At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series, Overcome.
We’ve all experienced unmet expectations in our lives that have led us to a deep sense of disappointment. Jesus’ early followers, the disciples, experienced this too, when Jesus was crucified on the cross. But God tells us that our hope is found in Him. How can we surrender our expectations to help free us from the pain of our disappointments?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JUSTIN MCCARTY:
Do you remember when you first discovered that life doesn’t always go the way you thought it would? I remember a particular Christmas: A few days before Christmas, three gigantic, wrapped boxes appeared in our living room. They towered over us. My brothers and I gathered around them in awe (like little green guys from Toy Story…”The claw!”). Of course, they were labelled “Do Not Open Until Christmas.” We each had our theories. They had guesses, I had hope. It was the days of Ghostbuster-mania… I became convinced that my wonderful parents had outdone themselves by somehow finding real proton packs. Not the cheap plastic toys, not even a realistic model — an actual, functioning unlicensed nuclear particle accelerator. My parents didn’t just get one — they had found 3… one for each of us to enjoy & destroy the house with! Finally Christmas came and it was time to receive the gift of the Proton Pack. Before opening it, I’m sure I gave some riveting speech to thank my parents for not only understanding the desire of my heart but for entrusting us with such precious gifts. We tore into these massive boxes — extra wrapping of course, just to throw us off — only to find ourselves staring at 3 absolutely identical… desks. Desks. Not a proton pack in sight. No ghostbusting, just a nice flat surface to write on. No positron collider, just two handy drawers for office supplies & filing. My hopes were set on proton packs, we got desks. Proton pack. Desk. Proton pack. Desk. I learned not to get my hopes up on Christmas gifts from my parents after that day…
Life doesn’t always go the way you thought it would. I wish we all had just gotten disappointed over a lame Christmas gift, but sadly, if all of us we were to dump out all the disappointments we carry with us, we would have a heartbreaking list: parent that never saw us for who we really are, parent or adult in our life that treated us like a child should never be treated, friends that have abandoned or betrayed us, singleness far longer than we ever dreamed, a marriage that turned out to be a nightmare we never saw coming, career that pays the bills but feels like it’s killing our soul, diagnosis that has altered every day of the rest of our lives, children/no children loss… If you are human, you have experienced disappointment, and you likely will again soon. Disappointment is directly connected to hope. We can’t live without hope, therefore we always live within reach of disappointment.
But it’s not just us. Would you believe that the people who lived closest to Jesus, His disciples, friends — would get exactly what that feels like? In fact, Jesus was one of their greatest disappointments in life. For the past two weeks we’ve looked at the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible, and today I want to walk you through another, found in Luke 24, that I hope helps us understand not just how to deal with the disappointments that come our way, but to overcome them.
First, helpful to remember their mindset on Easter: Jesus had never been a greater disappointment to them. The one they were counting on to be King of Israel had been hauled off to jail under cover of darkness, never put up a fight, and was basically railroaded to an execution in less than 24 hours. What had started as a victory parade on Palm Sunday ended with a bloody, mangled corpse in less than a week. They had put their hope in him as Messiah — the One sent from God — and He was soundly defeated, the butt of a joke. They had led the way in a sham, and now, what? This is the mindset of the disciples when a group of women bust through the door saying Jesus has been raised from the dead. Of all people, these guys probably had the most potential to receive those words with a measure of possibility — they had seen Jesus do some miraculous stuff — but this was their response: “But these words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:11 NET
I can imagine these guys looking back on this now and saying: “You know, not my best moment.” But the grip of disappointment goes even further: Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Luke 24:13-16 NRSV This is bizarre! They are in mid-conversation — likely a heated debate, a passionate exchange — and in the middle of their argument about what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, Jesus walks up! [Ever walked up behind someone talking about you and they don’t know it?] Jesus is right there with them and they are not at all aware. Do you know why?
Disappointment keeps you from seeing clearly. The nature of disappointment is that it keeps us from seeing things as they are, because we are looking for a different version of reality. It keeps us looking backward to what should have been rather than paying attention to what is actually happening. I think this is really easy to do with God — He probably has been the subject of more abuse than anyone in history… what He should have done, places He should have showed up, things He should have prevented. Legitimate disappointments. It’s easy to complain, vent, or mourn about what God has/hasn’t done, never realizing that He is often right there, listening and walking with us, perhaps in a form we just can’t recognize.
I will say this to their credit — and perhaps something we can pull out of their experience for our own growth — they weren’t trying to tackle this disappointment alone. Disappointment is a heavy weight, and people often drown trying to carry it alone. The disciples were walking with each other — confused, hurt, a bit raw — but they weren’t alone. When it comes to disappointment, don’t go it alone. You will need help: talk honestly with someone you can trust, share what you’re feeling, walk alongside each other even if it doesn’t get better overnight. [Prayer Team, Serving Team, Life Group, Running Partner]
Next verse is incredibly insightful: “And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.” Luke 24:17 NRSV First of all, I appreciate Jesus’ sense of humor: So what are you guys talking about? Seriously: I love that He asks a question first. He doesn’t tell them what they ought to feel, He doesn’t berate them, He just meets them right there in their disappointment with a question: “What’s going on?” And the way the scripture describes it: “they stood still, looking sad” says it all.
