The Surprising Christmas Savior

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The teacher gave two strikingly opposite descriptions of two men. One man’s name was Goliath. He was a Philistine. He was a tremendously terrifying warrior—the best of the best among the army of the Philistines. He was a mountain of a man. His armor was impressive. He possessed an arrogant confidence. This is the guy all the kids love to think about and the one we indirectly encourage many of them to become like. However, the teacher moved to describe another “man.” This other man’s name was David. He was the son of Jesse from the tribe of Judah. He was a shepherd boy, the youngest of his brothers. He was armed with only a slingshot and a few stones. Yet, he also exhibited a confidence, a vibrantly humble and dependent confidence in “the living God” (1 Sam. 17:26). He was fearlessly confident in Yahweh (v. 37). He was a Savior. He was not the savior Israel wanted, but he was the savior Israel needed.

I’ll never forget teaching this lesson to a group of children a couple years ago in small town, Kentucky. I was shocked at the response of the kids to the story of David and Goliath. They were initially much more captivated by Goliath than David. He was impressive. He was someone to fear. In his hands, you could trust the fate of your nation. Although he was the enemy, kids love to identify with Goliath’s strength, might, and size. He is the kind of hero they naturally want. But in the face of insurmountable enemies, an all-powerful God acts and saves in surprising ways.  

Similarly to Israel, we all face a looming and gigantic enemy. His name is Death. Death haunts every human. Regardless of race, language, culture, time, gender, or worldview, death relentlessly pursues us all. We can do nothing to control it. We can do nothing to avoid it. Despite the various rungs on the ladder of life on which we all stand—some higher, some lower—death crushes the ladder itself and we all lie together in the rubble of death’s blow. Death is a valiant enemy, one that for thousands of years has destroyed even the strongest and most noble of mankind. Death does not discriminate. The 90 year-old woman dies warm in her bed and the 10 year-old child dies cold in the street. And much like Israel, we all stand before this dark enemy with sheer dread. Who among us will go out to face this conquering devil?

Enter: Jesus. Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary. Like David, he was born in Judah, in Bethlehem. He was a carpenter, an ordinary guy. He was not wealthy and in his adulthood lived homelessly.  Yet, there was something unique about this ordinary Judean. Jesus was the Son of God. He carried with him divine authority. And he showed himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. However, he was neither the Messiah, nor the Savior Israel or we wanted, but he is exactly the kind of Savior we need. Indeed, he is the only Savior worthy and able to save.

Jesus is the greater David who conquers the enemies of his people. He is the hero we wouldn’t expect, but just the hero we need. Jesus conquered death once for all, but he did so by succumbing to death itself. Death forever died the day Jesus died. Through suffering, Jesus ensured suffering’s eternal defeat. He became sin though he knew sin not. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later he delivered death a blow far greater than death itself can give. In Christ alone we see death’s demise and the restoration of all things.

Therefore, in the death and resurrection of Jesus we see both life and death. Jesus grants us what death takes and grants death what it so loves to give. The only true and lasting hope in the face of death is the hope we find in Jesus, the greater David who died not only to give his people life, but to destroy death. 

Point your children to the Savior they need this Christmas, though at first he will not be the Savior they want. Our Savior didn’t come booming from the clouds to bring his kingdom to earth. Instead, he came crying as a baby in the city of David. He was held by one to whom he gave life.  His humility is marked by his Incarnation. The kingdom he brought is marked with suffering and humility. His victory was achieved through defeat. Your children’s greatest enemies have been vanquished by a snake crusher. But the way up is down. The crown is achieved through loss. Let the lesson of the cross be clear in your home this Christmas. We die to self because in Christ we have life. We are content with loss, because in Christ we have gain.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

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