“A Certain Jesus” – Reflections on the Greatness of Christ and the Urgency of Faith in Him

In Acts 25:18-19, Porcius Festus is relating to King Herod Agrippa and his wife Bernice the details of the judicial case before him pertaining to the apostle Paul: “When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive” (ESV). “A certain Jesus” – or as the King James Version translates it, “one Jesus”. Truly, Festus had no idea of what (rather, of whom) he was speaking. What could it have mattered to him whether Jesus was dead or alive? He was dumbfounded why Jews would get so worked up over the question. As the Presbyterian pastor J. Henry Smith put it in his sermon from the late 19th century, “To him it was passing strange, utterly unaccountable, that Paul, an eminent and educated Jew, and a Roman citizen, too, by birth, should be willing to risk everything and life itself to maintain his views of Jesus, and that the Jews of the highest position in church and state be equally ready and anxious to assassinate  him because of these opinions and his conduct in avowing and maintaining them.” Of course, the solution to Festus’ confusion is found in the fact that Jesus is not merely “a certain” or “one” random man. He is the greatest man who ever lived, and the question of his life or death is the greatest question ever asked, because the way you answer it determines your eternal destiny – the greatest, most momentous, weightiest thing of all.

Smith, who preached in Greensboro, North Carolina, from 1859-1897 (his diary from these years is held at the UNC Libraries; his wife Mary Kelly Watson lived from 1834-1924 and published her life and letters under the title, A Love That Never Failed – I’d love to find a copy of that book), expounds seven reasons why Jesus is so great.

1. Merely as a human personage in this world’s history, Jesus is great. Even unbelievers acknowledge the incredible impact of Jesus of Nazareth upon the past 2000 years of history. His influence is all the more astounding when you consider he was a poor carpenter, he only taught for three years, and he left not one shred of writing. And yet every civilization on earth has been affected by his teachings and life.

2. Jesus is great because he is the central subject of the entire Bible. Every page, chapter and book testify to his person, his character, his mission, his life and death. Whether narrative, history, genealogy, prophecy, typological sacrifice, parable, miracles – “all point to and illustration the name and work of Jesus,” declares Smith.

3. Jesus is great because of his great, transcendent work of atonement and redemption. Jesus suffered and died in the place of sinners. Smith reflects, “Contemplate for a while the priesthood of Christ – himself as a priest offering himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God…The death of Jesus Christ was peculiar. It was not a providential event to which he was subjected as you or I are subjected. It was a priestly act which he achieved. He died as a triumphant agent or actor; he prevailed against death to live until he himself said, ‘It is finishes,’ and then bowed his head in assent and died – died not merely voluntarily, but by positive priestly action giving himself to God.” The cross is both Jesus’ most supreme devotion to God, and self-sacrifice for the sake of man. He freely and voluntarily suffers, “rather than that guilty and miserable man should perish, or that the divine government should be insulted with impunity.”

4. Jesus is great in his person and nature as the incarnate Son of God. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. God speaks through nature, he speaks in the nature and constitution of man, he speaks through holy men and even dumb donkeys. But two thousand years ago, “the Godhead tabernacled in flesh.” God revealed himself through the person of his Son.

5. Jesus is great because at the very moment Festus spoke he was, and now is, “Head over all things for his body the church.” While Festus spoke his flippancy, Jesus reigned over every thing, big or small, that happened. He directed and controlled all things for the good of His people.

6. Jesus is great because he is to be the supreme and final judge and awarder of the everlasting destinies of men and angels. On that day Festus will have no doubt that Jesus is alive, and that he is no “certain,” common, inconsequential man, but the one to whom all will give an account.

7. Jesus is great because such is his connection with the laws and government and throne of God, that every human being in the world must, of necessity, sustain a personal relation to him. Either we will be found in him, partaking of his redemption and salvation, or out of him, under the bondage and curse of sin, hopelessly and forever lost.

Smith concludes his sermon with these searching words:

Sooner or later, and often frequently, to every one comes the question which Pilate asked of the Jews, ‘What, then, shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?’ If a man cares nothing for the principles of science or art, or takes no interest in politics, he simply lets the subject alone. But this is a matter and a question which you cannot let alone, and which will not let you alone. It will be answered; it must be answered, and it can be answered but in one of two ways. And no man can settle the matter for you. Each soul must make its own reply. Careless, indifferent hearer, do you think to evade replying to this all-important question, while, and as long as, you live? I tell you, if you pass your life thus, you have already answered it unconsciously to yourself, it may be, but it has had your reply in the rejection of him. But when at the judgment you stand before him, the question then will not be, ‘What shall I do with Jesus?’ The one thought will be, ‘Oh! what will he do with me?!”

May the Lord give us grace to see the greatness of Jesus, to bow the knee to him, to experience the forgiveness of our sins and the adoption as sons and peace of conscience and fullness of hope that come to all who take refuge in him.

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