By Harris Franklin Rall
We have studied the life of Jesus and followed it till his death. We have one more question to ask: What did he accomplish by his life? When on that dark day he cried out, ''It is finished/' what had he done? For the purpose of this lesson we will put the question in simpler form and ask: What did Jesus leave behind?
The Teaching. —Jesus left his teaching. ''Never man spake like this man," was what they said in his day, and the years have made his teaching only the more wonderful. He spoke in simplest words, so that children might understand, and yet no man ever set forth such profound truths. He never proposed a system of philosophy or theology, and yet we take from him the answers to the deepest questions of life. When we want to speak our highest knowledge of God we take his word. Father. When we try to express our true relation to others it is in his term, brother. When we think of what we should be and may be, we remember his teaching and call ourselves God's children. And the highest hope upon which we can venture, the faith in God's mercy and care in this world and in the life with the Father beyond, both rest upon him. Other writings grow old, but the book of his words that has guided men for nearly nineteen hundred years has increasing authority with each new generation.
The Life.— Jesus left behind his life. The world has many treasures, but none more precious than his memory. It stands before our selfish, sordid, anxious lives, rebuking us and smiting our guilty souls. It shines above our littleness and weakness, and lures us on by showing once for all what manhood may be. And when our faith grows weak, we look again and see not man but God, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ/' The world's greatest revelation alike of God and man is the life of Jesus Christ.
The Leaders. —Jesus left behind a group of trained men. How imperfect they were we have seen. To the last they had their selfish ambitions and their narrow ideas. But the stamp of Jesus' spirit was upon them, he had bound them to him in absolute loyalty, and they saw the meaning of his teaching and his work after his death. It was these men who kept alive the memory of his life and words and handed them down to us. It was these men who went out to preach the good news. They became the rock upon which he built his church.
The Fellowship. —Jesus left behind a fellowship. We might call it a church, but that would be misleading. They were not organized. They had no formal creed, nor even formal officials at first, though the twelve were their natural leaders. They did not, indeed, think of themselves at first as a new and separate organization distinct from the Jewish church. But from the first there was this fellowship, and that was the vital matter, as it is still in the church. They had a common faith in Christ, and they were joined by a common spirit of love. That fellowship spread in a few short years throughout the Roman world. It overcame the barriers of race and rank and ancient prejudice. It has outlasted the centuries, and it spans the whole earth to-day.
The Spirit in Others. —Jesus left behind his own spirit in the lives of others. It means much that such a life as that of Jesus was once lived on earth; it means more that that life was reproduced in others. The men and women of the New Testament all unite in one testimony, that their life has come to them through Jesus Christ. The greatest of them declared: "Christ liveth in me." "For me to live is Christ." When they asserted that there was none other name given under heaven wherein they must be saved, they were simply confessing their own experience. He filled the sky of their faith. Their thought of God, their ideal of life, their hope for all the future were alone in him. But that was not all. They were men of a new spirit and a new life and they confessed with joy that the life was all from him. And we, looking back, can see it. His trust in God, his loyalty, his joy and hope, his love and good will toward men, all these we find in them. Some of them had been narrow Jews like Paul. Others came from the lowest classes of the Roman world. Not that they became perfect saints; yet with their joyous hope and brotherly love they shine forth in that old decadent world like stars in the darkness of night.
The Gospels. —And Jesus gave to the world the Gospels. We cannot strictly say, of' course, that he left them behind, for no word had been written at his death, and the earliest of the Gospels in its present form did not come for a generation. Jesus himself wrote but once, and then with his finger upon the perishable dust. He gave no directions for writing down his words or the record of his life. And yet he is the creator of these Gospels. He had stamped upon the minds of these men his unforgettable words. He had lived the life which they held in memory as their greatest treasure. When they went forth to preach, they knew no better way than to tell the story of his life. When they wanted to instruct their converts or their children, they used his words. So they kept them in memory during the first years until those came who wrote them down for their day and ours.
The Holy Spirit. —To all these gifts that Jesus left, the men of the early church would have added one other: the gift of the Holy Spirit. And while it does not strictly belong in our study, we must at least refer to it here. They felt that the gift of the Holy Spirit was through Christ alone. That gift, indeed, could have come at no other time and in no other way. The Spirit came through Christ; it was such a Spirit of holiness and love as they had known in Jesus. And Jesus henceforth was to be present not as person in one place, but as Spirit in the hearts of all his followers. The conviction of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit were the two pillars upon which there rose that victorious early church, with all its faith and courage and love.
The Wonder of the Life. —The wonder of Jesus' achievement appears the greater the more we study it. Here is one who lived till manhood in a little provincial village. His public ministry was but two or three years at the most. Not one word of his message was written down in his lifetime. He left no set of doctrines, no system of rules or laws, no organization. When he went from earth he left nothing behind but the few garments for which the soldiers gambled, and probably in that northern village, shaped by his carpenter toil, some rude beams in Nazareth houses, and some ruder plows of wood such as her peasants used.
