THE FACE OF CHRIST
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Dr. Rosenow, a man who devoted his life to medical research, was asked, what led him to this as his life's task, and he told this story. He grew up on an isolated farm in Northern Wisconsin, and as a boy he had an unforgettable experience when his brother became dangerously ill. The nearest doctor was sent for, and when he came to the house, Dr. Rosenow, then only a boy, followed the doctor into his brothers room, and hid behind a sofa to observe. What he saw determined his career. The doctor poured out medicine to give to the patient, and then he turned and said to his parents, "Have no fear, he is going to get well." The light that came into his parents faces was wonderful to behold, and so deeply impressed him that then and there the boy behind the sofa determined that he would do something that would cause light to appear in people's faces.
We cannot begin to measure the powerful influence of shining faces in history. Longfellow said of one-
The light upon her face
Shines from the windows of another world.
Saints only have such faces.
When Adoniram Judson, the great missionary, was home on furlough, he passed through Stonington, Conn. Where a young boy saw his face glowing with the love of Christ. He was so deeply impressed that one of the chapters of the book he wrote when he became a pastor was entitled, "What A Boy Saw In The Face Of Adoniram Judson." This boy became Dr. Henry Clay Trumbull, a great soul winner. Now you may not know Dr. Trumbull or Dr. Rosenow, or the million others whose lives have been changed by beholding faces, but all of you know the man in this third illustration of the powerful influence of a shining face.
He was not a boy as the other two, but was a grown man who had already determined his profession. He was engaged in duties that would make his face bitter and fearful. By his own confession he says, he was in an angry rage when suddenly at midday he saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, and with that vision his whole character and career was changed. Paul had seen the light, not just a light, but the light, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that he was persecuting Christ, the face he saw was not a face of anger like his own, but a face of mercy and forgiveness, and from that time one Paul followed only the light that came from his Savior's face.
To behold the face of Christ, and to reflect the light of His face was the constant goal of the Apostle Paul. He was not a man of a thousand faces, but the man of one face-the face of Christ. He renounced all underhanded and cunning methods, and walked in the open light of the face of Christ. Paul could have written the words of the poet,
For this I strive, for this I pray,
For this all else resign:
Be like my Master everyday,
Set forth on earth the Christian way,
Reflect His face in mine.
In Margaret Deland's story, The Awakening Of Helina Ritchie, a small boy looking at a picture of the baptism of Jesus in which the artist had a face looking out of the clouds asked, "Is that a good photograph of God?" Dr. Lavendar, the pastor said, "If it looks like a kind father, I think it is a good photograph of God." The Apostle Paul would say, however, that the real authentic photograph of God is the Son of God, who is the express image of God. Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." Paul says to the Corinthians here in verse 6, that the source of our knowledge of God, in all His glory and beauty, is in the face of Jesus Christ. Back in 318 He lays it down as a spiritual principle, that only as we with open face gaze upon the glory of the Lord Jesus, can we be changed by degrees, and become like Him. Looking at the face of Jesus is not just poetry, it is an essential and practical aspect of the Christian life, for those who desire to be Christlike in all their living.
This means, of course, that the face of Christ is not His literal face, but is the whole character and conduct of Jesus as it is recorded in the Gospels. The face, however, is the part of the body the most expressive of one's life and emotions. If you wish to know if a man is happy and glad, or sour and mad, you look, not at his hair, hands, back, or feet, but at his face. The face is the index of the heart and mind. When Shakespeare said, "You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm, of cloudiness," it is not hard to guess the mood of the one he refers to. As Lewis Evans said, "Your face doth testify but you be inwardly." The eyes in the face take in light from without, while the face itself is the organ by which we express the light, or lack of it, within. Abraham Coles wrote,
Contending passions jostle and displace,
And tilt and tourney mostly in the face.
Unmatched by art, upon this wondrous scroll,
Portrayed our all the secrets of the soul.
This was true for Jesus, as for all men. The life of Christ can be portrayed by a series of portraits showing the expressions of His face. The album would begin with the baby face of Jesus in the manger, and then would come the studious face of boyhood, when he debated with the scholars in the temple. Then comes His delightful happy face as he healed and taught. Then on the mount of transfiguration His face shown as the Sun. Then comes His determined face when He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem to face the cross. Then comes His face of anguish and tears in the garden of Gethsemane. On the cross we see His disfigured face from the crown of thorns, and finally His conquering joyful face manifested in the happy days following His resurrection. We can't begin to look at the whole album, but we can focus our eyes on a couple of these pictures of the face of Christ which should challenge us to seek more often to meditate on Him until we literally see Him face to face. First of all let's look at-
I. HIS DELIGHTFUL FACE.
All of this emphasis of Paul on glory in the face of Christ implies a face of beauty and delightful joy. The middle ages lost sight of this face of Christ. It was an age of ascetics. Men were going off to monasteries where they fasted and cut themselves off from the normal life of man. They forgot that Jesus never did this. The artists began to picture Jesus only as He appeared in those last hours of His suffering. The only text they could see to paint by was that of Isaiah 53:3, "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." This was a true picture of Christ in His suffering. The deformed face of Christ was real, and for us who know the love behind that agonizing face, even it contains beauty. Christina Rossetti put it so well in poetry.
