Below we have the latest installment of Bob Dunne’s book, 909 Days that Changed the World. We will post two chapters a week for the summer months. We suggest reading it quietly and putting yourself in the scenes. You might be amazed at how closer you can get to Jesus! Should you be interested in your own copy, the book ($14.95 plus sales tax) can be bought from his publisher Leonine Press, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is also available in Nook and Kindle. You may also get an autographed copy directly from Bob by emailing him at email@example.com.
For most of us, what we know about Jesus is shaped by the readings from the gospels we hear at church on a weekly basis, or maybe for the more adventurous among us, from reading the New Testament on our own from time to time. But even for the most devout, doesn’t it seem as if we hear the same stories, the same parables over and over again? And doesn’t it almost come to the point where we tune out the readings with the excuse, “I know how this one ends”? We hear the same bits and pieces about Jesus’ life, but most of us don’t know the full context in which these events of his life take place. We don’t know the framework or the particular circumstances surrounding the events about which we are hearing or reading. When did this part of Jesus’ ministry take place? What took place right before and right after this event in Jesus’ life? How could these people react this way? How do the stories and events of Jesus’ life as chronicled by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tie together? As a result of not knowing many of these details, much like bits and pieces we hear about current political figures, we don’t really think much about Jesus as a flesh-and-blood man—highlights, yes; parables, yes; miracles, yes; God, yes; but man, not so much.
But Jesus was a real man who lived for about thirty-three years some two thousand years ago. He was flesh and blood. He was God, and he was a man, and of those thirty-three years he lived on earth, there were about two and a half years (909 days) when his deeds, actions, and words were, years after he lived and died and resurrected, recorded for all to read. Although there have been many others who have written a “chronological” history of Jesus’ life, it seems to me most of them are either too long or too complicated for the “average” Christian to read and follow. It is the goal of this book to provide a chronological timeline of Jesus’ public life that will give the reader both a framework of Jesus’ ministry as well as help give a better understanding of Jesus as man.
This book very heavily relies upon Rev. Alban Goodier’s The Public Life of Jesus Christ, printed by P.J. Kennedy and Sons in 1944. Much of the chronology and descriptions have been taken from that book. Other sources include the gospels of the New Testament, Gospel Parallels by Burton Throckmorton, Harper’s Bible Commentary, as well as the personal reflections of this author. Although it is well established the gospels were not written as strict historical accounts, there seems to be enough internal and external evidence to recreate most of the events of the two and a half years of Jesus’ public life in a chronology that is between 75% and 90% accurate. It is not the goal of this book to attempt to fill in the additional 10% to 25%, but rather to use what people more skilled than I generally agree on in order to get to know Jesus Christ as the man he was 2000 years ago.
When reading this book, I would suggest you do so a little at a time. There are seventy-five chapters in the book. Read a chapter or two a day; take the weekends off. It will take you a couple of months to finish it—a perfect amount of time. On the other hand, if you are struck by the humanity of Jesus and want to read it more quickly, feel free to do so. The whole idea of this book is to make Jesus more personal, more “real,” and to get to know him as the warm, loving, and forgiving man he was (and is). As you read, ask yourself how you would have reacted to these events if you were there with Jesus and the others? What would you have said to Jesus if you were with him? What is this part of the story saying to you about your life? Use your imagination and place yourself in the middle of each event. Read it with as few distractions as possible. I promise this: If you read it thoughtfully and honestly, it will have a meaningful impact on your life, not because of the skill of this writer, but because of the inspiring humanity of Jesus Christ.
You will also note at the end of the book a table listing all seventy-five chapters, a brief description of what is in each chapter, and the corresponding chapters and verses from each of the four gospels. This will make it easy to use the book as a reference to put gospel stories you hear or read in their likely chronological context.
I would like to thank my children, Christina, Robb, and Nicole, whom I love dearly, for their encouragement and support. A special thanks to Nicole for helping design the cover of the book. The biggest thanks go to my wife, Paula, for all her support, love, devotion, and inspiration. I am a lucky man to be married to her. It is to my wife and children that I dedicate this book. If there is one thing I have personally learned from contemplating the life of Jesus Christ, it is that people are more important than things. Of all the people in my life, my wife and children are the most important to me. I am grateful for my parents, who have gone on to their reward, and for my four siblings, Kevin, Sharon, Patty, and Jeff. It was in our home in New Jersey where the seeds of this book were first planted. I would also like to thank my good friend, Tom Murphy, who proofread the manuscript and made many helpful suggestions. It would not be as complete a product if it were not for him. I would also like to thank the editor at Leonine Publishers for her careful, thoughtful work. Reflecting on and striving—albeit imperfectly—to exemplify the life of Jesus Christ is not only the way to eternal happiness but also earthly happiness. Jesus Christ is not only perfect God but also perfect man and, as such, he shows us how to be happy right now while we are here on earth. So let’s turn the page and begin together, following Jesus during his 909 days of public ministry.
