On Greatness

This post took me about 7 years to write. Yes, 7 years. I started thinking about this when I turned 33 years old. This year, I am 40. Forty is a big number. Some say life begins at 40 – when you are financially secure, when you have established your identity and family, when you are done with all the juvenile pleasures, and that’s when the real life begins.

At least, that’s what some people say.

I look at people who changed the world by 40 and I think: “Then what am I doing with my life?”

I look at 2 people who changed the world at 33 years old.

Jesus Christ versus Alexander the Great

Both claimed divinity.

  1. Alexander claimed to be son of Zeus (later Zeus-Ammon) but never proved it. In the ancient world, claims to divinity were common among kings to assert their right to rule, but without proof beyond a genealogy, it became dubious.
  2. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and performed many miracles, including bringing people back to life. The miracles were attested by several thousand people.

Both were the subject of prophecy.

  1. When Alexander reached Jerusalem, he was greeted by the Jewish high priest and pointed out he was in Daniel’s prophesy. Count: 1
  2. There are over 300 prophecies about Jesus, starting from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22.

Both followed their father’s greatest dream.

  1. Alexander finished what his father could not: uniting Greece and the destruction of the Persian Empire.
  2. Jesus finished what the Father wanted: the salvation of mankind and the forgiveness of sins.

Both toppled empires.

  1. Alexander toppled the reigning superpower of the 4th century: Persia.
  2. Jesus toppled the reiging spiritual superpower from the dawn of human history: sin’s dominion over man.

Both died at 33.

  1. When Alexander realized there were no more kingdoms to conquer, he wept in despair. Accounts said he got drunk, wandered around Babylon in a rain storm, and caught pneumonia.
  2. Jesus was nailed to a cross. When he cried in despair, he was because he was separated from the Father whom he loved so much.

No one can find their tombs.

  1. To this date, we still don’t know where Alexander is buried. Some say Alexandria, Egypt; others say Macedonia.
  2. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea. On the third day, he was resurrected and the tomb was vacated. We know there is a garden tomb in the outskirts of Jerusalem but whether it is the actual tomb, we will never know. As the angel said: He’s not here. He’s risen.

Both ushered in a new age.

  1. Alexander ushered in the Hellenistic Age; he established Greek as the common language. This era last about 300 years until the Romans came.
  2. Jesus established the Church Age. Christians worship Jesus in ALL languages. The church has been around 2000 years and counting. The church may have faced persecution and decline but the Judeo-Christian worldview continues to influence many things in society.

We still study their lives and acts.

  1. Alexander’s campaigns are still studied in military academies and war colleges.
  2. Jesus’s life as found in the Gospels are still read by all Christians and even non-Christians. The Sermon on the Mount might take 15 minutes to read, but take a lifetime to apply. Alexander’s campaigns might help a select few generals, but Jesus is a model for all – kings and queens, presidents, CEOs, middle managers, and construction workers.

They both left heirs.
1. When Alexander died, he had an infant son. Upon his death, his generals and aides who would inherit his empire. Perhaps he would name his son. Or a fellow general to be the regent. Alexander’s last words were: “To the strongest.” He was proven right; his son was never ascended to his throne but was probably murdered. His four strongest generals partitioned his empire.
2. When Jesus died and rose again, he declared us his co-heirs. The Apostle Paul was alluding to a Roman will or testament which does not require the death of the testator before the will is executed (unlike modern testaments). As a result, Jesus has given us the full benefits of son-ship (and daughter-ship), a far better inheritance than anything we could even imagine.

Their legacies
Whenever I study Alexander the Great, it satisfies only my intellectual curiosity. He is just one of many great generals who overcome impossible odds. Moreover, he’s dead.
Jesus stands in a class by himself. In Jesus, I am comforted when I am sad, corrected when I am wrong, and carried when I am weak. In Jesus, I am never more alive, especially intellectually. His words are not rocket science, but I have never found a more sure foundation to build my life and worldview.

When Alexander died, he had reached the top and found there was nothing there. I had mentioned Alexander’s despair and his rather cynical view of who would succeed him.

When Jesus lived, he stepped down and found the lost, the weak, and the afflicted. He was welcomed with open arms. Jesus was moved with compassion, something an autocrat would never understand. He was called the Friend of sinners, the Man of Sorrows, and the Good Shepherd, but also the Righteous Judge, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I see Jesus who He truly is, my praise of Him reaches a crescendo that it is hard to come back down from.

In light of all this, I do not feel too bad about my life and my accomplishments. Why? Life is more about accomplishments and accolades. Jesus posed this paradox: Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.

If I seek to build an empire like Alexander, it will be toppled and covered by the sands of time. But if I choose to lay my life down, my ambitions and accomplishments, for sake of Jesus, I suddenly find I am part of an everlasting kingdom.

Whose greatness are you seeking?

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