Four Attitudes Toward Jesus

Jan 18, 2017
W.E Sangster (With an introduction by Harold S. Martin)

The celebration of Christmas is once again behind us. Most of us appreciate the spirit of good will that is often present at Christmas time. The joy and gladness of the season are worthy virtues. But now the trees have been dragged out of the house, hauled away, and recycled. The pretty wrapping paper has been torn from the packages and tossed aside. Mechanical toys eventually break. The mirth of Christmas festivities is over. Friends and loved ones, who had come home for the holidays, are now scattered to the ends of the country. Sometimes the Lord Jesus Christ is crowded cut of the special day that is meant to honor Him most —but no human being can ignore Him and the demands He desires to make on our lives. The Baby born in Bethlehem was sent in order that He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The Scriptures again and again—from the first preaching of the gospel in Genesis, to the final praise of the ransomed hosts in heaven (Revelation)—declare the necessity of Jesus’ birth so that He could die for sinners. It was man who sinned; it requires a Man to atone for sin. Jesus was “manifested to take away our sins” (1 John 3:5). God’s perfect justice demands that sin be punished; He cannot just pass it by. But being a God of love—God sent Jesus into the world, born in human form. His death brings peace and reconciliation between our guilty souls and a holy God (Colossians 1:20-23). Christmas is much more than decorated trees, sentimental carols, office parties, and good will calls on neighbors. The Baby laid in a manger was God’s answer to sin. Those who hold the popular view that there are many roads to heaven, make sincerity the way of salvation. Hinduism claims salvation through a series of reincarnations. Buddhism calls for an elimination of “desire” which supposedly leads to peace of mind and ultimate salvation. Islam contends that we must commit ourselves to the laws of Allah, and hope that good deeds will outweigh bad deeds. The Christian message claims that salvation comes by the sacrifice of Jesus—provided solely by the unmerited grace of God. Christ is the only way to salvation and heaven. He is the exclusive way to God. The first chapter of Hebrews exalts Jesus the Son as the eternal God (Hebrews 1:8). He is the One who laid the foundation of the earth (Hebrews 1:10a). Even the heavens are the work of His hands (Hebrews 1:10b). Jesus is the effulgence of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3a). In Hebrews 2 Jesus is lifted up again. He died in our place (Hebrews 2:9). He conquered our enemy the devil (Hebrews 2:14b). Jesus secured our salvation (Hebrews 2:17). The question each human being must face is this: “Do you see Jesus as a helpless baby in a manger, or as the Authority to whom you must give an account for the way you have lived?” The cornerstone of the Christian faith centers on Christ’s humanity, His deity, His death and resurrection, as the only basis for our eternal salvation. Many view salvation through Jesus Christ alone as judgmental thinking, and see that belief as a form of bigotry. For some, Christians sound intolerant and narrow when they insist that there is only one way to salvation and heaven. But in declaring that fact, we are only being faithful to what Jesus himself said in John 14:6, and to what the apostles said in passages like Acts 4:12 and 1 John 5:11-12. The real question is: “What attitude will you take toward Jesus?” The message featured is the reprinting of a sermon preached many years ago by the British preacher, W.E. Sangster. He was, for a number of years, minister of the Word of God at Westminster Central Hall, a noted preaching center in London. Before his death in 1960, he had written more than a dozen books. The sermon printed here names four judgments people over the years have held about Jesus. Editor—Harold S. Martin Four Attitudes Toward Jesus by W. E. Sangster The historian says that Oliver Cromwell was either hated or loved. He was so strong a personality that he could not be ignored. Almost against their will he forced people to take up a forthright attitude toward him. That is by no means peculiar to Cromwell. In its degree it is true of every strong personality (including a man like President Franklin D. Roosevelt in our own era), and it is true of Jesus in a striking degree. People find it impossible to be indifferent to Him. They might bless Him or curse Him; they might swear by Him or swear at Him. What they cannot do is neglect Him. There was that in Jesus which could not be ignored. Indeed, it is possible to group the men and women with whom Jesus came into contact, according to