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Week One | Brushing Away the Dust of Ages

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Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Chapters 1 & 2
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 5 minutes

When I was teaching, one of my favorite things was listening to my preschool and kindergarten students play. It fascinates me how, within a child’s imagination, there are no limits, no boundaries, no expectations nor laws. The holidays were always fun, but sometimes challenging to help the students navigate the truth of the Biblical story.   

Around Christmas time, many children get so excited about Santa Claus and what gifts he will bring them. But even with their wild imaginations, most children still notice that Santa’s appearance changes in different places. The physical appearance of Santa changes even more noticeably when you see him in other cultures around the world. Most parents explain Santa’s changing appearance by saying that Santa has a lot of helpers. Or that Santa can change how he looks to show how special every child is around the world. 

In a similar way, artists from all nationalities depict Jesus to match their local culture and traditions. I have several friends who collect nativity scenes from their international travels, each one unique and beautiful. 

As the gospel has gone out around the world, people have, by default, pictured Jesus through their own cultural lenses.” 

Lois Tverberg, pg. 22 of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus”

How They See Him

In 1951, Wihla Hutson and Alfred S. Burt wrote a well-known Christmas carol called, “Some Children See Him.” This carol describes how children all around the world imagine baby Jesus looking just like themselves. For many, this seems like a very sweet thought; as the carol says, “some children see Him lily white,” or “bronzed and brown,” or “almond-eyed with skin of yellow hue,” or as “dark as they.”

A United Methodist Pastor from Pennsylvania explained in her blog why “Some Children See Him” is one of her favorite songs. She mentioned how, while singing this song in elementary school, she considered that children in other countries see Jesus from their own frame of reference.  Since the Bible doesn’t have a visual description of Jesus, what He looks like doesn’t matter.  It’s more important to know how Jesus lived and treated others. 

I do agree with this pastor that how Jesus lived and treated everyone of all shapes, sizes, and colors is very important. However, just because the Bible doesn’t clearly share the color of His skin, eyes, and hair, how tall He was, or how much He weighed, doesn’t mean that we can pretend that He looked just like all of us when we all look different. 

God was strategic about providing us with the full genealogy of Jesus in the Bible, which is essential to God’s plan and the fulfillment of His promises. Jesus’ physical appearance might not be the most important information we know about Him, but we do know it played a vital role in how others interacted with and treated Him. 

It’s extremely sad so many Christians are missing the opportunity to better understand the fullness and deeper meaning of what Jesus said, and the impact those words would have made on the original audience, because of Jesus’ physical appearance. They are missing the opportunity to strengthen their relationship with Him because they are attempting to make themselves more comfortable by imagining Him differently than He truly was and still is.

A Middle Eastern, Jewish Man

Unlike a fictional character like Santa, it does matter that Jesus was a Middle Eastern, Jewish man. 

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Matthew 1:1, NIV

The Gospel of Matthew immediately draws our attention to the fact that Jesus is the “Son of Abraham.” Jesus is connected to the people of Israel. Therefore, we don’t have to guess what Jesus looked like.  Jesus looked like a Middle Eastern, Jewish Israelite. He did not come from a European, Asian, Indian, African, or American family. By pointing out that Jesus is the “Son of Abraham,” Matthew shows the important connection of Jesus to the promise God made with Abraham in Genesis. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promise and plan to save His people.

When Matthew says Jesus is the “Son of David,” he is pointing out that Jesus is royalty and the rightful heir and successor to the throne of David’s kingdom. If Jesus had been born to any other family from a different nationality, He would not have been the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
Matthew 2:1-2, NIV

Throughout the generations, all over the world people have been visualizing Jesus looking like themselves. So many make beautiful nativity scenes depicting the Magi coming to meet “the king of the Jews” while baby Jesus is depicted as German, Polish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, African, Indian, or some other nationality.

Jesus came to Earth to be the sacrificial Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world, and to provide the way for all people to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But this could not have happened if Jesus was not Jewish.

When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was taken before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme council and tribunal. In Matthew 27:11, we read that when Jesus stood before Pilate, the governor asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Further in the chapter, it tells of how the Roman soldiers beat and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!”

“When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him. THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Matthew 27:35-37, NIV

The entire Gospel story of His birth, life, death, and resurrection could not and would not have happened if Jesus was of any other descent. 

Jesus told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But we must not edit the Bible (or the way Jesus looks) to make us feel comfortable or so we can relate better to Him as it changes the vital fact and importance of acknowledging that Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew.

Brushing Away the Dust

It’s time for us to brush away this concept that Jesus’ physical appearance and nationality aren’t important and recognize the value and beauty of getting to know and understand Jesus as a Jew. When we embrace His Jewishness, it opens up a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for who He was and who He is. Learning about the culture and world He was a part of strengthens our relationship with Him, and we will know His love even more.

1. Artists from all nationalities depict Jesus to match their local culture and traditions
2. It does matter that Jesus was a Middle Eastern, Jewish man
3. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promise to Abraham and plan to save His people
4. Jesus is royalty and the rightful heir to the throne of David’s kingdom
5. The entire Gospel story could not and would not have happened if Jesus was of any other descent
6. It’s time for us to brush away the concept that Jesus’ physical appearance and nationality aren’t important and recognize the value of understanding Jesus as a Jew.

What do you think about Jesus being depicted in other nationalities? Do you believe this is helpful and shows Jesus came for and loves everyone? Or do you think it hinders our understanding of the Bible and who Jesus truly was and is?

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Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus | Lois Tverberg

A 7-week study that will challenge you to follow Rabbi Jesus more closely by re-examining His words in the light of their Jewish context, to provide a richer, deeper understanding of His ministry, compelling us to live differently, and to begin to understand why His first Jewish disciples abandoned everything to follow him, to live out His commands.

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Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg - Fall 2022 Online Biblical Study | Intentionalfilling.com

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  1. I love love the Judeo perspective of Jesus and not only because of any appearances; those only prove to remind me that Jesus was Jewish. Mostly because from Genesis to Revelation, Jesus was prophesied as the king of all men. It is written into the messianic mysteries when we see that Jesus said, “ I came not to abolish the law BUT TO FULFILL IT. important for us to know, for example, about the feasts of Israel that Jesus celebrated , because He also fulfilled or completed them. Like Passover Feast… He’s the Passover Lamb. Like Feast of First Fruits…. He’s the First Fruits of many brethren to be raised from the dead. Like the Feast of Tabernacles …. When Jesus came to dwell in the tabernacles of our hearts but ultimately when He comes again to tabernacle among us and fills the world with His “ all in all” presence. Only to name three of the seven feasts He fulfilled in our seeing. There are so many prophecies in what we call the Old Testament, more than can be counted, where Jesus is present from the foundation and creation of the world; and where He then fulfills and realizes the ancient words about His coming as Messiah. So we must see the Bible as One Testament of Jesus Christ and realize that God’s plan was to choose Israel to bring forth the Messiah for the whole world. I believe He chooses the tiny, perhaps viewed by some as foolish things of this world to confound our human wisdom. We think in terms of grandness…. He presented Himself lowly.
    Bethlehem for example was prophesied as the place the Messiah would be revealed but the prophet says, “ But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, [though] thou be little among the thousands of Judah, [yet] out of thee shall he come forth unto me [that is] to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth [have been] from of old, from everlasting.”

    1. Well said Paige! I agree with you wholeheartedly. It’s been fantastic studying through the Middle Eastern Lens as we started out our year studying the 7 Feasts, and just been reminded of the importance that Jesus was not only the King of the Jews, but the King of all men, like you said. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insight. I look forward to continuing studying alongside you.

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