To truly acquaint oneself with Jesus as a man, it helps to know the kind of country and environment in which he lived. I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with the map on the preceding page, as you will likely find yourself frequently turning to it during your reading. When you look at the map, you will notice the country of Palestine where Jesus lived was no more than eighty miles long and barely sixty miles wide at its southernmost and widest point. The whole of the country was smaller than the state of New Jersey; Jesus spent most of his life either in the northernmost sector of Galilee or in southern Judea. As small as this country was, the terrain was difficult to traverse. Traveling was done on foot, and even with mules or donkeys the pace was tediously slow. The “roads” were really just beaten tracks, frequently covered with fallen debris from trees or even boulders fallen from the hills. In particular, these roads ran up and down the mountainsides with little regard for the convenience of the traveler. With the exception of the coast of the Sea of Galilee and the Valley of Esdraelon (which stretches flat across country separating Samaria from upper Galilee), the whole of Galilee is mountainous. Almost everywhere, people faced hilly terrain.
The Jews from the northern part (Galilee) would often travel to Jerusalem for the various feasts. In making the journey from Galilee to Judea, there were two possible routes. There was one relatively level road along the Jordan River that, after crossing the Jordan in southern Galilee, lay largely in Peroea, directly to the east of Palestine until crossing again into Palestine near Jericho. The other road was through Samaria, which—with the exception of the flat Valley of Esdraelon—was hilly and difficult. Taking the road through Samaria also potentially exposed travelers to unwelcome attention from the Samaritans. Whether taking the shorter but more difficult road through Samaria or the longer but easier road along the Jordan River, the journey from Jesus’ home in Nazareth would have taken at least three days.
The relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was not a good one. The Samaritans were people of Jewish descent who, from the time of the Assyrian conquest in 772 BC, had intermarried with the Assyrians and come to adopt some of their pagan ways. They were viewed by the Jews of the other territories of Palestine as inferior, sometimes even lower than Gentiles. The Samaritans for their part built their own temple on Mount Gerizim as a rival to the temple in Jerusalem, sometimes claiming they were the true descendents of Abraham and separating themselves from their Jewish roots if the politics of the conquering armies made it convenient to do so. Tensions often ran very high between the two groups, and during Jesus’ life, the dislike for each other was already deeply ingrained. It is also important to have a good idea of the climate of Palestine during Jesus’ time and how the pace of life and work revolved around the changing seasons. In general, Palestine experienced four seasons. The rainy season arrived during the time of the northern hemisphere’s winter. The rains watered the fields that were sown with seed during the late fall. After the winter rains, the spring season exploded with flowers and crops. The late spring/early summer was the busiest time of the year. Mountains and plains were filled with cultivated fields that needed harvesting. After the harvest came the hot and dry summer season, which took place during the same time as the summer months in North America. It was during these summer months that the heat became intolerable and the pace of life dramatically slowed. When the fall season came around again, workers were again busy both harvesting the fall crops (generally fruits) as well as preparing their fields for the rains of winter that would help bring about spring crops. Because of the weather pattern, it was possible for people to have more leisure time in the summer, some in the fall, and more again during the rainy season. These seasons, in particular, allowed the people of Palestine to be freer to follow Jesus about, spend time listening to him in midday, and discuss among themselves who he might be.
One other thing we really need to remember: These events took place two millennia ago, when cars, telephones, newspapers, and the Internet did not exist. Not only was the travel long and slow, the pace of life was much slower than ours, and news traveled at a snail’s pace. People relied on travelers to tell them what was happening in other parts of the country. Information not only traveled slowly, but its accuracy was harder to ascertain. If we complain today about our news being biased, imagine the difficulty of figuring out fact from opinion in those days.
Therefore, with a general understanding of the geography, climate, and pace of life of Jesus’ time, we are ready to begin our journey to meet Jesus, the man who, in a short 909 days some two thousand years ago, in the little country of Palestine, changed the world…and looks to continue to change it even today.
