“Father, God, we begin by thanking you for the birth of your son the Lord Jesus Christ. We honor him today. We remember him today. We sing to him today. We worship him today. We gather as his church, in his name, under his word, to learn about his life. And so, Lord Jesus, we love you. We thank you for your life, your death, you burial, your resurrection. And, Holy Spirit, we invite you to instruct us and to reshape us so that we might love Jesus, and we might live lives patterned after his, the most influential life in all of human history. We ask these things in Jesus good name we pray. Amen.”
I’ll start with a reading from Luke 2. Luke Chapter 2, here is the story of the birth of Jesus. If you’ve watched the Peanuts cartoons you have already heard this.
“In those days, Cesar Augustus, issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and the line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
That is the simple account of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate every year at Christmas, as do billions of others who call themselves Christians around the world today. Jesus life is exceedingly simple. He is born to a teenage virgin woman. He is born in a humble estate to a working class family. Jesus’ life from that point forward proceeds, some 2,000 years ago, to be relatively simple.
He’s spent the first, roughly 30 years of his life, as a carpenter swinging a hammer in relative obscurity, with his dad. He never traveled more than a few hundred miles from his home. Never wrote a book. Never ran for a political office. Did not make much money, was homeless, was impoverished, he was not a well know man in his day, until he began his ministry, at about the age of 30. His ministry lasted roughly, 30, 3 years rather.
The, a – the first 30 years of his life were spent in obscurity. Those three years he spent performing miracles, and feeding the poor, caring for the sick and demonstrating he was in fact God who had come into human history. Both through his actions which were without sin, his words which were filled with power and love and life transforming grace, as well as his own death, burial, and his resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter. And that is the simple life, of Jesus Christ.
The legacy of Jesus is the most profound and earth transforming legacy of anyone who has ever lived. I’ll give you a few quotes. But as we study Jesus, we’re studying the most important person who has ever lived. Human history literally divides at his coming, at his birth into BC which is Before Christ and AD, Anno Domini, The Year of Our Lord.
We’re talking of a man, of whom more songs have been sung, more books have been written. More art work has been commissioned, then anyone who has ever lived, or will ever live. And today, we as Christians gather with a few billion other Brothers and Sisters around the world celebrating, worshiping, honoring, adoring, ceasing from work, and ceasing from the mundane affairs of life to remember and to honor to celebrate this man, Jesus Christ, who has forever changed the world.
Those who love Jesus and those who don’t curiously agree on this one fact, that in all of human history no one has made the difference that Jesus has. There is a theologian and historian, Stephen Neil, who for example says, “He who says, Jesus, also says history.” The non Christian, Historian, H.G. Wells, says, “I’m a historian. I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history.”
The historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, says, “As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that measured by his affect on history Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on the planet.” Interesting to if you’ve ever been to Rockefeller Center in New York City, there is an inscription above
the entryway, which says this, “Man’s ultimate destiny depends not on whether he can learn new lessons or make new discoveries and conquests, but on the acceptance of the lesson taught him close upon 2,000 years ago.”
Even Napoleon Bonaparte says, “I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires but upon what did we rest the creation of our genius, upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love.” And Napoleon says, “At this hour millions of men would die for him.”
Even Fidel Castro, the great Communist Dictator and Revolutionary in Cuba, who does not love and worship Jesus Christ as we do, says this, “I have always considered Christ to be one of the greatest revolutionaries in the history of the world.”
And my personal hero, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Reformed Baptist Preacher, says this, “Christ is the central fact of the world’s history. To him everything looks forward or backward. All the lines of history converge upon him. All the great purposes of God culminate in him. The greatest and most momentous fact which the history of the world records in the fact of his birth, which of course we come to celebrate today as Christmas.”
The life of Jesus began in a very simple way. It continued in the most part, in a very simple way until the three years of his public ministry, his miracles, his preaching, his teaching, his death by crucifixion, his resurrection and his ascension and the legacy of Jesus which follows in the wake in the life of Jesus is the most significant, profound and life changing event in all of human history. Those who love Jesus and who do not, those who are historians and theologians alike agree that no one is more important, no one is more influential, no one is more prominent then Jesus.
