The Faces of Jesus

  by Andrea J. Graham

Many have set about to write about the life and person of our Lord Christ Jesus, and as one destined to do so, I have decided to write down for you this short summary in hopes that I shall be able to produce for you a more in-depth look at a future time. Since I have but a short time in which to write, I must limit myself to primarily focusing on just one of the four gospels, and I have chosen Matthew. We see in Matthew as he details for us the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord Christ Jesus, several faces of Jesus that come together to form a more complete portrait of our Lord. Let us begin, as is often best, at the beginning.

The primary purpose for Matthew’s writing in the first place is that he wished to show skeptic Jews that our Lord Christ Jesus truly is the promised Messiah, and accordingly in every portrait and event encompassing the mosaic, he relates it back to old testament prophesy. He also begins for that reason with the genealogy of Jesus, showing him to be the true heir of King David, a face in the mosaic to be discussed in a moment. This purpose is also why he stresses Jesus’ virgin birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, the subsequent escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth. All of these fulfilled prophesies that Matthew quotes for us.

This brings us to the first face of Jesus that Matthew reveals: Jesus the King or Jesus the Son of David. This face is explored first and is reflected on throughout his gospel. Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist at about thirty doesn’t merely mark the beginning of Christ’s ministry, it also marks Him as the true king, as the words “this is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, NIV) are reminiscent of the words spoken by a priest at a King’s coronation. It is also why Jesus is driven out into the desert to be tempted: He is being tested to see how he plans to govern. His princehood is alluded to when He humors the pharisees by paying His own temple tax, one of the rare instances where He bothers to avoid offending someone (17:24-27). We are also reminded of his princehood every time a beggar cries, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and we see also that the multitude in Jerusalem receives Him as a conquering King on Palm Sunday (21:1-11).

The next face of Jesus we see is Jesus the Teacher. In many ways, Jesus the Teacher is almost a Moses figure in Matthew as He once again gives the law to the people (5-7). Jesus the Teacher never (or very rarely) stops teaching; everything from His choice of apostles to His choice of transportation on Palm Sunday has a lesson in it for us to discover. His enemies can never outsmart Him no matter how hard they try, as He is too busy dumbfounding and infuriating them with His teachings to be outdone. Of course in Matthew, the tension between Jesus and the pharisees doesn’t really escalate until the final week. However, Jesus the Teacher is patient with His friends though He is confusing with the masses as He speaks in parables to the volatile multitude. Jesus the teacher, it is important to note, however, does not teach as a scribe or teacher of the law taught, but as one with Authority as the masses note to their amazement (7:28,29).

Related to Jesus the Teacher is Jesus the Miracle Worker. Jesus the Miracle Worker heals the sick, raises the dead, makes the blind see, the deaf hear, the crippled walk, the mute speak, commands the storm, walks on water, drives out demons (half of which we now suppose had epilepsy), and so forth (it would take too much time to note them all). Jesus the Miracle worker testifies to the identity of the mosaic of our Lord Christ Jesus. Oftentimes, the miracles are laced with teachings, so we often see both faces–Jesus the Teacher and Jesus the Miracle Worker–at the same time. It is interesting to note that Jesus often warns those He heals not to tell anyone who He was. Many suppose that this may be because of what the Pharisees would (and eventually do) do when it reached their ears. Matthew, however, does not emphasize this point, but instead tells us He did this to fulfill the prophesy: Isaiah 42:1-4 to be precise.

In this midst of all this, we receive a portrait of Jesus Among His Kin. We receive a glimpse of Jesus as the son of Mary and her husband Joseph, a carpenter. We are introduced to His four younger brothers when they accompany their mother to speak with Jesus outside where He is teaching, and we are told He has a few sisters, too. His response to their interruption of His teaching could be seen as hostile, or at least I am sure that I if I said to a crowd, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” and then said that my friends were, my family would be very upset with me (12:46-50). I also note that the only other time He is mentioned returning home, Jesus sadly notes, at the offended incredulous of His neighbors, “Only in his hometown and among his own house is a prophet without honor” (13:57).

