Reflections on "Life"
Had it been that the whole purpose of Jesus was to die for our sins, I suppose that would have been enough. But it wasn't enough for God; he had much more in mind and we can see his purpose reflected quite clearly in scripture.
Had it been the whole purpose of Jesus to come and die for our sins, that event could have occurred very early. With the exception of Matthew, who records so much of Jesus' teaching that the story of his life advances advances at a slower pace, every gospel engages the conflict that will lead to Jesus' crucifixion within three chapters of the beginning of his public ministry. (1) As theologically profound as the idea of God paying for the lives of his adopted and fallen children with the blood of his only begotten son is, one must also recognize the reality that Jesus' appearance on earth was not some heavenly shopping errand--running out to purchase the lives of humankind with own blood. He had a bigger purpose in mind. The mystery of Jesus and his presence on earth involved more than buying pardon--even more than displaying resurrection. The incarnation--God among humankind--was required, as well.
Jesus taught us how to live, and I don't mean he showed us how to follow the rules. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," he would say. John wrote of Jesus in his introduction: "In him was life and that life was the light of men." More significant than his death was his life--both before and after the cross.
I have often pondered what it meant to God to return to walk on the earth. Had he done so since the days in the garden? I can imagine so, but (I think) we have no record of him walking with humankind after the sin of the garden until Jesus appears. What joy was there for him in his physical presence to walk the hills of Galilee with his bride Israel? What joy and what sadness--to live amidst the fallen-ness of his people in a world created for such a different lifestyle. Here, he too experienced firsthand life, in the lower case.
As the incarnate God, he would meet and fully experience temptation. One is not tempted without desire. How did it feel for the god of the universe to desire to succumb to the wiles of the Evil One? What fellowship with humankind did God gain in the experience? Because he was tempted in every way just as we are and he did suffer when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. What ramifications might this have for judgment? Did, could God's capacity for steadfast love grow during this time? Is it because he was "made perfect" that he is able "by one sacrifice" to make "perfect forever those who are being made holy?"
Oh, the mysteries of Life!--the peeks we might gain from observing the incarnation. I ponder God on earth--the god who did not come in power, but arrived helpless and dependent, a baby born without status, without privilege, homeless. A god who was despised by those who claimed to know him best, challenged by tyrants wishing to claim his possession as their own. Jesus was a god whose chief desire was to be with and to be known by his people--to bring a picture of hope to the blind, the broken, the outcast, and the homeless, to reach out to seekers as well as to marked sinners, even those overtaken by evil.
The world was a wreck, a dump in comparison to his plan, but the creator had returned and he "wasn't done yet." Jesus' presence on earth caused the angels to sing in chorus over the shepherds. A star that rose in the sky beckoned foreign nobles. All creation was to take notice. Thousands of years after the fall in the garden, God's appearance through Jesus' life on earth heralded the godhead's shear and unwavering determination to (re)create humankind in their own image, to have it--all of it--Their Way.
Jesus lived the abundant Life on earth, but that Life didn't end on the cross. It lives on very literally in two ways: in the fullness of Life at the Father's right hand and here on earth in the lives of his people--those who have been gifted with his very nature and Spirit and take seriously his call to walk as He did--in the world for the "sake of the world."
The young man who died in Fort Worth this week had some understanding of what that meant. As a high school athlete, his coaches said he was one who "walked the walk," a young man who recognized the need for "humanitarian achievement." One can receive no higher compliment than to be described with words that match the Master. To live like Jesus is to live Life to the full. Despite His determination to walk among humankind, to do good, and to love His Father with all his heart, mind, and soul, Jesus suffered a death that was unmerited and unjust. As surely as Jesus lives, He will claim the lives of those who love Him.
Jesus' death on the cross represents one more evidence of God's steadfast, unwavering, prideless, self-sacrificing, continually forgiving love for his creation. He has called us to live as He did. Where will that lead us? It could lead anywhere--among the homeless, the poor, or the diseased, to those overwhelmed by life or the habit or sin, around the world or next door. But when the call comes, we like Him, must be ready to go.
According to all who know him, Eric Forrester, in his short life on earth, prepared for and lived as best he could Life. That Life has not ended; neither has it just begun. Every good deed he did on this earth, every testimony he made both verbally and actively, lives on--just as he does. And his life, like Christ's, beckons us to look outward, to see the world Jesus died to save and to Live here in this world for the sake of the world--as we begin to Live Life to the full.
(1) Mark 3.6; Luke 6.11 and Matthew 12.14 all record the beginning of a plot to kill him. In John, Jesus clears the temple in a rage in chapter 2. Recognizing their intentions to kill him, he challenges them to "come on..." with a statement they will use to prove his blasphemy at his trial: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Without saying it explicitly, John opens his story with the foreshadowing of Jesus' death.