Flesh and Blood Jesus

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My dad took a lot of pictures when i was little, mostly black and white, but a few color ones as well—the bright Kodachrome oversaturated reds and yellows that i love about the photography of my childhood. But mostly, at our house, things were black and white.

When my kids were little, we watched some old TV shows that i’d enjoyed when i was their age—Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, that sort of thing. Classic shows that are still great today, that had an innocence about them that disappeared from TV in the 70s and 80s. 

The Head of ChristOne day, when she was around three or so, our second daughter, Shelby, asked me, ‘when did the world start being in color?’

In her mind, old photos and movies simply captured the world as it was, and then one day, suddenly, like Dorothy opening the door from Kansas to Oz, everything changed and vibrant color was everywhere.

I explained that everything had always been the way we see it, and that black and white was just the result of the film and camera equipment we used. I loved that idea, though. That to a child, the world could be nothing but shades of grey, until one day…boom!

Sometimes, however, kid’s misperceptions carry over into adulthood.

When i was young, one of my Sunday School Classrooms had a reproduction of an oil painting of Jesus thumb-tacked to the wall. It’s called The Head of Christ, and was painted by a man named Warner Sallman.

According to Wikipedia, after publication in 1941 ‘it had been reproduced over half a billion times worldwide by the end of the 20th century. Enlarged copies of the work have been made for churches, and small pocket or wallet-sized prayer cards bearing the image have been mass-produced for private devotional use. The painting is said to have “become the basis for [the] visualization of Jesus” for “hundreds of millions” of people.’ 

You’ve seen it—i mean, it is one of the most reproduced artworks in history. Probably not regarded as ‘great art’ by the critics, but still one of the most famous paintings in the world. (I’m guessing right around #3, right behind the Mona Lisa and Dogs Playing Poker.)

Mr. Sallman did other paintings of Jesus, including one of him knocking on a door, that seemingly everyone’s grandma had on her wall when i was a kid, but this one, also unfortunately known as The Sallman Head, was his big hit.

Now i know, that’s not really what Jesus looked like—he was, after all, Jewish, and most Jews have…let’s say ‘more striking facial characteristics’ than the man in the painting. Archaeologists have also determined that men of the first century probably didn’t have 1960s hippie hair, contrary to public opinion, and the way we, and Mr. Sallman, envision things. In one approximation i saw, Jesus looked a lot more like a young Bob Dylan than the flowy haired guy i grew up seeing on the wall. But despite knowing this, that image of Christ is the one that pops into my head when i visualize him teaching the Sermon on the Mount, or sitting with his disciples having supper.

Be honest, a lot of you who grew up in church like i did, get that same image, or something similar.

But sometimes, seeing Oil Painting Jesus as Flesh and Blood Jesus is hard. Like little Shelby, thinking the world had simply been black and white at one point, there is a real temptation to see Bible characters, not as three dimensional, actual walking around the world people. People who dealt with some of the same kinds of problems we have (an ingrown toenail) or much worse problems (living in the Middle East without air conditioning)—but as somehow more like an oil painting than real. Two dimensional characters from a novel instead of living, breathing flesh and blood.

Maybe we do that because it’s easier that way.

Oil Painting Jesus never looks at me with disappointment at the bad choices i make. Flesh and Blood Jesus does.

Oil Painting Jesus doesn’t confront me with my sin issues. Flesh and Blood Jesus does, and tells me to ‘go and sin no more.’

So if i, as a committed Christ-follower, have a hard time seeing the Savior in the real world, imagine how a non-believer views things. A fairy tale that somehow people believe, like Jack and the Beanstalk. Stories someone made up to scare kids into behaving themselves, ‘cause they don’t want to burn in hell.

That’s why you and i have to see the importance of living out the gospel. People won’t see Jesus as real, until they see his followers that way—living out the things that he instructed us to do—loving, serving, being the hands and feet that he told us to be. Not by handing out tracts and yelling through a megaphone on a street corner, but by reaching out to the tax collectors meth-heads and prostitutes women who see sex as a commodity. By being kind to everyone we come in contact with, even those we disagree with politically, in our religious beliefs, social status or sexuality.

Not condoning, but also not condemning.

Treating people with love makes them want to get to know Flesh and Blood Jesus, and that church, is the goal. Imagine Heaven—seeing someone there that God, the creator of all that surrounds you—used you to help guide into an eternal relationship with him. Now imagine staying silent, and that person never knowing the Savior because you were too busy, too judgmental, too caught up in your own self-righteousness, or just because you didn’t care.

