Disappointment With God—Matthew 11:3
Prophets in the Bible were God’s spokespersons who made big sacrifices in their personal lives to represent God well. They were called by God to deliver very difficult sobering messages to audiences who were usually very hard of hearing. It seems to me that they were very deserving of God’s favor, and I would expect them to be treated well and to have happy endings; yet nothing could be further from the truth. All of them were persecuted, imprisoned, and endured many hardships. Many of them were martyred, including John the Baptist in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, consider Jeremiah who was beat up and imprisoned repeatedly. He was put in “stocks” and stationed at the city gate so all the people coming and going could witness his public humiliation. In Jeremiah 27, God told him to wear an oxen yoke on his neck for two years, which he did as a sign that Judah should capitulate to Babylon and serve them as a discipline from God for its apostasy. Isaiah the prophet was commanded by God to “go naked and barefoot” for three years as a sign against Israel seeking help from Egypt. Isaiah’s message was that Assyria would defeat Egypt so there was no reason the trust Egypt to help, and Israel should trust only the Lord God. Isaiah went naked to signify Egyptian prisoners of war who would be led out by the cruel Assyrians. Ezekiel the prophet was told by God to go out in front of the people and cut off his beard and all the hair on his head and burn it as sign to Israel. Later in Ezekiel 12, he was told to pack all his bags and make a public show of carrying them to the city wall, dig a hole under the wall and in their sight go out through the hole. He had to do this every day as a sign to Israel that God was going to send them all into exile as a punishment for idolatry. Then Ezekiel had to eat and drink in public by making a big show of trembling and quivering with anxiety as a sign of the coming horror. I don’t know about you but this prophet job is too tough for me, I mean can you imagine going out in public naked every day or wearing an ox’s yoke around your neck? How uncomfortable would that be? If you are thinking that the prophets might have gotten upset with God then you are correct. They constantly cried out to God, and were disappointed.
In Matthew 11, we read the story of the prophet John the Baptist’s reaction to his arrest and imprisonment. John had been preaching in the wilderness for some time as a fulfillment of prophecy that a prophet like Elijah would come before the Messiah and prepare Israel by calling them to repentance. In 1 Kings we are told that Elijah just appeared in the wilderness with a message from God, and in 2Kings 1, we are told he was a rough hairy man who wore animal skins with a rawhide belt and ate a very strange wilderness diet. In Matthew’s introduction of John the Baptist (Matt.3:4), we have the comparison of John with Elijah, “John had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” The emphasis on both Elijah and John was that they had a very austere life of hardship and deprivation. Who among us wants to sign up for their job? The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear that John was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the one who would “make ready the way of the Lord”. Both Elijah and John the Baptist would later become very disappointed in God. Elijah got so depressed that he hid out alone in a cave and despaired of life itself. After John the Baptist introduced Jesus in Matt.3:13-17, we are told that Jesus’ ministry must increase and John’s decrease (John 3:30). It decreased alright, all the way down into a dungeon.
In Mark 6:17-29, we learn John the Baptist’s fate. He had boldly spoken against the depravity of Herod Antipas who had married his own brother’s wife, Herodias. We read that John was arrested and held in a nasty prison, and later, by her request, he was beheaded. During the time that John was being held in the dungeon for the crime of obeying God and acting as God’s spokesperson, John sent messengers to Jesus (Matt.11:2-3) to ask if Jesus really was the “Expected One” or should they be expecting someone else? This is amazing because John was the prophet who first identified Jesus as the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29-34). John not only presented Jesus to the crowd, but he heard God’s confirmation from heaven and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus. Nevertheless, after John was roughed up, thrown in prison, and mistreated, he had doubts about who Jesus is. After all, if John was doing exactly what God called him to do, why would he be so mistreated? If Jesus is the Son of God, why are all the leaders of the nation against Him, and why doesn’t He intervene on John’s behalf? Clearly at that point in time, John was very disappointed in Jesus.
John was expecting some serious retribution to evil rulers like Herod, and John was expecting a day of reckoning for all. In Luke 3:7-9, John preached about the coming wrath saying, “The axe is at the root of the tree”. John said that Jesus would “gather the grain and burn the chaff with fire” (Matt.3:7-12). Instead, Jesus was out loving and serving everyone, teaching the good news, and healing the sick. John’s failed expectations were at the heart of the message he sent to Jesus—“Are You the one, or shall we look for someone else?”
Life Seems to Disappoint Everyone but God
We all have our own expectations of what God should do. We set goals for God, but when He doesn’t perform we may be disappointed. Our way seems right to us. We expect a world where we experience mild consequences every time we sin, but pleasure and “atta boys” with every good deed. False doctrine taught should bring down fire from heaven, but correct teaching would be commended by God’s voice from heaven. Faithful believers would be healed of any illnesses while scumbags get what they deserve. The good die of old age, and the bad die young. Instead, what typically happens is we may pray for healing, but the patient dies. The good get just as many problems as the bad, and the good may die young. David expressed his disappointment with God in many of his psalms. In Psalm 44, David cried out to the Lord that he had heard all kinds of stories about how God did great and mighty works for His people (verse 1-8), but in verse 9-26 David said that wasn’t his experience. He said God had not helped his army, David’s people were treated badly, “a laughingstock among the peoples”, and it was as if God had not heard their prayers or He didn’t care. Where is God when we hurt? Where is God when I need Him? God seems hidden and silent. Of course we must not lose sight of the truth that David wrote this during a time of great emotion as he was going through a difficult trial in which God would eventually deliver him. Therefore it just seemed to David that God had rejected them and wasn’t listening, but in fact God just had different timing and a better plan.
