Jesus the Unexpected: ‘Never Plays Things the Way We Would’

By Tom Gilson Published on December 23, 2022

There’s something about the Christian faith that’s always felt strange to me. It’s so … particular. It’s all about just one Person’s life. Just one Child, born like any other child. Just one Boy who grew up, the same way everyone else has to grow up. One Man, who taught for three years, and then left. It seems odd that one life lived so far from here, so long ago, could matter as much as His does.

I know it’s true and I know it’s good. It even makes sense in the world when I stop and think about who He was and what He came to do. It’s still not what I would have expected, though. We love our nativity scenes, but have you ever noticed how totally rural they are? His birth had spectacular moments — angel choirs aren’t bad! — but look who they performed for. Shepherds? Really? There should have been TV cameras. A studio audience. Confetti falling as the judges give him the “Golden Buzzer.”

Funny thing, there: That “Golden Buzzer” happens on the show America’s Got Talent, which is a direct media descendant of American Idol.” I see a definite clue to my problem right there. Jesus came as an Israelite, not an American, a fact we all need to keep in mind. More to my point today, He didn’t come to be an idol.

He is in fact the one person in human history who could never have become an idol, especially a religious idol. Idols are inventions, and they are pretense. Jesus’ identity was no invention: The most important fact of His identity was established from eternity past. He was no pretender, either. He was God.

He “Never Plays Things the Way We Would”

It helps knowing that, yet it still has this totally unexpected feel to it, too. A friend of mine observed, Jesus “never plays things the way we would.” He was talking about Jesus’ later life: His surprising choices for His disciples, the people He chose to comfort or to criticize, and of course the way He fulfilled His mission: on a Cross. Even His resurrection was a surprise.

I know you might be thinking, “You were right, Tom, until you got to that point. I agree, if it had been my story I wouldn’t have done most of what He did. But I would have at least put the resurrection in at the end.” Sorry, but you only think that because you’ve already heard of it, but no one had in Jesus’ day.

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The Greeks and Romans thought the physical body was too unspiritual to rise from the dead. Jews were of mixed opinion — some believed in bodily resurrection, some didn’t — but those who believed in it expected it would happen all at once, at the very end of the age, when all the righteous would rise together. They wouldn’t have dreamed of just one individual’s bodily resurrection right in the middle of history. No other religion has invented anything like it, either.

He Did It His Own Way From the Very Beginning

Jesus’ surprising way of “never playing it the way would” started long before His adult teaching and healing ministry. If I were God (an extremely dangerous way to start a sentence!) I would not have descended to earth the way He did. I would have skipped the first Advent. He was conceived unlike any other child, yet still he started out as microscopically small as any other. For nine months He was confined to His virgin mother’s womb. God in the flesh was utterly dependent on His mother in the flesh.

The angels were singing for a Star-Maker after all.

I would have skipped that part and gone straight to the Second Advent, the one yet to come, when He comes riding down to conquer. Impressive. “Like lightning, from east to west.” With TV crews covering it for people on the far side of the globe. (Ask any politician and they’ll tell you, “If it didn’t happen on TV, it didn’t happen.”)

It is a good thing I am not God. (I promise you that’s the biggest understatement I have written my whole life long.) Jesus’ Second Advent will be about conquering evil once and for all, and that evil isn’t just “out there somewhere.” It’s in me and in you. His First Advent was about rescuing us from the evil within, they only way we could stand a chance when He comes back to conquer.

Oh, What a Child! And Oh, What a Life!

It still feels strange, but it also makes sense when I think about it. He had to come as one single individual, lowly and humble. Only in that way could He identify with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15-16). Only by living an otherwise ordinary human life could He have lived the only perfect human life, the one life of perfect love, truth, and wisdom ever recorded in story or in history.

He played things differently, and to a different audience. The angel choirs would have certainly gotten the Golden Buzzer, if they’d sung for stars like Howie Mandel or star-makers Simon Cowell. They sang for shepherds instead, the lowliest occupation in the land.

But … come to think of it, the angels were singing for a Star-Maker after all. Not a judge at a theater, not four whizzes in comfy chairs who can pull strings and get you on stage in Hollywood, but the Judge of all the Earth — the One who actually made the stars. Christianity may be about just one Life, just one Child, but … Oh, what a Child! And oh, what a Life!


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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