Oil Painting Jesus may look alright on a wall, but he won’t change your life the way Flesh and Blood Jesus can. And, a lot of the time, it takes Flesh and Blood Believers to show people that he’s real.

Lions 0, Bears 0 

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

If you were in church as a kid for any length of time, you heard the story of David and Goliath. Israel had begged God for a King, so they could be like other countries, instead of allowing Him to be their King, with Judges on earth to rule the day to day stuff. So God raised up a guy named Samuel to help guide the transition. The first king, Saul, was doing a lousy job, so in 1 Samuel 16:10-13, God led Samuel to anoint David, a young shepherd as the future King of Israel. 

david-sling-5-stonesThe Philistine army, as they did on a regular basis, was warring with the Israelites and this time, sent their biggest, baddest fighter, Goliath to the front lines to taunt the opposition. And the Israelites wanted no part of Goliath. He was nearly 10 feet tall, and covered head to toe in heavy armor. Picture your son’s basketball team going out on the court and seeing Shaquille O’Neil suited up for the other side, telling the kids he’s gonna block every shot they toss up and dunk on every play on the other end. (I guess the way the world is today, if Shaq ‘identified’ as a 7 year old, some people would be okay with that.)

Anyway, David went to the front to take his brothers some sandwiches, saw this enormous guy making fun of God’s people, and volunteered to fight him. Since he was so young, and not even in the army, King Saul, obviously thought this was a terrible idea, but allowed David to plead his case in 1 Samuel 17:32-37. The New Living Translation tells it like this, with a ton of exclamation points:

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!”

So having bear and lion killing on his resumé was enough to convince Saul to let the kid take on this mighty warrior. You know the rest of the story, David winds up his slingshot, bops the big guy in the forehead with a rock and then takes Goliath’s gigantic Hanzo sword and whacks his head off with it. He then holds up the big ole, now decapitated head to the Philistine army, and they run away, since they had bet the farm on this ‘send a smart-aleck giant out to fight for us’ plan and apparently didn’t have a backup.

But i want us to throw things in reverse and focus on David, before all this happened—alone in the pasture, tending his father’s sheep, always wary, constantly vigilant, keeping them safe from the predators wanting to steal them away.

What are the lions and bears in your life, and how good a job are you doing at killing them?

They may be small issues, in our human minds—but sin is sin to a holy God, and He sees anything that keeps us from having the relationship we need with him, or should be having with other people as a big deal. Something that needs to die in our lives.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, puts it this way: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:5-11. ESV)

At Stonepoint, we strive to be a church that doesn’t hide from the fact that we all have problems, and openly talk about our sin struggles, instead of sweeping them under the rug, and acting like they’re not there. 

Folks who grew up in the church are particularly adept at this—you dressed up in your best clothes on Sunday, smiled for the Olan Mills guy taking your family picture for the church directory, and never said a word to anyone about the war zone that had your address when company wasn’t over. That inherent dishonesty is what drove millions of people away from the church when they were old enough to make their own decisions, and soured them on God, thinking that, if He did exist, He was somehow the author and perfecter of that sort of behavior.

That couldn’t, of course, be further from the truth. But that ‘clean up on the outside and show the world a nice façade’ mindset still exists today in some supposed ‘houses of God.’ It’s a shame—in a world desperately looking for authenticity, the church should be a place where everyone can be themselves…flawed, sinful, but loved and being transformed by God just the same.

That’s why Stonepoint offers re:generation on Monday nights, as a place where you can meet with other believers who are doing their best to destroy their own lions and bears, and will encourage you with confession, exhortation and Bible study to help guide you in the fight. Re:gen can help you kill those lions and bears when they’re cubs, rather than full grown destroyers.

Predators attack us from everywhere these days—our ‘entertainment’ is a constant deluge of temptation, our electronic devices provide 24 hour distraction from God’s word and meaningful conversation and there are unhealthy things to eat on every corner.

So, i ask you again—what lions and bears do you need to kill this week to keep them from being who God wants you to be? This day? This hour? Take it one step, one sin, one temptation at a time, and ask God for strength to defeat them. None of us are immune, none of us are so ‘holy’ that we can’t be derailed under the right set of circumstances.

It’s okay if Lions and Bears sometimes win on the football field. Just don’t let ‘em destroy your life.