Yesterday I was interviewed as a guest on the Michael Easley podcast. At one point we talked about Jesus and the paradoxical nature of his influence on the world.
Think about what the great secular historian H.G. Wells said about Jesus’s influence. “Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of human history.”
This is hard to fathom when you consider some of the great Greek philosophers who had such influence.
Socrates – Taught and wrote for 40 years.
Aristotle – Taught and wrote for 40 years.
Plato – Taught and wrote for 50 years.
Jesus was a public figure for only three years and never wrote anything, but clearly taught quite a bit during those three years. Yet He was the most dominant figure in all of human history. How do you explain it?
And how do you explain the fact that today the world’s calendars are built around the birth of Christ. History is divided into events that took place before His birth and those that took place after His birth. This is clearly an indication of the extent to which Western culture was shaped by this man Jesus. It is quite obvious that something of universal importance began with the historical figure of Christ.
I like to ask people to use their imagination and consider that God has given you the task of creating a life, any life, for your son or your daughter, that would enable them to have a huge influence on the world. What would you choose? Assume you can determine their giftedness, their achievements, their wealth. What would you choose? President of the United States? King of England? Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? Senator? President of Apple? A rock star, a movie star, an Academy Award winner, Heisman trophy winner? What would you choose?
Most of us would choose for them power and influence, some type of celebrity status, a mover and a shaker, a person of substance whose character, opinions, and actions extended deeply into in the world of commerce and politics.
I ask that because this is what God could have easily provided for Jesus. He could have put him in a wealthy Roman household, or in Athens, where all the scholarly influence resided.
God could have given Jesus every advantage you would want in life, but instead he was born and lived in the most desolate part of the Roman Empire called Palestine. He lived a very quiet life with his parents for thirty years as a carpenter. He left almost no traces of himself on earth, and he never owned any belongings or possessions that could be enshrined in a museum. He never wrote anything. He allowed himself to be taken into custody. He was mocked, beaten, spat upon, and, then, stripped naked in front of a massive crowd. He then was taken to the cross and was crucified between two criminals for all the world to see.
And he asked God the father to forgive those who executed him and then was buried in a tomb. Yet somehow Jesus and his small following have produced the dominant faith in Western civilization. How do you explain this?
Philip Yancey wrote in one of his books about the life of French philosopher and anthropologist Rene Girard, who was a very accomplished man. He ended his career as a distinguished professor at Stanford. At a certain point in his studies and research, Girard began to notice that a cavalcade of liberation movements from the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, women’s rights, minority rights, human rights, had gathered speed in the twentieth century. The trend mystified Girard because he found nothing comparable in his readings in ancient literature. Through his further research, Girard traced this phenomenon back to the historical figure of Jesus.
It struck Girard that Jesus’ story cuts against the grain of every heroic story from its time. Indeed, Jesus chose poverty and disgrace. He spent his infancy as a refugee. He lived in a minority race under a harsh regime. He died as a prisoner. From the very beginning, Jesus took the side of the underdog, the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the marginalized. His crucifixion, Girard concluded, introduced a new plot to history. The victim becomes a hero by being a victim. Girard recognized that two thousand years later the reverberations from Christ’s life have not stopped. And yet, ironically, at the center of the Christian faith, hangs a suffering Christ on the cross, dying in shame, for all the world to see.
And to the shock and consternation of his friends and secular colleagues, Girard announced that he had become a Christian because of the unexplainable life of Christ.
So how do you explain Jesus and His influence? He was without a doubt the Son of the living God. Can you come up with a better explanation?
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.