Jesus of Nazareth
The World's Greatest Character
by N. B. Hardeman
The Dallas Lectures for 1943, pages 122-125.
Back in 1943, N. B. Hardeman and ten other men preached a series of sermons in Dallas, Texas—brother Hardeman was the featured speaker of the group. There were fifteen sermons with brother Hardeman preaching five of them. The sermons were recorded and printed in a book The Dallas Lectures For 1943, published by Eugene S. Smith. In the sermon "Whom Do Men Say That I AM?" Brother Hardeman said the following:
The greatest men of the earth acknowledge today the equivalent of Christ's being the Son of God. I want you to indulge me while I read (I know that reading is laborious and tiresome) but I want to read a statement from H.G. Wells, the great historian and writer, who is now living in the city of London. When asked by the American Magazine to write a story of six of the greatest men of this earth, in order of their prominence, he accepted the request and hence penned the article, a part of which I am reading tonight. Hear it! And bear in mind now, before I read, that Mr. Wells is not a Christian. He does not accept Christianity, but writes purely as an historian.
Jesus of Nazareth is easily the dominant figure in history. I am speaking of him, of course, as a man; for I concede that the historian must treat him as a man, just as the painter must paint him as a man. We do not know as much about him as we would like to know. The accounts of his life and work as set down in the four gospels, are somewhat obscure and contradictory. But all four of them agree in giving us a picture of a very definite personality. They carry a conviction of reality. To assume that he never lived, that the accounts of his life are inventions, is more difficult and raise more problems in the path of the historian, than to accept the essential elements of the gospel stories as fact.
And of course you and I live in countries where to millions Christ is more than a man; but the historian must disregard that and adhere to the evidence which would pass unchallenged if his book were to be read in any other nation under the sun.
Now it is interesting and significant, isn't it, that a historian, setting forth in that spirit, without any theological bias whatsoever, should find that he simply cannot portray the progress of humanity honestly, without giving a foremost place to a penniless teacher of Nazareth of Galilee?
The old Roman ignored Jesus entirely. They ignored the growth and spread of his teaching. They regarded it as something apart from life, something to be had only on Sunday.
He left no impress on the historical record of his time. Yet more than nineteen hundred years later, a historian like myself who doesn't even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistible around the life and character of this simple, lovable man.
All sorts of dogma and tradition have been imposed upon his personality. It is the fate of all great religious leaders to bemisunderstood by their following. But from underneath this mass of the miraculous and the incredible, the man himself keeps breaking through. We sense the magnetism that induced men that had seen him only once to leave their business and to follow him. He filled them with love and courage. Weak and ailing people were heartened by his presence. He spake with a knowledge and authority that baffled the wise and the subtle. But other teachers have done that. These talents alone would not have given him the permanent place of power which he occupied. That place is by virtue of the fact there is a new, simple and profound doctrine which he brought, namely, the universal, loving fatherhood of God and the coming of the kingdom of heaven.
It is one of the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human thought. His followers failed to grasp it. No age has ever partially, even, understood him. Its tremendous challenge to the established institutions of mankind, are as yet not understood. But, the world began to be a different world, on the day that doctrine was preached, and every step toward wider understanding of tolerance and good will, is a step in the direction of universal brotherhood, which he proclaimed.
So then, the historian disregarding the theological significance of his life, writes the name of Jesus of Nazareth at the top of the list of the world's greatest characters. For the historian's test of greatness is not, "What did he accumulate?" It is not, "What did he build up to tumble down on his head?" — not that at all, but this: Was the world different because he lived? Did he start men to think along fresh lines with a vigor and vitality that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.
[H.G. Wells, American Magazine].
I would like to ask Mr. Wells an explanation of his own article. I know that there are certain things that mark men as great. Sometimes their ancestry puts them out in front ranks. Again, social standing galvanizes them into prominence. Again, financial affairs raise men to lofty heights and up the political ladder men climb to rounds of superiority. By what do you explain the greatness of Christ? Jesus lived but thirty and three years upon the earth, and you scarcely know a man who has reached his zenith short of forty, fifty, or sixty years of age. Here is but a youth that has just come forth into the fruition of manhood. What about his ancestry? I grant you that he could trace his family tree back through forty-two generations to Abraham, and then back twenty more to God himself, but even that did not make an impression upon those with whom he lived.
Was Christ the leader of the social class? Was he the organizer of the various clubs? Absolutely not. Was he noted as a financial wizard of this time? Did he occupy prominent places in political realm? Certainly not. How do you account, Mr. Wells, for the fact that you are forced to place this penniless peasant of Galilee as the greatest man that ever lived upon the earth? By what standard? His only answer could be the result of his life and the influence that followed. Had you ever stopped to think, friends, that most men are great while they live, and upon their death their cause begins to wane and their prestige declines? I believe truly that the life and the influence of Jesus Christ is the greatest miracle this world has ever known.
He was born in a stable, cradled in a manger, lived in a small village and worked for about thirty years in a carpenter's shop. His was a despised city out of which, it was thought, no good thing could come. He had no worldly possessions. He had to send Peter a fishing to get money enough to pay his taxes. His parents were so poor that when the time came, they had to resort to the cheapest of sacrifices possible to be offered. He never wrote a line except some forgotten words traced with his finger upon the sands of the seashore. He said, "Foxes have holes; birds have their nests; but the son of man hath not where to lay his head." He taught against the denominations of his day and as a result enmity, jealousy, bitterness, and hatred cumulated against him. At last, he died a felon's death and the very instrument of his death has become the symbol of salvation to all mankind. He was carried away by two friends and buried in a borrowed tomb, and while all the enemies of earth rejoiced, the very demons of hell had a jubilee. But on the morning of the third day, he burst the bars of the tomb and came forth triumphant having plucked the rose of immortality from the realm of the dead to plant it upon the bosom of his own grave where it could bloom in grandeur and glory forever more.
In the affairs of the world, the death and even the resurrection of Christ were soon forgot. but somehow his words lived on. Philosophy, with all of its wisdom; priestcraft, with all of its errors; kings wielding the iron power of the world, united to resist and to destroy the strange mysterious power which this dead peasant had left through rivers of blood and seas of fire, that power will sweep on and on until it will make conquest of all the earth and cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
How do you account for it all, Mr. Wells? I think there is just one sober, sane, sensible answer to be given, and that is, "No man can do the things that he did except God be with him." No wonder, then, when he stood upon the banks of the River Jordan, dripping from the baptismal act, God said, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." No wonder John said, "I saw and bear record that this is the Son of God." No wonder the Centurian said, "No doubt this man was the Son of God."
When demons were cast out, they said, "Hast thou come to torment us before the time, thou Son of God?" The world recognized his superiority.