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When God-in-the-flesh showed up twenty centuries ago in Palestine, the religious PhDs rejected him and the prostitutes and social outcasts flocked to him. Why? Because the open welcome of divine grace that Jesus offers, open to anyone who would simply leave their moral resume at home, is not predictable. It is not safe. It is subversive...
In this book, Dane Ortlund reflects on this subversive grace as it uniquely emerges in each of the four Gospel accounts. In each Gospel, the message and mission of Jesus is deeply surprising:
Such surprises confound our law-marinated hearts. But the good news that Jesus won with his own blood will not be tamed. This good news is defiant. This book exists to exult in this good news and the scandalous mercy Jesus loves to pour out on needy sinners—on people like you and me.
‘Dane Ortlund’s Surprised by Jesus is a very helpful guide to a gospel-centered understanding of Christianity. Drawing from material gleaned from all four Gospels, Ortlund presents us with the compelling picture of ‘subversive grace’ — so different from the pale and timid imitation of pallid, anemic religion. Read this book and soak in the gospel of grace!’
Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, author of No Other Gospel
‘The world wants justice and, truth to tell, the church often wants that too. In this book, Dane Ortlund makes the case from the Gospels that what the church and the world to whom she witnesses needs is grace. Grace is counterintuitive, beyond price, and yet totally free. Left to ourselves, we hate it. We see it as demeaning. We regard it as witnessing to our moral corruption and weakness. Yet grace is God’s way of salvation as revealed in the acts and sayings of Jesus in the four Gospels. This book is that strangest of things: the heartfelt rebuke which brings so much encouragement, freedom, and joy. Well worth reading.’
Carl R. Trueman, Professor, Grove City College
‘I love the goal of Dane Ortlund’s Surprised by Jesus: to fill our heart tanks with “the high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed”. This is the kind of grace that makes disciples so love the Savior that they will give their lives for his glory.’
Bryan Chapell, President, Covenant Theological Seminary
Dane Ortlund takes a surprising insight from each of the four Gospels to help us to understand the Gospel in a deeper way. Matthew has the surprise of disobedient obedience. Ortlund uses chapters 18 to 20 to show how we often look to our obedience for our acceptance. The rich young man asks “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (19.16) but fails to put Jesus above his money. Peter asks “we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (19.27) looking to the reward rather than him who gives it. Both viewed obedience as a means to an end, but the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (20.1–16) shows that everyone the Lord employs gets the same no matter how long they have worked. This is grace overcoming morality, “the greatest enemy of Christianity” (Martyn Lloyd–Jones). Mark has the surprise of the king as a criminal. Mark 1–8 shows Jesus growing popularity as a miraculous healer climaxing with Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ (8.29). Then Jesus teaches about his future sufferings, and this theme continues in the rest of Mark until the Cross. In Jesus suffering and glory go together, and it is the same for those who would follow him (8.34–35): a cross with a crown, brokenness and triumph. Luke has the surprise of outsiders as insiders. One of Luke’s major themes is outsiders being brought into God’s people when insiders turn away. In chapter 1 the insider priest Zechariah initially responds in unbelief to Gabriel’s announcement of a son. In contrast the outsider unmarried young woman Mary responds in faith. The Gospel has “inclusive exclusivism” – open to all but only through Jesus Christ. Do our churches reflect this truth? John has the surprise of the Creator as creature illustrated by 1.14 “the Word became flesh”. Contemporary pagans and Jews would have regarded this as utterly unthinkable, but that is the wonder of the Incarnation– “the great perquisite to every other facet of Christian salvation”. God enters history as a man. John 1.51 shows that Jesus is the ladder between God and man foreseen by Jacob. Other religions portray a ladder for us to climb. Jesus comes down the ladder to be God with us and so that we can go up. This book will enrich your understanding of the Gospel as presented in the four Gospels. Read it and worship.
The aim of the book is to take the Jesus who we have domesticated, and made into our own image, and surprise us with the real Jesus of the gospels. Each gospel account gives us a specific shot of God’s grace in the person of Christ, and Ortlund gives us a deep hit of that grace as he digs into each of the gospels and blows us away with Christ. He shows us: – the perils of disobedient obedience, where the heart is hung up on the rules rather than the creator in Matthew’s gospel; – the outrageous grace of the outsiders being the insiders in Luke’s account; – the shock and necessity of the king hanging on the cross in Mark’s gospel; – the wonder of the creator taking on flesh in John’s gospel. Ortlund’s deep, heart–level understanding of all four gospels is brilliantly evident as he helps us be surprised by Jesus again and again. He is a wordsmith, and the crafting of the prose makes it a joy to read. Love his enthusiasm that seeps out of the book, and his deft weaving in the odd Puritan along the way. An outstanding book that shows us Jesus, gives us the mind–blowing reality of God’s grace and makes us want to read the gospel accounts for ourselves and delight in Jesus all the more.
A deeply refreshing and enjoyable book to read “Surprised by Jesus” takes a “bird’s eye” view of the subversive grace in each of the four Gospels in such an insightful and engaging way. Often we can read through Scripture and miss the over–arching themes and narrative as we focus more closely on the passage that we are reading, so that is where a book like “Surprised by Jesus” helps us to stand further back and see the bigger picture. In Matthew’s Gospel, there is the “disobedient obedience” of religious people trying to keep God’s moral law leading to self–righteousness (declaring oneself righteous) rather than God’s righteousness. In Mark’s Gospel, we see “the king as a criminal.” Ortlund points to the regal reception that Jesus received from the masses and the disciples’ surprise and dismay at Jesus foretelling his suffering and crucifixion. In Luke’s Gospel we see this subverting of social norms – the outsider becomes the insider, the outcast is accepted by God and those whom society exalted and revered, were excluded in the Kingdom of God. Lastly, in John’s Gospel, we see the astonishing surprise of “the Creator as creature” that the Son of God would put on flesh and become a man, living amongst His people. “The Word made flesh” would have been completely foreign to the Greek and Jewish understanding of the nature of God, as God in His Son Jesus Christ “tabernacled” among His people. In conclusion, I really enjoyed “Surprised by Jesus”, it is my favourite book of Dane Ortlund’s as not only did I enjoy reading it – but it will be a really practical study tool that I will use again and again in studying and preparing talks when I am teaching on the Gospels.
One of the shocking features of the Gospel records is the way in which the Messiah was rejected by the religious leaders yet welcomed by those considered by many to be outcasts. As Dane Ortlund shows, the root of the problem was the free and gracious welcome offered by Jesus to those who would turn from their evil works and from their righteous works that were designed to satisfy God’s requirements. Both were sins that needed forgiving grace. The surprise caused by Jesus is portrayed differently in each of the four Gospels, and taking each in turn Ortlund draws out the gracious heart of Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew he highlights ‘disobedient obedience, as seen in the Pharisees and the rich young ruler. In Mark he notes the writer’s portrayal of Jesus as the king who accepts a criminal’s punishment. In Luke the focus is on the community established by Jesus, where insiders become outsiders and insiders outsiders. In John the surprise is the Creator’s becoming at the same time a creature. In every case the wonder of God’s grace is clearly set forth. Ortlund has a most engaging style and his studies will challenge and yet also strengthen readers as they follow this surprising Saviour.
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