The Master. —And yet we think of Jesus with right, not simply as a beautiful spirit, but as the great creative power of history. We reverence to-day the man that does, the man who creates: captain of industry, inventor, statesman, engineer. But when we turn from the lesser to the higher, from the realm of things to the kingdom of the soul, then there is only one Master and his name is Jesus. He is Master in the empire of faith; men see God to-day as Jesus showed him, men pray to God by the name he taught them. He is the ruler of conscience; we have no higher ideal for our conduct than that which he gave in his word and life, we have no higher standard for the life of man with man than his spirit. He is the Lord of our hopes. We dare to cry for pardon because he has made us believe in the mercy of God, We ask for help and trust in God's love because we believe that God himself was in that love and mercy which Jesus showed on earth. And we dare to face the future because of him; he has made us believe in a new world of righteousness and peace where he shall rule, and in that other world where we shall be with him in our Father's house. But we do not wait for some future age to show his power; day by day we bring our guilt of conscience, our selfishness of life, our weakness of will, and he sends us forth through the help of his Spirit to walk in newness of life.
The Eternal Christ. —And the world will never outgrow him. Each upward step, so far from leaving him behind, only shows more clearly the heights that he presents for our achievement.
His Life as Rebuke and Challenge. —The achievement of Jesus' life, as well as his character, would seem to set him wholly apart from us. And yet as we look at that life it comes to us constantly with a challenge. It says to us: This is how you should live; this is what you should be. The greatness of other men often separates them from us; the greatness of Jesus brings him near and summons us to be like him. We wonder that one so far above us should be for our imitation, until we realize that Jesus is as much the true revelation of man as of God. That, indeed, is the final test of the Christian: is he Christlike? "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." The life of Jesus is the rebuke, the challenge, and the invitation to our lives to-day. To make this clear, we will consider a few outstanding features of his character.
His Faith. —Look first at his spirit of faith, his utter trust in God. He would not change stones to bread in fear of starving. He would not flee danger. He did not shun the cross. Beset by constant danger, there was an atmosphere of quiet and strength even in the terrible closing days. In all things he trusted his Father, and trusted absolutely. How that life rebukes the fears that make us weak and the anxieties that rob us of peace. How it challenges us to fling our whole life upon God, joyful in his care, confident as we trust his great purpose for us and for his world.
His Obedience. —Then there was his obedience, the utter loyalty of his life. Like the needle that turns to its pole, his will was set toward God. He did not ask about safety or success. That will was his joy and strength, not a burden; he called it indeed his meat and drink. What a rebuke to our divided lives, which want to be good and yet keep an eye turned toward other ends as well. What a rebuke to those negative, impotent folks whose only goodness lies in not doing much evil. What a call to take sides with God in the great fight, to make God and righteousness the passion of an undivided life.
His Good Will. —If we choose but one more outstanding trait, it must be his good will toward men. By this we do not mean a mild benevolence or a general sentiment of kindliness. It was a great passion, so gracious and tender that it drew the least and the weakest, so mighty in its concern for the oppressed that the wicked trembled at its indignation, so divine that its presence meant life, so utterly devoted that it led at last to the cross. It did not depend upon what men were. It was great enough to include the evil and unlovely, the loathsome leper, the hated taxgatherer, the woman of the street. Nor could any deed of man overcome it, not the enmity of priest and Pharisee who hounded him to death, nor the brutality of the soldiers who plied the scourge and drove the nails. Before such love we stand humbled and ashamed. We love those that love us, those of our class or creed or kind. We exact a toll of gratitude when we perform service for others. And how much of suspicion and prejudice and hatred there is still left in this year of the great war! Have we prayed for the English and the Germans, for the Turks as for the French, not for success of arms, but for the welfare of all these our brethren? What a challenge it is to our day, this love of Jesus that cuts across all lines that divide, and knows in men only the children of one Father, our brothers who need!
Directions fob Study
Read Acts 10. 36-43.
The whole New Testament is a witness to the achievement of Jesus' life. As you read the discussion of "The Heritage," take your New Testament and find for each point an illustration of your own. Turn to some passage that illustrates the greatness of his teaching, perhaps in the Sermon on the Mount. Find some special incident which shows the beauty of his life and spirit.
Consider Paul as an illustration of the transforming power of Christ, and read 1 Corinthians 13 as a portrayal of the spirit of Christ. Paul does not mention the name of Jesus in this chapter, and yet this is as true a picture as may be found in the Gospels.
After studying what is said under "The Challenge," add to this other qualities and characteristics of Jesus such as his courage, his patience, his friendliness, his reverence. Ask yourself what these mean as a challenge to your own life.
What have you gained from this course: (1) in your conception of the character of Jesus; (2) in your understanding of what he did; (3) in respect to what he means to you personally?
Looking at the world of to-day: Where do you see the influence of the spirit and ideals of Jesus? What are the great needs which he must yet meet?