Finding the Real Jesus
Recently, my husband and I had the honor of taking a Sunday morning youth class at our church while they were in the process of hiring a new youth pastor. The one-month commitment became three months but we didn't complain because we really fell in love with the kids. It was a small-ish class of between six and ten kids from 6th to 12th grade - mainly pastors' or worship leaders' kids so they had some knowledge of Jesus and the Bible. But what they showed us of their true spiritual desire was very profound.
Having grown kids between 24 and 32, we were a tad concerned that we would be boring or "too preachy" so we decided to show one of The Chosen episodes each class. The scene of Mary Magdalene's possession held their attention but as the episodes progressed, they began asking questions like "Is this based on the Bible?". We explained what artistic liberty and "back story" meant but we could see on their faces they weren't entirely convinced. They fidgeted and politely watched...but with longing.
One Sunday, while we waited for Season 2 of The Chosen to arrive, we decided to show part of the 1995 movie called Mathew - my absolute favorite Bible movie and in my opinion, the best cinematic depiction of Jesus...ever. Bruce Marchiano, the actor who portrayed Jesus, was the most kind-hearted, sincere, funny, smiley, and loving Jesus probably ever portrayed on screen. From his autobiography entitled In the Footsteps of
Jesus, Bruce describes the agonizing preparation and personal growth this role entailed. This was not just acting and the director was not angling for popularity or to make a statement. Every scene was prayed over at 5am with all the main cast on their knees asking the Holy Spirit for direction and revelation. So when you see Jesus pull Peter from the water in the dreaded scene of him "losing faith" and sinking, instead of the rebuke we often imagine, Jesus grabs Peter and hugs him laughing and comforting him. Jesus is laughing and smiling in nearly every scene. It is the most refreshing and biblically accurate rendition...word for word the Bible and birthed in prayer. Something very rare these days. And the kids from the youth group? What did they think? Keep reading.
But what about how Jesus was when He walked the earth; what did He look like? Was He funny or serene with a British Shakespearean accent and a grouchy face? Did He even have a sense of humor or is that not allowed in the realm of holiness? Depictions of Jesus run rampant in the media and sadly whatever is popular culture, somehow infects the overall image of who He is but more importantly, how we think of Him. The scowling, disapproving image of Jesus inevitably drives people scurrying away to find their local fig leaf dealer. While the slightly salty, aloof Jesus of the current programs seem to portray Him as too relatable (lacking convincing scriptural authority) and straight from a certain denominational tradition. So what can we know about Jesus from the Bible when it often omits personal descriptions such as "...And Jesus smiled a big, wide, toothy white smile and said"? We need the Word of God and His Spirit.
The Bible is a swirling mosaic of Messianic allusions that need to be pieced together in order to see what the artist (God) intends to display. And because this is intended to be a shortish blog and not an in-depth report, I need to have your understanding that my portrayal of Jesus is derived entirely from the word that most scholars agree are referencing the Messiah Jesus...line upon line and precept upon precept (Isaiah 28:10). For example, in Hebrews 1:9 says "...God, your God, has anointed You above your companions with the oil of joy". We know this is referring to Jesus because Hebrews 1:8-9 specifies; "But to the Son, He says: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than your companions."The gladness referred to in this scripture means (in Greek) extreme joy and exultation. It means a royal inauguration of extreme joy. Hebrews 1:9 is referencing Psalm 45: 7 and if we read the entirety of Psalm 45, we see the types and shadows of the coming Messiah. It also says, "All Your garments are scented with myrrh, aloes and cassia"...(vs. 8). The Song of Solomon 5:10-16 describes the Shulamite's lover in great detail; He is white and ruddy, His hair is wavy and black, eyes perfect, He smells likes spices, is very strong and He clearly has a nice smile. Now I can't say unequivocally that this is exactly what Jesus looks like but I can extract from the word that Jesus has a nice smile (of course!) and He smells good. I think we all agree this is possible and it's fun to use our godly imaginations and wonder what our Savior is like. But what does this have to do with more important spiritual things?
Because we as humans are made to worship and we love to create images. This is why God forbid the making of anything in the likeness of birds or animals in the decor of the Temple because He did not want His people to be like the Egyptians who worshiped the creation and not the creator. Going forward in time until now, we have media preaching and movies that present to us images of Jesus and say "This is Him!" and some will discern if it's true but the masses will go blindly along agreeing that indeed, this is Jesus. Jesus said in Mathew 24:5 that many will come pretending to be His followers and will deceive many. They will portray Jesus as all grace and no backbone to uphold the law - which in fact He added to and made it even more difficult to keep without being born again and having the power of the Holy Spirit inside. Jesus is often portrayed as light on sin and accepting of every lifestyle - even those that the bible says lead to death - in order to satiate the progressive culture that says first covenant law is antiquated and Jesus did away with it's requirements. But the Bible shows us a totally different picture of Jesus if we look with spiritual eyes.
According to John the Baptist, the Messiah came with a big harvesting fork to purge, cleanse, and separate the people "burning the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Mathew 3:12. Jesus said in Luke 13:32 "You go tell that fox (Herod) that I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow and on the third day I will reach my goal" (Berean Standard Bible). He called the Pharisees "brood of vipers" (Mathew 12:34) and in Luke 13 He told the crowd that unless they repented, they too would perish. Jesus studied the crowd in John 2:15, while He made a whip. He literally made a whip and drove people and animals out of the Temple. That story just isn't preached about enough nowadays. But this is Jesus! He has eyes of fire and one day very soon He will continue the scripture He stopped short of when He began His ministry; "...And the day of vengeance of our God..." (Isaiah 61:2).
The kids in the youth group wanted the entire word of God because that is what their spirits really were craving. They had enough of media interpretations telling them stories and they wanted truth. I believe this is why they liked the Mathew movie so much; not just because Jesus was smiley and joyous and loving and intense, but because the movie is nearly entirely word-for-word the Bible. The last day we served in the youth room, some of the kids asked if we were going to watch "the smiling Jesus" movie because they liked it better. Amazing. At least half of the class preferred the 1995 production with no special effects or known actors over a contemporary show with quality acting and top notch production. I am not saying that The Chosen isn't valuable and leading many to read their Bible and be saved, I am just making a distinction. I think we all just want truth. We shouldn't just want "smiley Jesus" or "serious Jesus", we need the truth. We need to know the Jesus who is the Word made flesh and presents Himself in living color through the pages of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. He does not wink at sin nowadays but is also gracious and merciful not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:8). The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:13 that when we seek Him we will find Him when we search for Him with all of our hearts. Seek the truth, the real Jesus, and He promises you will find Him with a big smile and open arms.