The Birth of Jesus
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke record the birth of Jesus to Joseph and Mary. He is described as conceived of the Holy Spirit, his birth to the Virgin Mary fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. He is born in Bethlehem of Judea. Mary and Joseph call the newborn child “Jesus.” The name “Jesus,” or Yeshua in Hebrew, basically means, “Yahweh (or God) is Salvation.” Even though the name “Jesus” is a common Palestinian name, Matthew 1:21 records that it is the most appropriate designation for the one who will save his people from their sins. Later, Jesus will be called “the Christ.” The word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but rather his title. The title “Christ” (or Christos in Greek) means “Anointed One” or “Messiah.” That Jesus is the Christ means that he is the Son of God and God’s special messenger to humankind.
The Early Life of Jesus
There are several legendary stories that develop surrounding the life of Jesus, but these are written much later than the Gospels. The infancy stories of Thomas, for example, appear in the second century and have no connection to the historical Jesus or the apostles. We have only one account in Luke of Jesus’ childhood. Jesus is twelve years old and he is at the temple in Jerusalem. The scholars around him are amazed by his wisdom and understanding (Luke 2:41 – 52). Clearly, Jesus is extremely intelligent. Luke 2:52 remarks, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
The Baptism of Jesus
The gospels of Mark and John pick up the story of the life of Jesus when he has reached adulthood. He is about to enter ministry and is baptized by his cousin, the prophet John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus and God proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. John recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Following his baptism Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where the devil attempts to persuade him to misuse his power, compromise his principles, and forfeit his mission. Jesus defeats the temptations of Satan by properly applying the Word of God.
The Teachings, Healing Ministry, and Miracles of Jesus
After this awesome spiritual victory, Jesus officially begins his itinerant ministry. He chooses twelve disciples, some former followers of John the Baptist, to accompany and to assist him. His fame and popularity grow exponentially. Jesus conceives of his mission as the fulfillment of prophecy. He believes that his preaching and ministry will be good news to all humanity, especially the poor and downtrodden. For the next three years Jesus aggressively spreads a message of hope, healing, and salvation and accomplishes extraordinary feats, the likes of which the world had never seen before.
The central theme of Jesus’ teachings is “the kingdom of God” and he boldly proclaims his message. He often uses parables and familiar images from agricultural life and frequently finds himself at odds with the religious leaders, particularly because of the authority with which he preaches. Jesus’ reinterpretation of Jewish law and his claims to forgive sins begin to make these leaders extremely nervous. Roman rulers also become uncomfortable with the perception that Jesus is the Messiah who will liberate the Jews from Roman rule. Jesus gains renown as a powerful wonderworker. His recorded miracles include turning water to wine, walking on water, healing the sick, casting out demons, calming a storm, multiplying loaves and fishes to feed multitudes, restoring sight to the blind, opening deaf ears, reversing paralysis, and doing many other remarkable feats. Jesus even brings the dead back to life again.
Betrayal and Execution
Jesus is very aware that his time on earth is short. He repeatedly communicates to his disciples that he will be killed, but they do not fully understand or accept the idea. At the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples share a final meal together before Judas’ betrayal leads to the arrest of the Savior. As Jesus is being arrested, Peter slices off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus rebukes his disciple, heals the soldier, and is brought to trial.
While before the Jewish chief priests, Jesus says very little but basically affirms that he is the Messiah. He is charged with blasphemy and brought to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate is not really convinced of Jesus’ guilt, but ultimately sentences Jesus to death at the insistence of the mob. Remorseful over his part in the illegal capture and trial of Jesus, Judas commits suicide.
Jesus is savagely beaten and clothed in a mock-royal purple robe. A crown of thorns is placed on his head and he is brought to Golgotha (The Place of the Skull) for execution. I write about the brutality of crucifixion in my book: In Pursuit of Wholeness. Victims were savagely beaten and then secured in a manner on a cross that prolonged their suffering and prevented them from dying quickly. Jesus’ hands and feet are nailed to the cross so that he can experience a slow and painful death. Jesus is on the cross for several hours before he dies. The Bible records that several supernatural events coincide with Jesus’ death including darkness across the land, an earthquake, a renting of the curtain in the temple, and the raising of the dead.
Burial and Resurrection
Jesus’ body is removed from the cross and he is placed in a tomb owned by a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus’ mother and one or two other women arrive at the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. When they arrive at the tomb, they are amazed to discover that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. The women report the story to the disciples, but they are not believed. Later Jesus appears to the disciples and to several others before ascending into heaven.
The resurrection of Jesus is central to the early church. All four Gospels include an account of it. In Acts, the central message preached by the apostles is the resurrection of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes that without the resurrection, all preaching is useless. Because Jesus rose from the dead Christians can look forward to the future with hope, faith, and expectation that they too will enter into the divine reality of the Savior's victory over death.