THE SYMPATHIZING JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-30-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Mel Carter said that I would have a word about our Palace Theater services. This year we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our downtown theater noonday pre-Easter worship hours. They were begun over fifty years ago in the Jefferson Theater. And when the Palace Theater was built, Dr. Truett and the church transferred them to the large and spacious Palace Theater, and we are celebrating fifty years of God’s blessings upon us, preaching the gospel in that downtown auditorium. And it seemed that an occasion like that demanded from us something unusual and something special.
So I wrote a book entitled Preaching at the Palace: Fifty Years of Preaching at the Palace. It is in three parts, the first part tells the story of the Palace Theater services for fifty years. And the second part is two sermons by Dr. Truett that were so unusually moving that he delivered at the Palace Theater. And the third part is two series of sermons that I have preached at the theatre.
Now in keeping also with the anniversary, I have chosen for this year the theme, “The Great Mountain Peaks of the Bible.” Tomorrow, Monday at high noon it will be the first mountain, Mount Moriah. I hope I remember it: Mount Moriah. Then on Tuesday it will be Mount Carmel: The Mount of Decision. And on Wednesday it will be Mount Hermon: The Mount of Transfiguration. And on Thursday it will be Mount of Olives: The Mount of the Return of the Lord. And on Friday, the day He was crucified, it will be Mount Calvary: The Mount of Atonement.
Now we are host to the city, and if it is humanly possible, all of our members with all the friends you can gather, you ought to be there. They come in great numbers, people in the city of Dallas, and if you are there to greet them, to shake hands with them or just by your presence to show you are interested in the Lord and the message the pastor brings, it is a fourfold, a fivefold benediction.
Now one other thing: the deacons took up a collection and endowed the book, supplemented its cost. The book cost $2.95. But the deacons took up a collection and made up the difference so that the book could be sold down there at the Palace for a dollar. Now my first thought was to give it away, but in my experience, and yours, you have found that most people when you give them something, they think “well, it’s worthless.” So I decided it would be better if we sold it for a dollar and ask the deacons not to make up the whole amount of the $2.95, but the difference between the cost of the book and a dollar. So tomorrow at the Palace Theater, and only there, we will let everyone have the book for a dollar. And it will be a keepsake forever and I trust will be worthy of our Lord and a part of our gratitude and thanksgiving to Jesus for the fifty years by which He has marvelously blessed us at the Palace. I will see you at high noon tomorrow and every high-noon next week.
Now, the title of the sermon this morning is The Sympathizing Jesus. And it is a message that I have sort of gathered together in preaching in the evening about the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. So turn to Luke 19, and I shall read our text:
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
And, behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, he was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
And he sought to see Jesus who He was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him: for Jesus was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.
And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
There is something in that story that we are going to take out, and we are going to preach about it. First: we are going to speak of the universality of the sympathies of our Lord. You will see that all through the story of His life. For example, in the fifteenth chapter of this same Gospel of Luke:
Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, houtos—
this guy, this fellow, contemptuously they meant it—
This Man receiveth sinners, and eats with them.
And you have it again in this story. Jesus said, “Today I must abide in thy house, Zaccheus” [Luke 19:5]. And when all of those others saw it, they murmured saying that He has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner: “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him” [Luke 15:1]. That was an amazement to the scribes and the Pharisees: wretches steeped in infamy—public sinners, prostitutes and harlots, men of violence and evil—gathered around our Lord and pressed Him on every side, to hear Him.
And I am no less amazed than were these scribes and Pharisees. Their explanation was that He must be one of them because they liked to see Him, and to hear Him, and to be with Him. I know as you know that that explanation is not correct. Our Lord was high and lofty in all of His ideals. In all of His preachments, He never lowered any standard; He raised them up. As meticulous as the law of Moses was concerning morality and ethics and righteousness, the Lord never lowered them, He raised them higher. He said we ought to be perfect like our Father in heaven is perfect [Matthew 5:48].
So I know it wasn’t that He was Himself a vile and infamous wretch like those who gathered round Him and loved to hear Him. And I am saying to you that it is as much an amazement to me how those sinners and infamous persons loved to hear Jesus, and I don’t have any explanation for it; for people who live in darkness and in sin don’t like to be around godly people, they just don’t. And they are not here, and they won’t come. But they came to hear Jesus, and they pressed Him on every side, and they came in great numbers. And they loved to listen to Him. Now, one thing that I know about the Lord that is a part of the explanation, it’s not the explanation, but one thing that is a part of the explanation is this thing I am speaking of now; the universality of His sympathies [Luke 15:1-2].
In the fourth chapter of John, when the disciples came back from Sychar where they had gone to buy food, Jesus, seated by the well of Jacob, was talking to a woman. And you have it translated in the King James Version of the Bible out of which I always preach, but the disciples were amazed, the Scriptures say, [John 4:27] and they marveled that He talked with the woman. The actual Greek of that is they marveled that He talked with a woman, for no rabbi of dignity and self-respect would be seen talking in public with a woman, but Jesus did. And they marveled that He talked with a woman.