On a side note, the other gospels make important notes on this subject. Luke notes that following this last event, the people of Nazareth then make a failed attempt to toss Him off a cliff (Lk4:28-30). Mark notes, ten verses before his version of the “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” scene, “Then Jesus entered a house and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”(Mk3:20,21). John also makes a note on this, “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”(Jn7:3-5). So, I think it is fair to say that He was not on the best of terms with his kin folk, and I am fairly certain they did not understand Him, the clear exception being John the Baptist whom Luke reports to be a distant cousin of Jesus.

The last four faces we shall deal with are Angry Jesus, Jesus the Suffering Servant, and the two difficult-to-separate faces: Jesus of Power and Jesus the Son of God.

Angry Jesus is the most elusive face of Jesus in the gospels, though it is still present. It is in the background during every clash with the religious authorities of the day, and every time He offends someone. This, however, is not mere fleshy anger, but Righteous Anger reminiscent of the Father’s Holy Wrath. Angry Jesus, accordingly, is a testimony to Jesus the son of God, as this face is all too likely a child of that face. Angry Jesus shows up very clearly only twice in this gospel and then on the same Jewish day: the evening following Palm Sunday, turns over the benches and tables of those people selling in the temple and drives out both seller and buyer, chastising them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!” (21:13, Is 56:7, Jer. 7:11) Yet He then slips on the face of Jesus the Miracle Worker over the face of Angry Jesus and begins healing the blind and the lame (vs. 14). The following morning, we see angry Jesus again: He withers a fig tree for not bearing fruit to Him, but again that face is quickly hidden by another as Jesus the Teacher takes over.

If Angry Jesus is the most elusive face of Jesus, then Jesus the Suffering Servant was the most misunderstood. We have already seen how most of His own kin didn’t understand Him, but neither did the masses nor even His own disciples understand the “Jesus the Suffering Servant”face. Once Jesus tried to explain this role, “Jesus began to explain to His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘Never, Lord!’ he said, ‘This will never happen to you!’” (16:21-22). Even His own disciples were hung up on the idea of the conquering Messiah who would sit on the throne of David and banish Israel’s enemies. They did not know that the enemies He came to destroy were Death and Sin, and to do this He would suffer.

It is also important to note that the same masses that greeted Christ on Palm Sunday as a conquering King with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (21:9) were the same masses that shouted “Crucify him!” (27:22) not more than five days later. This leads us to ask ourselves, why? They, too, were looking for the conquering messiah to come and save them from Rome. Just as the disciples didn’t understand the enemy He had come to conquer, they too couldn’t grasp the fact that their King had come not to charge into battle, but to surrender His life and take our place on the cross.

It is rather ironic when the masses answer Pilate, “Let his blood be on us and our children,” for it was this that Jesus came, but they rejected the blood spilt for us all. They said to him, “come down from the cross if you are the Son of God” (27:40), not realizing that He could do that very thing; as he said to the disciple brandishing a sword at his arrest, “Do you not think I cannot call on my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (26:53-4). We see on the cross the same Jesus we see in Gethsemane: a Jesus surrendering to the will of his father, a Jesus who is not killed but instead surrenders His life for both His friends and His enemies.

Interlocked with Jesus the Suffering Servant, are our last two faces: Jesus of Power and Jesus the Son of God. Jesus the Miracle worker testifies to Jesus of power, and Jesus of Power testifies to Jesus the Son of God. Jesus of Power is also Jesus Triumphant, for it is Jesus of Power at the Resurrection(28), as it is Jesus of Power that Peter, James, and John tremble before during the transfiguration on the high mountain (17:1-8), and it is Jesus of Power that says to the eleven, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (28:18-20). Jesus of Power stands behind both Jesus the Miracle Worker and Jesus Angry, fueling them both. Jesus of Power in turn is powered by Jesus the Son of God, whom we get glimpses of throughout the book of Matthew of its own accord and through the other faces of Jesus, all of which in one way or another testify to this one, which is no small wonder, for it was this face that Matthew was trying to show us all along: Jesus, the Son of God, the King who gave His life for all God’s people, this is the portrait the mosaic comes together to form.

So now I have written what I set down to write to you. May the peace, love, joy, hope and grace of our Lord Christ Jesus be with you always and to Him be the glory and the power and all praise forever and ever. Amen.

Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved. You may not copy this article in its entirety for any reason whatsoever. Plagiarism is not only illegal and could earn you a big fat F, it is also a sin. If you wish to quote this article I highly encourage you to find a more authoritative source. If you insist, you can contact me for permission.