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About this series
A Journalist Explores the Credibility and Impact of Christianity
If someone were to ask you: “how do you know Jesus actually lived?” or “can we really trust the Bible?”... what would you say? In this new series, pastor and journalist John Dickerson answers those questions. Using evidence from multiple, reliable sources, and the well-documented impact of Jesus’ followers throughout history, John builds a credible case for the Christian faith. Our hope is that this series will help you confidently say: “Jesus is real, the Bible is true… and I can prove it!”.More from this series
We all want the best for the people we care about in the world for our kids or grandkids, our class-mates boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse. We want the best for those people. I wonder who do you think of when you think of who you love the most and you want them living free from disease. You want them living healthy. You want them living a life of prosperity, a life of wellbeing, where they've got enough food, a life where they have freedom. Who do you think of when you think of someone you really want that for?
I think of my two daughters, Zoe and Evie. Zoe and Evie are two of the best things that ever happened to me. I get to be their dad. And they're at that stage of life where they think I'm like the coolest, smartest, strongest. It's awesome. I mean, I'm just living it up because I guess some of you who have teenagers have told me that maybe that changes, like, I don’t know, I've got my fingers crossed that it won't, that they're still going to think I'm the smartest person in the world when they're 16 we’ll see, but Zoe and Evie, they have dolls that have dolls. They have pets, stuffed pets, they have pets and they all have names and they have these intricate life stories.
Their bedroom is a whole village of these little imaginary creatures. And you can peek in on them doing imaginary, play on the ground and there's little conflicts to resolve and all sorts of great stories. It's a pretty peaceful world for the most part, but there is a villain you see Zoe and Evie have an older brother named Jack.
And Jack's actually, as far as older brothers go, speaking of someone who had three older brothers he's actually a very good older brother. He really doesn't pick on them much. And they play the three of them play together really well. But every once in a while, Jack, who's more into dragons, World War II aircraft, T-Rexes - every once in a while, he'll just be overcome with a creative impulse to raid the village and he'll go in and he will wreak havoc. And usually he helps them clean up. But there was one day in particular where Zoe was just devastated. Her whole little world had been destroyed and she ran to me and she said, “Dad, I just feel like everything is ruined.”
And as I was walking her down the hall to rebuild her world, my mind couldn't help but jump to the many adults I know who really relate to that. Who, in the last year and a half, their business or their family or their health has been completely turned upside down some days it feels like the world's being torn apart around us. There is a villain. There's the evil of cancer. The dragon of death, the villain of broken relationships.
You know, as I helped Zoe rebuild her little world, I got thinking, man, wouldn't it be nice if it were this simple in the adult world, just realign some stuffed animals and worldwide hunger goes away, and inequality goes away, and disease goes away. Here's the question we're wrestling with today. How can you be a force for good in a world that is so broken and in so hurting, because I'm guessing whether you're here as a long-time believer or a skeptic or somewhere in the middle that you have some part of your heart that you genuinely want to help the people around you. I'm guessing you and I have in common that you don't want to see people going hungry.
You don't want to see people suffering. You don't want to people gasping for breath because of a viral disease. If I could tell you today, how you can be the solution to the thing that most grieves you in the world, would you want to know how? I mean, if there's a meaningful way, not, not pie in the sky, but a meaningful way that you could attach your life to a powerful movement that's bigger than just you and it actually, as a result, clothes, people who are poor, feeds people who are hungry, gives healthcare to people who otherwise could not have it. Would you want to be part of that?
Well, I want to answer this question today through the words of Jesus and through the lives of some who have taken His words seriously. You see the challenge with studying Christianity, at this point in history, is that today one out of three people in the world claims to be Christian, but not all of them actually read the words of Jesus and do what He says.
So, we're going to look today at some heroes of history who actually read the words of Jesus and did what they said. And I want to show you how you can do the same. Our first story is from Rochester, Minnesota. It starts in August of 1883, when an F-5 tornado destroyed the entire city of Rochester, Minnesota. It was one of a series of tornadoes that came, one after another, and as a result, they killed 37 people. More than 200 were injured. All their little wood homes and buildings right after the Civil War were destroyed. Businesses were lost. Children were orphaned. Wives became widows. Now the city of Rochester, like most cities in the U.S. at this time, did not have a hospital in the city. It just had a few private practice doctors. Well, within that rubble, within that debris, there was a young woman. She did not have money.
