The claim that there was, 2000 years ago, a man from Galilee whose name was Jesus, is accepted by most historians. There are historical documents which name and place him in a historically verifiable time (Luke 2:1-7). Jesus really lived as a Jewish man, in a country town of Israel, under the Roman Empire’s occupation of Judea, around the time of Emperor Augustus. He was evidently a teacher, and had a following of people.
The historical life of Jesus is not what is up for debate. It’s the claims of this man that have shaped movements and history, and interest us today. When he turns up on the scene as a grown man his message is about himself and his actions, in a suggestive hint that this is no mere man. He said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
And this is what he does. However, his words and actions become more radical with each encounter. Soon we read Jesus is forgiving sins and healing a paralysed man. The religious leaders of his time said only God could forgive sins, but Jesus declares forgiveness, and heals the paralysed man (Luke 5:17-26). Similarly, when Jesus meets a grieving mother in a funeral procession, who had lost her only son, Jesus raises him from death (Luke 7:11-17), another action only God could do. And when there had been many encounters like these, where Jesus does things only God could, he asks his followers, “Who do you say I am?” and they confess that he is the Son of God (Luke 9:18-20).
Jesus made this proclamation of himself too, in the language of his own Jewish culture and time. Not only did he do God-things, but he used for himself the great God-title: ‘I am’ (John 8:12; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6). When asked who he was before the religious leaders at his trial, Jesus did not deny it but confessed that which the leaders crucified him for – a claim to be God (Luke 22:66-71).
But why does that matter? If Jesus lived a life of teaching and healing, claimed to be God in person, and he was put to death, then why does this matter now? It’s because his death didn’t end there, for on the third day Jesus was raised to life, defeating death. And that matters because of the great story of the Bible.
The story of the Bible is that God made the world, and he made it good. It’s a beautiful place full of power and possibility. But human beings, who were made to care for this world, enjoy life and live in close relationship with God, do the wrong thing. The first humans decide to go against God and take what God said not to take, and are removed from his wonderful presence as a punishment. This wrong, where we do things our way not God’s way, the Bible calls sin and the consequences for it are death (you can read about this in Genesis 3, and Romans 3). So even though we feel and know that the world ought to be good and beautiful, the reason things are the way they are on the evening news is because in every human heart is this same condition; sin.
In contrast Jesus’ life was a very different life. It was full of power and possibility, and also full of obedience to God and goodness. He lived the life every person should live. But just like in the story of the beginning, where there was goodness and human sin broke it, so it was in Jesus’ life. Where there was goodness in his life, human beings broke that goodness. They put Jesus to death even though they could find no wrong in him.
Jesus’ death was not a defeat, but God’s plan since the world began to make things new. For there, hanging on the cross, Jesus called out ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!’ (Luke 23:34). His death enables forgiveness, because it was the sacrifice of a perfect life for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). And he was raised to life again. His resurrection shows that death (remember, that’s the consequence for sin) is beaten. Jesus death enables a new world to begin, by reconciling people to God. It means people can forgiven, reconciled, adopted as God’s children, and receive eternal life (Ephesians 2:1-10).
So it’s a story of a good world, gone bad, and rescued by God through Jesus to make things new.
And that’s why it matters: because God so loved this world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him won’t perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16). That is for everyone, including you.
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