Lombard Christian Reformed Church (Archive)

Will You Follow the God Who Rules Beyond Your Expectations?

What happened fifty years ago this past Friday?

Whose death do we remember?

President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, right.

But that’s not who I’m thinking of.

Who else passed away that same day?

CS Lewis also passed away that day, you kids know him as the author of the Narnia stories. Teens and young adults read him for his insight in understanding the Christian faith and its defense. His essays on worship and his Screwtape letters on discipleship have equipped and educated many. If you’re in education you should have read by now The Abolition of Man, and if not, this is the next book you should read. If you like science fiction you can start with his book The Silent Planet and you won’t read much science fiction that is any better than his trilogy. And if you like poetry there are some gems he has written like:

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.

I never had a selfless thought since I was born.

I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:

I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure are the goals I seek,

I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper sking:

I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek –

But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making

My heart into a bridge by which I might get back

from exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains

you give me are more precious than all other gains.


He also died fifty years ago this past Friday.

But I’m thinking of someone else who passed away that same day as President Kennedy and CS Lewis.

Any other guesses?

Aldous Huxley, the famous humanist, author of Brave New World, and one of the most famous unbelievers of his time, also died that day.

Peter Kreeft wrote a book entitled Between Heaven and Hell in which he imagines the three of them meeting on their way to judgment.

They argue about who Jesus really is and about salvation.

CS Lewis defends the sovereignty of God and salvation by the gracious work of Christ alone.

We can’t make God into what we want God to be.

To come to a reasonable, sane, and justifiable faith we have to take Jesus at his word, his claim to be God. Against all the ways we put ourselves or our achievements ahead of God’s sovereign will, the basic claim of Christ must be faced: that God became one of us and by his loving sacrifice alone we are redeemed.

Salvation is by Christ alone, and each must come to terms with who Jesus is, what he has done, and will you trust his love, power and grace?


This is what John the baptizer faces as he sends a message to Jesus from prison. His struggle is an invitation for us to come to terms with Jesus and find our trust in his saving grace.



1 - We understand where John is coming from.

It could be that all of us,

have already walked in or will walk in John’s shoes someday.

John is in prison BECAUSE OF Jesus.

It is because John has been obedient to God

absolutely that he suffers now.

Okay, we may accept that.

We don’t jump too quickly ahead.

We understand that life may involve hardship.

One can’t get from slavery to the ‘Promised Land’

without going thru the desert.

But when we suffer so, when questions of faith and God cloud our trust,

we want to know, what is Jesus doing.

But not just what he’s doing in general,

but what he’s doing for me, about my suffering?

-         We thank the Lord for those we know and love who have experienced healing, but your illness is not going to go away; it has changed your life forever. What is Jesus doing?

-         And we praise God for those who respond to the love of Jesus Christ by committing their lives to Jesus and his church in profession of faith. We’re glad to have more join us in being salt and light to the world. But your son or daughter walked away from Jesus and his church and no amount of witness or love is bringing him back. What is Jesus doing?

-          And we gather humbly this morning together hoping our praises to God are pleasing in his sight. We can do that because of the freedoms we enjoy, respect and protect here in our country. Yet our brothers and sisters in Christ in many places of the world do not enjoy peace. Arab Christians in Pakistan, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the Sudan, Indonesia, and in other areas of the east and Middle East feel the pressure and persecution of the day. We pray to the prince of peace, where is peace? We imagine them asking, what is Jesus doing?

“When John heard IN PRISON what Christ was doing. . .” And we understand it is more than the prison that John is battling. The gatekeeper seems to be his LORD.


2 - So John sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John’s question is, “Are you the Messiah, are you really God in the flesh come to save us, or should we look for someone else, should we place our hopes elsewhere?”

Or even, is there someone else, besides the Messiah that I need?

 Is that your question?

-         Your family has had a rough go of it. Now the holidays are coming. If only you can pull off the perfect holiday gathering, then maybe father and son will bury the hatchet.

-         Or maybe, you can finally measure up to mom’s expectations.

-         And maybe this might be the last Christmas we have together, so we better make it great. So far it doesn’t seem that God has made that much of a difference, so are we tempted to place our hopes elsewhere.


You are not the only one. This is really one of those basic questions of life, isn’t it? Where will I place my hope? In whom will we trust? And when we answer, Jesus, what do we do when that answer is challenged in the hundreds of ways it gets challenged every day –

-         Look at what happens when you do the right thing: you don’t cheat on the paper and suffer a lower grade than the one who plagiarized.

-         Look at what happens when you won’t compromise your values, you get left out or behind. You’re missing out on the fun, your peers say, and sometimes you believe them.

-         Listen to your congregation in Christ as we pray the same prayers week after week as we grow to understand that God’s ways are not our ways – sometimes that’s as close to understanding God that we can get.

Are you the one who was to come – the promised Savior of God – or should we expect someone else?


