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.
At one level this is simply telling us two contrasting truths. On the one hand we are being told Jesus was an average human being physically. He was not any more beautiful or ugly than people we meet around. If we met Jesus on the train we would not notice him. If he sat opposite us in a meeting at work we may even ignore his view.
On the other hand we are told Jesus had a very extraordinary beginning. He is likened to a plant growing in a dry ground or concrete. Is this a metaphor for the virgin birth? Possibly. But it is probably better to see it as referring to the entire vulnerability and improbabilities of his birth - the virginal conception, Herod's plot and the flight to Egypt.
The contrast takes a whole new proportion once we zone in on the statement "He grew up before [the LORD]". We are confronted with the idea that this amazing fusion of vulnerability and ordinariness was in the context of divinity! Jesus grew ordinarily guided by God's very presence in the middle of alien and vulnerable circumstances!
This is surprising because the last people who "grew before God" was not described with such contrasts in the Bible. Joseph who had an impeccable character was “handsome in form and appearance”. (Genesis 39:6). Moses, when he was born, his mother looked at him and saw that "he was a fine [beautiful ]child", she hid him three months (Exodus 2:2, Hebrews 11:23). One look at Moses and the parents went gaga! Then we have the Kings, we are told, the first King of Israel, Saul, was so handsome that “there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he” (1 Samuel 9:2). And David was no ugly duckling. He is described as "ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome" (1 Samuel 16:12). In other words inasmuch as these figures were foreshadows of Jesus, in their appearances they were nothing like Jesus!
With such biblical powerhouses as Joseph, Moses and David, the people expected physical beauty and majestic pomp from Jesus. No wonder Isaiah poses the rhetorical question at the start, “who has believed our message?”. It is too radical! The idea that the Messiah would be ordinary and grow up in difficult circumstances therefore represents a radical perfecting of the unveiling of God’s grace to sinners far beyond any wildest dream!
When God the Father sent God the Son to become a man, He left no stone unturned. God the Son truly “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. Not taking on the most handsome of men, but become a mere vulnerable and ordinary person. As statisticians would say, Jesus regressed himself to the mean! He did this in order that nothing would stand in the way of being crushed for our sins! As Max Lucado puts it, “Jesus was born crucified”. His whole life from the womb to the tomb speaks of a Saviour willing to go to the utmost to save sinners, even if it meant looking ordinary!
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2016