If Christ Had Not Come
Some years ago now, a group of noted historians combined their talents to produce a book entitled, If…A History Revisited. The chapters of the book dealt with speculations as to how history would have been written if certain things had happened differently than they actually happened. For example, what would have happened if the Pilgrims had landed in South America rather than North America? Or what would have happened if John Wilkes Booth had missed when he shot at Lincoln? Questions like these can lead to all kinds of interesting conjecture and speculation. But, of course, history is not the record of “ifs”—it is the record of facts. It is not the dreaming up of possibilities—it is the setting down of realities.
Now Jesus Christ is the greatest fact in all of history. He is the greatest personality who ever lived. He has affected the course of civilization and the course of individual lives to an extent which no other life ever lived can begin to equal. He is rightfully accounted as being the very hinge of history—for all time is divided with periods before and after His coming. In light of all that, to place an “if” before Jesus Christ must lead to the wildest stretches of the imagination. What would life be like if Christ had not come?
Strange as it may seem, that question is not without the support of Scripture. In the passage from John which I just read for you, Jesus Himself raises the question. He says to His disciples, “If I had not come…” Therefore, I respond to the question as being worthy of our own speculations today. What would life belike if Christ had not come?
Think of it in terms of history itself. Back when Quirinius was governor of Syria and Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, they would have had an altogether uneventful journey. The shepherds would have had a good night’s sleep out on the hillside. There would have been no wandering star for the Wise Men to follow. There would have been no mystical sound of angels’ singing. Peter and Andrew and James and John would have remained unknown fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Pontius Pilate would never have had to face his moment of decision. Phrases like “to wash one’s hands of the matter” and “he is a Judas” would never have found their way into our language. And Saul of Tarsus would have retained his original name and remained a relatively obscure middle-eastern professor of Jewish law. All of that would be true if Christ had not come.
Or think of it in terms of the Church. I remember once going into the sanctuary of the church I served in Texas. It was in the middle of the week and I hadn’t expect-to find anyone there. However, seated in one of the back pews, all alone, was a man who just two weeks before had lost his wife to death. His name was John T. Crum. I walked over and sat down beside him fully expecting to find him completely distraught and totally dejected. There were tears in his eyes but there was a soft warmth reflected in his face. I said to him, “John T., I know you must feel that life is falling to pieces around you.” And he replied, “I have lost a lot, and it hurts—it hurts bad—but at least I still have this”—and he gestured around at that church sanctuary. What he was speaking of was the fact that he and his family had been part of that church across the years and the building reminded him of that congregation of God’s people who loved him and cared for him and who had stood by him in his time of greatest need. That’s what that building meant for him. But, you see, if Christ had not come there would never have been that church building or any other. If Christ had not come, there would never have been that loving, supporting, uplifting congregation or any other. There would be no St. Peter’s in Rome, no St. Paul’s in London, no Notre Dame in Paris, no Riverside in New York. There would be no glorious building here on Church Street in downtown Orlando and no fellowship of Christians at the First Presbyterian Church—there would not be this church or any church if Christ had not come.
Or think of the great works of art in the world. If Christ had not come, more than half of Raphael’s paintings would be non-existent; three-fourths of the paintings of Titian would be gone, El Greco’s works would be impoverished. Michelangelo would never have sculpted the “Pieta” nor painted the frescoes which adorn the walls and ceilings of the Sistine Chapel. In fact, Michelangelo, supported throughout his adult life by the church, would have ended up a poor Florentine stone-cutter. The Dutch master, Rembrandt, painted many pictures—we still have 1500 of them today, but 800 would vanish in an instant if Christ had not come. We could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the world’s artistic treasures would be severely depleted if Christ had not come.
Or what about music? If Jesus had not come, Brahms would never have written his Requiem, nor Handel his Messiah. The works of Bach and Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Mozart? Well, much of this music would be gone. There would be no great hymns to sing, no Christmas carols to brighten our lives, no children would lisp the words to “Jesus Loves Me.” Oh yes, the world would have lost its greatest music if Christ had not come.
