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Sexy Jesus? Why we keep making movies about the Son of God

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Every few years, Hollywood decides to return to the greatest story ever told. It’s a simple story about a God who decides to become a fetus, grow up in obscurity, do kind and generous things for poor people, develop a following, take on the corrupt religious establishment, and be murdered in the most brutal manner imaginable. 

It does have a happy ending, so we all leave the movie feeling satisfied -- even if the journey was difficult.

When this happens, and -- again -- it happens with some regularity, Christians must decide how to respond. 

Do we like the actor they’ve selected to portray our Lord? Do we think the filmmaker has some agenda? Should we boycott the film or buy blocks of tickets to stuff the theaters full of folks who (we hope) will get saved?

I think we’re afraid of the real Jesus because he’s too normal. He looked less like a movie star and more like a regular person -- like he could be your neighbor or your mailman.

We don’t need the summary; we need the story

Christians believe John 3:16 is the centerpiece of the good news about Jesus Christ. But we know that John 3:16 is only a summary of a story.

Now, sometimes a summary of a story is all we need. Our culture prides itself on being oriented to the bottom line, and we like stories that can be summarized quickly and neatly. Get to the point! Give us the bullet list and save us the details or rhetorical flourishes.

But sometimes your soul needs more than a summary. Sometimes your soul needs the story. Sometimes the story is the point.

Imagine your English professor standing before you on the first day of class and saying, “Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Parents hate each other and object to their relationship. Boy and girl disobey parents. Girl fakes death. Boy drinks poison. Girls kills herself. The end. Now you don’t have to read Romeo and Juliet.”

Sometimes having the summary of the story just isn’t the same.

And so it is with the good news of Jesus Christ. We don’t need the summary; we need the story. We need more than John 3:16. We need John 1:1, and we need John 21:25. We need the grand, sweeping narrative to come alive, draw us in, and take our hearts and minds captive.

That is, after all, what a good story does. And this is, after all, the greatest story ever.

So we want to see it. We don’t just want to read it or hear it. We want to witness the whole thing 9-feet high in technicolor. And so we bring Jesus’ story to life on the big screen. From "The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ" in 1905 to "Jesus Christ Superstar" in 1973 to "Passion of the Christ" in 2004 and now "Son of God."

We can’t seem to stop making movies about Jesus.

We’ve shown Jesus as a traveling mystic, a socialist, a capitalist, a superstar, a homeless man, a family man, a revolutionary, a king, a pauper, and a clown. 

We’ve seen Rock Star Jesus, Breck Girl Jesus, Che Guevara Jesus, and Superman Jesus.

There was a pastor going around a few years ago giving a particularly macho version of Jesus, saying Jesus must be some sort of bad ass because, “I can’t worship a guy I can beat up.”

This seems like a particularly stupid thing to say about a Savior who came to earth to be beaten up on our behalf. But that’s not my point here.

Some of this is to be expected. Jesus was, if you examine the Gospels, a paradox, an enigma, a perfect blend of seemingly contradictory characteristics. He was perfectly righteous without a hint of self-righteousness. He was Lord of all and Servant of all (perhaps we could even say he was Lord of all because he was Servant of all).

And that’s why Jesus never quite works on the big screen.

The real Jesus wasn’t very telegenic. He didn’t know which side was his “good” side. He didn’t always speak in soundbytes.

We like Jesus to look like...well...a Portuguese supermodel. We want #sexyJesus. That was the hashtag trending on Twitter the day "Son of God" released nationwide. And I get it. Have you seen Jesus with his shirt off? He’s a beautiful man.

Except in real life, Jesus didn’t look anything like that. 

Jesus looked like an average Jew of his time. 

He was probably short and maybe a little frumpy. Calloused hands and messy beard. Deep down we know this, and it makes the big screen version of Jesus seem contrived and unreal.

I think we’re afraid of the real Jesus because he’s too normal. He looked less like a movie star and more like a regular person -- like he could be your neighbor or your mailman.

This is what initially got him in trouble. People couldn’t believe he was the Son of God because he looked too much like...the son of Joseph.

We didn’t like the new Jesus movie because Jesus is too sexy. But we don’t like the real Jesus either; he’s not sexy enough. He’s #unsexyjesus. Sexy doesn’t say things like, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

That’s not sexy. There’s too much blood and guts and spittle and crying in Jesus to be sexy.

But sexy isn’t really what we need, and somewhere deep down inside of us all, we know that.

Sexy doesn’t turn the other cheek. 

Sexy doesn’t allow itself to be tortured and beaten beyond recognition. 

Sexy doesn’t submit to death on a cross. 

Sexy doesn’t come back from the dead without seeking revenge. 

Sexy doesn’t save me, and that’s what I really need: saving.

So, keep your #sexyjesus. I’ll take #unsexyjesus, as long as that also means #savingjesus.

John Alan Turner is a writer, theologian, consultant, teacher, Resident Theologian for Stonecreek Church and as Senior Fellow for The ScreamFree Institute. His most recent book is "Crazy Stories, Sane God: Lessons from the Most Unexpected Places in the Bible" (B&H Books, March 1, 2014). His previous books include "The Gospel According to the 'Da Vinci Code,'" "Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child With a Christian View of the World" and "The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible: A Daily Devotional." John lives with his wife and three daughters just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnAlanTurner.