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Seeing Jesus Face-to-Face

In an issue of CT magazine singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken writes:

I visited the National Portrait Gallery recently in Washington, DC. In its elegant hallways, a wide range of well-lit paintings are displayed side by side: politicians, war heroes, athletes, musicians, presidents. It is a library of human faces—a silent, visual documentary of who we are.

In particular, I was moved by Robert McCurdy’s portrait of the late author Toni Morrison. The oil-on-canvas looks like a photograph. She reveals no discernible expression but radiates light from within. There is integrity, sorrow, and tenacity in her face. McCurdy aims for the viewer to be able to have their own personal encounter with the subject. It is a powerful experience to be face-to-face with someone you’ve never met in a piece like this one.

God has designed us for face-to-face encounters. Which is perhaps why God orchestrated the ultimate face-to-face experience in the Incarnation. God himself took on flesh, born as a baby that we would see the face of God in Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:8 acknowledges the mystery that, even though we have an unfulfilled longing to see the incarnate Jesus, we love him anyway: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

While we can’t see Jesus today in physical form, we can know him as he is revealed in the scriptures. If I were to paint a McCurdy-style portrait of Jesus, I would use the photographic poetry of Isaiah 53. “Surely he took up our pain, and bore our suffering” (Isa. 53:4). Here we see Jesus in the eternal present and here I can imagine what Jesus looks like. Not only do his hands have scars from nail holes, but his face is etched with love and sorrow and beauty that we will one day see in glorified form, in his resurrected body.

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