God Paints a Portrait

Photo by Aleksandr Slobodianyk from Pexels

I love Apostle John stories. It seems reasonable that he was the last apostle to die and the only one to die of natural causes. He is firmly associated with Ephesus, and if he lived so long, it is possible there were many stories about John circulating. One of those stories is repeated in the apocryphal “Acts of John” (third century?)

In this tale, John comes to Ephesus only to find “Lycomedes the praetor of the Ephesians, a man of large substance,” and his wife Cleopatra have died. Lycomedes killed himself to argue with the gods. “Why is my beautiful wife dying?” By the time John arrives, they have both died. The apostle raises them from the dead, and they are overwhelmed with gratitude. Lycomedes has his friend, a painter, secretly make a portrait of the apostle, and Lycomedes turns the picture into a shrine in his bed-chamber.

Lycomedes spends so much time in the bedroom that the Apostle John becomes suspicious. John “went into the bed-chamber and saw the portrait of an old man crowned with garlands and lamps and altars set before it. And he called him and said: ‘Lycomedes, what is the meaning of this portrait? Can it be one of your gods that is painted here? I think you are still living in a heathen fashion.”

Lycomedes denies it. “My only God is he who raised me from death with my wife.” He goes on to ask, “Isn’t it proper for me to have a portrait of the man I love as a father and crown as my good guide?”

John doesn’t believe the picture is of him, so Lycomedes called for a mirror so the apostle could see himself and the portrait together.

“He saw himself in the mirror, looked earnestly at the portrait, and then he said: ‘As the Lord Jesus Christ lives, the portrait is like me: yet not like me. Child, it is like my fleshly image. But if this painter desires to draw me in a portrait, he will be at a loss. He will need more than his limited paints, boards, and plaster. He needs more than just the outline of my face. He needs more than all the things that are seen with the eye.’”

The old apostle smiled and looked at Lycomedes. “You can be a better artist than that painter! You have all the colors the Lord has given you through me. The Lord painted all of us for himself. Jesus knows all the shapes and postures of our bodies and even the appearance of our souls. Here are the colors you should use: faith in God, knowledge, godly fear, friendship, communion, humility, kindness, brotherly love, purity, simplicity, tranquility, fearlessness, sobriety, and the whole collection of colors that painted the likeness of your soul. A godly portrait using God’s paint lifts those parts of your soul that were cast down and brings down those that were puffed up. His paints tend your bruises and heal your wounds. God’s portrait combs your hair, washes your face, brightens your eyes, and even purges your belly. In a word, Lycomedes, this new portrait using God’s paints will present you to our Lord Jesus Christ undaunted, whole, and firm – a mingling of such colors of your soul that is beautiful beyond imagination.”

Then John eyed the silly shrine Lycomedes made and said, “But this you have done now is childish and imperfect. You have drawn a dead likeness of the dead.”

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