God often defies our expectations

December 23, 2015

I’m currently reading Köstenberger and Stewart’s book The First Days of Jesus. They make a point about Mary’s song, the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, and Zechariah’s song, the Benedictus in Luke 1:67-79, that answers a question I’ve had for a while: Why don’t their songs more neatly align with the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed later in the gospels and the New Testament?

In other words, their songs seem more centered on Jewish expectations for a political and military Messiah who will liberate Israel from foreign domination than for a Savior whose atoning death will liberate all who believe in him from their sins and reconcile them with God. (Of course, ultimately, all their messianic expectations will be fulfilled, too, just not in the way that they imagined at the time.)

The authors say that this is as it should be. Why wouldn’t Mary and Zechariah’s expectations be shaped by the expectations of their prevailing culture? They and everyone else would soon learn that Jesus was going to constantly defy people’s expectations of him. Think of Mary and her sons coming to take Jesus home after they think he’s lost his mind. Think of John the Baptist, in prison, sending his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the promised Messiah. Think of the disciples scattering after Jesus was crucified.

And in the Christmas story, think of Jesus’ humble birth in a manger.

They write:

We will come back to this issue of expectations later, but for now it is worth reflecting on our expectations of God, his character, and his actions. Wrong expectations are a key source of disillusionment and disappointment. A cynical person might argue that we should never expect anything from anyone in order to avoid being let down. Such an approach to people and God, however will surely lead to a bitter and lonely life. We need each other, and we need God. What happens, then, when God fails to meet our expectations or to act in the way that we thought, hoped, and prayed that he would?

In such instances, we need to reevaluate our expectations to make sure they align with the promises of God. God has not promised us that we will be free from all sickness and have lots of money in this lifetime. He has not promised that bad things will not happen to good people. He has not promised that we and our loved ones will never die. In this present age life is fatal; no one gets out alive. He has promised that he will be with us no matter what and that nothing can ever separate us from his love. He has promised that resurrection will triumph over death and that there will be a future day when he will personally wipe every tear from every eye and remove sickness and death from his creation forever. We will not always understand why things happen, but we can trust that God will fulfill his promises. He is faithful.[1]

1. Andreas Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart, The First Days of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 143.

4 Responses to “God often defies our expectations”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    So, are we to conclude that Mary and Zachariah were mistaken? That their praise songs were along the lines of the dissertations of Job’s friends and included to show their error? I don’t think I can go with that. Their discourses seem “prophetic” in nature. However, some of the OT prophesies seem similarly as directed in an “earthly kingdom” vein as Mary’s and Zachariah’s. I guess we have to “interpret” them ALL figuratively rather than literally. Otherwise, we may get into a “premillennial” interpretation of scripture, something I conclude is not warranted from a “common sense” perspective (and I am coincidentally reading a “four views” book on that issue that I got from a fellow worker for an early Christmas present). Why should there be some “thousand year reign” on earth, and what could it possibly be like? Also, as one author notes, why would the saints in heaven want to give that up to go back to earth? And what mere mortals could stand in the presence of the glorified Christ? So I have puzzled as to all such prophesies as to what they are intended to convey. But I don’t think the answer is that they were all simply “mistaken” in their expectations. (Curiously enough, when the disciples, post-resurrection, asked Jesus when the kingdom was to be restored to Israel, he didn’t say, “No, you are wrong about that–just figurative”; instead, “It is not for you to know the time.” So a very perplexing issue.)

    • brentwhite Says:

      To say that Jesus didn’t meet their expectations isn’t the same as saying that they were simply “mistaken.” That’s why I inserted this parenthetical aside: “(Of course, ultimately, all their messianic expectations will be fulfilled, too, just not in the way that they imagined at the time.)”

      I agree that this is often the way prophecies work. But I don’t think the OT prophets themselves could have imagined how their words would be fulfilled.

      But I’m not sure what’s at stake in saying that while Jesus would ultimately fulfill their deepest hopes, he wouldn’t do so in the exact manner in which they expected. How could they possibly understand how God’s plan of salvation would unfold? They weren’t God.

      Besides, as the authors point out, that they were reflecting predominant Jewish expectations for the Messiah rather than later Christian understanding lends credence to the historicity of their words.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    But, in the end, it is a “New Heaven” and a “New Earth” that we inherit. The implications of that are beyond my comprehension. Just know it will be perfect..


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