Surprised by Jesus: Dane Ortlund
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Dane OrtlundDane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers and Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Dane and his wife, Stacey, have five children.
Ready to be surprised by Jesus? Bestselling author Dane Ortlund reflects on subversive grace as it uniquely emerges in each of the four Gospels.
Surprised by Jesus: Dane Ortlund
Dave: Alright, let’s play a little game here. I just thought of this, and I thought, “This could be fun.”
Ann: Oh, no!
Dave: I’m going to give you five truths or things that you wanted to impart to Christian families—like what really, really matters—that you don’t want to get wrong!
Ann: I feel so much pressure right now.
Dave: And I just made this up. Of the five, which one do you think families misunderstand the most?
Dave: And again, this could be a list of 50. I just thought, and the first five that came to my mind were the attributes of God (or the character of God); the Ten Commandments;—
Dave: --like, you don’t want to get this wrong; hermeneutics or exegesis (interpretation of the Bible) to really understand the Word correctly;—
Dave: --the grace of God. And, as a pastor, I had to add this one: tithing. [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: [in unison] Today!
Dave: Well, I think the last one’s the one you don’t want to misunderstand! [Laughter] I’m kidding! But I mean, when you look at—
Ann: So, the ones that are most misunderstood? They all are.
Dave: No, which is the one—you’ve got to pick one. Which one of those five do you think like, “They can’t get this one wrong!”?
Ann: My first inclination would be the attributes or character of God.
Dave: Theology proper.
Ann: Yes; but Dane Ortlund is here, and he’s written a book about grace, and that would probably be number two, grace. I don’t think we understand it, and we certainly don’t live by it, often. I don’t personally, because I don’t feel like I deserve grace.
Dave: Wow! Well, I mean, Dane’s here, and we can ask him; but I think—this is what I think, Dane—
Dane: Tithing, correct? [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, exactly! We’re going to send this to your church, then my church. [Laughter] No, I mean, I was thinking the way you write and even as we talk to you, I think what Ann just said—I didn’t connect this until she said it, [but] theology proper, understanding the character and attributes of God, and grace—
Ann: —are the same!
Dave: —are the same!
Dave: If you don’t get this right, you don’t get the other right.
Dane: I love what you just said. I mean, these are not two different things that we’re talking about, that are totally separated.
Dave: Well, let’s talk about it a little bit.
Dave: You know, your latest book, Surprised by Jesus, is looking at that.
Dave: If you really look at Him and study Him, you’re going to be surprised by what?
Dane: At how relaxed and calm you can be as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dave: What’s that?! I didn’t expect to hear that! [Laughter]
Ann: What?! Relaxed and calm?! That doesn’t even fit in my categories!
Dave: But I love how you said it so calmly.
Dane: I mean, wouldn’t you guys testify—I would: if you shine a flashlight in my face at 2:30 a.m. and say, “What does the Lord Jesus want from you?” and I don’t have time to get my wits about me first, I will certainly think, if I don’t say, “He wants me to do better!”
Dane: “He wants me to sacrifice more. He wants me to get my act together!” “You are such a stinky disciple, Dane! When are you going to act—You write books?! What are you doing?!” The Lord Jesus Christ, He wants me to draw from the oxygen tank of His loving heart of grace and calm down! [Laughter] That’s one way to put it. And let Him be a friend to me, and walk through life with His arm around me, through the miseries of this beautiful, but merciless world, into the glories of the next—with a friend who has died for me and rose again, but is also right now loving me on terms of grace every day along the way.
This is not the way many churches, I think, are talking about Him. It’s not the way I’ve thought about the Lord Jesus for most of my life, guys. I’m growing! I feel like a toddler in this, stumbling along—falling down, get back up again—but I’m loving what I’m learning.
Dave: What hit me, Dane, when you said that “right now” is: we are in a world, you know, coming out of Covid, that is not calm. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s like the opposite! I have images in my mind as you say that of when I pop on Facebook, and I see fights in stands at football games. I’m like, that happened before, but it’s at a level now that’s—
Dane: Isn’t it?
Dave: People are angry.
Dave: They’re hurt; they’re carrying stuff. Calm is not something we feel right now; but man, what a beautiful picture of what we need! It’s the grace and gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus!
