One of my favorite things to do is to see how other people define Jesus. What is the image of Jesus they have in their mind and hearts? One way to see that is through film.
I’ve seen a lot of Jesus movies over the years. I’ve seen a lot of Jesus sketches and everything in between. There’s a certain image or portrayal of Jesus that I continue to see through most of these films: He’s unreal.
And that’s not a bad thing. Jesus was unreal in a sense that He was something that we had never seen before. He was out of this world (figuratively, literally, bothly) and because of that, it’s hard to characterize Him because we have never dealt with anyone like Him. But when I see these films, it’s the fact that He’s more God than human really surprises me. Is that how we view Him? Is he more God than human even though He is equally both?
These films have this recurring theme that Jesus was so powerful that He didn’t seem to be like humans. Even though God’s intent was to have Jesus live and be like us so we can connect better, somehow these movies made Jesus just so unattainable. Is that the Jesus we want to see?
I remember watching “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and that Jesus just seemed so different from everyone. I couldn’t relate. I felt distanced from Him.
Same thing with “The Passion of the Christ” and how I couldn’t relate. I just saw a man get killed, but I couldn’t connect with Him. Jesus was always this character without enough human in Him. I didn’t get Him. I wasn’t sure if I could love this guy.
Unfortunately, these films and other public adaptations of Jesus was my image of Him. He would always be this off in the distance powerful force that I can’t even connect with. And since I grew up going to a Catholic elementary school, that didn’t help when they told me that I had to pray to saints instead of directly to Jesus. Was Jesus so out of touch? Did He not get us?
No, the problem is that we don’t get Jesus.
What I always wanted to see was the Jesus that struggled like us humans. He was tempted. He struggled. He had emotions. He was human.
One the best interpretations (and controversial) ones came from a book called “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The exploration of Jesus’ humanity resonates more to me because I am human. How he fought the temptation to save Himself from the cross speaks to me because I am tempted every day.
I’ve heard people say that this film adaptation of the book spoke to them better than the Bible does itself. I am not saying that is fair, but to a certain extent, this film paints a picture of Jesus I don’t see anywhere else. I could identify so much with this Jesus. He was so human that he battled the temptation and in His mind, pondered life without salvation. Only did He realize his fault, he crawled back to God and delivered. That’s the Jesus I want to follow.
But it’s not always an easy thing to define Jesus’ image because Jesus means different things to so many people.
I think of so many times I have heard through entertainment, mainly music, about a black Jesus. A black Jesus? What does that mean? Jesus wasn’t black, right? Well, His skin color might have been real dark, but He wasn’t from Africa or anything.
But after the more I thought about it, the more I realized that black Jesus was as real as a Chinese Jesus.
Are we making fun of Jesus or misinterpreting who He is by giving him a cultural identity? Absolutely not. I actually think this is one of the most endearing ways of our culture to praise Jesus.
Jesus’ image can be anything we want it to be. And for people to call him Black Jesus, that’s fine because there’s a meaning to that. The black community needs a savior and they envision their savior to be one like them, which Jesus was exactly.
The same thing goes with a Chinese Jesus. The Chinese community needs a savior and if they can identify their savior as Chinese, so let it be. In fact, I don’d think there has to be a defined image of what Jesus looks like.
Jesus quite simply is exactly what He is. How we imagine Him is really up to us. But as long as we get the true image and meaning of who He is, then is there a wrong way to portray Him? I don’t think so. Jesus was all God. Jesus was all human. Jesus is love. He came down to save us. However we portray that to build our faith is exactly what Jesus is supposed to be.
God never intended to have Jesus be one defined image for us. Jesus takes on many images. Love takes on many images.
For people, salvation doesn’t come in one form. Salvation comes in many forms. Jesus comes in many forms. Jesus can’t be defined because He is the definition of everything.
So what is Jesus and how should we view Him? It’s really up to you how He is portrayed. It’s really up to you to find what Jesus really means.
The truth is that Jesus is our savior sent from God. Whether we view Him as this powerful force, this human ball of emotion or a man of my culture, it’s totally fine. He is all of that. Jesus is real. Jesus is loving, caring, powerful and everything that we know that saves us from eternal death. He takes on many forms in our minds and hearts — all derived from love. And love has many faces.
Who is Jesus? Whatever you define as eternal love, that’s Jesus. There’s no wrong way to view Jesus when He is all that’s right with salvation.