The Compassion of Christ
What is the one feature of Christ’s ministry which stands out more clearly than any other? Surely it is His compassion. He had a heart full of love. Sometimes He was very angry, for example when He perceived hypocrisy.
However, when He saw suffering His heart went out to those who were in pain. We sinned in Adam and fell from the perfect state in which we were created. We deserve nothing but the wrath and curse of Christ, yet He reaches out to filthy sinners in love. There is nothing beautiful or attractive in us but grace overflows from Him.
Two blind men
Blindness must be one of the hardest disabilities to bear. We are told of two blind men (Matthew 20:30ff). These poor men lived in a world of darkness. Unable to work and with no Social Security or National Health Service the only way they had to earn money was to beg. They kept crying out for mercy. The multitude told them to be quiet and not disturb the peace, but Jesus stopped, called them and asked what they desired.
They replied ‘Lord, that our eyes may be opened’.
Then we are told ‘Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.’ (Matthew 20:31-34).
Jesus’ heart went out to them in love and He gave them their sight.
Leprosy was a terrible disease and is sometimes taken in Scripture as symbolical of sin. Society shunned lepers. They were ceremonially unclean and had to keep themselves apart from other people. Mark writes of one who came to Jesus, ‘beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’ (Mark 1:40). Then we are told that Jesus, as was typical of Him,
‘moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.’ Mark 1:41
He touched him.
Many tears are shed over the dead. When Jesus approached the town of Nain a dead man was carried out for burial, the only son of his mother who was a widow. Again we are told:
‘When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, young man, I say unto thee, arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.’ Luke 7:11-15
On two occasions in the Gospels Jesus is recorded as having wept. One of these was at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35). It caused the Jews to exclaim, ‘Behold how he loved him!’ (John 11:36). There was no death in the world as it came from the hands of the Creator but now it seems that death reigns supreme over all and what grief it brings!
After a particularly stressful time, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately’ (Mark 6:31-32).
However the people saw them departing, recognised Him, and ran to the place. What was Christ’s response? Was it anger and frustration? No, rather the opposite:
‘Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.’ Mark 6:34
Later He provided them with food in case they would faint on the way home.
Earlier we mentioned that Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. The other occasion on which he wept was viewing Jerusalem:
‘When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.’ Luke 19:41-44
He could see the coming judgment. Matthew records His lament:
‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ Matthew 23:37
He had a heart full of love and compassion but they rejected Him.
‘Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.’ John 5:40
Rich young ruler
The rich young ruler came to Jesus earnestly asking a vital question, ‘What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’(Mark 10:17). Jesus told him to keep the commandments. He answered that he had observed all these from his youth. Then we notice something interesting:
‘Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, one thing thou lackest.’ Mark 10:21
Jesus, it is said, loved him. Some argue from this that the ruler must have been one of the elect. However there is no hint here that a miraculous knowledge was involved. Rather Jesus beholds him, sees his earnestness and that he is what we would call a ‘good-living person’. He sees common grace in his life to a heightened degree and admires that grace. The whole emphasis of the passage is that the man went away lost despite Jesus’ loving admonition and that is where the Bible leaves him. That is where we should leave him too.
‘He was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.’ Mark 10:22
The woman of Samaria
In the story of the woman of Samaria there is a hint of the divine decree in the words, ‘He must needs go through Samaria’ (John 4:4). Though this woman belongs to the despised Samaritans Christ’s heart goes out to her. In His love He loses all interest in food, though previously He had been tired, hungry and thirsty. ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work’. When she brings her fellow-citizens to hear Him, He is excited about multitudes being saved:
‘There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal.’ John 4:35-36
Our Lord Jesus had a heart full of compassion towards all who suffered. He healed the sick, bearing their infirmities. Oh that we too were moved with compassion for those in trouble. His motive in evangelism was love. Seeing the judgment that was coming on the impenitent He wept. His passion was the salvation of the lost and the gathering of a harvest to the glory of God. Let us follow His example and be inspired and constrained by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14).