On his way to the cross, Jesus said that we must hate our life in this world, that like a grain of wheat we must die, and that we must follow him on his journey to the cross (John 12:20-26). This seems to set us up for a path of martyrdom and death, a dark and twisted path. This was a path that many Christians in the early church followed – we read, for example, Ignatius of Antioche pleading with the Church of Rome in about AD107 to not save him from being martyred, eulogising and glorifying the path of suffering and death as the path mapped out by Christ and as the only means of his salvation.
If ‘the path of Jesus’ is a path of martyrdom and death, and if we are called to walk in his footsteps, then we too must become martyrs. Over the centuries this path has been used, for example, to exhort women to remain submissive in abusive marriages – they have the opportunity to suffer as Christ did, they have been told by Christians, and to do so without a word as Christ did. Is this really the path of Christ? Is this really what it means to walk in his footsteps?
All this raises fundamental and, to be honest, rather scary questions about God’s salvation plan: Did Jesus come into the world in order to die? Was it God’s intention – God’s desire – that Jesus should die? Was it always God’s plan that Jesus would die? Could salvation be found nowhere but through Christ’s death? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then we indeed have a dark message of salvation. And Christian discipleship is itself a dark path.
But in this sermon I want to suggest a different way of thinking about God’s intentions and desires. A different way of thinking about the place of Jesus’ death in God’s masterplan for the salvation of the cosmos. You may not agree with my conclusions – feel free to disagree! But perhaps a new look at Christ’s path will be helpful for all of us. Perhaps this will give us new insights into God’s love for us and God’s investment in our salvation. And perhaps this will open up a Path of Jesus that is truer to God’s deepest intentions.