His Appearance and Our Rejection
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Did you know that the New Testament never gives us a physical description of Jesus? It doesn’t say whether He was short or tall, slender or muscular, dark or light skinned. We do not know if his hair was short or long, black or dark brown, straight or curly. We don’t know whether he had a beard or was clean shaven. We do not know if he was very handsome or rather ordinary. The closest physical description given to us is that he wore a robe that was seamless that could be touched.
That is amazing when you consider that He was the most important figure in the history of humanity. Many an artist has tried to guess and portray his appearance, but at best they are just guesses.
Isaiah is the only one who gives us a partial description. It is not a full description either since it appears only to describe him on the day of the crucifixion, but that description is worth noting.
I. HIS APPEARANCE
In the second verse Jesus is called “a tender plant.” A small sapling, just a shoot coming out of the ground. Nothing at all like a mighty oak, but something frail, something fragile. He came that way to Bethlehem. He was born in a pauper’s family, not as a prince of the palace. Not as a warrior King, springing forth full grown from the head of Zeus as the Mythologies had it, but born as a baby with all of its vulnerability.
And before the Christmas story is over there are already attempts to destroy that tender plant. Herod and his armies seek to mow it down before it has grown beyond its first few days.
The second verse tells us that he was a root out of the dry ground. That was the verdict of his contemporaries. Born in a back eddy of the Roman Empire, born a Jew, and a Jew from the Galilee at that. And not just from Galilee, but as Nathaniel smirked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” There was not much promise in this one. His background was impoverished, his parents were peasants, his followers were commoners. His prospects were poor. Just like a root in dry ground, a tender plant that had been transplanted to a desert setting.
People said “look at him. We know his brothers and his sisters, and his mother. He’ll never amount to much.” He was no stately cedar, no flourishing tree planted by the rivers of water. Just a root, struggling for survival, in parched ground.
Isaiah also tells us in this second verse “He has no form, no comeliness, no beauty, that would make us desire him.” People were attracted to Saul, the first King of Israel, because he was head and shoulders above the crowd. People were attracted to David because he was strikingly handsome. But on the day that Isaiah describes, when we see Jesus, there is no beauty. In fact Isaiah 52:14 reads “His face was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of man.” Another translation reads, “His disfigured form lost all the likeness of a man, and his beauty was marred beyond all human resemblance.” Another translation reads “So disfigured did he look, that he no longer looked human.”
That is a horrible description of Jesus. But it is not hard to believe. Just follow Jesus for those few hours after his prayers were completed in the garden of Gethsemane. He is taken to the house of Annas the High Priest. There, the record tells us, they spat upon his face. They repeatedly punched him with their fists. They struck him in the face. Then they allowed their servants to do the same.
When he is shuttled off to Pilate it gets worse. He is scourged by the soldiers of Rome. They are professionals. They take the whip to his back. They hit him over the head with a staff. Then these strong men pound away at him, jam the crown of thorns on to his head and send him back to Pilate for final sentencing.
Some years back we heard of the terrible action of Canadian soldiers in Somalia torturing their teenage prisoner. The news was shocking. It stunned us to think that kind of outrage could be perpetrated by the men in our armed forces. But the greater tragedy is that that kind of activity was normal for soldiers in the field, and Jesus was a victim of a system that brutalized prisoners as a matter of policy.
When Pilate brings Jesus back out to the bloodthirsty crowd he says “Behold, the man.” What a spectacle. A man beaten. His face so marred beyond recognition that he needs to be identified. The fists and the whip and the blows with the staff have taken their toll. Priest and kings, master and servants, Jew and Gentile have all participated in the brutality. And then he is made to carry the cross through the winding street towards Golgotha, and finding it too much, collapses under its weight. Then there is Calvary with its nails in his hands, and through his feet. Sheer agony. Then the vinegar and the gall. And finally, the spear in his side that guaranteed his death.
As the prophet sees that picture, he reports that he was “Marred in face and form beyond human recognition.”
2. Our Rejection
The note that we have just struck is immensely sad. The second note that we must strike is just as sad. In that second verse the prophet confesses “We do not desire him. When we see him, we do not want him.”
All of his followers had left him, except for a very small handful around the cross. But all those he had healed, comforted, fed and taught, are nowhere to be found. They follow afar off, if they follow at all, or they take their place as secret disciples letting no one know of their allegiance to him.
Previously they had clung to his words, they had touched his clothing, they had begged for his touch. Now, he is not wanted. Now he is not so beautiful.
But Isaiah goes a step farther. Not only do we not desire him, “We despise him”. Love turns to loathing. Respect has turned to revulsion.
And then his contemporaries turned from not desiring, to despising and then to rejection. “He is despised and rejected of men.” says the prophet. And at his trial the crowds shouted, “We shall not have this man to rule over us…. We have no king but Caesar.”
It is no wonder that Jesus is described as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” For while he was suffering to save them from an awful fate, they laugh at him, as did Herod. They run from him as did his followers. They deny him as did Peter. They betray him as did Judas.
The greatest event in cosmic history takes place, and they despise it and reject him. On top of the physical suffering there is added the sadness and sorrow of their rejection. Isaiah remarks, “We hid our faces from him. We esteemed him not.” We wanted nothing to do with him.
The prophet, by the way, includes himself in that indictment. He says “WE.” We did not desire him. We hid our faces. We did not esteem him.
In the fourth verse he adds another confession that includes himself. “WE thought him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” The prophet says, “When we saw him like that we thought it was God Himself who was punishing him. We thought it was the anger of God that was being poured out upon him. Rejected not only by his peers but by God too. And the cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Just reinforced that impression.
But was that the truth? No. But, he says, that ís what we thought. But in fact he was wounded for OUR transgressions. He was bruised for OUR iniquities. When he suffered the onslaught of our anger it was not for his own sins, for he had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth. It was for our sins he suffered.
And the amazing thing is that even though it was all for us, we still found him undesirable, and so we despised him and rejected him.
3. OUR ACCEPTANCE
But despising & rejecting Him are not the only options, thanks be to God. Listen to John the writer of the fourth Gospel, “He came unto his own, and his own did not received him, but to as many as did receive him, he gave power to become the children of God.” Rejection was the majority response. But some received him and honoured him that very same day.
There were those who stood with him in his suffering and in his death. There was a small handful of women who in those terrifying moments did not desert him but stayed with him.
There was his mother and the apostle John who took the risk and stayed at the foot of the cross. There were two men, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who came out in the open on that dangerous day, and took their stand for him. A thief on the cross changed his mind in that moment and found that he exchanged death for life in that moment.
And it would be good if WE also stood before the cross and joined that handful of faithful women and men who honoured the one who died for them with their love, their trust and their lives.
Let us stand together as our act of standing with him and let us sing a hymn of praise as the antidote to those who use his name in derision or curse.
Hymn 178 “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”