(This is a post I have just written for www.theleaderstable.org in light of a conversation I had with Bernard before Easter. I post it here for your interest!)
As I have reflected on the life and ministry of Jesus over recent days, I have seen an insight into his leadership which, up to now I have not really considered. Six hundred years before his birth, the prophet Isaiah wrote about the coming Saviour, `he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him’ (Isa 53:2). Before I go on, I encourage you to stop and think about that staggering statement for a moment. Why? Because, I suspect that if you are really honest, you may admit that Isaiah’s description does not fit well into your preferred view of Jesus and it certainly doesn’t comply with a popular view of leadership that many have adopted. So what do these verses reveal to us about Jesus, in order to deepen our understanding and heighten our appreciation of him?
Over the years many painters and sculptors have sought to portray Jesus. Yet, the truth is the Scriptures give us little or no insight into what Jesus really looked like. Incredibly, the only thing that the Scriptures explicitly state is in the prophecy to which we have already referred. Given then such scant insight, it seems foolish to speculate in detail about Jesus’ appearance. It does however seem consistent with Isaiah to conclude that Jesus didn’t look much like someone who would be airbrushed onto the front of Time magazine or be poured into a B-spoke suit for a photo call at a FTSE 100.
Of course you would be right to highlight that throughout history there have been many prominent leaders who have possessed less than model-like appearance. However, what these leaders tend to lack in looks, they often make up for in charisma! Before I move on, I suggest it would be worthwhile defining my terms. By charisma, I mean an innate, almost magnetic like attraction that often invites or even demands the attention and devotion of others. A number of years ago I listened to a tape recording from RT Kendal (at that time the Pastor of Westminster Chapel in London), speaking on these very verses. I remember being shocked when Kendal had the ‘impertinence’ to suggest that Jesus may not have even possessed this charisma. The reason for my offence was obvious. Although I was happy to imagine Jesus as someone who looked fairly ordinary, for some reason I still wanted to see him as the one that others looked to for leadership from the cradle to the cross. However, on reflection I am now comfortable (at least almost) to believe that Kendal may be correct.
In Philippians 2:7, Paul speaks about Jesus’ self-humiliation in taking upon himself our humanity in order to save us for and too himself. The NIV says that he ‘made himself nothing`; the more dynamic NLT says that ‘he gave up his divine privileges’; whereas the more literal ESV coins the phrase that, ‘he emptied himself’. I really do love the fact that faithful scholars wrestle with how to translate such staggering truth into something as restrictive as the English language. So then we see, not that Jesus became less than God, but that God became something he wasn’t without in any way ceasing to be what and who he was. That, the Son of God, the Second Person of the pre-existent, all powerful, all knowing, ever present and eternal Godhead, ‘emptied` himself into the frame of a pre-born baby in the womb of a virgin from a northern town in the middle of nowhere. Surely, this would mean that the God man would have incomparable charisma? No, because here lies the glory of the incarnation. That, according to Hebrews 4:15, the incarnation would be so complete that the Lord Jesus would himself be ‘tempted in every way as we are and yet without sin`.
If the conclusions I draw from Isaiah along with the New Testament teaching regarding the incarnation are correct, we could conclude that Jesus may have been fun at parties, but might not have always been its ‘life and soul’. Similarly, in light of the gospel records, we cannot even be sure that Jesus was a natural extrovert, any more than we can say he was born an introvert.
Lastly, there is always the possibility that Jesus may not have had the highest of I.Q.’s. That is not to say he struggled with learning his seven times table, or with the basic concepts of carpentry. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that God became like you and me. The natural objection to this is of course Luke’s reference to Jesus in the temple courts as he enquired of the scholars before hitting his teenage years (Lk 2:41-51). However, the source of Jesus’ learning later becomes apparent when we start to discover his relationship with the Father (Jn 5:19) and dependence upon the Spirit (Ac 10:38).
The reason I share these thoughts, are for your encouragement and for mine. Because the truth is that few of us are born with looks, charisma and a staggering intellect. Yet all of us who are called to lead by God will be enabled by God. Therefore, in an age where we are deluged with books offering a plethora of programmes that instruct us how to lead, we must ensure that above all it is the Lord Jesus who remains as the perfect paradigm of life, leadership and ministry.
I shared earlier about the artists who seek to portray Jesus in a particular way. But have you ever considered why Jesus appears with blonde hair and blue eyes in European stained glass windows, is pictured as Asian on Indian tapestries and is inevitably black in East Africa? I would suggest that either consciously or unconsciously the artist simply imposes upon Jesus their own cultural norms. In the same way we who are involved in leadership must be ever vigilant that we don’t do the same. We must then model our ministry upon his and never seek to impose our standards, values or culture upon him. We must in the words of the Apostle Paul in the passage quoted earlier (Php 2:7) always seek to ensure that our attitudes, not our appearance, charisma, natural disposition or I.Q’s, should be the same as `Christ Jesus’.