The Gentleness and Fierceness of Christ
June 16, 2016
Isaiah's first Servant Song (Is.42:1-4) pictures a Servant who is gentle, patient, unthreatening and tender hearted. It is a magnificent portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Servant of the Lord. It is remarkable that in his recorded public ministry, on only one occasion did Jesus draw attention to his personal character: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am gentle and lowly of heart" (Matt.11:28-30). There are few more heart-warming and encouraging words in the Bible. This is God the Son, in the frailty of our flesh, holding out himself to weary, broken and burdened sinners, calling them to come to him and be made whole in his merciful, gentle and kind embrace. But there is another "side" to the Lord Jesus Christ. Commenting on Ps.110:6, "He (i.e. God's Messiah King) will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter Chiefs over the wide earth," John Calvin wrote:
"Should any one be disposed to ask, Where then is that spirit of meekness and gentleness with which the Scripture elsewhere informs us he shall be endued? Is. 42:2-3; 61:1-2; I answer, that, as a shepherd is gentle towards his flock, but fierce and formidable towards wolves and thieves; in like manner, Christ is kind and gentle towards those who commit themselves to his care, while they who wilfully and obstinately reject his yoke, shall feel with what awful and terrible power he is armed. In Ps 2:9, we saw that he had in his hand an iron scepter, by which he will beat down all the obduracy of his enemies; and, accordingly, he is here said to assume the aspect of cruelty, with the view of taking vengeance upon them. Wherefore it becomes us carefully to refrain from provoking his wrath against us by a stiff-necked and rebellious spirit, when he is tenderly and sweetly inviting us to come to him."
Over the past centuries, men and women who should know better (and who do know better but "hold down the truth in unrighteousness," Rom.1:18), have constructed an amenable Jesus, a non-threatening Jesus, a Jesus who is the mirror image of their hopes and desires. This "make believe" Jesus is always affirming but never condemning. He is ready, of course, to speak out against sins, but not the sins that are imbedded in the hopes and desires of God denying, commandment despising, gospel rejecting men and women. This Jesus is a fiction. He is little more than a "cut and paste" Jesus, a Jesus emasculated of his passion for God's glory and his whole souled commitment to God's law (Matt. 5:17-20). It should not surprise us that the NT tells us, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb.10:31). Jesus himself warned his hearers not to fear those "who can kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do." Rather, they should "fear him (that is, God) who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell." To reinforce his admonition, Jesus said, "Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Lk.12:4-5). There is a wonderful incident in the Gospels that brings together Jesus' gentleness and fierceness. In Jn.8:1-11, we have recorded for us Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers brought her to Jesus to discover what he would say and do. Jesus' response stunned the woman's accusers, they melted away ashamed, and she was left alone with Jesus. Augustine captured the moment brilliantly when he wrote, "There remained but two, mercy and misery" (Relicti sunt duo, misera et miserecordia). It is in the Lord's final words to the woman that we hear his gentleness and fierceness: "neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more" (Jn.8:11). He freely and fully and mercifully pardons the woman. But he leaves her with a 'sting in the tail', "go, and sin no more." This woman was being embraced in the loving, gentle mercy of the Saviour, but she was also being warned to sin no more; to show her new life in a new lifestyle. Imbedded in Jesus' command was a scarcely veiled warning: "God takes sin seriously. Be warned." All this is simply to say, make sure the Jesus you follow and confess is the Jesus of Holy Scripture. The full orbed Jesus. The Jesus who is both gentle and threatening. Not a Jesus who allows you to live any which way you choose.