Our expectations shape our experience in a dramatic way.
Emma and I once watched Event Horizon thinking it was a comedy. Though there were no jokes, we cackled our way through the first 15 minutes expecting hilarity and hijinks any moment. It should have been very obvious that this was, in fact, a blood-curdling horror – for the next hour and a half, we were absolutely terrified.
The same can happen with the bible.
Martin Luther knew this, which is why he wrote a wonderful little pamphlet called “A Brief Instruction in What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels” Read it here. His main point is this:before we take Jesus as our example (showing us how to live), we should accept Him as a gift.
What do we expect when we read the Gospels? Jesus: Our Example or Jesus: God’s Gift?
If we only see Jesus as our Example we will eventually be worn down. Jesus is our Example, but He is far more. He is God’s Gift to us (Isaiah 9:6; John 3:16) – so that everything He does, He does for us!
Let me put the same thing a different way: Is Jesus simply our Coach, or is He our Champion. If He’s just our coach, we might be a bit nicer. But that’s not saying a lot. If however, He’s our champion – then His victory is our victory.
I remember, about 12 years ago, preaching a sermon on prayer from Mark 1:35. See if you can figure out which model I was working from, Coach or Champion:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
Jesus got up very early in the morning… how early do you get up?
Jesus found a special place to pray… do you have a special place to pray?
When He got there, Jesus actually prayed… do you spend enough of your ‘quiet time’ actually praying?
etc, etc, etc
I get tired just remembering the sermon. (And if any of you were in the congregation 12 years ago, I’m sorry!) But that’s how “Example” preaching goes. Jesus is the Coach and now it’s our turn to copy.
How should I have preached Mark 1:35? Well, there are things – many things – we can learn from Jesus our Example. No-one’s denying that Jesus is an Example. It’s just that He’s so much more. Here is the Son spending time with His Father and He’s doing it as my Brother and High Priest. Here is the Great Intercessor (Job 16:20) doing His thing. Here is the One who carries me on His heart before God (Heb 7:25) – isn’t it a relief to know that He’s a good pray-er!?
Anyway, I commend Luther’s little paper to you and highly recommend a shift in expectations. When we open the Scriptures there are many things we can learn. But, much more fundamentally, the Bible is “a book of divine promises in which God promises, offers, and gives us all his possessions and benefits in Christ.” Therefore,
When you open the book containing the gospels and read or hear how Christ comes here or there, or how someone is brought to him, you should [see how] he is coming to you, or you are being brought to him. For the preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him. When you see how he works… and how he helps everyone to whom he comes or who is brought to him, then rest assured that… he is offering your soul exactly the same sort of help and favor through the gospel. If you pause here and let him do you good, that is, if you believe that he benefits and helps you, then you really have it. Then Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift.
Here’s a little video I made a few years ago to explain it: