By Christopher Eyte, Crosswalk.com
Jesus Christ or James Bond? For our secular culture, Ian Fleming’s fictional spy 007 is the perfect embodiment of manliness: strong, willful, independent, and extremely attractive. Jesus, though, seems - and note the emphasis on ‘seems’ - to be the opposite. Strong in frame, but reluctant to engage in fisticuffs, compliant to his father’s will, happily part of a community, and nothing outstanding when it comes to physical looks.
In reality, you cannot compare the creator of the world (Jesus) to a figment of the imagination (Bond). Yet it’s remarkable how the example of manliness in Jesus is so very different from the manly stereotype. Why did God choose to come into the world in the guise of a humble carpenter who was strung up and left to die? Why didn’t the God-man come as a lethal warrior, as so many people were expecting during the time of the Roman Empire? It’s not as though Christ didn’t have the power to fight - he said so himself.
Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
The Lord was seen as a loser by the crowds at Jerusalem, who screamed at him as he walked alone to the place of the skull, where they killed him. He was dead and that’s not supposed to happen to heroes, is it? But it was all part of God’s plan. When Christ came back to life, he showed himself to be THE winner who overturned the entire world. There’s never been a man like him! He defined and affirmed manliness but also transcended it. By following the risen Christ, we get to the heart of what being a man really means: both made in God’s image, ‘So God created man in His own image’ (Genesis 1:27a) and redeemed in God’s image: ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15a).
Men of this world don’t understand true manliness - in fact, it’s impossible for them. Their understanding is driven by the elemental things because they’ve not surrendered to Christ and received the Holy Spirit: ‘But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is only by living with the Holy Spirit, that we come to understand how Jesus defines manhood for men. And it’s worth adding that his gentleness and integrity serve as a reminder to women, too, of how a real man should be. Every woman deserves to be given utmost honor, as the Bible teaches: ‘... treat them with respect’ (1 Peter 3:7).
Take some time out to study Isaiah 53:1-12 and see what kind of man was shown to the world in Jesus. Note again that he wasn’t particularly handsome (‘he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him’). This point is reinforced by the next line: [there was] ‘nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ Jesus was a very ordinary guy in his appearance.
Let’s explore three ways in which Jesus set an example of true manliness.
What did characterize the manliness of Jesus Christ? The answer is pain. For some men, who pride themselves on their physical prowess and seek success in the world, that seems strange. But for the broken men (and there are plenty of them in this world), that’s a comfort. It means that those men suffering hidden illnesses, or sitting in wheelchairs, or struggling with mental issues have a God who knows their suffering. Jesus suffered. This is how true manliness is defined in the Lord: ‘a man of suffering and familiar with pain’ (Isaiah 53:3a). I tried, perhaps in vain, to depict that point in a poem I once wrote called ‘Real Man’:
But the broken men by Him abide,
reach torn arms out and lay Him beside.
Weeping in secret gardens the Universe naught knows.
It’s a sacred weaving of freed heartbeats
between broken creator and wheelchair men.
And in that single shattered man, true mankind is found.
Pain comes in all sorts of forms. For Jesus, it was the rejection of mankind that hurt, not just the beatings and crucifixion. ‘He was despised,’ according to Isaiah’s prophecy, who added: ‘and we held him in low esteem.’ Jesus walked to the cross bent over as an outcast - hated despite being the embodiment of love. Yet, Christ endured all of that to unshackle us from our darkness.
Love Is Strength
One of the myths perpetuated by our culture is that love is weak. We have feminized it to an extreme, making it look pretty and a merely positive emotion. Look at the romantic films on your Netflix channel, and it is all geared toward fluffy pink, tear-jerking comedies. The secular mantra is that love is soft and love is fragile. Yet the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) says that love is strong. Love ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ Surely these are the defining features of manhood. To be the protector. To trust our wives. To trust if we don’t have a wife. To keep the vision and to persevere when life is hard. To purpose ourselves towards the light of Jesus Christ beyond distractions. To be defined by love. God’s command to the first man, Adam, was to ‘rule’ (Genesis 1:26), and, in love, that is still the calling for real men embracing true manliness.
Jesus kept himself accountable to his father. He also created a community of followers who were answerable to him, with a command to encourage each other. Men thrive by walking in step with brothers, and our sense of manliness develops by keeping company. We grow as we value our friendships at church. That doesn’t mean being competitive to see who wins at survival of the fittest, trying to be the top guy. Jesus said the opposite - we must become like children to even enter the kingdom of God. The last will be first.
The apostle Paul knew that only too well. He begged the Lord to take away his ‘thorn in the flesh’ because, as we know, manly men don’t have thorns, right? “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.’” Paul surrendered his frailty to Christ because he was accountable to him. He was content to be weak in the flesh because it meant the Holy Spirit could work through his life. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).
Gender identity is under attack by the devil. As men, we are called to rise to the challenge and show that we were born to rule, as God commanded - only in love - and walk upstream against this threat trying to undermine who we are. Jesus showed that true manliness is different from worldly manliness. So, let’s embrace his vision for manhood and confess our weakness and dependency on him. Surrender the corporeal frame to God. Die to the self every day and follow him. The power of the Holy Spirit working through your life will fire the inner man in you.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ra2studio
Christopher Eyte lives with his wife Céline and three children in Swansea, Wales, UK. He has worked as a journalist for many years and writes his own blog (hislovefrees.life) encouraging others in their walk with Jesus. He became a Christian in February 2002, after a friend explained God's amazing grace!