Speaking at TGC’s 2021 National Conference, Dane Ortlund delivered a message titled “Gentle Savior, Gentle Shepherd.” He addressed a common insufficiency many believers—and church leaders specifically—possess when it comes to really knowing Christ.
Through four Old Testament passages, Ortlund outlined the gracious, merciful, compassionate character of God that “rolled out the red carpet and constructed a perfectly fitted throne” for the King who would appear in the New Testament to inhabit it.
Understanding the character of God throughout the Scriptures sets the stage for knowing how Christ approaches us, Ortlund taught, and how church leaders should approach those under their care.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Dane Ortlund: Father in heaven, we ask that you would do simply nothing other than what you most love doing, by your spirit. comforting, consoling, healing, helping delivering your blood bought children. By giving us the experience Jobe talked about at the end of his life when he said, I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear. But now my eye has seen you, that’s what we want.
So that’s what we pray for now, in this brief time together, and for this week together, in Christ’s name, amen. If you have a Bible nearby, you’re going to want to keep that handy. And we’re going to flip around, look at a couple of passages. Together the verse I want to remind you of as we begin, here is john 14, nine. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long? And you still do not know me, Philip. Wow.
Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long? And you still don’t know me? Phil, that’s a frightening verse. Three years, listening to him, watching him heal people raise the dead, feed the 1000s. And Jesus looks him in the eye at the end of that three year period and says, You don’t know me yet? Not really, you’re still fundamentally misguided. I wonder you guys if we can make the same mistake today?
I think we can. I think I have. Be a faithful born again. Church involved? praying Bible reading, leading Christian. And Jesus comes to us at the end of many years and says, Have I been with you so long? And you still don’t know me? Actually, I think that was true of me. Many, perhaps in many ways, it still is the nature of blind spots is you don’t know what they are. But if I go back, say 10 years, I’m 42. If I go back, think about the 32 year old Dane year out of PhD books and articles seminary trained I could pass a Nicene orthodoxy exam in my sleep.
But in terms of Jesus himself, who he really is, most deeply, my darts were all over the dartboard except on the bull’s eye. You could pick your metaphor and decaffeinated Christ, a junior varsity Christ, a shell of the actual a D glorified, Jesus Christ, a Jesus on my terms, that I was projecting out as a bigger, nicer smiley or version of me, not a Jesus, for whom my ongoing sins and sufferings, draw him in all the deeper. I didn’t know about that. And the whole purpose of this breakout is might there be regions vast tracts of land, so to speak, to the real Bible, New Testament, currently living Jesus Christ that we haven’t discovered, seen yet when Columbus showed up.
He called the Caribbean islands, the Indies, thinking he had gotten to Asia, not knowing there was this entire continent between him and where he thought he had arrived. Might we make the same mistake with regard to the living Christ, vast tracts of land, vast regions to discover? And here’s the one thing that I want to say to you today, I have one point. We’re gonna look at few Bible passages, but let me just tell you right up front, here’s what I want to commend to you. I want you to wrestle with and ask, Do you believe this? Is this if we don’t know Jesus Christ as gentle animal lowly, his own claim. If we don’t know him supremely centrally, as gentle, and lowly, we don’t know him at all. Because he said that’s what his heart is.
If I knew my wife is, as she is five foot four esfp Wheaton grad math major mother of five grew up in Connecticut, but I didn’t know her heart. You could justly say to me, I don’t know my wife at all. I know her only at the barest surface level the way I know Ilan Musk, by reading his Wikipedia page, just the the raw data. What I’m not saying to you, is that we need to integrate Matthew 1129, gentle and lowly Christ into our pre existing view of Jesus, I’m saying, All else we know about him emanates from that nuclear Corps. Gentle lowliness in the same way that your heart and mine is a fountain for everything you and I are doing.
