A proper understanding of the Messiah’s character is crucial in developing a healthy, God-honoring relationship with Him.
How can a person experience intimacy with someone whom they do not know? They cannot, and it is for this very reason that time and energy must be spent examining the person of the Messiah. It is intimacy with Him which propels us to new Spiritual heights and understanding, to a deeper love for the Father who saves us. This undivided devotion, grounded in the true character of Christ, is what matters most in the life of a committed disciple, and especially a person in ministry. For the Kingdom-builder to develop a view of the Messiah which contradicts His true nature is to cause more damage to the Body than can be imagined. Thus, to remedy such potentially damaging effects on God’s kingdom, it is good to search Scripture for insight into the personal character of the Messiah. The book of Isaiah is a good place to start, for it is here that God most plainly reveals His plan for the Chosen One, including the kind of man He would be: a suffering servant, compassionate to all, who was despised by many and altogether undesirable to those who refused him as Lord. SUMMATION OF RELEVANT RESEARCH It is clear that God’s path for the Messiah was to be marked by humility, lowliness, and suffering, starting even from His birth. Isaiah prophecied He would “[sprout] up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil...” (Isa. 53:2 New English Translation; italics mine)1, metaphorically indicating that the nature of His birth, and the circumstances in which
All Scripture references are cited from the New English Translation.
He existed, would be poor, even “miserable”.2 Some scholars argue this passage is a reference to the Messiah’s fallen heritage, or, more specifically, to his ancestry from the “sterile house” of David.3 But it seems also to imply something about the generation to which he would be born; that is, he would walk among, and minister to, a spiritually dry people who could no more see His destiny as the redeemer of the world than they could their own sin. And, as we see in the New Testament, this is certainly true. Israel expected the Messiah to show himself in splendor and extravagance when, in fact, He came as quite the opposite, unsightly in form and lowly in status.4 Some would argue the opposite, however, suggesting the Messiah was actually perfect in human form and pleasant to the eye.5 The “uncomliness” spoken of in Isaiah, according to proponents of this view, refers instead to the moral “loveliness” exhibited by the Messiah which would be lost on those who preferred their own sinfulness to the teachings of the Chosen One.6 This view pays no homage to the theme of lowliness and humility found throughout Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah. There is no indication in Isaiah’s description that the Chosen One would be desirable in any way, as the word used in Isa. 53:2, “hâdâr”, means literally “ornament or splendor:--beauty, comeliness, excellency, glorious, glory, goodly,
2 3 4 5
Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregal Publications, 1923), 507. Bultema, 508. Ibid., 506-507.
H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc, 1952), 298-299).
honour, majesty.”7 It is clear, then, that the Messiah was not beautiful in appearance, but that God’s theme of humility and lowliness was appropriately evident in His physical form as well as in Israel’s reaction to his teaching. It is important to note that his plain, perhaps even unsightly, appearance might have allowed him to relate more easily with the people whom he would associate himself with most: the outcast and oppressed, a fact which must not be ignored by those claiming commitment to Christ. APPLICATION TO MODERN CHRISTIANITY Understanding the lowly nature of the Messiah’s character, the humble position which he held in every aspect, will help shape the modern Christian’s philosophy of ministry in a profound way. This philosophy should take into account Jesus’ emphasis on ministry to the marginalized, including women, lepers, and harlots, the people who seemed most acutely aware of their sin and who showed desperation for redemption and yearning for truth. And he did so with all humility, a principle many of us have forgotten, including some pastors of today. To use an example, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill church in Seattle, Washington is quoted in Relevant Magazine as saying: Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can
James Strong, Strongʼs Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996)
worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. 8 This harsh assessment of the Church’s perspective of Jesus is, ironically, fused with exactly the kind of arrogance which Jesus would have condemned, but is an accurate depiction of the attitude which can form in a person who fails to see the Messiah as the suffering servant, the compassion-shower to women9, and the humble king that was prophecied by Isaiah in the Old Testament. Modern Christianity should leave no room for such an attitude, for it inaccurately depicts a violent Messiah who’s aim is to “make someone bleed” which is, of course, a ridiculous statement, for it is clear in the New Testament that the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, Jesus, subscribes to the much higher road of grace and compassion, exhorting us to “turn the other cheek.”10 IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE MINISTRY AND CONCLUSION Instead, the modern Christian pastor should center his ministry philosophy around this theme of humility, recognizing the traits of the Messiah as seen in prophecies like Isaiah’s and refusing to look past the obvious truth that He would be lowly in every way. If pastors will conduct their ministries with this in mind, local outreaches will suddenly take on a whole new importance, international missions will no longer take a back-seat to impressive buildings and bloated salaries, and the lowliest of society will feel comfortable enough to grace our sanctuary doors and receive the very love and grace the Messiah so clearly meant
Matt Ritchie, A New Kind of Christianity #4 – The Jesus Question, 2010, [online], available from http://theoprudence.com/?tag=mark-driscoll 13 October 2010.
John 4:1-32 Matthew 5:39
to give them. In other words, if the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant were truly realized in our churches, truly embraced by those who claim to say “yes” to His teaching and redemption, we would begin conducting ourselves the way God meant for us to: with humility, sacrifice, and selflessness, all for the purpose of redeeming a lost world and duplicating the sweet, gentle, patient nature of the Messiah in His committed followers.
Bibliography Bultema, Harry. Commentary on Isaiah. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregal
Publications, 1923 Ironside, H. A. Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah. New York: Loizeaux
Brothers, Inc, 1952. Ritchie, Matt. A New Kind of Christianity #4 – The Jesus Question. 2010. [Online].
Available from http://theoprudence.com/?tag=mark-driscoll. 13 October 2010. Strong, James. Strongʼs Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas
Nelson Publishers, 1996.