Gentle and Lowly: Discussion of Chapter 2 — His Heart In Action

Hi @Interested_In_Book_Studies,

This chapter discusses Matthew 14:14, “And he had compassion on them.”

Ortlund claims, “His life proves his heart.” He quotes Thomas Goodwin: “Christ is love covered over in flesh.”

To establish this point, Ortlund discusses how eager Jesus was to heal a leper and a paralyzed man. He zeroes in on the compassion Jesus experienced when he saw many crowds, even to the point of weeping on two occasions. Ortlund notes that even his enemies call him a friend of sinners.

While there are many dimensions to Christ’s splendor, Ortlund argues that the Scriptures point us to see a primary theme:

But the dominant note left ringing in our ears after reading the Gospels, the most vivid and arresting element of the portrait, is the way the Holy Son of God moves toward, touches, heals, embraces, and forgives those who least deserve it yet truly desire it.

This is deeper than saying Jesus is loving or merciful or gracious. 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.



Merriam-Webster defines this word as, ‘sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it."

Does that ring true to you?

That Jesus is aware of your distress, he cares for you, and he desires to alleviate your needs?

Further, Ortlund argues that as much as we see compassion in Jesus’ earthly ministry, now we have even greater access to his compassionate heart:

For now we simply note that through the Spirit, Christ himself not only touches us but lives within us. The New Testament teaches that we are united to Christ, a union so intimate that whatever our own body parts do, Christ’s body can be said to do (1 Cor. 6:15–16). Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and sufferers he spoke with and touched in his earthly ministry. Through his Spirit, Christ’s own heart envelops his people with an embrace nearer and tighter than any physical embrace could ever achieve. His actions on earth in a body reflected his heart; the same heart now acts in the same ways toward us, for we are now his body.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite story in the Gospels of how Jesus showed compassion? What do you love about it?
  2. How have you experienced Jesus’ compassion in your own life?
  3. Does this focus on the compassion of Jesus seem unbalanced to you? If so, why?

I love the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). God demonstrates his mastery of human psychology in it. He has tricked millions of human beings around the world into talking about this passage throughout the ages by moving some scribes not to include it in their transcripts. Every reader strains to see what Jesus is writing on the ground. Jesus tells all of us, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” When we all walk away, he turns to us through the woman without condemnation and tells us through her to go and sin no more.

Jesus has shown me compassion by healing me of a foul tongue, halting a vicious addiction in its tracks, helping me to work through anger and forgiveness, and many other things. He has granted me a compassionate wife and son who have stuck with me through some rough times. I wish that I could share more detail without risking embarrassing anyone.

Ortlund argues well that he is not neglecting other aspects of Jesus’s character. I can understand how one may be concerned about it, but he does have a point when he asserts that Jesus’s heart longs to heal brokenness. It is interesting that whereas the food and disease laws communicate the contagious nature of sin, Jesus, who is the Law’s fulfillment, is not afraid of touching the most amazingly sinful and diseased of humanity. Ortlund rightly points out, “When Jesus, the Clean One, touched an unclean sinner, Christ did not become unclean. The sinner became clean” (p. 31). This is amazing to consider.


Ortlund, D. (2020). Gentle and lowly: The heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.


It is difficult for me to chose a favorite story of Jesus’ compassion. They are all so moving in their own ways. I would have to say though, that the ultimate story of His compassion to me is when, in spite of its horror, Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for all sin for all time. And maybe it would be obvious why I love it, but that single act made an impact throughout all time, past and future sins were covered when He gave His life and then rose in victory. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

I often experience His compassion in my life, in particular, when I have been at my wit’s end and realized I hadn’t been first putting my trust in Him to guide me in my relationships with my husband and children. When I realized I had been relying on my own strength and prayed for help He never failed me, and the results were so obviously from Him and served to illustrate how He can work through us if we just have faith and look to Him that I was always left in awe.

I do not feel that any focus on Jesus’ compassion is unbalanced. It is His compassion that moves us so deeply, what drove Him to come to earth and live among us, and what people saw that drew them to Him, and that still does, and caused Him to give His life for us so that we can be saved. Jesus’ compassion is a big part of His ministry.


