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,

Jerry

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  • David Penley says:

    How true these words are. How especially true for our world today. May the church look like its Leader, and I pray that you will continue to boldly and faithfully proclaim His often unpopular message.

    • Jerry Cisar says:

      Thank you. Amen.

      • PAUL CULLIGAN says:

        Greetings from Ireland.
        I feel Isaiah was speaking about Christs lack of regal clothing. I never fully knew how important attire was in 1st Century Middle East, but citizens did acknowledge the importance and significance of dress. Even the ugliest can be made beautiful with the correct attire, but Christ never went in for that, even advocating giving clothing away to people in need.

        This is a Wiki piece that I copied and its evidence of the importance of clothing at the time. The Pharisees and Sanhedrin must have appeared beautiful with their embroided robes and jewellery. The Eygptians, Romans and the Jewish Elite, knew the importance of attire, but Christ, (if the latest evidence is anything to go by), was associated with the Essenes, and like John the Baptist, was more characterised as a mountain man and did not appear anything regal.

        Symbolism of clothing in the New Testament Edit
        Clothing may represent a character’s development, inner nature, or spiritual state in the New Testament. In the Lucan version of the Exorcism of the Demoniac, the possessed man appears stark naked (Luke 8:27); after his exorcism he is “clothed, and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35). “Clothing marks the man’s transition from a feral, mad state to a human, rational one.”[18] In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger son is given the best robe, a ring, and sandals for his feet (Luke 15:23), emblematic of his reconciliation with the father and his figurative resurrection (“was dead and is alive,” Luke 15:24). Sometimes clothing functions in a MacGuffin-like fashion.[19] The apparel is important to move the plot forward and something the characters care about (or should care about), but its significance is a mystery. One example is a man who arrives at a wedding feast for the king’s son in the Gospel of Matthew without a wedding garment (Matt. 22:11–14). The king is incredulous that he was allowed into the banquet without a wedding robe (Matt. 22:12) and sends him into outer darkness “where there [is] weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). The wedding garment is important for the plot and says something about the guest’s inner state or character. But in a MacGuffin-like fashion, it remains unexplained.

        I feel that any reference that Isaiah makes to Christs ‘form’, is referencing His appearance at the crucifixion scene, where a bloodied and battered carcass was on view for all to see.

        If Christ is of the Davidic line, surely some mention of the ugliness of that line would be mentioned through history, like with the Hapsburgs. But it is not.

        I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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