She didn't even have a lot of power, but she had one thing, a willful resolve to do the words of Jesus where she lived. Her name was Mary Moes. And Mary Moes went around ministering to the injured, caring for the sick, the hurting, the homeless, finding homes for the orphans, making sure that the widows had a place to sleep. And as she did this, she had a vision, a, a vision that you might actually call it a God-sized vision because she saw that the only doctors in the area, they just practiced private medicine for the rich people, essentially. They were the only people who could afford to have a doctor come to their house. And she met a young doctor there in Rochester, Minnesota, and she shared this vision with him. She said to him, “If you could gather a few doctors, we could create a little hospital where poor people could come.
Anyone could come and get healthcare.” And he said, “Well, we would need a ton of nurses.” And she said, “Well, I'll do it. I know a number of other young women who who've given their lives to follow Jesus. We will change the sheets. We will change the bandages. We will feed the ones who can't feed themselves. We will lift them to the bathroom. We will do the work. If you can gather a few doctors.
So, the doctor agreed and Mary Moes gathered together a number of other young followers of Jesus. And together with that doctor, they started a little clinic. That clinic grew and grew. And today, if you were to ask a non-Christian medical researcher, what is the number one hospital in the United States? Better yet, what's the number one hospital in the world. They would say that it's the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Uh, you see that doctor that Mary Moes met was named Dr. Mayo and Mary Moes’ story is one of many, when it comes to healthcare in the developed world. In fact, if you were to go to the Mayo clinic today, right in the middle of their whole campus, you would see this building behind me, which is called St. Mary's hospital. St. Mary's a real person. It's the person we just saw. It's Mary Moes.
You see, you might be thinking I'm never going to start a hospital. I'm just an ordinary person. Well, Mary Moes was just as ordinary. What she did is she lived out the teachings of Jesus, where He placed her and her life is proof of this that God uses ordinary people who believe the words of Jesus - when He said to feed the poor, to set the captives free, to do unto others as we would do to ourselves, God uses ordinary people who actually believe that and they live it out and through them, He does extraordinary good.
Mary Moes is not some radical exception when it comes to the founding of hospitals. But I want you to think about this. God is not the author of evil, but He says in his word that he takes what Satan means for evil and He turns it for good. And I just want you to think about this. God can take a tornado that killed 37 people and He can turn that into a hospital that saves hundreds of thousands of people. In fact, in the case of the Mayo clinic, it's not just hundreds of thousands, the medical advances that it has exported out to other hospitals around the world as a model in healthcare, have saved millions of lives.
Well, when I was working as a journalist and was having doubts about Christianity, I was in the middle of an investigative report on healthcare there in Arizona. I was noticing that all these leading hospitals were named Saint Josephs, or Saint Vincent’s, or Baptist-this, or Methodist-that, or Mercy-this, or Franciscan-that. And I knew those were all Christian terms. And as I researched, as a journalist, I thought, Why are none of these hospitals named after atheists? Why are none of them named after Islamic leaders? Why are none of them named after Buddhist leaders or Taoist leaders? Is it a coincidence that they're all named after Christian people? I mean, how did the Christians pull this off?
I began looking into the founding of the best hospitals in the country and in the world. And Mary Moes’ story is just one of dozens that I found. If you look at the other top five in the U.S., you would see Massachusetts General Hospital there in Boston was started by two pastors, two pastors who had just graduated from what was a Bible seminary at the time called Harvard. And they had such a heart for the poor in that city that they started a hospital there. And today, Massachusetts General’s one of the top five in the nation.
Another one would be Johns Hopkins, similar to the Mayo clinic. Many of the practices of John's Hopkins have been exported all around the world to save lives. Where did Johns Hopkins come from? Well, it was started by a Quaker Christian who bears that same weird name, John with an S attached at the end, that's actually spelled properly Johns Hopkins.
