The Man from Galilee




What causes Jesus of Galilee to be the focus of such loyal following, controversy and study by scholars and people of various walks of life and religious denominations two millenia after His life on earth? His ministry split the Jewish community, invoked a Roman crackdown and resulted in His own bloody death and that of followers who accepted martyrdom for the Christian cause.

An analysis shows it was more than a reputation as a miracle worker, who could convert water into wine, walk on the Sea of Galilee and calm its storms and rise from the dead.

No single person in history comes close to the fascination mankind has had for this once obscure Nazarean down the ages. Actually the Messiah has gripped imaginations even longer than 2,000 years. Prophets like Isaiah looked forward to His arrival as the savior of mankind. In fact, scripture reveals Jesus' coming fulfilled about 365 prophecies of the Old Testament.

His birth as a human was startling, considering who He was and from where He came. Despite His kingdom and power as creator of the world, as the Bible relates, He wore no crown or royal robes and disdained a castle. Instead He was born into a carpenter's family of a simple, teen-aged Jewish girl, impregnated by the Holy Spirit before final wedding vows with Joseph, His step-father.

The King of heaven and earth crossed over the threshold of humankind, it is believed, in a lowly cave or stable. He came naked and bellowing, just like us; born to die, but what a difference His death has made!
Little is known of His life until he was 30. He learned the carpenter's trade as a boy and apparently worked with wood under the watchful eye of his stepfather, Joseph. How sadly ironic that this sinless victim would pour our His lifeblood at the age of 33 on a wooden execution device.

In physical appearance, Christ probably differed little from other Jewish men. Isaiah 53:2 notes: "He grew up like a tender shoot, and like a root on dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him."

Scholars theorize that Jesus was probably of medium height and slender, according to the stature of Semitic men of the time in Palestine. But as a carpenter, working hard in shaping wood products, He was physically fit, able to withstand the rigors of trekking across the dusty miles of Palestine during His three-year ministry.

His eyes would have been dark and His complexion swarthy, like other Semitic people. His skin might have been pockmarked because smallpox was common then. There is speculation that He had the usual aquiline nose and beard.

Though He resembled His peers physically, Jesus possessed unique characteristics that attracted multitudes and made people listen intently as He preached. A specialty was relating parables with religious and moral overtones, kept simple yet profound, with enormous impact.

Jesus made no pretense of offering worldly riches, though some thought He would establish a political kingdom. He made no promises of an easy life; to the contrary, He was quoted as saying, "Pick up your cross and follow Me." That turned out to be the fate of some of His closest followers who suffered terrible deaths for refusing to renounce Him.

It is hard for us today to imagine the force of such a personality. His power and presence were electrifying, as indicated in Matthew 4:19-20, which describes how two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, were casting nets into Lake Galilee:

"Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed Him."

Similarly, a little later verses 21-22 relate, two other brothers, James and John, were in a boat with their father, Zebedee:

"Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him."

His oratorical skills extended delivering an effective message long before electronic public address systems were known although sometimes natural settings allowed His voice to carry for large crowds to hear. And thousands did turn out to see and hear Him. It's estimated, for example, that perhaps 20,000 people were present for his preaching near Bethsaida where the miracle of the multiplying of loaves and fishes occurred.
When He cured the paralytic, the man had to be lowered through a hole in the roof of a building because it was so jammed with onlookers that access was otherwise impossible.

He was greatly gifted in other ways. Even in childhood, Christ's had extraordinary wisdom and a brilliant mind. Luke 2:46-47 tells how He taught amazed rabbis of the Jerusalem Temple when only 12. This is only one of the few references to His childhood that Bible history presents for His life during this period is shrouded in mystery. Not until He began public ministry at the age of 30 does Jesus step out of the shadows of obscurity to become the most famous man in history. Only then are works revealed that defy the standards of human potential.

With unmatched intellectual and spiritual insights, Jesus was able to out-maneuver the devious Pharisees and Sadducees who were trying to trap Him in violations of Roman and Jewish law.

He called for a coin when they tried to persuade Him to deny the civil authority of Caesar. He noted Caesar's image and declared simply, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."

The conspirators, seeking His death, tried to convict Him of healing on the Sabbath. He pointed out that even they would work to rescue an ox trapped in a well on the Sabbath, adding that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

The cabal continued as plotters tried another tack in urging him to condone the death by stoning of a prostitute under provisions of Jewish law. Christ frustrates them by saying, let him without sin cast the first stone. He traces words in the sand until everyone departs but Jesus and the woman and He forgives her. The story poses one of many Bible mysteries: What did He etch into the ground?

