An Ugly, Unattractive Jesus


Jesus

Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once proclaimed, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”[1] Americans in particular have a fascinating attraction to beauty (or, more accurately, to the beautiful). Consider this simple factoid: Vogue magazine has nearly three times the readership of Sports Illustrated—and Sports Illustrated’s most successful issue is the annual swimsuit edition! Beautiful women get our attention.

 

The quest for beauty is not lost on the church in America. Sanctuaries and lobbies are often decorated by women with a feminine perspective of beauty: flowers and pastels rule the day.  Not long ago, I visited a church which was intentionally “masculine” in its décor: rocks, stones, steel, and brown. Mundane. Bland. Yet very sturdy and forceful was the building. Which is the more biblical approach to building décor? That is a great question to which I do not know the answer. I do know, however, that we have a problem when it comes to communicating Jesus.

 

The biblical record is quite plain: Jesus isn’t pretty. Jesus is ugly. We tend to feminize Jesus—painting Him in accord with our lobbies—in pastels and flowers. He is rarely forceful. And never ugly.  Yet, in the Bible, He is unattractive. Consider the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53:

 

…He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

 

Contrast the passage above, which the New Testament affirms is fulfilled in Jesus Christ,[2] with the popular presentation of Jesus in our churches. Typically, Jesus is promoted as the antidote to whatever is your Kryptonite. Are you weak and in need of power to perform? Get Jesus. Are you depressed and in need of a super-sized, pick-me-up? Get Jesus. Are you suffering from a rotten life and in need of a better life now? Get Jesus. Does your marriage suck? Get Jesus. Financial woes? Jesus. No matter what brings you down, Jesus lifts you up.

 

Jesus has been tamed into a prophetic panacea, a Self-help Savior. He is no more threatening than “Mr. Rogers with a beard.”[3] And he is typically portrayed as being at least as attractive as Brad Pitt—but even more popular. The musical group Down Here gets to the point in their song “The Real Jesus:”

 

Jesus on the radio, Jesus on a late night show

 

Jesus in a dream, looking all serene

 

Jesus on a steeple, Jesus in the Gallup poll

 

Jesus has His very own brand of rock and roll

 

Watched Him on the silver screen

 

Bought the action figurine

 

But Jesus is the only name that makes you flinch

 

Oh, can anybody show me the real Jesus?

 

Oh, let Your love unveil the mystery of the real Jesus

 

The real Jesus has scars. He is cursed by God, hanged on a tree. He is forsaken by men who mock him, ridicule him, and slander him falsely. So

 

Leo Tolstoy 1848

Leo Tolstoy 1848 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

hideous were his final hours that his closest companions denied they ever knew him. When he died, he had no crowd. Even after his post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus had only 120 following him (Acts 1:15). His ministry would not be lauded by anyone taking score with any human measure of efficiency.  Jesus proved not to be much of a leader (by our typical leadership measures).

 

There was nothing in His appearance to draw us to Him. In fact, He had the kind of life—and the kind of appearance—that would make us turn away from Him.  The real Jesus turns out to be ugly, unattractive, and downright distasteful. He proves to be the kind of man rejected by almost everyone.

 

So, why would anyone follow such a man? The real ugly truth about Jesus is that His ugly appearance reveals our own sinful nature. He condemns publicly the sin that ruins us privately. He reveals to us the life that swallows our own deserved death. He reveals the purity that washes away our vanity. But vanity, sin, and death are not easily dismissed. The remedy for such horrendous maladies is unapproachable apart from suffering. And suffering God’s curse is an ugly affair. Christ came as a suffering servant for us.

 

If we see our own sin as ugly before the holiness of God, then we might begin to see the loveliness of a suffering Savior. The one reason to follow Jesus is to be reconciled to God forever. And, for us who are being saved, ugly has never been as lovely as it is in Jesus Christ.

 


[1] Leo Tolstoy, Kreutzer Sonata.

[2] See Acts 8:34-35; Matthew 8:17.

[3] Phrase used by John Eldrige in Wild at Heart.

