The Unattractiveness of Jesus
Reading: Isaiah 52:13–53:3
I hope my title does not offend you, but more importantly, I hope the unattractiveness of Jesus does not offend you. Sadly, according to the prophet Isaiah, it may well be the very stumbling stone over which many stumble when it comes to Jesus. I understand the objection, “What do you mean? There is nothing unattractive about Jesus.” But according to Isaiah there is, in fact, something unattractive about Jesus.
13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness …
53:2 … He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 52:13-14; 53:2-3 NIV)
Youth, strength, beauty, success, power: these are the things people find attractive. Jesus acted “wisely,” no doubt, but it was the wisdom of the cross which is considered foolishness to the world. He was exalted, yes, by being “raised and lifted up” on the cross (compare Isaiah 52:13 with John 12:32-33). The cross is that place Rome put people to demonstrate their utter defeat. The cross is that place that mocks all that stands up against the powers of this world. Yet that is the very place that Jesus hung. And He was mocked (e.g. Luke 23:35-39). Would you have found Him attractive?
Youth, strength, beauty, success, power: these are the things people find attractive.
But we are all off the hook! Jesus is no longer hanging on the cross. Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God where he reigns over everything. No longer weak. No longer powerless. Full of beauty and power! Or are we?
Where are the displays of His power? Where is the display of His beauty? It’s in the church. That is what He is building. No, not the gold-plated stuff of cathedrals, the bearing with one another, forgiving one another, serving one another, praying with one another, comforting one another, and carrying one another’s burdens. And that is rarely wrapped up in youth, strength, beauty, success, and power.
The well known picture of Jesus as the judge of the nations captured in Matthew 25:31-46 has two groups of people—the sheep and the goats. As it turns out, neither group recognized Jesus in life. One group, however, was drawn to Him and the other was not. One group saw His beauty in the weak things of this world, while the other did not. One group loved the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the shabbily clothed, the sick, and the imprisoned. The other group saw no beauty or majesty in them. One group was the sheep of His pasture—the church. The other group was a bunch of goats who thought they were sheep.
Sadly, many in the church today are bent on making the church more attractive to the world. We should certainly not strive to make the church unattractive to the world. But frankly, that won’t take effort. On the other hand, if the church aims for making itself attractive to the world, even if we succeed, we would not have made Jesus attractive to them. We might succeed in casting the church in images that the world finds attractive, but in doing so, we may well be leading them away from Jesus.
We might succeed in casting the church in images that the world finds attractive, but in doing so, we may well be leading them away from Jesus.
Jesus has chosen a marketing campaign that is a failure by any worldly measure. That list in Matthew 25, of the ones with whom Jesus identifies Himself, does not include youth, strength, beauty, success, or power. But it does call those who are young, strong, beautiful (in the eyes of the world), successful, or powerful to lose what they count as gain and gaze on the beauty of the Lord in the face of the weak.
If the church is ever going to be the church that God calls us to be, the church the world needs, we are going to have to embrace the unattractiveness of Jesus until we find it attractive.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,