3 - What we don’t have recorded here in the text is Jesus’ reaction. We don’t get a read on his emotions and feelings, do we? Was it sadness? Was it hurt? We don’t know, as always, what we do see is that Jesus’ focus is on others, not himself. His concern goes beyond his feelings to his disciple and friend John. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”


I know some of us are weary from suffering. Others of us don’t know how or what to pray anymore. Still others are so callused by the ways of this world as to have little ear left to patiently sit at Jesus’ feet. But let us calm our souls for a moment and really study this answer of Jesus.


First, the writer Matthew wants us to take note of Jesus’ instruction: report to John what you HEAR and SEE. He puts the word ‘hear’ first, even tho the things Jesus speaks about involve seeing. I mean, Jesus speaks about the miracles he has and is performing. You see those things happen, don’t you? So why say, report what you HEAR and see?

 Because to understand life with God you have to pay attention to more than your own experiences. Your life with God involves more than your own perceptions and feelings and sufferings.

Start with God’s promises.

Listen to God’s Word.

Don’t forget the cross and the empty tomb that stand as symbols of Jesus’ love and power.

Remember the church at her best is the church making room for sinners  and those who suffer.


I mean, how often in life don’t you have to carry on with a decision even tho the present situation would tempt you to do otherwise? I’m not talking about those times when you knew better but still did the wrong thing. But those times when the right decision doesn’t lead to great results right away. You battle cancer with dangerous doses of radiation that make you more sick than you could ever imagine. But you carry on, and there are some here who have lived to see a better day.

 You’ve been hurt by the unthinking actions of a friend or spouse or family member, but you remember you made a promise to be a friend or to be married, for better or for worse. So you stick it out and work toward forgiveness and reconciliation even tho every instinct in your body is to get even instead.

 If that happens in our lives with one another, how much more when we run up against the mysteries of God’s sovereign control! No, it doesn’t make sense to love those you do not like, include the excluded, help those who cannot help themselves, forgive when you’d rather take revenge, but that’s what God says to do so I will trust the words of the LORD, what I hear. And wait in hope.

 So go tell John what you HEAR and see, remember the promises.


Then Jesus summarizes his ministry up to this point: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.


4 -  Jesus is quoting from the promises of the coming Messiah found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Sort of. He begins with the words from Isaiah 35:5-6:

            Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.

You can see the similarities.

Yet Jesus goes beyond. He inserts the phrase, “those who have leprosy are cured.”

Jesus is telling John, and all of us who will hear first before we attempt to see, that he is doing even more than what is expected and promised. God’s ways are not only beyond our comprehension, they are beyond our expectations. In fact, Jesus HAS TO take us beyond our expectations because our hopes are hopelessly tied to this earth. And we are made for more.

 It’s as if Jesus is saying John, even as I say these words, you complete them in your mind because you know the verse from Isaiah, but I’m doing more.

I am doing other things than you expected.

Greater graces.

Eternal matters.

Let me do more in your life than you could imagine.


5 - Jesus adds more. He says, “. . . the good news is preached to the poor.” That’s a direct quote from later on in Isaiah. The passage in Isaiah 61 begins: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He is giving John and all of us his truthful assurance again of who he really is.

Yes I am the Messiah, you do not need to look for another besides me.

It won’t always look like it because you cannot know or see all that’s going on, even in your own life.

But I am the Messiah, my concern is for you in your poverty and even in your spiritual poverty – the good news is preached to the poor.


6 - But Jesus adds one more thing. They are words that at first taught John’s heart to fear, and then relieved those fears. “The dead are raised,” Jesus said.

“The dead are raised.” That’s not in the versess of Isaiah 35 or 61. Again, Jesus calls us beyond what we expect to expect something even more. We hear this promise as one of eternal life. This is our hope. It is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. It is our deepest yearning.

John understand more.

This promise tells us how to grasp God by faith. It lays out the boundaries for us. When we come face to face with the God we cannot fully understand, we receive this promise of eternal life.

The answers will come.

It will all make sense.

Your sacrifice and obedience count.

But you are not going to know why or how, that is up to the work of the Spirit. You must receive and live by my grace. You must live by my promise, not your certainty – the dead are raised.


John heard this and more. For in this phrase Jesus was speaking in a very personal way to his relative.

He added, the dead are raised, first for John.

In that moment John knew he wasn’t going to get out of prison alive.

Tho he suffered now for his faith in Jesus, he would suffer even more.

He would not be vindicated in this lifetime.

He would look like a failure and a fool.

His Savior would not come to his physical aid in this hour of need.

He would come face to face with this God who would not fulfill his expectations and whom he could not fully comprehend.

He would be rewarded for his obedience with death.

This is what is going to happen in the sovereign, saving will of God.

John, “the dead are raised.” His only word of comfort in the face of such suffering was another promise and another call to faith.


You get a sense of the personal and private moment Jesus shared with John thru this message. But it wasn’t only for John. Jesus gets that personal and private with you also.

