When Nazareth’s rebel rabbi stands before His unlikely group of friends in Matthew 16 and asks one of the most important questions of His ministry, “So, who do you say I am?” it is Simon-Peter who replies with hope and certainty: “You are the Messiah”. But throughout Jesus’ ministry so far there remained one question not quite answered: what kind of Messiah?

And as we read the events of Holy Week, it is with this same excitement that the crowds eventually greet Jesus on His entry into Jerusalem. Hosanna!” they shout, meaning praise –but simultaneously Lord, save us’. The Jewish people had been waiting hundreds of years for a chosen one, a rescuer, and a deliverer, to save them. With expectancy levels climaxing, the people of Jerusalem saw before them a revolutionary leader, a victorious liberator sent by God to save His people from the oppression of Rome. One who would raise Israel out of its occupation. Hosanna was in fact a battle cry.

Maybe you can recall the excitement of moments of high expectancy in your own life. A new job promising all the right things. A new love you can start to picture a future with. A positive scan after months of illness. I find these precious moments create such certainty and hope for the things to come.

The disappointment of the cross


And yet, as the events of Holy Week unravel, the expectant and faith-filled disciples watch as their entire world crumbles. The decline is steep: the last supper, the garden, the betrayal, the arrest, Pilot’s confrontation, and the march up Golgotha.

And at noon on the Friday afternoon, where do we find this so-called Messiah, the one promised to deliver Israel from its pain and hardship? Strapped to a wooden cross, outside the city walls where criminals, outcasts and the distrusted were sent to perish. No glory, no honour, no victory. Expectancy melts into disappointment, as hope is put to death.

It is important to recognise the pain of the cross from the perspective of Jesus’ friends. The disappointment would have been monumental; they had given up everything to follow Him, been witness to His miracles, clung to every word of His teaching, heard Him proclaim Himself the Messiah. What was it all for, was it all a lie Jesus?” they may have asked as they watched Him hanging limp from a tree. The cross was in fact the ultimate moment of disappointment.

The challenge comes when this is our reality too. When Jesus is not doing what we think He should be, or is doing what we think He shouldn’t. When our immediate pains, desires and wants make it difficult to see the larger picture at hand. I wonder what disappointment you might be consciously or unconsciously holding onto today. The person who promised to love you but betrayed your trust. The job you initially were so excited for, that now isn’t living up to its promises. The diagnosis that has flipped your world upside down. And the friend you have spent years praying for, who still seems to be struggling. The question that can bubble under the surface in the midst of disappointment is: God, why?”

The opportunity of the cross

We must be careful not to rush too quickly through the Easter story. On this side of eternity, disappointment still persists. I am enraged that Russian forces continue to ravage and bombard innocent lives in Ukraine. I am deeply frustrated that our environment is on the brink of collapse. And I am hurt that racism and misogyny still run rife. The Good Friday story offers a moment for lament – to hold in balance the pain of the world with a good God.

Despite this, on this Good Friday, the cross is still where we find Jesus. This is where the son of man chose to willingly hang. And the question remains: what kind of Messiah is He? He is one that does not intend to meet our expectations; instead He meets our needs at the deepest level possible. He is not after a quick fix, a temporal relief, but an eternal one. The people cried out for a deliverer, and He was that, but on very different terms. He did not overthrow the Roman occupiers, instead His battle was with the root cause of abuse of power, pain, and brokenness. In this self-giving nature, Jesus emptied out His power, offered His body and nullified any notion of self-preservation.

And what we experience as disappointment is also an invitation to give up holding too tightly onto our own expectations, to stop casting Jesus in our own image. To stop confining Him to the boxes we might place Him in. To move through disappointment is to neither sweep it under the rug nor allow it to cause us to give up on faith altogether. Instead, Jesus’ challenge on the cross is to believe God for His greater good, to trust beyond our own perspectives, to really believe Jesus for who He said He is. And as much as we can relate to the disciples, our interaction with the cross does differ. They couldn’t conceive of the resurrection, whereas we have the privilege of reflecting on the disappointment of Friday with the knowledge of the joy that comes on Sunday. As hope is resurrected, and death defeated.

"He is one that does not intend to meet our expectations; instead He meets our needs at the deepest level possible."