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
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
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
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
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
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
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."