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Missed Expectations (John 1:6-34)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a person, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 

Continuing in our study of John I would ask that you read John 1:6-34.  In these verses you will find the story of John the Baptist.  The author tells us that John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare God's people for the coming of the Word, the Light, the Christ.  John baptized the people in water, a baptism he described as a baptism of renewal, repentance, a change of mind.  John told the people that another person was coming, one who would baptize them in Spirit.  The leaders were aware of the prophecies and they were expecting something like this, so they asked John if he was the Messiah/Christ that Isaiah told them to wait for, or the prophet that Moses had told them to wait for, or even Elijah that Malachi had told them to wait for, but John declined all three titles.  They asked why he was baptizing people if he was none of these, and they sought to kill him.  A little later John saw Jesus, baptized him, and told the people that Jesus was the one he had been telling them about.  He is the one that will baptize them in the Spirit!

This week I was struck by two different types of missed expectations found in this story. 

First, the leaders had a very specific expectation of who the Messiah/Christ was going to be.  They knew that there would be at least two people, and maybe a third.  Malachi had told them to expect the return of Elijah, who would foretell the coming of the Messiah/Christ that Isaiah had told them to expect.  Moses had told them the a Prophet like him would one day come, but they didn't know if the Prophet was Elijah, the Messiah, or a third figure.  When John didn't claim any of these titles they determined that he was not part of the prophecies, so they decided to kill him.  It turns out that John was "Elijah" (Matthew 11:14) but he didn't match the expectations of the leaders.  For that matter, even John seemed to have an expectation of who Elijah would be, and he didn't think he fit the bill.  

The other type of missed expectation is a little more hidden.  We know that John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin (Luke 1:36).  Both families had ties with the Essene community, and they likely knew each other well.  John says twice in this story that he didn't know the one who would baptize them in Spirit.  It is unlikely that he didn't know Jesus, so we might understand his words to say that he didn't know that it was Jesus who would be the Messiah.  In other words, John saw Jesus in a new light that day when he baptized him.  He had been waiting for a stranger, but God helped him see Jesus in a new way.   

In my experience, it seems that God loves to expand our minds and hearts by challenging our expectations.  We might expect something specific, or we might think we know something or someone, and in either situation, God will challenge those expectations in order to open our minds to new possibilities.  

Recently at church I was working in the nursery.  One of the kiddos was pretty fussy.  It had been months since he had seen me, I was wearing a mask, and I expected that he was having stranger danger.  I had been keeping my distance thinking that I would let him approach me, but he kept crying.  I approached him and he didn't seem to pull away.  I held out my hands, he didn't reach for me, but he didn't pull away.  Since he kept crying I picked him up, watching carefully to see if he pulled away at all, but he didn't, so I held him.   He settled down and fell asleep in my arms.  I started this encounter with an expectation or an assumption that was wrong.  If I had insisted on maintaining that expectation this poor kiddo may have kept crying, but instead I was able to meet his needs because I was able to accept that my expectation was wrong.  

Many years ago I was working at a residential boarding school.  One of the groups decided to create some chaos.  They all ran in different directions.  They set fire to a few things, they chased people around with fire extinguishers.  They broke into a few buildings.  They even stole a boat and used the bathroom in the middle of the lake.  I was part of the crisis response team that helped to get the group back together.  One child at a time I deescalated them and convinced them to come back to the group where a therapist processed with everyone.   Once we had them all back together we waited to see what the therapist would do.  What consequences would he put in place for this kind of behavior?  He blew all of our minds when he said: "Alright! Now that we are all back together we can go out to eat!".  Then he took the group out for a meal at the local Chinese Buffet.  All of the staff were confused, this broke out expectations.  Later I was able to ask the therapist about what he was thinking and he explained two things to me.

1.) Everyone expected massive consequences, and yet the team was able to convince them to return.  By shattering their expectations we were able to get their attention and speak to their hearts.  If we had met their expectations, they would not have been receptive to a teachable moment.  

2.) People act the way you treat them.  If we treat them like we expect them to do bad, they will act bad.  If we treat them like they will behave well, they will meet those expectations.  By taking them out, we reset their self image, and set the expectation for behavior higher.  

I would never believe this would work until I watched it happen.  If you had asked me, I would have told you that this would just encourage them to act up more often, but that never happened.  Not a single child that was present that day ever did anything like that again.   

God, we know that our expectations sometimes hold us back.  We also know that the expectations we have of others are sometimes wrong, and hurtful.  You know us, you know the expectations we carry that hold us or others back.  Lord, break our bondage to these exceptions, set us free, expand our minds.  Amen.


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