In our world today, people seem to present a lot of different versions of Jesus.
Black Jesus, White Jesus, American Jesus, Republican Jesus, Revolutionary Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Hipster Jesus, Football Jesus, Zombie Jesus—the list goes on.
While some of these are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, they are illustrative of the fact that cultures and societies love to take on the person of Jesus and redefine him in their own image.
In the popular culture of the Western World, the seemingly most prominent Jesus is the kind you would expect to see on an internet meme: the bearded, sandal-wearing version with the white robes and long flowing locks. This Jesus is good-natured, easy-going, casual, and has a lot to say about love.
This is an easy character for people to like in our culture—he's a guy who loves you just as you are, doesn't judge and doesn't expect a whole lot from you. In fact, he loves you so much he is even willing to die for you—although in this picture it sometimes isn't clear exactly what he's dying for.
For many Christians, although this depiction of Jesus does contain certain truths, it also conceals, and therefore to some degree distorts the true biblical description of Jesus as revealed through the writings of the New Testament.
The real Jesus
Of course, Jesus is many of those things that we see in pop culture depictions of him. He is loving, he is humble, he is a friend of sinners, he seeks out the lost and the downtrodden, and he did indeed lay down his life (for our sins).
However, this portrayal leaves out an important part of who Jesus is—in particular, the 'Christ' part of Jesus Christ.
The term 'Christ' is not a given name, but rather it is a title, roughly equivalent to 'anointed one' or 'king'. While Jesus is described as a man who humbled himself on a cross in the gospels, he is so much more than that.
In the gospels and elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus is described in much weightier terms: in Revelation as the Judge of mankind, in Hebrews as the Great High Priest, throughout the New Testament as Lord or King, and in Colossians as being the very image of the invisible God.
This is a Jesus with hard edges, who calls people to lay down their lives and follow him—to turn from wrongdoing and follow him in obedience to God.
This is a person so monumentally powerful, he created the entire universe and continually sustains it, has authority to judge the living and the dead, and could not even be held down by the power of death.
Many Christians are upset that in our culture these aspects of Jesus are often downplayed, or simply absent from popular perceptions.
The Jesus we portray
While it is right for a Christian to lament this situation, it is also important to look at how this came to be in the first place.
The vast majority of non-Christians don't tend to spend a lot of time reading their Bibles, going to church, or thinking about theology—so where are they getting their ideas from?
The simple and unpalatable answer to that question is that, to some degree, they are getting it from us.
In a post-modern, relativistic culture like our own, a Jesus who proclaims that he alone is the way, the truth, and the life, is bound to cause discomfort and friction amongst our non-Christian neighbours.
Because of this, even though we may believe and profess a Christ who is both a humble servant and divine king, it may not be evident to those around us.
Do we, in our interactions with non-Christians, give the impression that we serve a king who is the creator of the universe and judge of mankind?
This is not to say that we should de-emphasise the Jesus 'friend of sinners' and replace it with just the all-powerful lord and judge Jesus. Rather, we need to present a balanced and true reflection of who Jesus is to those around us—which translates not only into what we say, but which also reflects both a reverence and love for Jesus in our words and actions.
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He holds an MA in History and is currently working as a ministry intern at Cornerstone Church.
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html