1. What do we know about Jesus’ birth? The historical Jesus was a Galilean, Jewish peasant born in the year 4 BC. Most scholars doubt he was actually born on December 25th. The early church gave Jesus this birthday many years later (and for a variety of reasons.) Perhaps the earlier date had been lost or forgotten. Some argue that pagan Roman festivals were already held on the 25th, so one might have merged with the other. What matters is this: Jesus enters human history around the year 4 BC.
2. How did Jesus die? He was crucified around the year 30 AD. He was executed by the Roman Governor of the Province of Judea. His name was Pontius Pilate. Jesus’ message and activities threatened and undermined the power of the religious and political authorities in Galilee and Judea.
3. Why did Jesus die? To some Jesus was too political. To others, Jesus was too religious. Some of his disciples wanted Jesus to be a military, political, and religious leader. It might be argued that Jesus died because he refused to be a general and wasn’t sufficient political or religious enough to please those who supported him.
4. What was Jesus’ message? Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He preached that a time would soon come when God would make all things right, new, and just. The imminent coming of the Kingdom of God would mark a total disruption of the existing social, political, economic, and religious order. “On Earth, as it is in Heaven”, as Jesus describes the Kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer.
5. How did Jesus teach? Jesus was a storyteller. He taught in parables which resonated with the working people who lived in rural Galilee and Judea. These parables are stories rich in morality, deep in meaning, and could be easily retold. Jesus was not a preacher in the sense most Americans understand preaching.
6. Is Jesus a Christian? No, Jesus was not a Christian. God is not a Christian. God is God. Jesus had no idea about our modern concept of denominations. Jesus was a 1st century Palestinian Jew. Churches, over the past two thousand years, have made Jesus a Christian. Jesus is worshiped by Christians as the Christ (from the Greek word Χριστός, Christós which means “the anointed one” a translation from the Hebrew word “Messiah”). When he died, Jesus didn’t envision Christianity becoming a global religion. It was after well after Jesus’ death that his friends and associates took Jesus’ ideas beyond Galilee and Judea. Notably, Paul of Tarsus is credited with helping bring Jesus’ message to Gentiles (non-Jews) around the Roman Empire.
7. Is Jesus the Son of God? Yes. Are you the Child of God? Yes. We are all God’s children.
8. Was Jesus aware that he was God’s son? I’ll answer with another question. Are you aware of the presence of God working in you? I hope so.
9. Is Jesus in Heaven? The resurrection is a living reality. Jesus is everywhere. God works in a divine milieu, to paraphrase the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin. Jesus is all around us if we’ll only take time to notice. We’re missing Jesus in the present if we are caught caught up searching for a medieval image of heaven.
10. Who were Jesus’ disciples? Jesus’ closest friends and neighbors became his disciples. Through the work of the disciples, Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom becomes a reality. Jesus himself is not the kingdom. We, all of God’s children, help our brother Jesus build the Kingdom of God. This is what disciples do. We are the disciples.
Richard Lowell Bryant