I would say the prodigal son (Luke 15) and good shepherd (John 10) parables exemplify Christ’s compassion as described in Ch. 2.

To those who have rejected him, he welcomes back with embrace.

And, to those who are lost he protects, guides, pursues, and dies for. He compassionately promises those who know or have known him: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will [steal] them out of my hand.” John 10:28-29.

What I love about both parables is that I am that prodigal and lost sheep who was not hated, condemned, or forgotten. Instead, I was pursued by the hound of heaven and welcomed back with embrace and blessing. And, i will never be taken away from being a child of God. I have eternal life and abundance in the here and now no matter the circumstance. And, have the assurance that once Jesus knows me by my confession and belief/faith he could never legitimately say on judgment day – “depart from me I never knew you.” He has known me – my name is in the book of life. And, his compassion shown on the cross as @sig shared above along with his faithfulness to forgive me each and every day is why I go on today with purpose and care for those around me.

The focus on his compassion as Ortlund aptly puts it: ". . . is impossible . . . to be over-celebrated or exaggerated – it cannot be plumbed. But his compassion is often neglected or forgotten. We draw too little strength from it.

Let us rely and resonate with that this day. :slight_smile:


I was so encouraged by your words this morning @Keldon_Scott. What a blessing this study is. :slight_smile:


Thanks for sharing, Carrie. Your assessment of the most important act of compassion is dead on. Jesus, the creator of all that is seen & unseen left the glory and fellowship of Heaven to embark on a rescue mission to offer all mankind a pardon for our death sentence, a graced filled life and eternity with him in Heaven. Amazing grace how sweet the sound!


Greetings everyone,

My favorite story, is found in John 8:1-11, is of a woman allegedly caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus by several religious leaders while he was teaching in the temple one morning. This story begs a question: where is the other party? Did she commit her act with one of the religious leaders? Isn’t that person either guilty of adultery or fornication? Their intent was evil. They wanted to catch Jesus violating the law of Moses, and if he did not, they were intent on stoning her to death. But the merciful heart of Jesus went into action. He made her condemnation and execution their responsibility when he said: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one they walked away leaving the woman with Jesus, and the crowd he had been teaching. Jesus said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She answered, “no one, Lord.” Then Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” What a picture of grace! Jesus did not berate her, he did not explain to her the four spiritual laws, he didn’t even tell her to confess her sin! How can this be? She had just come face to face with grace itself—Jesus. See John 1:17. His response seems to fly in the face of modern-day Christian teaching which is often promoting the confession of all sin, including believers. But is that what the Bible really teaches? Can we learn something from Jesus in this matter? Yes, and I believe the answer lies in the Epistle of First John, chapters one and two. In chapter one John uses the first six verses attempting to convince the Gnostics and worshipers of the Goddess Artemis that Jesus is the Son of God. In verse 7 he speaks to followers of Jesus in the audience when he said, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from ALL sin. Fast forward to I John 2:1 Here John is obviously addressing followers of Jesus when he says, “my dear children, I am writing these things to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2: He is the propitiation for our sins….” Then in verse 12 he says, “…little children, your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” We see the true heart Jesus toward those who chose to make him savior and lord of their life; grace, pure grace. The New Covenant is all about embracing Jesus with all our heart, and receiving all he has for us as his disciples. His heart is good, and his heart is for you.


Jim, your post reminded me of how gracious Jesus is even to hypocrites. I imagine that one of the reasons that he stooped and wrote on the ground when the mob brought the poor woman before him was that he needed time to cool off. If he is anything like a human being, he seethed at the fact that the man somehow did not matter to the woman’s accusers. I know that I seethe when I think about it. I wonder at the fact that he did not strike them with lightning.

Come to think of it, those who accused and then crucified him accused and crucified the Word through which all that exists came into being. The Word let them abuse him. Think about that!


I read Exodus 16 this morning. The following two verses stood out to me:

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, … Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. (Ex 16:2, 4, ESV)

This sounds like the same pattern of gentleness that Ortlund talks about in Jesus. It is true that eventually God wrathfully punishes Israel’s sins–we must take things in context–but he first desires to show his authority by feeding them. (Not to mention the fact that according to passages like Psalm 110, Jesus will eventually come in wrath.)


