Jesus came on a mission and He came with a message. In evaluating these two aspects of Jesus’ earthy ministry, I recognize two possible relationships between the mission and the message.
One possibility is that the message is about the mission. In other words, the message explained the mission. Under this paradigm, actions of Jesus are critical and His ethical teachings are secondary. The primary action in view is His sacrificial death and the subsequent burial and resurrection. These physical activities were essential to dealing with the issue of sin. Characterizing the ministry of Jesus in this way implies that Jesus did His part in effecting salvation by His doing; men, in turn, must complete the salvation process by their own doing. Sin is dealt with through the combined obedience of Christ and men.
The second possibility is that the message was the mission, i.e the mission was to deliver the message. Under this paradigm, the counter intuitive teachings of Jesus are paramount. Through the deliverance of His message, Jesus brought Truth to mankind’s attention; and that Truth was the missing element in overcoming sin. Sin, in this scenario, is not wrongdoing per se, but rather the misconceptions, false assumptions, and lack of awareness which ultimately lead to counterproductive and hurtful behaviors. Freedom and abundant life are the result of embracing the Truth, which was embodied in the words of Jesus. Thus He becomes the Word and the Truth in His role as Savior. Jesus’ death (sacrifice) was concurrently an example of the egoic actions of mankind under the pre-existing mindset (before Christ), a powerful demonstration of the magnitude of God’s Love for mankind, and finally an object lesson in the practice of self sacrifice, one of the most counter intuitive aspects of the abundant life which Jesus taught. In this view, world transformation is possible but only when men embrace a message which is so foreign to the egoic mind that it requires the relinquishment of a large number of cherished and hitherto largely unchallenged beliefs. This is a view which distinguishes itself from the Mosaic system of lawkeeping in the most dramatic way possible. Rightness comes about not be right actions but by right thinking, what one might call incorporating the “mind of Christ”.
The first of these two possibilities largely reflects conventional church doctrine. The emphasis there is always on the sacrifice of Jesus, with His lessons on ethics reduce to an aside in the outworking of His primary mission, namely to die. The shedding of blood in this scenario takes on a magical power, providing the means by which God can overlook man’s malfeasance and allow him to live in eternal bliss. The true benefits of what Jesus came to do are reserved for Heaven. This way to interpret Jesus leads to very little interest in attempting to transform our lives here and now through the ethics of Jesus. Instead church followers are taught an on-going conflict between themselves and the rest of humanity, so no transformation is ever anticipated. The inevitable by-product of such thinking is a resignation to either the status quo or to a continuously deteriorating world situation. Human degradation then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The peace, joy, and abundant living of the promised imminent kingdom are forever missing under this scenario.