“They can’t see the forest for the trees.”
It’s a familiar saying. It means someone can’t see the whole picture because they’re too caught up in the details.
This can be applied to how people saw Jesus while He walked among us. Many couldn’t see Jesus for who He was because they were blinded by their own expectations of what the Messiah would look like, act like, say and do. They scrutinized His inauspicious family background; that He hadn’t come through their spiritual authority structure. They picked apart His words, looking for hidden meanings, places they could catch Him out. They were so bogged down in details, in carefully examining the minutiae, they couldn’t see that the Son of God who was right in front of them.
Perhaps they reasoned that the Son of God would be born in a palace. Being divine, He would of course have the physical stature, attractive facial features and the aura of greatness that would mark Him off as exalted above mere ordinary mortals.. He would be a standout in every way. He would naturally have a commanding presence, an arresting voice and a manner that would propel Him higher and higher through the echelons of power. No doubt he would win great military and territorial victories, expel the hated Roman rulers, restore the Jewish nation and then expand it to become the powerhouse of the world. The people would readily flock after this Messiah because He would make life so easy — and exciting — for them.
There are no contemporaneous drawings or portraits of Jesus as He appeared in His human form. We don’t know what His face looked like, how tall He was, or whether he was lean or stocky. What we do know is that there was nothing in His physical makeup that made Him remarkable, nothing in His appearance that attracted attention.
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. (Isa 53:2)
Like one tree in a forest, Jesus was indistinguishable at first glance. Even when He spoke, it wasn’t the cadence of His voice that drew people, but the power of His words, backed up by His living them out. What first attracted disciples and eventually crowds was His inside: His truth, His love, His servant’s heart, His purity, His authenticity. His character was so attractive, the crowds pushed to make Him their king. They didn’t understand that He was already a King — a radically different one. He demonstrated His greatness by serving, not being served. He displayed His wealth by having nothing. He revealed His power by submitting to disgrace and death for the sake of others. He proved that God can take the most humble, the most ordinary, and reveal the divine.
As followers of Jesus, we too are indistinguishable at first glance. The thing is, we should definitely not be indistinguishable when people get to know us. We should be markedly different from the mainstream of our culture in our whole approach to life and relationships. If we’re attractive, it should be because we’re discernibly different in our focus on God’s best purpose instead of our own best interest.
We’re not called to be just another tree in the forest, but to be “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord” (Isa 61:3),to be a “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither (Ps. 1:3). Jesus said, “a tree is recognized by its fruit,” (Matt 12:33), and that fruit emanates from what’s inside.
Father, help me to stand strong because I stand on You, on Your Word and for Your purposes. I want to be distinguished not because of what I do, but what You are doing in and through me. I pray that You will use me to bear fruit for Your kingdom, even today. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.