Friday, March 30, 2007

who do you say that i am?

that's the question that Jesus asked peter, one of his key followers and closest friends — and it is a question that people in every generation have wrestled with ever since. here's a sampling of some of their answers:
  • mahatma gandhi: [Jesus was] a man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. it was a perfect act.
  • mikhail gorbachev: Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.
  • h.g. wells: i am an historian; i am not a believer. but i must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.
  • napoleon said: alexander, caesar, charlemagne and myself have founded empires, but upon what did those creations of our genius depend? upon force. Jesus Christ alone established His empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for Him. i think i understand something of human nature, and i tell you, those were men and i am a man; Jesus Christ is more than a man. i have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me… but to do this it was necessary that i should be visibly present, with the electric influence of my looks, of my words, of my voice. when i saw men and spoke to them, i lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. Christ alone has succeeded in raising the mind of men toward the Unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. across a chasm of 1,800 years Jesus Christ makes a demand which is, beyond all others, difficult to satisfy. He asks for the human heart. He will have it entirely for and to Himself. He demands it unconditionally, and forthwith His demand is granted. wonderful! in defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, is annexed to the empire of Christ. all who simply believe in Him experience that remarkable, supernatural love towards Him. this phenomenon is unaccountable: it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time cannot exhaust its strength, nor put a limit to its reign. this it is which strikes me most. i have often thought of it. this it is which proves to me quite convincingly the divinity of Jesus Christ.
i find the range of responses interesting. in particular, i'll admit to being surprised by the eloquence and depth of napoleon. one wonders how their lives answered this question, as opposed to their opinions. but it's intriguing to me that all of these people (and many, many more) spent time reflecting on the life of a man who never wrote a book, never held political office, never went to university, never even traveled more than 200 miles from where he was born. as a well-traveled saying notes, he had no credentials but himself… why do so many feel the compulsion to contemplate his life?

in the end, Jesus' formulation of the question makes it clear that the issue at hand is not other peoples' opinions. Jesus wants to know: who do you say he is?

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