We often speak of Jesus as the Master and we know that when the title is given to him sincerely it is acceptable to him, for he said: “Ye call me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am.” Do we, however, realize its full content?

Master is used for the translation of the Jewish word ‘Rabbi’ which means ‘a teacher’. Do we then think of the Lord as a great teacher who has taught eternal truths to men? He was this indeed, but other men have taught their fellows great things and the mastery of Jesus is more than these. Do we think of him as a great leader, who has asked men to do what seemed to be impossible things, and because he has asked them they have done them? Again this is true, but other men have been great leaders and have even persuaded their followers to die for them, and Jesus is greater than any of these. In what then does his mastery consist? It was a mastery of life itself. There never was a circumstance which was too much for him. Always he was in supreme control, able to cope with any situation. Let us therefore consider some phases of his supremacy.

First, he was master of the conflicts of life. Life has its conflicts, and the expression ‘the battle of life’ is not just a pleasing association of words, but is expressive of a truth. Whether we strive for natural or spiritual life it is a struggle, and in the case of natural life, in the absence of the Lord, it is a fight to a finish in which, however gallantly, we go down in defeat. The life of Jesus also was full of conflicts.

He was master of the internal conflicts of life. Perhaps this can be best illustrated by reference to the temptation in the wilderness. Whether the temptation came from within or without is imma­terial, for the last struggle took place in the mind of Jesus and there the victory was won. In after years the apostle John defined the world which he said was enmity against God. It was “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”, and it was in these three comprehensive ways that Jesus was tested.

The lust of the flesh: Jesus was fasting in the wilderness for forty days, and at the end of the period the attempt was made to find out whether long privation had so sapped his morale that he was prey to the first temptation that came along. “Command these stones that they be made bread.” On more than one occasion later Jesus multiplied bread and doubtless partook of some of the food he had made, but this was not the time to use his power. The Book of Deuteronomy provided the answer: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live.”

The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes: and the devil takes Jesus into a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a mo­ment of time—a marvellous panorama of human greatness. “All these shall be thine if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” They were his already, by right divine, but this was not the time to claim them. Once again the Book of Deuteronomy came to his aid: “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life: Jesus is taken to the pinnacle or platform of the Temple with the steep rock shelv­ing beneath to the Kidron valley, and this time the tempter, grown wiser by his experience, himself cites Scripture for his purpose: “Cast thyself down from hence, for it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” There never was a time when the care of God was not over Jesus, not even in the apparent dereliction of the cross. Always he was “My son, my beloved”; but Jesus knew that he must not presume on the protection of his Father. If therefore the devil could quote Scripture, Jesus knew the more appropriate quotation, again from the Book of Deuteronomy: “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”

His victory was won, and the tempter left him for a season, and, if we have ever fought and over­come it, we know something of the blessed peace that came to Jesus when he had conquered amid the wild beasts of the wilderness and, above all, defeated the wild beasts of temptation.

Jesus was master, too, of the external conflicts of life. The incident of the tribute money serves as an effective illustration. The question put to Jesus was a simple one apparently capable of being answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar? It is when we observe that the deputation which came to Jesus was a mixed one that we realize the devilish subtlety of their plot. Part of the deputation was composed of Pharisees and part of Herodians, and we wonder how two such opposed factions could find any common ground. Only in hatred of the Lord could they combine. The Pharisees were intense nationalists longing for the time when the standard of revolt could be raised and the last Roman driven out of Palestine. Consequently all their plots were devoted to hastening the day. On the other hand the Herodians were followers of the puppet king of the Romans and from him they enjoyed lucrative positions. They therefore had no use for revolution, which could only lose for them their privileges. Their counsel was to accept the situ­ation as it was and make the best of it. Nevertheless in spite of their wide differences the two factions could combine in the endeavour to trap Jesus. If Jesus said ‘Yes!’ in answer to the question, then the Pharisees had heard what they wanted to hear. They could go to the people and say, ‘Here is a man who says he is your Messiah. There is no limit to what he is going to do for you. And do you know how he proposes to start? Why, by paying Roman taxes!’ Of all the weapons which men use against each other ridicule is one of the most potent, and had his enemies been able to use it Jesus might have been discredited overnight.

