Rembrandt & the Face of Jesus

Bob Duggan on a Rembrandt exhibit in Philadelphia that I’d really like to see, having always been astounded and edified by the artist’s portrayals of Jesus:

For millennia now, believers and nonbelievers have wondered what Jesus may have looked like and grasped at any and all evidence in their search. In the exhibition Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through October 11th, a turning point in that search created by the artistic innovations of Rembrandt helps us see where that search has been and, perhaps, where that search will go. In learning how Rembrandt changed the face of Jesus from divine, inhuman perfection to human accessibility we can learn what the “true” face of Jesus might truly be.

From the earliest days of Christianity up until Rembrandt’s 17th century, the idea of portraying Jesus as human reeked of blasphemy. Iconoclasts often violently repressed any attempts to portray Christ as anything less than fully, perfectly divine. Historically “accurate” representations of Jesus, such as the Veil of Veronica, the Mandylion, the Shroud of Turin, and the Lentulus Letter, set the standard rules followed when depicting Jesus during the Byzantine era and beyond. Just a century before Rembrandt’s birth, Dutch Protestants swept the churches clean of unacceptable portrayals of their savior. Into that environment stepped the revolutionary and rebellious Rembrandt.

“Not only did Rembrandt abandon these traditional sources,” writes Lloyd DeWitt, curator of the Philadelphia leg of the exhibition’s tour and editor of the show’s scholarly and captivating catalog, “but as many scholars have persuasively proposed, and visual and circumstantial evidence consistently supports, he used as his model a young Sephardic Jew from the neighborhood in which he lived and worked.” At the centerpiece of Rembrandt’s revolution stood seven portrait heads (and perhaps a now-lost eighth) of Jesus Christ from various angles and shown in various states of mind and mood. This exhibition reunites these portrait heads (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s own, shown above) for the first time since they once stood in Rembrandt’s studio for his use and the use of his students more than 350 years ago.

Whenever Rembrandt needed to depict Jesus, he called upon these tools for guidance and inspiration. This exhibition also collects those works by Rembrandt in which he depicted Jesus both before and after his experimental portraits done from life in what may be the largest single presentation of these works ever. “Rembrandt’s concept of Christ changed significantly as his art evolved from one decade to the next,” argues George S. Keyes in his catalog essay, with “Rembrandt’s earlier representations of Jesus [showing him] in dramatically charged events” and later depictions making “Christ… an object of profound meditation.” This evolution can clearly be seen in Rembrandt’s almost endless returning to his favorite story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus and the Supper at Emmaus. From small drawings focusing on the explosively radiant divinity of Christ at the moment of revelation at Emmaus to paintings such as the Louvre’s 1648 Supper at Emmaus focusing more on the reactions of the disciples than on the more-reserved, resurrected Jesus (whose appearance seems based on the “Philadelphia” head), Rembrandt shifted away from Jesus as the heroic superbeing of antiquity towards a more human, more accessible to believers, and, perhaps, truer face of Christ. Just as the Louvre’s restored Supper at Emmaus (in the United States for the first time since the 1930s) glows with new life after losing layers of yellowing varnish, Rembrandt’s new and improved Christ glows with a new relevance that restores him to the faithful, including Rembrandt himself. . . .

Adrift on a sea of debt and rudderless after the death of his wife, Rembrandt anchored himself in art and faith, then passed on those values to the members of his studio through these heads of Christ. Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus passes those values down to us. Rembrandt loved the story of Jesus at Emmaus for its depiction of Christ as teacher, opening the eyes of His disciples to the truth of his being and his continued connection to them. Rembrandt reconnected in a deeply personal way with Jesus by choosing a Jewish model—an outcast, like the outcasts with whom Christ (and Rembrandt himself) chose to keep company. As amazing as it is to come face to face with so many Rembrandts in a single setting—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—the true wonder of Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus comes in standing face to face with a revolutionary moment in the depiction of Christ. Seeing Jesus as human seems commonplace today in our post-romantic age, but this exhibition reminds us of just how revolutionary and how important that shift—led by Rembrandt—once was and still is.

via How Rembrandt Changed the Face of Jesus | Picture This | Big Think.

I would add that it isn’t just that Rembrandt’s pictures of Jesus show Him as  “human.”  They affect us more than that.  They depict Him as human while also being divine.  They are personal rather than impersonal.   I ascribe that to the Reformation understanding of Christ and the Gospel, that Jesus is “for you.”

 

Rembrandt's Jesus

 

HT: Joe Carter

The tomb of one of the Disciples?

Archeologists may have discovered the tomb of one of Christ’s Twelve Disciples.   Tradition says that St. Philip was martyred in the Hierapolis in present day Turkey and that’s where they found what appears to be his tomb in the ruins of an ancient church. From a Turkish newspaper:

An Italian professor has announced the apparent discovery of the tomb of St. Philip, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, at the ancient city of Hierapolis in the Aegean province of Denizli.

