The three final pictures in that set are murals of sorts that you can find in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. The Catholic church teaches that this is the traditional site where the angel told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah.
It's pretty neat, actually. Various Catholic communities from around the world have done portraits of "Madonna & Child." Naturally, they have recreated the images in light of their own cultures. Japan has Jesus in a kimono. Thailand has the whole "Baliwood" thing going. I couldn't find shots of the African or Arab Jesus, but I remember that they looked pretty culturally proper for their respective communities.
The church is a very interesting building to visit if you ever get the chance. Most of the "Jesus Movies" are always filmed in some desert-like country. So going up into the mountains around Nazareth is cool, because you get a more proper perspective of what it would have been like for Jesus as a kid. (Yes, they even get snow from time to time.)
I really don't have much of a problem with a religious site doing something like that. I "Get It."People naturally want to wrap their heads around something so significant and big. Unfortunately, humans also have a tendency to take to take an idea like that and really start to run with it.
The French philosopher and religious thinker Blaise Pascal once made a statement that I love, because it is something that we are still doing to the is very day. He said, "God made Man is his own image, and then man promptly turned around and repaid the compliment." In other words, humanity has been trying to recreate God in OUR image since time began...and we still are.
Two Sundays ago at Living Waters, I was talking with my friend Zach about the usual stuff. We ended up speaking our frustrations over the various views of Jesus that are floating around out there. It's as if there is a whole brigade of cloned Jesus guys running about, and being shoved into various incarnations so as to fit what ever need seems to arise in a person's life. We need Jesus to do something for us, so we recreate him in what ever image we need and shove him in that hole whether he fits into it or not.
Let's take a look at the list, shall we?
1. Many politicians turn Jesus into their running mate. Jesus blesses whatever cause they are espousing, because Scripture teaches that Jesus favors lower taxes, free markets and bombing countries that won't do as we say. Of course, Scripture also teaches that Jesus likes progressive taxes, punishing the successful, and that condoms should be handed out like candy. (Take your pick. I'm sure you can mash Jesus into that little sound bite.)
2. Many so-called Preachers turn Jesus into their cosmic concierge. Jesus will bless them with untold health and wealth, because they have their litany of bible verses yanked completely out of context that they can then hold over Jesus' head to force him into compliance. If anything is clear from Scripture, it is that when a "Gift of Faith" comes upon you, you can tell Jesus to tap dance to Jimi Hendrix's version of All along the Watchtower, and HE'LL DO IT! (Remember, if he doesn't, it's because YOU lack faith.)
3. Many Americans have turned Jesus into a good, mid-western boy...with medium brown hair and germanic facial features, who will sit down around the camp fire, crack open a Budwiser with you, and decry the loss of the White majority to all of those illegal brown people who flood across our borders to receive all the free welfare that the government hands out...fake I.D.s, too.
4. Others have turned Jesus into a Leftist revolutionary who will throw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a Starbucks. I mean, somewhere in Habakkuk there is a clear verse that states that the local barista is a class enemy. So, "Burn baby, burn...in Jesus name."
5. Then, there is the majority culture that has reduced Jesus to a squishy, feel-good kind of dude. Jesus loves people so unconditionally that he will ignore our problems, give us a big hug, a thumbs up and then ignore that fact that we are giving him the finger. Jesus wouldn't "Judge" anyone, cause that's not very loving, is it??? You see, somewhere near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the statement "Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice...well, it's all good. Whatever you want. This was all just a suggestion anyway."
What is even more interesting than looking at the way Jesus is portrayed in American culture, is the way he is viewed by other religions. Islam views him as a prophet. Judaism views Jesus as a nice Rabbi gone bad. I have heard Hindus claim Jesus as one of the many gods in their massive pantheon. I have heard some Buddhists claim Jesus as one of their enlightened souls. In a suburb to the west of me is an Eckankar temple that claims Jesus as an Ek Master.
(Folks who attend this temple like to Astral Project themselves out of their bodies and float about the room. I would think this would cause a good deal of crowding in the worship service. This also leads to the obvious and age old question: If one astral projects themselves to the Bahamas, when your soul returns to the body does the body also get a tan...or just the soul?)
At any rate, it seems that almost everyone tries to lay claim to Jesus in one form or another. I find that fascinating. It would appear that even to those who pay little attention to christianity as a whole, Jesus seems to stick out as being important in one way or the other.
It's just a thought,
but it might actually be helpful
to hear what Jesus had to say about himself
if we are to get an accurate idea of who Jesus is.
In both Matthew & Mark, Jesus asks his disciples what folks are saying about him. The disciples told him that people were saying all kinds of things about him. Most of it rather flattering, but none of it completely accurate. But when Jesus asks the disciples what they think he is, Peter gets it right. "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God." But that was only the beginning.
It's really interesting to me to hear what Jesus had to say about himself. He took the most sacred name of God and claimed it as HIS name. "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I AM!" (John 8: 58.) When Jesus made the statement, "I and the Father are one," the religious leaders of the day knew that Jesus was claiming to be God...and they tried to kill him because of it.
Probably the most arrogant and exclusive statement ever spoken in history came out of the mouth of Jesus. "I am THE way and THE truth and THE life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through ME." Try as you might, it is very difficult to misinterpret that statement. I think that's why most people who come across that line simply choose to move along quickly. After all, Jesus is saying that he is it. There is no other way to salvation.
If you think I am mistaken in that assertion, then allow me to quote Peter before the Sanhedrin. Peter understood fully who Jesus claimed to be when he said to the religious leaders, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Furthermore, Paul states this about Jesus, "He is the visible image of the invisible God." (Col. 1:15)
All in all, Jesus and his disciples understood the central role that he plays in human history. This leads to difficult question as to what to do with such claims. Is Jesus and his initial followers just a bunch of nut jobs spouting messianic nonsense? Is Jesus just an arrogant weirdo?
It seems to me that we try to reduce Jesus all the time to fit our own selfish ends. I know that I often do. The problem is that Jesus never fits very well into the preconceived notions or boxes that we make for him. I am also of the opinion that Jesus gets annoyed and squirmy every time we try to stuff him into one of those.
I'll tell you this much, because I am more and more convinced of it every day, that there will come a day...a beautiful, amazing, and terrifying day "that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord."
I figure I'm better off letting him define himself. So that's who I say he is, anyway.