The Unexpected King
By Jonathan Sam
The latest Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) series concluded recently on May 23, 2022. Although it was the second year in which the study was conducted online, attending sessions every week was a clear reminder of how the unexpected can markedly alter life as we know it. Even today, we still feel the effects of the unexpected outbreak which started in end-2019.
Amid the damaging consequences of that unexpected event, it was apt that the BSF series was a study of how another unexpected event irreversibly transformed life for the better. Titled “The Unexpected King: Matthew’s Account of Jesus”, we were reminded of the many unexpected features of the life of Christ, culminating in a glorious and (even more) unexpected outcome. Through 30 weeks of study, we covered all 28 chapters of Matthew, covering the life of Jesus from birth all the way to final words (as documented by Matthew). We remembered the promised Messiah who eluded expectations, sought sinners who shunned Him (and were themselves shunned by others), and defeated death by dying.
While the Gospels and the life of Christ are not unfamiliar to us, the study renewed my appreciation of the Gospel and the amazing promises which accompany our faith. I was reminded of the four main aspects of Jesus’ life — His arrival in this world, His actions, the antagonism He faced, and His achievement — all of which justified the title of the BSF study.
Beginning with the arrival of Jesus, it was clear that He would not conform to anyone’s expectations. This arrival, which I often glossed over and took for granted, was in itself an unexpected and astounding event. That the Son of God would condescend at the incarnation and take on human flesh is already shocking, more so that He would do it in so lowly a manner — to be worshipped by foreigners yet pursued by His own people, and affirmed by the Father yet tempted by the Devil (Matthew 1-4).
This unexpected nature of His arrival set the tone of Jesus’ life and ministry, and His actions continued to defy expectations as He preached a radical message, performed wondrous miracles, told perplexing parables and challenged the religious leaders and traditions (Matthew 5-20). That a man of lowly birth would possess such wisdom, power and authority, and teach against established traditions with such courage must surely have confounded His listeners.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people began to consider that Jesus might actually be who He claimed to be, culminating in the grand and Kingly welcome He received as He entered Jerusalem. Yet, as Jesus again defied the crowd’s expectations, challenging the religious leaders and teaching submission to the Roman authorities in the payment of taxes, antagonism towards Him grew surprisingly quickly and the same crowd who celebrated His entry just days earlier were soon calling for His crucifixion (Matthew 21-27). That the Messiah should fail to liberate His people and instead be crucified by the oppressors must surely have failed to meet expectations!
Most unexpected of all, however, was the glorious achievement which Jesus accomplished on the third day, when He rose again and overwhelmingly conquered death (Matthew 28). That God should lay the sin of His people upon Christ and grant sinners the joy of forgiveness and fellowship with Him is totally unthinkable.
Christ’s unexpected life markedly alters the course of life for those who believe. While we still face the challenges of life and certainty of death, dread is replaced with the knowledge that God is with us. We no longer go through life, buffeted by every wind of change, but are rooted firmly on Christ our rock. As one BSF leader put it during our final discussion in this study, the Gospel of Matthew is really an account of how our Holy God made it possible for Him to dwell among sinners — the “bookends” (or introduction and conclusion) of Matthew speak of the incredible promise of God that He is with us, beginning with the name “Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23) and ending with Jesus’ promise that He is with us “always, to the end of age” (Matthew 28:20). Everything in between speaks of the unexpected way in which God achieved this through Christ’s life.
I am reminded of this powerful greeting in the concluding paragraph to 1 Corinthians 16:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” 1 Corinthians 16.23 ESV
It might be easy to overlook the significance of these nine words, but this should not be so as we recall how God unexpectedly made a way for the otherwise impossible. I pray that I will always be reminded of this truth and never lose the sense of wonder of what Christ the Unexpected King has done — this may not be new to me, but it certainly helps to have timely reminders of God’s grace. As the song goes,
Nothing good have I done
To deserve God's own Son
I'm not worthy of the scars in His hands
Yet He chose the road to Calvary to die in my stead
Why He loved me I can't understand
Roll back the curtain of memory now and then
Show me where you brought me from
And where I could have been
Remember I'm human, and tend to forget
So remind me, remind me dear Lord
Even as I reflect on how Christ’s incredible achievement has changed my life, I cannot help but wonder how much greater it will be if even more of my friends and loved ones also share in the joy and comfort of God’s abiding presence. The life of Christ has forever brought unexpected, eternal joy and hope; what a pity if we should fail to share it with others or squander it away. May God give us the grace to heed Jesus’ call in His final words in Matthew 28:18-20.