It is no exaggeration to say that Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection are the core of Christianity. All of the holidays and rituals of our church are built around the events in his life, and we understand him to be the visible actor in the story of our salvation. The way we understand God as having redeemed us is by studying the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
"Jesus Christ" is more than a name. "Jesus," the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name "Joshua" or "Yahweh is my salvation" was the name given at his birth and used among his family. "Christ" is the Greek word for "anointed." When we call our Savior "Jesus Christ" we are calling him "Jesus the Anointed One." To call Jesus the Christ in New Testament times would be a way of connecting him with the prophecy of the one who would come to redeem Israel. Jesus "the Christ" would have been the way a Greek-speaking Jew would have proclaimed Jesus' calling; a Hebrew-speaking Jew would have meant the exact same thing by calling Jesus "the Messiah."
His Early Life
We know very little about Jesus' life before he began his public ministry. We know the stories of his birth. The Gospel of Matthew tells us of the star and the visit of the Magi, and The Gospel of Luke tell us of the stable, shepherds, and the angel choir. We know that his parents fled with him to Egypt to escape King Herod's assassination attempt. We know of one visit to Jerusalem to the Temple to be dedicated as an infant and a second visit to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Passover when he was twelve years old. The gospels of Mark and John do not record any of Jesus actions before his public ministry. Practically all the rest of what we know about Jesus' life covers about three years.
His Public Ministry
Jesus did not follow a logical route to becoming a public figure. All of his actions and his sayings would have alienated him from the powerful figures of the day and from the general public as well. He preached sacrifice to the rich and comfort to the poor. His ministry was revolutionary even beyond its divine quality. He did not side with any political faction. He treated all people in a new way. Jesus treatment of foreigners, women, and children who would have been kept silent in his world sets an example that today's world is still unable to comprehend. We are still far from duplicating His way of relating to others. But we should still try.
Our Relationship to Jesus Christ
As the Savior of the world, Jesus is central to our salvation. Yet many people today feel they are denied access to the real Jesus. The problem is that Jesus and loyalty to his Church has been used to promote war, to justify discrimination, and to excuse abuse. Practically every one of Jesus teachings has been twisted around and used against people in his name. It is sometimes hard to see him as distinct from what his image has been used for. As I write this there are advertising campaigns running the slogan "What would Jesus drive?" References to Jesus are on every thing from diet plans to political platforms. It is a constant struggle to separate the Jesus who is our Savior from the cultural image.
The first thing to remember is that during his earthly ministry, Jesus did not side with who you'd expect him to. His disciples included both persons who cooperated with the Roman government like Matthew the tax collector and persons, like Simon the Zealot, who had pledged to fight the Romans. He was often harsh with members of the religious establishment and forgiving of people who were guilty of grievous crimes. Jesus did not do what was expected. We shouldn't expect him to do the expected today either. He may choose to honor the persons we most dislike and think we're superior to. We can, however, count on Jesus to do what he said he would do and that includes welcoming as family all who accept his invitation: all who accept his welcome.