Ann: And I also think, every time we interview you, Dane, I just have tears coming down my face, because I’m reminded of the beauty of the gospel. I’m reminded of His love. And I think about our sons. They’re grown now, but when they come to my house, I have this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement.
Ann: And if they came in, and they were like, “Mom, I’m messing up! I’m sorry for this, and I’m sorry for that!” I’m like, “I’m just so happy to be with you!”
Ann: I feel like that’s what you’re saying.
Ann: The Father is thrilled to be with us.
Ann: I don’t live like that. I live in my achieving: “I need to do and do and do.”
Dane: I do, too. And Anne, wouldn’t you say, if one of your sons walked in and actually, they were doing worse than ever, or they were really despairing, or they had really done something to royally screw up their life, you would hug them all the more?
Dane: Your heart—I mean, there’s an even deeper embrace of grace at that point.
Dane: So, I agree, guys. Anger, anxiety—the counselors I talk to are booked and can’t take anymore. The therapists—people are depressed and anxious. The RPMs inside of us are “woobubbubub!” They’re way up high right now.
Dane: And one thing I want to do with this book is just say, “Hey, take a breath! You’re going to make it. If the Lord Jesus Christ, as He’s given to us in these four Gospel accounts, is that way; and He is!”
Dave: Well, as you wrote this book, you looked at Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You’re looking at the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. Walk us through it, because they’re different lenses, each one.
Dane: They are; yes, they are. And they’re mutually complementary. These are not different—you know, if we all went outside the building we’re sitting in right now, and we had four of us looking at it from four different angles, we would describe the one same building a little bit differently. That’s good; that’s beautiful. So, these are four accounts describing the one person, but they all are making a different contribution.
And I just like to put it this way, guys: Matthew is showing us the surprise of disobedient obedience. The way we will actually try to follow the rules in such a way that it is as much of a grace deficit as breaking all the rules. Mark is the surprise of the king as a criminal. First half of Mark is, “Hey, He is the King!” It’s up, up, up. Everyone is embracing Him. Everyone likes Jesus in Mark 1-8.
And He heals a blind man in two phases. Why did He do that? To show the disciples, “This is what you guys are like. You understand I’m the king, but you don’t yet understand Mark 8-16. I’m going to be treated as a criminal.” And it’s down, down, down. So, it’s those two halves. The disciples are like that blind man when he just sees men like trees walking. They understand the glory of Christ, but not the rejection.
Luke [shows] the surprise of outsiders as insiders. It’s this crazy social inversion of those whom you would think would get it: scribes, Pharisees, the religious; seminary profs of the day. [They] are strangely obtuse, because they don’t understand grace as well as they know the Scripture. And the prostitutes and tax collectors are entering heaven ahead of them. That’s Christ’s own words.
And John, the surprise that the Creator would become one of us, which in Jewish thinking is impossible to comprehend! So, those are the four distinct surprises, and each one is showing us the grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dave: Wow, what a beautiful image!
So, walk us through Matthew; this disobedient obedience. What does that mean?
Dane: Well, here’s what we see in Matthew, guys. If we were to look at the middle portions of Matthew, like Matthew 18-20, where Jesus is describing life in the Kingdom, people are coming to Him, and they’re saying to Him, “What’s the least I can do? What’s the tax I have to pay, morally, to get God off my back, and hopefully, I’ll have enough leftover to live on?” This is how we all pay our taxes. [Laughter]
And it’s how we think of life with God! It’s bracketing out grace! It’s how we all naturally, intuitively believe.
Ann: Or “what’s the minimum I can do to get into heaven?”
Dane: “What’s the minimum I can do?” Just like, “Just to get the C- and pass the class,” or whatever. [Laughter] Jesus tells a parable, and it really gets to the heart of the gospel in Matthew. It’s the landowner who goes out and he hires workers at different phases. You guys remember this—different times throughout the day. First of all, the fact that it’s the landowner going out instead of sending his manager is amazing! Secondly, it’s the fact that the workers are not coming to him and applying for a job, but he's seeking them out. That’s grace! And then, he pays them all the denarius at the end of the day. The guys who were hired early in the morning are raging mad!