Isn’t that disappointment? Somewhere along the way, life was going along relatively well and then suddenly something basically interrupts with — STOP — let me take all the thoughts, dreams, hopes you had for the future, hit “Delete” and offer you a whole new list of options you never wanted. They stood still, and I think for many of us, there is a part of us that gets stuck, standing still, back at the original site of our disappointment. “It wasn’t supposed to go like this. She was supposed to be faithful; He was supposed to be here; I was supposed to watch my child live a strong healthy life…” The power of disappointment is its ability to keep you stuck in the past, demanding what should have been.
I think Jesus knows this — about us, about His disciples. They may have been walking to Emmaus but they weren’t going to be able to move on. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” “The things about Jesus of Nazareth…” Luke 24:18-19 NRSV Again – do you hear His questions? He’s drawing out their disappointment… helping them vocalize and process what’s happened. They had no idea, but they were praying! This is a conversation with God! He is searching their hearts, helping them process what’s going on. They don’t recognize Him, but He is loving them, serving them. In the midst of your disappointment, talk honestly with God. If disappointment is ever going to be overcome in our life, it will require talking with God about what actually happened, what we wanted to have happened, and acknowledging that we are disappointed or sad. Men, we are horrible at this. We so rarely know when we are disappointed or sad. If you’re like me, you’re just angry.
Jesus, just by asking questions and listening, is able to help them get down to the root of what is going on. In the midst of his explanation to Jesus, Cleopas says an important statement: But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Luke 24:21 NRSV The irony of this statement is almost too much to stand, when you realize that Jesus is alive and well, post-crucifixion, because He was the redeemer of Israel. He had done all that Cleopas could have ever hoped and far more, but it didn’t look like what Cleopas had expected. In the end, Our disappointments threaten to trap us in the expectation gap. Steven Furtick was the first pastor I ever heard describe it as “expectation gap” but the concept was immediately clear to me. Our hopes, especially about what God will do, take on the form of an expectation. Often times, it’s an expectation that reads more like an equation: “Since God loves me, He will ______” Since God loves me, He will spare me from pain, heal my dad, stop this abuse, prevent this evil, give me a raise, give me a child, etc. Many times, they are good things. But hope in God (trust that He will act for good in my life) gets replaced by a narrow expectation of God, and that’s where we get trapped. Because equations read two ways: Since God loves me, he will _____. Ok, since God didn’t do ______, He doesn’t love me (or doesn’t have power, etc.) We get held hostage by our own expectation. Works the same way with people, circumstances, etc. too.
How do you deal with this? We must Surrender our expectations. Just like the only way positive way out of a hostage situation is for the perpetrator to surrender, so it is with us. We are the ones holding ourselves hostage, clinging to the past, unable to completely accept the present. This story of the resurrection tells us that God is often right here with us, perhaps we can’t see Him, but He is trying to help us move forward. Surrender the expectation of what should have been so that you can take hold of what still might be!
I think this was Jesus’ challenge to these guys on the road to Emmaus. He was trying to get them to see the hope he was truly offering: Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed 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 they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Luke 24:22-25 NRSV They had all the pieces of the gospel, the most incredible news ever shared planet earth, and they couldn’t hear it as good news, it was nonsense. Our disappointments are always meant to be viewed against the backdrop of Jesus’ resurrection. There is no tragedy, no loss, no disappointment that is greater than His defeat of death — The resurrection of Jesus is the good news we need in our disappointment. Your hope is always well placed in Jesus, but the story of His crucifixion and resurrection show us that He won’t always fit our expectations. But because Christ has been raised from the dead, we can have confidence that God will not let allow sorrow to permanently color your story. There is always reason to hope. Trapped in the expectation gap, we start to believe that there is no reason to get our hopes up any more — it’s all just a big let down. But you can’t live without hope — Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Expectations will trap us, but a sure hope has the power to dislodge deep disappointment.
How do you get there? How does the news of the resurrection become good news in the midst of your disappointment? Keep reading: As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. Luke 24:28-33 NRSV It’s a great and wonderful moment when hope enters back into your heart and perspective after a season of deep disappointment; you can’t miss hope — they had to make a seven mile journey just to share it with someone!
Don’t miss verse 31: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…” When you can’t see Jesus, when your disappointment clouds your vision of who He is or where He is, In the midst of your disappointment, follow the burning heart to Jesus. When Jesus speaks to you — whether it’s through His word, through His people, directly into your heart and head, it has a different effect, different power, different ring to it. Even if you don’t recognize it at first – like the disciples – keep listening; perhaps there’s an “a-ha” moment just up ahead. Jesus, the resurrected one, brings the deepest parts of us to life… He offers true, lasting hope for all our disappointments. In the fog of disappointment, listen for Jesus’ voice; it will do something in you no other voice does.