Have you ever been misquoted? You know—you say something and then a few days later it gets back to you in an almost unrecognizable form. This really ticks me off when it happens to me. I say enough things that I regret without people twisting my words. I am especially angered when misquotes are hurtful to someone or damage a relationship. I also don’t like it when other people are misquoted, and I think that’s what we have done with Jesus.
If I were to ask people walking out from a worship service, “Why did God send Jesus into the world?” I think the response that I would most frequently receive is, “To save us from our sins.” And, if I were to ask a second question such as, “And why do we need to be saved from our sins?” I believe I would most likely hear the response, “So we don’t go to hell when we die.” For a lot of my life, I know that these responses are what I would have given. The problem is, they are not what Jesus said. They don’t appear to be how Jesus viewed the purpose of his life and death.
Yes, Jesus did declare that the sins of one man—a paralytic brought to Jesus by four of his friends, were forgiven. Jesus then healed the man (Matthew 9:2, 5). Jesus also declared the sins of the rather precocious woman, who bathed his feet in tears and anointed them with oil, were forgiven (Luke 7:48). In the gospel of John there is story of Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). In that instance Jesus simply said to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” These stories and the theme of “sin” do not make up the bulk of Jesus’ ministry. At most they are a very small part of what Jesus was about. So, you may ask, how did we get the idea that Jesus came into the world to save us from our sins and an eternity in hell?
One of the most common things people do is to confuse John the Baptist’s message with that of Jesus. John prepared the way for Jesus by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 4:1). When Jesus called people to repentance, it was because the kingdom of God had come near—or arrived (Mark 1:15). Jesus never said anything about believing and being baptized for the forgiveness of sin—Peter did, though. In his first sermon, which is recorded in Acts, Peter calls on people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (2:38). Paul, on several occasions, links Jesus’ death and resurrection to the forgiveness of sin (Romans 3:23-25).
Certainly, the idea of Jesus saving us from our sin can be found in the New Testament. That theological concept historically has been emphasized by the church. The themes of sin, repentance, forgiveness and salvation are popular in the church today. I do not mean to argue the theological validity of John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul’s claim. I simply want to point out that wasn’t what Jesus understood his life and ministry to be.
Jesus was much more concerned with the present rather than one’s eternal destiny. Jesus focused on announcing that the Kingdom of God had arrived and inviting people to live in the reality of the kingdom. God’s kingdom was a kingdom of love and grace. This kingdom was the antithesis of the Roman Empire. Followers of Jesus were invited to live lives of peace and mercy and turn from the world’s ways of power and judgment. That same invitation is extended to us today.
There is certainly an appropriate time in our lives for confession, repentance and forgiveness. We aren’t perfect and we never will be. Still, as we walk with Jesus through the gospels, we realize that isn’t the emphasis. Following Jesus is to rejoice and give thanks for God’s kingdom of love and grace. Being a disciple of Jesus is to share that love, grace and even forgiveness with those around us.
Enough of thinking about what Jesus has saved us from. Let’s focus on what Jesus has saved us for!
I have a question for you. “What does it mean to you to live in the reality of God’s Kingdom?” Write your response as a comment on this blog, and let others hear your voice.