Some of our biggest issues in life revolve around expectations and disappointments. Just today I got to see this at work in my house. We have been snowed in twice over the last 6 days, getting somewhere between 3 and 4 feet of snow during that span. Last week we were able to take our boys sledding for the first time in a few years. My older son had the time of his life, my younger son, well he didn’t. With this second storm we decided to go sledding again. Last night we agreed that we would let the snow stop, dig out and clear the sidewalks and then go sledding. When we made this agreement everyone was excited and could not wait until morning. This morning I got up, dug out the van and cleared the sidewalks. We got all of the work done but then when it was time to get ready for sledding some unexpected circumstances arose. Our three year old son decided that he really did not like sledding last time and did not want to go. My knee swelled up and started having spasms and then we got calls from the other two families we were supposed to sled with, one could not go and the other family had all gotten sick overnight. The trip that was planned and expected was suddenly canceled. My older son was really disappointed; he had expected to go sledding today. The reality was that circumstances arose that we could not have foreseen and so the trip being canceled was out of our control, and yet that did not seem to alleviate Noah’s disappointment.
In John 11 we are told that one of Jesus’ closest friends, Lazarus, was sick. His sisters, Martha and Mary send word to Jesus but when He gets the news He stands still. Lazarus’ sisters had an expectation, if they got word to Jesus He would come and heal their brother. The expectation was not unrealistic, they had seen Him heal many; He had opened blind eyes and deaf ears, cleansed lepers and cast out demons, healing their brother was not only within His ability, it was what they expected Jesus’ desire to be. This time, however; something different happened, Jesus did not come, not only was Lazarus not healed, he died and his sisters were left to mourn not only his death but their own disappointment.
When Jesus arrived at Martha and Mary’s home they both had the same response, “If You had been here my brother would not have died.” They were not afraid to let Him know what their expectation had been. The way they approach Jesus and the way they speak to Him shows that they are not disappointed in Him, they trust Him and yet they are heart-broken over their loss. Jesus speaks very clearly to Martha that something much greater than she ever expected is present, that there is a purpose to His presence and that He has a plan much different from hers that He is going to fulfill. Jesus goes to Lazarus’ grave, He is moved by the tears and pain of His friends, He is moved by the condition of the mourners that surround Him, so moved that he weeps with them, He joins His heart to theirs and chooses, even as Scripture commands us, to weep with those that weep. In the midst of tears and prayers there are also questions, friends, family and neighbors ask why Jesus had not been there, how it could be that He could heal strangers and not be present to heal His friend, some simply question why, why could He have not been able to come and heal Lazarus. Again, they are disappointed because their expectations were not met.
Jesus stands at the tomb of Lazarus and calls out, “Take away the stone.” Lazarus had been buried in a cave, a large stone covered the mouth of the cave. Jesus’ request is a large one; it is not normal, not convenient and not expected. You can almost hear the surprise in Martha’s voice, almost see her turn on her heals and say, “But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” There are moments in our lives when the will of God requires us to trust Him in the midst of the most unexpected of requests. To open the tomb would have been an emotional event in the natural. They are still mourning and the tomb should be open? He has been dead for four days, he is already decomposing, there will be odor, it sounds embarrassing almost disrespectful, and He does not even tell them why the tomb should be opened, just to open it. Jesus’ response to Martha goes back to what He had spoken to her earlier. He had made her promises, had spoken to her of resurrection and life, of glory and greater experiences and revelation than she had ever known before. Jesus answers Martha’s fears and concerns by reminding her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
God’s glory is rarely seen in the manner, timing, place or way that we expected it. The glory of God is often revealed after our expectations are dashed and disappointment seeks to rob us of trust. The glory of God is seen and believed and released through testing, through the forging of faith, of trust and of His love for us. Jesus’ request for the tomb to be opened was a test for Martha and Mary. It was a test of their trust for Him, of their belief in His love for them and of their level of confidence in His power and authority. Everything of worth has to be tested and it is not until we enter into that testing that we discover the true measure in which we can trust God, we can believe in His love and we can be sure of His provision, His character and His will. Each of us has been and will be tested. God is going to speak through His Word, through His Spirit and then He is going to lead us to a place in which He will test our confidence in His promises. Many of us have faith as long as our expectations are met and disappointment is held at bay, but God is forging our character in such a way so that we are led by His expectations rather than controlled by ours. Disappointment is when someone or something does not live up to our desires; God is working in our lives in such a way that will lead us to relinquishing our desires and putting our hope in His.
Martha made a decision after Jesus spoke, she decided that she desired to see the glory of God and knew that the only way to reach that place was to trust Jesus completely. She gave the word, she obeyed Jesus and had the stone removed. I wonder what those few moments were like for her and Mary. As the stone was moved away what did they do? Did they hold their breath, hoping not to smell the decaying body? Did they expect to see Jesus walk in the tomb or even to see Lazarus walk out? I have a feeling that at this point they had no more expectations, they were probably pretty spent and not in a position to try to guess what would happen next but instead where there in the moment, watching Jesus, listening to His prayers and trusting in His love. This is the same place that God is leading all of us to.
I believe that some of us are in situations very near to Martha and Mary’s. We are in places that we never expected, even worse, some of us have had expectations that have simply not been met. Those places are filled with warfare, the Holy Spirit is speaking that God is present and that He is fulfilling His purpose in our lives and the Accuser of our souls is speaking disappointment and doubt. It is in this place that our faith is being tested and that the purity of God’s trustworthiness is being shown. In the midst of one of the greatest trials man has ever known Job said, “when He has tested me I will come forth as gold.” Job understood that God never left, He never disappointed and He was not bound by our understanding or expectation. To go back to Lazarus one last time, Jesus could have come and healed him. He could have spoken a word from a distance and had His friend recover; He could have never allowed the sickness to come near Lazarus at all. In any of these scenarios Jesus’ friends would have only had their expectations met, they would not have had any new revelation, no new glory, and no new experience of His love, His power and His mercy. At this moment God is not coming short of your expectations He is exceeding them. If we can fight against disappointment, not allowing it to deceive us, we will see God do more in our lives than we ever expected and truthfully, even more than we ever desired.