What’s going on there? And the answer is, the landowner is not giving the tenants that he hires what they have earned. He’s giving them what they need. One denarius was enough to feed a family for a day. The last ones—it says he went out at the eleventh hour; that’s five p.m., and the workday is six a.m. to six p.m. in that culture. It says he went out at five p.m., the eleventh hour. So, by the time they got back and actually got working there, it was probably about time to close up shop! They got one denarius. What is going on? He doesn’t give us what we have earned or what we deserve. He gives us what we need.
This is upending to what the religious elite were expecting all through the Gospel of Matthew, which is us, too! So, the Gospel of Matthew is confronting and deconstructing that law-ish way that we all tend to resort to.
Dave: Yes, and the Pharisee in me never like that parable! [Laughter] You know, I’m being honest!
Ann: Yes, your words are, “That’s not fair!”
Dave: It just—I’m the guy who thinks (and we all do), “I’m the one who was here at six a.m.!”
Dave: “And this yahoo walks in at 5:45 and gets the same thing I do! That is not fair at all!”
Dane: It’s infuriating.
Ann: It’s the thief on the cross!
Dane: And what we’re doing is, we are looking not at the landowner, and what He’s giving us. We’re looking laterally at what—we’re comparing!
Dane: And we always mess ourselves up and things go haywire inside of us when we look laterally! We want to look just at Him.
Dave: And we can do that, I think, as parents with our kids.
Dane: For sure.
Dave: You know, we compare one being more obedient, one less obedient.
Dave: And we dispense grace in proportion to their obedience.
Dane: That’s right! We had an issue with one of our kids recently, and I needed to sit down with him and talk it through. I knew he was going to feel some shame. The first words out of my mouth to him were, “I do not condemn you. I have as much love in my heart for you right now as I have ever had.” And then I testified to him of my own sinfulness. Then, I explained how, “because I love you, I would be a bad dad if I let this go and didn’t have the hard conversation that we need to have right now.”
Then we took some steps, also, to put some things in place to try to help this not happen again, but what I wanted was the wrap-around category of what he was feeling in that moment—
Ann: Shame, yes.
Dane: I wanted the wrap-around category to be safety, grace, love, stability. My affection for him was not being diluted to taking a hit. If anything, it was growing, actually. So, that’s what I wanted. It’s like in Galatians when Paul says, “The Law came 430 years after the promise.” The promise is the wrap-around category. We invert that! We think that Law is the wrap-around category to promise. In other words, how we are doing and how we’re performing dictates promise; God’s promise of grace to us.
And what I want to do is be the kind of dad where Galatians 3 is believable: that God is the kind of Father for whom promise is the wrap-around category. Our up and down law-keeping is not affecting His promise of embrace of us. I want to give them a taste of that! And I think, if Stacy and I can give them that taste of grace in that way, I don’t think they’ll ever leave that.
Dave: Oh, that’s a Master Class in parenting!
Ann: In parenting.
Dave: Is that something you’ve felt from your dad?
Dane: Yes, and I would say increasingly over the years; yes, and my mom, both. I have great parents! You’ve met them.
Ann: And they’re amazing!
Dane: And I am so thankful for them.
Dave: That’s beautiful! Okay, talk about Mark, the Gospel of Mark.
Dane: I’m preaching through Mark right now, guys, and I am learning a ton! I am loving it! It’s the earliest Gospel, the shortest Gospel, the punchiest Gospel; the most mystifying Gospel at times. But, when Jesus heals that blind man, as I mentioned a moment ago, in two phases—why did He do that? He didn’t have to do that. He raised people from the dead! He healed people that He couldn’t see, who were miles down the road in another town, when someone from the household came and said, “Hey, heal my servant.”
He could have, “Bam!” just like that, healed this blind man. It’s the one time in Mark where He’s both teaching and performing a miracle, overlaid on one another. He’s performing a miracle, and that is the teaching, because He’s saying, “Hey, disciples, I’m going to hold up a mirror, and help you to see where you are currently at in your understanding of Me. You understand half of me. I have finally convinced you—”
In Mark, Chapter 3: “Hey, who do people say that I am?” “Some people say this; some say that.” “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.” “Ding, ding, ding! A+ on the test! Good job, Peter!” (speaking for all the disciples) Now what? Then He begins, four times in Chapters 8, 9, and 10—four times!—and He never did it before that, to say, “I’m going to let you guys know something: the Son of Man is going to be rejected, be killed, and rise again on the third day.”
