“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! …For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39, 46-47)
What do you think about when you hear that name? Maybe some famous photo of the boxer. Probably the one where he has his glove up, jawing at a fallen Sonny Liston. “Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee”? Will Smith, maybe?
Some of us immediately think of the attitude. The “I-own-this-world” bombast that would have been incredibly annoying if it wasn’t so awesomely entertaining. Ali was famous not only for his skill and strength in the ring, but also for laying the praise on pretty thick when he was talking about himself.
Here’s some of my favorite Ali sound bites. Even if arrogance isn’t your thing, just try to stop yourself from grinning when you read these:
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”
“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”
When people accused him a being a braggart, he said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” The problem was that Ali couldn’t always back it up. He lost to Frazier and (a few) others. He wasn’t really (quite) faster than light. And while he may very well have been the greatest boxer of all time, there was always One who was greater than him. Still, there’s a certain truth in what Ali said: “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Jesus makes some absolutely stunning claims in John 5. Try to imagine yourself being there when he said it, and think about how crazy the sheer magnitude of these claims would have sounded coming out of the mouth of a human being:
“Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (v. 9)
“Just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants.” (v. 21)
“[The Father] has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” (v. 23)
“The Father has life-giving power in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son.” (v. 26)
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (v. 39)
“If you really believed in Moses, you would believe in me, because he wrote about me.” (v. 46)
When Jesus says these things, is he bragging? Is he hopelessly arrogant? Is he pridefully self-centered. Well, that all depends. Muhammad Ali might ask: Can he back it up? In fact, everything about Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection backs up what Jesus says about himself. Jesus is one with the Father. He has all the power of the One Great God. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. And only he is truly The Greatest.
What would change about the way we view our lives and the world if we fully grasped and embraced that Jesus is the greatest—the greatest treasure, the greatest peace, the greatest life-giver, the greatest joy, the greatest king and ruler of this world and of our lives, the greatest comfort, the greatest priority, the greatest satisfaction, and the greatest love?
May we live, today, believing that Jesus is the Greatest.