The discovery of the grave of the biblical saint, who was killed by the Romans 2,000 years ago, will attract immense attention around the world, said Francesco D’Andria. St. Philip, one of the 12 apostles, came to Hierapolis 2,000 years ago to spread the Christianity before being killed by the Romans, the professor said.

D’Andria has been leading archeological excavations at the ancient city for 32 years.

“Until recently, we thought the grave of St. Philip was on Martyrs’ Hill, but we discovered no traces of him in the geophysical research conducted in that area. A month ago, we discovered the remnants of an unknown church, 40 meters away from the St. Philip Church on Martyrs’ Hill. And in that church we discovered the grave of St. Philip,” said D’Andria.

D’Andria and his team have not opened the grave but are planning to do so soon.

via Tomb of St. Philip the Apostle Discovered in Turkey – FoxNews.com.

What will they find?  The remains of a man who actually walked with Jesus?  That would be mind-blowing.  Of course, it’s too early to say, and it could just be more Biblical archeology sensationalism.  But still, the mind reels.

 

St. Philip's Tomb

 

HT:  James Kushiner

You have already been judged

Our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, is on vacation, so my son-in-law from Australia, Rev. Adam Hensley, preached the sermon last Sunday.  It was an amazing exposition of the Gospel.  His text was  Romans 8:28–39, focusing on  verse 3:

God for us. It is no overstatement to claim that these three little words make all the difference to everything! They change the very landscape of your life! Indeed, they allow St Paul to say just a few verses before, “for those who love God all things work together for goodFor, because of Christ, God our Father—the Judge and Creator of all–has already judged in our favor!

Already this morning you have heard Him speak his final judgment upon you, when you heard me declare to you in His stead and by His command: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” You do not have to wait until Judgment Day to know His verdict—He has already given it: He has forgiven you for Christ’s sake! . . . .

Now a good judge prizes himself or herself on being neutral. A good judge shows no favoritism, but executes justice without regard for status, fame, prestige, wealth, or appearance. A good judge does not regard the face,but is fair and even, rewarding, justifyingthe righteous and punishing the wicked.

Here we may think of Lady Justice, that statue inspired by the Roman goddess Iustitia, as the epitome of this ideal. She stands blindfolded, indicating that she does not judge by appearances or what she sees. In one hand she holds a sword, symbolizing authority, and in the other a balanced scales, symbolizing equity and fairness. Indeed, Lady Justice is the ideal model for the office of judge in the courts; in God’s left hand Kingdom, as we say.

But Lady Justice is no model for our Eternal Judge, who judges us in Christ!

Our Judge is anything but neutral! He acquits the guilty! He cancels debts! He justifies sinners and transgressors!

He shows favoritism! He shows His favor to you for Christ’s sake. . . .

Now some people talk about the justice of God, or about God as Judge and for all intents and purposes leave Christ out of it. They get into discussions about God’s sovereign right to condemn some and save others in general. . . .But God does not deal with us in the abstract. He deals with us in Christ! He always points us to Christ, and says of Him, “Here is my justice for you! Here I justify you! . . .

God loving is still ―God punishing sin with death, but it is God Himself taking on our human flesh and bearing the punishment—our death sentence—for us.

And so justice is done. Sin and guilt are punished. God’s wrath is exhausted.

Not blindly though, but with both eyes open! For the Father knew what He was doing. The Son knew what He would endure and why: the Innocent would die for the guilty.

And yes, this is a miscarriage of justice to our way of thinking: Christ was no blasphemer as He was accused of being. But it is God’s miscarriage of justice. It was God’s plan that Christ, the Son of God, become the Blasphemer, the Murderer, the Adulterer, the Sinner. And we have become the “called,” “justified,” “glorified” children of the Heavenly Father.

And He who was born of a virgin, talking upon Himself our human flesh and all our sin and guilty, who then died and rose again… He now intercedes for you and me! Both His eyes are open, looking upon you with compassion; looking to the Heavenly Father and pleading the perfect plea for our forgiveness: His wounds that testify that all sin has been punished by death; all our debt paid in full.

So, the eternal Judge and the eternal Defense Attorney is for us! And not only that: He is also the one who chose to endure your sentence for you!

Sexual moralism vs. the gospel?

John at Redeemed Rambling, a Reformed Baptist, maintains that many conservative Christians are talking so much about sexual immorality that they are obscuring the Gospel:

To my brothers, I have this plea: please stop with the sexual moralism. True Christianity finds its all in the gospel – God’s grace to take us in when we are wretched. We all come to God laden with sexual sin. The purest among us is an adulterer, for without the Holy Spirit our hearts burn with lust. This is who we are. The joy is that there is salvation! The joy is that Christ takes our filthy rags and clothes us in his own righteousness. The joy is that God’s own Spirit empowers us to enjoy God’s great gifts – even sexuality – in their proper and most delightful context.

