Robert Jeffress - What If There Were No Christmas?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". In 1971, John Lennon penned the opening line to his famous song, "Imagine". "Imagine there's no heaven". For a godless person, that's a wistful statement, that wonders from a secular perspective how much simpler life could be without religion. Well, today, we're going to take that idea further and imagine what if there were no Christmas? The implications of such a reality would truly be devastating. My message is titled, "What If There Were No Christmas?" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
You know, one way you know it's Christmas is by the continuous showing of the holiday classic movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Remember that movie? We know the story by heart. Stewart plays a man named George Bailey, who has a catastrophe at work; and because of that, he decides to take his own life. He curses the day that he was born. And Clarence the angel appears to him and saves his life and shows him what the world would've been like had he not been born. And he gains a whole new perspective on living.
Well, I was thinking about that story this week, especially with all the stress that comes with Christmas. You know, some people, when they think about the gifts to buy, and the meals to prepare, and the family members you don't like you have to get together with. You know, they think about those things, and they think about, well, maybe life would be easier without Christmas. They're tempted to pray like that little girl. Remember the story? She knelt by the side of the bed, and she was praying the Lord's prayer, but she got confused, and she said, "And, Father, forgive us of our Christmases, as we forgive those who Christmas against us".
Maybe you feel like you've been Christmased against once too often, and you wonder would it be better not to have Christmas? What if, in fact, there were no Christmas? What if, in fact, Jesus Christ had not been born in Bethlehem? For the few minutes we have this morning, I want to talk about what would happen if there were no Christmas. What would this world be like had there been no birth of Jesus Christ? Well, first of all, if there were no Christmases, if there were no coming of Christ, the prophecies of the Bible about Christ would've been left unfulfilled.
You know, most people don't know this, but in the Old Testament, written 400 to 1,000 years before Christ came, there are hundreds of prophecies about the coming Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled every one of them. For example, consider the place of his birth. You know, the story of Christmas doesn't begin in Bethlehem. It begins 1,400 miles away from Bethlehem in Rome, the center of world power at that time. And it starts with a man who was emperor of Rome. He's known as Caesar Augustus. That was his title, but his real name was Octavian. He was the most powerful man in the world. There's only one person in our audience today who knows how that feels, to be the most powerful man in the world. But this man, Caesar Augustus, he had a problem that we still see in government today. He didn't think he had enough revenue, so he had to start taxing the people. And in order to tax the people (there were no computers) they had to have a census of everybody.
So, Caesar Augustus, Luke 2 tells us, ordered a census to tax the entire world, and he made everybody in the Roman empire go back to the place of their birth to register for taxation. Little did Caesar Augustus know that by signing that executive order, he would cause a couple he had never met before to travel to a little, tiny town he had never heard of before in Israel to give birth to the Savior of the world. And yet, God prophesied all of that 700 years before Caesar Augustus signed that order. Micah 5:2 prophesies that it will be in Bethlehem that the Messiah is born. "But as for you, Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth from Me to be ruler in Israel". Bethlehem was such a tiny, no-account town, that it wasn't registered in the list of cities. Today we would say it didn't even make it on the Google maps. It was that insignificant of a place. But God knew about it, and he said, "This is where Messiah will be born".
That was prophesied. Another prophecy was made about the manner of his birth. Isaiah 7:14, written 600 years before Christ was born, prophesied that he would be born of a virgin. And indeed, Matthew 1:23 says he was born of a virgin. The Bible talks about his ministry. Six hundred years before Christ was born, it was prophesied that his ministry would begin in Galilee in the north, and that's what happened. Did you know his betrayal by Judas Iscariot was prophesied 520 years before it happened? In Zechariah, now this is the Old Testament, in the Old Testament. Zechariah 11:12-13, it prophesies that the Messiah would be sold for 30 pieces of silver. How did Zechariah know that? It was only because God had ordained it. Even the manner of Jesus' death was prophesied ahead of time.
In Psalm 22, written 1,000 years before Christ, before crucifixion had even been invented by the Romans, Psalm 22 gives a perfect description of his crucifixion. Isaiah, 600 years earlier, said he would be crucified between two thieves. Isaiah 53:9 says that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man's tomb. All of these things prophesied about Jesus hundreds of years before he was born. Now, some of you skeptics would say, "Well, it's just accidental that Jesus happened to fulfill those prophecies. It was coincidence".
