He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Back in 2005, my college-age children were showing me, their technologically challenged dad, how to take pictures of them with my camera phone. It was a lot of fun. We laughed and laughed and took several pictures until I finally got one I liked. That picture was the wallpaper on my cell phone for a long time. It was a great snapshot of them. But it was just a snapshot—a 2”x 2”, flat photo taken by a low megapixel camera. In the days and weeks that followed, it often made “sweet sadness” of separations that come when our kids go off to college.
Our cell phones now take not just great pictures, but panoramas and videos, and they offer apps to edit and improve these images. But no matter how technologically refined such images are, they are an inadequate analogy of what happened when Jesus Christ became the image of the invisible God. We do not get a snapshot of Jesus—we get the full, complete image—well beyond 3-D. Hebrews describes His image as, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3a). St. John describes Him as the Word who, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
St. Paul bluntly says that people are blind until the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, dawns upon them. Even those who have been Christians a long time will, in a season of extreme need or tragic loss, realize how little they have seen of the true image of God in Jesus. Our eyes can grow dim over time, and we don’t notice. You thought you knew who God is and what He is like. But then something happened, something perhaps unwelcome or extraordinarily difficult, and Jesus is revealed in your heart once again as the Savior who died. People cannot see God until they look at Jesus with eyes that are readied to gaze at the cross. It is seeing the Lord on the cross that brings to our eyes and our hearts the lived reality of union with Him.
Do you want to know what God is like? Do you want to know Him in all His glory and splendor? Do you need to know God because the bottom has dropped out, and you don’t know where to go or what to do? If your answers are yes, yes, and yes, then don’t read modern-day versions of the old Gnostic portrayals of Jesus like we saw in the popular novel by Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code. Think critically when you see a film or play about Jesus. The poet and author W.H. Auden believed that no human being should ever portray Jesus Christ on a stage. He did not consider it blasphemy as much as absurd. “It’s impossible to represent Christ,” Auden said, “who is so infinitely more interesting and infinitely more compassionate and infinitely more beautiful than any portrayal we humans could ever make of Him.”
So where do we look for a trustworthy, compelling portrait of Jesus? St. Paul said that the light shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in that face of Jesus. Look at the face of Jesus through His Word. See the Word in the Word. And see Him particularly in the Word at that place where He knew all the difficulty, all the hurt, all the loss that we know…and much more. See Jesus looking at you with eyes of love from the cross as He dies for you. Yes, make it present tense, as if you are there. But then of course, you were there, for you were united to Jesus in His death (Romans 6:5). At the cross, you get so much more than a snapshot or a .jpg file. You get the lived reality of living your life with, in, and through Him to the glory of God the Father.
Again and last, St. Paul, “Now I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)