Emmanuel in Extremis

Why did Jesus come? Fundamentally? We’re on the cusp of Advent and thinking about the promised arrival of Messiah. Did he come to give the Romans a taste of their own medicine? Was he sent to vindicate the Pharisees? Could he be a latter-day King David? Might he make us all happy?

Some in Israel hoped for at least one of these outcomes, possibly more than one, and perhaps others I’ve not enumerated. Jesus was going to disappoint a lot of people. People with an agenda, who wanted him to do things for them. Here’s why this is on my mind…

Yesterday I spent a day being spiritually, theologically and intellectually stimulated by “Catalyst Live”. Held in Reading Town Hall and operating a little like TED talks for thinking Baptists (that wasn’t the official tag line, and I’m not a Baptist, but I was thinking), the short lessons centred loosely on the topic of global mission. We can’t talk about mission unless we reflect on why Jesus came.

In particular, a talk by Sam Wells focussed on the question at the top of this article. Why did he come? Sam’s assertion is that he came to be with us, not to do things for us. If that’s right, it tells us a great deal about how we are to express our discipleship. One line (paraphrased) from Sam’s talk , “The cross revealed that Jesus would rather be with us, than with the Father.” Of course Jesus did many things for us (died for our sins etc.), but his love for us led to him being with us – even in death. Sam’s sentence reminded me of what Paul said, 

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil. 1:23-24 NIV11)

The Apostle was clear on what was better for him, but chose what was better for his friends. Discipleship led him to be with people. If we’re too focussed on what we want to do for people, or feel we can achieve for them, we may do good, but miss the point. If God is about relationship and love, then He does not need to ‘fix’ everything, and indeed never will in this life. Our role as followers of Jesus is not to fix people, but to be with them, showing the love of Jesus, hoping they will then want to know the God we know. Then, whether everything gets fixed or not, we will be with God together. 

If Emmanuel, God with us, stayed with us to the end, preferring human death to heavenly relief, going beyond commitment to extreme sacrifice, then we can be confident of God’s love for us. As we go out to be with people, in their mess, stress and distress, we’ll stand a good chance of convincing them of God’s love for them. That’s why Jesus came – to be with us.
Malcolm Cox