“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2
On my kitchen windowsill is a Christmas card I received a couple of years ago. It is a simple but colorful drawing of the Christ Child in the manger, with several shepherds kneeling in adoration. All the people in the picture are jet black.
Am I offended by the lack of historical accuracy? Not at all. Nor have I written back to the sender, saying “By the way, Jesus was Jewish, and the shepherds were Jewish, and that picture makes no sense.”
Nope. I love that card, because of who sent it and where it came from. The greeting inside is a hand-written note from one of my friends in Uganda – “To my favorite author.” Elsewhere in the note is written in big letters, “UGANDA LOVES YOU!”
Lately there has been some heated discussions regarding the question of “what color was Jesus?” This question was the basis for accusing whole cultures of racism, western European types in particular. It seems that some European paintings of Jesus show Him looking, well, like a European.
But then, why not? I would expect pictures of Him in, say, a Mexican church to look more Hispanic. In Asia you can find pictures of Jesus looking Chinese or Indian.
There’s a reason for this, and I’m guessing those reasons were more theological than historical.
These artists were probably aware of where Jesus lived and died, and yet they decided to paint Him in a way that made Him more relatable to the people of their own culture. These artists weren’t ignorant. On the contrary, I would respectfully suggest that their critics are the ones who might be missing the point.
And what is the point? What is the message of the Incarnation?
The point is, the Son of God – God Himself – left His home in heaven to become one of us (“us” being Humanity).
As a Man, Jesus went through the same experiences we go through. He was hungry. He got thirsty. He experienced weariness and pain and loneliness. He knew fear and stress and the sting of other people’s hatred. He empathized, He grieved, He knew anger and frustration. These are things experienced by every person that ever lived, every color, in every era, and in every corner of the earth. He came for all of us – for black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American. And for every race, every nationality, every ethnic group, He took our sins upon Himself and took them to the Cross, where He died for the forgiveness of all of us.
One of my favorite outreaches, the Jesus Film Project has been showing the gospel in video form for decades. Their movie, “JESUS,” the dramatization of the gospel according to Luke, has been translated into more than 1800 languages! Until the pandemic shut down the world, small teams of technicians and evangelists would trek into the remotest places, set up their equipment, and show the film to whole villages at a time. The people would gather to watch and be mesmerized to see the gospel story played out in their language! Now of course when Jesus was on earth He didn’t speak in the tribal languages of these obscure groups, but that doesn’t matter to them. They watch, they listen, they understand – and they believe!
SIDE NOTE: If you are a linguistics expert and want to get nitpicky about the language Jesus really spoke, you might want to rent “The Passion of the Christ,” where the dialogue is in the original Aramaic. (You might also want to make sure the subtitles are turned on.)
The Apostle John’s description of Heaven in Revelation describes a multitude of people that could not be counted, people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Revelation 7:9) I’m guessing none of those people got hung up what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth as one of us. Who knows? When we enter into eternity, He may show Himself to us in a glorious new color we have never seen before in this life! (Yes, my imagination can go wild when I think of entering eternity after leaving this finite world.)
The Incarnation is a profound reality, one well worth reflecting on. John 1:14 says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In these days of arguing about anything and everything, let’s focus less on the flesh and more on the Word.