Tattooed Jesus: blasphemy or blessing?

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Tattooed Jesus: blasphemy or blessing?

October 15, 2013 - Jim Denison, PhD

In a Jesus Tattoo video, Jesus is depicted sporting several tattoos -- including an oversize one on his chest reading Outcast (Credit:

Imagine you’re driving down the highway today and see a billboard about Jesus.  That’s not unusual in these days of “billboard wars” between atheists and Christians.  But this one is different: it depicts our Lord tattooed with the words “Outcast,” “Addicted,” and “Jealous,” among others.  What would be your first thought?

An anonymous group called “Jesus Tattoo” has erected 59 such billboards all over Lubbock, Texas.  Some find them “very derogatory” or “blasphemous.”  By contrast, a pastor describes them as “cleverly done” visuals of “Jesus taking the sins of people and . . . giving them a new start, which is what the gospel is about.”  I agree.

The Jesus Tattoo website features a video in which a shaggy-haired man working as a tattoo artist replaces the negative tattoos of his customers with positive ones. “Fear” becomes “trust,” “outcast” becomes “accepted,” and so on.  At the end of the clip he takes off his shirt to reveal their negative tattoos, now covering his own body.

<iframe style=”float: right; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #C0C0C0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”300″ height=”225″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source}I’m impressed by the effectiveness of the campaign.  The video has gone viral and is displayed prominently on Huffington Post, a website not known for advancing conservative values.  Jesus Tattoo is proving that God’s word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

And I’m impressed by the selflessness of the group sponsoring the campaign.  They say of themselves: “We are a small group of people humbled by the love of Jesus.  We are not a church.  We are not selling anything.  We encourage you to tell as many people as possible.  That’s it.”  The website adds, “This is not an effort to raise money or support any specific organizations.”  John the Baptist’s motto seems to be theirs: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Most of all, I’m impressed by the metaphor they are using.  Like a tattoo, every sin we commit leaves a permanent mark on us.  It is more visible to the world than we may know.  Our efforts to remove it will only leave more scars.  But Jesus does what we cannot.  He removes our sin from us, separating it from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), casting it “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19) and remembering it no more” (Isaiah 43:25).  Is there a tattoo you need to bring to him today?

He will redeem it, transforming it into something which glorifies his Father.  He never wastes a hurt.  Every mistake you’ve made can be used to help others avoid or redeem the same failure in their lives.  

But here’s the most powerful part of the metaphor to me: Forgiving and redeeming our sin costs Jesus more than we can possibly imagine.  God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  

The next time you’re tempted to sin, imagine that evil branded on your Savior.  And choose holiness—for his sake and yours.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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