In 2009 I was commissioned to create a series of illustration representing the books of the New Testament. Prayerfully guided by my editors, my own scripture study and reflection, each piece was to symbolically represent main themes. The finished pieces were published in 2013, “Connecting with God: New Testament Survey, Revised Edition” by Purposeful Design Publications, a division of ACSI.
With permission, I am presenting each piece on this website along with my notes from my study. The purpose is to share The Good News and to invite conversation. Like a lot of human beings on this planet, I’m wired to wonder about things visually. Some people see visions in terms of words, or numbers; and there are some of us who have always filled our notebooks with doodles and colors because that’s just how we think. When I read the Bible, I see characters, places, and symbols. Do not confuse this with idolatry. I am not making images for worship. I’m reading Scripture and at best, capturing my wonderings in hieroglyphics. A drawing is only the shadow of an idea, and the idea is the human soul grasping at reality barely understood. The miracle is that we’re invited to come and wonder at the feet of God at all. You are invited to wonder with me.
"The Word Made Flesh"
Editor’s direction to artist:
Matthew is the only gospel that tells the story of the Magi. Matthew presents Jesus as the King – the Promised Messiah. To show this to the earliest believers, Jewish Christians, this Gospel contains many references to the Old Testament prophecies. It is particularly written to Jews, but its message is for all believers.
When meditating on a particular image, I try to keep the whole scriptural story in mind and attempt to keep context as best I might. However, certain verses pop out and bounce around in my brain while working on a given illustration.
Isaiah 9: 2, 6
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
-For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us…”
Isaiah 11: 1, 2
“Then a shoot will spring up from the stem of Jesse, ad a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.”
Matthew 2:10, 11
“When they (Magi) saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother; and they fell on the ground and worshipped Him.”
Matthew is the first picture of this series. It “starts” this New Testament Story (I’m reading and drawing the books in order).So..how to begin? How about on that Christmas night long ago? How about at the Incarnation?
Two thousand years ago, God Himself breaks into history and comes down (without asking) to human beings and takes the sins of the world onto (unto?) Himself. It is not an arbitrary act as God has been preparing His people from the beginning. Israel was His sign post to the world. Through Israel came the stories Creation, The Fall, The Law, The Kingdom, and The Prophets. Through a willing handmaiden of Israel came God’s Son, and the changing of God’s relationship to his fallen creation.
About the Picture
Mary is seated on a tree stump that is in direct reference to Isaiah 11:1. The stump shows the story of humanity. God meant for a tree. The Fall condemned it to be cut off from its life source. Even so, the stump is not dead. It is not forgotten. The Lord works His will and carries out His mission, even in a tree reduced to a stump.
I often wonder if God works with various people because of special quality or because they are simply available and open to whatever God has in store for them. I find it difficult to “let go and let God”. Funny thing, when I do let go, it is then amazing things seem to happen.
Mary takes her seat in the center of the picture and in history. “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord…” She was poor, barefooted and patched. Yet she was willing to let the Lord work through her without knowing what would happen. There were no guarantees of safety or freedom from suffering; only that she would bear the Christ.
Joseph stands behind the new mother. Descendant from David (and thereby a descendant of Abraham), he represents Israel. His feet are planted on ten stones; the rocks of the Law. He is the supporter and protector of the newborn Messiah. It is the Mosaic tradition that makes the Advent of Christ reasonable. Through Adam came sin and the Fall of man. Through Abraham came a covenant people, selected to be God’s own. Moses brought God’s Law to us, thereby defining sin, the convicting sin, describing the punishment for sin and the sacrificial system for covering our sins. Finally the Prophets came, railing at and comforting the Chosen with the Promise that God Himself would fulfill the Law and put-us-to-rights Himself. Joseph represents centuries of tradition that paved the way for the Lord among us.
