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Sight-Seeing: Why did Jesus live?

Belgium Brussels Jesus enters Jerusalem

NILS VON KALM explains why he’s reflecting on Jesus’ life – as well as His death – this Easter…

Jesus died for our sins. That’s Biblical, and it’s Christian. And I believe it’s a fact.

Easter is probably the most important Christian celebration of the year. It’s the time when we remember Jesus’ suffering, execution and resurrection.

Belgium Brussels Jesus enters Jerusalem

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday from a window in Brussels. PICTURE: Jorisvo/iStockphoto

So, why do the Gospels, especially the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), not devote more time to this period of Jesus’ ministry? They do devote a fair amount, but, as NT Wright says, when we always talk about Jesus dying for our sins, we could imagine Matthew, Mark and Luke standing in the corner saying, “hang on a minute! We wrote all these other things about Jesus as well. In fact, most of what we wrote was not about His death and resurrection”.

Every Easter, we consider the question, “why did Jesus die?’, but I want to also ask the question, “why did Jesus live?”.

“Every Easter, we consider the question, ‘why did Jesus die?’, but I want to also ask the question, ‘why did Jesus live?’.

This has crucial implications theologically, and therefore for how we do mission and how we present Jesus to the world.

The fact is that Jesus did not come only to die for our sins. More than anything else in all the Gospels, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God. It was all leading up to His unjust suffering and death and resurrection, but that initial information about His life is there for a very good reason.

The Kingdom of God is mentioned more than 100 times in all the Gospels. When I was growing up in the church, the Kingdom of God was taught as nothing less than going to Heaven when you die.

I no longer believe that. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we go to Heaven after death, but I don’t believe it is our ultimate destiny.

The Kingdom of God, according to the Bible, is actually nothing less than the reign of God on Earth. It is His reign of love, peace, healing, justice, and restored relationships. It is the reconciliation of us to God and to all of creation. It is a kingdom in which the poor and outcast are lifted up, where the last are first and the first are last. 

The Gospel most of us have been taught, especially in evangelical circles, is too small. If Jesus came only to die for our sins, He could have appeared as an adult, stayed for a week, died, rose and then ascended, and His job would have been done.

It seems, though, that God had other ideas.

When looking at why Jesus came, I like to look at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In all three of the synoptic Gospels, the start of His ministry is given huge importance.

In Matthew, after His temptation in the wilderness, we see Jesus proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). Then reports of Him spread rapidly, and people from all around come to Him to be healed. He quickly became known as a miracle healer and straight away started talking about this thing called the kingdom of God, saying that it had already come.

In Mark’s Gospel, we see similar occurrences. Usually the more abbreviated Gospel, Mark actually takes this a bit further, having Jesus proclaim: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15). He doesn’t say anything about it being so you can go to Heaven and avoid hell when you die. He says that this Kingdom has come; it is here, right now, so change your life and be part of it.

In Luke’s Gospel we have what is sometimes called the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’. In Luke 4, Jesus reads from Isaiah, where the prophet says “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). And then He has the audacity to say that this has all been fulfilled right there and then in their presence.

When we consider the question this Easter of what it is all about, let us not just consider why He died. Let us consider why He came at all. It is in His life, death and resurrection that we see why God came to earth in human form. We cannot separate His life from His death and resurrection. They are all inseparably linked.

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I have not mentioned John’s Gospel to this point. The truth is that about half of the Gospel of John relates to Jesus’ final days on Earth. It makes a very big deal of what we call Holy Week, or His Passion. Despite this though, the rest of John’s Gospel also, like the synoptics, goes into great detail about Jesus’ life. We see the incredible introduction, where John makes clear that this Jesus is none other than the Word made flesh. Then John discusses Jesus’ first miracle, tipping over the tables at the temple, the outrageous conversation with the woman at the well, and many other events. At the end of his Gospel, John even records that there were so many things that Jesus did that all the books in the world couldn’t record them.

It is clear that all four Gospels place at least as high a priority on the life of Jesus as they do on His death and resurrection. 

This all has clear implications for how we are to live as Christians in the world. If Jesus came only to die for our sins, then that is only half the Gospel, and therefore not really the Gospel at all. But if, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the reign of God has come to Earth, we are to imitate Him. After all, 87 times in the Gospels, Jesus says to follow Him and to go where He was sent.

The Gospels clearly record that Jesus was sent to the outcasts of the world. He was known as a friend of sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors. Why are these people highlighted, why does He trigger so much conflict, and why do the religious leaders and the powerful hate Him and all collude to put Him to death if He only came to die for our sins? 

No, Jesus came to bring His reign to Earth, the life of Heaven where there are no tears, no pain and no death. One day, that will all be fulfilled and this Earth will have the life of Heaven covering it. For now we see only glimpses, and we have the privilege of working with God to be Jesus to the world, to love the outcast and the sinner and to show that they are the ones who God considers blessed.

This Easter, let’s be grateful for why Jesus lived, not just for why He died and rose. And let’s pray for the Spirit to fill us so we can live that life and be the light of the world that He told us we are.



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