The Feelings of Jesus' Heart
His Whole Person's Affective Narrative
Chapter 2 His Beginnings
In the beginning was the Word…. No one has ever seen God.
It is the only Son, himself God, who is close to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of Jesus, it also seemed good to me to write an affective account…that you may know the wholeness of the things you have been taught.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us—that is, embodied and relationally involved. He was in the world, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own people, who also did not receive him.
The incarnation narrative begins with Jesus in the womb of Mary, who was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered. This journey is about 70 miles, which certainly must have taken its toll on Mary. Likely riding on a donkey, her late-stage pregnancy also must have strained Jesus. At that stage of biological development, Jesus is affected in some way, with consciousness of discomfort. Perhaps this gives him a foretaste of how “the narrow way” could be bumpy and uncomfortable for those following “where I am.”
When they arrive in Bethlehem, they are housed in a stable because there is no guest room available for them. There Jesus is born and placed in a feeding trough among other animals. How Jesus is affected by such conditions is unclear, but surely he smells unpleasant aromas. And the extent of his crying is not recorded, which should not be assumed as Jesus lacking awareness of his surroundings.
In the same region, shepherds see a vision and hear the good news of a Savior born for them. They rush off to find baby Jesus lying in the feeding trough. The disparity between what they heard and the conditions they see might raise questions and doubts about this baby as their Savior, on the one hand. On the other hand, the good news is manifested in Jesus’ profile, whose person is not unaware of their attention; and the significant affect he communicates non-verbally to them gives them the assurance of the gospel embodied in his person.
After Jesus was circumcised, he is brought to the temple to be designated as holy. There in the temple is a man named Simeon looking for the Lord’s Messiah. Seeing the child Jesus, Simeon knows immediately God’s salvation has come. He also correctly predicts: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the thoughts and feelings of many hearts will be revealed.” As Jesus listens to Simeon’s prediction, he likely has mixed feelings, because he knows that the gospel he embodies is composed integrally with bad news as well as good news.
Meanwhile, King Herod was deeply disturbed by the threatening news of the new born Jesus. Wise men from the east arrive in Jerusalem in search of Jesus after they saw his star rising. That star leads them to the place where the child is. They are overwhelmed with joy and fall on their knees to worship him. This must be a lot for Jesus to absorb, and we can easily imagine a big smile on his face.
Herod expected the wise men to report the child’s location to him. But they are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they return to their own country by another route. After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream to escape to Egypt, because Herod wants to kill the child. Again, Jesus hears some chilling news that, on the one hand, is simply part of his gospel’s bad news and, on the other hand, still stirs anxious affect even in Jesus’ heart. Such feelings should not be discounted, and they can only be denied by dismissing the person at the depth of his heart. It’s not clear how Joseph and Mary support Jesus’ person and cared for his heart. We catch a glimpse of this when they return from Egypt after Herod’s death.
They settled in Nazareth where Jesus grows up and would be called a Nazarene. The boy grows up and becomes strong, filled with wisdom. Since he wasn’t born a ready-made Messiah, his development unfolds stepwise. We can only speculate about the experiences he had that were instrumental in his development. Along with God’s grace on him, his person certainly was conscious of and affected by those experiences, notably the relational interactions that affected his heart. One experience is highlighted that gets us to the heart of his identity and function, even at age 12.
Every year his parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. The year when he is twelve years old, Jesus goes to the temple by himself to sit among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Jesus demonstrates how attentive he is even at that age; and all who hear him are amazed at his understanding and his answers. The boy may have an exceptional brain, but his heart is the real key distinguishing his person.
After a mix-up, his parents realize that their boy isn’t traveling back to Nazareth with their group. They discover him back at the temple; and Mary confronts him with their anxiety “searching for you.” With the resolve of a mature adult, the boy states unequivocally: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”
At this early stage of his earthly life, without apology and timidity Jesus clearly reveals his full identity and his whole function, both of which would be contrary to his sociocultural context. Since the boy’s parents do not understand what he said to them, he surely experiences some frustration with where they are in their own lives. Given what an angel communicated to Mary and Joseph, his bewilderment about them not recognizing his full identity and affirming his whole function should not be surprising to anyone, but is understandable for his person and expected in his heart. Such feelings would be the natural affect of a person who doesn’t cover up one’s heart but lives vulnerably. Accordingly, in the next eighteen or so years of his life, Jesus increases in wisdom and stature, and, most importantly, in favor with God and with others.
