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Christ-likeness, not ‘Likes’ or Looks

What did Jesus look like? What was his personality type and personal style? How many ‘likes’ did he have on his Facebook page? The Bible does not offer us a biography of Jesus. While there are biographical elements, the Bible focuses on Jesus’ character and what he accomplished on our behalf. Here is what Isaiah 53 has to say about the Suffering Servant, whom hosts of Christians throughout the ages believe refers to Jesus:

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 mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Nothing positive is said about Jesus’ physical appearance. The closest thing to a positive assertion is that there was nothing in his appearance that would attract us (Is. 53:2; and I don’t think this verse is only speaking of his passion). Jesus may not have been the ugliest man alive, but I doubt he looked like Fabio.

Jesus wasn’t consumed with how many likes he received for his blog posts. He probably didn’t have a Facebook fan page. Rather, he was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house (John 2:17) and for turning his servants into friends for whom he would die (John 15:13). In light of Jesus, what consumes you and me?

The Bible is far more concerned about Jesus’ character and the quality of his work on our behalf than it is about his style or persona. In like manner, the Apostle Paul was far more concerned about the character of leaders rather than their personal traits. As in Jesus’ case, there is no attention given to matters of charisma and charm. Dietrich Bonhoeffer draws attention to Paul’s emphasis on character in reflecting upon the qualifications for elders. Here is what Bonhoeffer has to say:

The desire we so often hear expressed today for “episcopal figures,” “priestly men,” authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:1ff.). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, Harper & Row Publishers, 1954, 108-109).

Bonhoeffer’s book in which these words appear was published in 1939 in Nazi Germany. And yet, Bonhoeffer’s reflection speaks to our situation today in the church in the United States just as much as it did then, if not more.

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September 2012


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