And at the end of his life, he gave his fortune to do three things. He wanted a Christian hospital, a Christian university, and because this was before the Civil War and he hated slavery as a Quaker Christian, he gave the other third of his fortune to start an orphanage for young African-American children who did not have parents.
These believers are like players in great team. If you think of Jesus being like a college football coach, I know that might be a little sacrilegious, but you think of that halftime talk where the football coach is like, “Now go and do this.” Jesus told His followers to go in the world and do a certain thing: help their neighbors love their neighbors.
And they've gone now and they've done it. And we now live at a time where if we get an infection, we just go to the doctor's office or a hospital. We just assume it's there. They weren't there 200 years ago, who put them there? Why did they put them there? The top ones that I studied all had stories like St. Mary Moes. They're believers in Jesus who did what their coach or their leaders said to do.
Here's one example of how Jesus put it in Matthew 5. He said this, “You are the light of the world,” if you call yourself one of My followers, “like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden…” He continues and he says this, “No one lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket or a bushel, instead, they set it up on a table so that it can give light to everyone in the house.”
And then Jesus says this to any follower of His who takes Him seriously. He says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine.” True followers of Jesus are to affect our neighbors in such a way that the people around us see something. In such a way that it gives praise to our Father in heaven.
Now there are two groups of people I want to address in this moment. The first is those of you who aren't yet a believer, or maybe you've been raised in a Christian home, and you're kind of doubting and you're deciding for yourself, What am I going to believe? The first challenge I want to give to that group is this. I want to encourage you to look for the people who actually do what Jesus said.
I know in my life, I had some people who were called Christians, but as I read the words of Jesus for myself, I realized that's not actually a follower of Jesus. They're not doing what He said. And when you find these people, who've done these terrible things, and they claim to be a Christian. You'll find they're not actually doing what Jesus said. It's called cultural Christianity. They've claimed the label, but they have not followed the leader. And I would encourage you if you're a doubter or a skeptic, that if you will get yourself around the people who take Jesus’ words seriously, you'll see something that you won't find anywhere else in the world.
Now, to the believers, I want to give the same challenge from the other perspective. And that's this. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, do the people who live in your home, do the people who work in your office, do your classmates, teammates, relatives, see any of this in you? Do they see some good deeds that, you're not doing them to earn God's favor but - you're overflowing. The love of God is overflowing from you to your neighbors. You don't have to be perfect but it becomes, we're all known by our actions. Even a child is known by their actions. Do the people around you have this sense of: Wow, if that's what followers of Jesus are like, I'm interested.
Well, after I learned the impact of followers of Jesus on the top ten hospitals, these are all documented in my book, Jesus Skeptic, I then looked into who are the leading anti-slavery voices who ended open and legalized slavery, both in England and the U.S., because it was the British Empire that then spread the end of slavery to much of the world and the U.S. as well, but the U.S. was late in the game, sadly. But before that slavery was a global norm on every continent.
So, who are the people who ended it? People like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman. And when I read their writings for myself or in Harriet Tubman's case, she didn't get an education, but many of her words are written down. I found that they were also followers of Jesus and not in an incidental manner, but in a motivating manner. One of them Elijah Lovejoy. He was a pastor and he was a newspaper man. And he became a martyr. He was the first casualty of the Civil War. Before shots were fired in war. He was using his printing presses to say that slavery was evil, that it flew in the face of God's nature. And it so inflamed people who were for slavery, that they burned down his printing shot, and they shot him with a shotgun. I mean, people who gave their lives to end slavery, who according to their own writings, when I sat down to read them said, “I'm doing this because I believe in a God who made all people in His image.”
Today, we take for granted that even a six-year-old knows what an immune system is. Three hundred years ago, people didn't know what that was. There's a whole field of medical research called immunology. And it's because of immunology that we can now not only treat disease, but we can prevent a lot of diseases. It's why we don't fear polio or a number of other diseases that used to wipe people out - because of immunology. Who's the father of immunology? Edward Jenner, a devout Christian. He's credited by medical researchers as saving more lives than anyone else in human history.
