Art by Audrey Anastasi
I have become ever more aware recently that whilst I might talk about the Christian faith and its significance, there are probably many people who I know who are actually not sure why Christians believe Jesus to be so important, not only personally but also historically.
So the next couple of posts will simply explain why Jesus matters. It will not say everything that could be said about Jesus or the Christian faith in any way, shape or form, but hopefully it will give you some kind of insight into who Jesus is and why Easter is so important. It might be that after you read these posts you then want to dig further for yourself and find out more, but for now I hope these couple of posts will, at the very least, give you something to think through.
In the Bible there are four Gospels written that narrate to us the life of Jesus. They describe the life of Jesus, from his birth in a cattle shed through to his resurrection from the dead. Each one tells us the life of Jesus from a different perspective, some borrowing from the other, some unique in their telling. What is clear from each is that in Jesus a unique event has occurred whereby God has come to dwell among human beings as a living person.
So for the early Church (as in the first followers of Jesus) the uniqueness of Jesus was that God in his Glory (his presence and action) had actually become a human being, and therefore all of humanity were now able to be vessels of the divine presence of God. For Christians Jesus of Nazareth was the centre of all history, the One through which the whole cosmos would be ‘made well’.
The Gospels tell us about Jesus, his teaching, healing and miracles. His entire life was one that pointed towards God, who God is, and revealed God’s Kingdom (the rule and reign of God), his love, his compassion, his grace. The Kingdom of God that Jesus declared was not like the kingdom’s of this world. Jesus was uncompromising in his rejection of violence revealing ultimately though his death that violence and sin is our greatest problem. His call to love of enemies, prayer and forgiveness revealed that God’s Kingdom does not require scapegoats and people to blame for the problem’s around us; Jesus said that what is required is mercy not sacrifice.
When Jesus spoke of God he would often use the word ‘Abba’, a term of deep affection and close intimacy; Jesus was conveying within his own life and the words he used that God was not a violent power, distant and punishing, but One of unconditional love, intimacy and grace. In Jesus we encounter the God of relationship.
His radical inclusivity, forgiveness, love and vision of God caused intense opposition from religious leaders that in turn put him on a direct pathway to execution and death. Yet this was always his plan as he saw his life as something he freely gave not as something that could be taken from him by force.
One morning around A.D 33 Jesus is crucified and dies.
He dies, not at the hands of God, but through the violent hands of humanity.
He dies, not to appease a wrathful, vengeful ‘god’ who demands blood and sacrifice, but because of a wrathful, vengeful humanity who demand blood, sacrifice and scapegoating.
Thousands upon thousands would die through a Roman cross, yet for the early Christians they believed that because of who Jesus is, in this death something Cosmic altering had taken place, setting forth a transformation in every conceivable realm of reality, unlike anything before or after. Indeed, as an event, Christians have continued to struggle to put words to it so unique is it.
The Gospels describe a darkened sky, a shaking earth, tears, cries of anguish, the betrayal and desertion of friends.
For many people who followed him, Jesus was the long awaited person who was going to change everything, but here at his death this hope had been extinguished.
At his death his disciples fled, scared for their own lives, one of them even committing suicide. The only people left were those woman who followed him, and it is they who took his body and buried it in a borrowed tomb. Jesus is dead, the disciples lock themselves away in fear. The story was over.
Yet shortly after this soul destroying and fear inducing event his followers were out on the streets boldly declaring that Jesus was alive, no longer afraid, no longer filled with fear. Many disciples of Jesus would be killed, with one of them, soon after Jesus’ death, stoned to death because of his unwavering declaration of who Jesus is, whilst many others would be put in prison, beaten up and rejected. Yet despite this they continued to boldly claim that their dead Master was no longer dead, that he was actually alive, alive in a way that no one could have ever imagined, an event totally unique in and beyond all time and space that Christians have consistently struggled to explain what happened and the significance of it. . .