“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.” - 2 Corinthians 5:16
Have you ever been invited to a party, an important meeting, or to go out on a date with someone new (and whom you hope to impress) and so took special care to make a good impression? The same would go for job interviews, meeting the parents of your fiancé, or countless other socially important moments in our lives. We want people to like us and to think the best of us. Of course, such social opportunities occur all the time, whether we recognize them or not. All the time, people are gaining impressions of us, whether accurate or not, and treating us accordingly. There is an old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” This is an adage that is heeded far less than it is quoted. We very often judge people by how they appear to us. And we do have a scale on which people are weighed and often found wanting.
While there are legitimate reasons to accurately judge the character, motivations or qualities of our fellow humans, we have a tendency to extrapolate these relative deficiencies or excellences far beyond their real levels of importance. In fact, we often make our summation of a whole person’s worth by how much they own or what standing they have in society. Sometimes, sadly, we write off whole categories of people because they fall short of our standards. By “write off” I mean we consider them not worth bothering about. And that is where the manner of our Lord’s coming into the world and living in it shatters this easy dismissal of some of our fellow human beings.
If ever there were an important person living on our planet, it was, beyond question, the Person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. No emperor, king or president who has ever lived can even come close in importance to Him. Nor could any scientist, Nobel prize winner, artistic genius or billionaire entrepreneur be even compared with Him who created the universe and sustains it by the word of His power. And yet, consider how He chose to make His entrance into the world. He chose to be miraculously conceived in the womb of a poor, unmarried peasant girl. If that isn’t getting off on the wrong foot socially, we don’t know what is! Moreover, her people were living under occupation and subjugation by the greatest cultural, political, economic and military power the world had ever known. By comparison, Mary’s people were unsophisticated, weak and culturally backward. Yet even among her people, Mary’s position was on or near the lowest end – a young, single woman living in a small village in the socially despised region of Galilee.
When Nicodemus asked his fellow Pharisees, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” They replied, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search [the Bible] and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” (John 7:51-52) Of course, the prophet Isaiah did foretell that the Messiah would appear in Galilee (9:1-2) but because of Galilee’s poor reputation these Bible scholars simply chose to ignore it. Yet even among Galileans, the town of Nazareth was despised. Do you remember what Nathanael said when Philip told him that Jesus of Nazareth was the one which the prophets foretold (i.e., the Messiah)? He replied, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Philip could not answer, “Of course it can! Some of our greatest theologians and political leaders have come from there!” Instead, he said, “Come and see.” Despite its insignificance and bad reputation, the Messiah, in fact, did come from Nazareth! This too was part of God’s plan and indicated ahead of time by the frequent references to the Messiah as “the Branch” which is the same Hebrew word from which Jesus’ boyhood town was named. (Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Matthew 2:23) As for the place of His birth, the prophet Micah spoke of Bethlehem as being “too little to be among the clans of Judah…” and yet out of it would come One who “will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel…” whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (5:2) Again, we have the stark contrast between Jesus’ overwhelming importance and his outward appearance and social position.
And who were the first to greet Him at His birth, besides His parents and the animals in the stable? Were they not the poor and despised shepherds who were considered “unclean” to the religious leaders of their nation? When our Lord was afterward brought to the Temple for the rites of purification, it was not the offering of the wealthy His parents could provide but that of the poor. And it was not the religious leaders who came to honor Him but foreigners from the east, whose profession of astrology was forbidden under the Law. And who was it who sought to kill Him as an infant but the mightiest in the land who sought guidance from the wisest among the people? Before this evil plan could be accomplished, the parents of our Lord fled with Him into Egypt where they lived for a time as “strangers in a strange land.” It was a good thing the Magi had brought them gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh” for without these resources they would have not been able to sustain themselves, poor as they otherwise were.
And when He grew to manhood and began His ministry, his poor, rural community of Nazareth did not respect Him (Matthew 13:52-58; Luke 4:23-30), not even His own family (Mark 3:20, 31; John 7:5)! Of course He did attract a large following, but as His enemies said of these followers, “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” (John 7:48-50) The nobodies were following a nobody! So what?! And they wrote Him off. Of course they were exaggerating a little. There were a few “secret disciples” among the upper echelons, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. (John 19:38-39) Among Jesus’ followers was at least one woman whose husband was King Herod’s steward. (Luke 8:3) That Jesus chose to freely welcome and associate with the most despised in that day’s culture, such as prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers and Samaritans also became grounds for His rejection by the most respected in society. (Luke 7:34-39) Even His disciples were astonished to find Him one day speaking to a Samaritan woman (and one who had a shady reputation – John 4:27!). They also felt it was beneath His dignity to spend time with children, a notion that Jesus roundly rejected. (Mark 10:13-16) Jesus did not judge a person’s worth by their wealth, health, social status, ethnic origin, gender, age, religion or level of education – and not even by their degree of moral rectitude or piety. To Him, all were the objects of His loving concern. Even His sharp words of rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees were simply because, in their pride and disdain of these “accursed” ones, they failed to see their own, even greater need of God’s mercy. How He longed to gather even these, His enemies, into His arms! (Matthew 23:37; Luke 23:34)
And this is one reason God came to us so humbly, so different than what we expected Him to be. For, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him and nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) As we made this terrible mistake with one so infinitely worthy, He is teaching us not to make a similar mistake with the ones among us that appear to us unworthy of our respect, time and attention. If they are loved by God, no matter what their appearance may be, then we must love them and care for them as the very worthwhile persons Christ reveals them to be. (Matthew 25:31-46) From now on, as we no longer view Christ “according to the flesh” let us view no one from that ungodly perspective.