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Disappointment with God

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Has God ever let you down?

What kind of a questions is this for a pastor to ask, especially at this time of the year?

Has Jesus ever failed you?

How can I suggest such a thing two weeks before Christmas?

In today's Gospel lesson (Matthew 11:1-11), John the Baptist is bitterly disappointed. He's just one of many in a long, long line who dared to question the Lord about what he was doing (or failing to do).

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart. How long will my enemy triumph over me?

What question would you ask God if you could? Perhaps one of these:

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant?

Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful?

What question would you ask Jesus today if you could?

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him,

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Even two thousand years after the fact, we can hear the disappointment in his voice today: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

What is John doing in prison? He’s there because of a sermon he preached. John dared to speak out against King Herod’s sin. He denounced the king for taking his brother’s wife.

When all was said and done, John would pay the ultimate price for his bravery and honesty. He wouldn’t leave prison alive. Soon enough, his head would be severed from his body, then carried in on silver platter to a palace full of guests. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

John must have had quite the conversations with himself as he sat and stewed in jail. Was I wrong? If Jesus is the one, then why doesn’t he rescue me? What is he waiting for?

I imagine that as the days of his imprisonment turned into weeks, John couldn’t keep his questions to himself any longer. They were eating him up from the inside out. (Doesn’t the same thing happen to us as we struggle to live by faith?)

Desperate for answers, John speaks through his disciples. He takes his question straight to Jesus. Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

John wasn’t just concerned about himself, you see. It appears he was worried that he had been a false prophet. Had he led the people astray by pointing them to Jesus? Had he misled his followers? Had Jesus misled him? After all, false messiahs were on the loose in those days.

To understand John’s predicament, we need to back up for a moment. We need to go back in time. We need to recall what John was doing prior to his imprisonment. We need to travel out to hear him preaching in the wilderness:

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

There’s just one problem with this. Where was the fire? Why wasn’t Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff? Where was the kingdom of God? Why were the wicked still in control?

I often feel the same way. I imagine you do as well. We all feel let down by God from time to time. Jesus doesn’t measure up to our expectations. He doesn’t come to our rescue. Which leads us right back to John.

John couldn’t go to Jesus directly. Remember, he’s in prison today. Instead, he sends his disciples to Jesus. They are to ask him a single question: Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

I would have loved to have seen the look on Jesus’ face as John’s question was asked of him. Did he stare at the disciples before replying?

Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.

Jesus directs John’s disciples, and their master, to the Word of the Lord. He reminds John what was foretold by the prophets.

John was experiencing what you and I experience today—Advent confusion. Jesus was fulfilling God’s promises—but not all of them—not yet. John had to wait, like we do, for the end to come—the kingdom of heaven on earth in all its glory. Like John, we live in the tension of the yet/not yet existence that is part and parcel of our life with Christ. Let me show you what I mean. Consider this word from Isaiah:

Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible retribution he will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

Part of this promise came true in the days of John, but the rest would have to wait. Christ will come again with both salvation and vengeance when he returns to judge the living and the dead.

In the meantime, we live by faith. In the meantime, we struggle to live by faith just like John. We don’t have to pretend otherwise.

As I think about John languishing in prison, awaiting his fate, I’m reminded of a book written three decades ago by Philip Yancey. I’ll step aside and let him share why he wrote Disappointment with God.

After writing one of my first books, Where Is God When It Hurts, I got letters from readers who said something like this: “Thanks for your reflections on physical pain. My situation is different, though. My child has severe disabilities, and I face a constant battle with depression. Prayer doesn’t seem to help my emotional pain. When it comes to God, I feel something like betrayal.”

I settle on three questions, “Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God hidden?” and scour the Bible methodically, looking for clues.

At the time, the publisher questioned the title, so different from the cheery titles that predominate in Christian bookstores. But I wanted to speak to people who were truly disappointed.


It might seem strange to talk about disappointment with God at this time of the year. But the truth be told, many people will not be having a merry Christmas. After all, grief, loneliness, depression, and pain don’t disappear for the holidays. Therefore, please know that it’s okay to have a blue Christmas. As a matter of fact, we will be doing so right here next Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock. During our Blue Christmas prayer service, we will remember that the babe in a manger grew up to be a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. The shadow of death hung over his crib. It was all for our sakes and for our salvation—from beginning to end.

When it comes to celebrating Christmas, we don’t have to put on a phony smile and fake it. If you’re merry, great. If you’re weary and forlorn, that is perfectly fine, too.

For me, the holidays are bittersweet. This is increasingly the case. I’d be thrilled to see a full house here on Christmas Eve. Why I’d be thrilled to have a house half full come Christmas morn. I don’t expect either, or even close. Our best days are far behind us in that regard. Like John of old, I can’t help but wonder what our future holds.

I know what you’re probably thinking at this point. Pastor Brian, please don’t end your message on such a sour note. After all, it’s the third Sunday of Advent. Isn’t this the Sunday we remember that Joy to the World is on his way?

As I worked on this sermon Friday, I started in the Psalms. This bittersweet book is a true tonic for the soul. The questions I asked at the beginning of my message were taken straight from the pens of the saints of old. I have long loved the Psalter. I thought I knew it inside and out. But I was wrong. The word of Lord had a new treasure waiting for me Friday morning. It’s the Christmas gift I need most of all this year. I would like to share it with you.

Psalm 94 begins with one of those haunting questions that continues to reverberate to this day:

How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, O Lord; they oppress your inheritance. They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless. They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed.”

Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “my foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.


May Christ’s consolation bring joy to our anxious souls this Advent season.


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