Expectations really are a crazy thing. Now, what is an expectation? Well, it’s been defined as a strong belief that something will happen or would be the case in the future. Now, I’m not sure what your expectations were for the year 2020, but it’s probably safe to say that things didn’t happen quite as you imagined. And maybe you’re like many of us, in considering 2021, you’re asking, what can I actually count on? Is optimism dead? Is it unrealistic for me to make plans for my future?
Well, the answer depends on where you’re looking. Turn to Luke 24 in God’s Word. And as the page flips from 2020 to 2021, let me warn you about three ways not to set your 2021 expectations, and also one way to do it.
Now, the background of this particular passage is that Jesus has just risen from the dead. But few have seen Him. And even His own followers aren’t quite buying it yet. So, we’ve two individuals: one whose name is Cleopus and the other is unnamed. And they’re walking a seven-mile journey to a village called Emmaus. They’re discouraged. They’re disillusioned. They’re disturbed. And now they’re discussing themselves ‘the things that went on in Jerusalem over the weekend’.
And while discussing ‘the things’, Jesus joins their journey and is walking right alongside them. But they’ve no idea it’s Him. And He asks them, “What is this [conversation] that you’re holding with each other as you walk?” I love their blunt response to Christ. They say, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
And then, Jesus says, “What things?” Look at the summary of the things they’ve been speaking of in verses 19 through 24. They said to Jesus:
“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a Man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.”
Friends, I have to ask you: what mess of things in your world is keeping you from seeing the truth of the matter in God’s Word? Sometimes, before God gives us answers, God will change the question that we’re asking. You see, in verse 18, they start off by asking the question, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” But, by the end of the story ― if you’d just keep reading ― you’d come to verse 32, where the question changes and they say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”
Sometimes, before God gives us answers, God will change the question that we’re asking
Do you ever feel like God is out of the loop? Or, that God isn’t acting in love in your life or the life of someone near you? Or, perhaps you feel like God somehow is distant from your situation. Well, these two certainly felt that. So what does their story have to do with 2021?
Well, we can learn a few practical lessons about how not to set our 2021 expectations. Number one: don’t let the things behind you blind you from the truth which is heralded before you. Notice the usage of ‘things’ in this passage. It’s kind of wild, but look closely.
Over and over, it’s repeated. They’re focused on the things around them. You know, it’s interesting how we can think everyone else is blind but miss what is happening right in front of us. Look again at verses 22-24. And as you go there, notice that they’re speaking about others. They say this:
“Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find His body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.”
Listen, they were literally ― these two people were literally ― looking into the face of Jesus Christ and talking about how other people didn’t see Jesus. My friends, this can be us. We can be so focused on the doom and gloom of our world, talking about the problems swirling around us and the causes of the problems when we are staring at the solution and still missing it. Even from churches we’re hearing discouragement ― almost as if Jesus hasn’t risen. If we actually realise the truth of the Word of God, we would be rejoicing. Hopeful. And clear communicators that, in a desperate world, there is a sufficient Saviour.
Even from churches we’re hearing discouragement ― almost as if Jesus hasn’t risen. If we actually realise the truth, we would be rejoicing
Two ― our second warning is this: remember when God puts a comma, don’t put a period. Look at verses 18 and 21. “… they had hoped,” “… the things that have happened” ― these are in past tense. See, when you focus on the grave, you’re gonna miss the goal.
I love that little verse of ‘It is Well With My Soul’ where it goes, “But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait. The sky, not the grave, is our goal. Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!”
Some time, read through this chapter and notice how they focus on the grave. The reality is that your expectations are actually too small, too temporal, too man-sized. What does Ephesians 3:20-21 say? It tells us:
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Now, the third thing is this ― the last warning I’ll give. You can be right about your position, persuasion, and perspective, but you can be wrong about the path to that prospect. Let me explain.
Look again at verse 21. In verse 21, we see, “But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” They said, “… we had hoped.” What? What had they hoped? This: that Jesus would redeem Israel. But wait. Isn’t that exactly what He came to do? To redeem all mankind? To save sinners, to rescue us from bondage? Absolutely! And the third day? Not only was the third day not too late, it was exactly the day that Jesus had said He would rise again.
You see, the very moment they were disheartened was the very moment they should’ve been delighted. Because, you see, they were right about their facts, but they were wrong in where they were facing. They were looking at their circumstances, and they deemed things impossible when God’s Word already promised the journey would go through Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha.
They deemed things impossible when God’s Word already promised the journey would go through Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha
Do we doubt God not because His Word is false but because He doesn’t do things the way we would? You see, if it was up to us, we would do things without Covid-19. We would do things without death. We would do things without sickness. We would do things without struggle. We would do things without pain. We would do things without misunderstandings. We would do things without discouragement.
Are these ‘things’ threatening your hope ― because you doubt God’s heart, because His route map doesn’t have the same route as yours? Make your expectations for this new year based on God’s character. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
You see, this is the reality: when our faces are on Christ, and His promises, not only will we not be disappointed, but the very obstacles that we might deem a detour, a distraction, or maybe even devastation, they are actually conduits for His glory. The things discouraging these two weary travellers to Emmaus were the very things that provided salvation for them and mankind, and a relationship eternally with God. Look at verse 27:
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
Get excited! The very moment you’re tempted to doubt God’s Word will be the very moment you can know He is doing things differently ― and far better ― than you ever even imagined. See, He is faithful who called you. And He will do it. Put your trust in Him. First, that He is the Saviour of the world, that He conquered the grave. But, also that He loves you. And even when you don’t understand His hand at work, you can trust His heart that knows, cares, and promises, ‘I will finish what I started in you. I will be with you.’
The very obstacles we might deem a detour, a distraction, or maybe even devastation, are actually conduits for His glory
Just a recap. One, don’t let the things that have happened behind you blind you from the truth heralded before you. Two, remember, when God puts a comma, don’t put a period. And again, remember verses 21: ‘happened’ and ‘hoped’. When you’re focused on the grave, you’re going to miss the goal. And number three: you can be right about your position, persuasion, and perspective, but you can be wrong about your path to that particular prospect.
But ultimately, look at the character of God. Invest your life, your assets ― time, relationships, words, emotions, skills ― and your heart into seeking His glory in every area. And you can be confident of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
This is not a time to get discouraged. It’s a time to get busy. Jesus is coming soon. But are we going to mope as He stares us in the face? Will He call you foolish like these two individuals in verse 25 (‘O foolish ones’) because you focused on your situation? Or, will you be called faithful because you believed the Scriptures?
See, the choice is yours. So, up your 2021 expectations as you look at your God. Because, the ‘things’ around you are only props for knowing Him more and making Him known more clearly.
God bless you!
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