Some men and some women do great things. But the greatness of Jesus is far more than that. Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson explains.

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A different kind of hero

“Was Jesus great? What did he achieve? What did he ever do? He never chiseled a statue or painted a picture or wrote a poem or composed a piece of music or constructed a philosophical system or published a book or led an army or controlled a senate or framed a law or made a discovery or contrived an invention or did any one of the things which have made the names of other men illustrious.”

“And yet everybody calls Jesus great. No informed man in any part of the world would deny him that exalting adjective. Not only is he counted great, but in a large part of the world he is counted greatest — so great that no one else can be compared with him. Charles Lamb gave expression to the feeling of us all when he said, ‘If Shakespeare was to come into this room, we should all rise up to meet him; but if Christ was to come into it, we should all fall upon our knees.'”

A Truly Great Man

“His greatness is greater than that of all others, and it is also different. Other men are great artists or poets or generals or statesmen, whereas Jesus is a great man. His greatness lies in the realm of personality, in the kingdom of character.”

“A man may be a great general and still not be a great man. Alexander the Great got his title from his genius for massing phalanxes of soldiers and hurling them with irresistible fury at the army which opposed him. As a man he was a weakling. Passion wrecked him before noon. Napoleon the Great was great as a leader of armies, but as a man he was petty and vain and despicable. As a murderer and robber he was great, but as a man he was a pygmy.”

“Great statesmen have not always been great men. Sometimes they have been unscrupulous and cowardly, their whole interior life degraded by appetites and passions which have made them underlings and slaves. The great artists have not all been kings and queens in the graces of manhood and womanhood.”

“It is one of the saddest of all surprises to discover on reading the biographies of the world’s immortal workers how many of them have been . . . selfish and envious, sordid in their ambitions and groveling in their aims, achieving one significant or beautiful piece of work in the glory of which the shabbiness of their character has been swallowed up. Jesus was great in his soul. The dimensions of his mind and his heart were colossal. His spirit was regal, august, sublime.”

Transforming Lives

“How great Jesus is can be told by the length and width and depth of his achievement. Greatness is measured by the effect which it produces. . . . Great men are all alike in this, that they bring things to pass. Things take place when they are present which do not take place in their absence. They change the currents of men’s thoughts and set a new fashion in the world. Men gather round them and criticize them, point out where they fall short, and show how the thing could have been better done in some other way; but the critics die and are forgotten and the great man lives on forever.”

“If Jesus is to be judged by the effects which he produced and still produces, then his name is indeed Wonderful. . . . When he spoke men overflowed with ideas and feelings — feelings of love or feelings of detestation. No man ever stood stolid, unmoved and unexcited, in his presence. Men went wild over him, some in adoration and some in hatred.”

“Peter in the upper chamber declared with emphasis that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and to death. A few hours later his courage oozed out, but that cowardice was only temporary, and Peter later on did the very thing which he declared to Jesus he would do. And what Peter did all of the apostles did, John alone excepted. He has indeed something extraordinary within him who can so work upon the minds and hearts of men as to make them glad to give up their lives for him.”

“There is only one greater thing than dying for another and that is living for another, living a life of obloquy and persecution, suffering all things for his sake. Here is the climax of power. Jesus changed men. He changed their habits and opinions and ambitions, he changed their tempers and dispositions and natures. He changed their hearts. They were never the same after they gave themselves up to him. God and man, the world and duty, were different to them after they had looked steadily into his face. Wherever he went he transformed human lives. . . . This is greatness indeed.”

Changing the World

“And what he did in Palestine he has been doing ever since. Wherever the story of his life is carried the climate of thought and feeling changes. Every land across which his name has been heralded has been transformed.”

“Never have men been so impatient to get on as they are today, and never have they been so indifferent to the past. And yet the most thrilling cry of our day is, ‘Back to Jesus!’ It is heard all around the world. Men once cried, ‘Back to the Reformers!’ but the Reformers did not satisfy, and then the cry was, ‘Back to the Fathers!’ but the Fathers could not help, and then the cry was, ‘Back to the Apostles!’ but the Apostles were found to be shining only with a reflected light.”

“And so now the world is saying: ‘Back to Jesus! Let us go back to him for the sake of getting on, in order to get light for our darkened pathway, and to find principles with which to solve our complicated problems!’ . . . More pages are printed about him every week than about any hundred of the world’s greatest men. He exerts a power which is so phenomenal that many feel he must be more than man, linked in some way or other with the Eternal. He must be — men say — the Son of God.”

“Napoleon’s last biographer devotes two volumes to the rise of his hero and two volumes to his decline and fall. All the volumes of the life of Jesus record the story of his ascent. He goes on and on from victory to victory, from glory to glory, and as men’s eyes become cleansed and their hearts purified they see with increasing certainty that God has indeed so highly exalted him that someday every knee shall bend to him and every tongue confess that he is King indeed.”

God’s Image, Our Goal

“His greatness is full-orbed. He was complete, and in his completeness we find an explanation of his beauty. Men who stood nearest to him were charmed and swayed by his loveliness. He was full of grace and truth. He had a charm about him which wooed and fascinated. Children liked him, boys sang for him, publicans hung upon him.”

“He had the heart of a child, the tenderness of a woman, the strength of a man. The three dimensions of his life were complete. He had eyes which looked along extended lines running into eternity; he had sympathies wide enough to cover humanity to its outermost edge; he had a purpose which included all lands and ages. His kingdom is to be universal and it shall have no end.”

“He is at every point complete. His virtues are all full-statured, his graces are all in fullest bloom. You can no more add anything to him than you can add something to the sky. He pushed every good trait of human character to its utmost limit. His forgiveness was unbounded, his generosity was untiring, his patience was inexhaustible, his mercy was immeasurable, his courage was illimitable, his wisdom was unfathomable, his kindness was interminable, his faith moved mountains, his hope had no shadow in it, his love was infinite.”

“It is impossible to go beyond him. We can never outgrow him. He will be always ahead of us. We shall always hear him saying, ‘Follow me!’ He is the ideal of the heart. He is the goal of humanity. It is this completeness of his character which accounts not only for his beauty but for his perennial and increasing power. He is the lily of the valley, the fairest of ten thousand, the one altogether lovely. He is the image of God!”

Excerpts from The Character of Jesus by Charles Edward Jefferson (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1908)

3 thoughts

  1. Jesus at work: We often admire great men and great women and make them our heroes. To what extent have you genuinely made Jesus your hero? Is He the man you most admire and strive to be like?

  2. I know that I cannot function in life without Him. He is my Everything. Any goodness or greatness about me is because He is. When my kids were small, I laid them before His feet. Now that they are older, I see the mercy and salvation He has bestowed upon them. The covenant He established has come to fruition.

  3. Worthy is the Lamb of God. Praise His holy name. Let everything in the heavens and earth with lifted hearts and lifted hands praise our blessed Jesus!

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