Jesus, Leaders and Looks

Reflections of how Jesus, you, and I look:

Some might be thinking that my title is once again rather strange. OK, so shoot me already. But there is, as always, a reason for what I write. In this case I offer a few reflections of Jesus, on Christian leaders, and what might be a somewhat big discrepancy between the two.

Let me explain. I hate to say it but often the most popular and well-attended churches are those featuring rather good-looking leaders and pastors. The more photogenic and telegenic, the better it often seems. Those who are much more homely and plain may not get such a good following, at least in certain circles.

That sadly is the way life is. We do know for a fact that those who are good-looking almost always get preferential treatment in general, be it in getting a job, getting better grades in school, or being chosen above others in all sorts of areas.

In the world those who look good will get most of the breaks. Numerous scholarly studies have verified all this. But sadly, the Christian churches are not immune from this. They too like to have pastors or guest speakers who are charismatic, likeable, and easy on the eyes. That can trump the quality of their message or the measure of the Spirit at work within them.

Of course not all churches and Christian groups are like this. Many just want a man or woman of God who loves Christ supremely, who is led by the Spirit of God, and is biblically faithful. So we have a mixed bag here. But the truth is, it is all too easy to look at appearances instead of what is within.

As is famously said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Yet believers can be just as tempted as non-believers to let looks and appearances be the way they assess things.

This my friends ought not to be. I notice for example that many Christian memes on the social media will only feature very good-looking men and women. The post might be about some Christian warrior or warrioress, but they invariably look like the sort of characters one might find in Hollywood or Madison Avenue.

I am not denying that there is such a thing as beauty, even beautiful people. The Bible itself speaks to this on numerous occasions. Since I am back in the book of Genesis, I have seen this a few times already. Consider what we read about Abram’s wife Sarai in Genesis 12:10-16:

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

We find more of this with other characters, such as in Genesis 29:15-17: “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”

So there are indeed beautiful and good-looking people, just as there are some who are not so beautiful and good-looking. But the truth is, we must not let looks decide who we run with or give preference to. As Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

Before proceeding, I suppose I should lay my cards on the table. For most of my life I have had a rather low self-image, based mainly on the way I look. And I have known about being rejected and ignored and ridiculed because of this. I have seen others given clear preferential treatment, simply because they look much better. Again, this is the way of the world – and some of the Christian world.

But now I must tie in a second aspect to this discussion. We as believers should all want to be like Jesus. That goes without saying. But some might wonder, what did Jesus look like? The four Gospels of course tell us nothing about that matter. So are we forever to remain in the dark here?

Well two things can be mentioned here. One, as a young Jewish male of that time and place, Jesus would have looked much like any other young Jewish male back then! So that can give us a bit of an idea at least. But we do in fact have one piece of biblical data here. I refer to Isaiah 53: 2b.

This is part of one of the four Servant Songs found in Isaiah. The full context is Is. 52:13 to 53:12. The relevant portion of it for our purposes is Is. 53:1-3:

 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

So Is. 53:2b is the closest we can get to this. He was not a real looker it seems. He was not really attractive. He had no outward beauty. Thus in terms of looks he may have been just an ordinary Joe. Maybe that might be of some comfort to others who have also known what it is like to be ignored or rejected or simply overlooked because of one’s ordinary appearance.

Our culture is 110 per cent driven by looks, be it advertising, movies, songs, or what have you. If you look good, it seems like you will have it made. Of course, beauty fades like everything else. By the time the hot young chicky babe reaches 50, she might wonder, what next? What is life really all about?

Image of Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word)
Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word) by Ortlund, Ray (Author), Hughes, R. Kent (Series Editor) Amazon logo

But let me share just a few brief closing comments on the Isaiah passage. In his expository commentary on Isaiah, Raymond Ortlund says this:

We need God’s help to believe, because the truth is, we’re more superficial than we realize. We look at the surface of things. We judge by appearances. And Jesus didn’t even try to be impressive at that level. He doesn’t respect false appearances the way we do. Isaiah says he was “like a root out of dry ground” – an unpromising person appearing in a failed nation. Do not think that if you had been an eyewitness of Jesus, you would have admired him. Not even his miracles made the impact they should have (John 12:37, 38). His own family misjudged him (Mark 3:21, John 7:5). When he travelled with his disciples, it wasn’t like the movies. Jesus didn’t have a holy glow about him. The woman at the well had no idea whom she was talking to (John 4:25, 26). Even John the Baptist became uncertain about him (Luke 7:18-23; John 1:29-34). Our Lord just wasn’t special in ways that count with us. In fact, he became hideous in his sufferings so that people shunned him: “. . .  as one from whom men hide their faces.”


