Christians regularly celebrate the birth and the death of Jesus Christ at Christmas and Easter, respectively, but rarely His life. This raises the question of whether or not the importance of Jesus’ life, as well as His birth and death, is adequately perceived.
In this article we will address two basic considerations regarding the importance of the life of Jesus Christ:
- Jesus had to live a sinless life to be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
- Jesus taught how people can have a more abundant life, even on earth.
Jesus Had to Live a Sinless Life to Be the Perfect Sacrifice for the Sins of Mankind
In Old Testament times, God was willing to accept periodic sacrifices of unblemished animals as part of an atonement process that was supposed to reflect each person’s sincere repentance for past sins (see Exodus 12:5, Leviticus 14:10, Numbers 6:14, Ezekiel 43:23). This atonement process also necessitated genuine faith in God (see Habakkuk 2:1-4; Hebrews 11:4-32). However, most people – particularly, those who were not Hebrews – were not aware of this process, and even many Hebrews apparently did not have an adequate understanding of the importance of genuine faith in this process.
To provide a way for people of all ethnicities to have the opportunity to be forgiven for their sins through a process they could know and understand, God required a perfect sacrifice: someone who was completely sinless. Because of His love for mankind, God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to become that sacrifice (see John 3:16), since no ordinary human being could qualify.
While He dwelled on earth, Jesus Christ was God incarnate (i.e., in a human body). He had essentially all the characteristics of humans, including vulnerability to temptations. He had to deal with most of the same temptations that confront other humans, plus other temptations that most people never face, such as those during the 40 days He spent fasting in a wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-10 and Luke 4:1-12).
Despite the fact that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, it must have been extremely difficult for Him in human form to live a sinless life. Consider how difficult it is for us to live a sinless life for even a few days, much less for approximately 33 years, as Jesus did. No person other than Jesus Christ – not even the most saintly of Christians – will be able to claim that their life was completely sinless.
If Jesus Christ had not been obedient to God throughout His entire life, He could not have been completely sinless. Perhaps, the greatest test of His obedience occurred when He was praying to God in the garden called Gethsemane, just before He was taken prisoner, condemned to death, and then crucified. Matthew 26:39 says that, as Jesus was praying, He told God, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup [His fate to be crucified and die on a cross] pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise.]
Jesus Christ did not want to endure the horrible physical pain and death that would result from being nailed to a wooden cross. And, He did not want to experience the terrible, albeit temporary, estrangement from God the Father as He (i.e., Jesus) was dying on the cross (see Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). Nevertheless, as previously indicated in Matthew 26:39, Jesus was willing to endure these torments, if God decided it was absolutely necessary for Him to do so.
Even though Jesus Christ preferred not to suffer on a cross, He was willing to do so, because that was what God the Father wanted Him to do. Philippians 2:8 states, “[B]eing found in appearance as a man, He [Jesus Christ] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” If Jesus had not been willing to obey God, He would not have lived a sinless life and, therefore, He could not have been the perfect sacrifice demanded by God to atone for the sins of mankind (see Hebrews 5:7-9, 1 Peter 1:18-19). It was because Jesus Christ did lead a sinless life that He is the perfect sacrifice to atone for all the sins of everyone who sincerely trusts in Him as their Savior.
Jesus Taught How People Can Have a More Abundant Life, Even on Earth
In addition to the fact that Jesus Christ came to earth to die to atone for the sins of everyone who sincerely trusts in Him, He also came to teach people how to have a more abundant life, which begins as soon as they trust in Him as their Savior. In John 10:10, Jesus declared, “I have come that they [those who follow His teachings] may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
With regard to the Greek word that is translated as “abundantly” in John 10:10, Strong’s Concordance indicates that it can be translated as “superior (in quality)” or “beyond measure.” In other words, Jesus Christ wanted to provide His followers with a life that was superior in quality; perhaps, even beyond measure.
We want to emphasize that an abundant life is based on inner joy or contentment, not on success as measured by the secular world, and not even on the basis of personal happiness. Inner joy or contentment comes from having assurance that we are living in accordance with God’s will, as expressed in the New Testament, particularly by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Inner joy or contentment can exist – even thrive – in the midst of all kinds of adversities that occur in this world.
It is important to stress that every person who trusts in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation will have a more abundant life than if they had not placed their trust in Jesus. They will have greater inner joy or contentment because their sins have been forgiven and their eternal destiny – to enjoy the bliss of being with God forever – is assured. They will not need to be anxious as to what will become of them after their life on earth is terminated by physical death. Furthermore, a number of the teachings of Jesus that deal with matters other than eternal salvation suggest that it is possible for a person to have an even more abundant life. We will now consider several of these teachings.
