January 06, 2017 column
No, Jesus Wasn’t Born to Die
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
I heard it again this Christmas season. A couple of folks were trying to convince me that Jesus is the reason for the season, and the reason for Jesus is that he came to die.
It’s as if the entire purpose of his life was to die. Evangelicals seem to believe this with a deep and abiding passion. Why, John Piper (a noted Baptist preacher) even wrote a book in 2006 entitled “Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die”. He followed that up in 2007 with a tract called “Ten Reasons Jesus came to Die”.
But was dying really the reason why Jesus came to earth?
I don’t think so. In fact, I disagree 100% with people who make this claim.
The entire premise behind this idea that Jesus came to die is that God is angry with humanity. We screwed up. God is ticked off. God needs a sacrifice to mitigate his wrath. That’s why you often hear evangelicals begin telling the Christian story with terms like “sin” and “judgement” as they transition to the birth of Jesus.
But that’s not how the Christmas story begins. At least, not if you’re reading it out of the Bible.
In the Bible, angels make the birth announcement about the Christ to a group of shepherds—and what’s interesting is that there’s no mention of God’s anger, wrath, or anything else. In fact, the opposite is true. When the angels announce the birth they say, “Fear not! For behold, I am bringing you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The angels continue by praising God: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among humanity, whom God favours.” It is also possible to translate the last phrase, “with whom God is well pleased.”
In any case, the birth of Jesus is announced as a result of God’s pleasure, God’s good favour for us. There’s no sense at all that God is ticked off. If the Bible were to line up with the narrative that “Jesus came to die”, it wouldn’t use this kind of language. Don’t be afraid. God brings peace. Or in Matthew’s story, Jesus is Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.
The idea that Jesus was born to die hits the same kind of brick wall in other parts of the Bible. The Old Testament tells us again and again that God utterly detests human sacrifice. Why should we believe that God’s plan to save humanity requires something God thought was an abomination?
The whole Bible paints a portrait of a God who is compassionate, loving, welcoming and inclusive. God seeks justice and mercy, righteousness and grace. John’s gospel tells us that God loved the world … not that God was ticked off at the world.
Furthermore, if the entire point of Jesus coming to earth was to die, why not just let a sleeping baby Jesus die of natural causes warm in the manger? Why wait so many years and have Jesus die in one of the most horrific forms of execution humanity has ever devised? If it was all about dying, dying as a baby would have done the trick.
So let me say it again, as the Bible says it again. Jesus didn’t come to die. Jesus came to show us how to live. Jesus came that “we may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10). Jesus came to proclaim the message about God’s coming kingdom (Mark 1). Jesus came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12).
In other words, Jesus shows us how drastically we have misunderstood God. God does not delight in sacrifices. Jesus teaches us that we are not to repay evil with evil, that we must not retaliate when we are sinned against, but that we are to do kind things even toward those who hate us because we are to emulate God who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
Jesus came to show us that God in the flesh can stand in the presence of sinners, and instead of anger and rage, says “neither do I condemn you.”
Dying wasn’t the point at all. The point of Jesus’ whole life was that he came to live.
This is precisely why in the book of 1 John we’re told, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” It’s why 1 Peter says, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” And it’s also why, just hours before Jesus is executed, he looks at each one of his followers and tells them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have.”
When it comes to the story of Jesus, it was never about dying at all. It was always about living.
And that was the whole point. The whole goal. We killed him, and even in that act, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them. They don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”
Jesus came to show us what love looks like.
Jesus wasn’t born to die. Jesus was born to be a living invitation—to live differently, to live fully and abundantly, to imitate God by imitating Jesus. His whole life showed us what God is truly like.