If your heart was set on playing in the NFL, and outsider might see all your workouts, your strict diet, your protein shakes your daily weigh in your calls with the agent, your time spent on espn.com your workouts on the field, you’re studying tape. But all of that would be cosmetic to what your heart is, which is directing at all. And Jesus said, in the one place in all four gospels, about 90 chapters of the Bible in the one place, he tells us what his heart is directing all that he did, gentle, and lowly. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, as the most tender, non abrasive, non manipulative person in the universe, you don’t know him at all. Gentle. If you don’t know him as the most accessible, approachable person in the universe, you don’t know him at all, lowly, you don’t have to take a ticket and get in line you’re never put on hold.
You don’t have to do what I tell my kids to do. When it’s dentists, they go into the bathroom and scrub your teeth really good to make it look like they’re cleaner than they are when you approach him. So what I’d like to do is just very briefly, Oh, we don’t have time to go into these, like we need to, but we’re gonna look very briefly at four passages in the Old Testament, and then I just want to close with a little application. What does this mean for us at this kind of event? in ministry leadership, as we go back to our homes and churches, but before we get to those old testament texts, let me just remind you of that one glorious, controlling passage of the book that I was asked to come and talk to you all about Matthew 1128, through 30.
This is the we will die one day, never having exhausted this. 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. Crest OS my yoke is kind is how that word is at times translated in the New Testament. And my burden is light. As I say Spurgeon reminds us this is the only place Jesus opens up himself and says, This is what his heart is. And we know from the Bible, Old Testament and New your heart isn’t just the frothy part of you. The just the emotional part is not less than that.
But it’s more it’s your motivation. headquarters is why you do what you do. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s what you’re daydreaming about. It’s what you’re thinking about as you drift off to sleep at night, your heart. And if right off the bat friends, you are objecting and saying either in the book or in this talk. Then you’re taking one verse and putting way too much weight on it is one verse. You’re cherry picking. Selective my answer would be If we had Matthew 1129, and the rest of the four gospels were a Jesus who was like an aloof seminary Prof. dispensing wisdom dispassionately or a celebrity preacher whisked away to the green room untouchable, or a politician that you had to go through layers of security to get to. And I built a book on this one verse. Yes, you have a valid objection.
But what he says in Matthew 11, he is on every page of the four gospels, reaching out touching, embracing, weeping, defending, restoring, dignifying forgiving, healing, making broken people hold giving the shame to back their god image in glory. So I reject your objection that I’m cherry picking. Matthew 11 is simply the visible, didactic, wordy tip of this whole iceberg of his heart that we see in every chapter of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and john. And another answer to that objection that I’m cherry picking would be this text. Matthew 11 is flowing right out of major currents in the Old Testament.
So let’s briefly crisply just walk through four of them if we may, Exodus, chapter 34. And I’m deliberately you guys going to the old testament to debunk and fight against the stereotype that God is less grouchy in the New Testament. But rather, the Old Testament is flowing naturally, cleanly, with a perfect fitness right into Matthew 1129. The Old Testament is rolling out the red carpet, and constructing a perfectly fitted throne. And in the New Testament, the king comes and sits down in a perfectly fitting him, throne.
Exodus 34, five through eight, the Lord descended in the cloud, Exodus 34, five, and stood with him Moses there and proclaimed the name of the Lord, the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD, a god, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for 1000s, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and to worship that text, echoes of the language that is given there occurs about a dozen times throughout the Old Testament as you keep reading. It is the basic self description of God in the Old Testament, it’s his heart and the first thing out of God’s mouth, him setting the terms is merciful, and gracious. He says, slow to anger, not trigger happy, abounding. In steadfast love, it boils up and it can’t be contained. forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin Ctrl Shift a delete But who will by no means clear the guilty so he forgives sin but this is not because he’s morally mushy. This is not moral spinelessness. pushover Enos.
