Several years ago, a group of historians met and asked a number of intriguing questions. What if the Moors had won in the great historic battle in Spain? What if the Dutch had kept New Amsterdam? What if Louis XVI had been a strong, firm king? What if Lee had won at Gettysburg? What if Booth had missed Lincoln? What if Napoleon had escaped to America?
What would history be like if these events had never happened? They wrote a book after their discussion, entitled If: History Rewritten. Our text for today explores the most profound "what if" in history.
What if Jesus had never been born?
There would be no "God with us."
Some of you remember a standard old movie plot, where an actress or dancer would receive a dozen roses after her performance. The card is signed, "Secret Admirer." The tension of the plot lay in discovering who the secret admirer was.
Finally, he reveals himself, and they go out for dinner, fall in love, get married, and—in the good old days—live happily ever after. From the beginning of human history, we have been hungry to know, "Who is this 'Secret Admirer,' this God who made me?" There was a heart cry from man, and God revealed who he is and what he is like by sending his Son.
Jesus said, "No one knows the Son except the Father. No one knows the Father except the Son. No one knows the Son except the Father reveals him to him." So how do we know God? We know God because of Jesus.
That's why Isaiah wrote, that God became "Immanuel, God with us." Otherwise, God would have no face, no ears, no heart. We would not understand God because, as Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father; for I and the Father are one." If Jesus had not come on Christmas, we would have no knowledge of what God is like. We would not understand how Jesus could identify with us and how we could relate to him.
There are three general names given of Jesus in the Scripture. There are many other titles, but three seem to be most prominent. One is, "Son of David." That is Jesus' Jewish name. He came out of the tribe of Judah. Son of David speaks of his racial heritage.
Another title is, "Son of God." Even a demon said, "He is the Son of God." Perhaps the most eloquent description and identity of that name came from the centurion that day at the cross. Max Lucado so beautifully related how that crusty, old, hard-nosed Roman soldier crucified those three men, then sat there and watched them die:
As he watched the one in the middle, he began to notice something different about him. From his lips, there came a sound, not a whine, not a scream, but a voice of authority. That voice said, "It is finished." And he continued to stare up into heaven.
That old Roman centurion got up and began to walk towards the figure on that middle cross. As he began to walk, suddenly the ground began to shake, and he fell down. He got up again and stumbled towards the cross, and he fell down at the feet of the cross. When he did, he noticed that head was now turned toward him. Those eyes that had been staring up into heaven were staring down at him. Those hands couldn't come down and touch him. Those feet couldn't walk towards him. That head could barely move because of the pain, but he saw those eyes.
Those eyes, that looked so powerfully and helpfully and compassionately on the friendless adulteress in Jerusalem, on the divorcee at Jacob's well, over the father who'd lost his daughter. These were eyes so powerful that the centurion could not help but look at them. That voice spoke one more time, and he said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
The centurion knew something. He said something that, if he had not, the angels would have. If he hadn't said it, the demons would have. If he hadn't said it, the rocks would have cried out, all of creation would have shouted. The centurion stood up and said, "Truly, this was the Son of God."
Son of David, Son of God, and "Son of Man." Eighty times in the New Testament, Jesus is called Son of Man. That was his favorite designation for himself. He said, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." He said, "The Son of Man, when he comes, will come with his mighty angels." He said, "Just like Jonah was buried three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, even so must the Son of Man be buried deep in the heart of the Earth; but he'll arise again." Son of Man.
We are able to identify with him in his deprivation. Jesus said, "The foxes have a place to rest, but the Son of Man does not have a place to lay his head." As Son of Man, he understood us in our limitations. He got hungry like we get hungry. He sent his men out to get something to eat one day because they were all hungry. He got thirsty like we get thirsty. He said, "I thirst. Get me some water to drink. Draw from this well, and let me share this with you." He was so tired he slept in the bow of a ship, even during a storm. His body got as fatigued as yours does.
Jesus identifies with us in our limitations. He was obedient to his parents, just as we're called to be obedient to our parents. He was an obedient son. He took on our limitations, and we can identify with that.
He also took our temptations. The Bible says he was tempted in every point just like we're tempted. And yet, he fought back; he didn't give in, where sometimes we do. It isn't wrong to be tempted. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted forty days and forty nights by the devil, yet he didn't sin.
Some people think that good people don't face temptation. C.S. Lewis pointed out what a silly idea that is. Good people understand temptation more than bad people. The reason? Bad people give in to it so quickly they don't know what it is to fight it. Those who struggle with temptation are like people who are walking against the wind, like an army in terrific battle with its enemy.
The good person struggles with not giving in in five minutes, but also knows that an hour later, he or she may still be struggling with it. Good people know what temptation's like. You know what it's like.
Jesus did. In all points, he was tempted like us. He identifies with us in our temptations. He stood against it, and he's empowered us to stand and win in our temptations. If Jesus had not come, there would be no identity with us.
There would be no victory.
God's Word says Jesus Christ died for our sins. Isaiah 53 is a powerful chapter in the Old Testament. It's called, the "gospel in the Old Testament."
