Unmet expectations. They are the constant thieves of our happiness and contentment. One of the greatest evidences of human falleness and finitude is how quickly we expect the wrong things, or the right things at the wrong time.
But the very heart and center of the Christian faith should remind us daily that our expectations do not typically map onto the grandeur and goodness and wisdom of God. The cross reminds us that God sent us the Messiah we really needed, not the one anyone expected.
The Expected Conquering King
Revelation 5 helps us to see this point clearly by putting Calvary in heavenly perspective. The chapter begins with a problem, a riddle: God is holding a scroll in his hand, his ultimate plans to judge his enemies and save his people. The problem is that the scroll is sealed shut.
“We are quick to expect the wrong things from God, or the right things at the wrong time.”
An angel raises the crucial question: Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? This question reminds me of fairy tales I often read to my kids:
Who is worthy to wear this glass slipper and marry the prince?
Who is worthy to awake the sleeping beauty?
Who is worthy to pull the sword from the stone and become the next king?
The army of heaven looks high and low, but their cosmic search identifies no worthy seal-breaker. Then one of the heavenly elders offers a word of hope:
“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5)
The worthy King, the Lion of Judah, the Son of David conquered at Calvary to win the scroll — this is gospel! This is what the prophet Isaiah foretold long ago:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse . . . and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. . . . With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:1–2, 4)
Shattered Dreams, Buried Hopes
This was the Messiah the Jews expected, and many of them thought Jesus would fill this royal job description — to be this kind of Messiah when he fed bread to the crowds, healed the blind and the lame, raised the dead. They embraced this King as he rode into Jerusalem on a colt to their cries of “Hosanna! Save us Lord!”
“Jesus had a surprising path to the throne. He conquered by being conquered.”
But then Good Friday suffocated their hopes and dreams on the cross and laid them to rest in Joseph’s stone tomb. Over Jesus’s cross the governor affixed a sign that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). This sarcastic sign mocked Israel’s longing for David’s greater Son.
Jesus’s loyal disciples scattered. The crowds beat their breasts as they returned home. The envious Jewish leaders had finally disposed of their nemesis. The downcast disciples walking to Emmaus expressed well the sentiments of the faithful: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Jesus’s lifeless body killed the expectations of the faithful Jews.
The Gift We Didn’t Want, But Need
But for all its tragic appearances, Good Friday was actually a day of victory, not defeat:
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. (Revelation 5:6–7)
Jesus had a surprising path to the throne. He conquered by being conquered. Ironically, the notice on the cross that ridiculed Jesus as a royal pretender in fact proclaimed the truth that makes Good Friday “good”: Jesus really is the King — the sort of King that willingly dies for his enemies.
The people wanted a bold, strong, lion-like leader to execute justice and righteousness, which is precisely what Jesus will do — at his second coming (Revelation 19:11–16). But first Jesus conquered as the Lamb to rescue his people from their sins — a vastly greater problem than Roman occupation.
Jesus didn’t follow a happily-ever-after script. God’s script prescribed a deeper victory over a darker enemy.
Jesus didn’t follow the happily-ever-after script people craved because the heavenly script prescribed a deeper victory over a darker enemy. D.A. Carson puts it well:
If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If it was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If it was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If it was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death, and he sent us a Savior.
God Dwarfs Our Tiny Dreams
All of us fill our lives with expectations, some good and some bad — what job we should get, what kind of spouse we’ll be married to, how that spouse will treat us, who our children will become. Our minds constantly fill in the blank slates of tomorrow with all sorts of expectations of what will happen to us. This is not wrong in itself — in fact, it’s necessary to an extent to even make tentative plans for our lives. But at just about every turn, the surprising triumph of the cross should remind us of three basic truths:
1. Our need is greater than we think.
The cross exposes our cancerous sin problem as far worse than we ever dared imagine and reminds us that the only just penalty for glory thieves and rebels against the King of heaven is death. As we examine our expectations for our lives and futures, we should tear up every shred of entitlement by the roots. Our greatest need — a Savior — is not even something we can provide for ourselves.
2. Our King is better than we think.
The cross shows us that God didn’t send the sort of King people expected and hoped for, but the one they needed — the one who would willingly go as a Lamb to the slaughter to redeem his people from the penalty and power of sin. God knows what we need before we ask and, quite often, before we ever understand that it is what we need (Matthew 6:8).
3. Our mouths must praise him.
The cross demands a response from us. Do we trust, revere, and follow Jesus the slain Lamb as our King? Or do we trust, revere, and follow the world’s sort of leader? The Jewish leaders stunningly declared to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). But we declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).