Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Empty Manger: What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?

Some convoluted background before we begin this particular lesson:  As a Science Fiction buff and avid comic book reader, I've long been fascinated by the idea of alternate realities.

Marvel Comics had an ongoing series entitled "What If...?" in which one tweak was made in the superhero continuity.  The interesting part was seeing how interconnected everything turned out to be and how just a single, seemingly insignificant change had enormous consequences.

Perhaps more famously - especially this time of year - you might be familiar with Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life".  This classic film follows its main character, George Bailey, as a distraught man on the verge of suicide who wishes that he had never been born.  An angel appears and grants George a view of what his family, friends, and community would be like without his presence, how his absence would send shockwaves through the lives of others that he touched.  This heartwarming tale serves as a powerful reminder of the immeasurable value of even a single human life.

Consider the life of Jesus Christ for example...

While it is very likely that December 25 is not the actual birth-date of Jesus, at this time of year it is difficult not to think about Christ's birth with so many celebrating Christmas.

During this holiday season we can't help but be reminded of this significant event throughout the month as we see countless displays depicting the Nativity.  

But what if on that fateful night some 2,000 years ago the manger remained empty?  

What if...  Jesus had never been born?

In the process of writing this lesson, I began by wondering about what the world would be like if Jesus had never been born.  After all, a lot of people seem to think that we would be better off if religion didn’t exist, especially Christianity, the religion that Jesus is responsible for.  

So that’s the inspiration and premise for this lesson.  Join me as we explore the possibilities and ramifications - both secular and spiritual - that would be found in this hypothetical world in which Jesus was never born.

Secular Ramifications of a Christ-less World

Dr. James Allan Francis once wrote the following poem about the life of Jesus:

One Solitary Life  

He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop 
Until he was thrity, when public opinion turned against him.

Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled more than two hundred miles,
From the place he was born.
He did none of the things,
Usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty three.

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 dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, 
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 Jesus is the central figure of the human race, 
And the leader of mankind's progress.
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 mankind on Earth 
As powerfully as that one solitary life.
Outside the realm of religion and philosophy, countless advancements in society can be accredited to the spread of Christianity and its various forms.  

One of the most obvious areas of impact is in the way we count years.  The modern calendar that we use is a testament to the legacy and impact that Jesus had on the world.  The abbreviations BC and AD divide time into two parts: BC is the period of time “Before Christ” and the term AD is from the Latin phrase “Anno Domini” which is translated “The year of our Lord”.  Believers and non-believers alike use this calendar world-wide even to this day!

In a world in which Jesus was never born, illiteracy would be a major problem worldwide, since in many centuries past, Christian missionaries encouraged and often educated converts to read in order to have a better understanding of Scripture.  In the United States (Which, by the way, is a country that was founded on Christian principles) early Americans learned to read using the Bible.  It is ironic to know that of the first 123 colleges in colonial America all but one was founded as a Christian institution.
Without Jesus, our culture would be drastically different, especially in the realm of the Arts.  Da Vinci and other Renaissance artists would never have created some of their greatest and most-widely recognized works (The Renaissance movement itself would likely never have taken place without the influence of Christianity!). Likewise, some of the most beautiful (and at the time, most advanced) architecture in the world would not exist since many advancements in architecture were made in the creation of cathedrals and other places of Christian worship.   In the area of music, Bach, who is credited with changing the direction of Western music, would likely not have been inspired to create his renowned musical compositions (Bach is said to have dedicated every note he wrote to God’s glory).

Author Cynthia Pearl Maus wrote:  

More poems have been written, more stories told, more pictures painted, and more songs sung about Christ than any other person in human history, because through such avenues as these, the deepest appreciation of the human heart can be more adequately expressed.

Finally, innumerable scientific principles and medical advancements would not exist in a world in which Jesus was never born.  Nearly all of the founders of modern science were Christians.  Many historians attribute the creation of the hospital itself to Christianity because in the United States, the first hospitals were started by believers. 

The following is an article I read last year on the Christian Post's website:

Jesus Reigns Even on Wikipedia

"Who's the most significant person in human history? Professor Steven Skiena (of Stony Brook University in New York) and Charles Ward sought to answer that question by sifting through more than 1,000 historical figures and prominent people while applying quantitative analysis to the popular online information source Wikipedia. The researchers analyzed the impact historical figures had on other people's opinions throughout the eons, and the ranking formula was very similar to the way Google ranks webpages in its search engine. At the top of the researchers' list: Jesus. He is followed (in descending order) by Napoleon, William Shakespeare, Muhammad, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson." 
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Jaroslav Pelikan wrote the following in his 1985 book, "Jesus, Through the Centuries":

"Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominate figure in the history of Western Culture for almost twenty centuries.  If it were possible, with some sort of super-magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of His name, how much would be left?  It is from His birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by His Name that millions curse and in His Name that millions pray."

