The Face of Jesus Christ

It is the great glory of God's revelation, that it has turned our abstracts into concretes. It gives us 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.' The Incarnation does not announce a law, or expound a philosophy, or demonstrate a Great First Cause; it confronts us with the countenance of the Son of Man.

The New Testament gives us hardly a hint about the actual likeness of Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh. We hear, indeed, of the charm which sounded in His gracious words; but the rest is silence. Something sealed the lips of the Evangelists from describing the personal appearance of their Redeemer. The Hebrew prophet had foreshadowed One whose visage was marred, an afflicted Sufferer without form or comeliness. Perhaps this gives some clue to the strange tradition that the Messiah, when He came, had no human loveliness, still less any celestial splendor. Yet, if it be true that bodily beauty is meant to be the sacrament of goodness, there must have been "something starry" in the lineaments of our Lord.

Moreover, our own experience teaches us that it needs more than the mere features of a man's countenance to produce the express image of his person. Victor Hugo has said that "there is one thing more like us than our face, and that is our expression; and there is one thing more like us than our expression, and that is our smile." Perhaps the most intimate personal allusion which lingers on the gospel page is concerned with what we may reverently describe as the expression of Jesus Christ. Again and again the Evangelists refer to the look in His eyes. We read that He looked round, about upon the people, and upon His disciples, and again that He looked up to heaven. It is written that on the night of the betrayal and the denial the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. None record that look, and none guess; but it was the glory of God shining through eyes of undying tenderness that drove Peter out to weep so bitterly. Concerning the young man who had great possessions, it is written that Jesus, looking upon him, loved him; there must have been something unutterable in that gaze. The disciple whom Jesus loved has left us one parting glimpse of the Lord in the light of the world to come: 'His eyes were as a flame of fire, and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.'

The 'paradoxes' as we call them---a rather dull name for them---surely point to a face alive with intellect and festive activity. The way in which, for instance, the leper approaches Him implies the man's eyes fixed in close study on Jesus' face, and finding nothing there to check him and everything to bring him nearer. When Mark tells us that He greeted the SyroPhoenician woman's sally about the little dogs eating the children's crumbs under the table with the reply, 'For the sake of this saying of yours . . ., we must assume some change of expression on such a face as that of Jesus.

Yet again, "there is one thing more like us than our expression, and that is our smile." We read of tears on the countenance of the Man of Sorrows. Yet we are certain that He must have smiled---once, at least, when He took little children up in His arms and blessed them and said, 'Suffer them to come unto me.' Surely in that hour the glory of God was cloudless in the face of Jesus Christ.

It has often been remarked that the secrets of character will shine out clearly in a man's countenance at some supreme experience of agony or exultation. At such a moment his inner self leaps through its disguises, and the real man looks at you---naked in the baseness or the beauty of his soul. Now on two special occasions the Gospels record such a special self-revelation of Jesus Christ. Once, at the crisis and turning-point of His ministry, when He was transfigured and His countenance shone as the sun and His raiment waxed white as the light. It was on the Holy Mount, where Moses and Elias appeared with Him in glory, and they spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. Those words carry the key to the mystery of the Transfiguration. It was a conference concerning death; and as the vision of all He must suffer opened up before the Son of Man, God's visible glory over-shadowed Him as never before. Once again, on the evening of our Lord's farewell, we read that, supper being ended, He said unto Iscariot, 'What thou doest, do quickly.' Judas, therefore, having received the sop, immediately went out; and, the Evangelist adds, 'It was night'---night in that traitor soul. But there was no night in the Upper Room. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, 'Now is the Son of man glorified.' The Divine radiance broke out most clearly at the approach of the Cross. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shone brightest of all when that face was marred with bruises and crowned with thorns for us men and for our salvation.

Some who knew John Wesley in his old age reported that when he said "good-bye" his face was "as the face of an angel." This must have been true of Jesus' face. Not once only, but often, His face must have shone 'as the sun' [Matt. 17:2] when the inner splendor of His soul flashed high its light.

The gospel is summed up in a face--- and it is not inscrutable. Years ago a profound theologian had been preaching in the University pulpit at Cambridge, and as two friends walked away after the sermon one said to the other, "Christianity must be simpler than that." Yes, we can come into the presence of God's revelation of Himself, and interpret its meaning as those who are perusing a face. Some of us have learnt long ago by homely experience how to peruse a face. We have gazed at a care worn countenance with filial love; we have read wrinkles and found them furrows where wisdom's corn grew; we have read disfigurements and found them to be the scars of time's warfare and the trophies of eternal victory. We have proved how a face can be more eloquent than any speech.

There is a poem by Mrs. Browning which describes how someone was pressed and baffled with hard questionings until she could find no answer except this: "Look in my face and see." How does Christ answer our perplexed questions about ourselves and our brothers, about the meaning of this world and the mystery of the world to come? How does He make our doubts remove---those gloomy thoughts that rise up to haunt us and daunt us in lonely, sorrowful hours, when we wonder whether any duty is certain and whether any sacrifice is worth while? Our Lord does not respond by giving us definitions or explanations. He simply confronts us with himself. He says, in effect, 'Look in My face and see.'

The fashion of this countenance does not alter. Men may dispute about books of the Bible, or rites of the Church, or clauses of the Creed, but they find little room to dispute about the character of Christ Himself. Simple people have a plain enough idea of what manner of Man He is. Indeed, He has changed our ideas about goodness, so that we call a man good in proportion as he reminds us of Christ. We can never dream of anyone nobler, or purer, or braver, or more tender, or more faithful. The best thing we can say about God is that He is like Christ. His glory is in the face of Christ. And the expression of that countenance beams as bright and clear as it shone in the beginning. It knows no variableness; it is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha