Once while the Dear Wife and I were on a date, driving through such countryside as the blighted wastelands of Sacramento have to offer, we were talking about the personality of Christ. "Personality" is not here a typo for "person"; I mean we were talking about what sort of man our Lord was, what kind of character and traits He displayed in His days on the earth. What was it like, to know Him?
It was a good talk for both of us. Valerie said I should write a book from it. Maybe someday, and after a whole lot more prayerful thought and study.
You have to start with Biblical systematics, because systematics necessarily frame the discussion. Systematics lay out the canvas on which the portrait must be painted. And so we know that, whatever sort of person Jesus was, He was the only truly, genuinely, honest-to-God healthy human being who ever lived. He was the only truly integrated human, the only unfractured, unwarped, quirk-free, undented, this-is-what-a-man-is-supposed-to-look-like human being ever to draw breath this side of the Garden (cf. Luke 1:35; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 2:1).
So this study of Jesus will be vital for the question of this series. Because systematics also informs us that no man ever has really gotten and embodied the right integration of the First and Second command, ever (Romans 3:23; 5:12ff.; 8:7, etc.). The best we rise to is flashes and runs here and there, solely by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit bearing the fruit of Christ's character in and through (and in spite of) us (Galatians 5:17, 22-25). But it is to Jesus we must look, to see a living image of a man who really loves God above all, and his neighbor secondarily — and who got it right all the time.
What do we see, when we look to Jesus?
Not what we expect. Certainly not the Jesus of modern Christian sentimentality.
The only way to avoid doubling the length of the series is to organize my observations under two points and make them far too brief. To wit:
Jesus was all about God — first, last and foremost. First recorded sermon in Matthew is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:17). God would not adapt Himself and His will to "meet the needs of" the people; their greatest need was to adapt to Him and His will, which (given that they were sinners) meant starting with that roots-to-branches paradigm shift known as repentance.
We see this throughout Jesus' entire ministry. He was not about flattering the prejudices, ignorance, pride, and stubbornness of His hearers — ever. As His forerunner had affronted his hearers' pride (Matthew 3:2, 6-12), thus also the Lord Jesus' first audience in Nazareth were so enraged with His "insulting" message that they wanted to kill Him right then and there (Luke 4:29). So far from flattering and accommodating and contextualizing with the wolves in the Temple, He ruined their little shell-game and had them sputtering out demands to see His credentials (John 2:14-18). He called them insulting, belittling names that certainly wounded their pride and dignity, and He did it in public (Matthew 23; Luke 11:14-54).
Everything He did, whether teaching or healing or living, was part of accomplishing the work of God who had sent Him (John 17:4). For that reason, His very food was to do God's will (John 4:34). And if doing that will of God enraged His hearers, He could live with it (John 8:43).
All this was the behavior of Love Incarnate.
Jesus' display of love for neighbor was markedly un-sentimental. Some will splutter that Jesus was totally different with individuals than He was with religious leaders. But was He?
First, we must note that Jesus dealt with individuals throughout His ministry. He isn't like the leaders we spoke of earlier, who can talk to crowds, but can't deal with individuals. In fact, I can't offhand think of any time that His apostles tried to bar individuals, that Jesus didn't override them. However, His dealings with individuals was different than popularly depicted.
For instance, I'd say He was pretty rough with the Syrophoenecian woman who pled and pled for Him to help her daughter (Matthew 15:22; note the imperfect ἔκραζεν, "she kept crying and crying"). First Jesus ignored her altogether (v. 23), then He answered rather brusquely (vv. 24, 26). You and I know that love crafted His response, and served to draw out and focus her faith — but His means were light-years removed from the "My precious, precious child"-murmuring bobble-headed "Jesus" of popular sentiment.
Another woman who was amazed at Jesus — but not because of His gloppy agapē — is the woman at the well (John 4). She had a sharp tongue, but soon found that she was crossing swords with her better. And when she tried a hasty grab for a free gift (4:15), He replied, "Tell you what. Go get Me your husband, and we'll talk" (v. 16) — knowing perfectly well that He was jamming the probe right into her very sorest, most infected tissue. No Hallmark sentiments there, no kid-gloves.
Nor did Jesus use kid-gloves in responding to John the Baptist, when the latter was languishing in prison. His response to John seems quite brusque. And so He is with all doubt. While some today pride themselves on "lovingly" coddling doubt and its promoters, the genuinely loving Jesus finds unbelief unbelievable.
Jesus was no less brusque with the distraught father whose son Jesus' apostles could not heal. Jesus apparently addresses them all when He says "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?", and then tells the father, "Bring your son here" (Luke 9:41). Here we find "coojie-coojie-coo" neither for failed, embarrassed apostles nor for anxious father. (But He does heal the lad.)
In fact, I daresay that the very greatest display of Jesus' love for His own was, at the same time, coupled with the greatest smashing of their pride, the greatest crossing of their will, and the airiest dismissal of their felt-needs. I speak, of course, of the Cross.
Peter was still glowing with pleasure over Jesus' pronouncement of blessing (Matthew 16:17-19), when Jesus began openly predicting His coming rejection and death on the cross (v. 21). Peter took Jesus aside and began rebuking (!) Him (v. 22).
And how did Jesus respond? "My precious, precious child, blah blah blah"? Not so much. "I know you mean well, but listen"? Not really. "I feel touched that you..."? No.
How about, in front of everyone, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (v. 23). Yowch. Yet thus spake Love Incarnate.
In going to the Cross, Jesus was telling them they could do nothing for themselves. He was telling them all of their efforts amounted to zero. What's more, He was meeting none of their felt needs. They felt the need for Him to stay around, beat the Romans, and make everything peachy. He did none of that.
Yet He did do exactly what they needed Him to do, and did it at great cost to Himself.
This, by the way, is what many are itching the flood the meta with — how were any of these instances displays of love? That was my point: they weren't — as we measure love, as the RPB contingent and the cosmophiliites measure love. Love (we learn from Jesus) isn't primarily about protecting pride at all costs, shielding feelings, flattering, accommodating, avoiding perceived insult, nor meeting felt needs.
Love is primarily about pursuing what is for the highest and best good of the one loved. Love led Jesus to the Cross, when none of those He loved wanted Him to go there. Love led Jesus to tell the Pharisees what they hated to hear, and hated Him for saying, because (A) they needed to hear it, and (B) their victims needed to hear someone saying it.
That is why Jesus bore with those He treated (to our delicate sentiments) so harshly. It is why He called the apostles "micro-faith" — yet kept pushing them on in faith. Why He ignored the mother — yet, when the apostles told Him to send her away, did not do so, but prodded her again, until He brought her the rest of the way to faith. Why He rebuked Peter, but kept him, and kept with him, and kept working with him. Oh! the surgery would hurt, but oh! it was necessary.
There is so much more to be said, but I leave off here for now. It is critical for us to be challenged by these aspects of our Lord's character, as we learn to show love. But it is no less important for us in understanding His love for us. If our idea of Jesus' love for us is the amorphous steaming mass of goo fantasized by so many, we will be wholly blindsided by His rough, and yet loving, providences (cf. John 11:5-6 NAS).
Jesus' love is not like our "love."
That is why we must learn from Him, and not the reverse.