Jesus Christ made it very clear that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love other people (see Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31). The more successful we are in living according to these two commandments, the greater our inner joy or contentment is likely to be. Genuine (i.e., unselfish) love elevates life to a higher plane than that experienced by people who have little regard for God and/or for other people. [For a more comprehensive discussion of the commandment to love other people, click on “Are Christians Supposed to Love Everyone?”]
Jesus Christ also taught that His followers should follow His example of serving other people, rather than expecting other people to serve them. In Matthew 20:26b-28, Jesus declared, “[W]hoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the son of Man [Jesus Christ] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Also, see Mark 9:35 and 10:43b-45.)
Joyfully serving (i.e., ministering to) other people is an excellent way of demonstrating our love for them. Conversely, wanting to be served by other people suggests self-centeredness. Those who desire to serve other people will generally find greater inner satisfaction than those who seek the opposite.
In addition, Jesus Christ taught that His followers should be willing to forgive repeatedly anyone who offends them. In Luke 17:3b-4, Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Also, see Matthew 18:21-22.)
Although forgiving others is often difficult, it is another way of showing our love for them. Furthermore, genuine forgiveness lifts the burden of animosity off the person who is able to forgive and enables that person to enjoy a greater sense of inner joy or contentment than would be possible by harboring resentment or hatred towards someone. [For additional perspectives regarding forgiving others, click on “Judging, Anger, and Forgiveness.”]
Another important teaching of Jesus Christ was that His followers not be anxious about whether or not they will have sufficient basic necessities for their existence. Worry undermines the quality of a person’s life. People who give God the highest priority in their life and aspire to trust Him are likely to worry less than other people about not only basic necessities, but also about most other matters. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus told His followers not to worry about what they would eat, drink, or wear. (Also, see Luke 12:22-31.) Jesus stated that God knows what we need, so we can trust God to provide for their needs, if we put the kingdom of heaven first in our priorities. [For a discussion of the kingdom of heaven, click on “What Is the Kingdom of Heaven and When Is It Coming?”]
The life of Jesus Christ was important not only because it was sinless, which enabled Him to be the perfect ultimate sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind, but also because Jesus taught us how to conduct ourselves so we can have a more abundant earthly life. It may be argued that there are one or more other noteworthy reasons why Jesus’ life was important (e.g., His healings of a number of people while He was on earth), but the people who benefited were relatively few in number compared with the hundreds of millions over the centuries since His death who have benefited as a result of the two basic reasons that we have discussed.
[Although the Appendix that follows does not pertain to the primary topic of this article, we have included it as a matter of possible interest.]
When Should Jesus Christ’s Birthday Be Celebrated?
Although we know that Jesus Christ died at the time of the Passover celebration, there is considerable uncertainty as to the month in which He was born. But, does it really matter when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus?
Luke 1:26 says that in the sixth month an angel appeared to Mary telling her that she would give birth to a son, and that son was Jesus Christ. Assuming Mary became pregnant soon afterward, she would have given birth about nine months later, which would be either June or December, depending on the particular calendar the angel had in mind when he made his prediction.
Based upon the sacred (Jewish) calendar, the first month would have been April and the sixth month would have been September. Therefore, Jesus’ birth nine months later would have been in June. However, based upon the civil (Roman) calendar, the first month would have been October and the sixth month would have been March, so Jesus’ birth nine months later would have been in December.
Luke 1:3 indicates that Luke’s letter was written to Theophilus, who is believed to have been a Roman official or, at least, to have held some type of relatively high position in the Roman government. This infers that in Luke 1:26, Luke was referring to the civil calendar.
On the other hand, Luke 2:8-9 notes that on the night that Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to “shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” This suggests that the weather at that time probably was relatively mild, so the month of Jesus’ birth is more likely to have been June, rather than December.
Also, it is likely that the census required by the Romans, which is mentioned in Luke 2:1-7, was during mild weather, so travel would not have been hindered by severe weather.
Furthermore, a footnote to Luke 23:44 in the New International Version of the Bible (the NIV) states that Luke used the Jewish method of time to designate the hours during Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, stating, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
Thus, most of the evidence indicates that Luke used the Jewish systems for determining dates and times. Therefore, based upon the Gospel of Luke, it seems likely that Jesus Christ was born sometime in June, rather than in December.
However, Luke 1:24-26 and 36 make a June birth date for Jesus less certain. These verses immediately follow a narrative about an angel appearing to the husband of Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, who subsequently became Jesus’ mother. The mention of “the sixth month” in verse 26 could refer to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, rather than to a specific calendar month. Verse 36 seems to confirm that this is indeed the case. Therefore, Jesus may have been born in a month other than either June or December.
It is our belief that the month when Jesus Christ was born does not matter. What is important is not only that Jesus was born, but also that He died to atone for the sins of mankind, and that He was resurrected after three days, thereby proving that He is the Son of God and that He has ultimate power over death.