What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Matthew 11:2–19)

Expectations can dictate experiences. If our expectations of a relationship or situation are inaccurate, unrealistic, or misguided then disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement often result. To expect your spouse to meet all your needs, your job provide unwavering purpose, your education to secure sustained credibility, or your children to bring unblemished pride is a fool’s errand. This type of anticipation, rooted in nothing more than wishful thinking, is a recipe for tragedy because expectations can dictate experiences.

And it’s much the same with our relationship with God and the life of following Jesus. Behind every disappointment with God, every frustration with Christianity, and every disillusionment with the church lurks unbiblical expectations. Why? Because expectations can dictate experiences.


Expectations can dictate experiences. If our expectations of a relationship or experience are inaccurate, unrealistic, or misguided disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement can follow.

To expect your spouse to meet all your needs, your job provide an unwavering sense of purpose, your education to secure sustained credibility, or your children to bring unblemished pride are a fool’s errands. This type of anticipation, rooted in mere wishful thinking, is a recipe for tragedy.

And it’s much the same with our relationship with God and our following of Jesus. Show me someone who is disappointed with God, frustrated with the Christian life, or disillusioned with the church and I’ll show you someone who has unbiblical expectations. Why? Because expectations can dictate experiences. 

This morning, from Matthew 11, we’re going to see that our enjoyment of the Lord sits atop our expectations of the Lord, that the two are connected. To hold wrong expectations of the Lord is to sacrifice our enjoyment of the Lord. We begin with John the Baptist clarifying his expectations of Jesus.

Our Enjoyment of the Lord

Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”

Matthew 11:2–3

Remember, John was the preparatory herald, getting Israel ready for the coming of Jesus: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near! Now, because of his uncompromising ministry, John’s imprisoned and a little confused. He’d announced the coming king but where’s the kingdom? What’s the delay? How is Israel resisting?

John sought reassurance and clarification. “Are you the Expected One, the Messiah, the Deliverer, the King? If so, why am I locked up?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

Matthew 11:4–5

Instead of a straight “yes” or “no,” Jesus responds with a list of works that had characterized his ministry, and really, that summarize Matthew 8–9. Jesus says to John’s disciples, “Give John my resume”: Blind seeing, lame walking, deaf hearing, dead living, leper cleansing, and poor hearing good news. 

What we’ve learned these past weeks, John is being reminded: these works were fulfillments of messianic expectation (see Isaiah 35:5–6 and 61:1). Jesus shows John that he’s fulfilled all of that. His miracles weren’t random but chosen to prove his identity. Jesus was doing the expected work of the Expected One. John asks, Are you him? Jesus answers, My resume screams that I am.

These opening verses serve as a hinge point in our text. In one sense, they look backward, summarizing what’s passed and, at the same time, look forward, previewing what’s to come. The Q&A between Jesus and John looks back at the identity-proving ministry of Jesus and forward to the confused expectations of Israel.

And right between the two we have verse 6: “And blessed is he who does not take offence at Me.” This is a beatitude similar to those that open the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus declares blessedness—divinely extended favour, fortune, or happiness—upon all un-offended by his identity, his claims, and his work. The NIV renders this verse: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” 

Blessed is the person who, when confronted with the person and work of the Messiah is not scandalized, grieved, angered, or annoyed. True happiness belongs to the person who, when confronted with the King, feels no offence.

What’s the opposite of taking offence? Enjoyment! To not be scandalized by someone, to not be rubbed the wrong way by who they are and what they say, is to enjoy that person, isn’t it? To love who they are and be excited about what they say and do. It’s to enjoy the presence of, interaction with, and input by that person.

Here in 11:6, Jesus says that all who, instead of being offended by the Messiah, enjoy and celebrate him, are blessed, divinely favoured, and truly happy (see Psalm 1:1–3).

Everyone wants to be happy, successful, productive … blessed. And our world gropes about, blindly leading one another toward the latest, greatest conduit of achieving that goal. Money? Influence? Reputation? Family? Friends? Online presence? Sexual exploits? The freedom from all authority? Do any of these lead to the blessed life? 

Or maybe the path to happiness is more internal, the world says. Don’t look out nor up, look in. The world invites us to define our own truth, follow our own whims and desires, shape our own reality. It doesn’t matter that it goes against biology or that it steps on other people’s pursuits. What’s important is that you be true to you, find happiness, be blessed.

Tragically, you hear even Christians buying into these nonsensical pursuits of meaning when, according to Scripture, there is one way to true happiness. There is one conduit to true blessing. There is one life that is characterized by true, lasting, nourishing enjoyment. And that is in a consistent, un-offended, and thereby submissive, relationship with the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

The more we fight against who he is, the more we disagree with what he’s said, how he’s claimed life works, the more we add disclaimers to Scripture and explain away its clear meanings in light of social pressures that will change like the meaningless winds they are, the more we are stumbling over him and sacrificing our enjoyment of him. “And blessed is he who does not take offence at Me.”

Our Expectations of the Lord

Now, let’s swing this hinge open into the rest of our text and see that our enjoyment of the Lord sits atop our expectations of the Lord. If we want to live a life characterized by enjoyment of God, we have to be careful to conform our expectations of God to his self-revelation. This is something, as we’re about to see, that Israel did not do well.

First, notice that Israel had incomplete expectations.

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces!”

Matthew 11:7–8

These are sarcastic, rhetorical questions being posed to Israel. “When you went to see John—that wild man rebuking Pharisees and eating honey—what were you expecting? Why did you go?”

