There was an item in the newspaper recently about a woman who had never been out of communist China, but on her first trip to the West she attended a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” As the last stirring notes faded away, she turned to her hosts with. “I must know,” she pleaded, “Who were they singing about?”
As the hymn writers put it, “Who is He in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall?”
“What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, reading the prophet Isaiah, asked, “Who is the prophet writing about?”
The people of our Lord’s own day asked, “What manner of man is this? Even the winds and waves obey Him.”
Jesus Himself asked His disciples, “Who do you think I am?”
In the two thousand years since, there have been enough answers to that question to fill all the libraries in the world, and yet every description seems inadequate. How do you describe the most beautiful life ever lived? What do you say about the most remarkable man that ever existed?
In this podcast, I want to share my collection of some of the most superb and superlative things ever written about Jesus. Some of them are very short–only a sentence or two. Some are longer. But all are succinct and eloquent descriptions of His life. I’ve compiled these and am constantly adding to them, for there aren’t enough words in the vocabularies of all the languages on earth to describe Him.
Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, said it very simply: No other God have I but Thee; born in a manger, died on a tree.
The American devotional writer, Samuel D. Gordon, said, Jesus is God spelling Himself out in language that man can understand.
In the fourth century lived one of history’s greatest preachers, John of Antioch. He became known as John Chrysostom, for the word “Chrysostom” means, “Golden-mouth,” and that word described his oratory and his sermons. He once said: I do not think of Christ as God alone, or man alone, but both together. For I know He was hungry, and I know that with five loaves He fed 5000. I know He was thirsty, and I know that He turned the water into wine. I know he was carried in a ship, and I know that He walked on the sea. I know that He died, and I know that He raised the dead. I know that He was set before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father on His throne. I know that He was worshiped by angels, and I know that He was stoned by the Jews. And truly some of these I ascribe to the human, and others to the divine nature. For by reason of this He is said to have been both God and man.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: The name of Jesus is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world.
The theologian Augustine was intrigued and perplexed by the imponderable paradoxes of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Writing about it, he said: He it is by whom all things were made, and who was made one of all things; who is the revealer of the Father, the creator of the Mother; the Son of God by the Father without a mother, the Son of man by the Mother without a father; the Word who is God before all time, the Word made flesh at a fitting time, the maker of the sun, made under the sun; ordering all the ages from the bosom of the Father, hallowing a day of to-day from the womb of the Mother; remaining in the former, coming forth from the latter; author of the heaven and the earth, sprung under the heaven out of the earth; unutterably wise, in His wisdom a babe without utterance; filling the world, lying in a manger.
The Council of Chalcedon, held in the year 451, was convened, in part, to systematize the doctrine of Christ. They put it beautifully when they issued their decree for the churches: We… confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; the same perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man, in all things like unto us without sin; … and in these latter days for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the Virgin Mother of God according to the Manhood… existing in two natures without mixture, without change, without division, without separation; the diversity of the two natures not being at all destroyed by their union, but the peculiar properties of each nature being preserved…not parted or divided into two persons, but one Lord Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite Bible teachers is the missionary statesman J. Oswald Sanders. He simply said about Christ: Most men are notable for one conspicuous virtue or grace. Moses for meekness, Job for patience. John for love. But in Jesus you find everything.