the attitude they adopted toward Him. They fall into three classes. There were, first, His enemies. Drawn chiefly from the upper and professional classes, they said, “He has a demon.” They said also, “He has a devil—and is mad.” They said, “This man blasphemes.” They said also, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber!” They hated Him. “He is a friend and agent of the devil,” they said. The second group was not less definite in its opinion. They said, “He is a good man.” The suggestion that He was anything more than a man, they would have set aside as fanciful and absurd. Nonetheless, they insisted on His goodness. The bereaved are consoled; the sick are cheered; the lonely find a friend; the poor have good tidings preached to them. This is evidence they cannot gainsay. To all the insinuations of His enemies they turn a deaf ear. “No!” they say. “No! He is a good man.” The third group find its voice in Peter. It is a declaration born of experience and thought. It is the outcome of intimate contact and deep brooding. Doubtless, it was a profounder statement than Peter himself perceived in the moment of its utterance. “You are the Christ,” he said, “the Son of the living God.” So we have an ascending scale. “He has a demon.” “He is a good man.” “He is the Christ.” Very simply, I want to thread my way along that upward path. I do not travel as a systematic theologian seeking the deep abstraction, nor yet as an encyclopedist, covetous of every scrap of evidence. I travel as a simple wayfaring man, pondering the reasons a wayfarer may. Frankly, I want to stand with Peter—or 4thly climb yet higher and say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” I cannot pretend to be unbiased or to set out on this quest without a particular hope in my heart. I live in a dark world. If I can be sure of Jesus, who He was and what He said, I can go forward unafraid. If I can be certain of Him, I will dread nothing. Walk at my side now. Let us be sure what we think of Jesus Christ. 1. I WILL BEGIN WITH THOSE WHO SAY, “HE HAS A DEMON.” John 8:45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. 46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? 47 He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. 48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? It is hard to believe that people ever accused Jesus of complicity with the devil. It is not hard to believe that they thought Him mad. The modern world has grave doubts still of His sanity. It is not hard to believe that they suspected Him, on one occasion at least, of blasphemy; the orthodox Jew would be shocked at anybody who claimed to forgive sin. But it is hard to believe that humans ever accused Jesus of being in league with the devil or of having a set determination to be vile. Only bitter hatred could have brought them to that. To begin with, there was the evidence of His blameless life. “He went about doing good.” He was free from crude ambition, exhibitionism, and common self-seeking. His chief interests were clearly spiritual. His sublime teaching about God and His uncanny knowledge of the human heart, both tell of a soul of the rarest quality. His own fierce condemnation of sin is burning in its intensity. All this must have been clear to any discerning and unprejudiced man who met Him in the days of His flesh. Nor does the evidence end there. From the hundred other reasons that we could employ for rejecting this base slander, I will select one. It is freely allowed that no man is a hero of his close personal attendants. The world may speak of him in superlative terms, but the servant who sees him at all odd hours—at night when he is overtired, in the morning before he is properly awake, when business over presses, when disappointment comes, when he is off guard and under no temptation to pose–this man does not normally think of his master as a hero. He knows the other side. It is easily possible to know too much about some people. I remember from my college days that the head gardener never came to the college chapel when a student was planned to preach. He said, half in jest and half in earnest, “I know ’em; I grow ’em. I’m like the man who works at a jam factory; he has no taste for jam.” But who were the first to claim that Jesus was sinless, and used of Him the awesome name of “God”? It was the disciples! These were the men who had shared every kind of experience with Him that mortals could share. They were men who had seen Him at all hours of day and night, who had seen Him tired, hungry, disappointed, scorned, abused, and hunted to death, who had ridden with Him on a wave of popularity, and hidden with Him from inquisitive miracle mongers, who had met Him when He came down from a sleepless night of prayer on the hillside, and known Him when He was physically overworked and emotionally overwrought. These were the men–eleven of them–who, with amazing unanimity, declared Him to be the sinless One. It is an extraordinary testimony. To any unbiased mind, their testimony makes the charge of His enemies utterly false. No thinking man can doubt the quality of Christ’s character–whatever theory he may hold as to His person–if he gives attentive heed to the unanimous testimony of the men who knew Him best. 2. WE MOVE ON TO THE GROUP WHO SAY, “HE IS A GOOD MAN.” John 7:11 Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? 