There’s an old song entitled, “To Be Like Jesus” that has the words, “Oh, how I long to be like Him.” What is meant by that, of course, is that we want to be everything Jesus was: kind, generous, godly, holy, always looking out for others, pure in thought and deed.
There’s another side of being “like Jesus,” however, that isn’t so…fluffy. It’s the human side. In decades of hearing the Bible taught, I have never heard a full message on Jesus’ humanity as described in Isaiah 53. Somehow, like many subjects the Bible addresses, this is off-limits – we need our Jesus to look and act like a movie star. And when Jesus’ humanity is taught, it’s often skimmed over, as if Jesus’ humanity wasn’t really human so much as a sort of “vest” or veneer which real pain never penetrated.
Not so. I believe we must fully embrace Jesus’ total humanity – even apart from His divinity – if we’re going to really understand how thoroughly He identifies with us.
Imagine this: You are at the top of your corporation, second only to the CEO. You’re brilliant, and you’ve taken the place by storm ever since you arrived just a year ago. You report only to your boss, and you have full control over the company’s day to day operations. In fact, you’re so smart and well-read about everything that it can be intimidating being around you. Eventually, people divide into groups around you: the sycophants, the coworkers who hate you, the guys in the mailroom, and your motley crew of assistants.
Now, imagine too that every day you come across each of these groups in some way; you’re either dodging bureaucratic bullets from the haters, trying to deal with the insincere sycophants, or dealing with your assistants, who seem to be either ignoring your direction or bickering amongst themselves. And that’s why you escape to the mailroom once in awhile just to hang out with some regular folk.
In this scenario even though you’re around people all day, there are few who really understand you, who know your struggles and pain. It’s true that it can be lonely at the top.
Does that ring a bell? That is essentially how the Gospels recount Jesus’ life. His appearance had been foretold for centuries, but when it actually happened, just a handful of people greeted His birth, which was in an animal’s stable (Luke 2, Matthew 2); the leader of His own country tried to kill Him (Matthew 2:13). This alone is worth years of therapy. Then, when He returned home after having started His public ministry, He got absolutely no respect (Matthew 13:57). Throughout His ministry He was either hounded by people who wanted to embarrass Him (Luke 11:53) or chased by people who wanted to kill Him (John 5:18, John 7:1). Even His closest friends turned out to be thick-headed and fickle (Matthew 8:26, John 14:8, Mark 14:50). And get this: to top it all off, the very people He was ministering to turned against Him – in one instance, only coming to Him for the food! (Mark 15:13, John 6:26,66).
There’s not much of the Divine Overcomer in the above paragraph. Here’s what Isaiah the prophet said about Jesus (Isaiah 53:2-4, Complete Jewish Bible):
He was not well-formed or especially handsome; we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us. People despised and avoided him, a man of pains, well acquainted with illness. Like someone from whom people turn their faces, he was despised; we did not value him. In fact, it was our diseases he bore, our pains from which he suffered; yet we regarded him as punished, stricken and afflicted by God.
Let this sink in, and forget for a moment Jesus’ divinity. He was not the type of man who attracted people – in fact, people found His appearance distasteful and were repulsed by Him. In this way, then, He was like the lepers or any other group from whom people instinctively turned away – think Elephant Man rather than Jim Caviezel. I can imagine someone murmuring as they walk by, “Boy, God must have had it in for him!”
Not only did Jesus have unappealing physical traits, but Isaiah also indicates that He was familiar with physical illness. Here’s how many translations render the phrase:
familiar with pain; acquainted with deepest grief; knew what sickness was; acquainted with illness; familiar with suffering; a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering;
Think of certain people you knew, usually in high school, who were the social outcasts – always being picked on, never had many friends. Do you remember feeling sorry for them, thinking that they must lead a miserable existence as you watched them hurry down the hall, hunched over and eyes downcast as their peers physically turned away from them? Add to that maybe some sort of chronic physical malady. Perhaps this was you, and it still hurts. You, or they, were well-acquainted with sorrow and grief as one miserable day turned into another with no relief in sight.
This may have been you, it most certainly was, and is, many others; but it was also Jesus. To me, there is every indication, if we’re looking, that the “grief” and “sorrow” were partly the gnawing hurt that Jesus had to carry throughout His life from the constant rejection and disappointment He experienced. How else could he empathize with our weaknesses? (Hebrews 4:15)
It sounds almost sacrilegious, but as all-powerful as Jesus was, much of His life was spent being lonely and ignored. And I believe He suffered acutely because of it. But oddly enough, this is exactly where I think He wants to meet us – this place of dull, constant pain deep inside. It’s here that we’ll finally understand how Jesus really “feels along with us” – and thus how we’ll find a strange and lasting peace.
(Feel free to go to Part 2).
Categories: Living Christianically