Back in August, I was taking my two kids for a walk and, as we were going along, we happened to meet one of my neighbors in front of his house. My neighbor and I started talking – he is a nice guy – and in the midst of our conversation, he asked me if my kids needed a lawn chair. Now, I’m all for getting free stuff, but I was curious as to why he was getting rid of it, so I asked him why he didn’t want it anymore. Well, he proceeded to tell me that his mother bought him this lawn chair for his birthday. She purchased it online, but she maybe should have looked at the detail a little more closely, because when it came in the mail, this was the lawn chair (show the small baby lawn chair). Now, my neighbor – his name is Tony by the way – he’s a bigger guy, so this chair wasn’t going to work out for him, and it wasn’t what he expected when his mom said she was buying him a lawn chair.
Do you ever have expectations? I’m sure you do. We all have expectations and, yeah, some of us are a little more realistic than others, but we have expectations. You might have expectations of yourself and how you should look, or act, or live. Maybe you have expectations of others, be it a child, or a co-worker, or a business. You likely have expectations of me, and this church, and the school here. We expect things and, here is the thing about expectations, we often expect our expectations to be met.
So, when we look at the first verse of our lesson today, we might think that Paul had met the expectations of his brothers and sisters in Christ. I mean, listen to what he says, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. If you didn’t know, Paul was in Rome as he wrote these words, and just looking at this first verse it sounds like his work of sharing Jesus, of spreading the gospel, had all gone according to plan. Which was great! Because this was what Paul had expected. Paul’s dream!
In the first chapter of the book of Romans, Paul had talked about this moment he wrote, “I pray that now at last, by God’s will, the way may be opened for me to come to you (to Rome). I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” Paul’s expectation was that one day he would be in Rome and God’s Word would be shared, and here we see that expectation met as, according to Paul, the gospel was advancing. But maybe like my neighbor’s mom, we should look at the details a little closer.
Because what had happened to Paul that, as he said “really served to advance the gospel” in the city of Rome? Look at verse 13, Paul says the gospel was advancing and “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” Paul was not building magnificent churches in Rome. He was not going throughout the city freely preaching about Jesus in front of large crowds of people. He was in chains. Paul had longed to come to Rome, but I don’t think this was what he had been expecting. And, do you know how Paul got to Rome?
He was arrested in Jerusalem – for preaching about Jesus – and eventually, the Romans shipped him to Caesarea to be questioned and tried. That process alone lasted about five years. Finally, they sent him to Rome – that wasn’t a great trip for Paul. He was shipwrecked, nearly killed by the soldiers who guarded him, and was bitten by a deadly snake. He did reach Rome though, but was immediately placed under house arrest, and, of course, for funsies, they chained him to a guard night and day.
Do you think that seven-year journey was how Paul expected to finally reach Rome? Probably not. And Paul knew the people reading his letter also did not expect him to be there in chains, but he didn’t want their expectations or even his own expectations to rob them of joy. So, yes, he told them of his chains, but he made it very clear, his chains were for Christ. And as he wrote those words, I bet his chains were rattling just a bit, a reminder that he wasn’t free. But look at what he heard when those chains rattled, look at what he saw as he looked at those shackles…the gospel was advancing…the imperial guard knew he was in chains because of Jesus…. others were sharing Jesus courageously and fearlessly…Christ was being preached. It was this that caused Paul to smile, even in this less-than-ideal situation. It was this that brought joy to his heart, and he wanted his fellow brothers and sisters to share in this joy too, even though they might find his chains and his situation to be… disappointing, less than what any of them could have expected.
So, what do you expect? Again, I think we all have expectations. For instance, we have expectations of each other here in this room. As a family of believers, we expect that we will each act in certain ways because we call ourselves Christians, and even if you don’t necessarily think like that the world certainly does. How often have you heard God’s people be mocked and ridiculed as hypocrites because some pastor or church leader was caught doing or saying something that was less than Christian? And, just like there are expectations of us, there are expectations of God too.
And it’s not just the world that has expectations of God, you have them also. Those expectations of God they’re different for all of us, but they’re there. Maybe you expect God to take care of you and bless you in certain ways. Maybe your expectations of God are that he will be more forceful in bringing about a change in this world or in our society. And what happens when God doesn’t meet your expectations? Because he doesn’t because often our expectations of God are based on me and what I think he should be like. Which is a little ironic because, if I can have expectations of God, it would make sense that he could have expectations of me, and he does. Here is what he expects of you…of us: He expects us to be perfect. He expects us to keep every one of His commandments, not just some of them…some of the time…when we want to. He expects you to love, and to pray, and to gather, and to give. And in life we might often think about how much God disappoints us, but how often do we disappoint him. I’m scared to even think about it.
And you might expect right around this moment then that I would shift gears and tell you about God’s love for you, and how Jesus died for you, and your sins are no more. But why would you ever expect that? Why would you expect that the weight of your sin, and your disappointment, and your hell, would all just be taken away? You expect that because Christ is preached. Do you see then why Paul found joy, even when his earthly expectations were maybe not met? He had joy because, even in his chains, Christ was still being preached. Paul had joy because the very people who arrested him and chained him were hearing about their Savior, about Jesus who did the most unexpected thing and gave his life for them. That unexpected message of forgiveness and love was not hindered or stopped even by the might of Rome, even by chains that bound one of God’s very own Apostles. Because of this Paul rejoiced.
So, what do you expect? Often, what we expect ends in disappointment, but that’s because we aren’t looking at the details!, God doesn’t promise worldly success, or health, or wealth to you and to me. He doesn’t promise an easy life or even necessarily a good life, but he does promise this. that Christ came to save this world, not just us in this room, but all people everywhere, and, when Christ is preached, sinners will hear that message and by God’s grace they will be saved. And, here is the best part, they will then join us in eager expectation for that day when God brings us home. That is what matters in this life. So, brothers and sisters, let’s learn to expect that in every way, whether from false motives or true, whether by me or by you, Christ will be preached.
God’s word will endure forever. His forgiveness is there for all. You can expect that! This means, no matter what your situation is in life, you can know that your eternity in Christ is secure. Because of this, like Paul, you can rejoice. God grant it. Amen.