Why I'm Ok with a "Black" Jesus

If you were to close your eyes and imagine what Jesus looked like, my guess is that like most people, you would envision a white looking guy with a beard, a long skinny nose, and long flowing hair. Historically, that's how Jesus has looked in just about every painting, statue, and movie that we've ever seen.

Chances are, however, that you've never imagined Jesus Christ as a black man.

And there is good reason for that, of course. Historically speaking, Jesus Christ is a descendant of Abraham, and is of Jewish ancestory. Though we obviously have no photograph of Jesus, it is very likely that Jesus Christ looks a bit more like Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks than he does Samuel L. Jackson or Will Smith.

But what if, for a moment, you imagined Jesus Christ as a black man? Or, what if somebody made a painting, sculpture, or movie in which Jesus Christ was depicted as black?

Would you be ok with that?

My guess is that the chances are, you would not. And you would cite the historical and Biblical reasons as to why such is the case. And for all those reasons, I would say you are right.

Except... however, you would also be wrong to say such on Biblical grounds.

Consider the following:
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. ~ (Colossians 3:10-11; NASB)
In the above passage, the apostle Paul encourages us to see ourselves no longer according to the ways of thinking that govern the old creation. Instead, we need to see ourselves as part of a "new creation," in which we are given a "new self." And in our newly created self, we are no longer to find our identity in our racial, ethnic, or social makeup. For in the new creation that God is making, Jesus Christ transcends all these old distinctions, and obliterates them.

Indeed, the apostle Paul doesn't just teach that Christ transcends all of these things. Instead, Paul actually sees Jesus as becoming all these things. "Christ IS all, and IN all." (vs. 11) Thus, in the resurrection, Jesus Christ's identity is no longer merely that of a Jewish man. Rather, His identity is also bound up with the Greek man as well as the Jew, and all other manner of race of men.

Thus, theologically speaking, it would be correct to say that Jesus Christ is of Jewish ancestry. But, it would also be correct to say that Jesus Christ is also a white European, with blond hair, and blue eyes. And, it would also be correct to say that Jesus Christ is also a black man from Africa. And as such, I am perfectly ok with Jesus being depicted in artwork as any of the above. Jesus Christ is all, and is in all.

And in this Christmas season, if your nativity scene just happens to have Jesus as a white baby, a Chinese baby, or a black baby... then all is well. And this Sunday in worship, if you close your eyes and imagine Jesus looking like somebody born somewhere besides the land of Judea, then so be it.

Now, some of you might wonder why I've even bothered to write something like this short essay?

Well, with all the polarizing racial tension and divide our country has experienced in recent months, I thought something like this could be an important thing to share in somehow doing my part to promote healing regarding race relations in our country. For deep down inside, there is something of this old creation that beats in all of our hearts, that causes men to identify with their particular tribe or race. Contrary to the popular teaching of some, racism is not merely a taught behavior. It is something that is very much part of our fallen humanity, and is something we are born with.

The truth of the matter is, the racial tensions we experience grow out of our inability to identify with a race other than the one we naturally identify with. Ten out of ten times, we identify with the group we perceive to be most like us. Black and white people have tensions with one another, not merely because of histories in our nation that center around injustices, but because there is something of this old fallen man that we receive as the sons and daughters of Adam, that causes us to have our identity bound up in things that ultimately separate us and divide us from one another.

However, the new creation that God is making through Jesus Christ asks us to no longer identify ourselves with our white and black racial identities and heritages. In the new creation, we've made a break with our past, even as Jesus Christ has with His. Now, Jesus Christ not only identifies with all races of mankind, but having become all races Himself, He also asks us to participate with Him in this new identity as part of His new creation.

If you think of yourself as a black man, or a white man, you need to stop doing that. Instead, you need to start thinking of yourself as the one new man that is found in Christ Jesus. And as such, you can transcend the racial divide that is part of the old order, and you are freed to identify yourself with all men, of every race, tribe, nation, and tongue. Theologically speaking, our hope for racial reconciliation is to be found in the loving arms of the "black" Jesus... and the Jewish one, the white one, and the Chinese Jesus.

After all, Jesus Christ is ALL, and in ALL.

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