And then what maybe is really perplexing as we read this, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children to the third, and fourth generation, and we wonder is that God taking back everything that he just said about abounding in mercy? Is this like a divine bait and switch? Here’s who I am just kidding. No, he is the kind of God apparently whose judgment rolls down for generations, and whose mercy rolls down 1000 generations, which is how that phrase there in verse seven could be translated where you see keeping steadfast love for 1000s. In Deuteronomy in at least two places we hear of God’s steadfast love rolling down to the 1,000th generation, which doesn’t mean when he gets generation 1001, you’re out of luck. It’s a way of saying this is who he most deeply is.
Judgment rolls down a couple of generations, mercy never stops rolling down. That’s the kind of God he is. He’s not the God who goes into relationship with us with a prenup with an off ramp. Perfect divine commitment. Now, you might say, Dane, you’re just starting with this one passage here in the Old Testament, slow to anger. Sure, it says that here but you could point me to many passages where that God doesn’t seem to be that way. And I would just remind you, of this little insight that was pointed out to me, where we are told 42 times throughout the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and kings and Chronicles mainly and a few other places 42 times that God is provoked to anger. And never are we told he was provoked to love. His anger is there, but it requires provocation. We fall in people are the photo negative of that we need to be Hebrews 10 provoking one another to love.
Whereas anger is very natural to us. It’s certainly natural to me. God is the photo negative of that what is pent up what is gorged, ready to burst forth. His mercy as for anger, he is slow to anger has his number two, Isaiah 50 556 through nine Isaiah 55. Very just briefly quickly, seek the Lord while he may be found Isaiah 55 six call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Why? For my thoughts, that Hebrew word means devices, plans, intentions purposes, it’s not just a passing little mental cerebral thing, it’s what is in his heart.
Really, my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts and friends. Just notice as we pass through this passage, verses eight and nine. Have you not had people in your church? Maybe you have done it I have, quote you verses eight and nine, to explain God’s mysterious providential working in your life or the life of your church. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts, who knows what he’s doing. But actually in the place where that text occurs?
The whole point is to tell us that his compassion is on another plane. God’s ways and thoughts are not ours, in that we are so deeply subtly pervasively profoundly. intractably scorekeeping, law ish Galatians 310. For all who ESV rely on the works of the law, literally the Texas for all who are of works that are of this level. God’s heart is on another plane. He says in that passage, Isaiah 55 come to me because I’m not like you. My ways are not your ways. My ways are ways of compassion passage number three, Lamentations chapter three. laminations chapter three. I’ll pick it up at verse 27. But his verses 32 and 33 that I just want to briefly draw your attention to it is good Lamentations 327 for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth, let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust that there may be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever. But though he caused grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance that’s three for three in having this abounding or abundance language, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. Now get a load of This for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men just very briefly. You know, the the the verse numbers and chapter numbers in our Bibles are, for the most part, unhelpful. Once in a while, they’re very helpful.
And in Lamentations, if you just flip through and look there in your text, you can see that it’s five chapters long. This Hebrew poem 22, verses 22 versus 66, verses 20 to 22. A very carefully put together, poem. And at the very high point of that poem, chapter three, verse 33, the highest peak, the midpoint of this book, we have he does not afflict from his heart, the Hebrew poets were intensely careful in how they constructed their writings. And I think this is materially significant that that’s the middle verse of the book is a danger being a little weird.
Did you know In the Psalter, halfway through 150 Psalms, halfway through, if you count up all the Hebrew letters. Halfway through, it’s talking about a bore, you know, the vine, Psalm 80, is where it is the vine that God took out of Egypt, and planted in a bar from the forest from the yar has been ravaging the vine. And that word yar is the middle word. In the book of Psalms, and the Hebrew, scribes from earliest times, would raise little iron. That’s the middle letter of that three level letter word, forest to signify you are right now exactly halfway through the Psalter. They were highly, highly attuned to how these books of the Bible were put together. So what’s at the high point of Lamentations he afflicts you, but he doesn’t do it from his heart. What does he do from his heart? previous verse, verse 32, he will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love passage number four, Hosea chapter 11.
