We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
J is for Jesus.
For Christians, God has a human face, and it is the face of Jesus of Nazareth, He was a man who never held high political office. He never led a mighty army into battle. He never established an Empire. He was rejected by the leaders of his own people and was murdered by the state along with two common criminals. And yet, his influence has stretched around the globe and across time.
What we know about him principally comes from the four gospels. While the writers of the gospels would have had access to the stories that people told about Jesus, many of which could have come from eye-witnesses, each author used the material to tell the story they wanted to tell. With the gospels we are invited us to see Jesus through the eyes of each author. They give us Jesus from slightly different angles with slightly different emphasis. Also, the gospel writers try to tell their readers truths about Jesus which are beyond the bare recitation of fact. They are not only interested in what happened, but who is this person and what can he tell us about God?
Little is known of the early life of Jesus (Jesus is Greek for the Hebrew name Joshua which means “Yahweh saves”). From the gospels of Luke and Matthew we have some stories of his birth. They place his birth within a Jewish family in Bethlehem of Judaea. But he was raised in Nazareth of Galilee. As his father was a carpenter it is not unreasonable to assume that for the first decade of his adult life he worked in the family firm (most people did) and was a carpenter, a skilled craftsman.
Then, aged about 30 years, the gospels record that Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by the wild and mysterious person called John the Baptizer. From this moment Jesus’ life seems to have taken a radical turn.
He collected a band of followers, both men and women, some of who were from dubious moral backgrounds, and became an itinerant preacher, prophet, healer, and miracle worker. Like John the Baptist, he proclaimed the nearness of God’s kingdom and the end-times. More than John, whose emphasis seems to have been on Divine Judgment, Jesus saw the positive side of the closeness of God’s rule for the poor, the hungry, the suffering, and the lost.
According to tradition, he and his followers toured his home country bringing hope, healing and refreshment to the people he met. He attracted great crowds. Although he talked about God and called people back to faithfulness in Him, he was more concerned with the outcast than with the religious people of the day.
He encountered lots of criticism and controversy throughout his active ministry. Some of the most powerful religious groups of the time, notably the Pharisees but also others, took exception to what Jesus said and did. Jesus was a threat and he challenged the religious establishment and their orthodoxy.
All through his ministry people asked the question who is this man, where does his authority to say and to do these things come from? For some people Jesus was a Rabbi or another prophet in a long line of people sent by God to call his people back to faithfulness: a Man of Religion. Others recognised him as the long-expected Messiah, a king like David who would raise up an army and set the Jewish people free: a Man of Politics. Most obviously this occurred near the end of his life when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey and was proclaimed the heir of the mighty King David by the crowds. But whenever the people tried to make Jesus into the figure they wanted he would withdraw for a time.
Shortly after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey he took to teaching in the Temple like other Jewish Rabbis. On one occasion, disgusted at the presence and practices of the Temple market, he caused a disturbance, over-turning the market stalls and the tables of money changers.
These two last incidents were the final straw for the religious authorities. Jesus was just too much of a threat to their power. So they arrested him and persuaded the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to sentence him to death on political charges.
He was killed on a Roman cross on a hill called Golgotha between two thieves. At the end of his life he was deserted by all the crowds who had followed him and all but a few of his own close disciples.
But his story does not end here. Soon after his death, Jesus’ close band of followers began to proclaim that God had raised him from the dead, that he was alive and that they had seen him. His followers grew in number and spread across the world. They told stories about him and passed them on from generation to generation. Some of the stories were written down. As they met, lived, prayed, and worshipped together they kept asking the question, who was this man? Over years and decades they came to the shocking conclusion that his man was not someone sent by God but that he was God himself.
The Almighty God, the Creator of the universe has a human face, and it is the face of Jesus of Nazareth.