Welcome to 2021. For Christmas, Paula gave me Dane Ortlund's wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly. I've been enjoying it very much and commend it to your 2021 reading list.
How Would Jesus Describe Himself?
The book's title is borrowed from Matthew 11:29, where Jesus describes himself (the only time he does in the Bible) as "Gentle and Lowly in heart."
Essentially, this is a book that attempts to mull one level below the overt words of the Scriptures. For example, where the Bible might say "Jesus healed the blind man," Ortlund would slowly ponder what this reveals about the heart of Jesus. What is he like? When Jesus thinks of me, how does his heart incline or feel toward me? In Ortlund's words:
"[This book is] not focusing centrally on what Christ has done. We are considering who he is."
When pondering Jesus as Gentle, Ortlund offers:
"Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms."
And when musing over Jesus as Lowly, Ortlund adds:
"The point in saying Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable that Jesus Christ. No prerequisites. No hoops to jump through ... the minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with."
"Gentle and lowly. This, according to his own testimony, is Christ's very heart. This is who he is. Tender. Open. Welcoming. Accommodating. Understanding. Willing. If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we would be honoring Jesus's own teaching if our answer is, gentle and lowly. If Jesus hosted his own personal website, the most prominent line of the "About Me" dropdown would read: Gentle and Lowly in Heart."
The Heart of Jesus
You and I can read the Bible and walk away unmoved. Or we can ponder one layer deeper and discover Jesus' heart for us is so compelling, caring, and undeserved that tears fill our eyes. A surprising cataract of love sweeps over our souls.
This morning I pondered Luke 1-4, asking: "What do these chapters tell me about the heart of Jesus?" These seven drench my soul:
1. Jesus' heart is to be near his Father and consider his Father's words.
As a boy of 12, Jesus briefly separated from his parents, staying behind in Jerusalem after the Passover. No doubt, Mary and Joseph were worried sick. What was Jesus doing? He was near his Father in the Temple Courts, discussing the Scriptures with the teachers of the Law (Luke 2:41-52). If Jesus, the Son of God, longed to be near his Father and his Father's words, might I also benefit by asking for a similar longing? Give me your heart, Lord Jesus.
2. Jesus' heart is to be alone with his Father.
Before beginning his three-year ministry, Jesus' heart was drawn to be alone with his Father in the wilderness. For 40 days he fasted and meditated. When Satan attempted to get Jesus off-mission, Jesus’ heart was resolved to obey the Scriptures. He consistently responded, “It is written...” God’s Word dominated his heart. (Luke 4:1-13). Give me your heart, Lord Jesus.
3. Jesus' heart is inclined toward the poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed (literal and figurative).
His heart really is for the hurting. To the degree I am "poor, imprisoned, blind or oppressed," Jesus is inclined toward healing my wounds. This is what he said in Luke 4:14-21, when introducing his ministry to the people. Lord Jesus, where I am poor, imprisoned, blind, or oppressed, heal my heart.
4. Jesus' heart is to help people deal with reality more than preserve his reputation.
Jesus says some hard things to the townsfolk of Nazareth, which infuriated them (Luke 4:22-30). Why? Because he cared more about them than about his reputation or likeability. Which begs the question: how important is it to me that others think well of me, respect me, or say nice things about me when I'm not around? Jesus' heart is bigger and more loving than mine. Lord Jesus, love me so much that you'll keep saying the hard things to me, the things I want to ignore but dare not.
5. Jesus' heart is to set captives free.
In a Capernaum synagogue, Jesus’ heart was moved to unchain a man imprisoned in his own body (by a demon). Like King Théoden in the Lord of the Rings, this man was oppressed and controlled by an outside evil. Jesus’ heart is to set people free! (Luke 4:31-37). Is it possible our thinking is similarly clouded, consumed with the tangible here-and-now, driven by the cynical spirit of our times? Are we in desperate need of God's perspective? If so, take heart: Jesus wants to set us free. May your beautiful heart set my heart free, Lord Jesus.
(If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, this YouTube video will satisfy your soul.)
6. Jesus' heart is to heal broken people's physical and spiritual maladies.
In Capernaum, Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law (of a fever). Next, the town shows up with afflicted people, both medically and spiritually, and Jesus heals them (Luke 4:38-41). This begs the question: what are the debilitating needs of your/my heart that need healing? Sometimes people are healed instantly while others suffer for decades (e.g. the woman bent over for 18 years or the man blind for 38 years). Whether short or long, Jesus' heart is to return us to wholeness, even if we must wait for our resurrection body on the New Earth to come. Jesus, thank you that you long to heal my physical and spiritual disorders.
7. Finally, Jesus' heart is to tell the world about his kingdom.
After a super-busy day in Capernaum (healing the sick and casting out demons), Jesus awakes before sunrise to be alone with his Father. When his disciples find him, he declares they must move on (despite his popularity in Capernaum) so other towns can hear about him. Jesus' heart is that the whole world would hear of his kingdom. Do our hearts simultaneously long to 1. be alone with God and 2. tell the world about the unfathomably great news we've experienced? Is it possible that #1 might lead to #2? Lord Jesus, may your heart overwhelm my heart.
The Heart of Jesus, for his own. Better than we imagine. Lord Jesus, take the scales from our eyes, that we may see your heart for us. Amen.