“It’s a Miserable Life!”
What if Jesus Were Never Born?
It’s a Wonderful Life is considered one of the greatest films of all time. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and appears as number 1 on the American Film Institutes’ list of the most inspirational films of all time.
The story: For years, George Bailey has given up his personal dreams in order to help many others in his community. When a large deposit from his company is accidentally lost by his uncle, he fears being held responsible and possibly going to jail. In despair, he decides to attempt suicide on Christmas Eve.
But his guardian angel intervenes. He proves to George how significantly he has touched the lives of others. He does this by showing George how different life would be for his wife Mary, his family, friends, and his entire community of Bedford Falls if he had not been born at all.
In the same vein, let me ask you:
What if JESUS were never born?
How different would everything be for you, for me, for our generation, for the whole world? If that were true, there might be a new “UNChristmas” movie classic about the outcomes of that scenario titled “It’s a MISERABLE life!”
Why don’t we do this: Let’s crowdsource our reflections on this question.
I’ll give you my suggestions (so far) of amazing—even shocking—counterfactuals. Then you can join the action by adding to the list, using the response section at the end of my blog post. We can all watch the list grow.
How would the world be a different place had Jesus never lived?
First of all, what is a counterfactual?
On December 13, 1931, on a New York City street, Winston Churchill was struck by a car going 30 miles per hour. Said the future Prime Minister, “I do not know why I was not broken like an eggshell or squashed like a gooseberry.” What if he had been killed? What might have been the outcome of World War II, not only for Britain but also for the world?
That’s an example of a counterfactual. A counterfactual is a way to think about how history might be rewritten if specific events had turned out differently.
Now, consider this counterfactual: What if Jesus had not been born on Christmas or at any other time? What if that feeding trough in Bethlehem had remained full of brittle straw?
What then? What would be different about the course of history or about the shape of Christianity? Would it even have any shape at all?
Or what about you personally? Would that counterfactual change what you believe, how you live, what you hope? For a Christian, pondering that possibility should make one shudder.
Let’s dig deeper into this. A few days ago, I began brainstorming with myself and tabulating my answers. Here are some—just for starters. But, as I said, I’m looking for many of you to expand the list.
It would end up a miserable life for sure!
There would be:
- No millions of warm Christmas Eve services—no candles, no pageants, no carols.
- Obviously, no Christmas Day—just another ordinary day at the office, in class, or shopping.
- No choirs giving hundreds of seasonal presentations of Handel’s Messiah. (There would be choirs, but they would not be singing songs about Jesus.)
- No New Year’s Eve parties to welcome the coming year—since the year is based on the Christian Gregorian Calendar from 1582, which begins with the day Jesus was born
Let’s continue with counterfactuals based on biblical records.
If Jesus had not been born:
- There is no scandal for Mary and Joseph to endure. They have an uncomplicated marriage—then they vanish with the sands of time.
- For the poor shepherds, it’s just another boring night like a thousand before.
- Chagrined, the wise men return to Iraq as failures, their gifts still with them.
- After all that John sacrifices to preach in the wilderness, no Messiah shows up at the end.
- There are no Gospels because there are no stories to tell, no ethical teachings, no parables, no miracles to report, no offers of a brand-new life with God.
- There are no disciples because there’s no Master to follow! The fishermen just continue fishing until they become too old to clean their nets. Matthew keeps on cheating people. Simon the Zealot persists in trying to overthrow the Roman Empire.
Some of the most dramatic Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s birth are not fulfilled. They are rendered null and void—such as:
Genesis 3:15—The seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, Satan.
Micah 5:2,4—Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient time . . . He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 9:6-7—For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
Imagine expectations like these, never activated—because the one to whom it points was never born!
In fact, without the advent birth of Jesus, all the prophecies that give us such great hope today for our own lives, as well as for the nations, would make absolutely no sense and hold zero relevance. Here is a sampling:
Psalm 2:6-8—“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”
Isaiah 53:4-5, 11-12—He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great; he will divide the spoils with the strong.
Zechariah 9:9-11—Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey . . . He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Not only would we be disillusioned by the failures of the Old Testament, but we would be spiritually impoverished by the complete absence of the New Testament. Consider:
- No child born to be what the angel told Mary: “a son . . . he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1: 31-33)
- No knowledge of the Father (John 1; John 13; Hebrews 1)
- No cross—thus, no substitute, no atonement, no forgiveness, no reconciliation
- No resurrection—thus, no victory over sin and death, no new creation in Christ
- No ascension—thus, no one to defeat dark powers and bring forth God’s kingdom
- No New Testament missionary movement—thus, no Church today
- No New Testament letters from Paul or Peter—thus, none of the riches of its promises in Christ could be known or enjoyed
- No hope for any of us for life beyond the grave
- No prospects of a new heaven and new earth where Jesus is Lord and Light
If space allowed, we could survey the mammoth void during the past 2000 years—if Jesus were never born. Just think about it a moment:
- Millions of books about Jesus never written
- Thousands of paintings about Jesus never conceived
- Countless hymns and songs exalting Jesus never sung
- Vast ministries for Jesus to the poor, hungry, homeless never begun
- Movements for justice and social reform in Jesus’ name never launched
And of course, there would be no ChristNow.com. That means you would not be enjoying any of our blog posts, podcast episodes, video clips, Facebook and Instagram posts, tweets, or countless other resources we offer to help you go deeper and further with Jesus.
The true impact of one solitary life
Every Christmas, I get at least two or three Christmas cards inscribed with the famous poem titled One Solitary Life. Written by Dr. James Allan Francis, a pastor in Los Angeles, it originated as part of a sermon he delivered in 1926. Its final lines read:
Very true. Except I would change one word: not one solitary life but one solitary reign. All the things I listed above that would be missing are NOT missing. It is all true—and so much more! Why?
Because the baby born on Christmas Day was, is, and shall always be “solitary” as the one and only Lord Jesus Christ—with no rivals, no competitors, no successors. He is King of Kings, Potentate of time and eternity, Redeemer Lord, Lamb of God on the throne, Son of the living God, whose kingdom will increase and continue forever and ever.
Having all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the single person in the entire universe who is able to transform a “miserable” life into a “wonderful” life—a life overflowing with the wonders of our Savior.
Now it’s YOUR turn!!
Send me other counterfactuals as if Jesus had never been born! Use the response device below.
Then, join me by coming back every few days to check up on what else has been added as we watch the list grow!
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.