Who has believed what we have heard?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, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
– Isaiah 53:1-5
Seven Bridges was a miracle baby. His mother, Tami Charles, had been told over and over that she would not be able to have biological children, and she was overjoyed when he was born. But Seven had a congenital bowel condition that required him to be fitted with a colostomy bag shortly after his birth. By fifth grade, he had had 26 surgeries to address his condition and had been teased mercilessly about the appearance and smell of his colostomy, including being choked and beaten up by bullies. His parents reassured him that in the fall, he would start at a new school, where his classmates wouldn’t know his medical history. But eight months is an eternity in the life of a child. On January 19, 2019, while his father was at choir practice and his mother was at the grocery store, ten year-old Seven went into a closet in his family home and hanged himself.
Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of prophecy. But despite the fact that many believe he was the promised messiah (“Christ”) of the Jewish people and the son of God, he was born into humble circumstances to a mother whose chastity was doubted. His ministry was marked by insult, isolation and persecution, as he was accused of drunkenness and gluttony, law-breaking and blasphemy. While he often drew adoring crowds, in his moments of greatest need, Jesus was a man the world turned away from, a man who grieved and suffered, a man who was despised and rejected. In his final hours, the fragility of his tortured flesh was on full display as he was publicly executed as a criminal, and in the moments before his death, Jesus was a man who felt himself forsaken by God.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus came to the world to show us what pure righteousness looks like in human form. It is remarkable, then, that he was not a strong and handsome denizen of the halls of power. Rather, he was a man without beauty or grace, who, in both his ministry and his crucifixion, had firsthand knowledge of rejection and suffering. In fact, the Christian faith seems to be unique in defining its God as much by pain and humiliation as by glory and might. But as we claim to honor a suffering savior, does the gospel we preach give sufficient weight to Christ’s radical solidarity with us in our weakness?
We are properly grateful for divine healing, whether spiritual or physical. But when there is no healing, when we are saddened and disgusted by our own condition, do we remember that our Lord himself experienced humiliation and isolation, that he suffers with us? Do we preach that message – that though it is devastatingly real, none of us bears our pain alone – in our churches and meetings and to our families and friends and, yes, to our children? Most importantly, do we encourage each other to search the faces of those we might instinctively reject as difficult, deformed or defective for their resemblance to our Savior – and to embrace them accordingly?
Jesus was born in obscurity, and he died in shame. Yet it is the bedrock of our faith that his death is our salvation, his resurrection is our triumph and his continued ministry is our perfection. Our Father used Jesus’ very lack of external advantages to magnify the high honor of his calling – and that is how he wants to use each of us. Our instinct is to play up our abilities and conceal our vulnerabilities out of shame, but God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, not our strength.
Let us boldly praise our Lord, who does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. Let us boldly praise our Lord, who puts heavenly treasures in earthen vessels. Let us boldly praise our Lord, who has a high and holy calling for each of us, whatever our weaknesses and imperfections.
It is our duty and privilege as followers of Jesus – and it just might save a life.