In 1990, the Canon camera company launched a new ad campaign featuring an up-and-coming tennis star named Andre Agassi. The 30-second spot showcased Agassi’s long hair, sunglasses, flashy clothes and more-rock-star-than-tennis-player persona. In the final scene, Andre delivered what became Canon’s iconic catch phrase: “Image is everything.”
Fast-forward nearly 25 years, and our social media culture has only reinforced that mentality. The explosion of cell-phone cameras, “selfies,” Youtube, and photo-sharing apps has our world in a never-ending swirl of new images and videos. For many people, image is still everything.
With that in mind, have you ever wondered why the Bible never offers us a magnificent image of the earthly Jesus? It would seem only fitting that the Son of God should receive a glowing introduction in His book - doesn’t it? What did Jesus look like? Why is it that in all the pages of the New Testament, the writers didn’t even give us a hint?!
Apparently the authors of the New Testament didn’t agree with Agassi… or Canon… or today’s social media. They made it clear that image isn’t everything! In fact, the only thing we can really gather from Scripture is that Jesus probably looked like a very “ordinary” man in that culture. Isaiah 53:2 says this about Jesus: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.” And we read in several of the gospels that Judas needed to identify Jesus with a kiss -- suggesting that Jesus had no distinguishing features, clothing or mannerisms. (Matthew 26:48; Mark 14:44; Luke 22:47).
The lack of detail in the Bible may actually be very noteworthy in this case. If it were important for us to know what Jesus looked like, surely at least one of the authors would have given us an accurate description. Even His own half-brothers, James and Jude, didn’t mention anything about the physical attributes of Jesus. Perhaps this fact emphasizes a lesson taught frequently in Scripture: God is not concerned with outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7, Proverbs 31:30, Matthew 23:28).
The New Testament actually doesn’t spend much time describing anyone’s appearance. In fact, many people are known only by their physical limitations or wrongdoings! The man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3), the blind man (John 9:1), the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), men who had leprosy or were possessed by demons (Luke 17, Matthew 8)… to name just a few.
Other New Testament characters are known for their faith or their worthwhile contributions, but they remain nameless: the wise men who visited Jesus after his birth (Matthew 2:1-2), the boy who gave up his loaves and fish (John 6:8), the Roman officer who had faith (Luke 7:2-10), the thief on the cross who believed (Luke 23:39-43)… etc.
Is any of this significant for us? We can see that the New Testament doesn’t dwell on self or superficial impressions. However, we live in an age of endless self-promotion and self-glorification. Like never before in history, “selfies” and social media posts enable users to draw instant attention to themselves -- even in the most trivial situations.
While this has become acceptable and trendy in our culture – approaching an obsession (even among many Christians) – the Bible almost always takes a radically different path. Jesus was not interested in drawing undue attention to Himself or His deeds. The New Testament doesn’t embellish reality or linger on inconsequential details… in fact, quite the opposite.
Seeking Attention and Being Distracted
You’ve surely heard various tongue-in-cheek questions along the lines of, “Would Jesus have posted a selfie on Facebook?” Well, based on what we have discussed so far, the answer is probably “no.” Jesus didn’t want to bring attention to Himself in that way. He expressly told us that His mission on earth was to please God the Father by His life of obedience, and to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
In the same way, our mission in life is not to seek attention or impress others over superficial matters. And it’s not part of our "spiritual job description” to be immersed in a perpetual flow of selfies, status updates, frivolous photos and witty quips (Colossians 3:2). While this activity may seem innocent enough, it ultimately can function as a steady source of distraction in our spiritual lives -- and for others as well. This only multiplies as we add “friends” and/or participate in multiple social media networks.
Several times in Jesus’ ministry on earth He performed miraculous healings, but directed the people whom he healed not to tell others about it (Matthew 9:29-30, Mark 1:42-44, Mark 5:42-43, Mark 7:35-36). Surprisingly, Jesus did not care to promote some of His greatest deeds. Why? Wouldn’t the news of His healing power be a great witness and testimony to the power of God? Yes -- but Jesus didn’t want His miraculous healings to be an attention-grabber, or the focal point of His ministry. He knew that might actually distract people from a more meaningful understanding of God’s love.
When we begin to seek attention for the things we do -- even if they are godly works -- our focus has shifted. It becomes more about us than serving our Lord, and can be a distraction from the greater message (Philippians 2:3-7).
God’s Status Vs. Our Status
Social media sites are a fun and creative way to communicate and share photos with friends and family. But these sites also put enormous emphasis on self. The more “friends” we have, the more attention we can receive. Look at me! Look at all the fun things I’m doing! Look at what I had for lunch!
Now these words are not meant as a killjoy. Social media is not a “bad thing.” In fact, many ministries use social media as a great Christian outreach. And there’s nothing wrong with communicating happiness and blessings through social media. The Lord formed us in His image - to be creative, to be social, to have fun, to make others laugh, to share family news, and to stay in touch with friends -- but we need to keep our perspective and remember our purpose. Where do we draw the line?
To evaluate our perspective, we might ask ourselves some questions such as:
- Do I think more about my Facebook status than my spiritual status?
- Am I more engaged in social updates than in praying for those in need?
- What are my true motives for posting numerous pictures of myself?
- Do I check my twitter feed more often than I open the Bible?
- Do I spend more time interacting on social media every day than I spend interacting with God?
Obviously not everyone uses social media, but questions like these can apply to any area of life that may be distracting to us (or others) spiritually.
Your Last Post May Be Your Last Post
Several weeks ago a young couple in Boston went for a summer evening stroll. They took a cell phone picture of a beautiful sunset over the Charles River and immediately posted it to Instagram. Just a few moments later a passing car lost control and struck them, tragically killing them both. In the aftermath, much was made in the news about how their last social media update was an unselfish image of serenity and natural beauty.
Maybe we should put some of our posts – or texts – or emails – to that test. Is our general pattern of communication in this modern era productive and uplifting – or do we spend a lot of time and energy on unproductive chatter? Would we be proud of our latest photo or message if it turned out to be the last statement of our lives on earth? Would our final text or email be a good witness to others? And most important of all - would our use of modern technology please the Lord?
Romans 12:2 -- Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
- Ron Reid