Unless Jesus Christ is Lord of all He is not Lord at all. It has often impressed me as a great and very solemn truth that on two of the most solemn occasions in the life of our Lord upon earth, His self-assertion and the utter audacity of His claims were such as to prevent His classification with men. The self-assertion and utter audacity of His claims on these occasions make it impossible for anyone who reads the Gospels to doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
Both of these occasions were almost parentheses. They were when Christ was in the synagogue at Capernaum, when He burst into a thanksgiving to His Father, using these words: “I thank you, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. For so it seemed good in your sight” (Matthew 11:25-26; Luke 10:21).
The other occasion was an interruption. Madame Guyon says that “the interruptions are the opportunities.” That is a great statement, because if you will take the interruptions in the work of Jesus, or in the words of Jesus, you will find that every interruption was the revelation of a new splendour in the character of our Lord.
Here a question was asked by Thomas: “How can we know the way?” “Jesus said unto him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:5-6).
No person with ordinary intelligence who reads even these two passages in the Gospels of Matthew and John can doubt for a moment that, whatever the world may say, Christ asserted His absoluteness and finality. He said that He was the only channel of truth and life and light. The aloofness and the transcendence of Jesus, the Son of Man, are so self-evident that anyone who accepts the New Testament can only come to that conclusion as to the face value of Christ in His own Book.
It is so easy for us at home here to sing: “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!” But, all round the world, rival faiths and new religions and strange cults are challenging this hymn of the Church that ascribes all glory and praise and honour to Jesus Christ our Lord. And therefore it is hard to be a witnessing Christian. How hard it is to be a Christian witnessing for Christ over against the testimony of other voices that challenge Christ’s supremacy, or that supplant Him in the hearts and lives of men and women and little children.
At home and abroad, even in Christian circles, there are many voices that are raised against the supremacy and the finality and the sufficiency of the Christian religion. Many people who profess and call themselves Christians have lost the sense of Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency, and therefore also the urgency of their message.
And there is confusion of tongues, as we all know. When a Methodist bishop in America asserts in public that Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest Christian in India, one begins to wonder what it means when Gandhi says in his latest book: “I cannot place Christ on a solitary throne, because I believe God has been incarnate again and again.”
Or when in the Student Movement of America, one of our former leaders uses in his book, “Christ or Christianity?” words like these: “One of the most tragic blunders of Christendom has been the placing of such extreme emphasis upon the uniqueness of Jesus that an unbridgeable gulf has been created between Him and the rest of mankind. If all human beings were created in the spiritual image of God, and if there is only one kind of personality, then the only difference between Jesus and other men is one of maturity.”
Wilhelm Hauer, a representative of the neo-paganism of Germany, and a Professor in one of the universities there, uses words like these: “The Ten Commandments laid down in the Scriptures do not suffice for the building up of the present-day Christianity. The Semitic character of Christianity is undoubted, but such is also its condemnation. Jesus said: ‘Salvation is of the Jews,’ but He was mistaken. Belief in the Resurrection is not the heart of Christianity, but is a worldly doctrine. Many of Jesus’ words and deeds touch a chord deep in our hearts. But we protest against His being imposed on us as a leader and pattern. We must not allow our native religious life, which grows immediately out of our own genius, to be diverted into any Semitic foreign tracks.”
Voices like these appear to you and me as being unusual. But I submit that the great non-Christian religions today, that every Mohammedan mosque built in London or Berlin or Paris or New York, every temple to Christian Science, is a direct challenge to the supremacy and the finality of Jesus Christ. In what sense is Christ different from all other religious leaders and personalities? What is His pre-eminence?
The Pre-eminence of Christ
When we look at Him we see that the historic Jesus rises, like an inaccessible peak of the Himalayas, above all other mountains and foothills of human greatness. Man’s effort has failed to measure His height. History, philosophy, and art have already paid Him their highest tribute. Every newspaper published in New York, in Chicago, in Buenos Aires, in London, has on its front page an acknowledgment of the Christ of history. It is “1937, A.D.”
He is the historic dividing line between what happened before He came and what happened after His revelation. Even Mohammed in Arabia, as a keen student once said, had Christ on the brain. He could not leave Jesus Christ alone. And in the Koran he speaks of Him as “The Spirit of God, the Word of Truth.”
Napoleon on St. Helena said: “I know men, and Jesus was no man. Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, and I, founded great empires upon force, and here is one who founded an empire upon love. And now I am alone and forsaken, and there are millions who would die for Him.”
Jean Paul Richter, of Germany, in a wonderful passage, said: “O you who are mightiest among the mighty, and the holiest among the holy, you with your pierced hands, have lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the tide of human history!”
Rabbi Klausner, the President of the University in Jerusalem, in one of his books on Jesus Christ, says: “His parables are matchless; His ethics are unsurpassed by anything in the Old Testament; He is the supreme fruit of the tree of Judaism.”
Now all that is very beautiful, but it is in a sense inadequate and beside the point. Who is this Jesus Christ who said that if He were lifted up He would draw all men unto Him? In what respect is Jesus Christ on a solitary throne? In what respect is Jesus Christ the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end of all human thought, and all human ideals in religion?
Surely missionaries ought not to be narrow-minded; and all of us, I think, who have been abroad and have had opportunity to study the faiths of non-Christians are quite willing to admit that these religions which are nearly all older than Christianity have much to commend them. They have certain spiritual and moral values.
In Confucianism you have the sacredness of the family. No Chinese boy would ever speak to his father as some American lads do. In Hinduism you have the great conception of the immanence of God:
“Speak to Him, thou, for He hears,
And Spirit with spirit can meet.
Closer is He than breathing,
And nearer than hands or feet.”
In Buddhism you have a commentary on the most pessimistic book in the Bible, the Book of Ecclesiastes. Without Christ, and without hope of a resurrection, all is indeed vanity and vexation of spirit. In Mohammedanism you have the old truth of the prophets of Israel, the transcendence of God, and His sovereign irresistible will in the history of the world and of all humanity. In fact many great truths are held in common with Christianity, and are held with zeal and devotion.
But it is not difficult to show that Christ and, therefore, Christianity, stands supreme, unique, and final; and we are able to give an answer to every man who asks for the reason of the hope that is in us.
Samuel M. Zwemer (1937)