The Many Faces of Jesus

Posted by Patrick Mead on Sep 18th, 2007

NOTE: this comes from a sermon done by Josh Graves and me last Sunday morning. A lot of this material is his. If you disagree with anything, assume that was my bit. Josh has a good blog you can access via links on the right hand side of this page.

 

It won’t be long now until Santas and their grottos will show up in our malls. Lines of kids will form snaking back past the stalls of knock-off sunglasses and hair extensions; impatiently waiting to speak to their red robed hero. Do you remember the first time you got close and saw that Santa was a woman? I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong. Men should always be Santa. We are far more used to sitting for long periods of time and making extravagant promises we have no intention of keeping.

Sometimes I will be in the type of town or neighborhood where Santa is black or Hispanic. I have no problem with that; for most of history, a sudden appearance by a white guy in the middle of the night has not been good news for some segments of our population.

That said, I DO have a problem with the standard depiction of Jesus in the West. Just north of here on I-75 a church has placed a huge sign with a white, Nordic-like Jesus. Yes, it seems he might have visited the tanning booth a few times before his picture was taken, but he is obviously white with northern European features, long hair, and the requisite Jesus sash. Why would they do this?

Once again, we try to reverse the order of Genesis 1:27. God made us in His image and we are still trying to make Him in ours. Several years ago, the BBC ran a miniseries on the life of Jesus. There were howls of protest from all corners, not because they had portrayed the story inaccurately, but because the actor chosen to play Jesus was short and overweight. "Jesus wasn’t short! He wasn’t overweight!" Really? Who says? What if he were? What if he had acne scars, or had a persistent cough, sinus infections, or bad breath? What if his teeth were bad, or if he had a club foot or a lazy eye?

One of the criticisms leveled at Jesus was that he could heal (or save) others and not himself. Another criticism was that he was a hick. The accent Jesus and his apostles had marked them as coming from a part of Judea that was considered a joke by the rest of the nation. They were assumed to be uneducated and uneducable. Remember how, as soon as they began speaking, they were labeled as "ignorant and unlearned men"? What if you get to heaven and Jesus sounds like Jeff Foxworthy… or Larry the Cable Guy? What if you get to heaven and hear something like "Whewww, doggie! Howdy! Y’all get yer shoes off. Momma’s home and she don’t like folks wearing shoes in the place. We fixin’ to load up the truck and, when we get a good crowd, we’s going in!"

Some of you are offended already. That’s the point: why? Have you made an idol of your white American Jesus? Remember this: Jesus looked like an Arab looks today. He would have had the coloring and features that would have singled him out for extra screening at the airport. He would have made you nervous when he sat beside you on the bus. His accent would sound strange to you.

Political parties try to make Jesus look like them (instead of doing the hard thing and trying to look like Jesus). Remember the "what would Jesus drive?" advertising blitz of two years ago? The assumption was that Jesus (always gentle, meek, mild) would want to treat the planet lovingly, with sweetness and care. He would, the commercials left no doubt, drive a Prius or a bicycle. Really? Where did we get the idea that Jesus wants to save the planet? Didn’t he tell us, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to destroy it by fire? Hmmm.

I saw another "who would Jesus bomb?" bumper sticker this week. It makes me wonder if those people have ever read the Old Testament. By looking at a few parables and vignettes in the gospels, they have a skewed picture of Jesus. Look at God moving in the Old Testament and in Revelation and you see great swaths of destruction, destroyed cities and cultures, and dead bodies alongside the road. It seems that God IS willing to kill some folk… unless you make Him into your image.

Most leaders of the emerging church believe that Jesus is a Democrat and a pacifist… because they are. Most Republicans think Jesus likes them best (and some, I am convinced, believe that GOP stands for God’s Own Party). How very sad. Jesus is not a mascot for our desires, wishes, and dreams. He shouldn’t be treated that way.

It is too easy to create new stereotypes of what Jesus looks like. We can see Jesus in the life of Mother Teresa… but we can also see him in the agonized eyes of a burned out vet in Cass Park, in the eyes of the policeman running radar in a small town, and in the eyes of a third generation welfare mom. I can easily see Jesus in the eyes of those running soup kitchens and volunteering in the Peace Corps but I can also see him in the eyes of those wearing the uniform of a New York City firefighter or the uniform of the United States Marines. I can see him in the eyes of the stay at home mom, in the eyes of a nurse, and, even, in the eyes of some ministers I know!

