From a dungeon John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus about their expectations that seemed to be going unmet. They asked, “Are you the expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). After pointing John’s disciples to the fruit of His ministry Jesus gives this poignant advice, “And blessed is he who does not take offense at me” (Matt. 11:6). Indeed, the root issue of offense is unmet expectations.
John the Baptist was hardly the first person to take offense at unmet expectations. In 2 Kings we are told about Naaman, the captain of the army of the King of Aram, who had contracted leprosy. When the King of Aram wrote a letter to the prophet Elisha asking him to receive Naaman that he might be healed, Elisha told him to come. As Naaman was approaching Elisha sent a message instructing him to simply go and wash in the Jordan river seven times (2 Kings 5:10). This was not the reception that Naaman expected, and he was clearly offended by his unmet expectations. We read: “But Naaman was furious and went away and said, ‘Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ ‘Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:11-12). Luckily for Naaman, his servants talked some sense into him and he eventually agreed to wash in the Jordan and was healed.
Similarly, we see that many who initially followed Jesus eventually became offended at Him and His teachings. In John 6 we read that great multitudes of people had begun to follow Jesus because of the signs and miracles that He was performing. It was here that Jesus began to teach that eternal life would come from eating His flesh and drinking His blood (see John 6:54). When Jesus’ disciples heard this teaching they knew that Jesus was offending the great crowd of people. On hearing it they said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Instead of easing their offense Jesus took it one step further and said that no one could come to Him unless God the Father permitted it (John 6:65). What was the impact of His teaching? The Scripture states, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66).
We do not know how John the Baptist responded to the report from his disciples. Presumably he overcame his unmet expectations, just as Naaman eventually did. But we see a pattern here. Expectations go unmet, which leads to offense and anger, which leads to withdraw. That is the great question here. All of us develop expectations. All of us will feel disappointment and frustration at God and/or others. The question is how will we respond? Will we withdraw like Naaman and so many of Jesus’ followers initially did? Perhaps there are more pressing questions for you today. Are you offended by someone? Are you going to withdraw in anger? Is there a better way?
I recently read The Prisoner in the Third Cell by Gene Edwards for a discipleship group I’m in and I loved it. Such a short book with so much tangible impact in our lives today. I have never thought from the perspective of John the Baptist. How he must have felt when his questions were answered with more uncertainty. How alone he must have felt in the cell, waiting for his fate to be determined, wondering if his whole life had been for nothing. I’m sure God eventually gave him peace, but the anguish leading up to his death must have been excruciating. Good post with good points about unmet expectations being the root of all offense. My only question is why do we have these expectations in the first place? Is it because of our pride? Our need to control things? Thanks for the post.
Resentment is often a product of unmet and/or unrealistic expectations. I think this text proves that we can have unrealistic expectations of God even when He’s fully capable of meeting our every expectation. Personally, I think it boils down to our sense of justice and fairness. My offense toward someone (or God even) often extends from my idea of how I “should” be treated or how life “ought” to play out.
I think this makes Peter’s response to Christ all the more audacious and poignant: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Zack, that’s a great question….a lifelong question to some degree. I think the primary question is how to deal with the unmet expectation, since we are bound to have them in varying quantities throughout our life. However, I think your question is important. Otherwise, we will never address the root of our expectations. Ultimately I do not know the answer. But one thing that I think about when I am challenged by this question is whether or not I have learned whatever it is that Paul is referring to when he says, “I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31). It is difficult to analyze any given day with the question, “Did I ‘die’ today?” However, I suspect that many times my expectations are an accumulation of subtle failures to die to myself day after day. Perhaps I am being a little too hard on myself when I think that way. Then again, perhaps I am not. But I suspect that my expectations are often tied to my inability to quit living primarily for myself. Thanks for your comments!
Jonathan, thanks for your thoughts. I think that my sense of how I “should” be treated is often a direct correlation to my level of self-centeredness. Do you think it’s possible to become God-centered to a degree that the unmet expectations quit popping up?
[…] would like to continue on some thoughts from yesterday. It is easy for us to read the New Testament and criticize the Jewish believers who failed to […]
[…] him. He only sends out one of his servants and tells him to go wash in the Jordan seven times. This offended Naaman, because he thought the prophet would come out and make a big deal and do some fancy […]