The Magi represent the rest of the world, the people of darkness who can see the Great Light. In this picture, the presents are secondary and are there to take up space. Christ came, not only for Israel, but for the whole world.The real Magi most likely came from Babylon and were Iraqis scholars. For the sake of this illustration, I’ve borrowed from Christian artists of the past and have each man representingthe various gentile races. The character’s poses are to show reaction to “God With Us” and placement was for composition purposes only.
The Caucasian or Western man has his hands raised in praise and worship. The African man is full of wonder and curiosity. It’s a strange mix of emotion that can happen when we first meet the Lord. How can one have a full grasp of what’s happening? Yet, some heed the call nonetheless.
Do you know where I’m coming from? God is a baby? A helpless little baby is going to help us get out of sin? Do we really want that? Why a stable? Is this how we would design salvation if it were left up to us? Would we even bother? Sometimes faith starts here, and we follow an unfolding path, but more on that later.
The Asian man is accepting, arms open, to receive the Christ that is before him. I half expect Mary to plunk the baby down into his arms that he might hold the one he sought. The undefiled yearning of the human heart is to know God, to hold onto God, and to be known by God.
Jesus is lifted up by His mother. The Prince is presented to the King and His name is given: Emmanuel….Jesus. He is also the sacrifice offered; the price for sin and the ravages wrecked on all creation. The Bethlehem Star is ultimately cross shaped for that reason. This beacon is flanked by six lesser stars making the total seven. Seven is a complete number. It was the right time, the right place, and the right people. The One who holds the seven stars of the churches in His hands and walks among the seven lamp stands at last is here! God’s will is done and His plan unfolds.
“Fishers of Men”
Editor’s direction to artist:
Mark represents Jesus as the servant. It was written after Peter’s martyrdom at a time when Christians were being persecuted. It was written to encourage the gentile believers in their sufferings. It is a book of action, focusing on Jesus’ miracles and his power as Son of God.
I was on retreat when studying for this illustration and the subject was the book of Mark. I got some great input from a great bunch of people. There’s something to be said about sitting with your neighbors and just working your way through something like a book of the Bible.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men.’”
Mark 2:2, 3
“And they came bringing Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down they pallet on which the paralytic was lying”
Mark 2:9, 10
“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’. But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”
Mark 15:37, 38
“And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Exodus 26: 33
“You shall hang up the veil under clasps, and shall bring the Ark of Testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve for you as a partition between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies”
When the curtain was torn, Mercy came out to the people.
The Gospel of Mark is the oldest, and shortest of the Gospels. Tradition says the author is John Mark, under the apostolic influence of Peter (though he did travel with Paul). It is a narrative of action, concentrating on Christ’s ministry and Passion. It was a book written by a Christian Jew for Jews. There is imagery here that would have great impact on them.
About the Picture
The illustration for Mark focuses on Jesus; Healer and Teacher in Action. I love the story of the paralytic coming in through Peter’s roof. However, instead of any old friends lowering the sick man, I’ve put in four of the disciples. It’s the two sets of brothers, James and John on the left with Peter and Andrew on the right. It worked out to four guys, four fishermen…how nice! Rather than lowering nets for fish to consume, they are lowering a human being in physical and spiritual bondage to the only One who can rescue him and bring him back to life.
I like the idea of the disciples learning through action. They weren’t fishers of men because Jesus made a speech about a lovely idea in His head. Jesus put the net in their hands and had His students put their backs into it. He was right there with them and the result was that the Son of Man rescued another soul. In this illustration, Jesus leads by example. He tells the paralytic to get up. Then, He puts his hands on the man and hauls him up. This physicality of Christ is not in this particular scripture, but reading the gospel narrative I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility.
I think one of the surprising aspects of becoming a Christian is how forward Jesus can be in one’s life. He may knock at the door and will come in and sup with you if you let Him. But what scripture doesn’t tell you is that when He does come in, He cooks the food, does the dishes, knocks down walls and refurbishes the whole structure. (Those of you who have been with Christ for a long time, back me up on this…).