Peter Stoner is a mathematician. He wrote a book entitled, "Science Speaks," and he decided to calculate the odds, the probability that one person like Jesus could've accidentally fulfilled just eight of those 200 prophecies. What is the mathematical probability of one man in history, by chance, fulfilling eight, not 200, but eight of those prophecies. He came up with the number: 1 in 10 to the 17th power. Do you know how big of a number 10 to the 17th power is? That's a 1 with 17 zeros behind it, 1 chance in that big of a number that Jesus could've fulfilled eight prophecies. But it wasn't eight. It was 200. Peter Stoner goes on to see the odds of one man fulfilling 48 of those prophecies is 1 in 10 to the 157th power. What do you think the odds are of 200 of those prophecies being accidentally fulfilled? There's a Greek word for it: zilch. Nothing, no probability whatsoever. This wasn't an accident. This was God's plan by which Jesus came into the world. And if there were no Jesus, there would've been all of these prophecies left unfulfilled.
You say, "Well, that's interesting, Robert. But what does that mean to me? What does it mean to me that Jesus fulfilled all of these prophecies"? Well, if there were no Christmas, if there were no Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, there would be no payment for our sins today. You know, people get all emotional about Christmas for the wrong reason. They hear about a baby being born, and they start thinking about all the babies in the world. Aren't they sweet and cuddly? Then they start thinking about their own baby being born, and they get misty-eyed and so forth, and they fall into the syrupy mentality of Christmas, and they miss the real point.
Ladies and gentlemen, the magic of Christmas is not that a baby was born. Lots of babies are born. Lots of babies were born that night in Israel. What the magic of Christmas is, is this baby was different. He was the Son of God, who could do for us only what He could do, and that is to take away our sins, to be the payment for our sins. You know, it was Job the patriarch who asked the question, "How can a man or woman be right with God"? Did you know our biggest problem is not that we don't have an education. Somebody has said, "If our biggest need were an education, God would've sent us a teacher. If man's biggest need was for money, God would've sent us an economist. If our greatest need was for technology, God would've sent us an innovator. But our greatest need was for forgiveness, and that's why God sent us a Savior". That's why the angel said, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. He shall save his people from their sins".
You say, "Well, why do I need anybody to save me from my sins"? The Bible says all of us are sinners. We're all sinners. The pope is a sinner. Priests are sinners. Your pastor is a sinner. We've all sinned, the Bible says, and fallen short of the glory of God. Every one of us have sinned. Some have sinned more than others. But you know, it really doesn't matter. We're all sinners. And not only that, the Bible says somebody has to pay for our sin. Romans 6:23 says "The wages of sin is death". God can't just overlook our sin. He's a just God. Payment has to be made for our sin. And the problem with our sin is it just keeps increasing every hour of every day of every year.
If you travel to New York City, you'll see in midtown what is called the National Debt Clock. Mr. President, I'm sure you've seen it before. It registers our ever-increasing national debt. You can stand on the corner and just look up at that neon sign, and it keeps going up and up and up, day after day, year after year. It's trillions and trillions of dollars, and it keeps on going. Did you know we all have an internal sin clock that registers our sins? Every wrong thought we have, every wrong attitude we held, every wrong action we commit, it just keeps spinning, and our debt to God increases and increases and increases. And if we die, still owing that debt to God, we'll spend eternity trying to pay it off in hell. That's what hell is. It's separation from God.
But here's the good news of Christmas. Even though we could never pay off that debt, I mean, do we think taking a little wafer at communion is going to pay off our sin debt or get into that baptistry and getting wet? No, there's nothing we can do to pay off our sin. And if we die without our sin being paid for, we spend eternity trying to work out that sin debt. But here's the good news: Jesus came to pay that debt for us. He is the only person who never sinned. When he died on the cross, in some inexplicable way, he took the punishment from God that we deserved to take. And that's why some of Jesus' final words on the cross were... remember the words? "It is finished". The Greek word for that, the Greek word for finished is tetelestai. Tetelestai, literally, it's an accounting term that means paid in full. Jesus has paid in full our sin debt for us.
And the most important decision we ever make in life, ladies and gentlemen, is who is going to pay for our sin? Are we gonna try to pay our sin debt ourselves? If so, we'll spend all eternity trying to work it off. Or are we going to allow Jesus to pay that debt for us? And ladies and gentlemen, the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross 2,000 years ago to pay your sin debt means nothing to you if you don't receive that pardon for your sins that he offers you. You say, "Well, how do you receive it"? Jesus explained it this way. He said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes, trusts in, clings to him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life".
