Jesus was not born to die; He was born to give life. He wasn’t brought up to be the ultimate temple sacrifice. God doesn’t do human sacrifice; He’s not Molech. God is, and always has been, a good Father.
I know what I just said may sound strange to your ears, maybe even heretical, but stay with me here. I will attempt to explain what I just said in this two-part series.
I’ve already written a lengthy series on the Incarnation, so I won’t repeat what I said there (you can click on the link for further study, if desired). Part one will lay a theological foundation; part two will bring this subject into our practical, everyday life.
One of the many problems I see with our popular atonement theory is that we’ve separated the incarnation of Jesus Christ from His death, burial, and resurrection. We’ve made salvation centered around the last few hours of Jesus’ life, rather than also seeing His whole life as part of God’s redemptive plan. We’ve, perhaps unwittingly, made His life mostly irrelevant to the Gospel.
Traditionally, we give Jesus’ birth lip service with regard to salvation, turning it into a nice Christmas story for children, a minor but necessary scene to the main plot being His crucifixion and resurrection.
Born to be the perfect sacrifice?
If I were to ask most Christians why Jesus was born, they would say something to the effect that Jesus came to live a perfect life in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins (kind of like a lamb without blemish in the Old Testament Temple sacrifice). While it’s understandable why we would make this comparison, it’s actually not the best one, and it may even be a wrong one.
The problem with the “perfect sacrifice” view is that Jesus was not the ultimate fulfillment of the Levitical sacrificial system, but came in the likeness of Melchizedek. The writer of Hebrews is pretty clear about this:
14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. (Heb.7:14-16 *)
This priesthood did not involve appeasement by animal or human sacrifice, but was “according to the power of an endless life.”
Could it be that when we relate Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to Old Testament animal sacrifices, we miss that He actually came to subvert this religious construct and expose it for what was…to us? Isn’t this what David and the prophets finally realized, that God never really wanted our sacrifices…all He ever wanted was us? (Ps. 51:16-17; Isa.1:11-18; Jer.7:22-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24).
Jesus didn’t come to die, but to do God’s will, which was to abrogate the whole sacrificial system by offering Himself (see Heb. 10:5-10). Here’s an excerpt from what I shared about Jesus’ subversive mission in “Religion, politics, and scapegoating“:
“But because of His love and mercy, God had codified a form of scapegoating into Law (Lev.16:20-26), setting us up so that He could use it against us by ultimately making Himself the victim, exposing and disarming scapegoating on the cross. In doing so, Jesus “takes away the sin of the world.” This is the “sin” that empowers all sin, the belly of the Beast, if you will.
“One of the things the Cross does is drag this foundational sin into the broad daylight.” (Brian Zahnd – “Lamb of God – The Last Scapegoat”)”
No, God’s love does not need to be bought. He’s not like the pagan gods who need a virgin sacrifice or they burn our village. He’s not an abusive Father either. Jesus didn’t come to be a legal transaction in some cosmic courtroom so God could forgive us (which is not forgiveness!). He offered Himself by letting us pour our wrath out on Him…exposing our Adamic scapegoating (blame-shifting) heart…in order to heal us and restore us to Himself.
This is why Robert Capon rightly said, “Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.”
You may not like hearing this, but our modern atonement theory is just another form of scapegoating. It has God punishing Jesus, instead of what the Bible says…that we collectively killed Him. So, we’ve shifted the blame to God for that, too!
Six reasons why Jesus’ life is as important as His death
There are at least six very good reasons why Jesus’ birth and life matters (besides the obvious, that He had to be born to do any of this!):
Jesus’ lowly birth (cattle trough in a cave) to a teenager shows us that Love is vulnerable, not afraid of scandal, self-emptying, intimate, always trusting, even willing to put Himself in inferior human hands.
Jesus’ life and teachings gave us a correct view of God for the first time in human history (Matt.11:27; John 1:18). He revealed that God is not distant, angry, retributive, demanding appeasement…but approachable, compassionate, other-centered, desiring to restore all who are willing to come to Him.
Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil,” healing the sick and setting free those held captive by him (Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:8).
Jesus’ life fulfilled what the Law was actually about: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving others as our self (Matt.22:37-40).
Jesus’ teachings, how He interfaced with sinners, shows us how we’re to live, and how we’re to treat others, even our enemies. This is how the Law is fulfilled in us.
God becoming flesh forever linked Him to humanity, because God wanted to include us in the eternal fellowship between the Father, Son, and Spirit! I talked about that in my last series.
There are certainly other reasons but this will suffice for now.
Why it really matters
When we only see Jesus as one born to die, we end up ignoring His life; or worse, we justify ignoring His teachings. We reduce His life down to three hours on the cross, turning God’s redemptive plan into a transaction rather than a restoration of relationship and a new way of living, as Richard Rohr says in The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation:
“If you believe that the Son’s task is merely to solve some cosmic problem the Father has with humanity, that the Son’s job is to do that, then once the problem is solved, there’s apparently no need for the concrete imitation of Jesus or his history-changing teachings. Yes, we continue to thank him for solving this problem, but we’ve lost the basis for an ongoing communion, a constant love affair, not to mention the wariness we now have about the Father and the lack of an active need for a dynamic Holy Spirit.” (Kindle Edition, loc. 3423)
This is why the Incarnation is important. And it explains how I can be a “good Christian,” love my Bible, confess that Jesus died for my sins, and still not be following Him. We’ll look at what I mean by that next time.