I’m watching the TV series “Jesus: His Life” on TV – I have reached episode four so far. I don’t totally recommend it, but you might like it. However, I am not here to promote the series but to explore some aspects of the life of Jesus that sprang out of it for me.
See the trailer here:
One review said:Source: lightworkers.com
The History Channel’s ‘Jesus: His Life’ is an eight-part-event set to premiere on Monday, March 25th which depicts the life of Jesus and His ministry from the perspective of those around Him—including His family members, friends and loyal followers. According to The History Channel, “Jesus: His Life explores the story of Jesus Christ through a unique lens: the people in His life who were closest to Him. Each of the eight chapters is told from the perspective of different biblical figures, all of whom played a pivotal role in Jesus’ life including Joseph, John the Baptist, Mary Mother of Jesus, Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Mary Magdalene and Peter.”
Personally, I felt creeped out by Joel Osteen who was one of the commentators, and slightly miffed when another ‘expert’ openly challenged some biblical facts – I suppose they were trying to be “fair”, but when you are presenting bible facts, it’s not “fair” to say – “well, the bible says this, but I THINK…..”
Nonetheless, it’s useful as an introduction for people who haven’t thought about Jesus, or who have a distorted idea of the facts.
For me, despite finding the American acting a bit too schmaltzy for my liking, with a good amount of “hamming it up”, it was thought-provoking enough to be watchable.
Mostly, it helped me appreciate the very human aspects of the life of Jesus: his relationship with his mother and brothers, his sorrow when John the Baptist and Lazarus died, and his frustration with the religious questions and accusations of the elders.
The Emotional Life of Jesus
As it happens, I was reading the gospel of John at the time, so I was encountering the more complete bible text alongside the dramatisation.
I would definitely recommend checking out the scriptures themselves, if you watch this or offer it to others, because the drama covers events very quickly and in a summary form that is irritating if you know what the bible says, and you end up shouting at the screen, “that’s not how it happened!” (Especially when a smug commentator then tells you that, well, it might have been different to what the bible reported.)
A few things that stood out afresh for me:
One, the human stigma of his supposed illegitimate birth, that followed Jesus all his life. The series began of course with Mary becoming pregnant and having to explain it to Joseph – who, in the drama, trashes his workshop and shouts a lot as a result.
However, the action then skips to their wedding [but see my note below] and doesn’t cover the reaction of the townspeople, relatives and religious dignitaries who all must have been aware of the situation – that is, from a purely human standpoint.
In those days, the very idea of marrying a woman who had conceived “out of wedlock” was abhorrent, and Joseph as we know was minded to “put Mary away quietly” so she would not suffer the fate of an unclean woman, which might even have led to her being stoned for adultery since she was betrothed to Joseph at the time (a situation that was as indissoluble as the actual marriage).
As this site says:
The whole social structure was set up for children to be born within marriage. Genealogy and ownership of children was seen as very important. Girls who became pregnant outside marriage would probably have had to leave their homes and their families. There was the potential of being sold into slavery or of being stoned to death. She may have been married off quickly or banished from her home and village, which may have led a women to prostitution or slavery when she had no way of supporting herself. According to the New Testament, Joseph, after being visited by an angel, decided not to send her away or to expose her but to marry her. [Source]
[My note] At first glance there appears to be a discrepancy about the marriage of Joseph and Mary in the bible texts. Luke 2:5 suggests the couple were ‘betrothed’ when they set off for Bethlehem to take part in the census. The word betrothed is identical to that used is Luke 1:26-27, where Gabriel visited a virgin named Mary “pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.” The Greek verb mnesteuo was translated identically in both verses.
The text also states that Joseph did not have marital relations with Mary until after Jesus was born, (Matthew 1:25) so did they actually marry in Bethlehem?
This situation would have been scandalous at the time, but makes sense on a spiritual level, since Joseph presumably believed Mary’s account of the conception, and neither of them wanted to introduce a doubt about Jesus’ parentage that could have been even more detrimental to him in later years.
See more here: Biblical Archeology
When reading John chapters 8 and 9, which begins with Jesus not condemning the adulterous woman, and demonstrating that the holier-than-thou men who wanted to stone her were just as guilty as she was, it then continues to the accusations of the Pharisees that Jesus is not only a self-appointed charlatan but – more hurtfully – illegitimate.
