Bootleg Jesus

This past weekend at COSA, I gave a message that I entitled “What Does Jesus Look Like?” I invited our people to picture what image comes to mind when they hear His name. I then proceeded to show a series of paintings, artistic interpretations, of what others thought Jesus might be like. There was a Norwegian-looking Jesus with shoulder length hair and blue eyes. There was another version of Him as a body builder, thumbs up Jesus, and still another created by an A.I. program where He had brown skin and curly short hair.

My point was, there is very little given about the physical appearance of Jesus, other than a prophecy about him from Isaiah 53:2-3 that says “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” In other words, he was pretty normal looking. Think less Chris Hemsworth and more Christopher Lloyd. I also emphasized that over time, Jesus had a tendency, at least in artwork, to look like the person or people who were painting Him. My point was…

We often make Jesus look like us.

Not all of that is bad. In Hebrews 4:15 the author writes:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Jesus gets us because He was one of us.

That’s a good thing. It is healthy for us to have an understanding that Jesus knew what it was like to be human in every way! He identifies with us.

For people with a strong impulse to protect their loved ones…He is their protector, their shepherd! For those of us who have been rejected and been hurt by others, He is someone who accepts us just as we are! To people who have been manipulated and lied to, He is their truth. The really good news about all of that is…

Those things are true about Jesus!

However, there is a danger in thinking that Jesus was like us in every way. One of my favorite authors and theologians, Brennan Manning once wrote:

“There is a tendency in every Christian mind to remake the Man of Galilee, to concoct the kind of Jesus we can live with, to project a Christ who confirms our preferences and prejudices.” – Brennan Manning, “The Signature of Jesus

If we begin to believe that Jesus hates the same people we hate or doesn’t want us to change areas of our lives because it is uncomfortable, we have created our own version of Jesus. However, that version is not the real Jesus. It is a cheap knock off.

It’s like when you used to go to a market and buy a bootleg copy of a movie that isn’t out on video yet and it is painfully obvious that someone filmed the whole movie on a camera when they went to see “Top Gun”, the original, in the theater! You realized that it has some of the same content but it is a worse version than the original. The audio is off, the camera is unsteady and the image is distorted!

That is what happens when we create our own version of Jesus. Sure, it sort of looks like Jesus but it is a Bootleg Jesus knockoff.

It is an off brand Jesus.

I have seen my fair share of Bootleg Jesus messages over the past few months. People who share how dissatisfied they are with the world around them and tacking on Bible verses at the end to justify their hatred toward an ever changing world. They think that Jesus dislikes the same people that they do and voted the same way that they did. It is conveyed that somehow, someway we need to pry our country out of the hands of the people who hate Jesus when in reality, they just don’t like the direction things are going.

That’s fine to vocalize, as long as you aren’t standing on a stage in front of a church or tacking on a “thus sayeth the Lord” to the end of a mostly political message. If you are misrepresenting Jesus versus telling people that’s your opinion, you need to quit your job as pastor and run for political office. I’m sorry to have to say that, but I believe that it is necessary to do so.

When we convey that Jesus is just like us in every way, including our prejudices and our preferences, we unintentionally or intentionally convey that He isn’t like other people. Another way to say that is…

When we say Jesus is just like us, we confuse people who are not like us.

There is an even bigger problem though. The real problem is that we aren’t meant to form Jesus into our image, we are meant to change our lives to match His.

“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”

Romans 8:29

The real issue is that we follow Jesus, not the other way around.

So back to my original question, “What does Jesus look like?” Since we don’t know what He physically looked like, all we have to go on is what His life was like. Honestly, I think that’s a big reason why there is not much information given about His appearance.

So if you want to know what Jesus looks like, look at His life. I think there are three areas that will help us out with this.

  1. Look at His heart. Who did Jesus love and how did He love them? The first part of that is a trick question. Jesus loved everyone. I know, you’ve got your reasons for why He wouldn’t, but read through the Gospels and I think you can see that the people He spent time with were difficult to love. He loved them anyway. He spent time with lepers, tax collectors, soldiers, Pharisees, prostitutes, men of high standing, demon possessed people, people from different cultures, deeply religious people, those who had been excluded from worship, the poor, the guilty, drunkards and the list goes on. Yes, He loved those pushed to the margins and those that other people wouldn’t take a second out of their day for. Honestly, it is where He spent the bulk of His time. But He would spend time with anyone God brought in His path. Even people He disagreed with.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.” 1 John 4:16

Jesus was compassionate to all of humanity.

2. Look at His actions. Jesus loved people enough to do something about it. He served the people who needed His help.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Jesus loved people enough to help those who needed it.

His compassion drove Him to action. Jesus saw leadership as a chance to serve more and not less. If you want to know what Jesus was like, look at what He actually did. This includes the cross. Jesus loved us so much He was willing to die for us. That’s a lot of love!

3. Look at His teaching. What did Jesus talk about when He was in Rabbi mode? If you look at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), arguably one of His best messages, He talked a lot about who we should be. Not so much what we do, but how who we are determines what we do. He encourages us to be humble, merciful peacemakers who seek righteousness and the kingdom of God. That isn’t a selfish endeavor. That’s a selfless existence. That is outwardly focused.

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” John 13:34-35

The teachings of Jesus usually point us toward loving God and loving our neighbor.

If you want to know the real Jesus, exactly what He looked like, look at His heart, His actions and His teachings. If you think I’m lying about all of that, (who can blame you considering the Church’s track record as of late?) read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Don’t take my word for it. Look into it for yourselves! Use those three things to take a closer look at Him (Heart, Actions, Teachings).

If you do, you will catch a glimpse of what Jesus looked like.

Have a great week my friends. I’ll talk to you next time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s