But some have ignored this, and instead spend their energy “fighting” homosexuality in the public square. Do you realize, friend, that no amount of moralizing nor legislation will take away the depravity of the human heart? There is the third use of the law, but that conversation makes no sense without the first two uses of the law! Which is to say that we are sinners all and need the love, grace, and compassion of a savior who gave up everything – even His own life – to rescue a people damned to torment for our own wretchedness.

The problem, brother, is that a few of us are so loudly proclaiming that homosexuality is a sin that we may be guilty of actually preaching a false gospel. You see, some of us have got a beautiful, strong doctrinal position. On paper. But much of the world never sees that. They hear your moralizing. They read your blog. They visit your church website. And the “gospel” they hear is that until they clean up their life, they cannot be acceptable to God. Please hear me; this is a very deep evil. This is not the gospel of Christ! Are you so arrogant that you believe you are God’s own instrument to stem the tide of social depravity? That is God’s business, and he has ordained a means by which this may happen – the conversion of the soul.

Brothers, we must be faithful, and part of being faithful is being clear that we are sinners in need of a savior – and sexual sin is just that. Even homosexuality, today’s hot topic, is a sin against the one true God. So is the rampant lust, pornography use, and divorce that afflicts our “Christian” churches. Our actions do not make us less sinners. We do not need less grace. And the other part about being faithful is being faithful to proclaim our gospel of grace! The other part of being faithful is to actually obey Christ – to love God with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So my plea to you is to please stop the moralism. I’m sure we mean well, but the gospel you take for granted is the precious water of life that alone can soften the cracked desert of the lost soul. Stop damming it up.

via Redeemed Rambling: Please Stop the Moralism.

Good point?  Or not?  Or good but not complete?

Granted that the enemy of the Gospel is not sin but self-righteousness, isn’t it necessary to teach the sinfulness of sin, so as to puncture self-righteousness?  Isn’t the problem of sexual sin today actually a problem of self-righteousness, insisting for our every sexual sin that “there is nothing wrong with it” and achieving social approval that makes it easier to feel good about the sins we commit?  Whereupon we no longer repent of them and no longer recognize the need for Christ’s grace?

Still, though, the notion is that Christianity is about “being good,” and the implication that if you aren’t good, you just need to try harder–these surely leave Christ and  the Gospel out of consideration.  And yet this is indeed what many people think Christianity is all about.

Rendering to Caesar and to God

Happy Independence Day! The birthday of our nation would be a good time to contemplate that great text on church and state, Matthew 22:21, in which our Lord charges us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What “things” are Caesar’s, and how do we render them to him? And what “things” are God’s, and how do we render them to Him?

Obviously, all things are God’s, but Jesus must have had a particular sense of this in mind. A pastor I heard on Sunday–I’m on the road, so it wasn’t our pastor–said that the Greek implies that we are giving back what we have received. So we might think of this in terms of “what do we receive from the state” and so what are we obliged to a giving back. Jesus’s example of money works here. What else? And how does this apply to the gifts of God?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . .

Some time ago on this blog, I sort of took issue with the “Common Table Prayer” commonly used by Lutherans, prayed in unison before a meal.   Remember that I did not grow up in this tradition, and I considered it more of a rhyming sing-song children’s prayer, favoring instead the prayer in the catechism with its use of the Psalm (“The eyes of all look to you, O Lord. . .”) or a spontaneous personal prayer.  How presumptuous I was in questioning a devotion hallowed by untold numbers of Christians for generations!

Since then I have come to appreciate and to use that prayer.  Above all, it is a prayer that focuses upon Christ’s presence–asking Him to come into our lives, into our vocations, into our family as everyone is seated around the table–and acknowledges Christ’s gifts, that the food we are about to eat comes from His hand and that ordinary life is the sphere of His blessings.

Along those lines and to go even deeper into the Biblical dimensions of this little prayer, you have got to read the piece by Dr. David Loy in the latest Lutheran Witness.  It deserves to become a classic.  You need to read the whole thing, but this is the summary:

“Come, Lord Jesus,” we cry with the Church, longing for our Lord to return in glory and set us and this entire sinful world right. “Be our guest,” we ask Him, knowing that the house that receives Jesus in faith receives His salvation. “Let Thy gifts to us be blessed,” we pray, trusting that the food on our tables will be sufficient to nourish us to do the work the Lord has given us in this world. It is such a simple prayer, and yet it gives voice to so many longings that our faith produces in us. We long for Jesus to come again, we long for the salvation He brings, and we long to be nourished to do the work He gives us.

via The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.


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