He had never said that in the first half of the Gospel. He starts looping back to that time and again when you get to Chapter 8, because He’s filling out the second half of what His mission was and what He came to do. Yes, He’s the coming King, but He didn’t come to deal with the circumstantial problem of the Romans. He came to deal with the problem beneath the problem for the disciples, and anyone who would trust in Him: themselves and their sin and guilt!
Ann: Which, people didn’t get that!
Ann: They thought it was all about freedom from the Romans.
Dane: Yes, that’s right; and that was a problem, but it wasn’t the real problem beneath the problem. It wasn’t the core problem. So, that’s the Gospel of Mark. You know, one of the things we see all through Mark is, okay, He’ll say, “The Son of Man came to suffer, to be rejected, to die.” And “Oh, yeah, you guys, take up your cross and follow Me.” “Hey, guys, what were you talking about on the road?” “Umm” [Laughter]
They don’t say anything, because they were just talking about who was going to be the greatest (Mark 9).
Dane: So, He says, “Hey, just so you know, if you want to be great,” and He picks up a little child and hugs him. It says, “He took him up in His arms.” Children, who were like the bottom of the social totem pole in that culture! “This is greatness, receiving such a one.” “Oh, and if you hug a kid like this, you’re actually hugging Me; you’re receiving Me.” “Oh, and if you receive Me, you’re receiving the One who sent Me.”
So, He’s constantly saying, “I came for this mission, and you who belong to Me, there’s actually a parallel reality here in your life, of taking up a cross; of rejection; of suffering; of death. But don’t worry, just like Me, it’s a pattern: you plunge down into death, and then it’s going to blossom up into glorious life! In certain ways here, and certainly in the next life.
Dave: I mean, the beauty of this is, as I hear you say that I can just picture Jesus doing that. And in the same image I have in my mind, I see me not doing it. [Laughter]
Dane: You and me both, Dave! [Laughter]
Dave: It’s like, “Man, I just fall so short!” Talk about needing grace!
Dave: Man, I know this! I’ve preached this! I’ve studied this.
Dave: And yet, to live it is our call.
Dane: Yes, it is; it is. And we don’t do a very good job living it, but Mark doesn’t end at Chapter 8 or 9. It goes all the way to the cross. So, it’s okay.
Ann: What about Luke, the surprise of outsiders as insiders?
Dane: I don’t want to be mutually exclusive.
Dane: They overlap; but Luke in particular has a focus on Gentiles, on women, on those who are more socially kind of on the periphery; the people in the nosebleeds. [Laughter] Right from the start, man, an angel shows up and says, “Hey, Zechariah, you’re going to have a son.” And an angel shows up and says, “Hey, Mary, you’re going to have a son, too.” Here’s an established, male, religious professional, and here’s a young (probably teen), unwed girl. And he is struck mute for a certain amount of time, because he operates in unbelief. She—later it says, “Blessed is she who believed” talking about Mary—she acted in belief.
They both had a question: “Wait, how’s this going to be?” But he had unbelief operating, she had belief operating; exactly when you would have expected the reverse. You would have thought, “This guy Zechariah would have really understood it, and Mary wouldn’t have known what was going on; she wouldn’t have any faith.”
It’s a caution, maybe even rebuke, for those of us who have a lot going for us as the world looks at social realities: upper middle class, good education, or whatever. And it’s a comforting consolation for those who just feel like, “The world’s against me.”
Dane: Actually, you are the perfect candidate for Jesus to notice in the crowd and summon into His heart and walk through life with you. So, that glorious social inversion is a picture of gospel grace there.
Ann: I love that in each chapter, you kind of point out Jesus pulling in and drawing in that outcast. I remember being in the Middle East as well, talking to a woman who was Muslim. She’s an outcast; she has no voice there. I remember her saying, “When I read the Gospels,”—she was crying, saying, “Jesus would have talked to me.”
