Alexander and the Great

On the day he was born, signs and wonders foreshadowed greatness. His teenage intelligence astounded the greatest teachers of his nation. Though born a King, he renounced ease and comfort. Calling himself the Son of God, he preached unity among his followers then died at 33, head of the most powerful kingdom on earth.

No, not Jesus. Alexander the Great. But there, the similarities end. Still, contrasting the life of the high and mighty with the meek and lowly tells us much about Jesus — and ourselves.

Alexander the Great was king of Macedonia in ancient Greece and perhaps the greatest commander in history. On the day he was born, the famous temple of Diana burned down, prompting predictions that someone destined to rule Europe had entered the world. Alexander’s mother,Olympias, taught him that such greatness was his, and that his father, Philip, was descended from Hercules. Alexander learned by heart the Iliad, the story of the Greek warrior, Achilles. He carried a copy of the book everywhere.

When Alexander was 13, he studied under the philosopher Aristotle who instilled a great love of learning. The young man amazed the many ambassadors and other wise men in his father’s court. But even the boy’s intelligence was dwarfed by his ambition. He wept bitterly when he heard of Philip’s success, saying, ” My father will get ahead of me in everything and leave nothing great for me to do.”

He needn’t have worried. At 20, Alexander became king of Macedonia and systematically conquered every nation within his grasp, including Persia, Egypt, Babylon and India. To establish his power, he made everyone worship him and called himself the Son of God.

To give his troops a thirst to conquer, he gave each soldier a large
share of plunder. But they soon grew lazy. So one day, when all the wagons were loaded, Alexander set fire to his own then commanded his soldiers to burn theirs. Though many soldiers were resentful, most were glad to burn the baggage and become warriors again.

Later, when a soldier tried to rob the grave of Cyrus, the Iranian leader, Alexander executed him after reading the tomb inscription: “Whoever you are, and wherever you come from (for I know you will come), I am Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire. Please let me keep this dirt that covers my corpse.” It disturbed Alexander to see how fragile fame could be.

Ironically, a mosquito did what no army could. It felled Alexander with a single bite that gave him malaria. When he died on June 13, 323 B.C., his body was placed in a gold coffin and taken to an ornate tomb in Alexandria, the Egyptian city he built in his own honor. Soon after, his generals fought among themselves for control of the Empire and Alexander’s dream of a unified kingdom fell apart.

Some look at Christianity and see the same thing happening. But cynics fail to see the continuing presence of Jesus among his followers. Thankfully, the seat of control and authority is in heaven, not here. We can ‘t prosper the kingdom on our own, or make it perish.

But we do have a choice. Like Alexander, we can model our life on those who’ve perfected the pursuit of personal power — pride is both the source and Achilles heel of our control-obsessed culture — or we can embrace the Book that bids us empty ourselves to find fullness of life. True faith is about completion with God, not competition.

For although our Father does go before us, that doesn’t mean He leaves us nothing great to do. Instead, He gives us the training and resources necessary to master this world. “We use God’s mighty weapons… to knock down the devil’s strongholds. With these weapons, we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God… and teach them to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4)

But like Alexander’s army, we must sacrifice the worldly things that weigh us down and hold us back in the campaign of the Cross. We must remember that human praise and approval are fleeting, and that even the great are brought low by the bite of seemingly insignificant sin. Better a gold crown than a gold coffin.

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