Meek Lamb or Majestic Lion?

 “What did Jesus look like?”

That’s a question a child may ask. Close your eyes and try to imagine how you would answer that child.

Was Jesus tall—six feet or more? What color was his hair? Were his eyes brown or blue? Throughout church history artists have tended to imagined a Jesus that resembled their ethnicity—Asian, African, Middle Eastern or European? The pictures of Jesus that I saw in Sunday School and hanging on the walls of church buildings had brown hair and fair skin. He is usually portrayed as squeaky clean, every hair in place and beard neatly trimmed and always dressed in his best Sabbath “go to meeting” robe—except those pictures of him hanging on a cross.

So, what did Jesus look like? The New Testament writers don’t provide a physical description. Perhaps the best description of Jesus was provided by a prophet living six centuries before Jesus’ birth: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa. 53:2, ESV)

Apparently there was nothing about Jesus’ physical appearance that would cause him stand out in a crowd. He looked like an ordinary man. No halo above his head, and no weird, piercing eyes that would frighten you.

Isaiah didn’t stop with that description of a rather ordinary looking Messiah. In fact, he paints two contrasting pictures: a regal king and a humble servant—a sacrificial lamb and the sovereign Lord.

Isaiah’s suffering servant

Isaiah described the coming Messiah as a lamb being led to the slaughterhouse. A lamb, the most vulnerable and defenseless livestock. No horns to defend itself. No strong body able to resist or break away and run. No loud, intimidating voice to cry out in protest. Just a lamb—a warm, wooly little body with blood coursing through its veins. This lamb’s blood would be poured out on the altar and its body burned into ashes. And for what reason? For my sin. For your sin. He is our substitute—assuming responsibility for our guilt and vicariously dying in our place.

Note how Isaiah describes the lamb’s death:

He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
He was pierced for our transgressions
He was crushed for our iniquities’
Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:4-5, ESV)

He voluntarily suffered all that and more dying in my place. He paid a debt that he didn’t owe because I owed a debt that I could never repay. I was the one condemned, but he hung condemned in my place.

This is the gentle Jesus we meet in the gospels. Loving children and touching lepers. Standing silently before the mob in the high priest’s home and before Pilate. Like an innocent lamb allowing Roman soldiers to spike his wrists to the cross. Stripped and hanging naked in public view, he is silent except for a few last words—more like prayers for his accusers and his mother. He, who could call ten thousand angelic warriors to wipe out the evil mob, choosing instead to die in our place,

I cherish that picture in my Jesus album.

That’s the Lamb of God that we meet in Isaiah and in the gospels. That’s my Jesus!

Isaiah’s regal king

Having predicted Jesus’ birth, Isaiah added this description: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be upon is shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa.9:8, ESV)

“A child is born” sounds rather ordinary, but “a son is given” suggests pre-existence. This rather ordinary baby, both man and God—dust and divinity—becomes the greatest ruler in history. The government of the entire world rests upon his shoulders bringing the much anticipated peace to earth.

Isaiah, once again predicted the coming of Jesus, but this time, not as a helpless baby but a sovereign ruler and warrior. This time not to be slain as a lamb but as the slayer avenging innocent blood.

We also catch a glimpse of this lion-like Jesus in the gospels. Twice we discover an angry and agitated Jesus storming through the temple grounds with whip in hand and tossing the money changers tables like the trash they had become. He is setting goats, sheep and cattle free and releasing doves to fly once more. Quoting Scripture, he condemns the perpetrators for making the sacred temple a den of vulgar thieves. I see a face red with fury. His eyes igniting with rage and indignation.

This, also, is the real Jesus—not the Disney Land Dad we try to create him to be. Jesus meek and mild is now the lion untamed and wild.

Finally, we meet Jesus as both lion and lamb in the final book of the Bible—The Revelation of Jesus Christ:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”” (Revelation 5:1–5, ESV)

There also is the real Jesus! The regal lion. Not a “king of beasts” but the authentic King of Kings. Not that large gray bearded, declawed cat behind bars in the local zoo, but the untamed Lion of Judah.

In the book, God in His Own Image, I share about watching and taking pictures of two mature male lions sunning themselves in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. They really did appear fiercely regal. None of us volunteered to step out of our vehicle in order to get a closer shot with our cameras. Soon, these two powerful predators began to hightail it across the savanna and into the nearby jungle. It appeared as if they were running for their lives. They were! Their motivation was a herd of buffalo thundering across the plain to remove the threat of a couple of young, healthy lions.

Our Lion of Judah never runs in fear. He never kowtows before a monarch. He is the King of Kings! He is my Jesus.

John continues his description of Jesus:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,|
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:6–14, ESV)

That, my friends, is the real Jesus as revealed in Scripture. He is both sacrificial lamb and regal lion. He is both a servant and sovereign king above all kings. He alone is worthy to receive uninhibited praise and undiminished honor.

So, let us join the angels and saints in glory by falling down to worship Him! For he alone is worthy.

(I appreciate responses from readers that have shared their favorite pictures of Jesus. What’s yours?)