I cringed inwardly. “Even if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died just for you.” Why did this sit so poorly with me? The speaker was only reiterating things I have heard all my life. In the week that followed, Easter “media” echoed his message again and again. Facebook posts, blogs, worship songs. “Jesus died for me!”
Yet somehow this familiar refrain left me terribly uncomfortable. An inner voice kept crying, “This is all wrong. Jesus’ death was not primarily about ME. I am not the center of this story!”
My Sunday school training quickly kicked in, “No, of course not. It’s about Jesus.” But somehow even that answer didn’t satisfy.
Then it occurred to me that Jesus wasn’t even then center of His Own story.
A recent conversation with a friend echoed in my mind. “You know,” she said, “We have so personalized and individualized the gospel today. But it wasn’t always the case. The message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples was that the Kingdom of God was coming. That was the good news.”
In describing His mission, Jesus often said that He must proclaim the Kingdom of God. Many of His parables began, “The kingdom of Heaven is like…”, and much of His teaching introduced a new way of living, a new way of thinking, that was out of step with the norms of his society—guidelines for citizens of a new Kingdom.
Jesus did not live to glorify Himself. He didn’t come to earth so that we could see the Father. Nor did He die so that I could be forgiven, have a personal relationship with Him, or live eternally.
He came, quite frankly, to turn the universe on its head; to bring about a new world order; to defeat evil once and for all and establish a Kingdom full of righteousness and peace.
In the process did He receive glory? Absolutely. Did those who saw him catch a glimpse of the Father? Of course. Did He provide a way for us to be cleansed of sin, live in loving relationship with Him, and never die? Thank God—yes, yes, and yes. But these are all small brush strokes in a bigger picture.
In His 33 years on earth, Jesus lived for something greater than His own personal story. In return, He invites each of us to live for something bigger than ourselves. The fact that we are given a part in the divine Story—invited to be citizens of this eternal Kingdom—should fill us with awe and wonder. It should make us feel small and humble and throw us to our knees in all-out worship.
Instead, we make Jesus’ time on earth about ourselves. This is understandable, in one sense, since His death is my only hope of life. But to distill the the mystery and magnificence of Jesus’ sacrifice down to simply what it means for me personally is to cheapen it, to miss the bigger picture, and to live small. Quite frankly, it is not Kingdom behavior.
As I walk away from Easter this year I am challenged to lift my eyes to something bigger than myself. I want this world to fade and become insubstantial, as I catch glimpses of the new Reality that Jesus brought about. I am hungry to learn more and more what it looks like to live each day as a citizen of this Kingdom.