There is an old Christmas spiritual which begins: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky, why Jesus the Savior did come for to die.” The reason we wonder about it is because it doesn’t make any sense. So we think we have to leave it as a divine mystery and just accept it on faith. It is after all what some preachers have been telling us for over a thousand years.
Well, we can stop wondering. Jesus came to announce, embody, and bring to people the Kingdom of God. He did not, therefore, come to die.
If Jesus was “born to die,” Herod’s soldiers could have taken care of it when Jesus was a baby, which they were fully prepared and indeed ordered to do (Matthew 2:16-18). We could then worship the baby Jesus (like Ricky Bobby in the film Talladega Nights), and remember how he “died for us,” without having to be inconvenienced by anything he did or said as a grown-up.
There is more to Jesus than his death. Statements like this “born to die” thing reduce Jesus’ actual ministry to meaninglessness. AND they undermine the importance of the resurrection.
In truth, Jesus himself says that he came to inaugurate and establish on earth the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15): which is the healed and reconciled relationship between God and people, and people and each other. He was born to live and show us how to live together. He was born to bring us eternal life.
In order to do this he had to give his life (John 3:16). And the life he actually lived is an integral part of this initiative. Otherwise we would not know what kind of life he gives us. He gives us his life in his ministry. His ministry culminates in his death and resolves in his resurrection. It is all one integrated movement.
If he did not live the kind of life he lived his death would not matter. Indeed, his death on the cross wouldn’t have even happened, since how he lived is what offended the authorities and caused them to have him executed. It is his life, his actions, that demonstrate and prove his Messiahship (Matthew 11:2-6). His life is able to be a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45b) precisely because it had value in some demonstrated content in the way he lived: “not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45a).
Excessive concentration on Jesus’ death is always a way to avoid the challenges of his life. We can then focus on “what he did for us” while ignoring what he calls us to do for others. The empire always gets more mileage out of a dead Jesus than a living one. One thing crucifixes communicate is: “Worship him… but don’t follow him or this could happen to you.”