Palm Sunday observances in churches around the world mark the beginning of Holy Week, the days leading up to and including Christ’s passion and death on a cross.
During this time of year, thousands of believers travel to Jerusalem to trace the footsteps of Jesus during the days leading to His crucifixion.
Those unable to make the journey overseas will celebrate in their churches with palm fronds, Good Friday observances, cantatas, plays and Resurrection Sunday services. This is the time of year where, despite doctrinal differences of faith traditions, Christians everywhere are unified in their recognition of the significance of this period.
I was thinking about this when I reflected upon Jesus’ influence some 2000 years after His crucifixion and resurrection. In fact, believers and unbelievers alike are being impacted by His life and teachings to this day.
A quick Google search revealed that Jesus consistently ranks at the top of surveys and determinations of the world’s most influential people. A few sites put others ahead of Him, Aristotle in one case and Mohammed in another, but the teacher from Galilee is consistently in the top rankings.
As a religious leader, Jesus was and is certainly influential, but evidence abounds that He has impacted other areas of society as well.
Nearly a third of the world’s population, 2 billion out of 7 billion people, identify themselves as followers of Jesus’ teachings. The Bible, which gives details of Jesus’ life and ministry, is consistently the most read book in the world, and a bestseller as well.
The teachings of Jesus have influenced our modern valuations of human life and dignity. In the ancient world, children were abandoned or sold into slavery. Early Christians were known to rescue newborn babies who had been left in Rome’s trash dumps. Jesus’ interaction with children, women, the sick and the poor revealed His estimation of their value. The first hospitals, orphanages and feeding programs came into being through Christians’ efforts to obey His instructions.
In the area of education, His influence is evident as well. Only the elite of the ancient world had access to education. The libraries of the monks inspired the first universities of the 12th and 13th centuries. Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard were formed originally as Christian institutions.
In America, the Puritans were the first to pass laws mandating the education of the masses, and biblical literacy was the emphasis of children’s reading texts for two hundred years. Science and Christianity seem to have a combustible relationship in the thought and discourse of many today.
It can be argued, however, that the Christian view of a rational God who is the source of rational truth inspired the possibility of scientific laws. Many of the founders of modern science were influenced by Christianity, including Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur and Blaise Pascal.
Time and space would not permit me to detail the influence of Jesus and Christianity upon our concepts of liberty, justice and equality, or upon art, literature, music, words, symbols, holidays, our calendar and a host of other areas of life that we may take for granted.
Whether or not one agrees that Jesus was the most influential figure in human history, it cannot be denied that He has had a remarkable impact on the world. His 3 1/2 years of ministry and teaching have touched countless lives on every continent and His influence is an ongoing reality throughout the world today.
May the power of His life and teachings inspire you this season and for all time.
Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.