 

 

The Dark Side of Preaching


Few evangelicals would argue against the primacy of preaching Christ in Christian ministry. We evangelicals preach Christ. As we preach Christ, we do so with an expectation of benefit to our hearers. Through the preaching of the Word of Christ, the lost are saved. Paul tells us that this is in fact the way sinners get saved (Rom 10:14-15).

Preaching PersecutionIn addition, believers get edified, instructed, and trained in the way of righteousness when Christ is properly preached, according to the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). There are untold, eternal benefits rendered through the preaching of the Word of Christ. Little wonder, then, that evangelical preaching books focus on the positive side of preaching, the side of preaching in which hearers are enlightened and continue walking in the light.  Every good preacher practices his homiletical craft for the benefit of those who hear him.

Nevertheless, holding merely a beneficent view of Christian preaching is slightly askew from the biblical portrait of those preaching Christ. Consider the fate of biblical preachers: James was killed (Acts 12). Peter and John were beaten.  Paul was stoned and repeatedly imprisoned. John was exiled. And Christ was crucified.

Where many contemporary preaching texts read like primers on how to win friends and influence people, the Bible—the original preaching text—expects preachers to make enemies as well as friends. “If they hated me,” Jesus told his disciples, “They will hate you also” (John 15:18-25). In Acts 14:19-23, Paul is stoned and left for dead after preaching in Lystra. He and Barnabas then moved on to Derbe and other places, teaching the disciples along the way: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  Biblically speaking, the work of a preacher may be rewarding, but it is not necessarily safe. As Calvin said centuries ago, “But in every age the prophets and godly teachers have had a difficult struggle with the ungodly, who in their stubbornness can never submit to the yoke of being taught by human word and ministry.”[1]

Why is preaching such a precarious profession? Two simple reasons: the presence of Jesus and the person of Jesus.

Jesus is present in authentic, biblical preaching. Whether one ascribes to Luther’s concept of the Word or Calvin’s sacramental explanation of proclamation, the truth abides: Jesus Christ is present with his people through the preaching of His Word.  “The Word—faithfully preached—is Christ’s Word or voice, and an offering or presentation of Christ himself.”[2] This truth was clearly displayed by Christ Himself, as He taught His followers that His sheep would hear His voice, know His voice, and follow His voice (John 10). Christ also left His followers with the sure promise of His presence with them throughout the church age (Matthew 28:20). Christ will never leave nor forsake His people. He is now (as always) present with His people.

Christ’s presence now (as always) provokes persecution. Christ taught His original followers that persecution would continue on account of Him (Mat 5:10-12; Jhn 15:21).  Christ told the disciples He would send the Holy Spirit as a helper to be present with them. This Holy Spirit (while helping the disciples) would also convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. (More will be said of this righteousness in part two).

The point for now is to say the presence of Christ is every bit as divisive now as it was in the first century because (a) Christ is still present with His people, particularly through the preaching of the Word, and (b) because the world has not changed, it is still fallen, along with those unbelievers who remain under the curse of sin and death. If the unbelieving world persecuted Christ when he walked physically on the earth, they will now persecute His followers with whom He remains present until the day of His return. The presence of Christ in preaching provokes persecution.

…Part Two of this article will consider the person of Jesus in preaching.


[1] Calvin, Institutes 4.1.5

[2] See “The Real Presence of Christ in the Preaching of the Gospel: Luther and Calvin on the Nature of Preaching,” by J. Mark Beach,  http://www.midamerica.edu/resources/journal/10/beach.pdf

 

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 2)


Earlier, Acts 13:32-39 was quoted, but not in its entirety. When the complete quote is included, we see that the early church Dreidel God Israel Christ Kingdom landproclaimed more than the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, He is the realization of the Son of God. As such, Christ is also the fulfillment of the kingdom. So, Acts 13:34 offers this prophecy from God about Jesus: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

Talk of David in the Bible is always significant because David represents the fulfillment of Old Testament Kingdom promises. David is the prototypical king of Israel. This prophecy fulfilled in Acts 13 is an acknowledgement that Jesus has come as the King of the Israel of God.  Thus, our contemporary over-emphasis on the national entity of Israel is a diminishing of the glory of the eternal kingdom which has already begun for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

