Every year at graduation time, valedictory speakers trot out time-honored platitudes about “making a difference,” “changing the world,” and “following your dreams.” The same is true during election years as candidates make promises and proposals for a better future while lambasting their predecessors for the messes they’ve made. If only the world could be changed with such speeches.
Consider, on the other hand, the difference Jesus has made. Not during his lifetime, mind you. The impact he had during his brief ministry is minute when compared to what has happened since. On that first Easter, a handful of women came to anoint his corpse and discovered the empty tomb. This past Easter, roughly one third of the world celebrated the empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So how has Jesus, along with all who have sought to follow in his ways, changed the world? John Ortberg writes, “[Jesus’] influence has swept over history like the tail of a comet, bringing his inspiration to influence art, science, government, medicine, and education; he has taught humans about dignity, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.” Let me offer three ways that Jesus changed our world, among many.
First, the world is a far better and safer place for children, women, the disabled, and the elderly because of Christ. Christians through the ages have internalized the ethic of the sacredness of human life. In Roman times, Christians rescued infants exposed to die, until a Christian emperor outlawed the practice of infanticide in the fourth century. Early Christians also opposed gladiatorial killings, human sacrifices, pedophilia, and the practice of suicide. Everywhere the gospel has gone, the quality of life for widows, orphans, and the poor has gone up, because Jesus’ followers have sought to care for them.
Second, the idea that every person, regardless of gender or social status, should learn how to read and receive an education traces its roots back to Christian faith. The ideas of the university and the library trace their roots to medieval Christianity. Martin Luther made the case that every person needs to be able to read and write in order to study the Bible for themselves. Christians were also at the forefront of early efforts to help educate the deaf and the blind.
Third, the idea of human dignity and worth has been slowly teased out and applied by believers. It was Christians who developed hospitals for the general populace, homes for the mentally challenged, and residences for lepers. It was Christians who cultivated notions of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking. It was Christians who fought to bring about prison reforms.
Did Christians ever fall short? We know they did. We also know that our work as followers of Jesus is far from done. But were we to remove every trace of Jesus’ influence from human history, the world would be a far, far worse place. As we gather to worship this Sunday, may we give thanks to God for Jesus our Lord and his lasting impact on planet Earth! And may we continue to work tirelessly to help bring God’s Kingdom reign to fruition in our spheres of influence.