12 And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people. This is a perfectly understandable position. It is held by thousands of thoughtful people today. It is an attitude of mind which claims to be unprejudiced, to recognize facts, and is yet cautious in inference. “He is a good man,” they say, “So much must be admitted. It cannot, indeed, be denied. But nothing more need be added. Leave it at that.” Well, if it is admitted that Jesus is a good man–and we found it impossible to resist the inference—it will also be admitted, I think, that every good man has a sense of guilt. The better the man, the keener is his sense of guilt. Good John Bunyan was so troubled about his sin, that he wept and trembled and spent the nights, he tells us, “in sighs and tears.” The Apostle Paul uses language stronger still. He says, “I am the chief of sinners. I know that in me dwells no good thing.” These men must not be understood as romancers; nor are they guilty of the “devil’s darling sin”–the pride that apes humility. They were utterly sincere in these expressions of inward sin, even though, in their day, they might have passed as models of probity. It is, in short, an infallible mark of a good man, that he has a keen sense of guilt. If we knew a man who, on our slight acquaintance, had impressed us as being a good man, and we hear him assert that he was without sin, we should be inclined, on that single fact alone, to revise our judgment of him. Now, it is just here that another aspect of the uniqueness of Jesus emerges again. He was, by the unanimous testimony of most intimate witnesses, a good man, and yet He had no sense of guile. Publicly He made the challenge, “Who of you convinces me of sin?”–and there was none to answer. Not only were His intimates unable to discover sin in Him; He had no awareness of it Himself. He lived intimately with His Father-God, but the holiness of God did not rebuke Him. We are face-to-face with something unique in human experience: a good man—without a sense of sin. Can we abide in the hypothesis of His manhood? If it be granted that He was good, and if it be granted that a good man always has a keen sense of sin, are we not constrained to believe that He was something more than a good man? Speaking for myself, I am so constrained; I cannot abide in the belief that He was a mere man. I sought to live in that faith once, but He outgrew the category. Does He not outgrow the category in your mind as well? I do not suggest that the whole case rests on the one argument I have used, for that, by itself is but a scrap of the evidence. Yet it clearly points one way. 3. LET US STAND WITH PETER WHO SAID, “YOU ARE THE CHRIST.” Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. No greater claim could be made for anyone. It is claimed for Him that He is the Promised of Israel, the self disclosure of God. Dare we join the company of those who stake that claim? What might a plain man ask of such a claimant to these high and august titles? Might he ask a sign? That is what the Jews asked from Him: “Give us a sign,” they said. What did they mean? They meant that He should show them a wonder, a miracle, some astonishing physical phenomenon. “Give us a sign,” they urged, and always He refused. After all, what would a miracle prove for spirituality and deep religion? The credentials of God are not to be found in signs and wonders and portents. “An evil and adulterous generation,” said Jesus, “seeks after a sign…and no sign shall be given to it.” And in any case we cannot ask for such signs today. What would be proof to us? How can we be sure that He was all that they claimed He was? We must know the answer to this. If He was the Christ of God, all His words are dependable. If He was just a good man, and sadly self-deceived in His claim to speak with authority, we are utterly without hope in this dark world, and God was never spoken unambiguously by anyone. Well…here are half a dozen reasons which might make us uncomfortable in the supposition that He was just a good man. He accepted worship–which is the right of God alone. He forgave