The roof that was dug through is, in this illustration, morphed into the temple veil. Mark is the only Gospel to record the tearing of the veil before the Holy of Holies. It would have been a paramount importance to Jewish Christians of that time. The veil was a barrier between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, the home of Mercy Seat. The Mercy seat was the Ark of the Covenant containing the tablets of the law (that which defines sin and righteousness), manna (God’s Holy Food), and Aarons budding staff (life). It is held separate from the place of the people, with their lamps (light to see - remember the 7 stars from the Matthew picture); incense representing their prayers (crying out to be saved from death) and their bread (survival sustenance). The Holy Place could only be entered by the High Priest who represented all the people. He had to be ritually clean and he had to bring blood before approaching, and there was no guarantee that he would survive the experience. A rope would be tied to his ankle to haul him out if things went badly. It makes me think that though Mercy is generally a pleasant word, one doesn’t just skip up to it. The Mercy Seat holds purity, utter and complete Goodness that cannot abide the slightest taint of Evil. Don’t think of it as bigotry to wrong doers, it’s more like the opposite poles of a magnet that resist each other and push apart. Good an evil just can’t co-exist. Something must cancel, but more on that later. Mercy is costly and must be handled with great care.
At Calvary, the Great Sacrifice was made by a truly clean priest. The curtain was torn by no human hands (top to bottom…and it was a big curtain) and Mercy came out. Mercy came not to just priests and symbols of the people, but to the people themselves. God dwells amongst His people. The Kingdom of heaven is here, now.
“The Good Shepherd”
Editor’s direction to artist:
Luke is the only gospel that tells the story of the shepherds in the field at the birth of Christ. Luke presents Jesus as the Perfect Man. Luke is the only gentile author of the New Testament, and is believed to be the most educated. Luke is the only author in the New Testament to record the account of Christ’s ascension to heaven. Luke focuses on the parables of lost and found, which teach about God’s compassion.
Luke1:8, 10, 11
“In that same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flocks by night…But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”
“But the seed in good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word (of God) in an honest, good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
Luke 11: 29, 30
“This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”
Luke 15: 4, 7
“What man among you if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety nine in an open pasture and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”
“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
John 10: 14, 15
“I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My Life for the sheep.”
As the Gospel of Mark was a book written by a Christian Jew for Jews, the Gospel of Luke was written by a Christian gentile for gentiles. They would not necessarily know about the Law of Moses. Therefore, Luke’s book is the most thoroughly narrative, with detailed telling of nativity, careful recounting of Christ’s ministry, passion, resurrection through to the ascension. Not only does it provide an “orderly account” of events, but it shows a God revealing Himself to those in darkness through His Son. He is bringing the rest of the world, not just Israel, in to the sheep fold and under His care.
About the Picture
The picture for Luke focuses on the parables. In particular I zeroed in on the Good Shepherd as that parable relates to Jesus as the “hands on Christ”. I love the fact that Jesus is not remote or “mysterious” in the mythical or classical sense.
There are lots of things that I don’t get about Jesus….so, He is mysterious, but I don’t think He’s removed. When we seek Him I really think Jesus is there encouraging us to see Him better. Would He do that if knowing Him better were impossible?
God incarnate had dirty feet, tore His clothes, and had calluses on His hands. Jesus is dressed in work clothes with His sleeves rolled up in reference (in my mind) to the “perfect man”. To be a perfect man you have to first be a man; human, that is. Jesus is perfect not because He looked proper or was always washed up. He’s perfect because He was in harmony with the Father, intervening for the sake of people according to the Father’s will, and remaining sinless though tempted.
There’s more to be said here and many arguments to be made, but they are beyond my talents. I’ll leave this alone here and refer you to you pastor for much better wisdom.
I like drawing Jesus happy, hairy and busy. He’s found His lost lamb and is happy about it as He returns to the flock; the sheep that was already His.
