JESUS Christ, the central figure of Christianity, was born in Bethlehem in Judea. The chronology of the Christian era is reckoned from a 6th-century dating of the year of his birth, which is now recognized as being from four to eight years in error. Christians traditionally regard Jesus as "the incarnate Son of God," and as having been divinely conceived by Mary, the wife of Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth.

The name Jesus is derived from a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Joshua, or in full Yehoshuah (Jehovah is deliverance). The title Christ is derived from the Greek christos, a translation of the Hebrew mashiakh (anointed one), or Messiah.

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"Christ" was used by Jesus' early followers, who regarded him as the promised deliverer of Israel and later was made part of Jesus' proper name by the church, which regards him as the redeemer of all humanity.

At the age of 33, his ministry in this world ended. He died for our sins -- for all of us. First Peter 3:18 pointed this out: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just of the unjust, that he might bring us to God."

By the way, here's how Great People of the Bible and How They Lived chronicled Christ's last day on earth: "At about 9 a.m., a small procession left the Antonia and slowly made its way to Golgotha ("place of the skull"), a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem where prisoners were executed. It was so named because its contour resembled a human skull. Jesus was accompanied by two other prisoners, a centurion and a few Roman soldiers.

"When they reached Golgotha, the soldiers stripped off the men and divided them among themselves as the crosses were assembled. Jesus suffered in silence as the soldiers nailed his wrists to the crosspiece with large iron spikes and drove another spike through both ankles. As they lifted his cross upright, his weight was supported by a peg jutting out from the cross between his legs. The soldiers placed a sign on the cross, proclaiming, and 'This is Jesus the King of the Jews.'

It was a slow and painful death. Dr. Alexander Metherell -- a consultant to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health of Bethesda, Maryland - interview by Lee Strobel for his book, "The Case for Christ," explained how Christ died: "Once a person is hanging in the vertical position, crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.

The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.

"After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again, he'd have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn't be able to push up and breathe anymore.

"As the person slows down his breathing, he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis - the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to an irregular heartbeat. In fact, with his heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that he was at the moment of death.... Jesus died of cardiac arrest."

But before he died, Christ delivered what is now known as His seven last words. His first cross utterance: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). This was closely followed by: "Verily, I say to you, today shall you be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).

At the crucial moment of His life, some family members and friends paid a visit to Him. When He saw them, he told to Mary (His mother), "Woman, behold your Son" and then turning to his disciple John, he urged to take care of her and said, "Behold your mother." Read John 19:26, 27 for further details.

Here are the four remaining last words He uttered: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46); "I thirst" (John 19:28); "It is finished" (John 19:30); and "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). After saying all these, he perished.

"Later that afternoon," notes The Great People book, "one of Jesus' wealthy Jerusalem followers, Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pontius Pilate and asked him for Jesus' body, so that he might give him a proper burial. After making sure that Jesus was in fact dead, Pilate agreed to let Joseph take the body. The kind man removed Jesus' corpse from the cross and prepared it for burial." John 19:39-42 relates that Joseph was assisted by Nicodemus.

"Joseph bound the body from head to foot in clean, white linen strips, sprinkling fragrant species between the layers. When he had finished, Joseph carried Jesus' body into his garden, where there was a tomb that had been hewn out of a large rock. Inside near the rear of the tomb was a couch, also of stone, and Joseph gently placed the corpse upon it. Then he rolled a heavy stone across the entrance and returned to his home."

"The death of Christ has a prominent place in the New Testament of the Bible. The last three days of our Lord's earthly life occupy about one-fifth of the narratives in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)," writes Henry Thiessen in Lectures in Systematic Theology. "If all the three and a half years of His public ministry had been written out as fully as the last three days, we would have a 'Life of Christ' of some 8,400 pages!"

One Bible scholar commented that the death of Christ is mentioned directly in the New Testament more than 175 times. Since there are 7,959 verses in the New Testament, this would mean that one out of every 53 verses refers to this theme.

More than that, the death of Christ is the essential thing in Christianity. Writes Thiessen: "Other religions base their claim to recognition on the teaching of their founders; Christianity is distinguished from all of them by the importance it assigns to the death of its Founder. Take away the death of Christ as interpreted by the Scriptures, and you reduce Christianity to the level of the ethnic religions.

"Though we would still have a higher system of ethics, were we to take away the cross of Christ, we would have no more salvation than these other religions. Napoleon said when banished to St. Helena, that Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and he found mighty kingdoms on force, but that Jesus Christ had founded His on love. This is true, if we mean love expressed in His substitutionary death."