Is this the face that thrills with awe,
Seraphs who veil their face above?
Is this the face without a flaw,
The face that is the face of love?
Yeah, this defaced, - this lifeless clod,
Hath all creation's love sufficed,
Hath satisfied the love of God,
This face, the face of Jesus Christ.
Keep in mind that Jesus was the spotless Lamb offered in sacrifice, and so even though He was made ugly by the sin of man, He was in His own perfection the most beautiful of all men. We ought never to lose the picture of His suffering face, but to suppress all others with it, and to impose this gruesome image on the whole life of Christ is a great perversion. Some who have looked so long and often at the face of sorrow have concluded that Jesus never smiled or laughed. This baseless tradition, with nothing but silence for a foundation, began as early as the forth century, and still has its effects yet today, for it is all too seldom that Christians consider the delightful smiling face of Jesus. The evidence for this portrait is abundant, even though there is no specific text that says Jesus smiled, as it says He wept.
One half-positive poet suggests that He might have smiled when He blest the little children. "A Man on earth He wondered once, all meek and undefiled, and those who loved Him said-He wept, none ever said He smiled. Yet there might have been a smile unseen, when He bowed His holy face I ween, to bless that happy child." Such a half-hearted defense of the smiling face of Christ is a witness to how strongly men have been influenced by the sad face of Christ on the cross. It is almost as if it was irreverent to think of Christ as a person enjoying life. It would be extremely abnormal for a person with very little to be happy about to go all through life without a smile or laughter. It is inconceivable that He who came that we might have abundant life should do so. Unless we are convinced that joy, laughter, and smiling is of the devil, rather than the gift of God, we must accept the reality of His delightful face.
Just try and imagine Jesus as a special guest at the wedding of Cana where He added to the joy of the occasion by His miracle of changing water into wine. Can you imagine Him all the while expressing no smile or emotion of delight, but keeping His face as solemn as if He was fasting? I can hardly conceive of Jesus being stuck with such a dead pan face even during the 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. Certainly one who said so often to others in time of trial, "Be of good cheer." Must have had a spring of joy in His own heart to fill His face with light, even while facing the ruler of darkness. Jesus was the light of the world, and in Him was no darkness at all.
Jesus told His disciples to keep their faces clean and to look happy and healthy when they fasted. They were not to display a sad face in search of sympathy, or to be praised for being so sacrificially religious. This alone, without all of His words of joy and rejoicing, is positive proof that we fly in the face of the facts when we picture Jesus with the face of an ascetic. The very record of His weeping shows it was unique and rare for Him to do so because He was generally so happy. Those who deny to Christ the universal pleasure of laughter, and paint Him as a perpetual man of sorrows have an uncanny ability to draw conclusions in total disregard to the facts. Jesus was not only a friend of children, but of publicans and sinners. He was frequently at the banquet table, and I have never seen a banquet where people were not smiling and laughing.
The Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples did not fast, and Jesus answered in Matt. 9:15, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Jesus was the leader of a delightfully happy band of men, and fasting just did not fit into their life style at this point. People by the hundreds were being healed, and they were shouting and praising God as their loved ones were restored to health. In such a constant atmosphere of praise and joy, who could fast and be sad? Most of all, how could the Savior, the Bridegroom Himself, the author of all this joy, have anything but a face of delight? More Biblical is the poet who paints the delightful face of Christ without apology.
The men who met Him rounded on their heels,
And wandered after Him because His face
Shown like the countenance of a priest of old
Against the flame about a sacrifice
Kindled by fire from heaven, so glad was He.
Luke 10:21 says Jesus rejoiced in the context of the 70 as they returned from their successful mission. Jesus was seen powerful success everywhere, and He could not help but rejoice as He saw the power of Satan being defeated. If we behold this delightful face
of Christ often, we too can be filled with His joy. No wonder Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord often, and again I say rejoice." Paul was a happy man in spite of all his trials because he beheld daily the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The second picture we want to look at is-
II. HIS DESIRABLE FACE.
His joy is only one of the values we want imparted to us. His face has many other desirable characteristics. His face is a face of peace, a face of purity, and a face of keen intelligence. Everything desirable is found in the face of Christ. If there is anything lovely, think on it says Paul, and nothing can be more lovely than the face of Him who is altogether lovely and the fairest of the fair. A child was afraid of the dark and the mother said as she left the room, "God will be with you." "Yes, I know," said the boy, "But I want somebody here with a face." He wanted a personal God and not just a God of doctrine and theology. In the face of Christ all doctrine becomes personal. The face of Christ does away with abstract speculation and brings God near in everyday life. Jesus is God with a face.