sins–which, again, is God’s unique prerogative. His personal claims drive us to one clear alternative: either that He was deranged, or He was all that He said He was. “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “No one comes to the Father, but by me.” “The Son of man is lord of the Sabbath.” “He that loses his life for my sake shall save it.” Jesus has won devoted adherents–and in increasing multitudes–as century has succeeded century. Nearly a third of the world now acknowledges the carpenter as King. The witness of time is emphatically with Him. He has won devoted followers among all the races of human beings. Muhammad said that this Muslim religion would flourish where the palm tree grew, and in the main, he was right. But no limit of clime or culture can be put to the sway of this Jesus. Africans and Eskimos, Chinese and Chileans–all declare that Jesus is Lord. Geography emphatically witnesses to Him. Yet even that is not enough. Weighty as it is, the human heart craves for some proof. Is it possible for us to have a personal proof? I am sure it is. At the last, the proof is in you. I mean this. Every man or woman who really meets Jesus, feels the impress and challenge of His life. There is something utterly unique in meeting Him. Everybody who has had the experience—is behind me in this assertion. When Christ looks at you, you know that He sees you through and through–your secret hopes, your nameless fears, your gusty passions, your dirty, furtive sins. You cannot pose to Him. Yet, when you see how truly He loves you, though He knows the worst about you, and “beckons you to follow on His road,” Your heart cries out for Him. You know it. You would be lying if you denied that He pulled the heart out of you. That is the proof you were seeking. He embodies all that you have “willed or hoped or dreamed of good.” He does not need to display any other credentials. Your heart knows Him, cries out to Him, and will not be satisfied without Him. Oh! You can run away from Him, but “None but Christ can satisfy.” Though you live your whole long life through, in willful rebellion, and will not have this Man to rule over you, nothing and no one else can give you peace. Therefore I say—fashion your lips in prayer. It may be years since you prayed, and you may feel half foolish as you do so now—but do it! It will take some of the stiff-necked pride out of you to come in penitence and petition to Christ. 4. WE COME NOW TO THOMAS, WHO SAID, “MY LORD AND MY GOD.” John 20:25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. I suggested earlier that when Peter said, “Thou art the Christ,” it was a more profound statement that Peter himself perceived at the time. The twelve disciples were Jews to a man. They had been steeped in their high and ancient faith, and their belief in one God was as granite in their mind. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” The Messiah, the Promised One would come, they knew, but it is more than dubious that they ever expected God to come in person and as a working man. The fisherman of Galilee never pondered, I imagine, deep questions on the personality of the Deliverer. When Peter said, “Thou art the Christ,” it would be wrong to infer that he had already glimpsed the Christian doctrine of Christ—much less the doctrine of the Holy Trinity! It was Thomas who stepped nearer to the truth. Christ had come back from the grave. He whom the winds and waves obeyed—conquered death also. Without understanding all that He said, down on his knees went Thomas and spoke from the depth of his soul, the words: “My Lord and my God.” No other category is big enough. God! God himself! He has visited and redeemed His people. I conclude with a personal testimony. The one desolating doubt I have had in my adult religious life was on this question. It was midnight in my soul, but I emerged more sure than ever, and the passing years deepen my conviction. I am quite sure now. Christ was incarnate God. He is utterly trustworthy. Travel with Him, and travel in confidence. (Forgive me if I should be presumptuous, but I have tested Him, and have been tested, in many ways.) I have no doubt that God spoke through the Hebrew prophets, and through other sages, but His fullest final word was Christ. All men must come to Him at the last. He has the answer to the problems of our private lives, our families, our businesses, our civic and national affairs. Apart from His triumph I see no hopeful prospect for our race. He is our rightful Lord and God. For some of you, it could be now, but if it cannot be now, God speed the day when you can get down beside Thomas and say with utter sincerity, “My Lord and my God.”

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