Have you ever wondered why Jesus spent thirty-three years on earth before he died? I know I sure have.
And I know there are a million good reasons why Jesus had to live before he died. He had to explain what he was about to do on the cross and the world-changing nature of his coming resurrection. He had to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and (What is my friend David’s favorite) change the water into wine. Who else was going to stand up to the hypocritical Pharisees or feed the five thousand- and the four thousand?
Then you have your specific reasons dealing with the death of Jesus. The law of God is blood for blood. Bulls and goats could never get the job done. God’s mysterious yet perfect justice demands human blood for human blood. If we look at it this way, Jesus had to become man because the bottomless pit of wrath we had incurred on ourselves could only be land-filled by one with bottomless righteousness, holiness and even god-ness. Somewhere in the distance we remember one of those verses from Hebrews- without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. If Jesus had a different kind of blood than ours, well, we would be (in the parlance of our times) skrewed.
Remember that whole thing with bulls and goats? The point is that human rebellion needs human payment. Just because you and I could not tell a chimp’s blood from our aunt Sally’s, that does not mean God cannot. The rule is blood for blood, we can accept that or take our argument up with God.
So it makes sense that Jesus had to become a man, right? If there was ever going to be a payment for our sins, well then there had to be a perfect human being to give his blood. Seeing as how we all fall miserably short of saving ourselves, let alone our brother and sister, God humbles himself to become real man.
Three persons of the trinity. Jesus becomes man while staying God. Father and Spirit keep doing their thing. Crazy? Maybe. The theological term for crazy is “mystery.”
And while all these reasons we have been talking about help us make a little more sense out of why Jesus becomes man for us, I think we are missing something if we stop here. So far all we have talked about is death, which, granted, is a worthy subject, and one that is key to the gospel story.
But what about life?
I remember my brother and I talking years ago about a friend’s sermon. Now, keep in mind that I was a theology major and Jay was a communications major. I was reading Calvin for the first time, which is a dangerous endeavor. For you kids scoring at home, 18-year olds reading Reformers is sure to produce a level of arrogance that would make Lady GaGa blush. As I read the Institutes of the Christian Religion, I looked over at my twin brother catching up on some baseball statistics. Sinner.
Well, I had to get some sort of theological conversation going on, because what more does anybody want than an interruption from baseball to be hassled and guilted by their own brother? I was doing him a favor.
What did you think of Jarrett’s sermon? My best buddy had just ripped off a compelling exhortation from Romans somewhere- because who knows better than a 20-year-old about Paul’s most complex letter?
It was alright.
My own brother. Unmoved by sermonic perfection. I pressed him.
What do you mean, alright?
And believe it or not, his answer actually made an 18-year-old theology student embarrassed from pride. This is what he said:
The sermon was great. The only problem is that it was all about death. If somebody put a gun to my head right now I would have all the right answers, but what if I just go on living? How do I live?
He had a point.
Moralism and Scholasticism: two more isms to watch out for
We normally fall into one of two categories when it comes to answering my brother’s perceptive question. First, we just assume our theological knowledge can get us by- can translate into a life of loving Jesus. If you think I am crazy here, take a look at your own life. Do you try and think your way into obedience or do you try to pray your way to submission? Just a thought.
The second way is every bit as common. We read the gospel stories like recipes for living a “good life”- as if the point of Jesus’ life was to give us a blue-print for our own moral compass. What would Jesus do? Ever asked yourself that? If you have been a Christian for more than twenty seconds, somebody has spoon-fed you that question. Let me be clear. That is a stupid question. I have no idea what Jesus would do if his bank account was scraping the bottom of the barrel.
You want to know why? Because that scenario is completely hypothetical. Jesus spent his whole life surprising us by what he said and did. The question What kind of man is this echoes all throughout the gospel stories. We only know what he did, not what he would do. His call to us is to rest. His call is to trust. His call is to lay down our lives day by day. His call is to believe. His call is to hope. His call is to love.
And his call is to live. Not as clones of Jesus- he was God, after all- which you and I would do well to remember! He wants us to live as his friends, his disciples, his brothers and sisters, his coworkers and his beloved.
Why did Jesus live for thirty-three years? Let’s engage in that conversation. What would your one-sentence answer be?