Who has believed what we have heard?
And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?
He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He didn’t have an impressive form
or majesty that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. (Isaiah 53:1-3)
Even though it seems impossible for a rational mind to conceive, the leaders of the nation of Israel had completely lost track of the kingship of Israel by the time Jesus was born. Wouldn’t they know who was in the Davidic royal line for their throne, should they ever get it back from the Romans? Somehow, they did not know. How could a people forget their own royalty? Somehow, they forgot. It amazes me.
According to the story of the wise men in Matthew 2, the religious leaders and scribes knew that the royal messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. And the report from the magi that the star of a king had shone over Israel should have alerted them to the exciting news that an heir to David had been born. But they just didn’t seem to care anymore. Between the last true king of Israel, Jehoiachim, and the birth of Jesus, multiple “kings” had claimed authority in Israel. None were of the lineage of David. Herod the Great, the king the magi first encountered in Matthew 2, wasn’t even Jewish! He was Idumean.
Musician John Lennon, not exactly a Lent quote machine, did once spin this dandy of a proverb: “Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.” We so often overlook the less desirable in order to focus on that which we consider to be ideal. But while we’re overlooking, God is busy working. That’s why it is so important to pay attention to the world and its people around us. We don’t want to miss God’s mighty hand!
Jesus was born into and grew up with complete anonymity. Isaiah writes that Jesus grew up like a root out of dry ground. (Cue every gardener’s exasperation: Where did that come from?!) It was a surprise. He was like a young plant, the prophet writes, which doesn’t foreshadow the greatness that it will one day become. He was just Jew number 123,432 out of 125,000 Jews in Israel. Growing up in Nazareth didn’t help his cause, either. Not only was He unknown to the shepherds of Israel, He didn’t spend much time in David’s town, Bethlehem. He was way up north in Yankee country. In a small village, too — far from the NYC of its era.
Not only was Jesus raised in anonymity, he didn’t exactly look the role, either. Imagine Woody Allen trying out for the lead role in The Ten Commandments. Or maybe Will Ferrell going for the starring role in Lincoln. Isaiah said that Jesus didn’t have a physical form that screamed, “king!” Unimpressive, the prophet states. Unmajestic. Undesirable. The kind of guy people turn away from. Unvalued. None of these descriptions described the great kings of Israel. King Saul was tall. Broad shoulders and buff abs. King David was a red-headed warrior; the kind of manly and charismatic man the women of Judah swooned over. His son, Solomon, was legendary and wise. People traveled thousands of miles just to shake his hand. But Jesus? Not that sharp painting (or any good-looking painting) that you and I might have grown up seeing on people’s walls.
That God would come in the flesh as a “nobody” who would, in reality, be “everybody” boggles the mind! When Jesus first encountered Peter on the Sea of Galilee and said, “Cast your nets on the other side,” do you think Peter looked over and immediately said, “My King and my God!”? Nope. Yet he left everything to follow Him.
Jesus was the Crown Prince of Israel and rightful king, according to the genealogies of Matthew and Luke and several passages of Hebrews. But as John so eloquently writes, “He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” (John 1:9-10) Indeed, He was despised and we did not value Him.
Do you value Jesus now? Have you recognized in the “undesirable” Christ the hope of glory and freedom from guilt? Do you see his hands and his feet? Those wounds were made in His “unremarkable” flesh so that you and I might be free from the captivity of sin and, instead, captivated by the grace of God. This is the message of the Cross.