I was on a flight to Israel, and beside me sat an intelligent, articulate, Jewish man. I told him I was going to Israel on a Christian pilgrimage. As I tried to find some way to share with him the reality of Jesus as Messiah, I told him when he got home to read Isaiah 53. Twenty-four times in that chapter, it refers to someone taking another's place for salvation. Forty-eight times, personal pronouns are used. Jesus is the Savior. He came to save us from our sins. That's the gospel: Jesus Christ died for our sins.
You know an interesting fact? The shepherds near Bethlehem that night, when the angels came and sang "Glory to God in the highest," were not watching an ordinary flock of sheep. These were the slaughter sheep, raised to be taken to Jerusalem to be offered as sacrifices to God.
Wasn't it unique that while the Lamb of God was being born in a manger, lambs were being prepared for slaughter as a sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel? Jesus spent 33 years preparing to die for the sins of the world.
Had Jesus not come there would have been no salvation from sin. In 1 John 3:8, God's Word says the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. The word for "destroy" is powerful. Jesus came "to break or to dissolve" the devil's works. The word for "devil" is also interesting: Diabolos means, "One who shatters." Jesus came to break the one who shatters.
And what are the works of the devil? The works of the devil affect us mentally. He comes to try to mess up our thinking. Jesus came to shatter that bondage. The works of the devil come to affect us in our motivation. Jesus dissolved Diabolos's works, which allows us to obey God instead of the enemy. He came to destroy us morally, to make sin so alluring that we'd fall into its trap. Jesus came and said, "I will break that bondage. I will give you victory over the sins that trap you, and enable you to be the victor as I shatter and dissolve and break the works of the devil." If Jesus hadn't have come, we'd be destroyed; Satan would win us and keep us for eternity.
The Bible clearly says that Jesus came and died. He was not in a swoon. He did not take some pain-killing medication from the myrrh to stop his heartbeat so they'd declare him dead. Jesus died. All humanity dies. He suffered what we all will suffer.
Some of you lost loved ones this year and in years gone by, and that hurts. What could we say if there was no life after death? My daddy's body lies decaying in the ground of Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. The eyes I looked into I'll never look into again till I get to heaven. That pretty gray hair I'll never get to touch. The hug I'll never get to feel again. The laughter I'll never hear again here. I think about him in that body, decaying. That hurts, but that's not the final chapter.
When Winston Churchill wrote his own eulogy, he wanted the great hymns of the faith to be sung. At St. Paul's, he wanted the trumpet to sound. The first trumpet sound was the sound of Taps. Then, from the other side of the dome, as soon as that was finished, he wanted Reveille to be played. Get up in the morning, because Jesus conquered death for every Christian!
We'll all be changed: "We shall see him as he is. And we shall be like him. For this corruptible must put on the incorruptible. This mortal must put on immortality. And then shall be brought to pass this saying: 'Death is swallowed up in victory,'" because Jesus came. If Jesus had not come, there would be no life after death.
We look around and see that, sometimes, wrong is on the throne. We see despots and rulers and military regimes. We see injustice and poverty. We see hatred and all those things that human beings can do to one another, and we keep thinking, Is it ever going to be right?
Listen to what Isaiah said, "For unto us a child is born. To us a Son is given. And the government will be on his shoulders. [It hasn't happened yet. It will.] And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." He will reign one day.
It was on Christmas Eve, after a Romanian church had gathered for candlelight service, that the Communist soldiers came to take the pastor. The people lined up outside the church—ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty deep—encircling the church and saying, "If you come after the pastor, you come after us first." The soldiers couldn't get in. They couldn't move them. The candle lights began to move through the cities. As those candles began to spread, others came out into the street, and courage came. On Christmas Day, the people said, "We've had enough of this," and the terrible dictator of Romania, the despot and his wife, were executed on Christmas day, 1989.
In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev said on Christmas Day, "Communism has not worked. The hammer and sickle changes. The Soviet Union as it has been known for 75 years is no longer the same empire." On Christmas Day, the empire that said, "We will destroy God and Jesus and the church," was destroyed by the faith of the people who know that he rules and one day will reign for ever and ever and ever.
If Jesus had not come, there would be no righting of the wrong and no ruling of the world. But he did come, didn't he? That's good news, and that's why we celebrate Christmas.
I don't know how you came to Jesus. Different people come for different reasons. Some of you came because it just made sense to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It just seemed right.
Some of you came because you got into a difficult problem, and the only way out was up: you found him there waiting for you. Some of you came because you felt so burdened by guilt and sin and the past that you reached out and found Jesus there with mercy and compassion ready to forgive you.
Disraeli, the brilliant Prime Minister of England, fell in love and married a lady 12 years older than he by the name of Mary. They had a legendary love and marriage. He used to kid her and say, "Mary, you know the reason I married you was because of your money." And she said, "But if you had it to do over again, you'd marry me because of your love."
If we had it to do over again, we'd come to him because of his love. At Christmas, love came down—love that was going to bear the terrible price for our sins. And once we came to know that love and experience that forgiveness, that compassion, that embrace, if we had it to do all over again, it would be because of love.
If Christ had not come—turn off the bells, stop the music, close the church. No hope. But, "I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
"And the light came into the world, and we beheld his glory, the glory as the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth. And the darkness could not overcome the light!"
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?