No Beauty or Majesty (Isaiah 53:1-3)

jesus-and-the-woman-at-the-wellI’ve always struggled with these verses. They’re a prophecy of the Messiah, of Jesus, but the idea that he would have “no majesty to attract us to him”? Something about that never rang true. After all, this is Jesus we’re talking about – he’s been gathering followers for 2,000 years. His majesty breaks through, beyond circumstances and beyond borders, and if there’s nothing to attract us to him, well, how do you explain all the churches, all the hymns, all the blogs?

Yesterday morning I was forced to see this verse in a new way. A video told from the perspective of the woman at the well alluded to this verse and suddenly everything fell into place. We’re talking about a different kind of majesty here; Isaiah states that the Messiah would have no beauty, no esteem, true, but he’s using the language of kings, of heart throbs, of rock stars. Did Jesus have any of this? Well, maybe, occasionally and momentarily, but it soon faded, and when he was hanging on the cross he was largely alone.

Re-reading the passage, it should be obvious what Isaiah was getting at, but there’s something profound behind it. Beauty, majesty, esteem… They can be barriers. They’re the guards at the gate of palaces, the bouncers at the nightclub door, the edge of the red carpet. They’re symptoms of a broken kingdom, a kingdom in which we celebrate the beauty of supermodels, the lovelives of TV stars, crowns and cars and charisma. We do it in the church – pastors with substantial book deals and huge houses but little accountability, worship that ironically would rock more if it wasn’t just performance. I don’t believe this is universal, not by any means, but they’re very real threats, creeping serpents of temptation trying to infiltrate a greater kingdom.

We establish these boundaries but Jesus rejected them; the man who was God laid aside the beauty and majesty and radiance of heaven for dust and dirt and indignity. Why? Because boundaries separate us and Jesus came to reconcile not separate.

So. No crown, no sceptre, no sword. Not the easiest way to build a kingdom, but it works. It works, not just because it brings God together with humanity, but with the marginalised, the oppressed, the ostracised. These are the people Jesus sought out. God’s glory isn’t revealed through external trappings of power, it’s revealed through love, grace and compassion for the poor.

And that’s why organisations like the Restore Project are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Discipleship that doesn’t have concern for the most vulnerable members of society isn’t discipleship because it doesn’t go where Jesus goes. That’s challenging for me – I like my comfort zone after all – but the serving kingship of Jesus should be the defining characteristic of the church. Without that we’re chasing the wrong majesty and esteem; our beauty is tarnished.

There is glory on the margins. Maybe a prayer for Lent would be for the eyes and the courage to recognise this glory, to see the King talking to those who are ignored; to hear his voice and to know his heart.

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