This ‘fact’ surely must have followed Jesus wherever he went, and it must have been hard to bear, since he knew that God was his Father! (John 8:14).
Since Jesus had told the Pharisees “I know where I come from” they retort “where is your father?” which amongst other things is an implication that his father isn’t the man who is married to his mother (which of course is very true).
A little later when the Pharisees boast that they have both God and Abraham as their father, Jesus implies they are “of their father the devil” in fact.
They retort, “we are not born of fornication!” They are both defending their own godly origins and making a sideswipe at the origins of Jesus, whom they believe to be a demon-possessed impostor.
Jesus Suffered As We Do
All of this – in both the TV show and the gospel reading – made me aware how painful it must have been, in human terms, for Jesus to hear his mother maligned and to bear the accusation that he was born out of wedlock.
For Jesus as for Mary, it seemed a hopeless task to convince normal people – even godly Jews – that Jesus had been born of God! It took a huge leap of faith, but maybe that was the intention.
Yet also, it came across vividly in the TV drama that Jesus – while loving his mother and family deeply – had to set aside family obligations and the natural feelings of the flesh, in order to commit his life to his Father.
On a number of occasions, we see Jesus making the point that his commitment to God, his dedication to his followers, his love of his spiritual family, had to take precedence over human feelings, even those for his mother, who must have felt hurt by this statement when she came to visit him: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” [Matthew 12:46-50]
Later saying: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37
So once more, we see human emotions and genuine good feelings that are natural to us all, being surrendered to a higher purpose and calling.
A Close Friend Dies
My second revelation about the emotions that Jesus must have endured in his time on earth relates to the raising of Lazarus.
It was rightly established in the TV drama that the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus were especially close to Jesus, and the bible called Lazarus ‘beloved’ using a term that denoted an especially close familiarity and fondness. (John 11:3-5)
Therefore, for Jesus to hear that his great friend was dying, and that his sisters needed his help must have made his heart break with sadness, because his Father had instructed him NOT to go to the bedside but to wait.
The Father’s Will versus Our Desires
Here is a lesson we must all learn: which is more important, to heed the strong desires and emotions of the flesh and to let them instruct our response, or to wait on God for HIS instruction and guidance, and be guided by him alone – despite our own wishes?
Jesus had had that same dilemma before – probably many times – but we know that he was driven into the wilderness after his baptism, there to be taunted and provoked and tempted by the devil who knew just which buttons to push.
Each temptation was aimed at the flesh – the needs of the body, the desires of the mind and the feelings of the soul. Yet on each occasion Jesus responded by deferring to his Father and not to Himself (even though he knew himself to be one with the Father.)
Here was the beginning of his willing submission of flesh to the spirit; the pure humanity of Jesus bowed in obedience to the inner spiritual call of the Father. Both flesh and spirit were equally sinless, yet one took precedence over the other. Both flesh and spirit could do ‘good’, but only that which the Father directed would do ‘right’.
Was it not a good thing to create bread when he was hungry, or be saved from death by the angels, or gather the whole world in peace and harmony to himself as their Lord and King? [Matthew 4:1-11]
Yet Jesus sought the will of God his Father, not his own will, and certainly not the will of the devil. In doing so he healed the world of the sin of Adam and Eve, by becoming the Second Adam on our behalf, and refusing to bow to the subtle lies of the devil.
Lazarus is Dying
The flesh must die once more. Jesus is not far from Bethany. A messenger reaches him: “Lord, the people you love are in trouble and grieving, your dear friend Lazarus is at death’s door. They know for certain you will be able to heal him. Come quickly before he takes a turn for the worse. They are relying on you!”
I feel sure that everything in his flesh yearned to go straight away, and that his heart was very sore at not being able to comply with his desires. What would they think of him if he delayed? Yet, he always sought the will of the Father.
In this case, he had to set all his emotions aside and tell the messenger, no, I’m not coming with you.
Now Jesus also had to face the confusion and probably indignation of those around him. They also knew he was a healer. They knew of his love for this family.
He told them, “This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4) and he stayed another two days before saying they would return to Judea (where, as the disciples pointed out, the Jews were baying for his blood.)
If that by itself did not alarm them sufficiently, the next statement did, because Jesus told them Lazarus was sleeping and he was going to wake him up!