On the other hand, if Jesus said ‘No!’ then the Herodians had heard what they had come to hear. They could go to their Roman masters and say, ‘Here is a man who is urging the people not to pay their taxes’. The Romans must have acted against the Lord. The charge was brought against him later, falsely, but there were still many things Jesus had to do and he must not be taken yet.

An answer ‘Yes!’ was dangerous, and an answer ‘No!’ equally so. What a situation for a Master! And a Master was there. “Show me a penny.” “Whose image hath it?” “Caesar’s.” “Then give it Caesar, but give to God the things which are His.” The ques­tioners had no answer; they went away leaving the field to the Sadducees, who shortly afterwards left in like discomfiture. Jesus was complete master of the conflicts of life.

He was master too of the conventions of life. Life has its conventions, and wherever men and women are gathered together in societies there must be things that are done and things that are not done for the benefit of all. No one knew this better than Jesus, and no one acknowledged it more. Hence we see him at Cana and at Bethany, and other homely pictures indicate his respect for true convention. But while convention is a very good servant it is a very bad master, and at the time of Jesus it had been exalted to such a pitch that it placed upon men’s backs a burden they could not possibly bear, and they groaned under its tyranny. With this kind of convention Jesus had no patience and was not afraid to say so. The case of the man with the withered hand illustrates this. He met Jesus on the sabbath day and the Jewish leaders said that if he could not come some other day he should carry his infirmity to the grave. Jesus saw them watching him, and pro­pounded his question: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath day, to save life or to kill?” They could not answer him, and he answered – practically: “Stretch forth thine hand.” Immediately it was perfectly well. It is a sad commentary on human nature that when his foes had not the wit to answer him, neither had they the grace to admit themselves beaten, they went out and plotted how they might destroy him.

Jesus was master also of the contradictions of life. Life has its contradictions, and there are many things that happen which we not only cannot understand, but cannot even begin to understand. A brother full of energy and zeal, ready to spend and be spent in the service of his Master, with ap­parently years of work before him – cut off in the middle of his days. We ask why, but there is no conclusive answer, and we have to trust where we cannot trace. Was Jesus never troubled by thoughts like this? Did he never wonder why the road of perfect righteousness led inevitably to Calvary? Of course he did! He had not been human else! “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” “My Father, let this cup pass from me.” What was his remedy for these dread forbodings? It seems to have been to immerse himself more and more in the work that he had come to do. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”, he cried, and was able, not to avoid his difficulties, but to face them and go through them to victory.

It may be that this is our remedy too – to give ourselves more earnestly to the work of our Master. If this be our aim, we may find that many barriers are no longer there when we reach the place where they seemed to be, and even if we have to walk through the dark valley we know that we do not walk alone. There is one who walks with us. His rod and his staff, they comfort us.

Jesus was master of the conclusion of life. It does not seem so, for the picture drawn for us by the Word is that of a lonely figure suspended on a tree, surrounded by his enemies with their bitter railings and curses. “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” “He trusted in God that he would deliver him. Let him deliver him, seeing he delight in him.” “Let Christ the Son of God come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” These and many other vile taunts were hurled at him as he hung and suffered there.

And we say he was master then? Yes, more than ever! There never was a victory which looked so much like defeat, yet there never was a victory so complete. Jesus died, it is true, but it was impossible that so perfect a character should be lost, and God raised him from the dead to give him all power in heaven and in earth, including the keys of the grave. He was able to say: “I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.” The Jews said that they would have believed Jesus if he had come down from the cross. We believe in him because he stayed there, and, by his final victory over sin, made possible our reconciliation to God with the prospect of a victory over death for us also.

Jesus was master of the conflicts of life; of the conventions of life; of the contradictions of life; and supremely of the conclusion of life. Our final picture is that of a garden, in which was a weeping woman. Through her tears she saw a man, but, though she spoke to him and he spoke to her, she did not rec­ognize him until he spoke her name, “Mary”; and then with overwhelmed astonishment she was at his feet with her ecstatic cry, “Rabboni”.

Footnote

(2001) The Christadelphian, 103 (electronic ed), 1–3