God showed up in street clothes when he came to visit Abraham and Sarah.
Three travelers in the plains of Mamre approached a tent in the heat of the day, the time when people rested from their usual work.
Abraham was sitting in the tent door and when he looked up, there they were — three men, travelers. Tourists? Tradesmen? What did they look like?
Apparently they looked like ordinary travelers, perhaps a little dusty from walking along the road. They all wore the normal street clothes of the day for that part of the world.
But they weren’t ordinary travelers, of course. One of them was Jehovah, God himself. The other two were angels on assignment to destroy Sodom. (Genesis 18:1 – 19:1)
What do you imagine when you think about God’s appearance, or the appearance of angels? Probably not men in street clothes.
It didn’t take much, though, for Abraham to realize that he was talking to the Lord God. He had seen him before. He had heard his voice before (Genesis 12 ff). But he couldn’t have told that by the physical appearance this day.
Jesus showed up in street clothes when he lingered near the tomb to talk to Mary Magdalene. She’d already seen two angels, and she recognized them as angels because of their appearance. This man looked ordinary, a gardener perhaps, Mary thought.
“Why are you crying?” he asked her. She explained as best she could, still not realizing who he was. But he wasn’t an ordinary gardener, of course. It took one more word, “Mary,” from Jesus’s voice for her to recognize the Lord, Jesus resurrected from the dead. (John 20:15)
Jesus showed up in street clothes when he caught up to Cleopas and his friend. Ttraveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, “It was great while it lasted,” they must have thought as they commiserated.
They’d had high hopes that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, they explained sadly to the inquisitive stranger. Quite a conversation took place on the remaining walk into town. This well educated stranger really knew the prophecies! And he had a knack for opening the scriptures.
They didn’t realize who he was, this ordinary looking fellow. It took Jesus breaking bread and blessing it for them to recognize him. (Luke 24:30-31)
Jesus showed up in street clothes a few hours later, when he suddenly stood in the middle of the 11 apostles, terrifying them by his appearance. They supposed he was a spirit! I wonder what they imagined a spirit to look like…
Why didn’t they immediately recognize the Lord? Mary Magdalene? Cleopas and his friend? The 11 apostles? Their master, their teacher, the one they had followed and worshiped for so long?
Think about the last time they had seen him. Dirty, bloody, ragged, naked. Broken. Dead. This man was none of those things. He was clean and healthy. Any scars he had were totally healed – he kept those for evidence, I think.
Jesus had taken every punishment I deserved, every sickness or disease I could be afflicted with, every fear and anxiety, every sin and guilt, for me and every other human being on planet earth. Whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, he accepted them all as his own.
Then he overcame them. Defeated them. Destroyed their power. The creator of the universe had recreated everything about his own personal appearance, in a moment of time.
Now he looked like, and was, a healthy, confident and knowledgeable adult male. No wonder they didn’t know who he was.
Many artists have painted depictions of Jesus over the centuries. Did you notice — they always seem to paint him in the past tense? Wearing street clothes of ancient Israel?
That’s not how I see him.
I imagine him dressed in ordinary street clothes, a workman’s uniform maybe, or a business suit, or jeans and a t-shirt. Whatever would be appropriate for the place and time, and perhaps the occasion, that’s how I visualize him.
Would you recognize Jesus if he showed up physically at your house, dressed in modern-day street clothes?
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2 NASB)