Who is the most significant figure in human history? According to a new ranking developed by computer scientists and based on computational data-centric analysis using advanced algorithms that measure millions of traces of opinion flowing through sites like Wikipedia and Google, the single most influential person in history is... Jesus of Nazareth.
I could have told them that. So could you. Whatever we think of him, few people doubt the power of the personality of Jesus Christ or the enduring legacy of his influence. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "The name of Jesus is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world."
The Babe of Bethlehem, whose birth we commemorate on December 25, is the conundrum of history, a puzzle to many, a problem for some, a prince whose crib was a manger and whose royal genealogy was stained by men and women of unfit character and ill repute. Yet he himself claimed total righteousness, asking his critics, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" They could not.
As a child, Jesus was teased by those questioning the legitimacy of His birth. As a youth He was taunted by brothers who doubted His mission. As a man He bore the scorn of those seeking His destruction. Yet the power of His presence astonished the masses and they said of Him, "What manner of man is this?"
He was a working man, a ragged carpenter, with neither a roof above his head nor a pillow beneath it, sleeping under the stars or in borrowed beds, His robe a blanket, His moon a nightlight. His hands were callused, but his heart was tender. His family was poor, yet his teaching was the richest the world has ever heard.
For 36 months, this man from Nazareth drifted about doing good and telling stories. He never hurt a soul. He healed the sick, taught the masses, fed the hungry, walked across the seas, and preached the Good News. Wherever He went, the miraculous broke out -- at weddings, at funerals, on the land and on the lake, on the mountainside and in the city streets. He became the help of the hopeless and the hope of the hapless. He turned water into wine, and with bread and fish He fed a multitude; yet He Himself was sometimes hungry and in His death He cried in thirst.
He is mystery in every way: Obscure in birth, humble in youth, hardworking in life, flawless in character, gentle in spirit. Yet hated, rejected, beaten, and crucified -- though His condemner said, "I find no fault in Him" and His executioner said, "Surely this was the Son of God."
He was buried in a donated mausoleum. Yet His tomb, guarded by the Roman soldiers, was opened by heavenly agents -- and found empty. And for two thousand years we can say that all the angels of heaven and all the souls of the earth have failed to explain the influence of this soft child in swaddling clothes who was laid in a manger with no crib for a bed -- Jesus Christ our Lord.
To multitudes of every generation and still today he is the source and center of life itself. His presence cheers the sickroom and his promises comfort the deathbed. His words, memorized in childhood, can strengthen a person for a lifetime, as I know from experience. His example fuels a million benevolent actions every day, and his very title, "Price of Peace," speaks of his love and leadership. Yet just as he predicted, his followers comprise the greatest demographic of persecuted people on earth, even now, especially now.
How does one explain it? That an obscure carpenter, born in a tiny town, raised in forgotten hills, a member of an oppressed tribe, without advanced education or significant income -- that he should be recognized two thousand years later as the most influential figure in humanity. It's the marvel of the ages.
Maybe the answer is as simple as the truth. Perhaps he is exactly who he claimed to be. Perhaps he really can change our lives and save our souls. I think the angel had it right: Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.