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The Quest for the Biblical Jesus

Don Lemon of CNN says “ Jesus Christ, if that’s who you believe, if that’s who you believe in, admittedly was not perfect, when he was here on this earth.” He said this in a conversation with Chris Cuomo of CNN, who was raised Catholic, and got no pushback from Cuomo. This is one of several pronouncements made in recent weeks in the public disputes about statues and monuments. What’s shocking is just how ignorant major media figures can be about what the Bible actually teaches and what followers of Jesus actually believe.

Here’s what the Bible really says Jesus: The Lord Jesus is “One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). The same author of Hebrews says Jesus is “the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” As such, Jesus  is the “Son who has been perfected forever” (Hebrews 7:26-28).  1 John 3:5 says of Jesus, “there is no sin in Him.”

This is no trivial point. The Bible teaches that the basis of the Lord Jesus’ atoning sacrificial death for us was that He had to be a perfect, sinless sacrifice. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God “made the One who did not know sin to be a sin offering for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” I’m not one to care much for statues of Jesus at all but I do care that we understand who Jesus is: The Lord Jesus is the eternal Son of God who became a man, lived a perfect, sinless life, died in our place for our sins and was raised again, proving He is God. It is faith in that message that provides eternal forgiveness for us.

Another example of using Jesus to address current issues was when one social activist recently tweeted, “statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down,” calling them, “a gross form of white supremacy.” Although I’m not in favor of tearing down statues of Jesus over this issue, there’s a truth in what was said: Jesus’ earthly appearance was most likely not a blue eyed, blonde European. Despite that fact, in recent weeks, I’ve heard others claim that Jesus was actually a black African or a Palestinian.

Let’s get this right too. The New Testament plainly asserts that Jesus is Jewish. It opens with the statement that He is the descendant of Abraham and David (Matt 1:1). He is repeatedly called the Son of David (Rom 1:3 and 2 Tim 2:8). And most importantly, when Paul lists the many gifts God gave the Jewish people, he says the ultimate blessing He gave them was that “from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). In the incarnation, Jesus became Jewish humanity. I don’t know what he looked like but most likely He was olive skinned, dark haired with dark eyes, the way many Israelis look today. It would be good to remember the Jewishness of Jesus in light of the surge of Antisemitism in the United States and around the world today.

But the depictions and statues of Jesus as white is not a very big issue to me. I’ve spoken in Chinese congregations that had pictures of a Chinese Jesus and in Black congregations that had pictures of a black Jesus. They captured an essential truth, that God became a man. Here’s how Paul expressed it: “He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow” (Phil 2:7-10). The Lord Jesus is the perfect representative of every tribe and tongue, nation and ethnicity. It is far more important to understand that He represents us to the Father than to have a picture or statue that represents Him to us.

I suppose the most important lesson I’ve learned hearing about the Lord Jesus in the media during turbulent times is that we had better go back to the Scriptures to find the Biblical Jesus—He is the only One who can forgive our sins and bring us into a right and eternal relationship with God.

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