“Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16–17).
It’s a stunning glimpse of divine judgment. A sixth seal is opened. The earth quakes, the sun goes dark, the moon turns to blood. Stars fall, and the sky is rolled back like a scroll. The earth’s kings and “the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful . . . hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (Rev. 6:15). So terrified are they at “the wrath of the Lamb” that they call to the mountains and rocks to fall on them. They would rather be crushed to death than to face omnipotent wrath.
Did you do the double take? Excuse me, “the wrath of the Lamb”—the Lamb being Jesus Christ? How’s that? We know Christ to be gentle, meek and mild. Who would cower before him like this? Before God the Father, of course, we expect that. But Jesus?
Those of us who love that he is gentle and lowly need not be afraid to rehearse that his wrath is horrific. To know the sovereign power and unmatched strength of Christ—and the sheer terror of those who realize they have opposed him—will both keep us from misunderstanding his gentleness and make his remarkable gentleness all the more impressive.
Gentle and Lowly
We dare not minimize the portrait of Christ in Matthew 11:28–30 simply because many are at home with this emphasis today. This is a penetrating self-revelation from Christ himself—and all the more if he is sovereign and strong, and his wrath is terrifying:
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. (Matt. 11:28–30)
It’s no accident that these words have been greatly celebrated. Such an invitation, from such a person, is precious beyond words.
And his gentleness toward his people is all the sweeter as we learn what sovereign strength lies beneath it. His gentleness doesn’t replace his sovereign strength; rather, it cushions the application of his great power as he marshals it in service of his weak people.
In a day when we seem increasingly aware of the danger of other people’s power and strength, it’s vital that we see this in Jesus, and throughout Scripture. The answer to the dangers of strength isn’t its loss, but the godly exercise of power in gaining the Christian virtue called gentleness.
Take rain, for instance. Hard rain destroys life, but “gentle rain” gives life (Deut. 32:2). Violent rain does harm, not good. The farmer prays not for weak rain, or no rain, but for gentle rain. The means of delivery is important. We need water (to support and give life) delivered gently, not destructively and not too meagerly. Gentle doesn’t mean feebly but appropriately—giving, not taking, life.
The answer to the dangers of strength isn’t its loss, but the godly exercise of power, in gaining the Christian virtue called gentleness.
So also, “a gentle tongue is a tree of life” (Prov. 15:4). Gentle doesn’t mean weak but fittingly strong, with life-giving restraint—giving something good not in a flood but in due measure. Or consider wind for sailing. A gently blowing wind answers a sailor’s prayer (Acts 27:13), while a violent wind spells trouble (Acts 27:18).
In the Old Testament, the virtue of gentleness is best seen in God himself, who “comes with might” (Isa. 40:10). How does he wield this “might” toward his people? Next verse: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11). Violence is the destructive use of strength (Isa. 22:17); gentleness its life-giving exercise.
Strongest Men Are Gentle
When the apostle Peter contrasts good power with bad, just rulers with unjust, he describes noble leaders as “good and gentle” (1 Pet. 2:18). This is no celebration of puniness. The opposite of a crooked master isn’t a weak one—who wants the protection of a weak lord?—but “good and gentle.” We want gentle leaders, not weak ones.
We want leaders with strength and power not used against us but wielded for us. Which is what makes the image of a shepherd so fitting, and timeless, in both the Old and New Testaments. Sheep are manifestly weak and vulnerable. So they need shepherds who are good and will use their power to help them, not use and abuse them. We need strength in our shepherds, with the added virtue of gentleness.
Weak men are often preoccupied with feigning and talking about their strength. Truly strong men give their energy and attention not to parading their strength but to demonstrating gentleness to those in their care. They’re able to rightly exercise their manifest power for others’ good. Insecure men flex and threaten. Men who are secure in their strength, and the strength of their Lord, aren’t only willing but eager to let their gentleness show (James 3:13), and even be known to all (Phil. 4:5).
Weak men are often preoccupied with feigning and talking about their strength. Truly strong men give their energy and attention not to parading their strength but to demonstrating gentleness to those in their care.
It should be no surprise, then, that Christ requires such of the leaders in his church (1 Tim. 3:3). Gentleness isn’t optional but essential in Christian leadership. “As for you, O man of God, . . . pursue . . . gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). True gentleness in the pastors not only gives life to the flock but also models for the flock how it can give life to the world (Titus 3:1–2). How different might our discourse have been in 2020 if our strongest voices had been gentle?
In the end—whether as congregants or pastors, whether as men or as women, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, bosses or employees—genuine biblical gentleness is formed and filled by God himself in Christ. When we admire his gentleness, we don’t celebrate that he is weak. Rather, as his feeble sheep, we enjoy that not only is our Shepherd infinitely strong, but he is all the more admirable because he knows how to wield his power in ways that give life to, rather than suffocate, his beloved.
Mighty and meek, Christ came not as a domineering and abusive King but as a good and gentle Lord. He descended gently into our world in Bethlehem, grew in wisdom and stature in Nazareth, taught with toughness and tenderness in Galilee, and rode into Jerusalem “humble, and mounted on a donkey” (Matt. 21:5) to lay down his life.
Mighty and meek, Christ came not as a domineering and abusive King but as a good and gentle Lord.
And he summons us still today with the invitation that takes nothing from his power, but only adds to what makes him remarkable: “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” So, we, like the apostle Paul, both receive and also seek to imitate “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1).
Admire His Mercy—and Might
The day is coming when the wicked would far rather quietly pass out of existence than stand before the omnipotent Christ they’ve scorned and rejected. His sheer strength and power will terrify them. But not so for his people. We’ll love his strength and admire his power.
We’ll glory that he has made us his own and wields all authority in heaven and on earth for our deep and enduring joy—and he will lavish it on us forever in the life-giving proportions of true gentleness.