In his book, Jesus Christ Our Lord, Dr. John Walvoord agrees: "Christ in His death fully satisfied the demands of a righteous God for judgment upon sinners and, as their infinite sacrifice, provided a ground not only for the believer's forgiveness, but for his justification and sanctification."

Book of all seasons

IN the third century, there was a monk named Antony who lived a lifetime all alone in the endless desert of Egypt. Despite his isolation, he kept up a lively correspondence with many of the prominent personalities of the day. Emperor Constantine would write to ask for his advice. Other hermits would write asking for his prayers.

One day, one of the monk's pupils expressed surprise that even kings and emperors wrote him. The saintly hermit answered, "Think nothing of it. What the emperor writes is nothing special. And what the other famous people write about is not even worth mentioning. As a matter of fact, I know of only one letter which is really worth reading, and re-reading, and thinking about."

Coming from the mouth of the monk, he was surprised to hear that such letter existed. He wanted to know who could have written such a special kind of letter. So, Antony told him, "The letter that I am talking about was written for us, humans, by God Himself. We call it the Bible."

"The gospel is not a book; it is a living being, with an action, a power, which invades every thing that opposes its extension, behold! It is upon this table: This book, surpassing all others. I never omit to read it, and every day with some pleasure," said French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

American presidents believe in the sanctity of the Bible. Nobel Peace Prize winner Woodrow Wilson said, "When you have read the Bible, you know it is the word of God, because it is the key to your heart, your own happiness, and your own duty." Even before him, there was Abraham Lincoln, who admitted, "I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good of the Savior of the world is communicated to us through the Book."

Famous authors also draw inspiration from the Bible. French writer Victor Hugo said, "England has two books; the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England." German writer and scientist Goethe commented, "I look upon all four Gospels as thoroughly genuine, for there shines forth from them the reflected splendor of a sublimity proceeding from Jesus Christ."

At one time, a man was asked to tell his favorite Bible verse. "And it came to pass," the man replied. This surprised the interviewer because it is not a quoted passage; although it is mentioned in the Bible several times, it is not a verse. Yet, the man insisted that "and it came to pass" was one of the meaningful to him.

In every trouble, he explained, he thinks of this Biblical line. The problem, the difficulty, did not come to stay; it came to pass. It came to leave its imprint upon his personality and his character. It came to teach its particular lesson. But it was not, of itself a finality. It did not come to stay. It came to pass.

And so it came to pass that a prisoner was locked up to a solitary confinement and was given a Bible as his only companion. So, he studied it very carefully for several years. Long before the days of computers, he discovered the following facts:

The Bible contains 3,586,489 letters and 773,692 words. It has 31,173 verses and 1,189 verses. The word "and" occurs 46,277 times. The middle verse in the entire Bible is verse 8 of Psalm 118. All the letters of the alphabet are found in Ezra 8:21. The longer verse is Esther 8:9 while the shortest is in John 11:35.

The prisoner discovered all these facts but nowhere in the story revealed that the message of the Bible touched the prisoner's heart. Yes, he missed the main point. "I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus said (John 14:6).

Is the Bible inspired by God for real? Robert Dick Wilson, fluent in more than 45 languages and dialects, concluded after a lifetime study of the Old Testament: "I may add that the result of my 45 years of study of the Bible has led me all the time to a firmer faith that in the Old Testament, we have a true historical account of the history of the Israelite people.? And respectable newsweekly Time declared: "Reputable scholars now believe that the New Testament account is reliable history."

"This book had to be written by one of three people: good men, bad men or God," British religious leader John Wesley said. "It couldn't have been written by good men because they said it was inspired by the revelation of God. Good men don't lie and deceive. It couldn't have been written by bad men because bad men would not write something that would condemn themselves. It leaves only one conclusion. It was given by divine inspiration of God."

Back in the old days, a hunter got lost in the forest several times. He was rather young. So a friend bought him a compass. But despite that, the young hunger got lost again. When found, he was asked if he had his compass with him. He did.

Why didn't he use it? He answered that he did not dare to. He wanted to go south and he tried to make the thing point south, but it would not work. As he said, "It would shake and shake right around and point north every time."

Many people want the Bible to point the direction they want to go, rather than the direction the Bible wants them to go.

Just remember this: "All Scripture is God-breathed and He doesn't waste His breath," to quote the words of Jim McCotter.