Jesus was born in Bethlehem, around the year 6BC. Israel then was a small part of the Roman Empire, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a census the Romans had called to make their collection of taxes more efficient.
Until he was 30 Jesus lived in Nazareth, an obscure village in the Galilee region in the north of the country. We know almost nothing about him until he suddenly began to preach and teach in the villages round about.
His message was simple: The Kingdom of God is at hand repent and believe the Good News. What was striking, though, about Jesus’ teaching was that he believed that God loved everyone, not just the righteous or the religious of his day. Not surprisingly those who were righteous and religious thought he was leading the people astray.
Jesus attracted great crowds and quickly became one of the most famous men in the country. Crowds and fame made the Romans sense danger perhaps this itinerant preacher might raise an army, start a rebellion. People began to say of Jesus he is the King of the Jews and the Romans suspicions seemed confirmed.
Jesus began a long journey from the north of the country to Jerusalem, in the south. More and more were following him. He arrived in Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of the Passover, when the city was packed with people. He arrived on a donkey, thus fulfilling one of the best known of the prophecies concerning the messiah. He went straight to the Temple and drove out the money changers and those who sold the small animals used for the sacrifices very provocative actions. The city leaders feared a riot if the crowds continued to proclaim him king and messiah; they thought the nation would be better off without him. The Romans were also eyeing him with suspicion. But how to arrest him Jesus was always surrounded by crowds who would surely defend him.
But on a Wednesday night one of Jesus’ closest friends, Judas, came to the priests and offered to betray Jesus. Judas knew when his friend would be alone, for every evening Jesus came out of the city through the Golden Gate, crossed the river Kidron and stopped at the foot of the Mount of Olives, at a place called Gethsemane (which means the place of the olive press.) There he would pause to pray; there he could be arrested.
On Thursday night the plan was put into operation. Jesus was arrested late at night. Early in the morning he was condemned first by the city council and then by the Roman Governor, Pilate, who had the power to put him to death. He was whipped and then crucified. No one could save him. The charge against him, put onto the cross, was The King of the Jews. There could be no king that the Romans did not authorise; Jesus was dead. He was hastily placed in a tomb.
But Christians believe Jesus was not only a man, not just a holy man or a prophet. He was not just son of Mary, but also Son of God. Can you kill off God himself?
The answer is no. God’s power lies in his love; Jesus had always been loving and even on the cross spoke words of love and forgiveness (Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.) God’s love is the one power greater than death and evil. So when they went on the Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body properly for burial (they could not do this on the Saturday as no work was allowed on the Sabbath) they found the tomb empty. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus risen from the dead; he called her by name; he was not dead but alive forever!
Jesus is still alive, giving us a share in his victory over sin, death and evil. To be a Christian is to know Jesus is alive, and to know we are loved by God.