Gentle and Lowly The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund takes a look at the heart of Christ based on Matthew 11:28-29 where Christ tells the people gathered around Him to come to Him, all of those who were weary and bearing heavy burdens, because, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” That is Jesus’ own description of Himself. According to Dane Ortlund, this is the only place in the four gospels “where Jesus tells us about his own heart.” (p.17) Ortlund continues on page 21 to say, “This is not who he is to everyone, indiscriminately. This is who he is for those who come to him, who take his yoke upon them, who cry to him for help.”
Ortlund says, “Jesus gives us a picture of how Jesus handles the impenitent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!… I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you’ (Matt. 11:21,24). ‘Gentle and lowly’ does not mean ‘mushy and frothy.’ But for the penitent, his heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.” (p. 21) [Note * Chorazin and Bethsaida were unrepentant cities]
I love this thought expressed by Ortlund on page 39: “Consider Hebrews 12. There Jesus is called ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb. 12:2) ‘For the joy.’ What joy? what was waiting for Jesus on the other side of the cross? The joy of seeing his people forgiven.”
Hebrews 4:15 says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Ortlund doubles down on the meaning of this verse on page 48 — “Consider your own life. When the relationship goes sour, when the feelings of futility come flooding in, when it feels like life is passing us by, when it seems that our one shot at significance has slipped through our fingers, when we can’t sort out our emotions…—in short, when the fallenness of the world closes in on us and makes us want to throw in the towel—there, right there, we have a Friend who knows exactly what such testing feels like, and sits close to us, embraces us. With us. Solidarity.”
Now, if you are like me, at this point you are saying, but what about the anger, wrath, and punishments of God? When you read Lamentations, like I did today, and you see over and over words like—”The Lord in his anger”, “In his day of great anger”, “without mercy the Lord has destroyed every home in Israel”, “His fierce anger”, “In the day of the LORD’s anger, no one has escaped or survived.” (All quotes scattered throughout Lamentations chapter 2 NLT version.)
How does Ortlund reconcile those words with “gentle and lowly”?
Ortlund says, “Therefore in Lamentations 3:33, when he speaks of punishing, he says, ‘He does not from his heart afflict nor grieve the children of men.’ But when he comes to speak of showing mercy, he says he does it ‘with his whole heart, and with his whole soul,’ as the expression is in Jeremiah 32:41. And therefore acts of justice are called his ‘strange work’ and his ‘strange act’ in Isaiah 28:21. But when he comes to show mercy, he rejoices over them, to do them good, with his whole heart and with his whole soul.” (p.139)
“Mercy is natural to him. Punishment is unnatural….God does not have parts. He is just. He is wrathful. He is good.” (p. 140)
“In Exodus 33 Moses asks God, ‘Please show me your glory’ (33:18). How does God respond? ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you’ (33:19). Goodness? Isn’t the glory of God a matter of his greatness, not his goodness?” (p. 147)
Psalm 103:8-9 says “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.” (KJV)
Ortlund says, “…the Old Testament speaks of God being ‘provoked to anger’ by his people dozens of times…. But not once are we told that God is ‘provoked to love’ or ‘provoked to mercy.’ His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth….For fallen humans, we learn in the New Testament, this is reversed. We are to provoke one another to love, according to Hebrews 10:24. Yahweh needs no provoking to love, only to anger. We need no provoking to anger, only to love.” (pp 148-149)
“The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is. This is hard work. It takes a lot of sermons and a lot of suffering to believe that God’s deepest heart is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger.’ The fall in Genesis 3 not only sent us into condemnation and exile. The fall also entrenched in our minds dark thoughts of God, thoughts that are only dug out over multiple exposures to the gospel over many years. Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory in your life today is not the sin in which you regularly indulge but the dark thoughts of God’s heart that cause you to go there in the first place and keep you cool toward him in the wake of it.” (pp. 151-152)
So… what do we do? How do we change those dark thoughts? We study a book like this one. We let someone take us deeper in scripture and show us the heart of God, of Jesus. The author ends his book with an epilogue that sums up our next step— “But there is one thing for us to do. Jesus says it in Matthew 11:28. ‘Come to me.’ Why do we not do this?…That which keeps men off is, that they know not Christ’s mind and heart…” (p. 215)
Here is the final paragraphs of the epilogue: “Whatever is crumbling all around you in your life, wherever you feel stuck, this remains, un-deflectable: his heart for you, the real you, is gentle and lowly. So go to him. That place in your life where you feel most defeated, he is there; he lives there, right there, and his heart for you, not on the other side of it but in that darkness, is gentle and lowly. Your anguish is his home. Go to him. ‘If you knew his heart, you would.'” (p. 216)
So get the book. Learn from Dane Ortlund’s study of the heart of Jesus. Learn what God’s heart looks and feels like as he turns His love toward you—
“… God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Great review Jane!
Thanks for the detailed review. Appreciate your time and efforts on this.