It wasn’t because he was a weak, floppy reed down by the water that, when the wind moves across its hollow top makes a foreboding noise like when a child blows over the top of a soda bottle. They didn’t go to hear spineless hooting. 

And they didn’t go to see him because he had influence and wealth to share with them. No, those people are in palaces, not the wilderness!

“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.”

Matthew 11:9

After four-hundred years of silence from God, the prophetic voice crying in the wilderness was music to Israel’s ears. They went to see a prophet of God. But notice their expectations were incomplete. He was so much more than a prophet. 

“This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’ Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Matthew 11:10–11

Jesus quotes Malachi 3, in which it says that, before God arrives to bring perfect, enduring justice to the world, a messenger will come first. John’s not only a prophet, he’s the messenger introducing the God set to bring the kingdom, one of perfect justice and peace. Because of his proximity to the Messiah, nobody is greater than John.

Israel went out to see a prophet but missed the big picture and, therefore, were missing the beautiful promise standing before them. They were about to reject something eternally good because their expectations of John, Jesus, and the kingdom, were incomplete.

They also had inaccurate expectations.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Matthew 11:12–15

Not only was Israel missing the big picture in some ways, but they were also flat-out wrong in other ways. 

Verse 14 goes again to Malachi. “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (4:5). Israel rightly expected Elijah (or an Elijah-type figure) to directly precede the kingdom. Jesus says John could have been that Elijah if Israel had been willing to accept him as such, if they had collectively turned back to God. But, because they are failing to repent, that generation is at risk of losing the kingdom and another Elijah will have to come instead.

This 1st-century kingdom offer was legitimate but, because Israel’s expectations of the prophesied Elijah were wrong, they were missing it. Instead, as Jesus was offering the kingdom there were people—namely, the religious leaders—who are doing violence to the kingdom (v. 12). They’re working against it. Why? Because what they expected of the King and his kingdom was inaccurate, and it cost them dearly.

Finally, we find that Israel had immature expectations.

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”

Matthew 11:16–17

Israel’s like kids who demand others meet their expectations no matter how invasive. “We played the flute—get dancing!” This is how children behave, assuming the world exists to meet their needs and entertain them. And that’s how Israel is behaving—like selfish boys and girls, expecting John and Jesus to do what they say and expect.

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:18–19

Neither John nor Jesus could meet the incomplete, inaccurate, and immature expectations of these people. 

Jesus was offensive to the people. What he said, who he was, what he was claiming—it all caused Israel to stumble. They couldn’t enjoy their Messiah because their expectations of him didn’t match what God had revealed about him. Because they were undisciplined with what they expected, they sacrificed the blessing of a happy life that, for them, included the arrival of an eternal, perfect kingdom.

And we do the same. We place upon God incomplete, inaccurate, and immature expectations. In fact, this is almost universally the case when you talk with people who have “left the faith.” Almost always, at the core of their rationale is an unmet expectation they had of God, his work, his people, or his ways.

God didn’t answer my prayer or give me what I needed when I needed it. God makes demands that rub me the wrong way. God is too invasive in my life—he wants access to my sexuality, my identity, my money. That’s not the God I want to serve. These are examples of unbiblical expectations heaped upon a biblical God. 

Tragically, when we do this, the disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment we inevitably experience is our own fault.

If I expect my son to never break my heart, embarrass me, or disappoint me, who’s fault is it when he eventually does? His? Or mine for heaping stupid expectations upon him that, had I done my homework, I’d have known were inappropriate and unrealistic.

Likewise, who’s fault was it that 1st-century Israel didn’t recognize John, didn’t believe Jesus, rejected the kingdom, and hardened their hearts because none of it matched what they expected? God had sent prophets, warned them, pursued them, guided them. Who’s fault was it that their expectations weren’t being met? Theirs! They took offence at Jesus and were, consequently, not blessed.

When God disappoints us, when salvation hasn’t been what we thought, when discipleship doesn’t seem as rewarding as we envisioned, when the pursuit of holiness gets more demanding then we were anticipating, friends, it is always our fault and never God’s. We’ve  put expectations on God he never affirmed—whether incomplete, inaccurate, or immature. And, in the end, we suffer. We sacrifice the blessed life. We trade a life of enjoyment with the good, just, holy God of the universe for a life of offence against a god of our own making.

On author has said this: “Here’s the reality: most people who are angry with God are angry with him for being God. They’re not angry because he has failed to deliver what he promised. They’re angry because he has failed to deliver what they have craved, expected, or demanded” (Tripp, Awe, 73).

We want to be a people who live lives marked by true, divinely-inspired enjoyment with God. And to do that, we need to manage our expectations! We need to make sure that what we expect of God is rightly aligned with and submitted to what he’s revealed about himself, his ways, and his purposes. We must manage our expectations.

Sometimes, when dealing with discomfort, a doctor may ask you to describe your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. They may even have pictures of faces that correspond with vary degrees of agony to give a reference point. 

I’m going to challenge us all to, at some point this week—perhaps today after we close our service—to ask ourself the question: on a scale of 1 to 10, how’s my joy in the Lord? Do I enjoy thinking and talking about him and his work. Do I find rest in his promises? Do I long to be with his people? Do I, in spite of current circumstances, consider myself blessed to be “in Christ”? Do I find myself smiling as I ache for my future resurrection and glorification? How’s my joy in the Lord?

If it’s high, praise God! If it’s low, ask God to show you where your expectations of him may be off. If you do struggle with expectations, please reach out to a trusted Christian friend, check in with the church.

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Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.

Josiah Boyd

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