Revealing the Master Chief – The Face Behind the Helmet (Isaiah 53)

They say you should never meet your heroes… I guess we are about to find out if that is true. Move over Mando… there is a brand new “helmet removing” controversy brewing. In a move that is quoted as being “twenty years in the making”, the new Halo television series is taking the incredibly bold step of removing the helmet of the Master Chief, allowing fans to fully see this iconic character’s face for the very first time. Since the part will not be played by the actor who has provided the voice of the Chief in each of his previous gaming adventures, our view of the Master Chief will be changed permanently (and literally) the moment his ever-present helmet is removed. So many questions are flooding my mind… will this be an epic and emotional reveal like the first time we saw the face of Din Djarin in the Mandalorian? Will it be somewhat disappointing and anti-climactic like the moment Luke removed Darth Vader’s helmet and made us realize that Anakin Skywalker was clearly not getting enough sun? Or will it be treated as a casual, throw-away shot as the Chief simply takes off his helmet because he wants to eat a sandwich? For better or for worse, that helmet is as much of a part of the Master Chief’s “mystique” as are his heroic actions in combat… we instantly identify him by his armor, even though we have a very limited idea of what John-117 actually looks like under there. And perhaps that is a big part of what has made him so incredibly popular for so long.

It is highly likely that most of us already have our own idea of what the Master Chief really looks like under that green helmet… go ahead, bring your version of him to life in your mind’s eye. Maybe you should take a mental snapshot of that image while you still can, because the reality is that both your version and mine are about to be forcibly reconciled with the cinematic version of this character. And whether we like it or not, there is a pretty good chance that he won’t resemble our pre-conceived picture of him. You know, I think part of what made Halo so special was the “everyman” quality that the Master Chief presents. Sure, he is a bionic super-soldier capable of winning entire galactic wars single-handedly. But somehow, he remained relatable in spite of his over-the-top adventures… for a guy who never let us see his face, he always felt HUMAN. One of the things that made each of our versions of the Chief so great is that we could step into his boots and feel like he is OUR Master Chief… and while it is certainly an exciting step in the Halo journey to finally see a “canon” view of this character that I have spent so much time with, a part of me is sad that once his helmet is removed, there will be no going back. My mental vision of one of my favorite all-time characters will be irrevocably changed, and I may not like what I see.

Is this really a big deal? You know, to see a face… and a fictional character’s face, at that? What does it really change? He is still the same Master Chief, right? I mean, the truth is that nothing is actually changing about who he is or how he looks…just our perspective and awareness of him will be. Once that action has occurred, all of our preconceived ideas are thrown out the window as our reality will now and forever be defined by what has been revealed underneath. We may be challenged to accept a different version of the character than we would prefer, and perhaps different than what we thought they should be. And in many ways, mankind’s struggle to accept the reality of Jesus Christ as the physical representation of the living God has been mired in this exact same predicament… for a period of approximately 33 or so years, God came down, took off his helmet, and let us see Him for exactly who He truly is. And He did it as a human… with a face we could see, with a heart we could break, and with hands we would scar. The face that He showed us certainly surprised everyone living at the time… and it might surprise you, too. And we may find that we are able to relate to the face He revealed under the helmet much more than we realize. Are you ready to see what He truly looks like?

Isaiah 53:2-3 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

He could have looked as perfect and beautiful as he wanted, but He chose to be an average “everyman” so He wouldn’t have any advantages. He could have taken easier paths by leaning on His wealth and making powerful friends to help Him out, but He chose the high road and endured constant rejection without so much as a place to call home during His time here on earth (Matthew 8:20). He had the power to literally enter “God mode”, enter a cheat code to bypass the pain, and call on an army of angels to tend to His needs with a word (Matthew 26:53), but He chose to allow His creation to beat and murder Him so He could save as many as are willing. He chose to be known as “a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”, enduring the pain of rejection so we could be received into His kingdom. When God took His helmet off, this is what He CHOSE to look like… He chose to look as human as we do, without any of the advantages of His deity.

When it feels like everything is going wrong in our lives, it is easy to picture an omnipotent God sitting comfortably on His golden throne, completely oblivious to our heartache and struggle. But if anyone understands a life of grief and pain, Jesus does. He didn’t live a life of wealth and luxury… He had to send Peter out fishing just to pay His taxes (Matthew 17:27). He didn’t have the support of a loving family…. His own brothers didn’t even believe in Him (John 7:5). In His time of deepest need some of His closest friends betrayed Him (Matthew 26:69-75), His people disowned Him (John 19:15-16), His church falsely accused Him (Matthew 26:59-68), His followers abandoned Him (Matthew 26:56), and His government murdered Him (John 19:17-18). Jesus came down and removed the helmet that prevented us from seeing God for who He truly is… He allowed us to see His pain (Isaiah 53:4-5), His tears (John 11:35), His anger (Mark 3:5), and His heartbreak (Mark 14:33-34). When we experience these frustrating feelings, He completely understands… and He made Himself accessible to us so we could come closer, free of the fear of being misunderstood or rejected. He knows exactly what ALL of these negative feelings feel like, because that is what He experienced down here, too.

The irony about the helmet that Master Chief wears is that it makes him both relatable as well as inaccessible… until he removes that helmet, he will continue to look the way we imagine in our mind. But that mental picture we have of him is only that… an image. Once the Chief removes that helmet, a part of what made us feel like we could relate to him may disappear, but we will also finally see him for who he truly is… a human who was abducted as a child by the government, horribly experimented on, endured a lifetime of loss and pain, and yet continues to finish the fight even when he is betrayed by those he is fighting for. No matter what that face looks like when the helmet comes off, the level of humanity in this fictional enigmatic warrior should maintain his status as a heroic everyman no matter how much his physical image diverges from our expectations.

When Christ came down, He shattered everyone’s idea of what being a “Messiah” was supposed to look like. He let us see a physically broken and beaten Savior who carried the weight of sins He never committed just so He could hold our face in His hands again. He chose to be physically plain and ordinary, verbally mocked and ridiculed, internally hungry and tired, and emotionally lonely and hurting… just so we could look Him in His eyes and see His compassion and understanding when we endure the same pain. He sees us right now, exactly where we are. And His nail-scarred hands can carry us through the storms we are currently facing because He has already calmed these waves before. He may not look the way we thought He did… and that is okay. Remove that unapproachable helmet that we may have placed over His face and see Him as He truly is… as the only One who has truly walked our walk and felt our pain. Every loss we have endured… He has, too. He has also cried out in prayer in the middle of the night and failed to receive the response He wanted. He isn’t just the all-powerful God who saves… He is the all-knowing God who understands. He took off His helmet so we could see His face… and He let us abuse and murder Him so we could receive His grace. He loves us more than we could possibly comprehend… and if you don’t believe me, just ask Him why He removed His armor and became one of us when He didn’t have to. He did it so every one of His children, no matter how far we have fallen, could touch His face again.

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