Some would say that Jesus “came to die.” Yes, it is quite common to assert that he was born actually to die. Most of us who say this know what we mean, at least in general. But I suspect others might be confused. Maybe even some of us are confused about this.
The story of Jesus asserts unapologetically that Jesus came to live, and to call others to live. In him was life, John’s gospel assures. His birth celebrated at Christmas time, occasioned much joy–not because finally the one who would die had come, but because finally the one who was life and who could give life had come. Jesus’ primary message, “The time has come. God’s kingdom is open and available. Turn, now, and enter!” –this was an announcement of life, indeed, of life everlasting in contrast to every other kind of life.
Jesus came as the onlytruly and fully human being to walk the face of the earth (at least since the first of humankind we read about in Genesis). We might even say that Jesus was the only one truly alive the way God intended all persons to be from the very beginning.
As the truly alive one, Jesus shows us a way of life, a way of love, that is at the center of God’s plan for aliveness. Jesus’ way is the way of love, as he demonstrated, taught, and offered to people everywhere.
As the truly alive one, Jesus shows us a way of life, a way of light, that rings true, that appears to be solid and real, and when tried is found to correspond to the deepest of human longings that so many found satisfying, even if difficult to describe.
As the truly alive one, Jesus’ story (four versions of which are conveniently available to us) unfolds in a way that clearly shows he came to live–to live robustly, largely, abundantly, and joyfully. He entered into circumstances and into relationships with real people, not as though he were a passing guest but as one who would become a lifelong friend, and even more. He spoke and acted as though his way were here to stay. His appearance was not a drive-by incursion, it was an intentional immersion into all things human. One of his cherished biographers put it like this: Jesus became one of us and settled in with us. He came to live, to stay. If anything, upon a close reading, it seems more and more likely that Jesus came to stay while the world-as-it-was begins to pass away.
So, what do we and can we mean when we say that, still there was a sense in which Jesus was born to die, or that he came to die?
We must insist that at the deepest levels he came to Live! And, he came to love. Indeed, Jesus came as light that showed how both to live and to love as all humans are created to do. But the world into which Jesus came, and was born, had long before become a world that had oriented itself around death rather than life, hate rather than love, and darkness rather than light. He came into a world that imagined itself alive and real, but was neither. Then, he lived among and served people who knew no better than the ways of hatred, darkness and death.
Jesus came to live–living among agents of death, loving those whose ways were hateful, and illumining the darkness of those who didn’t know they were blind. Jesus came to live, really to live, but in order to do so there was hell to pay. His love embraced hate, his light shone in the darkness, and his life enfolded death. And, it would seem that sadly he lost the battle. For on the Friday that was not yet called good–he relinquished his Spirit, breathed his last, and said, “It is finished!”
Jesus came to live, but ended up dying. He and his life and his work was “finished!”
Reverend David W. Kendall, an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference, was elected to the office of bishop of the Free Methodist Church in May 2005. He serves as overseer of East Michigan, Gateway, Great Plains, Mid-America, North Central, North Michigan, Ohio, Southern Michigan, Wabash, African Area Annual Conferences; and Coordinator of oversight for the World Ministries Center.