Why Jesus Christ Is Still a Superstar
Byline: PAUL JOHNSON
TODAY is Good Friday. Jesus was probably born in 7BC and lived to the age of 33, so we are commemorating the 1970th anniversary of His death.
To us Christians, Jesus was the most important man who ever lived on earth, and His death on the Cross (followed by His resurrection three days later) was the culminating event of His mission to save mankind.
Those of my generation can remember when Good Friday was a particularly solemn, indeed sombre, day. Many people fasted. Others would eat only fish.
Shops, theatres, restaurants were all closed. It was a curiously sad, empty time, and the hours passed slowly.
Nowadays, Good Friday is almost like any other day. But the story of Jesus Christ and the horrible fate He suffered on the Cross is still with us. In some ways it is with us more positively than ever before.
In the 19th century and right up to the last war, cynical scholars, mainly German, sought to discredit the story of Jesus and the Gospels which tell it. They argued that Jesus was a mythical figure, who probably never existed, and the Gospels were invented, 100 years or more after the events they claim to describe, by early Christians anxious to establish the credentials of the religion in which they believed.
Today, the march of historical research has in turn demolished the anti-Christians. The existence of Jesus Christ and His ministry are now regarded as one of the best-authenticated events in the whole of antiquity, with four near-contemporary sources including eye-witness evidence. The epistles of St Paul were written even earlier, probably within 20 years of Jesus's death, by a man who knew those who lived on intimate terms with Jesus.
These historical researches do not, of course, in themselves prove that Jesus worked miracles or rose from the dead, merely that many people who lived then and saw Him thought He did. But they do establish, beyond possibility of doubt, that Jesus existed and lived the life recorded in the Gospels, ending in His crucifixion.
Personally, along with countless millions of other Christians, I have never had any difficulty in believing in this astonishing man. He is one of the most convincing characters in the whole of history. What leaps from each chapter of the gospels is not so much His divinity and holiness - though that is apparent on every page - as His humanity.
No wonder the Sermon on the Mount mesmerised those who heard it. In a harsh and brutal world, it reveals such a deep understanding of human nature, such a thrilling and uplifting response to it, that the words sometimes bring tears to my eyes even though I have read them countless times. The notion that such a passage could have been invented by early Christian propagandists - even if they had had the pen of a Shakespeare - is preposterous.
One is conscious always of the interplay between Jesus's subtlety and His simplicity, between His modesty and His strong sense of the authority invested in Him by his Father, between His powerful intellect and His loving, all-embracing heart. He is indeed a real, living, vibrant man - a man for all seasons and moods. He strikes a responsive chord in all of us, even those who resist and deny Him.
I have always been fascinated by Jesus's relations with women. In an age when men regarded the `weaker vessels' as mere houseworkers or beasts of burden or at most sex-slaves, Jesus always treated them as responsible, thinking adults, capable of the highest achievements of the human mind and spirit. …