This blog written by D.C. Svenson
What Jesus do you see? This might seem like a silly question. Maybe it seems so obvious to you, because you have your “go to” image of Jesus readily at hand, but this is a serious question with serious implications. You see, we are made in God’s image! Jesus was God made manifest in flesh and we are being made more and more into that likeness each day.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14, ESV)
Consequently, the Jesus we see in our mind often impacts how we respond to him. I believe that too often we fail to remember crucial aspects of Jesus when we think of him. Jesus is unchanging in his character, but there are very different images of Him that the gospels present us with. And culture altogether misses the mark in the way they present Jesus and these images have overwhelmed even the images we get from the gospels at times. This is a major problem!
Here is an example of what I am talking about. Jesus has been whitewashed so that those of us in the majority white culture, when thinking of our neighbor and who we ought to love, don’t think they look that different from us. Or, we will see people who look different from us as charity cases and pity them. You might be realizing all of a sudden that you have been guilty of this. Fear not! Becoming aware is half the battle. This whitewashed image of Jesus can be even worse for those who don’t belong to the majority, because it can reinforce the lies of inferiority that they often believe as they grow up. I’ve heard this from many non-white individuals growing up among a white majority that has been guilty (often subconsciously) of promoting every aspect of our culture and identity as superior. Let’s be clear, Jesus probably looked more like someone that xenophobes (people afraid of anything foreign) would suspect to be a Muslim terrorist than the depictions we’ve seen in paintings on church walls or religious movies and children’s cartoons.
What if the image we see is the true Jesus? How could that be a problem?! Well, the image we see of him reflects our relationship with him. When we go to him in prayer, who are we seeing? Are we seeing him up on the cross, beaten and bloodied? I know when I have that image, I feel the guilt of putting my sin on him and I am afraid to even look him in the face. The imminent presence of death lingers in my thoughts and I become very mournful. Is it wrong to see that image of Christ? No! But I do think it is very harmful to stick there. I know that I did for a long time and I was too ashamed to actually approach him, rather I kept my distance. When we look away from the Lord, it often leads our minds to be focused in the wrong direction. Just like King David, when he found himself lusting after Bathsheba.
What other image’s are there of Jesus? First of all, he was born, like all men, as a baby. He was helpless in many ways, but also so pure and innocent. He often spoke positively of children and talked about how we ought to treat others just like Jesus, so that when any one is needy and we have the means, we help them. Infants are the ultimate example of needy beings and so seeing Jesus as a helpless babe brings out a tender compassion for the helpless around me and a desire to help them. I don’t pity them, rather I see them affectionately as if they were my niece or nephew who I am trying to show God’s love to. Jesus was not only a man, he was fully God and the bible makes it clear of the truly awesome nature of his appearance to be seen at his second coming. When I read of this appearance in Revelation, I am fearful in a truly reverent way, but I also can’t fully turn away. It may be too awesome to understand fully right now, but I want to know more. I am drawn to him and eager to be at his side. That’s another helpful image.
These are just a couple examples. Allow me to name a few different images that can stir up very different emotions and actions in us very briefly: the Jesus who chased money changers out of the temple and flipped over tables, the Jesus who called and trained the 12 (and other) disciples along the way, the Jesus who wept with Mary and Martha as they grieved Lazarus whom they believed to be dead, the Jesus who slept calmly on a boat in the middle of a storm, the Jesus who walked on water to meet his disciples on a boat, the resurrected Jesus who appeared to those who followed him, the Jesus who met the Samaritan woman at the well and the Jesus who loved to challenge the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. If you are familiar with those images, then you likely just had a whirlwind of emotions flash through your mind and were inspired in different ways.
So, I return to the Jesus on the cross. Before, when I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above the waters of sin, I could not bear to look Jesus in the face, and I kept struggling all the worse. But, the more I realized the comprehensive character of Jesus that included so many aspects I was leaving out, I began to really turn to look him in the face. And all of a sudden, in areas where it felt like I was drowning, I can truly say that I’ve been pulled out of the murky depths and it feels like I’ve begun to “walk on water”. Jesus did this for Peter, and if we let him, he can do this for us. I’ve been freed from many sins that I no longer turn to. Do I let my guard down? No! But I do not constantly struggle with those temptations.
So, what Jesus do you see? The important thing is, remember him and all that he’s done and think of whatever aspects of his you need to in order to look him in the eye and keep your focus on him. If you are downtrodden, seek his hope. If you feel defeated, look at the conquering ruler. If you feel unloved, look at the compassionate friend. If you feel as though you are forgetting the needy, see the helpless babe in everyone who comes to you with true needs. I could go on, but I think you get the point. See the unlimited as you imagine Jesus!