Give you a few ways in which Jesus has ever changed history. And the life of Jesus benefited even those who are not or not yet Christians. I’ll give you a few examples. Regarding children, in the days of Jesus infanticide and abandonment was tragically common. It’s heart breaking for me as a father of five, to think that the average life expectancy of a child, in the days of Jesus, was only eight years of age. The average child only lived to see their eighth birthday.
Yet it was Jesus, who though he were single, welcomed children to him. Prayed over children, children sang to him and worshipped his entry into town. Some of the most endearing pictures that we have in our art history are those of children honoring Jesus, and Jesus loving children though he was a single man. And Jesus himself did not have an earthly father. He was conceived of a miracle of the Holy Spirit, but Joseph was his adoptive father and Jesus was adopted by Joseph. What this did is, is this radically changed the Christian view of children.
In the early days of the church, Christians began adopting all of these children that were rejected from other homes and cast aside, because God the Scriptures says, “Is a father who adopts us into his family. “ And Jesus Christ was adopted into the family of Joseph. So adoption is one of the key metaphors for salvation and redemptions and life with God. So, Christians began literally adopting children into their homes, caring for children, looking after them. And what we see is through the history of the world wherever Christianity is spread the care, and love and the attending to children and the adoption of children has continued because of the legacy and the influence and the life and the person and the teaching of Jesus Christ.
The transformation includes, not only the love extended to children but also to women. In the days of Jesus, women were essentially the property of their husbands, could be mistreated and abused with no real legal recourse yet it was Jesus who had some of his dearest friends who were women, which was scandalous in his day.
Jesus was the one who taught women which also was scandalous for a religious teacher in that day to do. Jesus, included women among his ministry and his circle of influence and friends, and is so doing Jesus elevated the status and the dignity and status and the respect of women. And further more what we see as well, wherever Christianity is spread, not only has the love and care of children, but also the dignity, value and worth of women, increase because of the legacy of Jesus.
Jesus’ influence and legacy also extends to education. There was a day sadly, including, the days of Jesus, when education was not considered necessary for all people, but just for the elite, and those who would run the societies. But Christians, because we believe, that is so important for all people to know how to read. That Jesus was a Rabbi and a teacher and that learning was so important to Jesus. And that the reading of Scripture was so important to Jesus, that Christians worked tirelessly and continue to do so to this day, to translate various languages into written form to then enable to the Scriptures to be translated into the native languages of people so that as many people as possible can read the Bible for themselves. Can learn of Jesus for themselves, can hear the teaching of Rabbi Teacher Jesus, for themselves.
And what we find that is curious from the time that the pilgrims landed in our own nation, in the year 1620, for the next 217 years almost all education in the United States of American was private and Christian. It was Christians who labored for literacy. It was Christians who labored for the education of boys and girls. It was Christians who labored for translation and linguistics and written languages. So that the Bible could be put in the hands of people, and that people would have the ability to read Scripture and to learn about Jesus for themselves.
And what we find curious as well is the life and the legacy of Jesus the teacher, extended all the way to higher education. So much so that nearly every one of the first 123 colleges and universities in American was founded by Christians with Christian purposes. Harvard was founded and began by the donation of a pastor. Dartmouth was brought into existence to train missionaries. And other schools like, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, as well as William and Mary, Brown, NYU and Northwestern, were all founded by Christians to train people so they might love the Lord Jesus, with all of their mind.
We have all benefited. We have all benefited, even those of us who have not Christians that would study, and read and write and make arguments against Jesus. Do so, curiously as the byproduct of an educational system that, part from him would fiercely argue wouldn’t even exist and enable us to
read, write and argue against his life, death, burial and resurrection, in a curious irony.
