Christian denotes a person who follows the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the accepted definition of Christian includes the belief that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinitarian God. This Son of God took on a fully human nature while remaining fully God. He allowed himself to be tried and executed so that he could open heaven for all of us and show us how to live to best get there. But is this all a myth, as some would assert? Or was Jesus merely a good teacher who people deified centuries later?
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Galilee to Jewish parents over two thousand years ago. But how can we be sure, this many years after the supposed events recorded in the New Testament, that Jesus was real and that he said the things that we read about in the Bible? The most reliable way would be using the same method we use to determine if any historical figure existed – go to reliable historical records.
Non-Christian historians like Tacitus, Seutonius, Pliny the Younger attest to the existence of an influential man who lived at the time of Jesus who fits many of the descriptions and events recorded in the collection of books called the New Testament. There are Jewish sources, as well, that negatively present the person of Jesus. (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia: Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ)
Taken simply as an historical record, devoid of the belief that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, as Christians believe, the New Testament includes events and persons who actually lived in the same era as Jesus. So, without claiming them to be inspired by God at this point, we can look to the New Testament to find something out about this man, Jesus. Balanced with secular chroniclers of the time, we see that Jesus, the man, did exist, did walk this earth, and did teach.
But Buddha existed and Mohammed existed, so what's the difference between believing them or believing Jesus? Why not be a Buddhist or a Muslim? The difference is that Jesus was not only fully a man living on the earth, just like you and me, he was also fully God. Of course, some will dispute this, but the fact remains that while he lived, he claimed divinity for himself. A man who claims to be God can only be one of three kinds of people, a charlatan, insane or who he claims. People don’t allow themselves to be executed for charlatans and fools.
Putting theological disputes aside, the critical issue we want to address is that Jesus came to earth to enable us to be with him for eternity in heaven. He could only do this if he were both God and man, something we as Catholics believe as the foundational belief, that Jesus has come to save us for all time.
He is called Jesus Christ, Christ being a title, of sorts. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states that "the word 'Christ' comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means 'anointed.' It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that 'Christ' signifies." (CCC, 436)
After living a fairly uneventful childhood, Jesus grew to manhood in his small hometown. At about the age of 30, Jesus entered public life with a dramatic display of his unique power; he turned water into wine at a friend’s wedding. For three years after this amazing event, Jesus traveled and taught thousands about his desire to have all people enter heaven and live in paradise with God.
Jesus taught that he was God, and that he would rise from the dead after allowing himself to be horrifically killed by the Roman State. Jesus fought against the hypocritical leaders of the Jewish religion and the corrupt political leaders of his day. He wanted people to accept the love that God offered and to live their lives in accordance with God’s word. When God’s word was distorted for personal and professional gain, Jesus became especially disturbed. It was these leaders who should have been living and teaching God’s forgiveness, love and compassion, not using their power for their aggrandizement.
As a fully human man, Jesus knows what we go through. He knows the pains, the struggles, and the joys that we experience. He is able to be with us during those times when we feel most abandoned. Christians believe that we should not only believe in Jesus, what he did and what he taught, but also have a belief in those teachings that have come down to us from the men and women who knew Jesus and were closest to him.
The teachings and examples of Jesus and his first followers have been recorded for us in the New Testament, a collection of books and letters from the first few decades after Jesus lived. The New Testament is the second part of a larger collection of books that Christians call the Bible. The first part of the bible is called the Old Testament and includes those books, poems, songs and writings that were part of the Jewish tradition leading up to the time of Christ.
Of primary importance, though, is to have a lived, real, and dynamic relationship with Jesus. Reading about him in the New Testament is of vast importance, as it helps us to get to know him better. How do we grow to love those people we know here on earth, but by getting to know them better. It is the same with Jesus. As we get to know him better, we grow to love him more.
If you would like to learn about this peace and joy that only Jesus can give, please contact us at the Parish. Look into joining one of our small groups. We are always here to help.