Disclaimer: I don’t want to pick a fight. I really do not. But I also really want to say what I’m about to say, so I’m begging for grace here.
Isaiah 53 is a startling, beautiful eight-centuries-early description of the life and death of Jesus. Here’s the verse that’s shaking my apple cart on this, Day 5 of Seven.
He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised and we didn’t value Him. Isaiah 53:2-3
Jesus didn’t look like we thought He would. A people on the lookout for the Messiah – watching, waiting for the One who would be their only hope, redemption and vindication against oppression, missed the signs. And the things is: they saw Him in the flesh. They watched Him work and still disqualified Him.
Apparently, it’s easy to misinterpret The Way A God Should Be. We have sketched out in our minds the way majesty manifests and we naturally work to align our picture of Jesus to that.
For years, I couldn’t imagine the notion of a Jesus who drank alcohol. It was so far outside my worldview that I almost-subconsciously recreated those sections of His story. I changed His wine to coffee and His “party” to a small group and His sinners to pre-believers with hearts of gold. I cleaned it all up in my head because I needed Him to look more like me. More accurately, I needed Him to look more like my parents (who are fantastic people) because otherwise, how could I trust Him to keep me safe? My parents kept me away from alcohol and sinners and parties.
But Jesus defies our expectations. He’s bigger than my worldview. He’s bigger than my history and He typically blows the doors off our concepts of “safe” while reinforcing in every way His concept of “good”.
Here’s where Isaiah 53 comes alive for me (and you are warmly welcomed to disagree in your heart). Last week, World Vision announced that they had changed their hiring policy to include those in legal gay marriages.
And all hell broke loose.
Christians stormed the gates of social media to argue for what they feel is truth. I’m not disagreeing with this. In fact, I don’t like this current idea that people of faith (or any people for that matter) should live without opinion or in complete harmony with the culture around us. Nothing sounds more boring or less intelligent to me, and it’s the spirited debates and anguished wrestling matches with doctrine that built the foundations upon which we stand (have you ever read about the Council of Nicea? It’s brilliant!) Arguing truth is not out of line and it doesn’t -in and of itself – impugn our ability to be salt and light in the world. However, I think it’s our perception and reflection of the character of Jesus inside these debates that hobbles us and so while I’ll defend the right of Christians to speak up, I can’t tell you how much I hated the tone of so many of the comments and articles I read from both sides of the gay marriage debate. Hated it.
Additionally, and almost unbelievably, many chose to withdraw their child sponsorships in order to send a loud, clanging-symbol of a message to World Vision. And what was that message? YOU ARE NOT REFLECTING THE JESUS WE KNOW!
I wonder: do we really know Him or are we dog-paddling through the murky waters of Isaiah 53:2 without even realizing it? Because in all that I have read about Jesus, I cannot conceive of Him choosing to take the food from a child’s table so He can stick it to the sinner who cooked the meal. Not only does He love hungry children more than that, He loves sinners more than that. I know this one personally because He has not withheld His bread from me in spite of my constant screw-ups. The point is: it’s easy to miss Him. To miss His way. To miss His character. (Of note: World Vision reversed their position one day later, but everyone on both sides of the issue is still pretty mad.)
When Jesus pardoned the adulterous woman, He said, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Some that day probably heard, “I DO NOT CONDEMN you, go and sin no more.” Others heard, “I do not condemn you, go and SIN NO MORE.” I know I tend to tilt toward one more than the other in every situation (the grace side with my sin and the truth side with others). But Jesus is the God of both. All-the-way grace. All-the-way truth. Which I think is one reason it’s so easy to get Him wrong. Our humanity can hardly imagine such a potent combination of contradictory ingredients, so it’s much easier to emphasize one over the other. As soon as we do, however, we’ve begun to recreate Him in our own image.
Jesus didn’t come to win the culture wars. In fact, He didn’t come to win anything except US and if that truth doesn’t cause a little face-in-the-carpet humility and gratitude then it’s time for a fresh dose of reality.
Isaiah tells us Jesus came for exactly this:
My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. (v. 11)
As far as I can conclude from this life-changing sentence, His goal in coming to us was to carry our sin. Not to judge, but to justify. Not to say: “Clean up your ways, or else,” but to remove the shame that covers over the image of God in our lives and keeps us from getting to Him. Not to endorse our sin, but to remind us we’re helpless against it without Him. We’re lost without grace and grace is lost without truth.
How does all this apply to fasting? I’m not sure, except to say that I’m certain in the marrow of my bones that it does. Because Isaiah 58 tells me the fasts He chooses are to make us more like Him and there is no winning the world or changing our city or impacting our culture until and unless we become More. Like. Him. The one and only Him. The Him who is so easy to miss and misinterpret.
This fast has me on a hunt. I find myself searching for glimpses of His character and His way in every little word of every little sentence of every little verse. The more I feel some of my own misinterpretations peel away, the more ravenous I become for the full picture of His magnificence. And also ravenous for food, but that’s another story altogether.
Thank you for searching with me.
P.S. This post is part of a series as I’m blogging my way through the hunger pangs of our church’s seven day fast. You can read them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.