This also extends the legacy and the lineage of Jesus to the founding of our own nation which was a religious experiment for those who worshiped and loved Jesus and wanted to experience complete religious freedom to worship him according to Scripture. Our first President George Washington, curiously enough, at the moment of his inauguration, knelt and kissed the Bible and then led the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to an Episcopalian church for a two hour worship service, commissioning the nation to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not saying that all of our foundering fathers were Christian. Not saying everything they did was Christian. But I am saying that they did see that the person and the work of Jesus was central and liberty, and life , and dignity and quality and respect, under the law was in inextricably linked to the rights guaranteed by our creator the, Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, among our founding fathers, historians have gathered their documents, pamphlets, booklets, letters and such, 34 percent of all of the content given by our Founding Fathers, is quotation or inference of Scripture. It just sort of saturated their thinking, the Biblical concepts around the person and work of Jesus.
And we also enjoy the rule of law. In many countries where there is no understanding of the rule of law, it is might that makes right and dictators, and those who hold guns and those who run military campaigns rule. In our nation we believe in the Rule of Law. We believe in the Rule of Law because Scripture is a Book of Law. And it has laws that are to be obeyed and Jesus was a Teacher of the Law. And as such, our nation understands the importance of the equality under the law for the young and the old, the rich and the poor, for all peoples to receive justice, the Rule of Law, and not just the rule if might, influence or wealth, is paramount. That is because we are each made my God, with dignity, value and worth, as image bearers of God.
And again, this all the result of Biblical thinking, this is all the result of the person, and the work, and the legacy, and the lineage of Jesus. And it extends all the way to our private property rights. And in many nations where there is no acknowledgement of Jesus or Scripture, private property rights are not held. All possessions and land and such is considered property of the state. Yet it is Scripture which says there is private property. That’s why there is such a thing as stealing. You’re taking something that doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to another. And Jesus upheld and enforced this concept of private property rights and private ownership. And we benefit under that and that is the central concept that is undergirding our whole economic system, that we are a people that own and possess things and the government does not own all of our land and all of our possessions. And we have equality under the law for justice and we have private property rights to enable us to pursue economic wellbeing. And it also extends the life, legacy, and lineage of Jesus to the care of the sick, and the dying and the elderly and the poor.
In the days of Jesus, hospitals and doctors were generally not available for those who were poor. They were almost exclusively the domain of the rich. Yet what we see is that Jesus was also called the Great Physician. And Jesus cared for those who were sick. And he healed those who were sick. And Jesus tended to those who were sick including those who were elderly and dying and poor.
And so Christians adopted the heart of Jesus and the example and the life and teaching of Jesus. At the Council of Nicaea 1n 325 for example, the decree was made that everywhere a church was started there should also be the opening of a corresponding hospital. And that hospital should open to those who are poor, the working class, those who are elderly and infirmed and unable to care for themselves, so, much so, that wherever Christianity spread, mercy kindness, the care of those who were sick and elderly and were dying continued. And even during in moments of great plague when many were dying it was Christians who signed up as nurses and doctors to care for those in need. Knowing that if they did get sick and die that they would go to heaven and be with Jesus and he would say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” And so it transformed even their view of life and service of others.
This continues to our present day when even many of the hospitals that you and I visit are Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Catholic in origin and nature. And that includes the Red Cross which was founded by a Christian, with Christian ideals of serving those who were being traumatized and need care. It also includes the transformation of the arts. When we think of architecture, we think of the magnificent cathedrals, architecture that dots the landscape, of places like Europe.
During the Renaissance, it was Michael Angelo, Leonardo Di Vinci, Raphael who were inspired by the person and the work by Jesus in literature. It includes the inspiration of Dante and Chaucer, Dostoevsky, and Bunion , Milton, Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson, Tolstoy, T.S. Elliot, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, it’s amazing how so many of these people remain so popular today.
And movies are being made about stories that parallel the Gospel and the life of Jesus; it includes Dorothy Sayers, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of my favorites. That Jesus has so captured the imagination of even the most creative among us that he has had a profound impact on the worldly arts, including, music with; Bach, and Handel, and Vivaldi.
This simple point I want to communicate, and I’ll keep my comments brief today, is that Jesus Christ lived a simple life but his legacy is exceedingly profound. That there is not one aspect of life, there is not one aspect of history that Jesus Christ has not had a positive, an exceedingly positive impact upon. And certainly Christians have done things in the name of Jesus that Jesus himself did not teach, model or sanction. Those are called sins. And as Christians we believe that as well.
