When we talk about the meaning and impact of Jesus, people often ask if it makes any difference if we follow a good teacher like Jesus instead of another good teacher like Buddha or Confucius. Josh McDowell, a well-known Christian apologist, once used the illustration of putting a tomato in your shoe to make you the fastest runner in the world. The student he was talking with started to laugh because such a thing does not exist. While a tomato in your shoe will not impact your run, experiencing Jesus will transform your life. “That is exactly the point,” said McDowell, “you have to experience the presence of Christ in your life and see exactly what happens.” What McDowell did was nothing new; in Psalm 34:8, the Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus himself said to two of disciples of John the Baptist, “Come and see.” This refrain is repeated by Philip when he calls Nathanael. We are welcomed to come and see for ourselves if the things said about Jesus are true.
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy through the birth of Jesus Christ is confirmed by the shepherds from the fields of Bethlehem who say to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15) It is in that hour that we have the fulfillment of the promise in the birth of Jesus Christ. The shepherds share with Mary and Joseph what they have heard from the angels. The proclamation of the birth began with the angels and the shepherds and then spread through the people and traveled through history to the Christians of today.
In contrast with the tomato that did not make anyone run faster because it does not exist, the conclusion of the story of the birth of Christ is given to us in these words: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they have been told.” (Luke 2:20) The Beloved Disciple John started his epistle with these words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) When Apostle Paul faced King Agrippa, he said, “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” (Acts 26:25-26). We are impacted by our own experiences with God and by the experiences of others in our community.
Jesus Christ’s life can be ordered into a couple of major stages. We know a lot about his birth, but almost nothing for the next 12 years until his parents take him to the temple. Then we hear nothing until he is 30 years old. We can read a lot about his life from 30 to 33, although half of the stories we read happen during the week that we call Holy Week – from Palm Sunday to his resurrection and ascension.
Mark introduces the ministry of Jesus with these words: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come, he said. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-16) The expression good news is also known as the word gospel. At the end of his ministry, Jesus charges his disciples to take this gospel to the ends of the world. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15). Jesus defines the gospel as the presence of God among us and Paul presents it that way to the Corinthian church. “Now brothers I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you take your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you…For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve.”(1 Corinthians 15:1-5)
The world as they knew it at that time was much smaller than the world we know now, but the twelve disciples and Paul understood the importance of taking the gospel everywhere. Paul and Peter were convinced that spreading the gospel at the center of the known world was important, and they both witnessed to the people and concluded their lives in Rome. Paul wrote that “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel of Christ where Christ was not known.” (Romans 15:20)
The good news was the fulfillment of Emmanuel, God with us. God with us was visible and verifiable through the presence of Jesus Christ during his ministry here on earth. Jesus says to his disciples before his ascension, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Does it make any difference that God is with us? How does our story change because he is with us? The danger is that we are majoring on the minors. We focus on the humility of the manger or the pageantry of Palm Sunday, and we are missing the major story – God is with us. This story of Jesus is so clearly recorded on the pages of the New Testament, but it has to have resonance in our lives today so we can proclaim what God has done in Christ two thousand years ago and what he continues to do today. As we celebrate the Christmas story and continue to walk with God throughout our lives, something must be different with us. We have to live lives that are different than the ones we led before we knew that God was with us.