Friday, November 11, 2011

Did Jesus Always Frown?

I have this problem. It's a terrible problem and I am approaching it with all seriousness. For some reason, for much of my life I have possessed a picture of Jesus that I am not quite sure is completely accurate. I don't know where I got this picture. Maybe it is the visual representations I have seen. Maybe it is the attitude with which people have shared the gospel story. Maybe it is the countenance many Christians have - those who are supposed to be a reflection of Christ.

But the picture I most often have of Jesus actually turns my heart away from Him, rather than drawing it closer to Him.

The picture I most often see of Jesus in my mind is a frowning, despondent, serious, and somber Jesus. It is a Jesus who rarely smiles. A Jesus who seems like He's going through a script. A Jesus who was so focused on His mission that He did not have any time to laugh and communicate joy.

I don't think this is an accurate picture of Jesus at all.

Please don't misunderstand me. I firmly believe that Jesus, when He came to earth, had a serious work to do. I firmly believe that He was, indeed, a "man of sorrows" who was "acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). But I don't think this precluded Him from expressing and displaying pure joy. This doesn't mean that He was careless or irreverent. But I think it does mean that He displayed a pure and holy joy and happiness that caused people to long to be in His presence. After all, the fruit of the Spirit includes "joy" (Galatians 5:22), and Jesus was certainly led by the Spirit!

As I have thought about some of the people who seem to be the most Christ-like in my life, many of them are characterized by having a sincere but joyous countenance. They seem to have a genuine happiness and joy. I think they are simply reflecting their ever-loving Savior.

Ellen White hints at this in a couple places (I am sure there are many, many more quotes like this, but time does not allow me to look them up): "The Lord does not desire us to be sad and disconsolate" (Review and Herald, Sept 10, 1895). She also writes, "Nothing of the world can make sad those whom Jesus makes glad by His presence. In perfect acquiescence there is perfect peace" (Signs of the Times, July 6, 1904).

One of the most beautiful pictures of Jesus I have ever come across is the way that Bruce Marchiano portrayed Him in the "Visual Bible" series on the book of Matthew. I am usually pretty skeptical when it comes to people portraying Jesus in film, on stage, or in a "Passion Play" (I declined an invitation to play Jesus in the Passion Play in college when I was invited. It is a fearful task to take on, not to be taken lightly). I think it can be a little dangerous in presuming to try to portray Him, sometimes bordering on the irreverent. But I think Bruce Marchiano - who presented a chapel talk at Andrews University ten years ago or so when I was a student there - does a very, very good job of representing Him. I have never seen Jesus portrayed in this way. I think it is revolutionary. And whenever my mind turns to his representation of Jesus, it warms my heart. It is a Jesus my heart is attracted to - because it's a smiling Jesus.

If you've never seen any of the series before, check out this Youtube clip below. The series simply takes the gospel stories from the NIV and follows it word-for-word. There is a narrator and all the characters stick to the exact words that the Bible says.

Of course, all this causes me to evaluate my own portrayal of Christ. I think I need to smile more.


Andrew said...

Very interesting.

My picture of God was very conflicting. He was like a pet tiger. You thought He loved you but deep down you were afraid that He'd turn on you in a moment.

That portrayal had much to do with the portrayal of God as arbitrary and severe.

I sill suffer with issues related to this. For instance many times I am stunned when God answers my prayers "so easily" after one mention/prayer. I am often quite sure I didn't pray enough (or fast while doing so) to merit an answer so quickly.

I.M.1 said...

I think sometimes our image of Jesus is distorted by those from whom we first learn about Him. For instance, when we're introduced to the story of the crucifixion, we know that His grief and sorrow were the things that killed Him. For awhile, I thought that that was the way He always was throughout His ministry, knowing everything and what He would have to do at the end of it. But then I started thinking that because He is the ultimate role model, He would've been a well-rounded person in character and I agree with your post, that He did smile and enjoy His ministry reaching out to people.