John Donne (pronounced “don”) was an English poet and clergyman who lived 1573-1631. He is one of the most powerful and eloquent preachers coming down to us from the 17th century. In one of his sermons, he drew a parallel between the birth of Christ, and His death, and he put it uniquely, comparing the cradle to the cross: The whole life of Christ was a continual Passion; others die martyrs but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha even in Bethlehem, where He was born; for to His tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as His cross at last. His birth and death were but one continual act, and His Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of one and the same day
The 19th century Bible teacher, A. T. Pearson, said: He stands absolutely alone in history; in teaching, in example, in character, an exception, a marvel, and He is Himself the evidence of Christianity…. (He) resigned the throne and crown of heaven, exchanged the radiant robe of the universal King for the garment of a servant, descended to death, condescended to human want and woe and wickedness, lay in a lowly cradle in a cattle stall at Bethlehem, and hung upon a cross of shame of Calvary, that even those who crucified Him might be forgiven. Can you span the chasm between the throne of a universe and that cross? A crown of stars and a crown of thorns? The worship of the host of heaven and the mockery of an insulting mob?… There is nothing like it in history, not even in fable. How can we understand…? A man with human infirmities, without human sin or sinfulness; poor, yet having at His disposal universal riches; weak and weary, yet having the exhaustless energy of God; unable to resist the violence and insults of His foes, yet able to summon legions of angels at a word or wish; suffering, yet incapable of anything but perfect bliss; dying, yet Himself having neither beginning of days or end of years?
The British Bible teacher J. Sidlow Baxter said: Fundamentally, our Lord’s message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, “I am the bread.” He did not come merely to shed light; He said, “I am the light.” He did not come merely to show the door; He said, “I am the door.” He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said: “I am the shepherd.” He did not come merely to point the way; He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.
The distinguished historian Philip Schaff wrote, A catalog of virtues and graces, however complete, would merely give us a mechanical view. It’s the spotless purity and the sinlessness of Jesus as acknowledged by friend and foe that raises His character high above the rich of all others. In Him we see the even harmony and symmetry of all graces: His love for God and man, His dignity and humility, His strength and tenderness, His greatness and simplicity, and His self-control and submission. It’s the absolute perfection of Christ’s character that makes Him a moral miracle in History. It’s futile to compare Him with saints and sages, ancient or modern. Even the skeptic Jean Jacques Rousseau was compelled to remark, “If Socrates lived and died like a sage, Jesus lived and died like a God.”
Will Durant, historian and author of the massive The Story of Civilization, devoted an entire volume of 751 pages to the years surrounding the life of Christ, and he entitled it “Caesar and Christ.” In it he noticed the stylistic differences between the Gospels, but he concluded, The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. No one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teachings of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.
In his book, Many Infallible Proofs, volume 2, A. T. Pierson, having alluded to the raw, brutal nature of the Roman Empire, quotes this paragraph from a Dr. Porter: How, then, can it be explained that forth from that generation came the loftiest and loveliest, the simplest, yet the most complete ideal of a master, friend, example, Savior of human kind, that the world has ever conceived? In ideal that, since it was furnished to man in the record, has never been altered except for the worse; a picture that no genius can retouch except to mar; a gem that no polisher can try to cut, except to break it; able to guide the oldest and to soothe the youngest of mankind; to add luster to our brightest joys, and to dispel our darkest fears? Whether realized in fact or regarded only as an ideal, the conception of Jesus is the greatest miracle of the ages!
These words are attributed to Napoleon: You speak of Caesar, Alexander, of their conquests; of the enthusiasm they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers; but can you conceive of a dead man making conquests with an army faithful and entirely devoted to His memory? My army has forgotten me while living. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force! Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love: and at this hour millions of men would die for Him. I have so inspired multitudes that they would die for me–but, after all, my presence was necessary–the lighting of my eye, my voice, a word from me–then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. Now that I am at St. Helena, alone, chained upon this rock, who fights and wins empires for me? What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ who is proclaimed, loved, adored, and whose reign is extending over all the earth.
And how can I fail to include this classic summation found on so many Christmas cards and in so many Christmas sermons, Its author is unknown, although it is sometimes attributed to the Boston pastor, Phillips Brooks (1835-1893): He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He never went to college. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race, and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as has that One Solitary Life.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
The words and the witness of all the generations extols that One Solitary Life as the most extraordinary ever lived. But none of them can equal the words of the inspired Scriptures, and no tribute about Christ has ever been more beautiful than the one I would like to end with today, the announcement of His birth and the description of His ministry, as given by the Christmas angel to the shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Luke 2:11 says: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
This Christmas, there’s only one question to ask: Is He the center of your life? Is He your Christ? Your Savior? Your Lord?
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!