When Jesus is about thirty years old, he came from Nazareth and is baptized in the Jordan by John. As soon as he comes up out of the water, the whole of God emerges to distinguish the triunity of their persons: the Spirit descends on him and the Father declares “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased.” No doubt, Jesus’ feelings about their convergence are ineffable. With his heart stirring, Jesus began his public ministry at this juncture. Then he leaves the Jordan in ongoing relational interaction with the Spirit, who leads him into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan.
The encounter that Jesus had with Satan should not be diminished simply as an initiation routine to preface his ministry. Thus, Jesus doesn’t go through the motions during his temptations by Satan, nor is he engaged just matter of factly to resist Satan. He is hungry from not eating for forty days, so he certainly is affected by his circumstances that Satan uses to influence him. Satan’s influence often revolves on his shaping persons to be distracted or controlled by situations and circumstances, which subtly prevails among us to give priority to secondary matters over what’s primary to God—a nonnegotiable primacy. And even though Jesus is single-minded in his purpose, the ambiguous scenario Satan further offers to him requires the resolve of his whole person for his heart not to be divided from the primary by secondary measures, which involves becoming separated from God’s primacy of relationship together. As the subtlety of Satan’s efforts escalates, Jesus has to fight back with an intensity that will not succumb to Satan’s counter-relational workings, or render Jesus to misuse or even abuse his relationship with the Father. With his whole person on the line, Jesus’s vulnerable heart neither fails him nor disappoints the Father.
Critically then, Jesus’ trials introduce for his followers the inevitable counter-relational dynamics of sin and its reductionism that all will encounter. Therefore, indeed, Jesus’ affects bring out the heart of his whole person, by which his identity is defined and his function is determined. The decisiveness of his feelings allow for nothing less and no substitutes, which is the distinguishing quality of his ministry.
The next day John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples. As he sees Jesus passing by, he says, “Look, the Lamb of God.” When the two disciples hear him say this, they follow Jesus. Then Jesus turns and notices them, so he opens the way for them to make connection by initiating the conversation with the direct question, “What are you looking for?”
This starts the relational process of Jesus bringing together his own disciples, who will follow him in his relational context but do not yet vulnerably engage him in his relational process. That depth level requires heart-to-heart relational involvement in reciprocal relationship together, which does not unfold until much later in their sojourn. Nevertheless, Jesus makes unequivocal calls to them for discipleship, which opens the door to many occasions when Jesus will be negatively affected by them. This relational process is critical to understand as it unfolds, in order to know the heart of his whole person.
It seems more accurate to perceive Jesus’ affect in this relational process as warmly communicating to potential followers, rather than him forcefully expressing the imperative to “follow me.” In his initial call, one person in particular seems to affect him positively the most. As Andrew tells Simon about finding the Messiah, and Philip tells Nathanael, their preconception of the Messian doesn’t coincide with whom Jesus embodied. With this biased lens, Nathanael is openly skeptical about their findings, which makes Nathanael vulnerable before Jesus. His honesty impacts Jesus deeply, who says as Nathanael surveys him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Jesus’ heart is moved, because Nathanael vulnerability is what Jesus expects from his followers—without which there is no heart-to-heart relational involvement together. Only this vulnerable relational involvement defines the intimate relational process of discipleship.
What evolves at this stage for his disciples, however, is neither vulnerable nor relational; and this will deeply hurt Jesus and cause him pain and anger. Turn-around changes are in the forecast ahead, not to mention the resonance of his wake-up calls that would penetrate their hearts.
From the outset, Jesus’ ministry is distinguished by making direct connection with people, either to build relationships or to expose the bad news keeping relationships apart. As God determined from the beginning of creation, “it is not good for human persons to be apart” (Gen 2:18). The gospel Jesus embodies and enacts integrally with good and bad news now unfolds in relational response to this human relational condition.
This is indicated even in Jesus’ involvement in sociocultural events. At a wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples are invited guests along with his mother. When the wine runs out, Jesus’ mother directs him to do something about it. Perhaps annoyed by her turning his attention away from the primary to prioritize a secondary matter, Jesus replies to her, “What has this concern of yours to do with me, woman? The time of my purpose is not be occupied by the secondary.” Nevertheless, she directs the other workers to “do whatever he tells you.” (Human offspring can readily identify with Jesus’ feelings about the expectations of parents.) Rather than pursue the issue with his mother that affects him, Jesus uses this situation as an opportunity to communicate to his disciples more of who and what he was. As a result, they further believe in him, though they still don’t grasp his full identity and whole function.
