Picture yourself there, in first century Israel. I must warn you, though, it will not be easy.
Your country is occupied by Roman soldiers. You must be careful what you say, even among long-trusted friends for you have heard stories of fellow Jews being spies for the enemy. Lifechanging sums of money are being offered to people who can point the way to anyone who might speak or act against the invaders. Last week they scourged a man you knew in the square until you could see the bones in his back. He died the next day.
Your family is hungry today but that is not a new thing. There has been a drought in recent years in this already dry climate and food has been scarce and expensive. Your daughter is very sick and you don’t know if she will live or die but you know she must eat. You have held back money to escape the outrageous tax the Romans demand for every denarius you make. If they catch you the penalty is unspeakable but what choice do you have? Even without paying the taxes it will not be enough to keep your daughter alive another week, let alone your whole family.
Every day you pray for God to save your family and your people but your hope is fading. You wonder if he is even listening. Does he care?
You must now go out and find another job because the day before soldiers came and pulled your gentle employer from his barn and in front of yourself and the man’s family, beat him until he was unrecognizable, set his home ablaze along with his barns and fields, and left with his unconscious body and all his livestock including your own mule. The cross they nailed your employer to could be seen in the distance from behind your own home, along with his wife and children at the foot of it. You can just make out their wailing in the dry wind. They accused him of sedition but there were no witnesses, no trial, they didn’t even let him speak in his defense.
Today is the Sabbath. Your employer was to give you a package of food as part of your weekly pay but that package burned in the fire so you must butcher your last chicken for the day’s food. If the Pharisees catch you working on a Sabbath it will not go well for you.
But, this morning… when you were at the well before dawn about to transport ten gallons of water the long half mile uphill to your home, you heard friends talking excitedly about a man who was going from town to town speaking about God to the people. Jesus of Nazareth, they called him. They were saying he spoke like no one they had ever heard, that he spoke with authority, not a shred of doubt in his voice. They said he healed people of their diseases and infirmities. Your friends told you that old Zebedee, the blind man who always begged at the market in Cana was healed, that he could now see. Your eyes widen; You know Zebedee. You had looked into his fogged over useless eyes. It turns your stomach a little just to remember the sight of them. But now your friends were telling you those eyes were as sharp and bright as a teenager’s, that Zebedee was running through the market leaping for joy and praising God!
Your friends had said this man, Jesus, was telling the people that God loved them, like a father loves his child. You started to cry at that point, thinking of how much you love your gravely ill daughter. They said that the Pharisees were trying to discredit him but Jesus rebuked them angrily right in front of a great crowd. They said he seemed to know what they were going to say before they said it. You are doubtful of what you heard, but your friends were full of hope. They were even saying he could be the Messiah.
Could it be possible? You want to believe there’s a chance, but you don’t want to be disappointed again. Still, if there’s any possibility your daughter could be healed, you have to take it. You don’t know where this man is now but quickly you pack up your whole family for a journey to see this man called Jesus. Your daughter is not fit to travel but she must. You will have to carry her however many miles it will be. As you start out along the dusty road you begin to pray again, hope now stirring within you.
That little story that I tried to place you in may seem like a shock but I am trying to get you to feel just a little of the brutality of the times for the first century Jew. Now you may think I am exaggerating the starkness and severity of the circumstances during that era. Certainly, every day for the first century Jew was not as awful as the day I have described here. Many days I am sure were almost business as usual for some, nothing overly dramatic happening aside from the everyday struggle to feed your family. But, it is very likely that almost everyone experienced days very much like the day I described or worse, even much worse.
Remember the situation I described a few chapters ago, the murder of all the toddler and infant boys in Bethlehem ordered by Herod the Great, called “The Massacre of the Innocents”. Remember the crosses that lined the roads between towns occupied by men dying in agony. Anyone suspected of insurrection in any way was punished promptly as an example to others, to make people think twice about rebelling. To accuse and punish a Roman citizen, a trial was required, but to accuse and punish or even execute the people of the country you occupied was a different matter and proper channels were not always followed.
Jesus was not only born into the proud race of the Jews, but born into their desperate situation. Is it any wonder that they flocked to him. The Jews of the first century were desperate for any hope at all, and wherever Jesus was, hope was there also.
That was from my book.