7 -  We know from Luke’s account of this story that Jesus spoke these words in the little town of Nain. Luke 7:21 says, “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.”

 Notice the seventh word: MANY. Many were healed. Many, but. . .not. . .all.

Jesus cured many, the Bible verse says.

It doesn’t say he cured all.

At other places the Bible describes Jesus curing every illness and disease.

But not here.

Not that day.

Not when Jesus had something for John to hear, and then see.


John understood what we must know: Jesus is a LORD never fully understood, a God who rarely makes clear exactly what he is doing in the life of one of his children.

Think of the people of Nain. “A father will return home with his young son who will forever remain disfigured because of a childhood accident. Throughout that despondent day and into the following weeks and years, that father will look down into the face of his child, and often hear him ask why he was not healed that day in Galilee, after all, so many others were.”

“A sick baby will die. An epileptic child will go on having seizures as long as he lives. A deaf mute will spend the rest of his life begging at the city gate. Many were healed, but not all.”

The dead are raised, Jesus promised.

Know me by my promises.

You will not know me until you know me by my promises, he is saying.


8 - Which leads then to one of the hardest truths of the Bible, verse 6 –

            Blessed is anyone who does not fall away (stumble) on account of me.


No doubt behind John’s question and ours is the question why?

Why is this happening to John?

Why is what is happening happening to you?

Has God forsaken you in the hour you need God the most?

And in that moment you meet the God you do not understand.

Such is the mystery of the Lord’s sovereignty.

Such is  God’s way in every generation.

No one has ever fully understood God.

God will always be something other than what you and I expect the Lord to be.

God works out his will in ways different from what we foresee.

“So blessed are you if you do not fall away on account of Jesus.”

You will find blessing even in the darkest, most painful sufferings of this life if you do not try to take the place of the LORD God. When you experience Jesus and his cross of suffering for the sin of the world, and when you trust in the empty tomb of Jesus you will find yourself near to God. And this is the beginning of eternal life.


The story teaches us that a day like that which awaited John awaits us all.

It is unavoidable because every believer imagines God to be a certain way,

to do certain things,

to reward certain actions.

And every believer is quite sure the LORD will do certain things under certain conditions.

But God is never quite what we think him to be.

Every believer must come to grips with a God who did not do things quite the way it was expected.


9 - Why? Because you are going to get to know your Lord by faith or you will not know him at all.

Gene Edwards writes: “Today you are resentful of those who so callously hurt you. But no, not really. The truth is you are angry with God because, ultimately, you are not dealing with humans, you are dealing with the sovereign hand of your Lord. Behind all events, behind all things, there is always God’s sovereign hand.

The question is not, ‘Why is God doing this? Why is the LORD like this?’

The question is not, “I need God desperately, why does he not come rescue me?’

The question is not, ‘Why did God allow this tragedy to happen to me, to my children, to my spouse, to my friend?’

Nor is it, ‘Why does God allow injustices?’

10 - The question before us is this: ‘Will you follow a God you do not understand? Will you follow a God who does not live up to your expectations?’

 Your LORD has put something in your life which you cannot bear. The burden is simply too great. He was never supposed to do this! But the question remains, “Will you continue to follow in faith this God who did not live up to your expectations?”

11 - “And blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of Jesus.”


Make no mistake, Jesus loves John with a pure and holy love.

He will die for this one who now gives his life for the Lord God.

So highly does Jesus treasure his trust he will do even more than John expects.

And so fiercely as Jesus loves John, so fiercely he loves you.,

treasuring your trust and faith beyond your expectation.

For as great as John is,

each one who trusts in Jesus is valued even more.

Despite the violent attacks against your faith,

Jesus will secure for all redemption and eternity.

Whoever believes in him will not perish.


It is Christ’s encouragement to live by faith. He gets extremely personal, more so than I can here in this public place. But my desire is that you hear these words in your most personal and private fear and question.

You can only know Jesus by faith.

That means following still, tho you do not understand.

That means living his way, by his words, tho the results aren’t what you’d want or even expect.

That means living by one more promise still: the dead are raised.


Stuart MacLean reflected on a time he felt peace. He had gone to church on Christmas Eve and when he came out it was snowing. Those big white lazy soft flakes that whitened up a cold and darkened countryside.  And he went home feeling, he said, that things were going to be all right after all. That peace would work its way again into life and the lives of those around him. He wishes that for our world today.

 But it’s something to consider that he last had that experience gathered with God’s people in a church. Maybe it’s worth considering that being with God’s people, belonging in the church of Jesus, may be one of the last places left in the world where you can experience this truth and promise. After all, it’s what Jesus promised here. “The dead are raised.” I will work my peace my way. In my power and grace you will find that I work peace that the world can neither give nor take away. You may not see it now. But the dead are raised. So blessed are you if you do not fall away on account of me.


CS Lewis wrote: The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.

Will we too trust the Lord

even when

especially when

we do not understand,

when the Lord does not live up to our expectations,

for we will know him by faith,

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