However, when clarifying what he meant, Jesus caused yet more consternation by telling them plainly “Lazarus is dead”.
But – didn’t you say this sickness would NOT lead to death, Lord?
How hard it is to understand the ways of God with human thinking, for “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord God. We are not asked to understand, only to have faith and trust in God, who is perfect and is incapable of lying or doing wrong.
Going Back Into Danger
So far we have seen Jesus undergo many deep human emotions – love, sorrow, disgust, frustration and now the grief of losing a dear friend (remembering that he earlier had suffered the loss of his cousin and close companion John).
On reaching the tomb, Jesus wept. Yes, even knowing that he would raise Lazarus up, he wept – at the anguish of loss, the distress of Mary and Martha, the prevalence and power of sickness and death in this world, and the fact that human life is so frail and uncertain.
Yet the bible doesn’t say that Jesus was fearful of being back amongst his murderous enemies! He had reason enough to fear. As his followers pointed out, it had only been a short while since they tried to stone him to death for blasphemy.
He’d escaped on that occasion, but if it became known (as surely it would following such a miracle as the raising of Lazarus) that Jesus was “back in town and posing an even greater threat to religious law and order” then his life would doubtless be in great danger all over again.
Although knowing it was not yet his time, Jesus in his humanity must have experienced the grip of fear. He had to brush aside the nervousness of being so close to his enemies in order to obey the voice of his Father. Once again he had to die to the flesh – just as the bible commands us to do, as we walk in his steps day by day.
Romans 8:12-13 “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”.
Jesus Endured Death For Our Sakes
We might perhaps sacrifice our own feelings and desires for a good cause, for a good person, but Jesus sacrificed himself knowing that the majority would continue to mock and taunt and reject him.
He refused to go his own way, despite knowing (as the devil indeed reminded him) that he could have called a legion of angels to save him from suffering and death.
Jesus ended his short ministry as he began, under intense temptation from the devil.
Just as in the wilderness, in Gethsemane the horror of what he was about to undergo must have struck him like a hurricane. He KNEW, for “Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen, went forward and asked [the soldiers], “Who are you looking for?” [John 18:4]
Jesus KNEW all that would happen to him as a result of his surrender to his Father – since he would have witnessed the horror of crucifixion many times during his life.
Not only that, but he knew that during the dark night of his trial, he would need to meekly and silently endure false accusations, mockery, whipping – all these things, and perhaps worst of all the separation from his Father.
He also foreknew the fate of his disciples, the destruction of Israel, and the length of time that would need to pass before he could return as Lord and King.
Yet was all that even the greatest pressure?
Surely the devil suggested to Jesus, as he prayed in anguish and distress, alone in that garden, that he had not been sufficiently obedient to God so as to escape the fate of every other human being.
Could he really be raised from the depths of the earth, as the only blameless man, as sinless, or would he fail God and mankind at that crucial moment? Had he completely and faithfully fulfilled the will of his Father in every aspect, so as to be totally sure of his resurrection?
We are not told what went through his mind, but it was enough to cause him to cry out in agony, sweating “great drops of blood” in his struggle against the flesh and the devil.
As Paul later said, which of us have resisted “to the point of bloodshed” as did our Lord on our behalf?
Heb 12:4 “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood”.
At the moment of greatest pressure, he “began to be deeply troubled and distressed”. And He told them, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death”…. He fell to the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour would pass from Him. [Mark 14:34-35]
Mark 14:36 “And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus suffered this great battle with the devil FOR US, so that we could claim HIS victory as our own. What a price he paid! Glory to his name!
As well as earlier occasions when he must have felt hope, elation, love, frustration, grief, loss, despair – what emotions might Jesus have had at this crucial Gethsemane moment?
But finally came the peace of knowing that his surrender to his Father’s will would carry him through the days to come, and result in a greater victory over the devil than mankind had ever seen: the redemption of mankind from the sin of Adam, and the promise of a new life in unity with God!
We cannot ever understand or experience what Jesus the Lord endured for our sakes, but we can learn from his reaction to his own feelings. As good and beneficial as some of them might have been, as natural and acceptable as they were, at a time of conflict with the Father’s will his perfect and sinless humanity had to take second place to his obedience to the Father – for:
“During the days of Jesus’ earthly life, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him”.