Behind Jesus is a path. On one side is a wheat field and on the other is a thorn patch. Crows are swooping down on the path to eat seed. This, of course is in reference to the Parable of the Sower. The Word of God and what we do with it is of paramount importance. Jesus can save us. He went to the cross and rose again. Jesus said and did His part; but to accept and believe Jesus and hold on to is something we must do. The ball is in our court here.
The background references tensions that run throughout Luke –and all the gospels really. It’s the conflict of the Pharisees (religious establishment) and their way of doing things, verses Jesus the Christ. The Laws of Moses was, I think, supposed to be a light to the world. It was a way to show peoples the Way to God. They were supposed to attract pagans and bring them in to Yahweh*. Instead they shut in on themselves and amended the Law to such a complicated contrivance that not even Israel’s descendants could keep up, let alone the pagans. It informed them who was wrong and to be kept out! Jesus blasted them for it. His disgust and anger are evident (It scares me!). Not because He didn’t care for the Pharisees as people, but because their minds were made up against Jesus already. Their hearts were closed and they were going to take as many along with them as possible.
To represent this I’ve drawn jagged peaks; sharp and unfriendly. It is the wolf’s lair, and a place that is difficult and painful. Creation groans here, because the Fall is self-evident, yet mostly denied. The wolves are the Pharisees, and later false teachers of the Gospel, that seek to twist, corrupt, destroy and ultimately consume their prey. I think self-righteousness is and of itself not a matter of me being right and you being wrong, so much as it is about power. “I” will have the ultimate say over how the world is and “I” will decree what you think about it. All opposition will be obliterated. Self-righteousness is the willing dismantling of one’s own spirit. Behind the mountains is the gathering storm. It’s the shadow that creeps about every dark deed.
Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in Luke was to define them as “white washed sepulchers (among other things)” and to give them no miraculous sign but the “sign of Jonah”. At the time, no one knew what that meant. What was the sign of Jonah? It was three days in the Belly of the Beast, then spat out on dry land alive. Jesus spent three days in the grave, then the stone is rolled away and out He walks. Now we wear crucifixes and empty crosses around our necks. Who reading this doesn’t know what a cross means and whose name it stands for? The question is do you believe the sign He left behind?
One other note about this picture; the sunrise always drives away the night.
* For those who would argue the conquest of Canaan, I get it. The conquest was still a picture to all the nations that would have to live around Israel. Something amazing was among the descendants of Jacob and all should pay attention. Here is where I again chicken out and send you to your own church to talk to someone better abled. Sorry.
Editor’s direction to artist:
John presents Jesus as the Son of God and writes to reaffirm the Person of Christ. John writes more about the Holy Spirit, the Last Supper, and eternal life than any other Gospel authors. Abstract themes including light, love, truth, glory and the world are accentuated by metaphor in the “I am…” statements. John identifies Jesus with the Old Testament temple. Miracles are important to John’s message.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 3:16, 17
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
John 8: 39, 58
“They (the Jews/Pharisees) answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.’” – “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I Am.”
Exodus 3: 13, 14
“Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM; Thusyou shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you’”
John 1: 6
“Jesus said to him (Thomas, who asked ‘how can we get to where you are going? –heaven) ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
About the Picture
Before getting into the point of John I want to say that out of all the pictures of the series, I dislike this one the most! I don’t like my Christ character, not that I know what He looked like but this representation is weak at best AND the composition is cluttered and visually confusing. I need to rework it! Now that I have that off my chest I can get on with it…I feel so much better now!
The illustration for John’s Gospel had to do a couple of things. It had to culminate the Gospel section of the New Testament, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, and launch the second part of the New Testament; the Epistles.
John wrote this book late in his life, perhaps after seeing earlier versions of Mark, Matthew, and maybe Luke. Some things that John remembered went missing in the other gospels. Now John gets his turn to write it down.