Hi Brendan,
You could be right about what Jesus was feeling at the time of this encounter. He was full of mercy and grace with sinners, but saved his wrath for the religious leaders. However, could it be, that he was so focused on ministering to this woman, they wanted to kill, that he tuned them out and focused on her? In my own life, God has been so kind, forgiving and merciful, even when I deserved his wrath. The heart of Jesus is such a reflection of the heart of the father in the story of the prodigal son. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. Blessings to you!


My favorite story among many:
Matthew 15:21-28 The Syrophoenician Woman
21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting [a]at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began [b]to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not [c]good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; [d]but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed [e]at once.
What I adore about this story is the faith of the woman. Jesus himself first did not acknowledge her. Then the disciples wanted to dismiss her and encouraged Jesus to do just that. Our Lord then dismissed her by stating that he had not been sent for her but for Israel. And her response just touches me in ways I can not explain. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters table.” She was not going to give up. Her faith was recognized and she was rewarded. I heard a pastor once say the Greek for great here was Mega. I want her faith. Mega.
When I think of this story, I realize I experience his compassion everyday. In light of His glory, His Holiness, Yes, I experience His compassion everyday,.
Unbalanced? No. I think I have come to terms that God is a complex dimension, if you will, but His love is simple when accepted. When one rejects his offer of the sacrifice of His Son, is when it appears to get complex. When we elevate ourselves to a god-like position, it gets complex. His love is simple.


Marie, you reminded me of this passage:

With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (Psalm 18:25–26, ESV)


My favorite story in the Gospels of Jesus showing compassion is found in Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43. It tells of an incident where Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem just before His triumphal entry. As He is traveling along and as He nears Jericho there is a large crowd that is moving along with Him. Along the side of the road sit two beggars who are blind. One man is the man Barimaeus. When he and his companion hear the commotion, they ask what is happening. They are told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. They immediately begin to cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on us/me!” The crowd tells them sternly to be quiet. They are outcasts. In the eyes of the world they are inconvenient, a distraction, and perhaps an embarrassment. I love that these men are persistent. All three accounts record that in response to the shushing that the crowd has pressed upon them, they cry out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

I think it is evident that these men have heard of the compassion of Jesus, and they are desperate to encounter His mercy! Jesus stops, calls the men to Himself, and gently inquires, “What do you want Me to do for you?” To which they reply that they wish to regain their sight. The texts tell us that Jesus grants their desire and they regain their sight. I especially love Matthew’s perspective because it tell us in verse 34 that,

Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

I love that the men were persistent in their desperation! I love that Jesus called them to come to Him! I love that Mark records that Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, jumped up and came to Jesus! (I’m sure finding his way to Jesus was somewhat challenging.) His cloak would likely have been a cloak given to him by the governing authorities to grant him permission to legally beg. I think Bartimaeus tosses this cloak of victimization and neediness aside because by faith he knows he will no longer need to wear this cloak as a symbol of his identity as a blind man. He is confident in the compassion of Jesus!

I think it is amazing that Jesus is headed for Jerusalem, for the cross. He will enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey.

Jesus has set His face like flint toward Jerusalem. He is focused on the task of making atonement for the nation and indeed for the whole world. And yet…He stops to recognize the faith of two men for whom society has no regard. He stops for two men who, though physically blind, have eyes of faith in recognizing Him as the “Son of David!” He is moved with compassion! He stops! He touches! He restores! He moves toward the unclean and He makes them clean!

I have experienced Jesus’ compassion in my life. He was moved with compassion for me. He stopped. This God of the universe stopped for me. And He touched me and opened my blind eyes! Even before I was as wise as these two men, even before I rose to throw off the cloak of my old identity, even then He came for me. And because He called me to Himself and made me His own, because He made me clean by His blood, I am robed in His righteousness. I am a child of the Humble King who chose to reveal Himself from the back of a donkey for love of His people.

I don’t think this focus on the compassion of Jesus can truly ever be emphasized enough. It is the heart of who He is. It is what even gives shape to His judgment.