Or think of it in terms of the lives of great men and women. Let’s understand something here. Truly great lives have about them two significant dimensions. First, they have a sense of attachment to the earth. It is said, for example, that Tolstoy would plow his field barefooted so that he could feel an inseparable part of the earth. Great men and women always understand that we were created for life on the earth. But secondly, great men and women also understand that eternity is written upon our souls—that our minds can grapple with concepts and ideas which go beyond the limits of the planet—that our imaginations can move out and touch the very boundary lines of the Paradise toward which we are called—that our consciences silently but audibly whisper the call of God in our hearts. Great men and women realize that we are made not only of the dust of the earth, but also of the glory of heaven. God has made us in His own image and He has put the stamp of His approval upon us. Let me put it this way. We talk a lot about inflation these days. But I want to remind you that no item on earth is more inflated in its value than the human soul, for God Almighty offered His Son to pay the price for it. And when people begin to lay hold of that truth in their lives, then great things begin to happen. So if Christ had not come…well, Augustine would have remained a profligate in North Africa, and Francis of Assisi a wastrel in a backwater Italian town. Dante would never have written the Divine Comedy; Bunyan would never have produced Pilgrim’s Progress; Milton would never have penned Paradise Lost. Luther would have been an attorney, probably a mediocre one at best, John Knox a canny Scots businessman, and John Calvin a little-known Swiss school teacher. Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa would never have given themselves away to multitudes of the sick and the dying and thus would never have written themselves into the history books. Lincoln, who based his entire political philosophy upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, would never have been known outside his native Illinois—while Albert Schweitzer would have been recognized as a concert musician or a university professor, but he would never have been acclaimed “the most revered figure of the 20th century”… if Christ had not come.
But think not only of the lives of great people; think also of the lives of common people, people like us. Whence comes our belief in the dignity and the equality of all people? Does it not stem from the fact that God in Christ “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” and by so doing called us to be everything in life we are capable of being? Yes, that’s where it comes from. If you don’t believe that, then look at what happens today in nations with totalitarian governments. Does the individual have any voice in how they are run? Even if the people are allowed to vote, they are being mocked because there is only one party to vote for. Consider the element of fear in Communist countries for anyone who wants to express an opinion freely. Where is individual freedom there? Having ruled Christ out, they have deprived the individual of dignity and right and a sense of worth. And, you see, it is for precisely this reason that they have ruled Christ out, because they know only too well that Jesus is the only One in all of history who can truly make men and women and young people free. Let Christ into your heart and you will be free. Let Christ into your country and the desire for freedom will inevitably follow. Christ and Communism cannot co-exist—and nobody knows that better than the Communists. Or look at the plight of children before Jesus was born. They had little value at all. A Herod could kill all the infants in Bethlehem without even arousing public outrage. It took the birth of the Child of Bethlehem for children to gain their rights in the world. It was Jesus who took the children onto His lap and touched them and taught them and blessed them—and the whole concept of the family and the whole philosophy behind education was built on His example. It was Jesus Christ who exalted women to the place they were destined to be—and the only proof you need is to look at the station of women in Muslim and other non-Christian countries. If Christ had not come the winds of freedom would never have begun to blow. There would have been no Magna Carta, no Declaration of Independence, no Constitution of the United States had Christ not given Himself to lifting the dignity of all people and there would have been no land struggling for all its worth to be truly “the land of the free.”
If Christ had not come…If Christ had not come life in this world would be unthinkable. It would be unbearable if He had not come.
But He did come! There is no “if” about it. Jesus Christ has come. If He has not come, then tell me why, after 2000 years, millions upon millions respond to His call and obey His command? That call has encircled the globe. It has moved from country to country, from century to century. It is offered to little children just after they are born. It is offered to young people as they dream their dreams and see the visions of youth. It is offered to men and women in the full power and praise of life. It is offered to those who are older as they walk beneath the shadow of death. That call of Christ has been heard in every pinnacle of power and it has been heeded in every cave of poverty. That one name—Jesus—is the single most recognized name in all the earth. We use His name in crowning kings and in uniting brides and grooms and in burying the dead. Schoolchildren going to an examination communicate with Him just as Columbus did before he set said God alone knew where. People have called upon this Jesus when the lions roared in the amphitheater, when the Bubonic plague swept like a killing flood across the European continent, when the Stukas were raining down fire from overhead at Dunkirk, and when cancer stalks the stark corridors of hospital wards. People in every age and in every land have leveled upon Him when they were weak, called out to Him when they were in trouble, searched for Him when they were lonely, exulted with Him when they were glad, held fast to Him when they were afraid.
Oh yes, He has come. And here I submit is proof of it. Every week, every month, every year in a hundred thousand different places and in a hundred thousand different ways people come to Him. You see, when He comes, He comes making a claim upon our lives. He comes demanding a verdict. He comes calling us to come to Him. So come, like millions before you have come—with hurts and hopes, with dreams and fears. Come repenting, to begin again, knowing full well that you will fall again—but also knowing full well that you can come again and that there need never be an end to your coming to Him.
My friends in Christ, what I am trying to say to you is this: don’t be satisfied just with the things that Christ has done in and for our world, don’t be content just with the gifts He has brought. Instead, please lay claim to the Giver! For if you know Him and receive Him as the Savior and Lord of your life, then no matter what the future holds, you will be magnificently victorious…