Why did Jesus come to earth, to be incarnated as fully God and fully human? You could list a number of reasons, but there are two that stand out to me as I read the gospel narratives. So, I’ll frame the question in a different way:
Did Jesus come to die for our sins, or did He come to preach the good news?
The best answer is, of course, “Yes.”
Brilliant theologians have taught and written about this subject, so I won’t even try to go very deep. But I’ll give a some excerpts from the Bible that highlight Jesus’ main to reasons for coming to earth. One passage will be from the gospels, one from another part of the New Testament, and one (for good measure) will be a prophecy from the book of Isaiah.
To Be the Sacrifice for Our Sins
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (Romans 4:25)
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
To Preach the Good News (of a New Covenant with God)
“I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)
“He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17)
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” (Isaiah 61:1)
(If you have any questions or criticisms about these passages, or if you want to add any more, just let me know in the comments below.)
A Third Reason
Some will point to a third purpose that Jesus had for coming to earth: to relieve suffering. And you have a valid point, since Jesus’s works and miracles were a central part to his mission:
“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” (John 10:25)
“And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)
The works of mercy that Jesus did were important, but not because they were the ultimate goal. Jesus main mission (as illustrated above) was to reconcile us to God through His sacrifice and His teaching.
For that reconciliation to happen, we need to know that there is a need and a possibility for reconciliation, so Jesus preached that good news. And for that reconciliation to happen, we need our sin problem to be dealt with, so Jesus sacrificed His life to be a substitute (or propitiation, or atonement) for our sins.
The works He did to relieve suffering were meaningful, but only in the context that they pointed to and validated His ultimate mission of achieving reconciliation between us and God.
What This Means for You
The incarnate Jesus did three things two millennia ago, that lead to application for us today:
- He preached the gospel (the good news that we are separated from God, but reconciliation is possible through His grace).
- He laid down His life as a sacrificial atonement for our sins.
- He worked to relieve suffering.
What do these things mean for us, as followers of Jesus Christ? We must do the same!
Jesus died for our sins, so we can live for him (Galatians 2:20). Our entire life must be about spreading the gospel – in our words, in our actions, and in our hearts.
Our struggle is that we tend to focus on one end or another of this gospel spectrum. We look at those who are in need or who are suffering and we either say:
- “They need the gospel,” as we shake our heads, and write a check (maybe), and wipe our hands clean (definitely).
- “They need our assistance,” and we rush to their aid without considering that if we solve all their physical problems, but they never put their faith in Jesus, then it is all for naught.
As my friend Megan Gaminde writes:
“The Gospel first brings spiritual freedom to those who believe. We are freed from the bondage of sin and from the penalty of eternal death. . . . However, let us not make the mistake of assuming the power of the Gospel to redeem and renew is limited to the spiritual world.”
For more on this topic, read this excellent post by Thabiti Anyabwile, in which he coins the wonderfully-convicting phrase “gospel escapism.” We see gospel escapism at work in comments such as:
- “The problem is sin.” — “It’s really a strange thing when Christians point out another’s sin without remembering what Christ did to atone for that sin.”
- “What people really need is the gospel.” — “We seldom find ourselves talking to actual people in actual communities of need giving them the one thing we confidently claim they need most.”
- “There won’t be justice until Jesus comes.” — “There are folks who think of heaven as an answer to all earthly problems so that they don’t have to deal with those earthly problems.”
- “Obama!” — “If all the other escape routes are closed off, there’s always the trap door and sliding shoot that carries far from real life.”
Worship the Incarnate Jesus With Your Life
This Christmas season, remember that Jesus come to earth as a human, to preach the gospel and to sacrifice His life. Remember to give Him the worship and praise He deserves. But let us not restrict that worship into just daily devotions and Christmas Eve services.
Let us remember to be incarnate ourselves, to bring the gospel to the physical and spiritual needs of those around us.
- Born to Die
- Jesus Is Still Immanuel
- Hospitality Is Not What You Think It Is
- The Meaning of the Death of Christ
**image courtesy of knottiloxpix via flickr