Have you ever read through the Gospels and been struck by just how much Jesus’ 3 years of ministry must have sucked for Him?
I am reading through the Gospel of Matthew right now. Even though I’ve read Matthew dozens of times before, this time I’m reading with the intention of understanding Jesus’ own experience of His humanity in relationship with other human beings.
In part one I intend to look at Jesus’ relationship to humanity on a macro level. Starting with the seemingly ever-present crowds that follow Him according to the Gospel accounts.
But first, let’s start with an overview of the nature of Jesus’ human experience.
This current study of mine was inspired by the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah gives us unique insight into the personhood of Jesus Christ through its prophetic message:
“…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.”
Isaiah 53:2b-4 (NRSV)
From this passage, we gather that Jesus wasn’t human eye candy. There was nothing about his physical asthetic that would garner special attention. You might even say his appearance was extremely ordinary and, dare I say it, underwhelming.
Isaiah also tells us that Jesus was despised and rejected. But, how can that be when the Gospels tell us that crowds continually gathered and followed him around (Matthew 4:25, 8:1, 8:18, 13:2,14:13, 15:30,17:14,20:29)?
Well, think of modern-day celebrity. Suddenly, someone or something is the talk of the Internet world. For like, a few days at tops, right? But for those few days, every blogger/twitter user/journalist needs to be writing something important that relates in someway to the issue/event/person of the hour. If they do indeed desire to increase- or at least maintain-their own popularity.
Our Human nature, with its compulsive need for external affirmation and validation, plays a role in this observable behavior. But so does self-promotion, which is really an outpouring of excessive self-interest. We can boil it down further: viral content, and the 15 minutes of Internet celebrity that often follows, is a result of our own self-serving compulsions.
Self-serving compulsion is nothing new. The venue and devices used may have changed over the millennia , but the spirit behind it is the same.
So, Jesus became the 1st century equivalent of the viral Internet sensation. And he knew this full well. The crowds followed Him because of what they saw and heard of His power to heal (John 6:2) and His ability to miraculously feed crowds of hungry people (John 6:26).
When we view Jesus’ popularity with the crowds as due to his reputation as a prophet (Matthew 21:11,46), the 1st century equivalent of a Rock Star, we can understand how His sudden celebrity can co-exist with His ultimate rejection. Fans are fickle. People are always on the look out for a way to be a part of the next big thing. The crowds may have followed Jesus when it was en vogue, but as soon as Jesus made some powerful enemies, the crowds scattered. To have never been accepted for who one truly is, is paramount to rejection.
Note here, that in Matthew’s account, only a handful of people are recorded as recognizing Jesus for who He actually was. Out of the thousands upon thousands of those He healed, fed, and cured.
Strangers constantly crowding around Him, wanting a piece of the excitement and action. All seeking something for themselves, most unwilling to offer anything of themselves in return. Not even gratitude.
In His relationship with the crowds, Jesus was indeed “a man of suffering”.