Verse one, when Israel was a child, his verses eight and nine, were driving out here, Hosea 11, when Israel was a child, I loved him. And out of Egypt, I called my son, the more they were called, the more they went away. to verse of my life, they kept sacrificing to the bales and burning offerings to idols, get it was I who just get out, look at the language here yet it was I who taught Ephraim, when God wants to speak in very doting. That’s not quite the right word, a deeply affectionate terms of his people, he calls them Ephraim. It was I who taught he freedom to walk, what an image. I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, the opposite of how we naturally instinctively in our fallen ways, think of God. He was one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. They shall not return to the land of Egypt.
But a Syria shall be their king. Because they have refused to return to me. The sword shall rage against their cities consume the bars of their gates and devour them because of their own councils, my people, so now it sounds like move in a different direction here. Hang on, my people are bent. Just settled hardness. They’re bent on turning away from me. He led them he picked them up, he bent down and fed them they didn’t know it was him who was healing them. They’re bent on turning away from me. And though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. Everything in US expects that to be the end of the story. Verse eight, how can I give you up? Oh II freedom. How can I hand you over? Oh, Israel.
How can I make you like od ma? How can I treat you like Zed boy eeen. You might say odd matzah boy what in the world you remember back in Genesis 14 when the four kings go out against the five and defeat them the Four Kings are Sodom, Gomorrah. Odd Ma, Zeb ye. That’s the kind of evil we’re talking about. How can I make you like odd ma? How can I treat you like Zeb? I am here it is my heart recoils within me my compassion grows warm and tender. conclusion, I will not execute my burning anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim, for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst. And I will not come in wrath, one little observation.
What does God’s holiness? What does God’s being God and not a man result in him doing? Not what I would expect. I am God and not a man like Isaiah 55 my ways are not yours, I’m not like you. If I were like you, the end of verse seven would be the end of the story. But I’m not like you, I am God and not a man, the Holy One, the Holy One in your midst, and I will. And I would not expect to see the word n o t. Right there, would you? I will not I’ve got not man. I’m the Holy One. Therefore, I will not come in wrath. That’s pretty astonishing. So I just want to remind you friends of those four Old Testament passages, which are major rivers, flowing into this lake, Matthew 1128, through 30. So what I’d like to do now is simply turn and pivot to ask the question, what does this mean for us who are in ministry who are involved in our churches?
Who cares? And what I’d like to say is the way a ministry leader approaches others, is how he believes he or she believes God approaches them. When you see a harsh leader, when you see a harsh pastor, I’m not talking about what they say. But the way they comport themselves, what their posture is towards other people, which you can smell pretty quickly.
When you see a harsh pastor, you are seeing what he believes God is most deeply like towards him. And when you see a gentle pastor, you are seeing what he believes God is most deeply like, toward him. This is all over the New Testament, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, treating others or not treating others the way we’ve been treated. The account of the woman who in Luke seven wipes Jesus’s feet with her hair. And the punchline is He who is forgiven little loves little, or the constant rhythm throughout Ephesians. How we are treated is how we treat others, the book length. Defense of that we treat others the way God treats us we turn into actually we become the way we think God is toward us, is Greg Beal we become what we worship. It’s a biblical theology of idolatry.
And there’s not really any pastoral appropriation for how we act as leaders. But that’s the biblical theological foundation for this common time making that your comportment towards sinners towards messy fickle failing up and down people in your church. And mine is the x ray, that shows everyone around us how we believe God comports himself, God approaches us we are not only preaching and teaching what God is with what we say, but also how God is with how we say, if you preach Christ angrily in a scolding way, in an impatient way, you can try to hide it but if you are impatient, people see it. Then you unsay with your tone what you have said with your words and the cause would be better off if you didn’t say anything at all.
