What do you see when you visualize Jesus Christ?
The stained glass Tiffany windows in the sanctuary of my childhood church (First Presbyterian, Newport News) depicted Jesus in pastoral settings. One image showed Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) with a dog under his chair. “The dog was a favorite artist’s device for representing a household of peace and harmony,” according to First Presbyterian historian Ed Peeples.
There is no stained-glass Jesus where I worship now, but we do have a mural in the Children’s wing showing Jesus in Williamsburg, helping a little boy with leg braces to stand in a wheelchair. With a dog. The mural was painted by one of the gifted staff artists from Busch Gardens. Many of us conjure up these types of pastoral pictures when we think about Jesus.
While these are indeed beautiful images, Isaiah painted a more accurate picture—700 years before Jesus appeared on earth.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
Isaiah 53, 1-8 (NIV)
Reading the Gospels will reveal the accuracy of Isaiah’s portrait. Depending upon your sense of what constitutes prophecy there are at least six historically verifiable details in this Scripture.
Isaiah told us the Messiah would be a non-majestic “man of sorrows,” oppressed, afflicted, familiar with suffering, and despised by men. He would allow himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter, not opening his mouth (in his own defense), to be pierced and crushed for our iniquities so that by his undeserved punishment we could have peace. Quite a long way from ‘pastoral’ Jesus with a dog.
But Matthew paints an even more vivid, animated picture of Jesus in the 23rd chapter of his Gospel, where Jesus laid down the law with the scribes and the Pharisees. This is ‘angry’ Jesus. He calls them names, and publicly rebukes them for their attitudes. He warns them about seven specific woes that would befall them. These were supposed to be the good guys—you know, like us. But therein lies the point of Jesus’ tirade.
What is “the Law”, why is it so important, and why is so much of the New Testament (including Matthew 23) about our abuse of the Law? In a previous post, Matthew 23, Laying Down the Law, we looked at New Testament verses dealing with the Law. There are good synopses of the meaning and significance of the Law at CARM and in Smith’s Bible Dictionary. To understand the Law in the context of the Jewish Religious System, see Warren Doud’s page.
Matthew 23 is one of the most accurate pictures we have of Jesus Christ (and us), but this Scripture is not about the Law. God knows that man cannot keep the Law. The whole point of Jesus’ advent was for God to pay the redemptive price for all the shortcomings of mankind. Mankind could not and cannot keep the Law. Jesus knew that in Matthew 23—that’s not why he was so impassioned.
The Big Picture
What Matthew 23 is really getting at is humility in our service—that the ‘why’ of our service to God is every bit as important as the ‘what’. That justice, mercy, and faithfulness are more important than matters of the Law, and that our motives are transparent to God. Doing good deeds in the name of God? Not good enough. Really? Doing them with the right motive and humble attitude? In the pocket.
My tastes favor Matthew’s picture of Jesus. Not some milquetoast, mythological character who espouses good morals while prescribing prescriptions for personal happiness. You can find that kind of heroic character in a number of other religions and ancient texts. What sets Christianity apart is that it is grounded in reality. Meet the quintessential Jesus—a passionate, angry, unafraid, loving, fully purposed man of sorrows who was despised by men, but allowed himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter so that by his undeserved punishment we could have peace. Now that’s an accurate picture of Christ.