Throughout Western culture, today is known as “Good Friday.” Christians commemorate this as the day on which Jesus Christ gave His life as payment for the sins of mankind on a hill outside ancient Jerusalem. The hill was called Golgotha – “the place of the skull.”
Jesus was born in a stable in an obscure village named Bethlehem. He grew up in another obscure village known as Nazareth. He never traveled more than about 200 miles from His birthplace. He was not known beyond Nazareth until He began His public career. And that public career only lasted three short years.
His profession, prior to what he called his life calling of saving men from their sin, was a carpenter. During his life, He never ran for public office, yet hundreds of millions have followed Him over two millennia. He never wrote a book, yet hundreds of thousands have been written about Him. He never became the patriarch of a family, yet untold millions consider themselves His children. From the time he began publicly teaching, he never had a house. He was never formally educated, yet He confounded the most brilliant sages of His time. He never commanded an army, yet his teachings have captured the hearts of mankind for more than 2,000 years.
In short, none of the characteristics associated with some of the greatest men of history such as Pharaoh Ramesses II, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Fredrick the Great, Charlemagne, etc., are associated with Jesus.
At the end of his earthly life, some believed that He was the long-awaited Messiah that Israel’s prophets predicted would come. But the religious leaders of Israel condemned Him as a false prophet and a blasphemer on the grounds that He claimed to be the Son of God, thus making himself equal with God. So Jesus was condemned for claiming to be exactly what the Hebrew prophets predicted the true Messiah would be.
When the religious leaders forced the Roman governor to try him for promoting the overthrow of Roman rule, the governor, Pontius Pilate, officially declared that he found no fault in him.
As He stood before His accusers, even the men that he chose as his apostles deserted him.
At his execution, only his mother, his aunt, a disciple named Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John remained with him till the end.
Humanly speaking, there is nothing about Jesus that explains the fact that, 20 centuries after His birth, He stands as the most influential figure who ever existed in human history.
The one event that changed it all was this. Jesus hurled a challenge at His bitterest enemies that what He claimed and taught would be proven true when He would be raised bodily from the dead on the third day.
His cowering and disillusioned disciples suddenly became bold as lions and fearlessly proclaimed that they were witnesses to the fact that they saw him bodily alive after the third day. More than 500 of Jesus’ followers were immediately transformed and never changed their witness to the fact that they saw Him bodily alive and talked and ate with Him. Most of these suffered terrible martyr’s deaths. But not one recanted of his witness.
As someone eloquently summed up the paradox of Jesus’ life in a poem called “One Solitary Life,” “… Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the Kings that ever reigned – put together – have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.”
It is an undeniable fact that the calendar by which the civilized world marks the passage of time dates to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Even though Jews and Muslims use a different calendar, they still have to deal daily with the BC/AD calendar.
There are many paradoxes about Jesus. But perhaps the greatest is what a Jewish prophet named Isaiah predicted about him 750 years before he was born. Note that all through this prophecy Isaiah uses the pronouns “we” and “us,” which could only refer to Isaiah’s own people, the Israelites. So the suffering servant here could not be a poetic symbol of Israel as a nation, since the servant dies for Israel.
Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked –
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth. [Isaiah 53:1-9 NKJ]
Could any paradox be greater?
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