Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020) takes us into the core of Christ’s teachings to reveal the boundless mercy and grace of God’s heart. By diving into scripture and the teachings of the Puritans, this title reassures those who have strayed from Christ of the miracle of his radical love.
Introduction: Patience, compassion, and faithfulness.
Table of Contents
Do you ever wonder what the heart of Jesus is like? Whether he’s wrathful and punishing, for instance, or if his heart expansive and understanding? Is he a titanically terrifying sovereign, or a kindly friend whose embrace is a place of nourishment and rest?
For those who are weary and in dire need of rest, for those who are bereaved and in need of comfort, for those who have failed, sinned, and feel laden with stress, this summary is for you to learn more about how, and how much, God cares and gives strength, mercy, and graceful rest.
We are not the first or the wisest to read the Bible and extrapolate who God and Jesus are. Among the readers, thinkers, and teachers of Christ were the Puritans of 1600s England, whose interpretations of God’s source text reflect on the nature of Jesus with particular acuity and insight.
This summary will integrate biblical scriptures from prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, apostles Peter, Paul, and John, together with the interpretations of Puritan theologians, to consider the heart of God. The guiding question is a consideration of who he is. Here, we approach this inquiry as we would a multifaceted jewel — unable to be distilled into a singular angle, our reading analyzes his heart from variegated points of view.
What’s in his heart?
Over the course of the eighty-nine chapters that comprise Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Bible recounts in detail the elements of Jesus’s birth, his teaching and ministry, his travels and habits, his followers, his arrest, his death, and his resurrection. Yet astonishingly, we’re given only one scripture that describes his heart.
Think about it like this: you’re describing the wonderful woman or man you’ve married to a friend. You tell them about their eating habits, their day-to-day routine, what they do for work, and his birthplace and family. But would you really be describing your partner’s soul by doing so?
Let’s take a look at what we’re given, then, to describe the heart of Jesus. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
What this says is that Jesus’s heart is not reactive, finger-pointing, or harsh, but rather, humble, understanding, and tender. Let’s look at the three other instances in the New Testament in which the word “gentle” appears for more context: first, in Matthew 5:5, which declares that “the meek” will inherit the earth; second, in Matthew 21:5 (quoting Zechariah 9:9), which foresees that Jesus “is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey”; and finally, in Peter’s emphasis that it is above all essential to nourish “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).
What about “lowly”? Though most often translated into “humble” in the New Testament (as in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”), we ought to consider humility not in the sense of a virtue, but rather as the humility that comes from suffering adverse circumstances. The Old Testament also uses the original Greek word for “lowly” in this application, as in Luke 1:52, in which Mary, while pregnant with Jesus, sings to God: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted them of low degree.” In Romans 12:16, Paul advises us to “not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”
In other words, his gentle and lowly heart reserves his loyalty, devotion, and love not for those who are impressive, well appointed, or powerful, but for those who have sinned, failed, disappointed, and suffered—those with wounds and those who feel broken. He does not wish to punish or discipline, but rather to radiate love, patience, and healing to those who feel they have no more strength or resources to carry on or forge a new path.
Our lives will not be free from challenges and loss, but when such hardships do arise, and with them our insecurities, doubts, and anxieties, his gentle heart will welcome you all the more.
Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose
The thing about human nature is that we often project our own insecurities, limitations, and (mis)understandings of how the world operates onto others. Under human logic, the more resources someone has, the more we think they will condescend to the poor; the more gorgeous someone is, the more we think they will be unnerved by the ugly.
But what does Jesus do when the leper comes to him and asks him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”? Instead of recoiling, he extends himself towards him to touch him and responds, “I will; be clean” (Matthew 8:2-3). The word “will” in these passages denotes “wish” or “desire.” In Jesus’ response of reaching out and healing him, he shows us his heart.
Christ’s compassion radiates through his actions and ministry in countless examples from the Bible. He cures (“and he had compassion on them and healed their sick,” Matthew 14:14), feeds the hungry (“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me
now three days and have nothing to eat,” Matthew 15:32), shares his wisdom (“he had compassion on them . . . and he began to teach them many things,” Mark 6:34), and comforts (“and he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep,’” Luke 7:13).