Because so much that we take for granted about our modern world is the result of the engineers who are trained at the leading universities. Where did they come from? And, and it's not guesswork. It's not opinion. It's just good, old, boring research. You can find the founding charter and the original crest of every university. And here's what I found of the top ten - Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, 10 out of 10 were started by Christians for the purpose of teaching the Bible. And then over the years, they added additional curriculum.
In my own doubtful study of Jesus, my logical approach was first, this: Did Jesus actually live? And in that book, Jesus Skeptic, you'll see a number of chapters about that. I've chosen in this series, not to do a whole message on it because the evidence is overwhelming. There are not serious qualified historians who even doubt it, but if you doubt it, that's okay. I did for a while. That's how skeptical I am. And I did. I mean, the evidence for that is just clear. If you believe Plato or Socrates or any other historic figure lived, there's way more evidence that this Jesus of Nazareth lived.
But the second question in my logical approach was this: Do we know what He actually said? I mean, Christians have this book called the Bible. They say it's God's Word. They say, “We have Jesus words.” How do we know?
I mean, I remember thinking - this is how skeptical I am. What if one guy woke up one day and said, I'm going to write this book and I'm going to say it's from God and tell all these people to follow it. That's not that crazy because Mormonism and Islam, there are religions that essentially, that's what it is. One guy said, “Hey, God, talked to me. Here it all is, you guys go do it.”
When I looked into: Where does the Bible come from? I was surprised. One, it wasn't just one person. But the thing that most surprised me, when I dug into the study of ancient manuscripts, was this reality that there are more ancient manuscripts of the books of the Bible than any other ancient literature in the world. So, for example, if you read Socrates or Plato or Aristotle today, you're reading an English translation of one of about 12 to 30 documents that purport to be from them, and usually there's about a six or seven-hundred-year gap, from when Plato lived to the oldest copy that we have. But that's normal with all historical documents because most of them were parchment and it doesn't do well in the weather.
The New Testament is radically different. For books of the Bible and the new Testament, like the gospel of John, we don't just have 12 or 20. We have like 2,000 or 5,000 or 6,000 ancient copies. And what's fascinating about these ancient copies. Here's a picture of one. This is a papyrus of Acts. This was dug out of the desert sands in Egypt is that researchers have for hundreds of years now at the best universities in the world, gathered all these and put them side by side, tons of Europe’s libraries have these and now many in the U.S. as well. And here's what the researchers started to find.
They could take a gospel of John that was dated from within a hundred years of when Jesus lived, found in the desert sands in Egypt, they could find another gospel of John that was written on leather and buried in a cave in Italy, put them side by side and they 98% agree with the 2% being things like spelling, punctuation, stylistic things. And this has been researched by, I mean, thousands of the smartest people over hundreds of years. And if you really look into it, you can't help but come to the conclusion: Well, if I believe that what I'm reading as Plato’s is Plato’s. Then I have to believe that what these words of Jesus are Jesus’.
Now, if you want to reject that: No, those aren't possibly the words of Jesus, that's okay. But to be logical, you'd have to say: Then I never believe anything that I didn't see the person write it down myself. And if you want to live that way, you're free to.
So, He lived, we know what He said, next is: What did He say? And that’s my biggest encouragement to you is to start reading the words of Jesus for yourself. Because we all want to influence people, right? How many people right now want to be an influencer and have as many followers as possible? Jesus won at that game. He has one out of three people in the world today, following Him. He has two point some billion followers, more than the number of all the people on Facebook. How did He do it? If nothing else, just an honest curiosity says: What did this man say?
Well, here's one of the things He said in Acts 1, verse 8. He said to His first followers, there were about 120 at the time, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you'll be My witnesses in Jerusalem,” that's where they lived, “Judea,” that's like central Indiana, “Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” What a radical prediction. I mean, who says, “My followers are going to spread to the ends of the earth”? This is before airplanes. This is before steam locomotives. I mean, His followers don't even know that North America exists.
This is a radical prediction. When I came across this, as a journalist, I loved it because I can measure this. I know the guy lived, I know He said this 1900 years ago, at least probably 2000 years ago, let's measure this thing. Because I know Napoleon claimed he would take over the world and he didn't, Alexander claimed he would and he didn't, the Soviet Union claimed it would. I mean, no one has actually done this. And what are the chances with 120 followers for a peasant prophet to say, “You're going to spread My message to the ends of the earth.”
