Jesus of Nazareth

If ever God interacted with human beings upon this earth, and if ever there were a time and a place in which he made himself known, one must ask (at least once, if never again) if it had something, in whole or in part, to do with Jesus—Jesus of Nazareth, a Palestinian Jew who lived thousands of years ago in the cradle of civilization, who, rising from complete obscurity, has had incalculable effects on the history of the world.

Despite the financial benefits of producing controversial books and movies, there are no legitimate doubts that the man existed. What is in doubt—and what has always been in doubt, since the hour of his death—is the nature of who he was, what he said, and what it means.

How can it be that such an ordinary man had such an impact upon the whole of humanity? He did not leave us even a single pencil stroke. Our knowledge of his words and deeds are limited to the information of witnesses. While he may have said a great deal to his contemporaries, we are privy to almost none of it. The sayings attributed to Jesus are pithy and few compared to the voluminous writings of Greek philosophers living hundreds of years before him. Can these precious few words account for his influence?

Christians believe in his divinity. Muslims believe that he is a virgin-born messenger of God. Buddhists might call him an enlightened teacher, and the atheists might call him a good man. This is an extraordinary legacy for a peasant. It is even more extraordinary when we consider that his words, as preserved in the gospels, are an unlikely source of such widespread and transcendent appeal, in and of themselves. Anyone who reads the gospels will not likely be content to call Jesus a good man. There are sayings of his—and they are the ones least likely to have been augmented—that one simply does not expect. What kind of a person says these things?

The only explanation for Jesus’ far-reaching influence is that he had a profound effect on the people he was in contact with. By the time the gospels were written, the movement had been growing for some time, and it did not start with people reading the Bible—it started with people being told something by other people, who themselves believed it plainly.

We do not know what the disciples saw, but it stands to reason that they believed what they were saying. The truth of their testimony is surely not the only explanation for their belief. However, it is one explanation for this unique type of testimony. Religions have been founded without extraordinary claims, and of those that are founded with them, the founders have more than once found themselves in command of wealth, power, and even military might. This may be the only practical value of such claims. The original followers of Jesus enjoyed no such thing, however, and they could not reasonably have expected to—they were not preaching a belief system that would have allowed them to accept it, even if it had been offered to them.

Jesus was not claimed to be an enlightened man, but rather, a divine one. This claim is quite a stretch, and it cannot be taken lightly, as if it is a small point in a large list comprising the generic religiosity of Christianity. We speak often about religion, belief in God, and moral values. The fact is, these things can all exist apart from Christianity, and they do.  Christianity is not essentially about the observance of rules, the nature of an invisible God, or the pursuit of good teaching. It is about Jesus, and it is about him in a way that no other major world religion is about anyone.

Perhaps the conditions were just right. The sun may have been in precisely the right spot, the moods of the people may have been just so inclined, and the experiences of Jesus himself may have prepared him in just the right fashion. Perhaps not. Whatever the case may be, the life of Jesus of Nazareth is not a thing that should be summarily dismissed. It is worthy of the kind of curiousity that we give to strange things in the natural order, and it is worthy of the kind of curiousity that we give to things that may have something to do with us.

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One Response to “Jesus of Nazareth”

  1. Thanks for this. I read it realizing that I’ve stopped exploring my faith and it’s something I need to do.

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