“The Jesus You Know” series (post #1)
Since none of us have ever seen Jesus face to face, we are left to conjure up our own images of Him in our minds. I myself am still detoxing from a mental image that I formed when I was a child. That image was indelibly stamped into me by a certain picture of Jesus that hung on the wall directly behind the pulpit of our church.
The picture was more or less a bust shot of Jesus, and in it He had very long hair that hung way down past His shoulders. The hair was straight, lush, perfectly maintained, and had just a touch of curl to it. Jesus’ eyes were blackish brown, as were His eyebrows, and His face was long and narrow, actually quite angular. The long face gave Him the appearance of being tall. Also, He had a well maintained beard that was thicker over His chin than His jawline, and He was wearing a plain white linen robe or something like that. The background behind Him was a complex mix of soft colors (brown, black, gold, and yellow), and there was just a hint of light that fell upon His face. All in all, it looked like Jesus had scheduled a photography session at J.C. Penny or Sears and this was the package’s glossy 8 x 10.
The Jesus in this picture had the handsome, striking features of a model, albeit a long-haired one. Imagine my surprise then when, years later, I read Isaiah 53:2, a prophetic passage which says of the Messiah:
…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (N.I.V.)
Actually, it was this passage that led me to give serious consideration to the famous Shroud of Turin, which purports to be nothing less than the burial cloth in which Jesus’ body was wrapped. I have watched scores of t.v. shows about the Shroud, and even though I remain open-minded to the possibility that it is genuine, I tend to believe that it is a brilliantly produced fake. However, one of the things that scores it a few points with me is the face it depicts. That face is downright odd looking. It is long, squared, and has a big nose. It doesn’t even look particularly Jewish, certainly not like the face of a relatively young Jew who died at the age of 33. Again, I’m not saying that I think the Shroud is authentic, but its face at least matches up with Isaiah 53:2.
Of course, I’ve encountered many, many depictions of Jesus since those early years of my childhood. I’ve seen those depictions by way of Sunday School literature, books, magazines, illustrated Bibles, t.v. shows, movies, internet sites, and billboards. Each depiction, though, has had to pass through my mind’s filter of that picture of Jesus that hung behind our church’s pulpit. Once you’ve formulated a mental image, it’s almost impossible to forget it.
Perhaps this should warn us against having pictures of Jesus hung all over the place in our homes and churches. I suppose there’s even a debate to be had as to whether or not such pictures violate the second commandment. Even if they don’t, we should at least admit that any pictures of Jesus we download into our brains play a role in how we think He looks. And why is this a problem? It’s a problem because once Jesus looks a certain way to you, you tend to attribute to Him all the personality traits, characteristics, tendencies, favoritism, and biases that you think a man who looks like that would show.
This, you see, is why the world features so many different versions of Jesus. If your mental Jesus is white, your Jesus cares most about the problems of white people. If He is black, He cares most about the problems of black people. If He is using a whip to drive the money changers from the Temple, He is a military type who rides out to right wrongs. If He is gently carrying or cuddling a lamb, He is an animal rights advocate who cares about animals almost as much as He does people. You get the idea.
In the coming posts, I’ll name and describe several of the Jesus versions we find on display today, and I’ll attempt to offer a layman’s analysis as to some of the catalysts that created each version. I’m going into this series with a general outline in mind and some things the Lord is burdening me to say, but the fact is that I myself am not sure exactly how much territory He will have me cover. That’s why I’m particularly intrigued about the series, and I hope that you will join me for what I believe will be an interesting ride. With the next post, we’ll get started with the naming, and until then let me encourage you to examine your own mental image of Jesus. Trust me, you’ve got one, and my guess is that your image of Him affects your expectations of Him.