“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2
Dutch artists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries pioneered a new type of painting that seemed risky at the time: scenes of everyday life, zeroed in on servants at work in the kitchen, maids milking, and windmills turning. Compared to Renaissance frescoes or Baroque portraits, the subject matter seemed almost vulgar. But this new style of art gave dignity to the stuff of everyday life and received an appropriately generic title: genre painting. Genre painting would show the world that there is beauty in the commonplace.
If Jesus were an art form, what type would he be? Perhaps we think of famous portraits of Jesus like Leonardo da Vinci’s symmetrically pleasing Last Supper (Renaissance), or Rembrandt van Rijn’s light-suffused stable scene Adoration of the Shepherds (Baroque). Maybe we even think of modern expressions like Marc Chagall’s shocking White Crucifixion or the ubiquitous Warner Sallman Head of Christ seen on millions of bookmarks, key chains, and refrigerator magnets and purchased by the dozen at your local Christian bookstore.
But the incarnation of Jesus—literally, the “enfleshment” of the Son of God—came with an artistic surprise: instead of descending to earth in stunning beauty, Jesus was born of a peasant woman and placed in an animal feeding box (Luke 2:16). He lived with poor parents who could afford only two small birds for the most basic purification offering (Luke 2:24). As a young man, instead of going to synagogue for school, He worked as a carpenter, which is equivalent to today’s blue-collar work (Mark 6:3). Even His hometown was unremarkable. Jesus lived in Nazareth of Galilee, the backwater town of a backwater region of which Nathanael said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). Indeed, the early life of Jesus was the ultimate genre painting.
The ministry of Jesus mostly involved Him living life with normal people, eating common food, and sharing meals with friends. His parables borrowed from the simple agrarian life around Him: weeds in wheat fields, straying sheep, and types of dirt. He saw beauty in the humdrum things of life like a hard day’s work or a woman sweeping her house to find a lost coin.
Jesus teaches us that God values the normal stuff of life that the world despises. While Jesus had no physical beauty to attract us to Him (Isaiah 53:2), His life and character were beautiful, and He will one day return to the world in glorious beauty (Isaiah 4:2). Likewise, God has made those who are poor in the eyes of the world rich in faith (James 2:5). Indeed, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Corinthians 1:28–29).
Do you feel common, unremarkable, or unlovely? Welcome to the world Jesus lived in. Though His physical appearance was unremarkable, Jesus was the most beautiful Person who ever lived. His perfectly obedient relationship with His Father is what made a man of ordinary appearance, life, and position so attractive to the people around Him. He was a common man with an uncommon Spirit. A lowly man with a lovely heart. A simple man with a glorious mission. Likewise, the only way our ordinary, unlovely lives will be made extraordinary and beautiful is through a relationship with this Jesus, a relationship that involves “taking up [our] cross” and following Him (Luke 9:23).