Here's a visual of where Christianity was in the world. At that time. If you look for the blue, as you can see, there were only 120 people, world-wide, who were Christians. That's it. Keep in mind, this is before Gutenberg's printing press - another follower of Jesus. This is before so many technological advances that can spread things around the world. This is so long ago. This is before the flip phone, even. This is before dial-up modem, is how old this is.
As a researcher, I didn't want to ask Christians how many Christians there are. I wanted to ask an objective secular group. So, I went to the Pew Research Center, which is the gold-standard in sociology today. Here's their map of Christianity worldwide, today. Just look for the blue, the darker, the blue, the more Christians there are. The white areas, if you look at the bottom there, it says no data. That's because the white areas are areas where it is illegal to be a Christian.
We know for a fact, there are Christians in those countries. In fact, we have missionaries who help the Christians in some of those countries, but there are countries where Christians get beheaded and physically stoned. So, you can't actually send a, a demographer or researcher in there to be like, “Hey, let's take a survey. Are you a Christian?” So, even those ones that are white. And then of course you've got Antarctica at the bottom. I always have one skeptic who's like, “Oh, what about that giant one at the bottom?” That is penguin land, okay?
Now the point is this, just be objective. Who else in history has done this? I mean, no one else, no one else has done this. And so, if for no other reason, the words of Jesus deserve your attention because He said that hell exists in heaven exists. He said that He eternal life exists. He claimed that He’s God. He claimed that He made you and can fix things in you that no one else can fix. So, if He's right, the stakes are way too high to just brush it off. The stakes are way too high.
Well, why does this movement keep growing? Because another thing, as I looked into the growth of Christianity, it's not like some franchise where they're like, oh, let's, let's do a location here, here. It's this organic thing. People like me place their faith in Jesus, when He said, “Come to Me, you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your soul,” and it so changes us. It so transforms us that we can't help but just go tell other people and say, “You've got to give this a try.”
And that keeps happening every year. And it happens in countries where people go to jail or lose their lives for being a Christian. But they still say like, “This is worth it.” And it just keeps spreading. I want you to think back to that story of my daughters and their little doll village being ransacked by their older brother and his dragons, you know, Jesus said that there is an enemy of your soul.
There is an unseen realm. There's more to you than your body. And in that unseen realm, this enemy of your soul, he came into this world to kill and steal and destroy. And he started with our ancestors long, long ago. And we're now born into a world that has been destroyed, just like my daughter's little doll village. That's why we have cancer. That's why we have racism and inequality and injustice. That's why we have genocide and war and death.
If just really smart people fix it, it would be fixed by now because there's plenty of smart people in the world. Jesus came into this world to rebuild the village with a different kind of claim. That we need someone who can change human nature from the inside out. We need someone who can transform our hearts. We need someone who can reconnect us to God and that's who He claimed to be, the hero of the universe.
So, maybe you're thinking, Okay, John, you know, what does this look like? Someone believes in Jesus and they follow Jesus. Then what is this big difference in the world that you're talking about?
Well, I want to start right at the beginning. Very soon after Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers started living out what He said. Now keep in mind that most global cultures at this time, if a child was born with special needs, they would just discard it. They would throw it in the trash heap or they would throw it in the river. In many cultures at that time, and this all well documented, girls were often discarded because many dads wanted boys because they could do more physical labor. And it was not uncommon at that time in history for girls to be discarded and the Christians, starting to live out what Jesus said, became this radical group.
It was also a very racially divided world. And they became this group where there was people of different ethnicities and languages loving each other. And then when this group would come across an orphan, they would help the orphan. Or a widow, there was no social security, they would take care of the widow. There are stories, from secular historians, of when pagans would throw their babies into the river of the Christians wading into the water and rescuing those babies out.
The Romans around the year 200 had this practice that when some kind of plague or sickness would hit their city, the rich people would just leave. They didn't understand immunology, but they knew if we stick around, we'll probably die. And they would just abandon the people who were sick and the Christians would stay and they'd provide the care that they could, with their very rudimentary understanding of science. Over time, this continued all the way up to stories like Mary Moes, who you heard about.
