But those circumstances were about to change due to the dedication of one woman.
Florence Nightingale was born into a wealthy English family, and it was expected she would spend her life in elite social circles, but she felt God was calling her to a different life—one dedicated entirely to service as a nurse.
In spite of family objections she trained as a nurse at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses’ in Kaiserwerth, Germany, and then obtained a nursing position at a London hospital. Within a year she was promoted to superintendent, and focussed on improving nursing care and sanitary conditions to diminish the spread of infection.
In March 1854 the Britain Empire entered the Crimean war on behalf of the Turks, sending thousands of troops to the Crimean Peninsula. Within months nearly 8,000 British soldiers were admitted to military hospitals in Constantinople, where they were subjected to appallingly deficient medical care.
At the request of the Secretary of War, Florence and 38 female nurses were sent to the area to assist in rectifying a situation where five out of every six patients were dying from infectious diseases such as typhus and cholera. The hospital wards were immediately scrubbed and standards of patient care established, including bathing, clean dressings and adequate food, resulting in patient mortality significantly declining.
Florence returned to Britain a national heroine, and founded the “Nightingale Training School for Nurses” with money donated by grateful British soldiers and private citizens. In 1859 she published two books, which when translated into other languages, resulted in foreign nations contacting her for advice on upgrading hospital, nursing and sanitation issues.
Florence Nightingale was a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, and did her best to reflect His example of service and sacrifice maintaining she was “... led by God… to do His service...God has done all and I nothing...” and once told an assembly of nurses, “Christ is the author of our profession” (Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, “A Sacred Covenant: The Spiritual Ministry of Nursing,” 2008, P. 4).
Jesus Christ, by His words and actions is the greatest servant the world has ever known, and His approach to serving others is summarized by these words to His disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
We can also apply ourselves to heartfelt, practical service in many ways that may initially seem inconsequential, such as volunteering to assist a neighbor, or providing a meal for a widow. Even sending a card, an e-mail or making a phone call to someone who is ill or lonesome can be a significant act of service.
Jesus described those who assisted people in need as if they were directly assisting Him. “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). The apostle James stated, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22) and Florence Nightingale declared, “I believe in doing religion, not talking it.”
Herod the Great
Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).
He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great ....an Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).
But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).
This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).
The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.
The Census of Caesar Augustus
Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).
Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).
Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth
Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).
Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.
Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).
These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.