God’s Ongoing Story is Full of the Unexpected

God doesn't do things our way. Not at the cross, not now.

By Liberty McArtor Published on April 15, 2017

People love a good plot twist. In books and movies, we want to be pulled to the edge of our seat. We want to gasp at the unexpected event that presents an impossible crisis. And we want to sigh in awe as another unexpected event ushers in a brilliant resolution.

Except for when it comes to our lives.

In our own lives, we like things to go as planned. Expectations to be fulfilled. Prayers to be answered — immediately and exactly as we ask, thank you.

But God doesn’t work that way, does he?

“The Ironies of the Cross”

Jesus’ life on earth, from how he was born in a stable to how he befriended outcasts, confounded everyone — including his most devoted followers. But the events surrounding his crucifixion were perhaps the most confounding of all.

In chapter 10 of The God Who is Therebiblical scholar D.A. Carson takes the reader through Matthew’s account of the crucifixion. Along the way, Carson points out “The Ironies of the Cross.” Consider them:

Jesus was mocked for not saving himself. Yet it was his very decision not to save himself that saved all humanity.

Jesus was given a crown of thorns and ironically called a “king,” even though he really is King. (Matthew 27:27-31)

Jesus was ridiculed for saying that he would destroy and rebuild the temple in three days. But in dying and coming back to life three days later, he became the temple. (Matthew 27:32-40)

Jesus was mocked for not saving himself even though he had saved others through his miracles. Yet it was his very decision not to save himself that saved all humanity. (Matthew 27:41-42)

It Doesn’t Make Sense

For Christians reading this account for the umpteenth time, it’s tempting to say, “well, yeah.” We’re so familiar the story of Christ’s death and resurrection that it’s hard for us to imagine how difficult it was for people of the time to grasp what was happening.

But put yourself in the onlookers’ shoes. Jesus looked like a lunatic. Someone who claimed to be all these great things was now dying a criminal’s death. If you think his mockers were unusually cruel, just glance at modern social media. Almost every day someone dredges up a years-old statement from a public figure now ironically embroiled in some scandal that defies his previous words. It goes viral. People criticize. People mock. Often mercilessly.

To many of Jesus’ time, he was no different than the public figure proved wrong.

What about the promised kingdom Jesus talked about so often? Was it all a hoax? Would he really come back to life?

Jesus’ followers should have known better. They saw his miracles. They listened to his teaching — even when he told them he would die and rise again. But imagine their heartbreak and even panic at seeing it unfold. Tried? Tortured? Submitting himself to humiliation? Crying out to God in despair? Really truly dead?

What about the deliverance of their people? What about the promised kingdom Jesus talked about so often? Was it all a hoax? Would he really come back to life? As Carson writes, it just didn’t make sense:

What kind of kingdom is it where the king lays down his life not because he has been overpowered by a competitor king but as an act of voluntary self-sacrifice?

God’s Ongoing Story

To answer Carson’s posed question, it’s the kind of kingdom that shatters and exceeds all expectations. It’s the plot twist that takes us to the edge of our seat — and often the end of our rope. It’s the impossible crisis that makes us question whether God really is who he says he is. It’s the brilliant resolution that leaves us humbled and in awe at his unfathomable love.

Next time God doesn’t answer your prayer your way, remember the cross.

Jesus proved this when he rose from the dead three days after being crucified. That’s God’s kingdom. That’s God’s story.

His story is ongoing. We know the ultimate story line from what God has revealed in Scripture. But the details are still unfolding every day, including the details of our own lives.

So next time God doesn’t answer your prayer your way, remember the cross. Remember the resurrection. Know that he doesn’t do things as we expect him to, and he never has. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s perfect.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)

Holy Week at The Stream

For Palm Sunday: Deacon Keith Fournier’s Holy Week: Now It Begins, Now It All Begins
For Holy Week: Jennifer Hartline’s Has God Finally Met His Match?
For Holy Week: David Limbaugh’s Good News and the Gospels
For Maundy Thursday: David Mills’sWhy Jesus Washed the Apostles’ Feet, and Why We Do It Too
For Good Friday: Deacon Keith Fournier’s The Connection Between Good Friday and the Church
For Good Friday: John Zmirak’s Have a Bleak and Blessed Good Friday
For Good Friday:: Anika Smith’s Man of Sorrows, Carry Our Grief
For Holy Saturday: Liberty McArtor’s God’s Ongoing Story is Full of the Unexpected
For Easter day: Esther O’Reilly’s Not Without Witness: An Easter Reflection
For Easter day: David Mills’s Did Jesus Rise? The Extreme Apostle Says Yes, the More Extreme Atheist Says No

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