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Paying $98,000 to see the Mona Lisa: The privilege and humility of Christmas

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Paying $98,000 to see the Mona Lisa
(Adobe Stock)

Merry Christmas!

Since today’s article is being emailed to subscribers all across the globe, I suppose I could say instead, Feliz Navidad! (Spanish), Buon Natale! (Italian), Vrolijk Kerstfeest! (Dutch), Frohe Weinachten! (German), or share Christmas greetings in scores of other languages. 

Today’s celebration is the most universal of all holidays, recognized in one form or another by more than two billion people around the world. And that is as it should be, since Christmas is God’s loving gift to the entire world (John 3:16). 

From candlelight celebrations in church parking lots to hybrid in-person and virtual services, congregations across America adapted yesterday to a Christmas Eve like no other in living memory. Now we join believers who are celebrating our Lord’s birth around the world. 

I have been privileged to worship with Christians in large and small churches across our country and overseas. I have gathered with believers in huts in Malaysia, a cafeteria in Cairo, an office building in Beijing, and a garage in Cuba. I have stood with Christians at Mars Hill in Athens, the Bema in Corinth, the baptismal river in Philippi, and the massive theater in Ephesus. 

I have worshipped with God’s people in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, at the Gates of Hell in Caesarea Philippi, and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb, I have seen throngs of people glorifying the risen Christ in scores of languages. 

I say all of that to say this: the global pandemic changed the way Jesus was worshiped on Christmas Eve, but it has not changed the global significance of the One whose birth we celebrate today. 

Meeting the One who is “the wisdom of God” 

Nor has it changed the way we worship the Christ of Christmas best. 

A bidder recently paid $98,000 to see Mona Lisa up close and without the barriers and thick layer of bulletproof glass that protect this iconic painting from the thirty thousand visitors she attracted per day pre-pandemic. Once a year, the painting is taken down from its display and examined by conservation experts. The bidder won the right to be present for this event. 

Think of paying that much to be close to a portrait of a deceased woman painted by a deceased man. While Leonardo was obviously brilliant, his genius pales in comparison to the One who is “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). 

And you can meet him personally and intimately for free today. 

That’s because God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The best way to honor the birth of the One who died for us is to humble ourselves with gratitude before his grace. 

“I will choose the girl nobody wants” 

Yesterday I quoted from Tim Keller’s insightful book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. Reading his reflections this week reminded me again of the depth of God’s love for me. His Son abandoned his throne in paradise to be born in a feed trough for me and die on a Roman cross for me. And for you. 

Keller makes the point that such grace runs through all of Scripture: “In ancient times, when the oldest son always got all the wealth and the second or younger son had no social status, how does God work? Through Abel, not Cain. Through Isaac, not Ishmael. Through Jacob, not Esau. Through Ephraim, not Manasseh. Through David, not his older brothers.” 

Keller adds: “At a time when women were valued for their beauty and fertility, God chooses old Sarah, not young Hagar. . . . He chooses Rebekah, who can’t have children; Hannah, who can’t have children; Samson’s mother, who can’t have children; Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, who can’t have children. Why? Over and over and over again God says, ‘I will choose Nazareth, not Jerusalem. I will choose the girl nobody wants. I will choose the boy everybody has forgotten.'” 

Do you understand the gospel? 

Would you take a moment on this Christmas Day to ponder the lengths to which your Savior went for you? Do you deserve such grace? 

Keller suggests, “If you have never stood and looked at the gospel and found it ridiculous, impossible, inconceivable, I don’t think you have really understood it.” 

Do you understand the gospel? 

If you do, I believe you’ll bow before the Christ of Christmas with deep gratitude for his grace. Then I believe you’ll rise from your knees to share such grace with someone who needs what you have received. 

Theologian Cornelius Plantinga noted, “A person with real humility knows how much they are loved.”

In light of Christmas, do you know how much you are loved today?