Caryle said, "I would rather have one real glimpse of the young Jew face of Christ than all the Raffaeles in the world." The face of Christ is so desirable just because an example of perfection to gaze upon changes the gazers into its likeness. Paul is saying this in 3:18, and life proves it to be so. Look at what is evil, corrupt, and defiled and you will tend to become like that which you behold. Thoreau said, "We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones-any nobleness begins at once to refine a man's features; any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them." Our face becomes an index of our values and reflects that which we focus our face upon. That is why we are urged to set our affection on things above so we can reflect the light from above.
Nathaniel Hawthorne in the story of The Great Stone Face, tells of a village in a Swiss valley nestled beneath a great mountain. On it was craved a face that was strong, calm, and loving. People said that one day a man with such a face would come and lead them and help them. This impressed one boy so much that he studied the face on the mountain and watched every stranger who came to town. He compared their faces with the face on the rock. Always disappointed, he grew to be a young man, and still was closely studying the face on the mount.
The time came when he attended a public meeting and the speaker suddenly pointed to him saying, "There he is, the likeness of the great stone face." He had studied the face so much that he himself reflected its likeness. This is fiction, but the principle is not. It is fact, and Paul says look on the desirable face of Jesus for thereby you will by degrees become like Him and reflect His glory. We have no picture of Christ, but we have the mirror of the Word which reflects His glory into our face. Let us be often than at this mirror-the beauty parlor of the soul, and let us sing, let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me."
William Hillyer wrote,
No pictured likeness of my Lord have I;
He craved no record of His ministry on wood or stone.
He left no sculptured tomb or parchment dim,
But trusted for all memory of Him men's hearts alone
Who sees the face but sees in part; who reads
The spirit which it hides, sees all; He needs no more.
Thy grace-thy life in my life, Lord, give Thou to me;
And then, in truth, I may forever see
My Master's face.
When a great cathedral was being built the artistic work was entrusted only to the most skilled artists, but an old man kept asking for a chance to carve, claiming he was a sculptor. He was unknown so they refused, but he persisted to ask. In order to get rid of him they gave him a block of stone in a dark corner. Day after day he worked with infinite patience until his work was done. Now a special window has been put in to let visitors see his glorious work. People pass by the carving on the main part of the building to see the face of Christ carved by unknown genius in the dark.
The face can convey inspiration. It is said of Oliver Cromwell, on the eve of a great battle, when the odds were against him, that his soldiers would eagerly seek his face before the bugle sounded the charge. "See," they would exclaim as he passed along the line. "See, he has his battle face today." It was to his soldiers a sign of victory. So also, we need to behold the victorious face of our risen Lord to be prepared to fight the battles of life.
Would you like to know the secret
Of the sweetness of the Lord?
Go and hide beneath His shadow;
This shall then be your reward.
But when'er you leave the silence
Of that happy meeting place,
You must mind and bear the image
Of the Savior in your face.
There is a story of Leonardo da Vinci, and of how in the first painting of the "Last Supper" he had put such pains and a such a wealth of detail into two cups standing on the table that a friend, seeing them stared at them in open-mouthed amazement; whereupon the artist seized a brush and with one sweep of his hand painted them out of the picture, crying as he did it, "Not that! That isn't what I want you to see! It's the face. Look at the face!" Fanny Crosby, the great hymn writer who wrote "Saved By Grace," sang often these words from that song: "I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story saved by grace." She said she was grateful to God that she went through this life in darkness, for she said people who see have seen many hundreds of faces, but the first face I will ever see is the face of Jesus.
Lord, let me see thy beauteous face!
It yields a heaven below;
And angels round the throne will say,
Tis all the heaven they know.
Norman Vincent Peale tells of the Belgian family whose father had been taken to the prison in Breendonk by the Nazis. It was a death camp and they never saw him again. How did they endure such torture and death he asked, and the son took him to the cell and told him to get down on his knees and reach up under the bench to the wall and feel the wall. It felt like the outline of a face, he said. "That is precisely what it is," the son said. "One of the prisoners carved the face of the Savior under this bench where the Nazis wouldn't find it. And in the night time he would run his hand over this face." Other prisoners heard of it and asked if they could also run their hand over the face. This is how they got comfort and assurance that Christ was with them in their trials.
In a great church in Copenhagen, Denmark, the famous sculptor Thorwalden made a statue of Christ. When you enter the church it looks like Jesus is looking at you, but you can't see His face. If you go from side to side you the likeness of the Lord, but still you can't see His face. It is only when you walk down the aisle and kneel and look up that you can see His face. Only when bowed down looking up does the face of Christ appear. These, and many other stories, motivated me to write a poem on the face of Christ.
Of all the faces of the human race,
None shine so bright as the Savior's face.
Of all whom we love, of all whom we embrace,
There is none who can take the Master's place.
His light alone will lead us home;
His light above will lead in love;
His glory pure will ever endure,
Of His guiding light you can be sure.
If you would like to like Him be,
Both now and for eternity,
Be blind to all that is low and base
And gaze instead upon His face.
Be willing however great the price
To follow the light from the face of Christ.