Find a Purpose as Big as God’s
Learning from the Life of Christ
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
No one lived quite like Jesus. Ordinary as he looked, and was in many ways — with “no form or majesty” (Isaiah 53:2) to turn heads — his earthly life as a whole surpassed every other human life, not only his contemporaries but all others before and since. In the final tally, Jesus stands alone. No other human has left such a deep and enduring impression on the world, and he did so in only three years of active public life.
He turned water into wine. He multiplied loaves and fish. He gave sight to the blind. He even raised the dead. But he also taught with a peculiar, unmatched authority. His words carried weight like no other human voice. “They were astonished at his teaching” (Mark 1:22). “All the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19:48). Even those who opposed him had to recognize, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). And still today we marvel at what he says.
What was it that drove such a life and such timeless teaching? Why did Jesus live? What got him up in the morning and motivated him to open his mouth, even under great duress? What was the goal — and in the end, the effect — of his life, so far as we can discern?
We Christians believe that Christ is not only truly God but also truly and profoundly man — so might his human life give us some fresh glimpses into what also should animate our lives, as fellow humans? Recognizing his uniqueness as divine, what might Jesus’s own words and deeds reveal about our highest calling as God’s creatures and Christ’s brothers? Might his singular purpose in all he did shed fresh light on one of the most important questions we can ask, Why did God make me?
Why Did Jesus Do?
The Scriptures are not unclear as to why God created the world, and each of us: to display his glory. From the creation of man in his image (Genesis 1:27), to sin as falling short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and exchanging his glory for created things (Romans 1:23), to the apostolic call that we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), Christian pastors and teachers often rightly emphasize “the glory of God” as the great banner flying over our lives, connecting us, in our smallness, to the bigness of God’s chief purpose in creation and history.
However, plain as it may be in the Bible, how many of us rehearse this enough? How easy it can be in the habits and patterns of our daily lives to go days, even weeks — perhaps months? — without praying, “Father, glorify yourself in me,” or consciously connect the smallest acts of our lives, our eating and drinking, and everything we do, to the glory of God.
But what about the human life of Jesus, who is also God? Did “the glory of God” really animate him in all he did, and if so, might some glimpses of it in his life renew this great calling in us? Once we pose the question, we might find the Gospels have more to say than we thought.
The Effect of His Life
Not only do the angels declare “Glory to God” in announcing Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:14), but as he begins to teach and minister publicly, the reported effect, again and again, is not that the people praised Jesus, but that they glorified God. The pattern is pronounced.
He heals the paralytic, who “rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God” (Mark 2:12). As Matthew tells it, “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). Luke makes explicit that it was both the healed paralytic who glorified God (Luke 5:25) as well as the crowd (Luke 5:26).
In fact, glorifying God is Matthew’s summary effect of all Jesus’s miracle-working: “The crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31). And when Jesus restores sight to a blind beggar, Luke tells us both the man and the crowd directed their praises to God: “Immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43). And there are still others (e.g. Luke 7:16; 13:13; 17:15–16).
The Gospel writers make the effect of Jesus’s ministry plain: the glory and praise of God.
The Intent of His Life
But what about Jesus’s intent? What does Christ himself say about his goal in all he did?
The words of Jesus in the Gospel of John make this particularly plain. The human Christ says he comes not in his own name but his Father’s (John 5:43). He welcomes the Palm Sunday praises of Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). He says, in sum, about his life, “I honor my Father” (John 8:49), and he does all he does in his Father’s name (John 10:25).
The Intent of His Death
When he came to his final days, in those precious last moments before his crucifixion, his purpose in life grew all the more explicit as he strode toward death.
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. (John 12:27–28)
On the night before he died, in his great High Priestly Prayer, he scarcely could have been more clear about what had driven him in life, and now led him even to the cross. Three times he rings the bell with piercing clarity:
“I glorified you on earth.” (John 17:4)
“I have manifested your name.” (John 17:6)
“I made known to them your name.” (John 17:26)
Jesus dedicated his life to glorifying his Father, through making him known to his disciples. He so lived, and so spoke, that his Father would be truly revealed and duly received.
Then, as Jesus departs, his disciples receive the mantle: to make him known to the world. The life of the God-man has made known the glory of God to man. Now the lives of his people will make him known to the world.
From beginning to end, without veil or apology, Jesus sought his Father’s glory. This was both the goal and effect of his life, and death. So much so that even a Roman soldier who witnessed his execution got the message: “when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God” (Luke 23:47).
Our Call as His People
Yet Jesus not only modeled our highest calling. He also explicitly draws his people into this pursuit with him. Not only does he seek his Father’s glory, but he calls his disciples to do the same:
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
Now, in Christ, we his church fulfill our created intent in the image of God by displaying his value in the world. Christ lived utterly dedicated to the glory of his Father, and now we live dedicated to God’s glory — and do so in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17).
Jesus, as the ultimate human, and very “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), modeled for us what we were created to be and do — to display God’s glory and make him known. We now find our highest human calling to display and reflect God’s glory by becoming increasingly conformed to the God-man’s image (Romans 8:29). The original destiny of humanity is realized in the gospel and our growing likeness to Jesus. The more we are conformed to Christ, and winsomely display him to his world, the more we fulfill that great purpose for which we were made.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.