‘Jesus Christ simply cannot be tamed.’

This is a helpful guide for every Christian secretly pondering what Jesus was like. Surprised by Jesus points to the four gospels to show four key aspects of Jesus’ character and mission on earth.

Every gospel reveals a surprise - Matthew; the surprise of disobedient obedience, Mark; the king as a criminal, Luke; the outsiders became insiders and John; the Creator as a creature.

Dane Ortlund has taken what appears to be a simple topic and crafted a book full of in depth revelation. No Christian is too well-read to learn something from this insightful book. As the author gently reminds us, ”Our understanding of Jesus needs to be straightened out over and over again as our poor spiritual posture throws our perception of him out of line.”

Diving into Matthew, Ortlund shows how Jesus lived out disobedient obedience. Instead of fitting in with the Jews’ ritualistic lifestyle, Jesus chose to follow God’s will wholeheartedly - he wasn’t confined by their legalism. Before we nod our heads wisely and sigh over the Pharisees, we are brought down to earth with two painful truths, ”A Christian is not someone who has been enrolled in the moral hall of fame. A Christian is a happily recovering Pharisee … It was those with the best theology, not the worst, who rejected the Son of God.”

Mark teaches that the king had to become a criminal. Ortlund shows this gospel is full of examples of the Jews missing the point, still searching for the king they think will overthrow the Romans. Instead the king becomes a criminal, the lowest of the low, to free them not from a temporary hardship but to save them from an eternal grave. Even those closest to Jesus expected more, as Dane writes about the disciples, ”They wanted liberation from their circumstances - Roman occupation, pagan overlords, Israel’s internationally undervalued reputation. But Jesus had come truly to liberate them. He had come to liberate them from their sins. He came to free them not from others, but from themselves - not from the overlords of Rome, but from the overlord of sin.”

The theme found in Luke is hard to swallow for many Christians. Ortlund rebukes our assumption that we are somehow entitled if we have grown up in the church. The truth is we all have to enter the kingdom only through Jesus, not our own doing. ”For it is easy to allow inherent blessings of ancestry, birth, and name subtly to build a false sense of entitlement.” But to the curious, on the edge of believing, or those shameful and unsure of a welcome in God’s family he writes, “Your inferior social position is no impediment at all to your standing in the people of God. No social prerequisites are required. You are most welcome.”

Dane once again shows the surprise of Jesus in the way he freely gives an inclusive offer that anyone may come to him - yet with the exclusivity that they can only enter the kingdom through him. Such a simple invitation, complicated by human pride which tells us we must somehow earn our salvation.

John’s account ultimately reveals that the Creator became a creature. The author says the Greeks and the Jews wrestled with this concept because they believed human nature was by definition separated from God or any heavenly being. The Jews could not accept that one of human flesh could be God. And as Dane writes so poignantly, “The Greeks wished to shed the flesh and fly up to heaven; John says that heaven put on flesh and came down to earth.”

The author draws wisdom from scholars and writers of old, including C S Lewis, Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. His biblical understanding and thorough research makes this a must-have book for every Christian and an ideal gift for a new believer to go to again and again when the world portrays a different kind of Jesus.

In conclusion to the wonders of the four gospels, the reader is grounded in who Jesus is and how we must perceive him, ”Jesus does not medicate us. He renovates us. He is not addition; he is transformation.” In a state of awe and joy at being surprised by Jesus, we are left with only one question…

Could it be that there is more for us to experience in Jesus than we have yet dreamed of?