Word Count: 1496Christianity Begins
On a late afternoon, in about the year AD 33, two men were walking from Jerusalem to the nearby village of Emmaus. Their conversation centered on events that had occurred the previous week. As they journeyed, a stranger who seemed ignorant of these events joined them. Surprised, they asked him: "Are you the only person staying in Jerusalem not to know what has happened there in the last few days?" So they explained to him about a certain Jesus of Nazareth, "a prophet powerful in speech and action before God and the whole people. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to the Roman authorities to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we were hoping that he was the man to liberate Israel." Even more amazing, they went on to say, were reports from some women who visited his tomb that he was alive again, raised from the dead. Suddenly the stranger spoke: "How dull-witted you two are! And how slow to believe all that the prophets said. Was not the messiah bound to suffer thus before entering upon his glory?" Then he went on to clarify from the Hebrew scriptures all the passages that referred to himself. For the stranger was Jesus of Nazareth, of whom the two had been speaking.
Based on the life, death and coming to life again of Jesus Christ there has developed the world's largest religion, Christianity.
Expectation and Reality
The two men on the road to Emmaus were not simple common folk. They were a selected group of twelve followers, called disciples or learners, of Jesus who had known him for at least three years. During this period they had listened to all he said and had witnessed his amazing actions, such as healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and even bringing people back to life. They had become convinced that he was the Messiah who was to redeem Israel.
Israel wanted and expected redemption. This small Jewish nation, located in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, had for centuries looked forward to a time when their God would, through some decisive action, free them from outside oppression and establish Israel as the preeminent nation in the world.
The word messiah means "the lord's anointed," someone God has set aside for a specific task. Christians believe that Jesus, from the small town of Nazareth in Galilee, was that Messiah. They also believe that what he accomplished far exceeded the expectations of Israel. The Jews looked for a messiah exclusively for themselves, though his power and love would be such as to draw Jews and gentiles to a belief in the same God. Christians believe that Jesus, as God's son, accomplished something that was intended to benefit the whole world.
The Man and the Message
What Jesus said and did can be learned from the first four books of the Bible's New Testament. These books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are called Gospels, a word that means "good news," because they are his followers' written testimonies of what his life was all about.
The Gospels depict a man who was thoroughly inborn with the entire tradition of Israel's religion from the time of Abraham onward.
From what Jesus said and did his followers came to believe that God was perhaps acting through him in a very special way. Very possibly he was the one long awaited who would inaugurate God's kingdom on Earth. It was reasonable that they should think this, for they too were Israelites; and they saw in his words and deeds what portended to be the dawning of a new age. What dashed their hopes was his death, crucifixion was a punishment reserved for criminals. Then came the great surprise: He was raised from the dead and appeared to them again over a period of 40 days. This stunning event required a complete reassessment of what Jesus was all about.
It is this reassessment that forms the basis for the writings of the New Testament. The Gospels themselves are part of it, but it is more strikingly conveyed by the other 23 books, all written by his followers over the subsequent decades after he had left them.