But what else can we learn about him from the Gospels? If he is God made flesh, then he most certainly bears qualities that help us better understand the nature of God himself. When we study the Son we also are studying the Father. They are united.
So who is this Jesus?
For starters, he is compassionate and loving. This is no surprise to most people. If the world was going to pick one word to describe Jesus, love would most certainly be the first choice. Everyone wants a loving Jesus. And even the most unbelieving of people would affirm that Jesus, if nothing else, at least has to be loving. The real answer, though, lies in the definition of loving. In the world’s eyes, a loving Jesus is one who makes no authoritative claims, heals diseases, and plays with children on his lap. He smiles a lot. He is nice. He makes everyone happier and healthier. And he is for everyone. But he most certainly does not demand anything from them, especially rejection of sin.
The Bible paints a very different picture. While the Gospel writers portray a Jesus who is loving beyond what we could ever emulate, the definition of this love looks different than how the world defines it. This love is compassionate and merciful, but it also carries claims of more than just happy feelings. Obviously we could spend hours and pages trying to exhaust the manifestations of Christ’s compassion and love towards people while he walked this earth. But here are two brief observations I have noticed as I’ve been plodding through the Gospels.
- His love is specific
- His love demands a response
Repeatedly the Gospel writers talk about the love Jesus has for his people, namely his disciples and those who follow him. His love is always demonstrated most clearly towards the ones who trust him. On a number of occasions, the Gospel writers speak of Jesus being moved because of his great love for them. He spent the majority of his time with a few people, training them, and shepherding them. He loved them deeply. But the Gospel writers also spend a great deal of time relaying accounts of Jesus with individuals. When Jesus heals and saves people he goes directly to them, speaking to their situation, and showing them that he is the Messiah. Jesus knows those who are his own, granted to him by the Father, and he will stop at nothing to bring them to himself. He is never arbitrary in his approach to human interaction. He is purposeful, and he seeks his own until they are brought home to him. The love Jesus displays in the Gospels is no generic love. It is displayed towards certain people, and it never stops there.
Which leads to my second observation: his love demands a response. Whenever Jesus displays his love and compassion to broken, sinful, and outcast people he includes a simple command: “Go and sin no more.” Sometimes it is coupled with the necessary requirements of the law or an exhortation to go and tell all that Jesus has done. But the important thing to note is that when Jesus demonstrates his love towards people they cannot remain the same. His love towards his people shows that they are his own, and his own joyfully follow and worship him. It can be no other way.
Jesus did not just come to earth to perform miracles and appease a wrathful, angry God. He didn’t come to earth to start a revolution. He didn’t even come to earth to heal people. Jesus came to earth to redeem a people for God’s own glory. He came to gather worshippers for himself. And one of the ways he does this is by lovingly drawing people to himself and transforming their lives.
We can, and should, celebrate the abundant love of our Savior for his own people. But we must not trivialize it by making it cheap and independent of behavior. Jesus’ love, as displayed in the Gospels, is powerful. But it is also specific and demanding. Next time we will look more closely at the bold statements Christ makes in the Gospels and how that impacts us today.