Now listen to me. If you don't hear another word I'm saying, believing in Jesus doesn't mean just believing the right things about Jesus, intellectually believing in Jesus. No, it means to trust in, to depend upon him for the forgiveness of your sins. There has to be that time in our life when we kneel before a holy God and we say, "God, I know I've messed up. I know I've sinned. I know I've disappointed you, but I believe that you sent Jesus to die for me, and I'm trusting in what he did for me, not in my good works, but in what he did for me to save me from my sins". And the moment you do that, and you mean it with all of your heart, the Bible says your sins are forgiven, they are forgotten by God forever. Isn't that good news? That is the message of Christmas. Christ came to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. If there were no Christmas, there would be no payment for our sins.
There's a third consequence of no Christmas, no Christ, and that is if there were no Christmas, there would be no one in heaven who understands my problems. There would be no one in heaven who really understands us. You see, the reason God came and took on human form was not just to fulfill prophecies and not even just to make a payment for our sins, but also so that we could have somebody in heaven who understands us. Hebrews 2:17-18 say, "Therefore, God had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation, satisfaction for the sins of the people. For since God Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted".
Do you remember the Romans and the Greeks? They created all these mythological gods. They were just distant deities, and they were characterized by apathy, apotheose in Greek, without feeling. These gods they made up in heaven had no connection with people on earth. They were untouched when they saw people suffering, but the truth faith, the only faith, Christianity, teaches that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, and he came so he could experience everything we experience: temptation, frustration, anger, betrayal. He's experienced all of those things, and yet without sin. And when we pray to him, we can know we're praying to a God who understands us, because he's been where we walk every day.
Dorothy Sayers said it this way: "For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is, limited, and suffering, and subject to sorrows and death, God had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game God is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from us that he's not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the crampy restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death".
What does that mean? I'm not alone in this world. When I'm going through difficulty, I can talk to somebody in heaven, a friend who understands us. That's why the writer of Hebrews says, "For we do not have a high priest, Jesus, who can't sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tested in all points, as we are, and yet without sin. Therefore, let us come with confidence to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and grace to help in our time of need". If there were no Christmas, we would have no friend in heaven who understands us.
And finally, today, if there were no Christmas, if Christ had not come, there would be no hope of life beyond the grave. Again, Job, the Old Testament patriarch, who lived 4,000 years ago, he asked the most important, profound question of human existence: "If a man dies, will he live again"? Don't you agree, when you think about it, that's the bottom-line question? When I close my eyes for the very last time here on earth, is that it? Do I just go into nothingness, never remembering that I ever existed? Is that what awaits me when I die? Or is there life, is there hope beyond the grave? If a person dies, shall he live again? The birth, the death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ answers that question. There is life beyond the grave.
As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15, "As in Adam all die, so those who are in Christ shall all be made alive". I mean, it's unstated, but it's obvious. If there were no Christmas, if Christ had not come, there would be no one who could've paid for our sins and conquered death for once and for all. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter. Without a manger in Bethlehem, there would be no empty tomb in Jerusalem. But the fact is Christ did come, and he conquered death, and he promised those who trust in him will also one day conquer death. I realize Christmas is a bitter sweet time for many people, especially those who have lost loved ones in death.
Maybe I'm speaking to some of you this morning, some of you watching on television, you've lost a husband or a wife, a friend, a parent, maybe even a child, and that's why you have mixed feelings at Christmas. Yes, you're grateful for all those times that you've spent together, but there's a hole in your heart. There's a void. There's something missing, and you wonder, "Am I ever going to see that loved one again, or is this it"? Christmas answers that question with Jesus' words in John 11:25. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live again".
Author Philip Yancey tells about two tombstones here in America. One tombstone is in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. It marks the grave of Mel Blanc. You may not know the name Mel Blanc, but you know his voice. He was the voice of Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck, and the Roadrunner, and all those wonderful Warner Brothers cartoons. But before he died, Mel Blanc left this instruction: that he wanted three words on his tombstone, the same three words he would close every Warner Brothers cartoon with. "That's all, folks". That's what's on his tombstone. "That's all, folks".
Philip Yancey describes another tombstone. It marks a grave in rural Louisiana. It's underneath an oak tree. It's the grave of a friend's grandmother. And before she died, she said, "I want one word etched on my tombstone: 'Waiting.'" Mel Blanc was wrong. This isn't all that there is. There is a hope waiting for those who know Christ as Savior, and we are waiting for that great fulfillment. Because Jesus Christ did come 2,000 years ago at Bethlehem, we have a Bible filled with prophecies that have been fulfilled. We have a Savior who has paid once and for all for our sins. We have a friend in heaven who understands us. And most of all, we have a hope waiting for us beyond the grave. That's the message of Christmas.