April 13, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Physiognomy is a pseudo-scientific discipline that believes a person’s outward appearance can tell you something about that person’s character. It began way back with the Greek philosopher Aristotle and was picked up from time to time by other philosophers. You can see how this works out a bit in Disney cartoons—the villains are always depicted with sinister features, so that you know their intentions from the start.
But modern science considers physiognomy a pseudo-science because there’s no clear correlation between outward appearances and inward character. In fact, you don’t even have to be a scientist to know that; your mother probably told you at one time or another that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
From experience, outward appearances can actually hide a contrary character. A familiar trope in modern storytelling is to examine a character who is in reality much different that the outward appearance he projects. The Great Gatsby puts forward the image of high society as a cover for humble beginnings and a questionable moral character. The British comedy Keeping up Appearances pokes fun at Hyacinth Bucket, who hides her lower class upbringing with a ridiculous outward show of snobbish refinement.
Even though it’s been drilled into our heads by modern society that looks can be deceiving, we haven’t quite learned to apply that to spiritual things, where it’s even truer. When God sent Samuel to anoint David as king, Samuel first saw David’s older and stronger brother, “Don’t look at his appearance,” the LORD told Samuel, “or how tall he is, because I have rejected him. God does not see as man sees, because a man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart” (1 Sam 16:7 AAT). Physiognomy is a discipline utterly and completely rejected by God.
Yet, outward appearances are what we put all of our spiritual energies into. We use the Law as scouring pad or a fine-grit sandpaper to polish up and smooth out the rough edges. We keep our speech polite and respectable in public; we put ourselves in a pew each Sunday and sometimes Wednesdays; we project the picture of a perfect marriage and family; we work hard for our possessions, take nothing that doesn’t belong to us, and operate under impeccable business standards.
A flawless outward appearance can fool the world around you. It can fool your closest friends, neighbors, and relatives. It can even fool yourself. Until you take a long, deep look in the mirror of God’s Law. When you truly consider yourself in light of these holy commands, it’s like a scene straight out of a horror show—the real you, the gruesome you flashes before your eyes and you see for a moment your true nature that’s hidden under the unsullied outside. And then you realize that your outward appearance isn’t what God sees at all; He sees the train wreck that’s hiding just below the surface.
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees,” says Jesus, “hypocrites, because you are like graves that have been whitewashed, who appear beautiful on the outside, but on the inside you are full of the bones of the dead and all uncleanness” (Mt 23:27). It is a dreadful thought that your Father in heaven sees what’s hidden, what’s behind the mask.
If there was anyone who would project a majestic outward appearance, it’s surely the One anointed by God to be King of Israel. But what we get is exactly the opposite. The King presents a pretty poor outward show. He shows up on a donkey, followed by a ramshackle band of misfits.
This has come to pass in order to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (vv 4-5). Here is a blessed inversion. The man mounted on a donkey does not hide a horror show under a flawless outward show, but rather the true King of Israel hides under the humble exterior of a servant.
Look! My Servant will succeed. He will rise, be lifted up, and be exalted very high. Many were amazed at Him for His appearance was more disfigured than any man and His form more than any person. So He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him because they have seen something they haven’t been told and have witnessed something they haven’t heard before (Is 52:13-15 AAT).
The fourth Servant Song of Isaiah describes the outward appearance of the Lord’s humble servant. Disfigured. Marred. Beyond human semblance. This is the outward appearance of the King on the cross. The horror show that you normally hide under a tidy exterior is on full display when Jesus hangs on the cross. Yet hidden under that gruesome exterior is divine royalty. Look! Your King’s humble entry into Jerusalem is only the beginning. This is He who humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross.
Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart. The Father sees through the hideous exterior of the Crucified One and finds the perfect obedience of His Son.
For all of the energy you expend in putting on a good, Christian outward show, Jesus did nothing to hide His own humiliation. He is the Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth, bearing the true image of all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. His outward appearance is what your outward appearance should be—stricken, smitten, and afflicted.
But because of this King’s humility, there is another blessed inversion that takes place. The final act of this humble King is to bow His sacred head and give up His Spirit. This Spirit of God goes out from the mouth of Jesus whenever the cross is proclaimed in order to create a new thing hidden under your outward appearance.
The Spirit that proceeds from the Son of God is the Spirit of forgiveness. Those few, simple words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” create in you a clean heart, and a right spirit of your very own. Just as God looked upon His Son and looked past the hideous outward appearance to see the acceptable sacrifice of His obedience, so also He looks upon you, and looks past the sins, the betrayals, the failures—He looks past the hideous mess that you’ve made of yourself—to find the new person that He has made of you.
Man looks at the outward appearances, but God looks to the heart, He looks to what’s underneath.
The King of Creation Hides under the Humble Servant Riding into Jerusalem
And He rides on to the cross to appear in your place before God, and to make you more than you appear.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard