Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We hope you had a wonderful Christmas weekend to reflect on the Savior and his birth, and his sacrifice for us. Jesus is beautiful, and we talk about his beauty a lot as a way of fleshing out what it means to have faith and to treasure Christ for all that he is for us. But he is fundamentally beautiful — that’s common language for us. But that language leads to a problem, too, and to a question from a podcast listener named Adam.
“Pastor John, How does a masculine Christian, a ‘man’s-man,’ see Jesus as ‘beautiful’? It’s odd and uncomfortable for me, a man, to look upon another man (even the God-man), and say ‘beautiful.’ Yet, I believe that expectation of men (indeed all people) is not only taught in Scripture but a necessary ingredient to saving faith. This is troublesome, and quite unnerving to me. Can you help me come to terms with the awkwardness I feel?”
So, should we feel awkward as men or Christians in general, women or men, should we feel awkward, but especially men, seeing Jesus as beautiful? That is the first thing he said. And then, should we feel awkward to look upon the God-man and say, “Beautiful”? Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes and no. If the term beautiful carries with it connotations of any sensuality at all, there should be an awkwardness in calling Jesus beautiful. Indeed, I would say if the preponderance of what we mean when we say beautiful in reference to Jesus refers to his physical appearance, we should feel awkward.
“If what we mean when we say Jesus is beautiful mainly refers to his physical appearance, we should feel awkward.”
Here are a couple of reasons: First, because when the Bible does talk about the physical appearance of the Son of Man on earth, it describes him as the opposite of beautiful. Isaiah 53:2 says, “He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Isaiah 52:14 says, “As many were astonished at you — his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” So, we should get out of our minds all notions that calling Jesus beautiful says anything about his physical appearance while he was on the earth. He was not physically beautiful as far as we know and certainly not at the end of his life during his sufferings.
In his exalted state, his resurrected, glorified body — the way he is described in Revelation 1, for example — it would be completely appropriate to attach the word beautiful in a very exalted way. Here is what it says,
I saw . . . one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:12–16)
That man is beautiful the way Niagara Falls is beautiful, the way the northern lights are beautiful, the way the Hubble Telescope’s pictures of the galaxies are beautiful. Nevertheless, I still stand by my statement that if the preponderance of what we mean when we say beautiful in reference to Jesus refers to his physical appearance, even his glorified appearance, we should feel awkward, because — and this is the main answer to Adam’s question — the reason that calling Jesus beautiful is never, neither in his incarnate state or his glorified state, the reason he is never called beautiful is because of his physical appearance, no matter how glorious, but rather because of the excellence of his character and the greatness of his deeds.
“Jesus is beautiful not because of his physical appearance, but the excellence of his character and deeds.”
When four jets, the Blue Angels, roar overhead with deafening thunder, aiming at each other from the four points of the compass — have you ever seen this? — they are going 400 miles an hour. And as they approach each other, ready to collide, suddenly, simultaneously, all four pull up 90 degrees in a vertical ascent, and up they go belly-to-belly straight up in the air. Nobody misunderstands when you say: Beautiful!
Or, when an Olympic gymnast on the rings swings himself in a double back somersault and suddenly nails a motionless iron cross without the slightest swing in the ropes, you drop your jaw and say, “Beautiful!” nobody misunderstands.
Or, when a small boat with a family in it is about to be swept away in a horrible flood tide rushing through a town, and you get one chance to throw a rope as it comes by — this little boat comes by — and you throw it, and the rope happens to land perfectly in the hands of the one person who could catch it. When the people with tears in their eyes say, “Beautiful!” nobody misunderstands.
Or, when a father sees his child snatched away by a wild animal and he throws himself against the animal at the loss of his own life to save his child, everybody knows what we mean when we say, “That was beautiful.”
Now, when all of that beautiful virtue and all of that beautiful achievement are summed up in one person, which it is in Jesus, that person is so identified with all of his virtuous capacities and all of his magnificent achievements that it is natural, not awkward, natural to call the person himself beautiful. For all those reasons, when Paul said, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15), he meant the utter devotion, the self-sacrifice, the unflinching resolution, the overflowing love that motivated the feet to move toward the lost made the feet beautiful. The feet aren’t beautiful. Feet aren’t beautiful. They are gross, especially bare feet in primitive cultures. Feet on the way to die for others are beautiful feet no matter what they look like.
“Revel in the unsurpassed beauty of one who was so marred that we would not have been able to look at him.”
And the beauty of Christ that the devil does not want us to see or talk about or celebrate is not his physical appearance, but the peculiar glory, the peculiar brightness of all the excellences that shines most brightly in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and in the power of the resurrection. That is precisely what Paul meant when he said in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory [or the beauty] of Christ.” That glory, that beauty is the beauty of his moral perfections expressed in the gospel.
So, I think Adam is justified in feeling awkward if we carelessly refer to the beauty of Jesus so that it sounds like we are adoring his physical appearance. Adam, join me in groping for language for men and women that enables us to revel in the unsurpassed moral and spiritual beauty of one who was so marred that we would not have been able to look at him.