Your person is more powerful than your words. I don’t remember anything really my seminary profs said I do remember the kind of men they were. And I am still drawing strength from that. 14 years after graduating Ephesians four, after all, that glorious gospel, deep, lofty theology in Ephesians, one through three, what is Paul’s immediate punch line, conclusion or takeaway or application after this glorious high theology in Ephesians, one through three is glorious.
He says, I therefore prisoner for the Lord Ephesians four when I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness. Wow. That’s the equivalent of gentleness and lowliness. This is why George Whitfield and john Newton wrote multiple letters that we have today telling their fellow Calvinistic brothers to calm down and act according to their theology. Namely, gently. Is there anything more beautiful than a gentle Calvinist? Sinclair Ferguson, in his book, The whole Christ, you know, this book that crossway did, within the last couple of years, Sinclair Ferguson, the whole Christ.
Towards the end of that book, he’s talking about pastors and how we are, how we carry ourselves before our people and how we preach. He says the way you are speaking about Christ, you don’t realize it, you’re actually giving your people a picture of what Jesus is like. They might not even think this way. But actually, they’re constructing in their little mental universe, what Christ is actually like towards them, based on how you are towards the people. Sinclair Ferguson uses the word tincture, you’re giving them a tincture for what Jesus is like. Now, you might say, Dame, gentleness, gentleness is fine. Maybe some people are wired in that direction. But if I have to get on a horse, I can either gently whisper in its ear giddy up, or I can dig the Spurs into the side of it and get that thing moving. I gotta tell you. I’ve only been a pastor six months and a week. So I’m totally trying to figure this out. But my instinct is to stick the Spurs into the side of my elders, my church and say, Come on.
But maybe actually, gentleness is a power far beyond me, prodding, poking, and exhorting Martin Luther, if anyone was wired, in a not gentle way, it seems it would be Luther 1528 writing to Duke Frederick, God has promised great mercy to those who seek peace and endure Guile when he says, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. War does not gain much but loses much and risks everything. Here’s the sentence, gentleness, however, Luther says gentleness, however, loses nothing, risks little and gains everything. Wow. I’d like to build that into my life. Jonathan Edwards preached and this was very typical for him to say, a lamb like lamb lamb, a lamb, like, dove like spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian. So friends, let me propose something for your consideration.
Maybe the mark of divine power that would accelerate your life and ministry and leadership in the glory that you long for it to have isn’t tongues or who in invites you to speak, or what you write, or what degree you get, or the number of conversions You see, or how much Bible you know, or your level of passion and zeal, but a life soaked in gentleness. Maybe what is going to take your life from natural to supernatural is a surprising gentleness that arrests the world around you because they do not expect it. It is of heaven.
And if you’re doubtful about the power of a gentle and lowly pastor, who’s been melted, and has been in the crock pot, marinating, out of sight, and being loved by a gentle and lowly Savior, if you’re doubtful, let me just ask you, what kind of person are you drawn to? What kind of pastor Do you feel safe with? Who do you want to confess your sins to? What kind of author Do you want to read? What kind of friends do you want to have? Do you not find gentleness irresistible? I do. And I suspect gentleness is the most neglected of those nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians. Five.
And if you’re objecting in your mind right now, and you’re saying Dane, you know, I find take the point. But what I really need to grow in is boldness, audacity, courage, cranking up the volume, I would answer you by saying you don’t have to choose because in Galatians and Galatians, to Paul publicly. It’s a national TGC event equivalent, publicly upbraids Peter confronts him, in front of everyone. And that’s the guy who three chapters later says, Love joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness. So apparently, we don’t have to choose. And Francis Schaefer said, you can either be bold and direct in the flesh. Or you can be patient and soft and gentle in the flesh, but you can only be both in the spirit. I believe that. So, if we don’t know Christ, as gentle and lowly, I believe and I’m commending to you, we don’t know him at all. And as we do know that Christ, we will be gentle eyes. And therefore, super naturalized.