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A Brief Biography of Jesus

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Birth, Name, & Early Life

Jesus first appeared as an ordinary human being born to a humble Jewish family in the Roman province of Palestine (modern Israel) about 2,000 years ago during the rule of the Roman Emperor Octavian (Caesar Augustus) and the Jewish king, Herod the Great. His birth is generally considered to have taken place somewhere between 6–4 b.c. because it is known that Herod the Great died in 4 b.c. Unlike other human children, however, he was not conceived through the normal process of sexual intercourse. Instead, he was conceived directly in his mother's womb by the working of God. The story of his birth is recounted in the well-known Christmas story which tells us that Jesus is the Son of God born to Mary before she had sexual relations with Joseph who later became her husband and who adopted Jesus as his own son. Thus, Jesus is fully God and human at the same time. The Christmas story tells us of several of the important names given to this child born to Mary. A messenger from God says he is to be called “Jesus” (a Hebrew name which means “God saves") because he will save people from their sins. The name “Christ” is not his last name, rather it is his title: Jesus, the Christ. It means “the anointed one” or one who has had oil poured over the head. To the Jewish people of that day, having oil poured over one's head was a gesture of being set apart for God's service. “Christ” is his title in the Greek language. It is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Messiah.” It is also in the Christmas story that Jesus is first called “Emmanuel,” that name which means “God with us.” Little is known of Jesus from his birth until he begins his public ministry around the age 30. To his local neighbors, he appeared to be just another normal child raised in the small village of Nazareth about 55 miles north of Jerusalem. The Bible mentions that he had at least four brothers and several sisters. Since he is the oldest child in that family and since his adoptive father, Joseph, was a carpenter, it is presumed that Jesus was trained in the family business, too. Consequently, he is sometimes called “The Carpenter.”

Public Ministry

While in his early thirties, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and began a public ministry of teaching, healing and preaching. To assist him in this ministry, he called a number of persons to follow him. These followers are called “disciples.” They underwent what we might call “on the job training.” The primary message of Jesus concerned the “kingdom of God.” Jesus said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” By this Jesus was saying that the way God really wanted things to be run and ruled was finally happening now in the ministry of Jesus and that the way a person got in on it was by a radical change of mind and heart and by believing this good news. The way God really wanted things to be ruled was by forgiveness, grace and mercy and not by the big and powerful lording it over the small and helpless. The many miracles which Jesus did (most of which are deeds of healing) are acts of power which demonstrate what life is like in God's new age. It involves a healed wholeness of body, mind and spirit.

Forgiveness

Above all else, Jesus forgave people their “sins” or offenses against God and acted out this godly forgiveness by eating with them. Since Jesus forgave people their sins against God without requiring them first to go through the procedures prescribed by the teaching of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures (“Torah” or the first five books of the Old Testament), Jesus was violently opposed by many Jewish authorities, especially those responsible for the running of the temple in Jerusalem. They considered what Jesus was doing and preaching “blasphemy,” which is the utmost religious offense against God. They thought that Jesus was doing something that only God could do. They said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The opponents of Jesus were convinced they had the full authority of God (through Moses and the sacred writings, “Torah”) to oppose Jesus because God had prescribed another way to handle the forgiveness of sins which was through the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and through the proper animal sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, which included proper preparations of body, heart and mind. The “problem” with the “temple system” for forgiveness, however, was that it tended to give priority to Jews over Gentiles (non-Jews), men over women, rich over poor, those geographically closer to Jerusalem than those farther away. In by-passing the “temple system,” Jesus was proclaiming a forgiveness from God that was universally available to anyone, anywhere, at any time regardless of ethnic group, economic class, geographical location or gender. One simply needed to take Jesus at his word and believe him.