But we also celebrate the person and the work of Jesus, that no one has made a difference for all, for rich and poor, for young and old, for black and white, for simple and wise, like Jesus. And as we gather here today we do so with billions around the world and additional people who don’t even worship Jesus but today are going to remember him and celebrate his life and his legacy and be inspired by his example and his teaching.
And the questions that I would ask you is what difference has not only Jesus Christ, made in human history but what difference has Jesus Christ made in your history? I met Jesus when I was 19 years of age. Perhaps like some of you, I knew of him, but I did not know him. I knew that he lived and
that he was a great man and that he was a great teacher any many were inspired by him and the world was a better place because of his life.
I didn’t know that he lived a sinless life for me. I didn’t know that he died a substitutionary death, for me. I didn’t know that he rose a bodily resurrection for me. I didn’t know that he was still alive and well in heaven today and I could pray to him and he would forgive me of sin, embrace me and love me and encourage me that he would give me wisdom and that he would change my way of life and give me an entirely new way of life.
At the age of 19, I was born again. I met the Lord Jesus, and, I can tell you personally and practically that Jesus didn’t just make a difference in history he made a very profound and real difference in my personal history. That the woman that I married, that the children that I raise, that the way that my life is lived is completely transformed by the person and the work of Jesus, by his example during his life on the earth. And by his ongoing giving or wisdom and grace and encouragement from heaven to me today, and his instruction that he provides through his word, Scripture, which I’m privileged to read and teach now for a living.
And for those of you who know Jesus, I want you to celebrate with us today. In a moment we’ll take communion, remembering his body and blood that God came into human history as the man, Jesus Christ. He lived, died and rose with his body and his blood given for us out of love for us. We’ll give of our tithes and offerings, remembering Jesus and contributing to the work of the spreading of the Good News of his life throughout the world.
And then we are going to sing and celebrate. For those of you that are Christian I want you to remember Jesus. I want you to answer the question personally. What difference has he made in your life, and then to worship him with gladness and with joy. And for those of you who are here and are not Christian. I would just beg you to become a Christian, today. I can’t think of a cooler day, to become a Christian then on Christmas, right. You’ll never forget. People will say, “What day did you get saved?” “A – Christmas, the day of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, I gave my sin to Jesus, he forgave me. I entered into an eternal relationship, with him. He is my God. Not only has he made a difference in history. He has made a difference in my personal history. He has changed everything.”
And so we would just beg you. It’s Christmas, what a – what a wonderful day to give your life to Jesus. You can do so in prayer. Asking him to forgive you of sin and to be your God, and he will hear your prayer and he will answer your prayer. He will be your God. And those of us who are Christian will all testify that he will change you. He will change life. And Jesus Christ is not only influential at the macro scale of global events in history, but on the micro scale of the daily events of average normal people, like you and I. And that’s why we love him so much.
I’ll pray, I’m actually done, and that’s not the introduction, that’s the sermon. And then we’ll transition communion, tithes and offerings singing, celebrating, worshiping, and honoring Jesus, Merry Christmas.
“Lord Jesus, we do love you. We thank you that you are God that came into human history. We thank you for your simple life and for your amazingly, profoundly, shockingly, life world altering legacy. Jesus that has never been, there will never be anyone like you. No one has made such a difference. Lord Jesus, we pause, on this celebration of your birth to remember you have come to change everyone and to change everything. That Lord Jesus, there is not an aspect of our life, that has not been greatly influenced and affected for the good because of you. We repent of our sin. We acknowledge that you came to live without sin, to die for our sin and to rise for our salvation. We thank you Lord Jesus, for coming and we ask you to come to us today, to rule over our lives, to enable those of us who are Christians to celebrate the wonderful things that you have done for us. And to enable those of us who are not Christians to become Christians and to celebrate your love for us. And so Jesus we thank you for giving yourself to us, and we receive you with gladness on this your celebration of your birth, Amen.
In the final installment of the Vintage Jesus series, Pastor Mark Driscoll gives a Christmas Eve service on the historical significance of the birth of Jesus Christ and what kind of lasting change his birth has left on earth.