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Expectations of the Messiah: Faith

Expecting the obvious: directions to Disney World.

We might want to think of the Messiah this way. There was a time when the anticipation of a Deliverer was a beating heart of Jewish hope under the hand of the Roman Empire. For whatever indignities and injustice was suffered under foreign powers, Jews were awaiting the day of which Zechariah spoke: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots of Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations, his rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth (9:9-10). The expectation in the time of Jesus’ birth was for a descendant of King David to rise and not only bring sovereignty to Israel, but peace to the world. Because the New Testament speaks of Jesus as the Christ 531 times, it is obvious that the church saw in Jesus the promised Messiah.

But the story was not that simple in real time. The gospel accounts of his birth and life and death reveal that Jesus complicated the Messiah expectations of the people. When the Messiah does not meet your expectations, it complicates your belief in the Messiah. Today we consider how our questionable expectations of Jesus sometimes cloud our experience with Jesus. We begin this morning with Luke 1:26ff:

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. This Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’

“’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’”

Let’s stop here before we reach that last, great line in this passage. What is obvious in this visit from the angel is that he is speaking of the Messiah. The phrases “Son of the Most High,” the “throne of David,” “reign over the house of Jacob,” “a never ending kingdom,” and “Son of God” point to a unique person in Israel’s history. The person they’ve long talked about is now come. More than the Messiah coming, the Messiah will literally come through Mary, a young girl not married and, therefore, as the story assumes, unable to bear a child. By the hand of God’s creative power she will conceive a child without a husband.

In hindsight, the lines are so clear, aren’t they? It all looks so obvious. But the real-time experience was a challenge to the expectations of Mary. Messiah-expectation was built on both mystery and clarity. On the one hand, it was believed that no one would know where the Messiah came from. He would just be. On the other hand, when he arrived, he would arrive with uncommon strength and ability. Which is explains the hometown rejection of Jesus in Mark 6—it’s the familiarity of Jesus that complicates him as Messiah. How can the Messiah be my neighbor’s boy? The Messiah was supposed to be obvious. He would be from a wealthier town, a wealthier mother, and not from common Nazareth and common Mary. It must all look impossible to Mary and ridiculous to neighbors.

And that is the point. Jesus was an affront to all their expectations. It did look impossible. And so the angel has to tell her that all things are possible with God. This is the great moment in the story, where the angel is waiting for an answer. And the answer is this well-known verse (1:38):

“’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.

In the pause between “nothing is impossible with God” and “I am the Lord’s servant,” the story turns for Mary. It is the time she is confronted by God. This is not a simple road. This is not a simple story. And as we can chronicle any number of faulty expectations that cloud our experience with God, and there are many, we may identify with Mary most in underestimating the breadth of faith required of the Messiah.

“I am the Lord’s servant” is a confession of her faith in God. But it is not a simple confession of belief God seeks from Mary. For her, uniquely, it will involve body and heart and family. She will not be able to keep God at arm’s length. She will not be able to keep the story of Jesus a secret. She’ll be uniquely confronted by her limited understanding of God’s will. Whatever her projections of the days ahead, both the life of her son and the death of her son will prove challenging. Faith will require childbirth, and faith will require a funeral. This is more than she anticipates.

Faith may require more than we anticipate, too. We want faith in Christ to be manageable, predictable, but Christ is not managed and his call is not predictable. Hebrews 11 is that great roll call of faithful followers from the Scriptures: Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, and Samuel. The names are obvious, but the writer emphasizes the difficult circumstances that served as part and parcel of their faith. Abraham did not predict the call to leave homeland, to wait for a child, and then to offer that child as a sacrifice. Joseph never saw Egypt coming and Moses never thought he’d have to go back. At verse 33 of the chapter he lists all that they faced by faith (read). The breadth of faith’s price is always greater than they we anticipate.

We routinely underestimate the breadth of our own “I am the Lord’s servant” when following Christ. “I am the Lord’s servant” does not mean that all things fall neatly in line. In fact, our Yes to Christ means giving God permission to erase lines that may serve us but not serve Him or others. The Yes to Christ is usually an easy beginning, but it does not stay easy. Life does not unfold, neatly packaged, for following Christ. It is for us to continue to say Yes to Christ each day and find a way forward with faithfulness.

There is work ahead of you in your person life: granting forgiveness, seeking forgiveness, serving a neighbor, sharing faith with another, and your own perseverance in faith. You cannot right now anticipate how your personal life will challenge what you may have found manageable thus far.

There is work ahead of all of us in church: Sunday School classes thriving, children raised in faith, and finances. There is no law that says our church or any church has to continue as a faithful community of believers. Changes ahead of us create a need for creativity and faithfulness. We all have to value this unique community for the community to have a future.

You may indeed be the person for leadership in the church.




    Bulletin Insert

    Expectations of the Messiah: Faith Luke 1:26-38

    Expecting the obvious: directions to Disney World.

    Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots of Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations, his rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth (9:9-10).

    A tension: The gospel accounts of his birth and life and death reveal that Jesus complicated the Messiah expectations of the people. When the Messiah does not meet your___________________, it complicates your belief in the Messiah.

    Luke 1:26ff:

    “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. This Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’

    “’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’”

    In hindsight, the lines are so clear, aren’t they?

    Jesus was an affront to all their expectations. It did look impossible. And so the angel has to tell her that all things are possible with God. This is the great moment in the story, where the angel is waiting for an answer. And the answer is this well-known verse (1:38):

    “’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.

    We can chronicle any number of faulty expectations that cloud our experience with God, but we may identify with Mary most in underestimating the breadth of _________required of the Messiah.

    “I am the Lord’s servant…”

    She will not be able to keep God at arm’s length.

    She will not be able to keep the story of Jesus a secret.

    Whatever her projections of the days ahead, both the life of her son and the death of her son will prove challenging.

    Faith will require childbirth, and faith will require a funeral. This is more than she anticipates.

    Faith may require more than we anticipate, too. We want faith in Christ to be manageable, predictable, but Christ is not managed and his call is not ________________.

    *Hebrews 11

    We routinely underestimate the breadth of our own “I am the Lord’s servant” when following Christ. “I am the Lord’s servant” does not mean that all things fall neatly in line…

    There is work ahead of you in your person life…

    There is work ahead of all of us in church…




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