Chapter One: John the Baptist
It is an unusually hot, dry, autumn day in the middle of October. Jesus is crossing the Jordan River and, like most in the caravan, is hot and sweaty and looking forward to cooling off in the water. These are the days approaching the Feast of Tabernacles. For safety and convenience, Jesus is traveling with a caravan of others from Galilee and has taken the Jordan River route. As mentioned in the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews, Joseph is already dead, so Jesus’ mother Mary is traveling with him. The late summer/early fall is not the busiest time of the year for tending to the fields, so there are many travelers on their way to Jerusalem for the feast. John the Baptist and his disciples, however, are stationed right at the river crossing and preaching to anyone who will listen, as travelers cross the Jordan from Peroea back into Judea on their way to Jerusalem. It is a good time to preach; there is much traffic.
When crossing the Jordan at the ford where John the Baptist is stationed, many in Jesus’ caravan indeed stop and listen, for John’s reputation has been spreading, and many are curious to see him. Some, who have made this trip before, have already been baptized and have been telling the others in the caravan about John’s mesmerizing words. Others are captivated by the man’s intensity, honesty, and uniqueness. Still others think John is some kind of fanatic. John is a wild-looking man, disheveled, wearing strange clothes and reputed to have a Spartan diet—yet his words resound with truth to those with open hearts. Those who judge by appearance keep walking by; others listen more carefully. So as Jesus’ caravan crosses the Jordan, there are some who look at John and dismiss him out of hand, some who find him mildly entertaining, and some who are captivated by his words, listening carefully and, if they have not done so already, getting in line to be baptized. Jesus is among the latter.
We can only imagine what must be going through Jesus’ mind as he listens to John preach. He marvels at the fearlessness and wisdom of this man, his cousin, born of his Uncle Zachariah and his Aunt Elizabeth, the one who “leapt for joy” (Luke 1:44) in Elizabeth’s womb when he heard the voice of Jesus’ mother, Mary. They had seen much of each other as young boys, but as a young man, John left for the desert, where he lived for many years. Over those same years, Jesus spent his time as a young apprentice to his father and then, as he matured into manhood, as a well-regarded carpenter in Nazareth. While John lived an austere life as a hermit in the desert, Jesus lived an ordinary life in town. Yet the circumstances around John’s birth, his father’s being struck dumb, John’s piercing and insightful words, and his way of life attracted other men, and so, in time, many became his disciples. Meanwhile, Jesus had drawn no attention in the village of Nazareth. For quite a while now, John and his disciples have taken up at this Jordan River crossing, preaching about the kingdom which is to come and the need for repentance. As Jesus watches and listens to John, he smiles with gratitude thinking about his cousin’s preparing his way. Jesus knows this man is John, but would John recognize his cousin, Jesus, and more importantly, would he recognize Jesus as the one about whom he was preaching?
After finishing his exhortation to the caravan, John calls for all those who wish to be baptized to step towards him and his disciples— and many do so. Jesus remains at the back of the crowd and is the last one in line to be baptized by John. As Jesus enters the water to be baptized, John instantly recognizes his cousin, even though it has been years—a decade or so—since John has seen him. But what John also recognizes is that Jesus is in no need of baptism. His happiness at seeing his cousin is overcome by the realization that Jesus is much more than his cousin. John says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?” (Matt 3:14). By now, though, the crowd has subsided, they are all moving away, and no one hears Jesus tell John, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). No one else sees or hears what happens next as the sky opens up and the “Spirit of God descends like a dove and rests over Jesus, and a voice from heaven states, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’” (Matt 4:16-17). John, in a heartbeat, understands it all. Here is the one about whom he has been preaching. John’s relentless drive to prepare the way for the Messiah has finally opened to him a revelation no one, other than Jesus’ mother Mary, has yet to see. Jesus, his cousin, is the Messiah! Jesus and John look into each others’ eyes with understanding. John’s eyes overflow with happiness. Jesus puts his hands on John’s shoulders and smiles broadly. They stand there and talk for a long time. Jesus waves on the caravan waiting for him on the other side of the Jordan, indicating that they should proceed along with the others. He will be chatting with John for a bit and will catch up with them shortly. And so, for some time, Jesus and John enjoy each others’ company on the bank of the Jordan River. It is day one of the 909 days that will change the world.