It is impossible to know all of the areas in which Christianity has had an impact on the world as it is today.  What we've discussed thus far is probably just scratching the surface. 


But what would it mean to us as Christians if Jesus had never been born?  What would be the spiritual ramifications?

In a world without Jesus, there would be...

No Church

Obviously, without Jesus, there would be no Christianity, which means no Christians and no Church.  The Church was established based on the teachings of Jesus and Jesus even died so that the Church could be created

The Church was purchased by Christ’s blood. 

Acts 20:28   Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

No Moral Compass

Without the religion of Christianity, many would be without a moral compass to guide them in life.  I think that it’s safe to say that Jesus’ teachings are the moral compass of modern civilization!  

Think of one of the first rules you likely learned in grade school.  Without Jesus, the “Golden Rule” - ‘Do unto others as you would have them to unto you’ would not exist.  It’s ironic that this is a saying which many, even the most staunch unbelievers, use but fail to give the credit to Jesus for having said it!  In fact, a variation of this very teaching was recently written as part of an "Athiest's Ten Commandments"!

Matthew 7:12  Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 
Jesus taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Matthew 22:37-40  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The idea of putting others first is foreign to mankind.  This is a concept that could only have come from a loving and divine entity such as Jesus!

As bad as our society is today, just imagine how much worse it would be if we removed the teachings of Jesus!  Sadly, many are trying to do just that!  

No Perfect Example

Why would anyone want to follow a hypocritical God who said one thing, but did another?  

Indeed, we can see that throughout His time on Earth that Jesus “talked the talk and walked the walk!”  He practiced what He preached!  Jesus came to Earth for many reasons, but certainly among them was the purpose of setting an example of righteousness for us to follow.

John 13:15  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

Romans 13:14  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

1 Peter 2:21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps...

No Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecies

If Jesus had never been born, there would be numerous Old Testament prophecies that would not have been fulfilled.  This would not only have left the Bible incomplete, but also would make God out to be a liar!  

Throughout the Old Testament prophecies were made about Jesus’ coming.  Among the many prophecies of the coming Messiah, Jesus fulfilled one of the earliest promises made to mankind.  

God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.  Jesus was and still is the fulfillment of that prophetic promise. 

Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Everything that Christ did while He was on Earth was to fulfill scripture.  We know from our studies that a common phrase written throughout the Gospels is “that the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 

Mark 14:49  I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.

No Fulfillment of Old Testament Law

Additionally, if Jesus had never been born, there would be no way we could be saved from our sins because we would still be under the Law of Moses. 

Why would this be a problem?  The Bile tells us that righteousness and salvation could come not through the law, but through the grace of God. 

Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

Only those of the Hebrew nations were considered God’s people under the Law of Moses.  

Under the Law of Moses, Gentiles (anyone who wasn’t Jewish) were not considered one of God’s chosen people. 

Thankfully, Jesus put an end to the Law of Moses when he fulfilled it with His death on the cross. 

Romans 7:6  But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Ephesians 2:11-17 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.  And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.

No Way to Heaven

If Jesus had not been born, we would not have a Savior.  

Jesus’ primary objective in coming to earth and living as a man was to do away with sin.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to save us!   

Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Our sin separates us from God and condemns us.   

Isaiah 59:1-2  Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

The wages of sin, which is what we really deserve, is death.  But Jesus the gift Jesus offers to us through His sacrifice is life.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John the Baptist accurately described Jesus in John 1:29 as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Therefore, without Jesus, there would be no way to Heaven.  

John 14: 1-6  “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Conclusion:  An Empty Manger and an Empty Tomb

As great as the Christmas season is for reminding us of Christ's birth, does it cause us to lose focus on the purpose of His birth?

In celebrating what happened that night in Bethelehem, do we forget what happened that day on Calvary?

Throughout this lesson we discussed the empty manger as a horrible alternative…

But we must always remember and be thankful that the empty tomb is a blessed reality!

I Corinthians 15:17-22 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

If Christ had not been born, had not lived, died and - most importantly - He would not been resurrected, and - as Paul points out - our faith would be useless.  We would still be lost in sin!

To make a long story short, in a world without Jesus, the future would look very bleak.

If Jesus had never been born there would be no hope.

But as these verses point out, Christ was born.  He did live and die.  But most importantly, He arose, thereby justifying our faith and giving us the hope of a home in Heaven!

However, consider this:  If you are here today and you are not a Christian - to you, Christ might as well have not been born.

If you are living a life without Jesus, then what is your condition?

We’ve spent a long while discussing what a world without Jesus would look like, but what does a life without Jesus look like?  Does it look like your life?

Are you among the hopeless?  Are you among the lost?  Are you sick of a life of sin?  Are you seeking a relationship with your Creator and Redeemer?

If so, you have a choice:  Will you continue to live your life without Jesus?  Or are you willing to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?

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