Jesus was selective in moving through the circles of society, and didn't spend much time with the upper classes. In some ways, His social interaction had parallels with Mahatma Gandhi's passages through villages in India to encourage non-violence and political and economic freedom from colonial Britain. Jesus' message, delivered personally and through the disciples He guided, was more on the order of love, repentance, salvation and freedom from the bondage of sin.

In a manner of speaking, Jesus generally skipped the Brahmins and ministered generally among the untouchables: lepers and other sick people; the poor and needy and workers of the soil and sheep and goat herders.

There were times, to the discomfiture of upper class religious leaders, when he breached convention and mingled with despised tax collectors, such as Levi. Another was Zaccheus, who is described in Luke 19:3 as a "short man." In the oasis town of Jerico, he wanted to see what Jesus was all about but couldn't because of a crowd. So he climbed a tree and according to Verse 5, Jesus "looked up and said to him, 'Zaccheus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today'."

(A sidelight of a visit to Jericho by my wife, Nancy and I was passing near a sycamore tree said to be like the one in the Zaccheus story. A local gentlemen plucked leaves from the tree to present to passengers on our tour bus)

The Jewish leaders who lambasted Jesus for consorting with such poorly-regarded people must have been taken aback by His response. According to Matthew 9:12-13, Jesus shot back:

"It is not the healthy, who need a doctor, but the sick. . .I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus was said to nurse the so-called "Messianic Secret" to temporarily mask His role as the long-awaited Redeemer of mankind. So early on He tended to remain in Galilee, despite entreaties by His "brothers" to expand His ministry to Judea. He reasoned that His "time" had not yet come.

Considering that, it is perplexing that He took chances and was blunt and outspoken in ways that would seem to attract attention of authorities. For example, He publicly castigated the hard-hearted leaders who grew rich at the expense of the poor, describing them harshly as liars and whitewashed tombs with death and decay inside, who belonged to their father, the devil.

Though his demeanor was ordinarily humble, He was a strong leader, and could explode in righteous anger. One such episode occurred when He flipped over tables and forced money-changers from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem because they were sullying the sanctity of His "Father's house."

In truth, Christ was a radical revolutionary, teaching a way of life that was in sharp contrast to the secularism and culture of His time, and which prevails in societies today. So much so that He has been described as a stranger to His time.

Jesus preached non-violence and urged love of God and brothers but paradoxically maintained that families would be turned against their own members for His sake. The point was that some would follow Him and be saved while others would remain mired in sinful lifestyles.

Christ's eloquence was undeniable as He spelled out counsel for fostering love and healing in human relationships. Some of His guideposts undoubtedly could be construed as hyperbole today when families zealously guard against theft and identity appropriation via computer hackers and other criminal methods.
In our tendency toward self-defense, how do we conform to the precept that if a robber steals your coat, you freely turn over other clothing? Or if someone strikes a blow, turn the other cheek.

More comprehensible is His warning against the motives of the rich in victimizing the poor, which incurred the wrath of the well-to-do and the admiration of the have-nots, who flocked to hear His preaching and story-telling.

Christ's counter-culture philosophy included selling possessions to help the poor rather than trying to store up great wealth. He questioned worrying about tomorrow when today has enough problems In a particularly inspiring passage, Jesus declared, look at the lilies of the field, not even Solomon was arrayed so beautifully.

The sparrows are provided for, how much more will we be if we trust God, for we are worth much more than sparrows; even the hairs on our heads are counted.

The mosaic sketched in the Gospel of Christ laying out God's rewards for the faithful represents a spiritual heritage for the asking. It revolutionizes lives, leads to salvation and substitutes peace for chaotic selfish indulgence.

It's clear that one capability that riveted and enticed throngs was Christ's supernatural power as a healer and miracle worker, the greatest the world has known. He cured the blind, the deaf, a hemorrhaging woman, the lame, the insane; raised Lazarus from a tomb and drove out devils with such power and authority that they cowered before Him.

Furthermore, Jesus was a clairvoyant prophet who told the Jews, tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days. It was only one of several prophecies concerning His death and resurrection. He also predicted the destruction of Herod's rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, saying not one stone would remain on the other. It was leveled by Roman troops about 40 years after His death.

Christ fulfilled prophecy as well, telling His incredulous neighbors in the synagogue of His home town of Nazareth that He was living out His role as the Messiah. On another occasion, He told the astounded Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am." "I am," an old Testament expression for Yahweh or God, was familiar to the shocked Jews who wanted to know how He could know Abraham when He was not fifty.

How can we humans comprehend the measure of the love of the King of Heaven and the universe, who surrendered His life as atonement so we could be reconciled with God?

A friend, probably quoting someone else, described the life of Jesus as "the greatest story ever told about the greatest Man who ever lived with the greatest offer ever made."

A song-writer acquaintance aptly wrote:

"He made the lame to walk
"And caused the blind to see;
"He was more than just a man from Galilee."