Christians don’t always get a good press, but it’s pretty hard to find anything bad said about the man we follow. Jesus was a Jew who lived in Judaea, a province of the Roman Empire, over 2000 years ago. He was born into an ordinary carpenter’s family in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth in Galilee and died just outside Jerusalem.
Jesus never went further than 200 miles from where he was born. He never wrote a book or held a political or military position. We don’t even know what he looked like. Yet he has had a greater effect on the lives of men and women than any other figure in history.
Did Jesus exist?
Yes. Jesus and groups of his followers are mentioned, often disparagingly, by first century writers such as Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius and Josephus.
The fact that Christianity exists at all demonstrates that someone called Jesus inspired and changed the lives of people in the early part of the first Century AD.
What did he do?
Our best information about Jesus’ life and work comes from the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
They tell us that Jesus travelled about telling people – women and men – what God is like. He healed them and called them to follow him. He told great stories explaining how God wants all people to be part of his family; to follow his ways and to work to build peace and justice for everyone in the world. He told them the most important thing was to love God and their neighbours.
Jesus opened the door wide to all those who felt excluded – by being poor, sick, female or foreign, for example – in a society which had many rules about who was spiritually acceptable. According to him, people didn’t have to be perfect to meet God; they just had to come with faith and trust. He put it this way: “Come to me all of you who are tired from the heavy burden you have been forced to carry. I will give you rest.”
Jesus’ message and actions were challenging and controversial to the Jewish and Roman authorities, who thought that he was a trouble-maker. So they arrested and tortured him then executed him by crucifixion. He was in his early thirties when he died.
His friends went into hiding. It seemed all their hopes that this was the special man whom God had sent to free people and change the world had come to nothing. They thought they had backed the wrong person and were scared they too would be persecuted.
What do Christians say about Jesus?
Three days after his death and burial, some of Jesus’ women friends went to his grave. They found the door open and his body missing. One of them, Mary Magdalene, recognised the man near the grave as Jesus himself – and he was alive.
Soon, other friends met him in different places. They knew he wasn’t a ghost because they could touch him, talk with him and share food with him. They came to realise Jesus was alive again.
Christians believe Jesus is alive today, and that he is the Son of God. This means he is God and that he shows us most completely what God is like.
By his words and actions Jesus brought God’s healing and forgiveness into the world. Because he was a real person he experienced the same things we all do: love, pain, joy, sorrow, worry and hope. He understands what it is like to be human, how difficult and wonderful it can be.
We believe that, because of him, we can each be part of God’s family as we were always supposed to be. Not by trying to be someone else but by being the best version possible of us. Jesus put it this way: “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.”
What does Jesus mean today?
We believe that Jesus gives meaning and purpose to our lives:
• We can be forgiven for the things we get wrong.
• We can find peace, healing and renewal in knowing God.
• We can find comfort in walking with him every day.
• We can find purpose in following Jesus, and continuing his work for peace, love and justice in the world.
Christians aren’t always very good at this. We are far from perfect, and there are many nicer and better behaved people everywhere. That’s why we need Jesus.
We believe that, through Jesus, we can all enter into our relationship with God, like a child with a parent. Like any parent though, God wants us to grow up and develop. Part of this growth and development is learning to live according to what Jesus did and taught, as part of God’s family, the Church.
Fortunately Jesus doesn’t need us to be perfect to journey with God. He didn’t come to help those who have everything sorted but for those of us who are broken, vulnerable and flawed. He knows we won’t get things right, He knows we will fall down repeatedly. The trick is to keep getting back up to try again with His help.
The first step on the journey with God is recognising we can’t be the people we want to be alone. Each of us needs God’s help and love, and the help and love of others in the church.