Expectations. We all have them for ourselves, for others, for products, companies, everything really. My son expects, when he hears the word “cheese”, to get cheese and he gets rather upset if his expectations aren’t met. I expect that milk in the fridge which says it expired a week ago to smell and probably taste a little funny. If you were to take a few moments, I’m sure you could list several expectations you have in your life. But is there anything you don’t expect? Any unexpectations? It’s the things we don’t expect that often bring us the most joy or the most sorrow. For instance, I did not expect the 13 pairs of nifty patterned dress socks I received this Christmas, but I’m happy I have them and have enjoyed wearing them. Likewise, I did not expect a tire on my car to be flat on Christmas day, but it was and that brought me sorrow and frustration.
We saw an expectation in our first lesson, in Samuel, that turned into something unexpected. Samuel, God’s prophet stood there as Jesse’s sons presented themselves as candidates to be King of Israel. What was Samuel expecting? What was he looking for in a future king? He was focused on the appearance of the sons. However, the Lord had different expectations. He told Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height…the LORD does not look at the things man looks at…the LORD looks at the heart.” And so it was rather unexpected for Samuel that he stood there and anointed the youngest son, David, as this was the one whom God was pleased to make king over Israel. Shifting to our lesson from God’s Word in Luke we find again expectation that moves to something unexpected.
People, we read, were standing out in the wilderness watching and waiting expectantly for a man who was a little different. His name was John and we find him doing what John did. There he is, leather belt around his camel’s hair clothing. He isn’t impressive in any way, but he is doing something different, something new. He is baptizing, calling the people around him to repentance and he is preaching, pointing to a Savior yet to come. A man whose shoes he’s not even worthy to untie. Yet, even though John was pointing ahead to someone else, the people couldn’t help but wonder if he, John, was that Savior.
And that makes sense, they knew the Old Testament, they knew a Savior was to come, and so here is John and he is baptizing and calling people to repentance and the people couldn’t help but wonder as they looked expectantly for this Savior, could it be John? Could he be the one? But you see quite quickly John putting an end to any expectations they might have. Verse 16, “He said to them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” I am not the one you are expecting John told them.
You think about those people in our lesson. They were expectant, they were wondering who their Savior was and what he might look like and do. That maybe gets you thinking, what do I expect of my Savior? It’s an honest question. What are our expectations of our God? Perhaps, if you were to ask that question outside these walls, you’d maybe hear people whose expectations of Savior focus on joy, comfort, peace, and safety. And maybe also this love, love that approves of me and who I am, and some might even go so far as to say love that frees me to do what I choose to do.
Now, it could be that some of our expectations of God, of a Savior, fit to some degree into categories like those that I just mentioned. We certainly are hoping for, expecting our Savior to love us and care about us – a God who will bless us. And Jesus our Savior, he meets those expectations in countless ways. But what sits right in front of us as we think about our expectations of our Savior? Something that at times we forget and is therefore quite unexpected and it is this: we don’t deserve him, this Savior. And, frankly, we don’t deserve to have any expectations of him because he had expectations for us, that we love him above all things, that we love each other, perfectly all the time. We’ve never met those expectations. We fall short every time.
And so it is when we hear from John the Baptist that this Christ who is to come is expected to bring judgment, a judgment that John describes for us in this way: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Having heard this we might’ve expected to be the wheat, those whom Jesus gathers into heaven, and we might’ve expected this because we pray a lot, or we go to church a lot, or we lead generally good lives where we help and encourage others. So, it might be unexpected for us to hear that we are actually the chaff who deserve to be burned up. That is unexpected. Is it though?
We read again and again in God’s Word what we can expect to find on our own. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags…surely I was sinful from birth…you were dead in your trespasses and sins” On our own we like John the Baptist are unworthy to untie the sandals of Jesus. On our own we have no right to expect, let alone demand anything from our God. Instead what we can expect from God, from Christ, what we deserve…is punishment, unquenchable fire, hell. This is what makes our Savior so unexpected, because if we honestly looked at our sin and our failure, we would expect him to be that judge with his winnowing fork that John describes. But then we see him standing there.
We see him there in verse 22, the Christ, the one John was pointing ahead to, the Savior! He is standing there among sinners, not judging, but living among them, among us, and he is waiting to receive a baptism of repentance from the man who claimed to be so unworthy of him. This is unexpected, who needed this baptism? Sinners! Sinners who need to repent of their sin, their original sin, that which they were born with, and their actual sin, that which they daily commit. This was the baptism Jesus was waiting for, the sinner’s baptism. Why? Because he came to save sinners.
The people back then were eagerly expecting someone unique and different to come and save them. Yet, they, we, would have never expected this Savior to be standing among them as one of them and being baptized with them. Not because he himself was born with sin or would commit a sin, but because this was his anointing this was the beginning of his ministry where he, Jesus, for our sake, was made as Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, “to be sin even though he knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So that you and I, trusting in Jesus, might be spared from that eternal fire having been washed clean of our own sin.
This is unexpected. The most unexpected thing that will ever happen to this world, to you and to me. Truly, Jesus came to save sinners. He came for the adulterer. He came for the liar. He came for the idol worshiper, and the thief. Not because we deserved it or because we earned it, but because we needed him, and he, he loved us.
So there we find that Savior, our Savior, knee-deep in the sinner’s water fulfilling all righteousness for us, for all sinners. He’s baptized by a sinner and as he walks out of those waters he’s praying and it is then that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, join God the Son. And we hear the Father speak really a short sermon, but truly a sermon this world needed and needs to hear, yet he spoke it, not to those gathered, not to us, but to his Son, an encouragement for this Son of God as he began his ministry to save us. We hear that sermon, we hear the Father’s voice as Luke records it for us: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
With these few words Jesus was reminded of who he was and who that meant would be with him every step of the way. And he was reminded also of what he came to this earth to be, not a judge, not yet, but an unexpected, undeserved Savior. And this Savior, loved by his Father, loved you, and he brought honor, glory, and praise to his heavenly Father by carrying out his will to save you as he willingly went to the cross to die for you. And that saving ministry began here, in the waters of baptism.
In these same waters, in an unexpected way, against all reason, we find that Savior today. Jesus is in the waters of Baptism which he instituted and gave to us, his Church. You see even as he left the Jordan to begin his ministry, even as he eventually found himself on a cross dying for us but then rising and ascending into heaven to prepare a place for us with him, still now he descends into the waters of every baptism to bring righteousness to the sinner. This righteousness, this holiness, this new life with Christ becomes ours through our own baptism and through the preaching of the good news about him.
This might all seem unexpected to you and to me when we find the devil eagerly pointing out our daily failures and sins and our own minds heavy with guilt over those temptations that we give into again and again. We aren’t worthy of Jesus. We don’t deserve the salvation, that he offers. Yet, today in God’s Word we clearly see what we can expect because of our unexpected Savior. The same sermon of the Father, but now his voice speaks to us and to the faith that he planted in our hearts. Hear his words knowing your Savior, Jesus, and trusting in the righteousness he won for you. The Words of your Father now so eagerly expected: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Amen.