Without question this book focuses in on Deity. Jesus is God’s son, eternally begotten (no beginning/not created) and the 2nd person of the triune Godhead. His mission is specific, to save the world and draw all the willing to Himself. For the pictorial narrative, I set the stage with Matthew’s nativity, then showed Christ’s earthly ministries and healings with Mark’s picture. Luke has the parables, but with John’s picture it was time to throw down the gloves and allow the viewer to do business with Christ. It’s all about Easter and you. Jesus died for your sins and was buried in a grave as we all will be, but He rose from the grave and is alive; now! The scars are evident on His Person as He stands before you in Immortal Power, yet still serving His body and blood to advocate your immortality. His arms are open to receive you as beloved child and friend to the forever world where He now dwells.
“I AM” is the phrase I latched onto in John and its most noticeable sister verse in Exodus. I muse that there is no self-doubt in Jesus. Therefore I’ve drawn Him front and center. His gaze is directed to your eyes, for it is with you whom He’s dealing with. Above Him is the Spirit Dove, a reminder of His baptism and of His Father’s confirmation, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The dove symbolized where Jesus came from, His Eternal place in the Godhead and the Word, and to show that He descended into His Incarnation to work out His Mission amongst us.
The Mission is illustrated by the cross on the left. It is the instrument of the blood sacrifice that removes our sins permanently. The empty tomb, on the right is the result of that sacrifice, the life from death and complete victory over the darkness. In The Lord’s hands, and on the table before Him, are the effects of His personal ministering to us. They are the services we’re commanded to carry out in remembrance of Him. The bread and the cup of communion reminds us of the cost that Christ paid and that our lives are not our own. We are driven by a new life force now. We need new bread. The basin and the towel remind us that we must serve one another and not strive for greatness.
Please note that in regards to the sacraments, I am aware of a variety of explanations of what these are and how they work. Here, I confess that I don’t really know the equations of the formula, or exactly how this process works out in heaven and on earth. What I do know, is that communion and baptism work. Further exposition I’ll leave to those in the know, who also have better command of language than me.
Jesus said that He was the Light. Light is another character in this picture. It descends down from the Father to the Son. Light pours from Jesus’ heart, not so much that physical organ that pumped blood and was broken for us, but that “Heart” that is Christ’s spirit which now pours forth to us and writes the Law into our hearts. Lastly, the light comes from Christ’s eye represents the light of truth. His perceiving eye sees through all our junk. That laser will find us out and nothing will be hidden. It woos and beckons and draws your gaze to His. He says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through Me.”
It comes to my mind all the arguments against Jesus’ statement about Him being IT. What about everyone else? What about all the other religion” Cant they be right too? If God really created the Cosmos then would He not make a way for all to be saved, whether they wanted Him or not? Who are we to have a cornerstone on truth? -Excellent and valid questions.
Here’s where I fail at the answers, I cannot un-write what is written. I cannot un-read what I have read. I cannot un-know what I have learned. I do not say this glibly, but I wonder if those previous arguments might not be false at heart. Could these arguments be chosen more out of divergence than really caring about people or the one Person? If I hold my ground and keep my grudge against Christ’s “bigotry”, then I don’t have to walk the road myself or tell anyone about the Cross as it has become meaningless. Nor do I have to face God Himself; I can keep hiding and keep my secrets. Why be sorry or change? There’s so much more complaining to do. But, I know that once I look into those Eyes, the Light will uncover everything and I am and I am undone. Furthermore if I follow His gaze outside of myself, I will look one direction and see a destiny so terrible that only the cross and empty tomb can avert it. If I look in the other direction I see a glory so perfect that I tremble at its ransom.
Therein is the battle; either it is His “I AM’ or my “I am”. Here I am completely vulnerable and my sin nature laid bare in His Light. Either, I will choose myself (you can set up any idol here you like) and die, or choose Jesus, and live. As for the other paths to God, I think I’d better be careful. If my heart opens up and I really start caring about earth’s people, I might find that God will put me on a plane and sends me to where-ever… to tell Good News. Then, they might find Him, make a choice and believe. What do you think? Will you take Him or will you leave Him? What will you do?