Sometimes, because Matthew 11:29 has been translated with Jesus as “meek and mild,” some people may get the idea that he was “soft” or a “pushover.” Nothing could be further from the truth: meekness is not cowardice; rather, it is trusting in God for courage. Jesus is “gentle and humble,” and he does not often need to display his immense power. We do see some of it when he drove the money changers out of the temple, rebuked the Pharisees, walked on the water, stopped a storm, raised Lazarus, and even scolded his own disciples. He will do whatever is necessary to accomplish the will of the Father.
Dane Ortlund helps us understand the nature of Christ in his book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart for Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Ortlund, who is a Presbyterian pastor, takes a special interest in showing how Pilgrim writers, especially Thomas Goodwin, told us who God actually is. Throughout the book, Ortlund uses the metaphor “the heart of God/Christ” to point out the eternal presence and longing of God to help us.
Ortlund says that his book is “for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty,” or, in other words “for normal Christians.” God’s “very heart” is for us (Matthew 11:28-30) and the “heart” is the central part (in our culture) of who we are. Because he is “gentle and lowly” he is accessible, and we can come to him--he does not cringe at our sinfulness.
The heart of Christ is evident in the stories of his compassion, something that “pours out of him naturally,” and although he is in heaven, he is not far from us. It is remarkable that he finds joy in expressing this compassion and acting upon it. Sometimes I had to read and reflect carefully on what Ortlund writes. For example, “he is comforted when you draw from the riches of his atoning work because his own body is getting healed.” In other words, because we are part of him our healing is his as well.
God sympathizes with us “like a doctor who has endured the same disease” and “knows what it is to be thirsty, hungry, despised, rejected, scorned, shamed, embarrassed, abandoned, misunderstood, falsely accused, suffocated, tortured, and killed.” That is quite a list and is meant to include our deepest feelings.
Despite our sinfulness, God deals with us “gently” because he knows how deeply sin has penetrated our lives. Ortlund dwells on this by noting Bunyan’s comment that we will “in no wise” be cast out.
Our sins result in an outpouring of God’s grace, which is “not how the world around us works.” It is not even how our own hearts work, but God sets the terms on how deeply he loves us. There is no stopping him because he loves us “to the uttermost.”
Ortlund also points out that Christ is our advocate (based on 1 John 2.1) and this has been especially meaningful to me. When Joice was being treated at MD Anderson for cancer, we were assigned an “advocate,” a person to “stand with us” and maneuver us through the winding halls of bureaucracy. We needed that help, just as we need Christ to stand up for us and make us acceptable to God.
Jesus, like us, showed his emotions. Ortlund reminds us that “He became a man and always will be.” Although he is also divine, he went to heaven with his full humanity. When he resurrected Lazarus, his humanity showed clearly how he felt about death, and he was not pleased with it.
Jesus is also our friend, a “tender friend” and those he befriended included tax collectors and sinners. The stories showed that “he enjoys spending time with them.” Although this relationship alone is wonderful, we also have the Holy Spirit, who replaces sorrow with joy, filling our hearts with it. The Spirit continues to help us “as we continue through sin, folly, or boredom to drift from the felt experience of his heart.”
God is the Father of mercies, in which he naturally delights, because “For God to be merciful is for God to be God.” He is also slow to anger and “His mercies travel down a thousand generations.”
God’s mercies may seem difficult for us to understand at times because “his ways are not our ways” and “[e]ven the most intense of human love is but the faintest echo of heaven’s cascading abundance.” Again, this seems difficult to understand because it is so different than human love. He is rich in mercy, not according to some law but because that is his nature. And the wonder of wonders is that he will love us to the end of our lives, the same way he did until the end of his earthly life on the cross.
Ortlund’s book ends by speaking clearly about the intense love that God has for his people. It is also a fitting ending because as we come to the end of our earthly lives, we have a promise that is secure--we will be in heaven, drawn and kept there by his mercies and love.