The New Testament presents us with many portraits of Jesus, writes Henry Sloane Coffin, and each of these differ in details. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John painted their word picture of Jesus from the impressions they received from those who knew him. They interpreted those impressions against their own backgrounds and viewpoints. Paul did the same thing. I think we all do.
Some years ago I was given a gift, a book, The Faces of Jesus. It includes photographs of paintings in the Catacombs, silk screens from India and Japan, great murals of the Renaissance masters, icons of the Eastern Church, carvings from Africa, and even water color paintings of Sunday school students, all depicting the faces of Jesus. Frederick Buechner writes a beautiful essay about these faces of Jesus through the ages. He begins with these words: “He had a face…Whoever he was or was not, whoever he thought he was, whoever he has become in the memories of men since and will go on becoming for as long as men remember him—exalted, sentimentalized, debunked, made and remade to the measure of each generations’s desire, dread, indifference—he was a man once, whatever else he may have been. And he had a man’s face, a human face.”
The truth is, just like us, Jesus has many faces. The faces of a person bespeaks of all the ways he or she has of being and of being seen. What portrait have we painted on the canvas of our minds of Jesus? What impression has Jesus made on us? How have we interpreted him in our mind’s eye? Does he really have “a face” for us? Rufus Jones says there are not four gospels—but as many gospels as there are those who have seen Jesus’ faces. There is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospel, but these mean nothing until each person writes, paints, and sees the faces of Jesus in his or her “own” gospel. The Apostle Paul suggested the same idea, insisting that every Christian must be himself or herself the “holy land” where Christ is born, where he lives and where he shows his many faces.
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
If He’s not born in thee, thy soul is still forlorn.
The cross on Golgotha will never save thy soul,
The cross in thine own heart alone can make thee whole.
Christ rose not from the dead. Christ still is in the grave,
If thou for whom he died art still [and I take liberty] unable to see his face.
Johnannes Scheffler, (mystic poet of the17th Century)