What’s Behind Jesus’ Mask?

What’s Behind Jesus’ Mask? September 30, 2014

iStock_000033831258SmallWhat’s behind Jesus’ mask? Jesus.

Jesus is not a mode that a divine “nameless, faceless, omni-being”[1] puts on and takes off. What we see in Jesus is what we get with his Father. Together with the Spirit, they share the divine name in the sacred story of life (See Matthew 28:19). The Father’s actions through the interpersonal mediation of the Son and Spirit in history reveal the eternal triune being of the one God.

As I have written elsewhere, “God is greater than what he is in revelation, though not different from it…”[2] Jesus accurately expresses God’s inexhaustible eternal being and character. Moreover, God does not give us a part of himself in revelation. God gives us himself through the mediation of his incarnate Word.[3] Jesus is God’s very self-expression from all eternity as God’s Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). As God’s living Word who alone has seen God face to face, Jesus exegetes or interprets God (John 1:18). What we see in Jesus is what we get with God, for he alone is from above and dwells with God (See John 3:31; John 14:6-11). Jesus is not some mask that a Darth-Vader or Phantom of the Opera deity wears. When we see Jesus, we see the Father. The Father reveals his very self in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

In addition to the question about Jesus’ mask, we need to ask about ways we mask Jesus. Jesus does not mask God, but we often do so when we project onto Jesus our own images, such as Fabio Jesus, Rambo Jesus, and Eight-Pound Six Ounce Baby Jesus of Ricky Bobby fame (See the link to the Will Ferrell Ricky Bobby video clip here). The list goes on and on.

Whether we are liberal or conservative, we often turn Jesus into a caricature or projection of us. Take for example the question I sometimes get asked: Do God and Jesus play favorites? Liberal-minded people might not like hearing that Jesus plays favorites or that God’s favorite is Jesus over against all other competing religious brand names. Conservatives might not have trouble with Jesus or God playing favorites, as long as the favorites are conservatives like them. However, the problem with Jesus is that he often favors those like Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, in Luke 19:1-10.

Zacchaeus was a traitor who ripped off his fellow Jews to pay the Romans, for which his own people despised him. Jesus did not favor Zacchaeus for being a traitor and cheat. In fact, Jesus rejoiced in his repentance, as recorded in Luke 19. Still, Jesus always hangs out in homes with the wrong crowd—the crowd with whom no one else wants to associate. He leads them through repentance and faith to his Father’s home. Guess what! Jesus even stoops to hang out with you and me, if we will have him!

Let’s return to a previous point. Does God play favorites? Yes. Jesus is God’s one and only Son (John 3:16). And yet, who is God’s Son? God’s self-expression is a humble peasant from God-forsaken Nazareth (See John 1:46). If this is who God favors, who does he despise and oppose? God despises and opposes the proud of heart (Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 16:5; James 4:6), the rich who oppress the poor (Proverbs 22:16; James 2:6), and those who oppose and exclude his Son (See Psalm 2:1-12; see also Hebrews 10:26-31).

God will not exclude Jesus. Nor will he exclude those fellow unwelcome and inconvenient strangers with whom Jesus identifies. We find Jesus revealed behind the mask of the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and imprisoned. (See Matthew 25:31-46). God in Jesus identifies with them. Of course, God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). But God favors those everyone else marginalizes and rejects.

God does not exclude us—no matter our pedigree. All we must do is take off our pretentious masks that can never conceal our haughty eyes and hearts from God’s penetrating gaze. We must become like little children (Matthew 18:1-6; Matthew 19:13-15). They alone know that the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s story of our lives (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”) wears no clothes, just masks. God gives his Son for us so that we could become God’s children by faith in God’s meritorious love, clothed in God’s embrace alone (John 1:12-13; 3:1-21). Jesus beckons us to take off our masks and engage him heart to heart, face to face.


[1]I am indebted to my friend and colleague Chris Laird for the expression “nameless, faceless, omni-being.”

[2]See my essay “The Gospel of True Prosperity: Our Best Life in the Triune God Now and Not Yet,” in Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology, ed. Michael T. Dempsey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), page 285.

[3] See “The Gospel of True Prosperity,” page 285 and Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. II/1, The Doctrine of God, ed. by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), page 472.

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