Our Suffering Savior
A sermon based on Isaiah 52:14; 53:2-3
Sunday, March 16, 2014 – Lent 2A
He was so ugly, he entered an ugly contest and was disqualified. They said no professionals were allowed. He was so ugly, he made even the blind kids cry. He was so ugly, his mom used to feed him with a slingshot.
Let’s face it: all of us have seen people whom we have regarded as unattractive, ugly even, more beast than beauty. Maybe you’ve even been critical of someone who’s overweight, is messy or dirty, or just doesn’t have their look together.
Maybe you’ve judged a book by its cover before and based on the clothes, too baggy or too tight, based on the jewelry, with piercings where you think are inappropriate, or based on the ink, with too many tattoos in all too visible of places. Maybe you’ve made a snap judgment about someone based solely on their appearance.
What a huge mistake that would be to judge Jesus by the way that he looked. He didn’t look very pretty. Not as a man, and certainly not on the cross. But in spite of the fact that Jesus wasn’t much to look at, even though he looked pretty ugly, hanging on the cross, we know why he suffered the way he did. He did it to make us, who were so ugly in our sin, to look beautiful to God. Our text for this morning is Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2-3…
52:14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…
53:2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
I. Pretty On the Outside; Ugly on the Inside
What do you think makes someone ugly? Uneven eyes, misshaped teeth, abnormally large features? No hair? (For the record, I have wavy hair. It’s just that it’s waving goodbye.) Maybe you feel that ugliness has less to do with someone’s God-given features than what you do with what God gave you. Ugliness then would be sloppy, a lack of grooming, or a lack of general physical health. “If only they’d put in a little effort,” some might think, “If only they’d get a makeover, if only they’d shed a few pounds, then they could be so much better looking.”
But how you or I define ugly isn’t nearly as important as how God defines ugly. Here’s what he says: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
Did you catch them? Hatred? Jealousy? Envy? What is it but hatred when I make a snap judgment about someone else based on their appearance? That’s not loving! Or what is it but jealousy and envy when I look at someone else’s appearance and wonder why God wouldn’t make me more like that?
The original sin we’ve each inherited from Adam and Eve, our first parents, inevitably leads to a decline in our appearance as we age. But far more important than our external appearance is our spiritual condition: by nature each of us, without Christ, is pretty ugly to God because of our sinful thoughts, words, and attitudes. Beauty is skin deep. But, let’s face it, we’re ugly to the bone.
Yes, we might look nice on the outside, well dressed and clean, groomed and tidy, pretty good looking when we look in the mirror. But when we look into the mirror of God’s law and see our arrogance, our uncharitable thinking, our envy, or any of our horrible sins, we must admit that we look hideous to God.
Jesus once said, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27)
“U-G-L-Y, we ain’t got no alibi. We’re ugly.” We are so ugly in our sin that we deserve to be banished from his beautiful heaven forever—not even fed with a slingshot. And were it not for Christ, that would surely have been our fate. But Jesus intervened to rescue us from that hell. He became ugly for us…
II. Ugly on the Outside; Our Beautiful Savior
Appearances can be deceiving. If anyone in the history of the world should have been dazzlingly handsome, we would expect that it would be Jesus, the Son of God, the man who is God incarnate—sinless and perfect in every way. Wouldn’t you expect the perfect God-man to look like a supermodel? To have a face that any magazine would proudly put on their cover? To have six-pack abs and amazing pecs? Yet what does Isaiah say about him?
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
It would seem that Jesus wasn’t so handsome after all. He wasn’t attractive. He had no beauty or majesty. You wouldn’t find him on the cover of GQ or People Magazine. Nothing in his appearance made him stand out. In fact, he may have even been what most consider ugly.
But whatever Jesus looked like, the Gospels tell us how often this prophecy was fulfilled as Christ was “despised and rejected.” People turned away from him, averted their eyes from him, closed their ears to his preaching. And Jesus was attractive… but to suffering. Pain and sorrow seemed to be drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
And you can bet that Jesus didn’t look very pretty when he was suffering on the cross. It was a pretty ugly scene. What Isaiah wrote was literally fulfilled: “Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…”
Like Job, who was so disfigured by the painful sores that covered his face that his friends could hardly recognize him, Jesus was so battered and bruised, bloodied and broken, pummeled and pierced, that he didn’t even look human anymore! He had no fashion, since all of his clothes had been taken from him and all he wore was a crown of thorns. And his piercings weren’t in his ears or nose, but through his hands, through his feet. What an ugly scene it was! How unattractive Jesus looked on the cross.
And that physical pain was just the tip of the iceberg. There were indeed many who were appalled at Jesus, but the worst part was how appalling he was to God the Father. Jesus looked so hideous to God the Father, covered in the ugly filth of our sin, that God would turn his back on his own Son.
What a horrible scene! Who would want to fix their gaze on such an ugly sight? But when we think about why Jesus became so ugly, our view of him changes…
The ugliness of our sins was placed on him so that we might be forgiven. Now, when God looks at you he doesn’t just see that blemish on your face you cover up with makeup, or those extra pounds you’ve been trying to shed, or that physical feature that you wish you could be rid of. Instead, he sees you, robed in Christ’s righteousness, beautiful, gorgeous, ruggedly handsome, perfect in his sight!
You know, it’s not often you hear a man called beautiful or pretty. And most guys wouldn’t take such descriptive words as compliments. Handsome, rugged, distinguished, perhaps, but beautiful and pretty are usually reserved for women, for art, for a landscape. But Jesus’ sacrifice for us is pretty—beautiful even!—even when he was so ugly. He is pretty… ugly. He is so beautiful to us because his ugly wounds have won our eternal life. And this loving grace is for everyone! No one is too ugly for him to love. No one is too full of sin for him to forgive. No wonder we call him “Beautiful Savior!”
And now, in thanks to him, we view others the way God views them. We know that appearances can be deceiving. And we don’t judge a book by its cover anymore.
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, tells the story of a subway ride he once took. A dad was letting his kids bounce all over the subway car, knocking into other passengers, disrupting their reading, getting in their personal space. The other passengers were getting annoyed, even upset. One mad had had enough. “Please, sir! Would you get control of your kids? This is ridiculous!”
“I’m sorry,” the dad replied, as if coming out of a daze. “We’re coming from the hospital where their mother just died. I don’t think they know how to take it. And I guess, neither do I. I think we’re all in a bit of shock.”
And everyone’s attitude toward that father and toward those kids changed in an instant, when they stopped making a snap judgment, but had that paradigm shift. Everyone on the subway suddenly had compassion on them.
Now we have a paradigm shift about others. We now view those that we once may have thought of as ugly as beautiful souls which have been redeemed by Jesus. And moved by God’s love and compassion for ugly sinners like us, we show love and compassion to them, no matter what they look like. For them too our Savior became pretty ugly so they might be forever beautiful.
So forgive others just as you’ve been forgiven. Love them just as God has loved you. Serve them just as you’ve been served by Jesus. And when you do, what a beautiful thing it will be! How beautiful we’ll look to God! In Jesus’ name, dear friends, amen.
Pastor Rob Guenther