Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a great little book called Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund It’s had a profound impact on me (I started a daily reading of each chapter of this book – you can access them from our Church YouTube channel here). I began thinking, how many of God’s people know how Christ feels toward them, when they are doing poorly?
It’s one thing to know he died and rose for you. It’s another to know his heart toward you, in your weakness and sorrows and sufferings. Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher said that nothing attracts the heart of men than Jesus himself. “Preach the loving heart of Jesus,” he said. “Go to the centre of the subject, and set forth his very soul, his inmost self, and then it may be that the heart of Jesus will draw the hearts of men.”
That’s exactly what I decided to do. The result was a series of messages on plumbing the depths of Christ’s love and tenderness toward his own. This is a summary of the first of those messages.
We begin with what I call the flagship passage on the subject: Matthew 11:28-30:
“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)
Jesus is addressing people who were in a religious system of works. The religious leaders of the day – the Pharisees and Scribes, had placed people under a burden of regulations and duties which were impossible to fulfil. This locked them in an endless cycle of guilt and shame of performance-based religion. It left them tired, anxious, burdened and weighed down. It was a yoke they could not bear.
Jesus is offering a better, easier yoke than the religious system they were under. He is saying in effect, “My yoke is not like their yoke. My yoke is easy. It does not rub your neck and shoulders. It does not weigh you down.” And then, by way of an incentive, he says, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” The Greek word translated “gentle” can also be translated as humble, considerate, meek, and kind.
Those are the words that describe the heart of Jesus toward sinners and sufferers. Not a heart that is harsh, demeaning and easily provoked. Not a heart that is belittling, patronising, or condescending. We all know people like that. You might have to work for a person like that. They are not the type we are likely to open up to or be vulnerable with. We are not likely to share our concerns or burdens with them. We tend to stay very guarded with such people.
Jesus is not like that. He is gentle and lowly in heart.
And this isn’t the way he occasionally acts towards us when he feels like it or when he’s in the right mood. These terms describe who he is. It is his heart.
Let’s have a look at that heart in action. In Matthew chapter 8 Jesus has just finished with the Sermon on the Mount; he’s walking down the mountain and there’s a huge crowd following him and a man with leprosy approached him. Leprosy is a horrid disease of which there was no cure. It sentenced people to a living death; your skin literally rots away. It was highly contagious (a little like the covid delta variant today) and ostracised you from society, rendering you ritually unclean. What’s more, anyone who touches a leper becomes unclean also. Michael Green, in his commentary on Matthew, writes,
Never has there been a condition that so illustrated the spiritual condition of humankind. For sin is a terrible disease that separates us from our fellows and from God; it spreads, and it is fatal.
This poor leper comes and kneels before Jesus and says, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Note there is no question in the man’s mind as to the ability of Jesus to heal, only his willingness. So it is with us. We are certain Jesus is able to help us in our sin and weakness. But we often doubt his willingness. We read in verse 3:
“Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:3)
Now – there are two things going on here. First, Jesus makes clear he is willing. Second, he demonstrates that willingness with human touch. Jesus didn’t have to touch him to heal him. We see in many places elsewhere that Jesus heals simply with a word. In fact, the law prohibited him to touch him (Leviticus 5:3). Why? One would contract leprosy and likewise become unclean.
But here’s the difference between Jesus and any other man: the moment Jesus touches someone, instead of Jesus becoming unclean the person becomes clean. Instantly. Immediately. Do you see what this means? Jesus has no problem drawing near to you in your sinfulness and your sickness. You may feel dirty. You may feel unclean. You might think, “There’s no way Jesus would want to come near me – he might become contaminated.” That’s not possible. You can’t make Jesus unclean. He makes you clean. And so he has no hesitation in drawing near you to help and heal you. He is willing.
The truth is my friends: Jesus is more willing to draw to us than we are willing to draw near to him. Dane Ortlund writes in his book, Gentle and Lowly,
“The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about him, his deepest impulse, his most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it.”
Jesus was drawn to sinners. His compassion for them is what motivated and drove him. Further in Matthew’s gospel, we read:
When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
And so what does he do? He teaches them and heals their diseases. This is not some momentary emotional twinge in his heart, the likes of what we get when we see an emancipated child in Sudan or Somalia on our TV screens before we sip our cup of tea and chew on another biscuit. His compassion was deep and real and it moved him to act.
The word “compassion” we see here in this verse is the Greek word splanchnon which is the medical term for our intestines or guts. You know when you feel very deeply about something, there is a physical sensation deep in your body? That’s how Jesus feels toward humanity. And this compassion comes in waves over and over again in Christ’s ministry on earth.
There are many people here in our own context in New Zealand, who have been struggling with our last lockdown. Perhaps you’re one of them.
- You might be waiting on important medical treatment. You are anxious about that being put off. You fear the unknown. Jesus feels that with you. And he has compassion on you.
- Perhaps you have mental health issues. It’s hard enough coping with normal life – lockdown makes it even worse. You can’t work, you can’t get out, you’re trapped in the four walls of your home, and it does your head in. Jesus understands. He feels with you and for you.
- Some of you have family members and relatives who just aren’t coping well with this, and you are concerned and worried about them. Jesus feels that concern. He is with you.
- There are others whose loved ones have gone to be with Jesus, and they been living alone. That loneliness is intensified during lockdown. Jesus feels that loneliness. His heart is moved toward them.
Do you see how powerfully the truth of knowing the heart of Christ can minister to us?
How is it, when it seems so obvious from the Scriptures that Jesus has a heart of compassion for sinners, that we don’t personally experience that ourselves?
Here’s our problem: we have the exalted Jesus – all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing Jesus who sits at the Father’s right hand. He is the one whose name is above every name and before whom everyone will bow the knee and declare as Lord. He is the one as described in the book of Revelation, whose eyes are a flame of fire and whose voice is like the roar of many waters and whose face is like the sun shining in full strength. That is the Jesus we hold in fear and awe.
Then we have the human Jesus, who we read in the gospels was a friend of sinners, who healed the sick and encouraged the weak. But we don’t know how to merge the two. We think to ourselves, “Well, the human Jesus obviously isn’t here anymore; he’s gone. So we are left with the divine Jesus – the almighty King and Judge whose eyes are like a flame of fire.” And we figure that Jesus doesn’t have a lot of patience with weak and weary Christians – especially the repeat offenders.
That’s where we are wrong. Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The same Christ who reached out to touch the leper reaches out to touch us today. The same Christ who wept at the tomb of Lazarus weeps with us in our lonely despair today. The Jesus who reached out and cleansed messy sinners reaches into our souls and helps us in our confusion today.
As we go into this next week, I would encourage you to do this: let the heart of Jesus draw you to him. Delve into the Scriptures and see his love for sinners and sufferers. Say to yourself, “he has the same heart toward me.” Allow yourself to be allured, entranced, and enthralled by this reality. And you will find it will have the effect of not only consoling you but transforming you.
If you would like to view the message I gave on this post you can view it here (message begins 6 mins in)
 A yoke was a wooden collar that ran across the shoulders of a pair of oxen and enabled them jointly to pull enormous weights.