“Compassion” in the Greek literally denotes the intestines, the guts, of a person, to refer to that which rises up from a person’s deepest core. Jesus’ innermost heart, then, shines out with compassion.
The Gospels recount two instances in which Jesus wept. In both cases, it was not for his own sorrow or hardship that he broke down, but rather the suffering of others: first, in the case of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and second, for his deceased friend, Lazarus (John 11:35). What brought him the deepest anguish was the anguish of others, and what brought him to weep was the heartbreak of others.
One way of considering the New Testament’s testimony of Christ’s heart is in comparison to the Old Testament’s symbolism of the clean versus unclean. Here, we are referring not to literal hygiene, but rather to moral purity and cleanliness. The antidote for uncleanliness is not to take a bath, but instead to offer a sacrifice (Leviticus 5:6), and the problem is not dirt and grime, but the feelings of guilt (Leviticus 5:3). Within this framework, when a dirty person encounters a clean person, the latter becomes unclean by contact—like a disease, moral dirtiness is infectious.
So what does this say about Christ, whose natural instinct when confronted with the fallenness, sin, and suffering of the world is to move towards it, rather than away from it?
For a being to consistently move towards the filth of the world and remain a spring of healing and refuge, one must indeed have a heart of gold.
“Your ways are not my ways.”
If you’ve ever received a gift and guiltily wondered how you would repay the gifter, you may have some qualms about the gift of God’s love. How could you possibly repay someone who is said to have died on the cross for your sins?
The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann has written that, while we think of miracles as ruptures within the natural earthly order, they are in fact a repair to the divine patterns of God. We live in a fallen world so permeated by war, disease, and death that they feel natural, but in fact it is the synchronicities of miracles that speak to how the world was originally conceived by God.
John Calvin, the French theologian who pioneered Christian concepts and doctrines such as God’s absolute sovereignty and divine providence, wrote that the verse, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8) as highlighting the chasm between the dispositions, values, and judgments between ourselves and of God. Our human nature naturally tends toward a logic of you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours—that is, tit for tat, for better or worse. It’s a utilitarian logic that is founded on a survival mechanism and preference for balance and order, but it is also shadowed by man’s fall into spiritual impoverishment. In other words, we respond to the divine grace and generosity of God with our own fallible logic.
Imagine a generous father giving his six-year-old daughter a priceless, exquisitely handcrafted dollhouse for her birthday, and she immediately reaches for and tries to pay him back with the loose change in her piggy back. Do you think he would feel grateful? Quite the opposite—the father is likely to feel sad and pained; the child’s limited view of her father’s delight in giving to her makes it difficult for her to be fully receptive, and thus dampens his joy.
Given the distance that exists between the earthly and heavenly realm, we are inclined to assume that God operates within the same human logic of petty jealousy, envy, anger, and greed that we often fall prey to. But in fact, the Bible clearly states that in terms of the heart, God’s is one that might be considered a photo negative of ours—it is one overflowing with affection, compassion, and tenderness that has the profound power to forgive, redeem, and renew.
How he loves
Imagine a kind-hearted billionaire doctor, well stocked with unlimited medical supplies, treatments, medicine, and antibiotics, travels to his home country which has become a war zone to provide emergency medical care. He seeks no material compensation and has enough resources to care for his fellow countrymen in a devastated conflict zone where he himself originated and still has family members. Imagine that most everyone refuses to accept his care; they are too proud, too stubborn, or too independent to accept help from him and his charity.
At last, a few stragglers in desperate need of medical attention mobilize the courage to defy the others and approach the doctor for free treatment. How would the doctor feel?
Happiness and joy. Providing care was his only wish and the sole reason he had risked his life to come to the conflict-ravaged nation.
Can you see the parallel to the divine rescue mission of Jesus? While we find it difficult to believe, his radical love has no endpoint; its horizon extends into infinity. As theologian Jonathan Edwards remarked, his is “an ocean without shores or bottom.” Like God, his love is boundless and without expiration. In Paul the Apostle’s words, his love extends across an interminable “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18).
What are the prerequisites to bask in the rays of this love?
There are none.
How about hoops?
Remember this: True love doesn’t smother, trap, or cage you. Quite the opposite: love frees.