And I want to tell you just one other story like that. You know, as recently as 150 years ago, if someone was born with what today we would call special needs or atypical learning the way of the world and forgive me that this sounds brash. I'm just reporting on history here. I'm not saying this. The common language was to call those people idiots. They were called idiots or lunatics and poor families would often discard them. Sometimes wealthy families would lock them away in an asylum. They would hide them because they were embarrassed of them.
And in that world, there was a young follower of Jesus. John Langdon Down. He was raised going to Sunday school and church every Sunday. And in his teen years, he had an interaction with a girl that today we would call special needs. And God just ignited in his heart this compassion for her. From his understanding of a God who makes all people in His image, who so loved the world that He laid down His life for every single person. He thought, What if we could have a place where people who have this condition are treated with dignity and respect?
So, he went to medical school and in medical college, he actually won a prize for an essay he wrote. You know the title of that essay? The Wisdom and Benevolence of the Creator - that is God, that was his whole view - God has made humanity. And there, as a student, one time proof-reading one of his profound essays, he met a young woman who would become his wife. They got married and together they decided that instead of him pursuing a career to make as much money as he could, as a doctor, that they wanted to create something that had never before existed, a special home for people with special needs, where they could wear nice clothes, eat healthy food, be treated with dignity and respect at a time when corporal punishment - that is beatings - was still the norm, where that would be disallowed, where there would be art and literature.
And they spent their lives creating this environment that had never before existed, where really the things that today we call occupational therapy where a person who is atypical or has some disabilities is taught as much as they can. Dr. Down and his wife really laid the foundation for that. And in the process, Dr. Down identified this syndrome. And that's actually where we get the term today, Down's syndrome.
I loved it. He called each one, a patient and where other places would kind of lock them away. He would dress them in the nicest clothes, make sure they were bathed and cleaned, feed them a healthy diet. And most people special needs at that time were never photographed, but he would photograph them. And as you can see, photograph them in the nicest clothes of that era.
So here we are 150 years later and we're born into a world where if anyone called someone who's different an idiot, we would all look at them like, what is wrong with you? And that change has come about not by accident. And the fact that if you get sick today, there's a hospital you can go to, that change has come about, not by accident.
If you remember Kevin Byron, he's a firefighter here in the Brownsburg area, I want to introduce you to his son, Aidenhere's a picture of Aiden. If you've never met Aiden Aiden, as a bright light, he will bring a lot of joy to your life. Aiden's 19 years old, he was born with a syndrome called Vater, V A T E R, syndrome. It means that he was born missing a number of organs, missing some vertebrae in his spine, missing a lot of things. And as a result, Aiden's a little different. He's really special. Something I didn't know about Aiden until a week ago today when I was hanging out with him and Kevin is this.
Starting at age three, there's a woman in our church named Stacy Hickit, who said to Kevin and his wife, you need to be able to come to church and enjoy being in church and Aiden, you know, kind of blurt out things. And she said, any Sunday that you guys show up at church, I will walk the halls with Aiden during the entire service. I'll sing with him. I'll talk with him. I'll keep him entertained from age 3 to age 19 that's 16 years, times 52 weeks, a year. That's more than 800 Sundays that Stacy has said, I'm going to serve a family. I'm going to love Aiden, who's made in the image of God.
Now, the point is this, this man, Jesus lived, His words have inspired people to do good in the world that we can empirically measure. Good that, I would argue based on the whole of my research, that if we were to withdraw the universities they founded, and the hospitals they started, we'd be living like we're camping in the dark ages. But it continues today.
You see God uses ordinary people who truly believe the words of Jesus to do extraordinary things. And I want to encourage you church, that where sadly, there are some “Christians,” and sometimes they even meet in a building that has a steeple on the roof and says church on it, but they don't actually live this out, I want to encourage you that you are a movement of people who are doing this. And I want to say to you, let's keep doing this. Let's follow Jesus so that our sons and daughters and our neighbors can see a light shining in the darkness.