Don’t do this to Jesus.
When your friend posts a tweet with the caption, “A perfectly horrifying example of how not to restore a painting of Jesus,” you click the link.
That’s what I did anyways, and it took me to this story about an 80-year-old woman in Spain who, without being asked, or granted permission for that matter, set out to restore an aging painting of the Son of God that hung in her neighborhood church, a noble task.
But as our great American poet, Madonna once said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The result, as seen above, is less than spectacular.
She made Jesus look like the monkey from this Disney movie I saw when I was a kid…
At this point, the church has to decide what to do with the distorted image of the Messiah. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time, not with oil paintings and artwork, with Jesus and what is known as “contextualization.”
Jesus is the most recognized name in human history. His influence is unparalleled, but his controversial stay on earth was 2,000 years ago. The planet he walked on is vastly different from the place we call home today. The political, economical, and social climate has evolved in many ways. The ancient Jewish culture he lived in is nothing like the West. So, in order to point to the sustained relevance of Jesus in our modern society, Christians need to contextualize.
In doing so, many of us have rendered him unrecognizable from the Jesus of the scriptures, with good intentions, of course. Jesus has been vilified by some, treated like a sideshow clown by others, and Christians just want to fix his image.
In walks Tough Guy Jesus. He’s the Lamb, but a Lion if you cross him. Hell is real and he will send you there if you don’t repent, stand up straight, and vote Republican.
Or maybe you prefer Hipster Jesus. He’s super relevant. He likes tattoos and really just wants a personal relationship with you, to do life together. He’s Mac over PC and CNN over Fox News. Oh, and he’s vegan.
And the list continues. Somehow Jesus has become an extension of ourselves. We have painted up his face to make him more presentable, but in doing so have turned him into someone else entirely. He isn’t like us, and that’s the whole point. Jesus came because we couldn’t save ourselves; that’s the message of the gospel. He didn’t come to establish a political party or to hang out at a coffee shop and chat about obscure bands.
Yes, he talked far more about Hell than Heaven, but he allowed men to beat him into unrecognizable flesh and hang Him on a cross to keep believers from ever having to go there.
Yes, he wants to do life with us, a sacrificial life that involves putting others before ourselves and walking through struggle and persecution.
Clarifying misconceptions is wonderful, essential, but watering Jesus down is tragic.
Many agnostics and atheists, as well as followers of other religions, accept Jesus as a great teacher with a helpful message. That seems lovely, but it can’t hold up. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in his book Mere Christianity, he can only be one of three things:
Liar. Lunatic. Lord.
He didn’t just say, “Love your neighbor.” He also claimed to be God himself. That makes him a pathological liar, a deranged lunatic, or the Creator of all things. Take your pick.
Ultimately, not every person that stands in front of Jesus is going to like or accept him, but we have not been commissioned to paint a better version.
Have you ever painted your own version of Jesus? Let’s talk in the comments below.