Gary Henry

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

If the world had been allowed to design its own messiah or savior, it would have come up with something very different from what god actually provided. Jesus was, to say the least, a shock. He was offensive, if not ridiculous, to His enemies. At one point, even His family thought He was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). The multitudes, who at first thronged to hear Him, eventually concluded that His teachings were too bizarre to be taken seriously (John 6:60, 66). And even His closest friends and disciples often had a hard time understanding how He fit the pattern of what they thought would happen when the Messiah came (Mark 8:31,32).

Many centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah had said the Messiah would be “despised and rejected by men . . . one from whom men hide their faces.” In 53:2, he said that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” This does not mean there is any inherent value in poverty, or social and physical unattractiveness. But it was no accident that when God entered the world as a human being, He did so in very lowly circumstances. We may not understand all the reasons why God did this, but this much seems clear: God wanted those who would be attracted to the gospel to be people who were looking for something other than “niceness” as the world perceives niceness. He wanted people who were looking for forgiveness.

The apostle Paul wrote, “We regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (2nd Corinthians 5:16). As long as Paul assessed Jesus by fleshly criteria, he saw nothing Messiah-like about Him. To see the truth about this “despised” man, he had to look below the surface, so to speak. But what about us today? If we were trying to find the Messiah, what characteristics would we be looking for? Would we recognize Him when we found Him?

“Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble” (George MacLeod).

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