Knowing the real Jesus 4


John 21:15


No oil painting

St Peter & St Paul, Ospringe, Kent has this window by Thomas Willement, a Victorian pioneer of the Gothic Revival in architecture and a trend to Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England, which saw a revival in stained glass in the Romantic style.

AS ONE who grew up in Church of England surroundings, beautiful buildings and stained glass art in the style of such Victorian masters as Burne Jones and others is a heritage I warmly relate to.

I always think it is part of God’s sense of humour that many of the places where I have preached and ministered have been plain. One or two, beyond plain… but we say, quickly, that the church is the people, not the building; some of the best worship I have known was in a crowd of thousands in the (disinfected but still bovine scented) cattle sheds of the Royal Agricultural Showground, Stoneleigh.

So I can look back on those romanticised Victorian images warmly – but also objectively.

Jesus was never at all like that image which might be in your mind as well, from a slightly curling reproduction of an oil painting on the wall of a church lounge surrounded by mismatched, battered furniture: The Saviour, fair-skinned, fair-haired and definitely freshly shampooed, with the light reflecting off the soft folds of His expensive robe as He cuddles a tiny lamb.

I am more than grateful that my Friend and Saviour brings me comfort, and I often need it. But this image is a caricature of the Lord I know, the King of kings. He is the One who confronts us with truth when needed, has fought to the death for us, is present with us in a tough, no-nonsense way when needed, and who is also male, with a Jewish sense of humour.

I am grateful that Jesus likes men, relates well to men and is for men. Before all my women friends and readers get on my case for being sexist, I only say this because there’s a misconception going around that church is really supposed to be an entertaining place for kids and their mums, which men are supposed to observe, rather than engage with. A reaction to a male-dominated church – but balance is needed.

Jesus is Messiah and therefore a Jew. We do well to let Him be who He is, and relate to Him as we are – warts and all. Victorian sentimentality devalues and robs us of the expectation that Jesus will speak with clarity.

James 1:5-8
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

There’s a temptation to be double-minded – trying to hold two perspectives at once. If we make Jesus too touchy-feely, we may miss the Jesus who shows us the nature of the battle. If we like to see Jesus gently holding the tiny lamb, we might miss His crook around the neck of the errant sheep stuck in a wayward place – His crook pointing out where ours needs to be. If our preferred Jesus has a soft voice of assurance, will we hear His authoritative command praying with us against an evil assignment?

I’m glad that, having begun by gazing at the romanticised stained-glass Jesus, I have come to know the Jesus courageous enough to face a Roman flogging and Calvary for the victory He allows me to share.


  • What images from childhood and other sources have you acquired? Which are helpful and which are less helpful?
  • Jesus who understands us and comforts us is a given. But who do you want fighting with you when things get tough – and scary?

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