The novel, Great Expectations is a classic work of Victorian literature by Charles Dickens (published Oct., 1861) that depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip.
It has themes of wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Dickens himself considered it to be his best work.
At Christmas, people have “great expectations” of what the season should provide for them: a time of peace and joy and celebration; a time with family and friends; a time of special music and programs. Children have an excitement as they await Christmas eve and/or Christmas morning and the gifts they expect or wish to receive. They may have a certain item that they really, really want for Christmas and as the gifts are wrapped and placed under the tree, they look to see if one has the right size and shape of the item they hope to get. This year our son and family were with us for Christmas, and our granddaughter was really hoping for and expecting a certain American Girl Doll. She saw a box under the tree that appeared to be the right size and shape and sure enough turned out to be for her and was what she had expected. She was so excited she couldn’t contain her emotions. It was pretty fun to observe her joy at receiving what she expected and hoped for.
Sometimes when we get someone a gift they are hoping for, we try to disguise the package to not look like what they are expecting. That way when they do open it, not thinking they are getting what they wanted, they are really surprised as well as excited. And sometimes children (and adults!) don’t get what they are hoping for or expecting. They are disappointed to have their expectations go unfulfilled. All throughout the Old Testament, God had promised to send a Redeemer and King who would usher in a time of peace on earth and a rule of justice and righteousness. Isaiah prophesied: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forever more. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this…a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit…with righteousness He will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth…And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea ” (Isa. 9:6,7; 11:1-9).
But, when Jesus was born, grew up and began His ministry, He wasn’t what they had expected. They were hoping for relief from the oppression of Rome and for a kingdom on earth of peace and safety and prosperity. Instead, God sent His Son into the world as a babe in a manger born to a virgin engaged to a carpenter from an obscure village in Galilee called Nazareth. He became a tradesmen like His father and when He began his ministry at age 30, He didn’t overthrown Rome to establish an earthly kingdom. He kept talking about the “first being last,” and about having a servant’s heart and loving your enemy and those who persecute you. He also kept mentioning that “His hour” or “His time” had not yet come, referring to the real purpose for which He came, and that was to give His life as a sacrifice and substitute for sin. What people had missed that the prophets had also said, was that the Messiah would first have to suffer. The Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah had spoken of how the Messiah would be tortured and crucified (Psa. 22; Isa. 53). Since He wasn’t what they expected, many rejected Him and He was ultimately arrested, tried unjustly, turned over to the Romans and crucified—just as had been prophesied!
John, in His gospel, wrote: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11). He didn’t meet their great expectations of who and what the Messiah should be, so they rejected Him, not realizing that He was exactly what they needed, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). He came as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).
Things are no different today. Many have expectations of Jesus being a sort of genie in a bottle to grant their wishes, or a vending machine or convenience store where they can get what they want when they want it, but not someone to rule their life. They want to be free from the oppression of evil rulers in our present world. People don’t like to hear about sin or the need of a Savior and someone to be Lord of their life. They want to live their lives as they please, and in comfort. The Jesus of the Bible isn’t the one on their wish list, so they reject Him.
But, praise the Lord, John went on to add in the first chapter of his gospel: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (Jn. 1:12). Jesus may not be what we were expecting, but He is exactly what we need, and provides far more joy and peace and excitement than we could ever have obtained in what we thought we wanted. For in Him (Jesus), God blesses us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him, you have been made complete…” (Col. 2:9,10). Jesus is definitely the “gift that keeps on giving” and Who will never disappoint. “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21).