Have you heard of a raster graphics editor? It is an application that makes it easy to create or edit or retouch photos as one sees fit, and then saves them in formats of JPEG, GIF, PNG, and others. If you haven’t heard of a raster graphics editor, maybe you’ve heard of Adobe Photoshop—one of the most popular raster graphics editors out there. Personally, I’m not that familiar with it, but I live with techies who try and educate me in what now appears to be a regular part of our daily lives.
I’ve watched with amazement at what Photoshop can do to make images look better (or worse) than they really are. We can do anything with Photoshop. Put an average person through Photoshop and a star is born! If you don’t like your arms, you can use Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s arms. If you don’t like the shape of your body, eyes, nose, or entire face—you can mix and match to your heart’s desire.
You know where I’m going with this!
A similar trend appears to be happening in the contemporary church, and, particularly, in our theology. We tend to photoshop Jesus to make him more appealing or more in line with whatever our beliefs are at the moment.
We come up with a different Jesus whenever we want one—the motivational Jesus, the conflict management Jesus, the win-win Jesus, the Grand Inquisitor Jesus, the Hipster Jesus, and so forth. You’ve probably seen them all, too, or maybe even created a Jesus of your own.
But here’s the problem: when we read the New Testament we encounter a Jesus who doesn’t ever quite fit into our preconceived notions of him. Every time we think we have him in a box, he seems to break out of it and becomes someone who’s just not palatable to our non-believing friends. So he’s always in need of a little more creative interpretation.
And Jesus is hard to preach!
He talks too much about hell, sin, truth, holy living—“repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14-15), and not nearly enough about tolerance and our favorite politics. What about the time he overturned the tables in the temple or murdered those pigs? He even destroyed the fig tree!
Let’s face it: Liberal, conservative, or middle of the road, many churches have done their own shaping of Jesus before unveiling him to the public. They firmly believe Jesus needs to be photoshopped a little here and a little there to make him acceptable or he won’t fit into the current climate.
Come to think of it, most of the people who heard him teach in person and saw his actions had the same problem with him. He didn’t fit in then either.
But if we let Jesus be who he really is—the raw, un-photoshopped Jesus, and have the church proclaim the truth about him far and wide, the Good News will bring light, hope, and life into a disturbed and dark world.
Let’s stop making the Gospel message more pleasing—something the Bible affirms that Jesus wouldn’t do. He explicitly declared that he is not what they expected, “Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34) and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
So this Christmas as we worship, adore, and celebrate him who was born King, let us memorize and say with the apostle Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Let us take this powerful message of salvation to our family, friends, community—living in joy and humble thankfulness for God’s greatest gift to us.
A very blessed and joy-filled Christmas from our family to yours!