Later, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem because the Jewish Passover is near. A defining scene unfolds at the temple. (In his Gospel, John records this scene here, which the other Gospels record later chronologically, in order to make emphatic the distinguishing purpose of Jesus’ ministry. This scene highlights the strategic shift in God’s trajectory, which unfolds distinctly as Jesus’ narrative continues.) The temple is reduced to a place of business that amplifies the economic inequality among God’s people. This injustice contradicts the just and righteous integrity of God, whereby God’s intimate relational context cannot function as the relational connection all peoples can make with God. Jesus’ overtly aggressive response to the perpetrators of this injustice demonstrates the affect of his whole person. The feelings of his heart are not a reaction to the situation, rather he responds with the affective anger necessary to fight against the counter-relational workings of reductionism in order for such bad news to be redeemed for the good news to emerge.
When Jesus encounters strong pushback to explain the basis for his angry actions, he doesn’t justify his just-and-righteous end with the use of violence. (Now would you expect Jesus to have more restraint with his anger?) On the contrary, anger has two sides, one negative and the other positive. Both engage in aggressive behavior and/or speech, one to fragment and the other to make whole. The latter distinguishes the gospel Jesus enacts, while the former reflects those needing his gospel. And the only way they can claim his gospel is to be set free from their ways such as seen at the temple. With such bad news prevailing in their midst, many believe in his name when they see the signs Jesus does. Jesus, however, is not impressed and thus will not be involved with them until deep level changes occur in them.
In other words, since Jesus isn’t seeking attention and acclaim, he will not embrace just anyone as his disciples merely because they follow him around. He only wants followers who will reciprocate in relationship together with the vulnerable involvement of the heart of their person. Again, nothing less and no substitutes, which then would require them to claim both the bad news and good news of his gospel.
This turn-around faith distinguishing those who truly belong to God’s family is further clarified by Jesus in a clandestine interaction with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Even though this Pharisee pursues Jesus for a positive purpose, Jesus is clearly disturbed by Nicodemus’ biased lens. As a ruler of the Jews who teaches Israel about faith, Jesus has to correct him about his views that merely focus on life from outer in; he has no understanding of the whole person from inner out, whose born-anew transformation is the only basis for belonging to God’s family in eternal relationship together. No doubt, this must shake Nicodemus to the core and challenge him as never before. What Jesus shares vulnerably in his interactions always reveals the light, which then always exposes and confronts the darkness—notably those in a theological fog or with a blurred vision—even in those of faith with good intentions.
After this, Jesus and his disciples go to the Judean countryside, where he spends quality time with them and baptizes. When Jesus learns that the Pharisees have heard he is making and baptizing more disciples than John, he leaves Judea and withdraws into Galilee upon sadly hearing the expected news of John’s arrest. With greater resolve, Jesus returns to Galilee proclaiming his gospel in the power of the Spirit. The narrative of his beginnings are marked with feelings going up and down, affecting him both positively and negatively, which he always lets his heart vulnerably experience in order not to limit or constrain his person. This becomes even more evident as his trajectories unfold.
Before we move into his trajectories, however, there is one incident, which occurs in his main narrative, that would be helpful to mention now to serve as a transition between his beginnings and his trajectories. This incident involves his biological family, and by Jesus’ nature it extends the incident between his parents and him at age twelve in the temple. In the later incident, his family has become concerned about Jesus and all the turmoil he creates in the Jewish community. They want to put a halt to this unrest he is causing before a tragedy occurred. So, they pursue him to put limits and constraints on him to prevent this harmful end. There is no question that his biological brothers have doubts about him, which Jesus is well aware of and seemed to be unaffected by. Yet, his mother joining them to basically shut him down is very hurtful for Jesus to experience—especially after all she has witnessed throughout those years. Though Jesus doesn’t express his feelings as he did at age twelve, we can be sure that his heart is affected. That’s the nature of his and any person living from inner out.
In spite of Jesus’ feelings, he is not distracted by secondary matters and remains committed to his primary purpose. His wholehearted commitment to what’s primary to God is irreplaceable for ongoingly affirming his full identity and whole function. Therefore, when his biological family finds him and wants to speak to him, Jesus makes this irrevocable statement and unequivocal affirmation: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Pointing toward his disciples, those who listen and practice the word of God, he adds, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever enacts the will of my Father in heaven is my brothers, and sisters, and mother.”
His trajectories, on this illuminated relational basis, will now embody, enact and fulfill “the will of my Father” in order for the relational outcome of his family to belong together as one in God’s triunity likeness.
 These paraphrased words from Luke, who wrote his Gospel for all peoples to be equal, set the tone for the following narrative. However, this affective narrative is not always in chronological order. Just as John’s Gospel penetrated deeper into Jesus’ chronological life, this narrative magnifies what’s primary for Jesus and thus what’s important to understand the heart of his whole person. This is critical to keep in focus throughout this study.
 Hebrew and Greek word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological
Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark E. Biddle, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).
© 2023 T. Dave Matsuo