Nearly two thousand years ago, the Teacher taught in a crowded, downtrodden section of the Roman empire at the juncture of three continents. He taught a message that was gripping, revolutionary, liberating, and . . . unacceptable. It was that the Kingdom of Heaven, where God is in control of everything, was a matter of living selflessly, of considering others before oneself, of loving selflessly, and knowing God as the Father and Source of everyone. He called it “the Good News,” and urged everyone to turn from their present ways and trust the Good News, which he saw it as the purpose of his life (Lk 4:43).
His message was never well-received. According to one source, his first public lesson was such a hit that his hearers tried to throw him off a cliff when he implied that all peoples are equal (Lk 4:29). After that, he began teaching more carefully, performing miracles of healing to show the love of God to all, and using parables to teach the truths of the Kingdom to “those with ears to hear.” Parables put off most of his hearers (Mt 13:13), but he hoped some would listen with their hearts, and let the lessons penetrate their souls.
He openly disputed the religious teachers of his time for hiding God behind the screens of legalism, prejudice, and indifference. He concentrated his direct teaching only to a handful of friends he chose, but after more than two years of living with him, they were still not “getting it,” and were still embroiled in the prejudices of the time.
People constantly tested him. What about the Romans? The Samaritans? Adulterers? Possessed maniacs? You can’t mean to love them! But he did, and he showed it by doing it.
He spent hours alone in prayer in the hills. He taught that constant connection to the Father was essential, and that he himself could do nothing without Him (Jn 5:19.) But his friends still didn’t get it. At some point, he determined to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51), knowing that his greatest lesson would cost him his life. It was not an easy choice to make. “There is a baptism I still must receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!” (Lk 12:58)
That distress was not fear of death, but the frustration of trying to teach people who were unable to hear what he had to say, and time was running out. He emphasized the point “The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, and there is no one to say, ‘look here! Look there!’ For the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:20-21) In spite of this, even his disciples still hoped that he would become the divinely-anointed king of Israel, and drive the hated occupiers out of the country.
In Jerusalem, he was hailed as a hero, and then immediately went on to attack religion directly. He continued preaching and warned that the destruction of Jerusalem would take place within a generation, but that his followers should “look up,” and see him, even in the clouds. (Lk 21:20-33)
He shared a final, sacred meal with his friends, and used the Passover Seder to urge them to remember him. The final lesson was coming, and he knew it must not fail. Then the Lesson began. He was betrayed, arrested, “tried,” sentenced, mocked, beaten, scourged, And while being tortured to death, he forgave. . .