Why did the servant of the Lord sink so low? He had to become like us for us to become like him. But if we’d been there, every one of us would have despised and rejected him and turned away to follow after really cool people like Barabbas or Caiaphas or Pilate, depending on our politics or maybe just our mood at the moment. That’s who we are. When the only true remedy for the guilt that tortures us and threatens us with eternal destruction appears right in front of us, our emotions were dead, our decisions misguided, our minds corrupted. And he accepted it as the price love had to pay to give us our lives back.

Or as Tim Chester puts it: “There was nothing in the physical appearance of Jesus that marked him out as special. If you had passed him in the street, you wouldn’t have picked him out. That was the point. He was a human being just like any of us – as human as you are. But people despised him for it (53:3). We’ve turned the fact that Jesus identifies with us into a reason to reject him! In the end humanity’s contempt led him to the cross…

Our Lord had no great external beauty nor comeliness about him. But his inner being overflowed with it. That should be our aim as well: not being so worried about how we look, but being very concerned with what we are like on the inside.

I am still working on that. How about you?

[1630 words]

8 Replies to “Jesus, Leaders and Looks”

  1. We are his peculiar treasure! Malachi 3:17. And that should enter into our thinking of ourselves.

  2. I found your article very interesting because Jesus seems to be always depicted as a very good-looking man. The early paintings and murals indicated that he was hardly a man that would turn heads.

    Although it was supposedly debunked by carbon dating, which I believe was due to flawed samples, I believe that the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Christ. The reason this is relevant is because if you look at the person on the cloth, he was hardly a man of beauty or majesty. This, in a way, mimics the passage in Isaiah.

    Great article!

  3. There is a tension here, since there are objective aesthetic qualities. Some objects, and people, are more beautiful than others. The Bible says this about some people, as you noted. However, physical beauty and “the beauty of holiness” are not the same, although the same person may exhibit both. Erotic beauty is the real danger; hence, Scripture demands modesty and sexual restraint. Our society, even in much of the church, knows little to nothing of this.

  4. Well, I’m certainly no spring chicken anymore, although I do like some age-appropriate cosmetic products even at my age! It’s certainly not to attract men, given I am a widow and intend to remain faithful to my late husband until I pass away too- I don’t really care about their impression of how I look, to be honest. I don’t overdo it, either.

    However, the Lord works in mysterious ways and doesn’t necessarily care about the outer packaging. Those who have lived arduous and sometimes sinful lives may not be oil paintings, but if Our Lord and Saviour has chosen them as our vessels, who are we to cast aspersions? Rather, our Lord and Saviour requires us to work alongside them and get our own hands dirty sometimes!

    And as for external beauty, there are also such things as whitened sepulchures which harbour all manner of filth and depravity underneath the camouflague and veneer.

  5. Thanks Bill, I agree it is hard to tell from reading the Bible what Jesus looked like or how strong and tall he was etc. In Luke 2:40 it says “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” in the KJV. In the Living Bible it says “There the child became a strong, robust lad, and was known for wisdom beyond his years; and God poured out his blessings on him.” Then in Luke 2:52 it says when he was 12 years old “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

    I think he worked hard in his earthly father’s carpenter’s shop and blended in with the community however, when he started preaching in his home town of Nazareth in Luke 4:22 “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” things started to change just a few verses later as in Luke 4:28-30 it says “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way.” And according to Luke’s gospel this was after he fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness with Satan tempting him at the end so He would have been thin, weak and exhausted. Jesus also walked long distances, prayed for hours at night and had a busy healing ministry so he would have been on the slim and tired side physically. Also I presume the men of those days didn’t shave their beards or cut their hair and wore a head covering like Muslim women do today and long robes, so it is hard to identify someone unless you know them well. So that is why I think Isaiah 53:2 says “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” and the rest of Isaiah 53 is about Jesus when he was being tortured – had his beard pulled off his face and eyes bruised/punched, head beaten with poisonous crown of thorns etc. When he arose He still had the scars on his hands, feet and side to show his disciples and I believe he still had serious scars on his face/head as no one recognized him. That doesn’t mean he still looks like that, I believe His eyes are a flame of fire now or will be as Rev 19:12 says when he returns.

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