What Color Is Jesus?

“Jesus isn’t white,” was my second thought.

I was in a hotel in Libreville, Gabon, after missing my connecting flight in Paris to Douala, Cameroon. Air France’s remedy was to send me and retired NAB missionaries, Fred and Nancy Folkerts, on an overnight flight to Gabon so that we could take an early afternoon flight to Douala. They also arranged a 3-hour hotel stay to rest, shower and get a decent meal before taking the turboprop over the jungle of Equatorial Guinea enroute to Douala.

It was December 31, 2005. As I walked through the hotel lobby, I observed a rather lavish nativity scene/creche. What immediately stood out to me was that all the figures were dark-skinned.

I laughed to myself and thought, “Jesus isn’t black.” As soon as I thought it, the second thought came, “He’s not white either.” But this time more soberly.

I was in my mid-forties, having gone regularly to church since before I can remember. I was a professed, baptized Jesus-follower of over three and a half decades, a pastor of over 20 years with three degrees. I had preached over 1,000 sermons. But it took flying across the Atlantic Ocean, an unanticipated stop in a West African country, a brief time in a hotel . . . and this nativity scene to help me begin to fathom something I had intellectually known for decades. Jesus wasn’t white. Actually, Jesus ISN’T white.

There isn’t much said in Scripture about Jesus’ appearance. One thinks of the prophecy in Isaiah 53 or the words in Revelation, but even those texts are not very helpful in describing what He looks like. There, I said it again. The incarnation was/is not a temporary thing. Jesus remains a person of more color than me. That was God’s choice.

Once I begin to recognize I have been “seeing” Jesus white-like-me, I realize I see Him in a lot of other ways that I identify. American. Midwestern-raised. Conservative. Farm kid. Baptist.

And I suspect you see Him through your context, too. When I am confronted with a different image or perspective, I may get defensive, even angry. In my fear, before truly listening, I may argue that my views are theologically (more) correct . . . and the views of those who say something different to be wrong.

Now, lest you misunderstand me, correct theology is absolutely necessary. It’s just that the more years God grants, the more I realize I often “see” my theology through my experience, rather than the other way around. What is that saying? “Too soon old. Too late smart.”

So what does Jesus look like? The writer of Hebrews says, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Hebrews 1:3). Paul writes that He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus claims that to see Him is to see the Father (John 12:45; 14:9).

What do those who do not claim Jesus observe in us? Is humility evident (Philippians 2), the character of His divine nature (2 Peter 1), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5), love for each other (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3-4), a life that, when others “taste and see” us, they recognize our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2)?

One day I (and all) will see, face to face, the Man of color, the King with wounds in His hands and side. Let us bow our knees and open our hearts to hear, to see, to worship, to welcome . . . as He welcomes us.

 

O lay aside each earthly thing,

And with thy heart as offering,

Come worship now the infant King,

‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

 

Randy Jaspers