PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Seeing Him with the Eye of Flesh or the Eye of Faith” By: Ron Woodrum
When we hear the name Jesus, we automatically have an image appear in our minds. It is an image that has been introduced to us somewhere, in our Sunday School literature, in pictures, illustrations etc. For most of my generation our image comes from a popular painting by Warner Elias Sallman. Sallman and his parents were first generation immigrants from Finland/Sweden. They settled in Chicago in the early 1900’s He sang in the choir at his Church in Chicago. There he met his wife Ruth. He was an artist who apprenticed with some of the best artists during the day, and attended the Chicago Art Institute by night. In 1924 a major denomination commissioned him to make a charcoal sketching of the head of Jesus. He used the only historical document that he could find that described the physical appearance of Jesus. It read: “He is a man of medium size with a venerable aspect, his beholders both fear and love Him. His hair is the color of ripe hazel-nut, straight down to the ears, but below the ears wavy and curled, with a bluish and bright reflection, flowing over His shoulders. It is parted in two at the top of the head, after the pattern of the Nazarenes. His brow is smooth and cheerful, with a face without a wrinkle or spot, with a reddish complexion. His nose and mouth are faultless. His beard is abundant, the color of His hair, not long, but divided at the chin”. After doing several sketches he chose to do an oil painting. His oil painting was astounding! The Church of God formed Warner Press, and asked him to replicate the painting, obtaining the copyright to the painting. They began to distribute copies of the painting. For the next 30 years Sallman’s HEAD OF CHRIST was distributed throughout the world, churches, clubs and service organizations. The USO printed small copies which were given to every soldier, sailor, and airman that enlisted. It became the most popular picture of Jesus known. Sallman had over 100 drawings, illustrations, and paintings that became property of Warner Press. They are all displayed in a gallery in Anderson, Indiana. Though this image is forever burned in our minds, and held dear to our hearts, it must be said that it was not likely an accurate reproduction or representation of what our Lord Jesus Christ really looked like!
The document that Sallman used was a letter purported to be written to the Roman Senate, and to Caesar Tiberius, by a Roman official named Publius Lentulus. The author claimed to be a contemporary of Jesus, serving either before or after Pontius Pilate. The Lentulus family was very prominent in Rome. Even one member became Governor of Syria around 60 years before Christ. But this particular document has no history that can be traced to the first century. It was apparently written in Greek and translated into Latin. The oldest copy dates back to AD 1421-as an ancient document sent to Rome from Constantinople around that time. Copies of it were all over Europe shortly after that. Frederick Munter, a historian scholar, (1761-1830), claimed that he could trace the letter back to the time of Emperor Diocletian, (244-311 AD), but he had no documentation to verify that claim. Most historians consider it a fraudulent document. Eventually the consensus of the Church agreed with St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote in his day: “What His appearance was, we know not!” It seems strange that we have images and busts of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and even the evil madman Nero, on coins, and statuary, but no reproductions of Jesus. It is probably just as well because any genuine reproductions of our Lord Jesus Christ would have likely been turned into relics and idols. We must be content with the statement of the Apostle Peter who said, “whom having not seen, ye love” (I Peter 1:8). Until then we would do well to heed the words of William Blake:
“The vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s worst enemy
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine
Both read the Bible day and night
But thou readest black and I readest white!”
Peter saw Him with the eye of flesh. John saw Him with the eye of flesh. Matthew saw Him with the eye of flesh. Mark saw Him with the eye of flesh. We have only seen Him with the eye of Faith. The eye of faith has been formed by the Words of the authors of Scripture. They did not give us a vivid description of how tall he was, what His hair color was, but Mark gives us a vivid running account of the Father’s Righteous Servant who serves, sacrifices, and saves all who encounter Him, and open their lives to Him. He is the “same yesterday, today, and forever” and those of us who encounter Him today find Him to be everything we need Him to be for us. We are the more blessed indeed. Jesus told Thomas, “you have seen and believed, but blessed are those who have never seen, but will believe!” (John 20:29). That is the blessing of the eye of faith!