Monday, April 09, 2012

Jesus Disappoints Everyone

Our Savior has come, but we're often blind to his purposes.
It was early in the fall semester. Ken and I were getting acquainted over lunch. I could tell by his incandescent grin that he was a freshman.

"I'm going to be a pastor," Ken said. "It's going to be cool!"

"What makes you so sure it's going to be cool?"

I tried not to look amused.

He seemed shocked by the question. The radiant glow of his smile dimmed momentarily, and he looked as if I had muttered an unexpected indecency. But the grin quickly returned to his face, and he dismissed my question with a shake of his head.

"I don't know," he said. "But it's going to be cool!"

Several years later, I had lunch with Ken again. He was a senior by then, and his enthusiasm had dampened. He had not quite reached the low ebb that Job's wife did. That is to say, he was not ready to curse God and die. But he did seem genuinely disappointed—with his college experience, his church, and, I think, with God.

As I listened to him talk, it was my turn to be disturbed. I thought back to our first lunch together and wondered what had soured his disposition. He did not want to talk about it. He muttered something vague and recriminating about the church. He stared darkly at his plate, and I tried to lighten the mood with small talk and encouragement. But it was no use. Try as I might, I could not resuscitate the rosy-cheeked freshman. I ate quickly and wished him the best. A few weeks later, I watched him walk across the platform and receive his diploma, wondering whether his disposition would eventually improve.

It might not. Those who serve Christ are as prone to disappointment as anyone else. If the Gospels are any indication, we might even say that disappointment is a certainty. Read the Gospels with all their sharp edges intact. What are they but a record of disappointment with Jesus on a grand scale?

Just ask John the Baptist.

Ill at ease in Herod's prison, John sent messengers to Jesus with a question: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matt. 11:3). The question comes as something of a surprise. After all, John was one of the first to publicly identify Jesus as "the one who comes after me" (John 1:27). It was John who told Jesus, "I need to be baptized by you" (Matt. 3:14). John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus at his baptism and heard the voice from heaven say, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). If anyone had known the answer to this question, it would have been John.

It is possible that John had grown discouraged with the way his circumstances had turned out. Perhaps the darkness of Herod's prison had dimmed John's confidence in Jesus and his mission. But this too seems unlikely. John was used to a life of hardship. He dressed like a nomad and lived like a wild man of the desert, surviving on insects and honey (Matt. 3:4). Do we really believe that a prison cell could break his spirit? What is more, John would not have been surprised to find himself Herod's prisoner. He was a student of Scripture. He knew what happens to prophets. Nine times out of ten, the prophet's fate is a bad one. John would hardly have been shocked by his experience. Read more

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