Marked by our past. Transformed by love.

This is the tagline of an ad campaign that launched last month in Lubbock, Texas. Billboards depict a bare-chested Jesus tattooed with words like “Outcast,” “Addicted,” and “Fear,” and direct passersby to the website JesusTattoo.org, where a fuller explanation of this image is given in video narrative form.

In this video, Jesus is a basement tattoo artist who is approached by a string of people who bear shameful tattoos, which they want removed. One by one, Jesus applies his pen to their bodies, transforming their marks into works of beauty. For example, a tattoo that reads “Useless” is replaced by one that reads “Purpose.” After the people leave, an exhausted Jesus removes his shirt to reveal that all their former tattoos have been transferred to his own body. From fingertip to fingertip, he is covered with marks of shame and suffering.

The message is this: Our experiences, our society, our own minds mark us in ways that hurt, that we want to hide. But Jesus does not define us by our past or by our own perception of ourselves; rather, he gives us a new identity that’s based on his own. He marks us as accepted, cherished, confident, free. These words can describe us because they describe him, and at the cross, the Great Exchange took place, transferring all our hurts and unrighteous deeds to him and all his consolations and righteous deeds to us, so that God now sees us in the same way he sees Jesus. This is the “good news” (Old English: godspel) at the heart of Christianity.

Although I can understand that the group behind this video wanted to make the gospel message explicit, I feel that the words that start in at three and half minutes detract from the overall video package. The visuals tell it all. Even if the viewer didn’t have a Christian background, I think that the story told in the first half would be sufficient to communicate the full intent.

Nevertheless, I applaud the folks at Jesus Tattoo for putting together all these materials to tell the gospel in this unique, provocative, culturally appropriate idiom. It’s a clever way of showing people what salvation means, and I can tell from the media coverage that it has been successful in reaching a large number of people and sparking discussion.

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