What if God did perform according to our desires and expectations? Would it make a difference? If God fully revealed Himself to all, spoke to them clear instructions about what He wanted us to do, and God intervened against all problems and evil; would it make a huge difference? Has God ever done this? Actually God has, so let’s take time to evaluate the effect it had on Israel. In the Book of Exodus, we read that God spoke directly to Moses, gave clear instructions, and then intervened on their behalf by doing ten awesome miracles resulting in their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In the wilderness God fed them, clothed them, gave them water, and fought their battles. God punished evil immediately, and rewarded obedience. He spoke audibly and made Himself visible in the shekinah glory that they followed every day in the pillar of cloud, and later in the Tabernacle. God assembled the entire nation of Israel in the plains below Mt. Sinai, and spoke directly to them when He gave them His perfect moral righteous standard we call the Ten Commandments (Ex.19-20). There were no atheists on that day in Israel.
Did all this make Israel love and obey God? No, they feared God, but would not trust and obey. Therefore, would people really (as many say and demand) love God and believe in God if He would just intervene to stop all evil, reveal Himself clearly, and give us clear instructions? The answer is available in the Bible in the Old Testament. Despite God’s faithful good treatment, constant appearances and miracles, Israel repeatedly failed. About 50 years after God gave them the land of Canaan, Israel devolved into anarchy where every man “did what was right in his own eyes”. We read in Judges 2:10-12, “there arose another generation…then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals (idols), and they forsook the Lord who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they followed other gods…thus they provoked the Lord to anger.” If you think we are any different from or better than the people then, I think you are fooling yourself because Israel well represented the human race. God’s response was to withdraw, to “give them over”, in other words to let them do what they wanted apart from Him. People feel like God has let them down, abandoned them, but biblically who really let who down? Who betrayed who? God restrains Himself from intervening against evil for our benefit. When people say, “Where is God, why doesn’t He do something?” it escapes their notice that if He did do something it would be to clean house. Do we really want Him to right all wrongs, and clean up all evil? What if He started with us? It seems we want justice for others without judgment or consequences for ourselves, and mercy without justice for ourselves.
Jesus Seems to Disappoint Everyone but God
In Matthew 11:2-3 we see that Jesus disappointed John the Baptist. In Matt.16 we read that Jesus disappointed the disciples when He told them He would be arrested and crucified. Simon Peter representing the group took Him aside, and rebuked Jesus saying “God forbid it, this shall never happen!” They had left everything to follow Him, and they had great expectations for Him to set up the kingdom, restore Israel to peace and prosperity, and set His disciples in the highest positions of authority. They did not realize that their timing was way off, and that Jesus had to first solve the bigger problem of atoning for their (and our) sin. Later after His resurrection in Luke 24:19-21, we see Jesus’ disciples still disappointed in Jesus because they had hoped “He was going to redeem Israel.” In John 6:22-66, the huge crowd that witnessed Jesus do the miraculous feeding of the five thousand had sought Him out to be a political/military king; but Jesus, in His “Bread of Life Discourse” sermon, made it clear He did not come to do that. When Jesus made it clear that they must partake of His bodily bloody sacrifice on the cross, they were repulsed and most of them withdrew and no longer followed Him (Jn.6:60,64,66). Nevertheless, when Jesus uttered His last words from the cross, He said “It is finished” signifying that His sacrifice had accomplished the will and plan of God to atone for our sins, and God was satisfied.
Matthew 11:11, Jesus’ Response to our Disappointment
Even though John the Baptist was temporarily disappointed in Jesus, God was not disappointed in John because he had been faithfully obedient. Jesus commended John to the disciples by pointing out that “there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist”. Then Jesus went on to say how much better believers would all be in the kingdom of heaven. Now we struggle with doubts, disappointment, and suffering; but then evil and suffering will be ended and we will fully see things from God’s point of view. Now we struggle with life because we all feel like Jesus came for us and to please us. Jesus definitely came for us but not to please us, and He does not answer to us or our agenda. Jesus answers to God and God’s agenda, and we must submit to that as well.
What is our course of action? Should we just tough it out, suck it up, when the going gets tough the tough get going, and all those other clichés? Jesus wants us to look past the trouble in the world to our bigger and better future. He tells us that He has overcome the world, and that we should live in anticipation of His return for us as He told His disciples in John 14:1-3, “let not your heart be troubled…I go to prepare a place for you (in heaven)…I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also.” This was the perspective Paul directed his disciples to live by in Colossians 3:1-4 where he told them to “keeping seeking the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth…When Christ is revealed (comes back), then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (the resurrection)”. Until then, live expectantly in hope.