Dane: Yes! Amen.
Ann: “He would have seen me.”
Ann: And that had never happened in her life, so how she related, probably, to so many of these stories in Scripture, of like, “He would have seen me and noticed me.”
Ann: It’s remarkable.
Dave: And it should be what those outside the Church, and outside the community of Christ, feel from—
Dane: Yes, yes.
Ann: From the Church.
Dave: —the community of Christ.
Dave: They should be drawn, and I don’t think we’re doing a really good job.
Dane: We need to grow in that, don’t we, guys? For our churches to be places where somebody can walk in—any sincere-hearted person can walk in—and say, “This is really different! Wait a minute! There’s no VIP section up there? This is—I was noticed here!”
Ann: Not only in the Church, but on the streets with a homeless person.
Dave: Well, I mean—
Ann: That we notice them; we see them; we lift their heads.
Dave: And as you say, in Luke 15—
Dave: When the Pharisees say, “This man sits and eats with sinners,” I think Jesus was like, “Yes, that’s my badge. You just complimented Me!”
Dave: And they’re trying to say, “This is wrong!” You’re saying, “No, that was a picture of the heart of God.”
Dane: Yes; this is exactly who Jesus is drawn to, not because they’re any better, but because their hearts are open.
Dane: They’re malleable. They have felt need for the Lord Jesus Christ and His grace! His grace can come flooding in, and it’s an open channel.
Ann: That’s a good picture for all of us.
Dave: If there were one picture you could say to a husband or a dad, and it could be a wife or a mom, about understanding this grace and applying it in their home, this is your last shot right here.
Dave: You’ve got, you know, like a minute. What would you say?
Dane: Well, I would say, “Can I have ten more minutes?” [Laughter]
Ann: We’re going to do that, because we’re going to have another episode!
Dave: No! No grace! [Laughter] This is the law.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dane Ortlund on FamilyLife Today. He’s just so delightful! I’ve had him on my podcast as well; on Real Life Loading by FamilyLife, and I love talking with Dane Ortlund. Clearly, the Wilsons do as well. Well, he’s going to share some thoughts in just a second on how to apply God’s grace in our homes.
But first, his book is called Surprised by Jesus: Subversive Grace in the Four Gospels. We’ll send you two copies as our “thanks” when you partner financially with us at FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s one copy for you and one to give away. You can get your copies when you give at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, if you’re enjoying Dane today, you won’t want to miss the 2024 Love Like You Mean It® Marriage Cruise. He’s going to be one of our speakers on that cruise. I can’t believe it! Our biggest sale is happening right now for the cruise. You can join us next February. It seems like a long way away, but it’s actually not that far. You can join us in the Caribbean with many of your favorite Christian speakers and artists for a romantic week you will never forget. I’ve actually been on this cruise before; it’s absolutely incredible!
You can learn more by going to FamillyLifeToday.com and joining us next year. Alright, here’s Dane with some helpful words on how moms and dads, husbands and wives, can apply God’s surprising grace in the home.
Dane: I would just want any dad or mom to be drowning their kids in messaging that the Lord Jesus Christ above, God the Father, is not assessing you with the same kind of lens you are feeling at your school in terms of popularity and good looks, athleticism. That scale is upside-down. Help your kid to understand that as he or she is walking out the door to school, riddled with anxieties—I sure was riddled with anxieties—and insecurity and fears; feeling alone. To the degree that they are feeling those awful things, the heart of the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ draws close. They find that irresistible!
They are with you! Help your child to understand that. Don’t make your child think, “If you make the varsity team instead of the junior varsity team, then there’s an accordant pleasure over you from God. It’s the reverse of that! Everything in them resists that. That’s why I say “drown” them in that messaging.
Dane: You can’t tell them once or twice. It’s not a truth to download once and, “Oh, okay! Thanks, Dad!” Off they go, and for 18 years, they’ve got it! [Laughter] We don’t!
Dane: So, we want to just keep immersing them in that.
So, how can you have a home that creates curiosity about God and inspires those around you to be curious, too? Well, Dane Ortlund will be back with Dave and Ann tomorrow to talk about how to create a grace-filled home. I know I can definitely use that!
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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