I was reading through Romans earlier this week and I was struck by the introduction that Paul writes in this book. Here is what he says:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus.”Romans 1:1-6
Let’s talk a little bit of biblical history for a second. Before Paul was a follower of Jesus, he was a religious leader who persecuted and incarcerated Jesus followers. They were, after all, making claims that they had encountered the Messiah. Paul, on the other hand, was convinced that they were making up lies.
One day, as he is traveling to a town called Damascus with an arrest warrant in hand ready to keep living out his civic duty, he had an encounter with Jesus and it changed everything for him. One day, Paul claims that following Jesus is punishable by law and the next he claims that following Jesus is an expectation even if you are punished by the law. What a contrast right?
I think that by reading through his introduction in Romans we can see exactly what changed for him. See, before he began to follow Jesus he had an expectation of who Jesus would be and what Jesus would do. Before he encountered Jesus, he had an expectation that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, the son of God, who would have the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat the Roman empire and offer Jewish people their freedom from Rome.
But instead, people were celebrating a guy named Jesus who had a humble birth, did not have an army and was killed by the Roman authorities. His expectations of who the Messiah was supposed to be and who Jesus actually was, were very different. Which meant that surely Jesus was not the Messiah they were waiting for. (This is called a Messianic Expectation).
But this letter is written after he encounters Jesus on his way to Damascus. In this introduction, Paul states that what Jesus came to do was to defeat death through resurrection in order to offer grace and apostleship to all who choose to follow him.
You see, who Paul expected Jesus to be is not who Jesus ended up being. But Paul came to see that what he was expecting is not what he needed after all. The Roman empire being defeated is not the kind of freedom God was offering (and it wasn’t the type of freedom the Jewish people actually needed). Instead, Jesus offered them true freedom. The type of freedom that is not dependent on people but rather God’s power over the things that harm us and separate us from God.
I remember praying to God about six years ago and asking God to help me cross paths with every single person I had ever hurt, so that I could personally apologize and find the freedom from my past that I was searching for. Six years later, I am still waiting to run into them.
There have been a couple of times when I was at a conference, I ran into someone and we got to have a great conversation. There have even been times when I have been able to have a text or phone conversation with people. But for the most part, I am still hoping to run into most of these people to make amends and “move on” from the guilt and shame of my past.
My expectation was that if I could just run into these people, all could be made well. But somehow even after having conversations with some people, the shame and guilt still persist. But as my expectations have shifted and I have learned to trust God more, somehow I find myself knowing without a doubt that I am loved and forgiven. I know today that even if I don’t make face-to-face amends with people from my past, I can find freedom from the burden my past brings.
Don’t get me wrong. The mistakes of our past were wrong. And we should make every effort for reconciliation. But even if that reconciliation never comes, you are a beloved and forgiven child of God and nothing can change that.
You see, if we are open to it, we can see that Jesus’ life exceeds expectations in our life. I wanted to hear words of forgiveness from people, but Jesus’ life reminds me that even if I don’t, I am a forgiven child of God. I find myself wondering if my past defines me, but Jesus’ life reminds me that who I used to be is not who I am today. Jesus’ life reminds me that grace is for all people, including me and you. Jesus’ life reminds me that I don’t have to have it all figured out before God welcomes me with open arms and calls me forgiven. Jesus’ life reminds me that even if others don’t forgive me, my forgiveness comes from God; that I am already forgiven. Jesus’ life reminds me that if I hold on to him with everything I have, that I don’t have to go back to my old ways because in him I am made new.
The reality is that I had my expectations for what I wanted Jesus to do in my life in order for me to feel forgiven. But it did not happen the way I had expected. It was better than I could have ever imagined or expected. Jesus went above and beyond in my life. I know today without a doubt that I am forgiven. I am not captive to my past. And I am emboldened to share my story to help others do the same!
Over and over again Jesus has exceeded my expectations. I keep turning to Jesus every day because the more I pursue my relationship with Jesus, the more freedom I find in every aspect of my life. I know that you carry burdens as well. And I know that at times it feels like you need to take matters into your own hands. But I promise you that there is no other way. Turn to Jesus, even if you have your expectations of the way things are supposed to go. But always be open to the way Jesus will exceed your expectations. You may come to see that even though things don’t go as you planned, the journey you end up on may be far more life giving and purposeful than you ever thought it could be.
Together on the journey,