“Behold, My Servant, who I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, “I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison…” ~Isaiah 42:1-7


@clark.belle, I was so moved as you shared this beloved story of our Lord! That story has meant so much to me over the years and I love how you brought out the following points and so eloquently put it.

What an amazing God we serve! Thanks for sharing! :heart:


Thank you, Charity! I am glad this was meaningful to you! I used to read this story to my children when they were young, and I could hardly make my way through it because it was so tender and touching. Oh how He loves us!


What a beautiful study! This has truly been refreshing as I’ve been able to be reminded of the so many different ways Jesus, our Lord has shown compassion! The amazing thing to me is that it’s personalized even as I’ve been rehearsing in my mind and while reading through the stories and testimonies I’m awed at how God is in tune to each one of us. He knows our hearts cry and he sees our physical affliction! It moves Him to action!

One of my favorite stories is in Mark 14 soon before Jesus was to be betrayed. He was sat at meet with the Pharisees when a women, (who in Luke specifies her to be a sinner) hearing that Jesus was at this place, came with a significant offering. It was an offering of everything that this small box represented. Yes, it was a very special ointment and costly, it was an alabaster box of spikenard. She brake the box and poured the ointment upon Jesus’ head then proceeded to wash His feet with her hair. She was then ridiculed for her act of service. From what I know, this ointment would only be used twice in her life, first for her marriage and second for her burial. She brake the box — there was no saving any for later as it was all used for her Lord. She was in a spot of “full surrender”, a point of no return. To me this represents her complete brokenness before the Lord as she poured out her hopes, plans, and dreams in offering to Him. She was in a very vulnerable spot! With her hair she washed His feet — what humiliation came after humbling herself in such a way before the the One she adored, loved, and admired and who brought healing to her brokenness! Jesus saw it all, He watched as she worshipped Him with her everything and He also watched as the others gossiped about this sacrifice. He saw the look on her face and the darts of their words strike through her heart, he saw the bitterness in the religious rulers eyes as they watched her, a sinner’s service to this Jesus whom they were desiring to kill and He watched as their proud hearts were pierced through. I love that our Lord did not leave her to fend for herself and to be left emotionally shredded by their crude remarks! Instead He was moved with compassion as the jealousy over His dear child weld up within Him. He shadowed her with the wings of His words! Not shrinking back, He ‘stepped’ forward in boldness and basically told them to back off. And then, of all things He told them that wherever the gospel was preached her story of service and surrender was to be told as well! What honor came out of a situation of such humiliation! That’s my God! He takes the clay, that which would normally be cast away and molds it into a beautiful vessel for His use that it might be used to pour out His abounding love to others in need. Often times sacrifice does not make sense to onlookers and we can become very vulnerable in many ways during those times, but I love that when it is sacrifice for our Lord He is there as a strong tower and He covers us with His love and grace. It doesn’t mean that we won’t ever be hurt while serving Him, but when we are broken before Him He tenderly picks up the pieces and makes a whole new vessel! Thanks be to God!

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Psalm 18:35


Dear James,
May God bless your beautiful, merciful heart! You are a true example of “Blessed are the merciful”. Thank you for your touching post about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. I too love that story! Although Jesus was without sin and could have condemned her, he lifted her up by showing compassion and advising her to sin no more for it’s sin that separates us from His love.


Dear Carmen,
Thank you. May I encourage you to read Romans chapter 8. It begins with no condemnation, and ends with nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing means nothing–not even our sin. II Cor 5:19…“not counting their trespasses against them…” I John 1:7…“and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from ALL sin.” In 1 John 2:1 Jesus is our advocate before the Father. In 2:12…“your sins ARE forgiven…” Heb 10:17…"I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more. " Until recently we were teaching the "Grace message of Paul & John in a men’s prison. Many men have told us they are now more free than they ever were outside of prison. Please read & meditate on II Cor 5:14-21. You are a new creation in Christ, your sins are forgiven, and God declares you righteous in his eyes.
May God richly bless your faith journey!


@clark.belle Beautiful description!


Dear James,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. May I add 1John 1:6, “If we walk in the Light, as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” And of course, 1John 1:9.

God bless your journey as well my brother!