The Chivalry of Jesus

There’s never been a knight like Jesus of Nazareth. Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson explains why, with a look at the chivalry of God.

Sir Jesus

“I have found difficulty in finding a word to express the quality of Jesus to which I now desire to invite your attention. This quality is courage, but it is something more than courage. . . . He was heroic but he was more than that. His heroism was a superb gallantry and something more. There was in it a delicious courtesy, a beautiful and gentle graciousness toward the weak and helpless. Possibly we can find no better word to cover this rich characteristic of the heart of Jesus than the word ‘chivalry.'”

“Jesus of Nazareth was a knight. On foot he traveled forth, clad in the armor of a peerless manhood, to shield the weak, maintain the right, and live a life which should charm and win the world. At the head of the great company of knightly souls by whose bravery and prowess the world has been made better, stands this knight of knights, this chivalric Man of Galilee.”

Jesus, Peerless Kingdom Knight

“A knight he was at the beginning; a knight he will be to the end. Mark how his soul goes out to those who suffer. Physical distress pierced him and wrung his heart. Sickness in the first century did not receive the attention which it receives in ours. The poor were allowed to suffer unattended and to die unrelieved. There were no hospitals such as ours, and no earnest bands of philanthropic men and women giving their lives to the alleviation of pain and to banishing the terrors of the dying hour. Insane people were not housed and cared for.”

“Jesus pitied them. No one else reached out to them a helping hand. The evangelists take delight in telling us how again and again he healed those who were afflicted with demons. . . . Even the leper was not beyond the reach of Jesus’ heart. Men turned their backs upon him. Laws prescribed the distance which he must keep from every other human being. Between him and all others there was a deep gulf fixed, but this Knight of Nazareth crossed the chasm and to the consternation of all Palestine . . . laid his hand upon him.”

Friend of the Neglected and Forlorn

“His heart was ever open to the neglected and forlorn. . . . There were people who were estranged from organized religion. They neglected the observances and regulations of the synagogue and were labeled ‘sinners’ by the pious. They were not in all cases profligates or vagabonds, but simply men and women who had no liking for the ceremonies of the church and who took no interest in the rabbis or their teachings. The rabbis in return took no interest in them.”

“In many of these people there were aspirations after better things, and in all of them there were the deep hungers and warm feelings of our common humanity. But they were outcasts. The church had laid a ban upon them.”

“No one who cared for his reputation as a God-fearing man dared to associate with them. No rabbi in all Palestine would risk his good name by dining with any one of them. But Jesus was not a man to be deterred. . . . The so-called sinners were human beings, and because children of God they were not to be despised. If no other religious teacher would go among them, he would. He did. He made himself of no reputation. He sat down with sinners and ate with them.”

Redeemer of Traitors and Tax Collectors

“Among the so-called sinners there was a group of men lower than all others, known as publicans. These were tax collectors whose business it was to collect Jewish money and send it up to Rome. The tax collector is never a popular personage, and if he collects money to send to an outside and tyrannical power he is not only unpopular but execrated. The publicans of Palestine were hated with a fury of detestation which modern society cannot parallel.”

“Publicans were counted lower than street dogs. The Jewish church would not allow them even to contribute to its treasury. But Jesus made friends of these men. They were friendless, and in many cases of unsavory character, but he was a physician, and like all true physicians he was especially interested in those who were dangerously ill. . . . Not only did he eat with them, but when the time came to select twelve men who should be his most intimate friends and most conspicuous workers, one of them was a publican.”

Champion of Women and Families

“When was a knight ever so reckless in throwing his protection round the weak? But as is the case with all true knights, it is in his attitude to women that Jesus’ chivalry reaches its finest expression. . . . Of all the knights who have risked their lives for the protection and honor of womanhood not one is worthy to unloose the latchet of the shoes of this gracious and gallant Man of Galilee.”

“How boldly he spoke on the subject of divorce. . . . In Palestine a woman was at the mercy of the man. A man could divorce his wife when he chose, and all that the law required was that he should write out a statement declaring that whereas this woman was once his wife she was now his wife no longer. But against such arbitrary and dangerous authority the chivalric soul of Jesus protested. . . . A man has no right to cast a woman off as soon as he is tired of her. Marriage is ordained by God. . . . God intends that one man shall live with one woman and that they shall live together until death parts them.”

“No greater words than those have ever been spoken on behalf of women since the world began. Even now men’s hearts are too hard to hear and heed them, and the result is degradation, heartbreak, and misery. High above all the clamorous voices of the world there rings the clear and authoritative tone of Jesus saying to men: ‘You have no right to use women and toss them from you. Man and woman belong together, and after marriage the twain are one flesh.'”

God, Protector of the Weak and Maintainer of the Right

“Here, then, we have a knight who is a knight indeed. The medieval knight went forth seeking for adventures; our knight of Palestine went forth in search of forlorn and friendless human beings. . . . His was the skill of a physician and not that of a soldier. His was the prowess of a friend and brother and not that of a warrior fighting to lay his antagonist in the dust.”

“He had all the graces and virtues of medieval chivalry and none of its superficiality or foibles. He had the nerve, the mettle, and the intrepidity of the bravest of the knights, and with this he had a sweet winsomeness, a divine graciousness which history cannot match. . . . This prince of knights, this king of all the hosts of chivalry, conquered on every field and came off without a stain.”

“In Jesus we have a revelation of the heart of God. . . . God is knightly in His disposition, chivalric in His temper. It is His work from all eternity to protect the weak, maintain the right, and live a stainless life. His heart goes out unceasingly toward the weak, the helpless, and those who have no friend. If you are conscious of your weakness, cry out to Him, for He is swift to answer such a cry. If you feel sometimes absolutely helpless, altogether forlorn and forsaken, do not despair, for the heart of Jesus is the heart which beats in and behind all this world, and you can never be forsaken so long as God is God.”

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

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