The Courage of Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth is our hero. As Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson shows, His life teaches us what courage is, and why we must have it.

Our hero

“There has never been a nation which did not admire courageous men. There is not an age known to history in which heroism has not been deemed a lovely and precious thing. . . . It is one of the elemental tempers of the human spirit, one of the foundation stones in the great structure of character. . . . Is there a man so base that he does not covet courage? Is there one so low he would not be proud to be counted brave? . . . When we come, therefore, to the study of the ideal man we might expect to find him giving us a wonderful exhibition of courage. And this is indeed what we find: in Jesus of Nazareth we find bravery at its best, courage at its loftiest, heroism at its climax.”

“Palestine was filled with evils, he alone was brave enough to strike them. Injustice lifted its hideous head, and he alone resisted it. Hypocrisy made a mockery of religion, and he alone stabbed it. . . . The men whom he succeeded in attracting to him left him and fled at the final hour. But even then he did not wince or falter, saying, ‘I am alone and yet not alone, for the Father is with me.'”

Pictures of Courage

“If you were to paint Jesus as a hero, in what situation would you sketch him? Would you think of him on that great day on which he cleansed the temple, driving out the cattle, overturning the tables of the moneychangers . . . ? Would you paint him as he appeared when in the streets of Jerusalem he stood up and faced his implacable foes, the scribes and Pharisees, and hurled at them sentences which . . . still smoke like thunderbolts? Or would you paint him as he came from the Garden of Gethsemane and startled the band of men who have come to arrest him by saying, ‘I am the man you seek’? Or would you picture him going to Golgotha saying to the women who bewailed his fate, ‘Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children’?”

“Would you ask me to give you an illustration of the courage of Jesus’ heart, I would take you first of all to Nazareth on that day on which for the first time he announced his mission to the men and women who had known him from boyhood. It was necessary for him to say things which would offend, and he said them. He was to preach the truth, but he could not preach the truth without cutting across the grain of the prejudices of these people. He went calmly onward, however, and preached the truth.”

“To estrange the hearts of those who have known and esteemed us for many years, to cut one’s self off from the respect and sympathy and love of those in whose friendship we have found solace and delight — that is hard indeed. And that is what Jesus did on that awful day in Nazareth. By the simple speaking of the truth he alienated from him the minds and hearts of the people in whose midst he had grown to manhood and whose high regard had been one of the most valuable of all his earthly treasures.”

“He was a courageous man that day, and equally courageous was he in the streets of Capernaum when he talked to that crowd of five thousand men whom he had fed a little while before in the desert beyond the Sea of Galilee. He came into the world to bear witness to the truth, but men were not willing to receive it. At the beginning of his address everyone was enthusiastic, but as he spoke the great crowd began to melt away. . . . At last only twelve men stood beside him, and these twelve had such doleful, wavering faces that he said to them, ‘Will ye also go away?’ What is there harder in this world than that? . . . To teach the truth and go on teaching it even though the congregation grows less and less and less, that requires the forthputting of the very highest temper of the soul. It was just that kind of courage which Jesus had.”

Courageously Alone

“The courage which he manifested in Capernaum was manifested everywhere. It is not an easy thing to offend society and to offend it in such a way as to lose caste and standing. The people in Jesus’ day were great sticklers for forms of fasting. Jesus minimized the value of them. They were exceedingly scrupulous in regard to sabbatical laws. Jesus could not keep them, he did not believe in keeping them. They were punctilious in regard to the number of times they washed their hands before they sat down to eat. Jesus had no time for such elaborate foolery. The best people of his day divided things into clean and unclean, people into clean and unclean — Jesus could pay no attention to these distinctions. All men were his brethren, and so he associated with people who had lost caste. By so doing he lost his own reputation.”

“Has anyone courage enough here to do that? He went contrary to the established usages of the best society of his day; he trampled on conventionalities which were counted sacred as the law of the Eternal. And the result was he was suspected, shunned, and abhorred. But he did even more than this: he surrendered the good opinion which many people had formed of him. When he first appeared the air was filled with applause. . . . The land blazed with enthusiasm. The people had certain ideals, and Jesus could not conform to them. They had fixed ideas, and Jesus could not carry them out. He threw cold water upon these fires of enthusiasm and they died down lower and lower, until at last there was nothing but a great stretch of smoldering ashes, and he stood in the center of the ashes the most forsaken and hated of men.”

“It takes tremendous courage to lay aside one’s reputation, and to forego the bliss of popular applause. But he did an even braver thing: he gave up the good opinion of the best people of his day. He was reverent, religious, sensitive, but certain things were necessary for him to say because they were true things, and he said them. By saying them he exposed himself to the charge of being a blasphemer, but he said them. He was willing to do his duty even though by the doing of it he won for himself the ignominy of being counted a blasphemer, a lunatic, and a traitor. Only the very loftiest heroism can meet such a test.”

Courageously Committed to the Cross

“But if you want illustrations of the courage of Jesus, you must take the entire New Testament, for all the Gospels are a portrait of a hero. The story of Jesus’ life is the most heroic record ever written, and any man who wishes to increase the bravery of his heart must read this book day and night. See him as he sets his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem, where he knows they are going to scourge him and spit upon him and kill him. His friends endeavor to dissuade him, they strive to hold him back. He keeps steadily on, knowing that at Jerusalem he will give his life as a ransom for many.”

“Lord Randolph Churchill . . . in the year 1891 wrote a letter to his wife telling her that he had quit politics once and forever. He said: ‘More than two-thirds, in all probability, of my life is over, and I will not spend the remainder of my years in beating my head against a stone wall. There has been no consideration, no indulgence, no memory or gratitude — nothing but spite, malice, and abuse. I am quite tired and dead sick of it all, and will not continue political life.'”

“How natural, how human that sounds! Haven’t you heard men say it? Possibly some of you have said it yourself. You have engaged in some reform, and have been misrepresented and abused. You have turned away, saying, ‘I am tired, I am sick.’ Maybe you were a worker in the church; you were misrepresented, you were thwarted; you cast up your work, saying, ‘I am tired, I am sick.’ Why do men talk thus? Because they are cowards. Only cowards surrender, only cowards get tired and sick.”

“Jesus steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem and never turned back until he reached the cross. See him as he goes onward, trampling on all the precious things of earth, putting under his feet the ambitions by which the hearts of other men are fired, trampling into the dust the prizes and the joys of life. Make out a list of the things which you count most valuable and worthwhile, and you will see that Jesus placed every one of them beneath his feet. With the tread of a conqueror he goes on to his death, saying, ‘I do always those things that are pleasing unto Him’. . . . And when at last they nail him to the cross the only thing he will say is, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

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

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