Why is it that when someone says, “Picture the archetypal male,” the image that comes to mind is not one of Jesus? Why is that?
I have to confess that, for years, the picture in my mind would not have been Jesus. It wouldn’t have occurred to me. Why? I think it’s because we’ve looked in all the wrong places for our images of manhood. We’ve allowed our vision of Jesus to be truncated by a media that either hates and distorts Him or vastly misunderstands Him. We’ve developed our images of the God-man in the darkrooms of the uncaring and uninformed.
Even the single most famous portrait of Jesus makes Him look more like a pouting shampoo model than a man. Doesn’t it? His eyes aren’t toward you. The face is thin and aloof. The long hair is waved and feminine.
Hollywood seems consistently to portray Jesus Christ as some kind of space cadet. His eyes are never quite focused. His mind is never quite engaged with reality. He’s always halfway between here and Somewhere Else. His mysticism is so spooky and other-worldly that He can’t be real. He is unreal and therefore irrelevant. And that’s not the Jesus of the Bible. Somehow we’ve allowed Him to be painted as “gentle Jesus meek and mild” or “the pale Galilean.” He is so much more than those images. He is very real. Forever relevant. And if I read the Bible correctly, fully human.
My visual picture of Christ’s masculinity changed forever when I visited Israel for the first time in 1974. The shampoo ads fell off my mental screen when we stepped off the plane and met David (pronounced DaVEED), the driver for our group. I watched David for nine weeks. He was a 25-year-old Jewish male in his prime, a native-born sabra. That’s the modern Hebrew term for a prickly pear cactus: tough on the outside, tender and sweet within. David’s skin was dark. Dark by pigment, dark by the bronzing of the sun. His hair was black, medium length, somewhat wavy. It hung naturally on his head and matted on his forehead in the afternoon heat.
More than anything else, I noticed his eyes. Very dark. Sometimes hard as black steel, sometimes soft, with smiles dancing on the edges. Piercing eyes. Kind eyes. Intelligent eyes. Eyes brimming with life.
David was so serious and so hilarious all at the same time that we were irresistibly drawn to him. He had just been released from the hospital, where he had been convalescing from wounds suffered in the Yom Kippur war. I’ll never forget the picture he made as he first stood before us … clad in neat khakis, arms folded, legs apart, smiling a welcome. In love with life, in love with his family, in love with his people and nation.
As we became acquainted, my mind was drawn back to another “Daveed,” 3,000 years previous, from the same gene pool. That David had been a great warrior. The complete Hebrew man of his day. In love with life, his family, his nation, and his God. From that David, it wasn’t much of a mental jump to cross a thousand years to the greater Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth, the ultimate King, Warrior, Teacher, and Lover.
Three men, all with the same sense of origin. All from the same covenant people. Without consciously trying to adjust the mental image, I found myself thinking differently of Jesus. The pale Galilean faded like a bad dream and the laughing, dark-skinned Son of David took over the picture in my mind. The Greater Sabra. The real Tender Warrior.
Joe Stowell speaks for me when he says:
Many of us fear that … if we fully yield the reins of our life to Christ, He will take away our manhood. Victims of a demasculinized portrait of Christ, we have forgotten that His perfect blend of divinity and humanity was expressed through existence as a man. He was the perfect expression of manhood. While that meant He had a special compassionate side, He also displayed strength and power. Enough strength and power to attract strong men as His followers. Enough so that they even gave up their careers and personal ambitions and followed Him.
Jesus Christ does not at all diminish our manhood. He emerges through the distinct qualities of our maleness to create a fuller and richer expression of what a man can be.
He redefines our manhood by replacing the motivations of our world with new guidelines for success. He directs our manhood along the path of ultimate significance. He takes our instincts to protect, provide, conquer, and accumulate, and points them in productive directions.
The heart of Jesus’ manhood: purpose
As you consider the life of Jesus, what singular, overarching characteristic describes His 33 years on our planet? What overriding, all-encompassing trait says, “That’s Jesus”? Yes, there are many adjectives that accurately describe His person: loving, caring, strong, pure, powerful, gentle, firm, unselfish, kind. But larger than those depictions of His attributes, what lone virtue would you use to describe Him?
I think we saw it when, as a boy of 12, He said, “Mom, why would you have looked for Me anywhere else? I have to be about My Father’s business.”
There was a sense of purpose in Jesus. A clarity of vision. A force of direction. Men today are searching. That’s obvious. But all the searching in the world is no good if you’re not looking in the right place.
The single thing that marks every aspect of Jesus’ life was a driving sense of cause. “THIS is who I am, THIS is what I do, THIS is where I am going … and why don’t you come, too? He was a man on a mission. That’s what swept strong men along in His wake. That’s what persuaded them in a heartbeat to drop their fishing nets or hammers or ledgers or whatever else they were doing and follow Him. Suddenly whatever had preoccupied them seemed pallid and tame and slightly irrelevant. The Man who called them was a burning Reality. A Great Light. How could they help but saddle up and trail along?
A real man knows where he is going. Dr. Luke offers this revealing snapshot in chapter 9, verses 51 and 53 of his Gospel:
And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem … . He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem.
He set His face. He locked His eyes. He cemented His direction. He was going somewhere. He owned an unshakable purpose. He set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing full well what faced Him there. Hatred and ridicule and torture and the unspeakable sin and rebellion of all the world for all time seared into His being. Blacker by far than any of these shadows, He faced the rejection and white-hot wrath of His own Father. But even those prospects did not slow His feet or weaken His resolve. He was willing to pay the ultimate price because He was a man on a mission.
In John 19:30, we see the final, blinding burst of that flaming resolve. This time, the God-man was hanging on a cross. To those around Him, He looked like a victim. He was anything but a victim. Submerged as He was in a sea of pain and horror, He was so alert to the tiny particulars of Scripture that He whispered, “I thirst,” to the soldiers who gazed at Him from below. The vinegar found its way to His parched lips, and when that was done, having accomplished it all, He cried out with a loud voice, “It is finished!”
It wasn’t a whimper. It wasn’t a sigh of resignation. It was a shout of triumph that shook the cosmos from the dungeons of hell to the corona of Alpha Centauri.
And so it was. The mission was completed. He had accomplished what He had come to do. He had wrapped up His Father’s business.
A few hours earlier, anticipating that moment. He had lifted His eyes to heaven and said, “I have accomplished the work You have given Me to do.”
That’s the heart of what makes a man. That ringing sense of destiny. That soul-seizing challenge to overcome. To conquer for a cause.