People have put a lot of different functions on Jesus these last couple thousand years.
He healed people. He exorcised demons. He forgave sins. He spoke up against evil rulers. He gravitated towards the poor.
I could go on... In the gospels, Jesus did a lot of things. But there’s one thing he did that stands out over and above all of the other things...
Jesus raised the dead.
[Note: At this point, I have to pause. I grew up in a secular, postmodern, rationalistic world. It’s easy for me to be skeptical here because I have a hard time believing that a man named Jesus ACTUALLY snapped his fingers and made dead people come alive again. It behooves me to silence that inner skeptic and allow myself to enter the mystery of this faith - a mystery that people have been enraptured by for thousands of years. I have to tell myself not to be a journalist here but rather to allow myself to trust beyond belief and see what happens.]
In the gospel accounts, I don’t think there was a dead body that Jesus ever encountered that he didn’t raise.
But we seem to breeze over this part of his ministry. Of course, it’s so other-worldly. How can we relate? I mean, I can flip over a table with zeal as Jesus did, but I can’t bring the dead back to life.
I’m starting to see that Jesus didn’t care to help people live their lives “better”. Not directly, anyway. The only checklist for good living we can point to is the sermon on the mount and those are absolutely impossible to follow.
I think Jesus knew that, to them (us), “living a better life” means #winning. It means posting a higher score than our neighbor(s). It means meeting an endless list of useless demands and achieving any number of lifeless pursuits at any expense. It means doing whatever we can to gain favor from people.
This is what humans largely mean when we talk of “living our best lives”. And Jesus paid zero mind to it. If that’s our version of a “better life” (and it is), Jesus’s solution is one thing...
(followed by resurrection, of course).
We are to go through the cross because death is the only thing that will end our rotten clinging to this toxic notion we’ve assigned to “life”. True life lives on the other side of that death.
Though Jesus points at physical death, I also think that we can die and rise anew before our physical body does. Maybe in looking back, you can see that this process has been done to you (no, this is not something we can do voluntarily - in order for it to truly be classified as a ‘death’, it must be done to us against our will). Maybe it’s happened more than once.
Anyhow, as I was saying earlier...
Jesus has long been a lot of things to a lot of people. He’s been a charismatic healer, a movement starter, a left-wing political activist, a gun-toter, a free-speecher, a tantric sexpert, an iron-fisted moral police officer, a gavel-wielding judge, a moral exemplar, a life coach... I could go on (and on).
But I think it behooves us to focus on his main theme:
Death and resurrection.
As much as I think I know what my “best life” looks like, I also know that I’ve proven myself wrong in the life-improving department more times than I care to admit. I must allow myself to die before I die, so to speak.
This is what Christ does in my life. In baptism, I am drowned and resurrected in Christ. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s an eternity thing. In baptism, I have died and been reborn in Christ anew every single time I consider it.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...
Grace + Godspeed,