An Empty Manger

David Burchard Christian Ethics, Doctrine Leave a Comment

Christians are not allowed to make pictures of Jesus. We are not allowed to draw Jesus, paint Jesus, or act as Jesus in plays and movies, etc.

Because we must worship the right God.

Our worship is unacceptable if it is not worship of the right God. All men, made in the image of God, are required to worship the right and true God. No matter where or when you are, this is demanded of you.

This does not simply mean that we must not worship Ba’al or Dagon or Ram or Allah. And we shouldn’t. It also means that we are not to worship a false Yahweh, a false Father, a false Son, or a false Spirit.

Worshipping a false Father, Son, and Spirit is unavoidable if a manmade image of God is involved in any way, for it is impossible for a manmade image of Father, Son, or Spirit to be wholly accurate in its depiction and portrayal of Father, Son, or Spirit.

Because every false god is an invention of man, every false god is finite and fully graspable by man, and so can be depicted accurately by a manmade image. Unlike the false gods, creatures of creatures, Yahweh is the Creator of the creatures. Not an invention of man’s mind, Yahweh is infinite and incomprehensible. This is true of God, of Father, Son, and Spirit. Unlike any false god, the true God cannot be depicted by manmade pictures. It simply isn’t possible.

And so it is no surprise when we read in Exodus 20:4, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” And in Deuteronomy 27:15 we read, “Cursed is the man who makes a graven image or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman…” In Acts 17:29-30, it is written, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” And in Romans 1:22-23 Paul writes, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

But, someone might say, “God provided us with the perfect image of himself. The Son added to himself humanity in the incarnation, and was and is able to be seen and worshiped as the visible Divine King. So isn’t it ok to have pictures of Jesus since he is true man and can be seen?” Here is the problem, and why the answer is still no. The incarnate Son is the God-provided perfect image, not a manmade, and imperfect, inaccurate picture. And the only way God has given us to behold Jesus is to look upon him in the Scriptures with the Spirit-given eyes of faith.

Because we must worship the right God in the right way.

Our worship is unacceptable if it is not worship of the right God in the right way. And the right way for creatures to worship their Creator is not according to what they think seems right or wise or fine, but according to what he requires. God has made known to us the way he wants us to worship him. He has done so in the pages of Scripture. And so we are bound to worship him in that way.

No, Tim Keller, you can’t have men fairy-prance on stage at church in order to visually facilitate our Trinitarian worship. When we come together as a church, we worship God through the praying, preaching, reading, singing, and seeing (only in baptism and the Lord’s Supper) of Scripture.

When we teach about the Lord Jesus, what has God instructed us to do? Are we to use pictures to teach children about Jesus, as does Sally Lloyd-Jones in the Jesus Storybook Bible? Are we to use movies to show the story of Jesus to new tribes in their own language, as Campus Crusade has famously done with the Jesus Film? God has instructed us to teach about Jesus and evangelize unbelievers with our words, words founded upon his Word. Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word. Philip explains the gospel to the Ethiopian from Isaiah 53. Jesus teaches the men on the road to Emmaus about himself by verbally explaining the Old Testament. The apostolic prescription and pattern for Christians is to worship God through the Word, to behold Christ not in a picture, but with the eyes of faith in the receiving of and listening to Scripture.

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