God gave us 66 books to show us His many faceted character. When we make God in our image, or when we localize God to a few gospel stories, we lose the big picture and end up with a huge Scandinavian Jesus beside I-75. That was the mistake Jesus’ people made in the first century. They had so many preconceptions concerning what the Messiah would act, sound, and look like that Jesus didn’t measure up and they passed over him, waiting for a better Messiah to come along.

Jesus is red, yellow, black, white and all shades of brown. Jesus is male and female. Jesus is poor and rich, young and old. Jesus, in fact, transcends all those classifications because he is God and Man — both fully. We should quit trying to make him in our image and bow our knees to him so that he can remake us in his. 


14 Responses

  1. Trey Morgan Says:

    Patrick … enjoyed the thoughts. Jeff Foxworthy? Oh yea, I always figured Jesus for a big NASCAR fan! :)

  2. Lynda Saxinger Says:

    Great lesson Patrick! (Except the blog version does not do justice to your “hick accent”. Definately a pants wetter!)

    I pray that we always be reminded that we were made in HIS image - not he in ours. Thanks for the reminder.

    P.S. - Josh got me in big trouble Sunday. My middle kid - Hannah was sitting with me up in Praise Team Row when Josh alluded to Santa “not being real”. She turned to me right in the middle of service and asked me - “MOM?! Santa’s not real?!” I just said - “what do you think? Do you think Mom & Dad can afford to buy everything you get for Christmas?” - Her face relaxed - and she said “HA! No Way!”. :-)

  3. That Girl Says:

    You mean he might NOT have a Southern accent?

  4. Jeff Dix Says:

    Yeah, I have to agree with Lynda, this blog does no justice to the “hick accent”. Also found it interesting that the first song after the lesson had a “white, Nordic-like Jesus” on the screen.

    Always a joy to learn from you and Josh.

  5. Patrick Mead Says:

    Jeff, you are right! That only occurred in 3rd service and I was appalled. Two African American members brought it up to me….

    If I was Southern I’d say something like “dagnabit!”

  6. Greg E Says:

    What does a Southern Scottish accent sound like?
    Greg

  7. Danny Gill Says:

    If Jesus sounds like Jeff Foxworthy, I’m going to smile and laugh all over heaven! In the past few years I’ve heard a lot more humor in the words of Jesus. There are lots of passages where it seems like he’s poking fun at the disciples.

  8. David U Says:

    Surely Jesus is a CRIMSON (as in blood) Tide fan!?!?! :)
    Ok, I’m just joking.

    Great post, bro. As usual!

    DU

  9. Greg England Says:

    So if Jesus is not white, southern, conservative, acappella … then the foundations of my faith have just been destroyed! That would be a true statement had I not eventually been taught how to study the Word responsibly and for myself, for the Messiah sure was clothed in everything that looked like church of Christ in the deep south!

  10. Kirsten Says:

    Amen!

  11. Brian Says:

    Well said, as usual. I’m so glad to hear you mention the current push that Jesus wants to save the planet, and then point out that he’s going to destroy it by fire. There’s a lot that probably needs to be discussed regarding being good stewards of the earth, but I get tired of reading books lately that seem to say that ‘God so loved the PLANET’ that He gave …

  12. Bob Bliss Says:

    Good but tough lessons. Don’t forget the pictures with the halo over Jesus. This is how the Pharisees and others knew that Jesus was the Messiah. As Isaiah said “He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (Isaiah 53:2) I guess we don’t believe what God told us about the one He chose.

  13. Jeanne M. Says:

    Patrick, I lost your email address, but wanted to send you the following, in case you have not read it.

    This appeared on Lucianne.com, a conservative web-site. I think it says it very well.
    “It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers. In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late. Accordingly, I am readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I will, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials - after the fact.”
    Robert E. Lee, 1863″

  14. Wayne Shannon Says:

    Patrick,

    Great blog! I have thought about this topic in the past myself. I came to the conclusion that while the “tabloid” side of us desires to know more about the human side of Jesus (physical characteristics) God in his almighty wisdom would not allow such a stumbling block to exist. Being the nature of our flesh we would have struggled to glamorize the physical side of Jesus placing more importance upon that rather than the true picture of Jesus (ref John 1:1). Then it struck me…I do have a picture of Jesus. It is the Word.

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