I was rather embarrassed recently when I heard a second hand description of myself as a “beautiful man”. Given however the comment came from someone who is familiar with my weaknesses, and concerned my weekly visits to a severely disabled person, I thought the description deserved reflection. Coming from a family of origin where not even women were called “beautiful”, let alone music, works of art and so on, to ponder on beauty represents quite a cultural shift. It is not easy to consider that I am a beautiful ‘ME’. Yet as a follower of Jesus I can remember distinctly some ravishing experience of his presence for which no other word will do; they were simply beautiful encounters. Extraordinary rainbow circles in the mist near Iguassu Falls (Argentina), a dazzling spring day when the sky above and the waters of the Swan River below seemed to join as heaven and earth, and most strikingly a sense of the Father’s heart at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I believe that a spiritual renewal of the beautifying presence of Jesus in our lives is crucial to us all presenting a new face to the world.
A Forgotten Image
I have often written that the greatest failing of the Church is the marginalisation of Christ; we are forgetful of him in whose likeness we are being recreated (Col 3:9-11; Rev 2:5). The brother of our Lord warns us, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:23-24). Since Jesus is the Word of which James speaks, only a constant meditation on him can show us who we truly are.
“And we all, with unveiled face, contemplating the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor 3:18). The ancient desire of the psalmist “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in his temple” (Ps 27:4) has been fulfilled of us in Christ. Since Christ lives in ‘ME’ then I am the true temple of God and the beauty of the “the hope of glory” radiates constantly into my life (Col 1:27; 1 Cor 6:19). This resident splendour is not some vague emotional presence; it is the most intimate expression of God’s life, his face. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6). If we have lost sight of the beauty of the indwelling Jesus it can only be because we have been beguiled to turn away from where the face of God in Christ is most manifest (Gal 3:1; 2 Cor 11:3).
The Beauty of His Face
“he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”, this is an image of the cross, a picture from which men naturally “hide their faces” (Isa 53:2-3). At a very deep level the cross repulses ‘ME’ because it represents a state of anguish that my natural humanity never wants to endure. As a well meaning song writer put it, the semblance of the Son was so grotesque and ungodly that, “the Father turns his face away”? There is however a far deeper spiritual beauty about the passion of Jesus that rarely penetrates our hearts?
One of the most profound experiences of my life happened in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the site of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection). When you enter the chapel that stands over the site where Jesus was stripped and nailed prostrate on the cross, a large painting faces you. As I looked at the face in the painting something strange and wonderful happened, my heart was filled with a precious awareness, “This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” I sensed that the voice I was hearing was that of the Father, and the beauty he beheld was the radiance of his own glory shining from the perfectly submissive face of his Son. It later became plain to me that to share this insight was also a beautiful thing to the heart of God.
I love the Keith Green melody, “O Lord you’re beautiful, your face is all I seek.” However the simple fact that I seek many delights other than the beauty of his face does make ‘ME’ one of those religious persons Australians love to detest, a hypocrite. I was greatly stirred by a recent request for a young man, “pray that his desire after the Lord would exceed his desire after his girlfriend”. These simple words embody the truth that we will always gravitate to what we find most beautiful. Thanks be to God that our glorious Lord is restoring his promise in our time; “I will beautify my beautiful house” (Isa 60:7).
The restoration of the visible beauty of Christ happens in us as the Spirit directs our eyes solely to Jesus, who said, ““Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:41-42) The Greek word used here for “good” carries the sense “beautiful”. Jesus is alluring us away from all our unfruitful busyness into his glorious presence (Hos 2:14ff.). Our first focus is not to be on our spouse, or family, or work, and certainly not on ministry and church activities; but on his unspeakably beautiful radiance.
Communing with Christ as our primary passion brings a wonderful awareness that “Jesus loves ‘ME’ ”. This is the source and substance of an unselfconscious awareness that the beautiful ‘ME’ is not some hype or mere hope but a daily reality “in the Lord”. In an age dominated by vain attempts to persuade ourselves that we can become like the “beautiful people” of this world, the true beauty of the children of God will shine in every unforced act of kindness which reveals the eternal beauty and undying love of Christ crucified for all (Gal 6:14).
It is not easy to lay aside the pressures of life to sit at Jesus’ feet to gaze upon his beauty. Such loving discipline is costly, but as a share in the cross it imparts, “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Pet 3:4). To receive the beautiful ‘ME’ is the reason we were created, that Jesus might have a Bride in splendour worthy of his own selfless love (Eph 5:27). The prophetic promise will prove true; “In that day the LORD of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,” (Isa 28:5). May God graciously grant each of us the desire to be adorned with the crown of beauty, whatever the cost (Rev 2:10).
 She a female would be a “good sort” or even a smart “filly” (young female horse).
 The corporate dimensions of the beauty of the Church will be discussed in Part II of this paper.