Almost a century ago, in a famous sermon entitled “One Solitary Life,” Dr. James Allan Francis recounted the biography of a famous man. See if you know who he is:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While He was dying, his executioners gambled for His garments, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today He is the central figure of the human race.
All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life [The Real Jesus (Philadelphia: Judson, 1926), p. 123].
But what if Jesus had never been born at all? With apologies to Jimmy Stewart, what difference would it make in the world if Jesus had never lived his wonderful life?
If Jesus was never born, what a difference it would make in politics. Our representative form of democracy rests on explicitly Christian principles of church and state. So do our principles of free speech and religious tolerance. In fact, the very founding of this nation was motivated by the goal to establish a Christ-centered community. If Jesus was never born, there wouldn’t be a United States of America, at least as we know it today.
If Jesus was never born, what a difference it would make in education. The world’s oldest universities were all founded on Christian principles, so that students could grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The same is true of nearly every one of the first one hundred colleges and universities in America. Eventually people would have developed institutions of higher education, but there would be no Oxford, no Harvard, no Yale, and no Princeton. Furthermore, Christians have always been pioneers in promoting literacy and universal education. Even America’s public school system is part of the legacy of Puritan education. To this day, linguists are working all over the world, in the name of Jesus, to put native languages in written form and teach people to read the Bible.
If Jesus was never born, what a difference it would make in literature, music, and the arts. There would be no Messiah for Handel to write into his famous oratorio—no Christmas music at all. There would be no Pieta by Michelangelo, and no Last Supper by Leonardo. There would be no cathedrals in Europe, no Hagia Sophia or Notre Dame. There would be no Gospels and no New Testament, and therefore no story of the prodigal son, no parable of the good Samaritan, and no Sermon on the Mount. There would be no Divine Comedy by Dante, and no Paradise Lost by Milton.
If Jesus was never born, what a difference it would make in science and medicine. It was the Christian worldview—with its insistence on the rational order of the universe and man’s dominion over creation—that gave rise to modern science. Followers of Jesus Christ were also pioneers in the art of medicine. The first hospitals were established by Christians who believed they had a God-given responsibility to heal the sick.
If Jesus was never born, what a difference it would make in charity and the protection of life. It was the followers of Christ who first introduced the Roman world to disinterested benevolence, to helping someone who couldn’t help you in return. Pagans were amazed to see that Christians not only took care of their own needy people, but also provided for other people’s poor. It was also the followers of Christ who first abandoned the nearly universal practice of infanticide. The birth of Christ taught them to protect the lives of their own children, and to rescue foundlings and orphans.
Humanly speaking, none of this would have happened if Jesus was never born. What I have said so far is only just the beginning, of course, and it is also true that many wrong things have been done in the name of Christ—that is a topic for another occasion. But simply in terms of secular history, the life of Jesus Christ has had a far greater and more positive influence on the world than anyone else in history.
But to bring what I have said closer to home, if Jesus was never born, what a difference it would make to your own destiny. You would have no atonement for your sin, no resurrection from the dead, no hope of eternal life, and no Savior to call a friend.
What if Jesus was never born? But Jesus was born. As the angel said to the Christmas shepherds: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:12). And the rest, as they say, is history.
[The basic idea for this Window on the World, as well as some of the specific examples, come from D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe’s book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994].
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