Many years ago a dear Christian sister told me she was convinced that if Jesus appeared in our day, he would surely be a fire and brimstone Baptist preacher. As you might imagine, she admired Baptist preachers who preached hell and judgment. She made Jesus over into an image that suited her own faith and worldview.
She isn’t the first. Human beings were made in the image of God. Yet ever since our creation, we have been returning the favor in a twisted way—making God over into our own image. We all do this. In fact, it is one of our greatest sins.
Albert Schweitzer, the great missionary of the early 20th century, wrote about our tendency to make Jesus into someone who conforms to our own convictions and prejudices. If we are rational, then Jesus is quite the teacher. If we are moralistic, then we view Jesus as an exemplar of good morals. We who have a passionate regard for the oppressed insist that Jesus is the agitator who upsets the political status quo.
Or in these days of political madness, we assume Jesus favors our perspective.
Most common of all, we cast Jesus into the image of a mild, meek, gentle Galilean who would be quite at home in the “flower child” movements that happen along every few generations. Our various sentimental vanities keep us from realizing that we dare not attempt to portray Jesus as upholding our particular values.
The New Testament avoids simplistic portrayals by rooting its understanding of Jesus in the Old Testament witness. Jesus is the slain Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He is the Judge, the Messiah, God’s anointed one who burns with a holy wrath. Zeal for his Father’s house consumes him. Demons and angels dread him. Satan, the strong one, is overcome and bound by him. War arises in heaven over him. Yet he is also Friend, Slave, Consoler, High Priest who becomes Sin, and Good Shepherd. We come into his presence with singing, but also with fear and trembling.