The issue of emphasis in the New Testament is not national, nor ethnic, and it isn’t even about a parcel of land; the issue is Christ the king and His kingdom people who are “in him” by faith.  There is still a future fulfillment in Christ at the consummation of His kingdom, which brings about the new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem from above.  So, the Apostle Paul was able to speak of a new reality in Galatians 6:15-16,

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

Clearly, the Apostle Paul makes Christ’s faithful out to be the true Israel of God. The reason is that those born again are “in Christ.” Those in Christ are in the true Israel of God. They are the fulfillment of the kingdom promises of the Old and New Testament.  Thus, the Apostle Peter would say of us who are in Christ,

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A People for God’s own Possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God…

The people of God—God’s Holy nation—is not Israel, but us who belong to Christ. The kingdom belongs to Christ and to those to whom He gives it. Jesus died the “King of the Jews,” and when He rose again and ascended into heaven, he guaranteed a new future which inextricably sewed heaven and earth together into a new reality which He will complete on His return.

Star of David Israel Nation Christ KingdomNotice the significance of each point in 1 Peter 2:9. Christians now are the “chosen race,” first mentioned in Isaiah 43:20.  Christians are now the “royal priesthood and holy nation” of Exodus 19:6.  [Yes! Christians are the nation of God’s favor.] Christians are now the “people for God’s own possession,” mentioned first in Exodus 19:5. In short, Christians are the children of God, the chosen for His kingdom.  Thus, no one [including Jews living in the land of Israel]—no one can come to the Father except through His son, Jesus (John 14:6). Christians are those who have thus come to the Father.

The original covenant promise from God came to Abraham. It was through Abraham that Isaac (the child of promise) and Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes of Israel) came about. The faith of Abraham is completed in the coming of Jesus Christ. So, again, Paul the Jew would say, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7-8). “So, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

From the beginning, Abraham was to serve as a light to the nations, and, in Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. They were originally blessed through the light of Abraham’s offspring–Israel, which shone (in varying degrees of darkness) until the arrival of the true Israel of God: God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Now that Christ has come, everything has changed into a glorious reality of his eternal kingdom.

If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s descendant, an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).  If you are in Christ, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Hebrews 12:22).  In short, all the promises of God (including those in the Old Testament) are “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus.

To Be Continued Again? What about the future of national Israel? Stay tuned.

(In the meantime, you may want to read, “Is the Holy Land Really Holy?”)

Christianity Is Not Safe


 

Just this week, Christians—including women and children—have been killed in Nigeria on account of Christ.  In all, more than 600 Christians have been killed this year.  Perhaps nowhere on earth is more dangerous for Christians right now than northern Nigeria. Christianity is not safe in Nigeria

Emboldened by a Muslim plurality in the north, Boko Haram—a Muslim terrorist group—is waging war against Nigeria Map Persecution ChristiansChristians, hoping to force Christians to flee their home, thereby separating Nigeria into a Northern Nigeria and a Southern Nigeria (such as happened recently with Sudan).  Will Nigeria remain a unified country? Not if Muslim terrorists have their way.

Recently, I spoke with a missionary friend who conducted pastor training in Nigeria this year. The story he told was horrific. He was not prepared for what he saw.

At the worship service he attended, my missionary friend was surprised by a video that the Nigerian pastor played for his congregation. It was a video of a fellow Nigerian pastor being beheaded. It showed every gruesome step of the process of Muslim terrorists cutting off this brother’s head and his hands, placing them on his back, then carrying him off as refuse.

My friend was not prepared for the hideous scene. The Nigerian pastor leading the worship service felt it was important to be sober-minded about the cost of Christian discipleship. He wanted his congregation to remain aware of the danger of being called by the name of Christ.

I’m not sure I would show a video like that to my congregation, but I am not sure it is wrong to do so either. What I do know (though not as well as my Nigerian brothers) is that Christ taught from the beginning that some would want to kill Christians just as they ended up killing our Lord Himself. Christ’s promises are often as sobering as the Muslim snuff film. Take Luke 21:16-19, for example:

But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18“Yet not a hair of your head will perish.19“By your endurance you will gain your lives.

The gospel now—as from the beginning—is a matter of life and death for Christians in Nigeria. Let us all be as Peter commanded us, sober-minded.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, NASB).