the course of His ascension to the Father’s right hand. We enter the Kingdom by recognizing who Jesus is – the Son of God, and look to Him in faith:


All the incentive we need to believe that this is indeed so comes from what is perhaps the best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, one which is found in the course of this conversation. I want you to hear it and the two verses that follow from the Message translation of the Bible this morning:


“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in Him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust Him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to Him.”


Nicodemus was someone who showed up to meet Jesus face to face because of his curiosity. He showed up with all of his religious expectations and therefore he didn’t understand very much about grace.


Later in John’s gospel there is evidence that Nicodemus gave up those expectations and found out what life in Christ is all about. On this occasion he came by night for fear of the Jews, but at the end of the Gospel it is Nicodemus who openly purchases the necessary spices for the anointing of Jesus’ body (John 19:39).