Summary: God’s supernatural work is more wonderful than we would dare imagine.
For all who have ached to serve God and see his kingdom advance, we must surely appreciate Oswald Smith, standing before an examining board in 1920. One dream dominated his heart – to be a missionary for Jesus. Over and over he had prayed, “Lord, I want to go and tell people of you. Open a door of service.” Now, at last (he thought) his prayer would be answered. But when the examination concluded, the board rejected him. He did not meet the qualifications; he failed the test. Smith had a dream; God sent a detour. What would he do?
Disappointment – we all know the feeling of frustrated expectations. We want life to unfold in a certain way, but circumstances refuse to cooperate.
You were hoping marriage would end the loneliness. You expected to be free from financial troubles. You intended to have a satisfying and successful career. But life disappoints – God disappoints. He could open a door; instead he sends a detour. What will we do?
As Oswald Smith dealt with his disappointment, an idea arose in his mind. Maybe he could be part of a church which sent out missionaries; he spent his life pastoring The People’s Church in Toronto, Canada, a church known internationally during his tenure as a “missionary sending congregation.” God’s work was more wonderful than Oswald Smith dared imagine.
In our text, religious leaders want to see what God is doing. The crowds are excited about John the Baptist. Maybe this is a new work of God – something great finally is going to happen. After centuries of waiting, is God opening a door for his people? When they meet John, however, their expectations are not met by John. They end up angry and will eventually lash out to murder the one to whom John pointed.
Few of us are likely end our disappointments with violence. We may, however, begin to play religion, pretending to follow God and his ways. Our love for the Lord may grow cold. We may drift, finding faith irrelevant to daily living.
Whatever the cause and whichever path we follow, part of the solution is to consider how God’s detours lead us to places more glorious than we ever imagined. To see that, let us compare John’s reaction to Jesus with that of the Jewish leadership. Jesus arrives – God’s answer is here. But when he is not what is expected, how will we respond? God often does differently than we expect; God always provides better than we could hope.
1. Knowing God’s Solution to Sin is More Satisfying Than Our Success (29)
J. C. Ryle says this is “a verse which ought to be printed in great letters in the memory of every reader of the Bible.”
Of course, Christians believe all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. But this sentence shines brighter than most, even on a sun-lit day. Here is the main point of the main point – God has provided a solution to our greatest need, to mankind’s central problem.
Shakespeare well understood our need and illustrated it through one of the more famous lines in literature. Lady Macbeth is consumed by guilt over her participation the murder of Duncan. She is racked by nightmares, and often sleepwalks while rubbing her hands, trying in her dream to wash away the guilt from the blood which stained her hands. When the Doctor is called, he sees her walking and “washing,” saying, “Out, damned spot! out, I say! … What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.”
The stain of sin damns her soul in guilt and misery. Sin had ensnared Lady Macbeth and demanded that she not rest until Duncan is dead and her husband named king. Success would be her Savior. But success only condemns.
How wonderful for God to send a lamb to take away the sins of the world. Observe, please, two truths about the work of Jesus.
First, his is a most difficult work. Great minds have sought a way out; all have failed. Saviors have been put forth, but all have fallen away. “Senators, poets, sages, priests – all have tried a thousand ways and sought through a thousand ages, to put away sin.” But to no avail. Jesus alone has done and continues to do this work. We may wash our hands or hide them in our pockets, but the spot remains. Who would have thought the old man would have had so much sin in him? It is a difficult work.
Second, please believe this is an indispensable work. Maybe many of you have experienced the grace of God and well know that the work of Christ is indispensable for eternal salvation. But have we thought about the misery which sin spreads into life here and now? Do you realize (as one pastor has said), that “sin is the fountain of all our intellectual, social, moral, political and religious suffering? Until this fountain is dried up, the streams of misery will ever roll through the heart of the world. Sin must be taken away from our literature, our governments, our institutions, our hearts and lives before the world can be made happy.” (Thomas, Commentary, Kregel Bible Study Classics.)