In Matthew 11:28, we find that the qualifications for walking with God are “all who labor and are heavy laden.” Not only is it untrue that you must perfect yourself before approaching him; it is in fact your very suffering and pain that invites you to him. The simplicity of this message is remarkable: the bar minimum for you to be embraced by Jesus is simply to open your heart to him. This is the only gift he will accept.
The invitation into Jesus’s heart is not a now-or-never situation. To land the best seat in the house of God, all you have to do is to show up and trust that he will do the rest. If you’re late, no problem, he won’t deny or punish you. If you want the most indulgent meal in heaven, don’t worry, he’ll pick up the check. We can arrive as anguished, broken vessels, and he will show up gentle and lowly.
In this summary to Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, you’ve learned that Jesus’s mercy and grace are not bargaining chips to be wielded and withdrawn; they are the only ways that his heart operates. Approaching him with our heavy hearts does not exhaust or deplete him; on the contrary, his heart is filled when we go towards his light.
Perhaps you remain troubled or unconvinced that your wayward path would offend him, but rest assured that if you are thinking of him, you are already with him.
“Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” by Dane C. Ortlund is a powerful and poignant book that delves into the often-overlooked aspects of Jesus’ character, revealing a tender and compassionate Savior who understands the struggles of humanity. Ortlund, a pastor and theologian, offers a fresh perspective on the Christian faith by exploring the depths of Christ’s gentleness and humility, and how these qualities are relevant to our lives today.
The book is divided into four parts, each addressing a different aspect of Christ’s gentle heart. The first part, “The Gentle Heart of God,” lays the groundwork for the rest of the book by examining the biblical foundation of Jesus’ gentleness and how it differs from the common perception of a vengeful, angry God. Ortlund skillfully weaves together scriptural references and personal anecdotes to paint a vivid picture of a loving God who desires a personal relationship with each of us.
In the second part, “The Lowly Heart of Christ,” Ortlund delves deeper into the nature of Jesus’ humility, highlighting how He willingly took on the form of a servant and endured the suffering of the cross for our salvation. The author poignantly illustrates how Christ’s humility serves as a model for believers, challenging us to adopt an attitude of selflessness and meekness in our daily lives.
The third part, “The Heart of Christ for Sinners,” addresses the often-contentious topic of sin and how Jesus’ gentle heart intersects with our shortcomings. Ortlund offers a message of hope and redemption, emphasizing that Christ’s love and forgiveness are not limited to those who have led “good” lives, but are available to all who seek Him. This section is particularly comforting to those who have struggled with feelings of inadequacy or guilt, as it underscores the idea that Jesus’ grace is sufficient for all, regardless of our past mistakes.
The final part, “The Heart of Christ for Sufferers,” provides solace to those who are enduring difficult times, reminding us that Jesus is not only aware of our pain but also intimately acquainted with it. Ortlund shares personal experiences of suffering and loss, highlighting how Christ’s gentle heart can bring comfort and strength to those who are struggling. This section is a powerful reminder that our struggles are not in vain and that Christ is always present, even in the darkest of times.
Throughout the book, Ortlund’s writing is accessible, engaging, and saturated with Scripture. He seamlessly weaves together biblical references, personal anecdotes, and historical accounts to create a cohesive and compelling narrative. The author’s use of language is both poetic and powerful, making the book an enjoyable and moving read.
One of the strengths of “Gentle and Lowly” is its emphasis on the practical application of Christ’s gentleness in our daily lives. Ortlund offers helpful guidance on how to cultivate a heart of gentleness, humility, and compassion, encouraging readers to emulate Christ’s love in their interactions with others. This is a book that can be read and re-read, with new insights and applications discovered each time.
In conclusion, “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” is a beautiful and insightful work that will resonate with readers from various walks of life. Dane C. Ortlund’s writing is thoughtful, engaging, and inspiring, making this book a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Christ’s character and how it relates to our lives. It is a powerful reminder that the heart of Christ is not just a theological concept but a living, breathing reality that can transform our lives and our relationships with others.
I wholeheartedly recommend “Gentle and Lowly” to anyone seeking a fresh perspective on the Christian faith, or simply looking for a reminder of God’s enduring love and grace. This book has the potential to change the way we view Jesus and our relationship with Him, inspiring us to embrace His gentle heart and emulate His love in our daily lives.