Arrest, Trial & Crucifixion

About two or three years into his public ministry around the year a.d. 30, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover with his disciples. He was greeted by fellow travelers who welcomed him as they would a king by waving branches of palm and shouting “Hosanna” (God saves). This event is remembered in Christian churches as Palm Sunday, which is always the Sunday before Easter. For the next three days Jesus went to the temple where he taught that the temple should be a house of prayer open to all and not used as a place for plotting violent revolts against the Romans. He taught that the chief command of God was to love God and neighbor. He also caused a “disturbance” in the temple interrupting worship as a prophetic sign against the current practice of temple worship and those in authority responsible for it. This becomes the “straw that breaks the camel's back” and prompts the temple authorities, in full consultation and collusion with the Roman government, to seek Jesus' arrest and death. On Thursday night, Jesus ate a solemn meal with his disciples that is often called “the last supper.” During this meal, Jesus took bread and wine and used them as a means to convey what his impending death was all about. He took bread, blessed and broke it and said, “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” And then later took wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, his impending death would be the sacrifice to surpass all sacrifices and the Passover to top all Passovers. This event is remembered in Christian churches on Maundy Thursday and marks the beginning of the Christian practice of Holy Communion. After that meal, Jesus went to a quiet garden just outside the temple gate for prayer where he was arrested by armed men sent by the temple authorities. He was taken for a hearing or a “trial” before the high priest, Caiaphus, and other leaders. He was charged with the heinous crime of blasphemy and declared guilty. Picture of Jesus CrucifiedBy Jewish law, Jesus should have been put to death by stoning. But since the Roman government was in charge and reserved capital punishment for itself (especially at volatile times like Passover), Jesus was presented for a hearing or “trial” before the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. Since the religious charge of blasphemy against the God of the Jews would have little significance to a Roman who worshipped Roman gods, Jesus was charged with “treason” and “insurrection” for presenting himself as a king without any authorization from the Roman government. At first Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent, but then changed the verdict to guilty at the insistence of the crowd stirred by the temple authorities. And so, Jesus was put to death by crucifixion (being nail to wooden cross beams) which was an agonizing form of death used effectively as a deterrent against those who would defy Rome. Jesus was hung on the cross and died within the next six hours. Because the Jewish Sabbath was soon approaching, his body was hastily taken down from the cross and laid in a nearby tomb. Christians recount the events of this day on Good Friday. It receives this name, because, although his death was bad for Jesus, it was “good” for us.

Resurrection

Risen on the third day after his death (when by Jewish tradition a person was dead for sure), Jesus astonished his disciples by rising from the dead and appearing among them several times. During these appearances, Jesus explained to his disciples the meaning and significance of his death and resurrection. His death was not an unfortunate accident or a terrible mistake. It was not due to a Roman misunderstanding of his political intent or to jealousy by the religious officials. His death was the predetermined plan of God. It was God's way of showing that Jesus was who Jesus said he was: the one who had all the authority of God to forgive sins. Appearing to his disciples, Jesus referred to the Hebrew Scriptures and said to them: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” “You are witnesses of these things.” Thus, the resurrection of Jesus results in the commissioning of disciples to go out and tell the story of Jesus and to invite faith and trust in Jesus as the presence of a forgiving God with us. From this point on many of the first disciples of Jesus are called “apostles,” a name which means “sent ones.”

Ascension & the Giving of the Holy Spirit

Jesus remained with his disciples for forty days after his resurrection before he was taken from their sight to return to heaven. This is called his “Ascension” since ancient people thought of heaven as being up. Ten days later, the first disciples of Jesus experienced a pouring out of the Holy Spirit which then empowered them to witness to their risen Lord. This happening is called “Pentecost” (“fiftieth”) because it occurred on a Jewish feast fifty days after Passover. Christians now observe it fifty days after Easter. The day of Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church. Since that day, the Christian church has gone out in obedience to Christ's command and promise: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

His Second Coming

It is Jesus' promise and the Christian's hope that one day Jesus will return and raise the dead and be visibly present among us once again. This is often called his “Second Coming” or “Parousia.” Until that day, Christians go forth in their calling to be witnesses to Jesus well aware that he is with us now in Spirit. For Jesus is Emmanuel: “God with us.”

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