Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight boxing champion, died recently.
The greatest boxer
Born in Louisville, Kentucky as Cassius Clay, he won an Olympic gold medal at Rome in 1960. At the turn of the millennium, Ali was voted man of the century, sportsman of the century, and personality of the century. In 1999 Ali was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.
After beating Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the world heavyweight boxing champion, Clay boasted, “I am the greatest!” Then he changed his name to Muhammed Ali. Ali dominated boxing in the 1960s and 1970s and held the heavyweight title three times. His fights were among the most memorable and spectacular in history, but he quickly became at least as well known for his colorful personality and his showy antics in the ring.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” was one of many phrases Ali used to describe what he could do in the ring, while “I am the greatest” was a common catchcry. He was a charismatic boxer with a flair for showmanship. His courage inside and outside the ring and his verbal taunting of opponents were legendary, as were his commitment to justice and his efforts for the sick and underprivileged.
Muhammad Ali was an entertainer. He leaves behind a legacy of thrilling fights, trash talk poetry and taking a stand against racism, inequality and war.
Bill Clinton praised his stunning gifts: his strength and speed in the ring, his wit and way with words and managing the public and his mind and heart. And he said that Ali was smart.
Although Ali received many accolades, he wasn’t the greatest man to have lived. Here’s what the Bible says about Jesus Christ.
The greatest ever
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through Him and for Him.
He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So He is first in everything.
For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Col. 1:15-20NLT).
Because He is “first in everything” and “supreme over all creation”, Jesus Christ is indeed “The Greatest!”. He is supreme in creation (He created everything and holds it all together) and in redemption (He died to enable us to be reconciled and have peace with God).
Jesus Christ is not only supreme in the physical world, but also in the spiritual world. He’s the source of spiritual life, the first to be resurrected with a glorified body and the leader of a new creation.
So, Jesus is supreme and unique in greatness.
Lessons for us
Although Ali was called “A man of faith” who was “deeply religious and spiritual”, he wasn’t spiritually smart. Everyone has some kind of faith, but it’s what we are trusting in that counts. At his Muslim funeral service (jenazah), there were prayers for his sins to be forgiven, for him to be “surrounded by light”, and for him to be accepted into heaven. Unfortunately, it’s too late to pray for these after someone’s death. These are matters to be decided during one’s life, not afterwards. It seems that Ali rejected the strong spiritual foundation of the Bible which he knew about as a youth and accepted a weaker one instead.
Although Muhammad Ali was a great boxer, his achievements are insignificant compared to those of Jesus Christ. While, Ali’s body rests in Cave Hill Cemetery, Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Ali was praised in eulogy, but Jesus Christ will be praised universally: “To Him … be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13). Over time Ali will be forgotten, but Jesus will be praised eternally.
Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mt. 16:26). So, wealth doesn’t help our eternal destiny. Fame doesn’t help our eternal destiny. Religious observance doesn’t help our eternal destiny. And good works (and it seems as though this was how Ali thought he would get to heaven) don’t help our eternal destiny. All these can take so much of our time and energy that we can miss the central purpose of our life (eternal life and following Christ) and spend eternity in hell. In the big picture nothing matters without faith in Christ.
Let’s be spiritually smart and trust in Jesus Christ. He’s the greatest of all, not Muhammad Ali.
Written, June 2016