Again, in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, mothers brought little children to the Lord Jesus that He might pray over them and that He might put His hands upon them and bless them. And the disciples were highly indignant, busy as Jesus was and these mothers coming with their little children and putting them in His arms and putting them before Him, that He might pray over them and bless them. The Master had bigger things to do than to waste His time with little children. So the disciples were pushing the mothers away and pushing the children away. The Lord said, “Don’t you do that, don’t you do that. Suffer—allow—the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 19:13-15].
That was spoken in a day when children were exposed. By that I am referring to a characterization of Greco Roman civilization; if a man didn’t want a child, he just exposed it, and that was done through the centuries all over the Roman Empire. Take the child and put it on the road somewhere and let the wolves eat it or the jackals eat it. Or worse, let somebody take the child and break up its bones and raise it up as a pitiful creature and put it on the side of the street to beg. That was spoken in that day. Of course among Jewish people no such thing was ever allowed; but there was not that holy sanctity that Jesus bestowed upon motherhood and childhood. The universality of His sympathies; they marveled that He spoke with a woman [John 4:27]. And they must have been more amazed when Jesus said that of such little children is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 19:14].
The universality of His sympathies again: when He told the story of “Who is my neighbor,” He used a Samaritan, a despised and outcast Samaritan. And after He told the story, He turned to the lawyer, the doctor of the law, who asked Him the question, “Who is my neighbor?” And He asked the lawyer, “Who was neighbor to him that fell among thieves; the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan?” And the lawyer would not say Samaritan. He wouldn’t do it. He merely answered, “He that showed compassion and mercy.” But Jesus used, “Samaritan” [Luke 10:25-37].
All right, again in the eighth chapter of the Book of John, you will find the story of the woman taken in adultery [John 8:1-11]. In so many ancient manuscripts, they left it out. And when finally it was put in, it’s out of place, it breaks into the [eighth] and the latter part of the [seventh] chapter of the Book of John because they didn’t know where to place it. And the reason for that is very apparent, even if you didn’t study textual criticism. The reason for it was the people felt that Jesus was encouraging fornication and adultery by His sympathy and compassion with that woman.
You remember the story when she was thrown at His feet, taken in the act, the law of Moses says stone her. And the Lord said let that one who is above sin and reproach, let him cast the first stone and then the others in their order. When the Lord lifted up His head and looked around, there was no man who had remained. They had quietly, stealthily walked away [John 8:3-9].
And the Lord said to that poor wretch of a woman, “Where are thine accusers?” She said, “They have all gone, Lord.” And the Lord said, “And I do not condemn you, either” [John 8:10]. Isn’t that something? “And I do not condemn you: go and sin no more” [John 8:11], the universality of His sympathies. You can see why those ancient manuscript copyists said, “We better leave that out. We better leave that out, that might encourage fornication.”
Well, I speak of one more just after the ascension of our Lord. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the sheet is let down from God out of heaven, and Simon Peter is told to “Rise, kill and eat all kinds of unclean creatures” that violated the Jewish ceremonial law. “Rise, kill and eat.” Simon Peter said, “Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And God said to him, the Lord said to him, “What God has cleansed, call not thou common or unclean” [Acts 10:10-15].
And the next day, the emissaries from a Gentile [in] Caesarea, from Cornelius in Caesarea, came and said an angel had sent them to call for Simon Peter to go tell those Gentiles how they could be saved [Acts 10:17-22]. And when Simon Peter entered the door, he made the announcement, “You know it is against the law for a Jew to enter into the house of a Gentile. But God has showed me that I am not to call any man common or unclean” [Acts 10:28], the universality of His sympathies.
The basic attitude of our Lord was always this: we were not made for Satan, and He is trying to steal us away from the clutches of the devil. But the basic attitude of our Savior was this: “We were made for God and in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and Satan has marred us and hurt us and sometimes ruined us” [Luke 22:31; 1 Peter 5:8].
In my study of the Book of Daniel, I came across something that greatly and indelibly impressed me. The archaeologists were saying that it was easy to identify the age in the Babylonian culture when the bricks were made because on the brick was stamped the image and the seal of the king. So it was easy to identify whether the brick was made in the age of Nebuchadnezzar, or Nabonidus, or Belshazzar, or any of those kings back there.
Well, anyway, the archaeologist was saying, incidentally, that in the British Museum, there is a brick that he had seen, and on it is the image stamped in the brick, the image of the king, and a dog’s track over it. And when I read that, I thought, “That is humanity! Made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and a dog’s track over it; marred by Satan.” That was the basic attitude of the Lord Jesus: God’s creatures, God’s people, sons and daughters of the great King, and a dog’s track has marred the image. In the vilest wretch, He could see a saint, a man of God [Mark 5:1-20; Luke 5:8-10]. In a harlot like Mary Magdalene, He could see the purity of the finest woman. And in Zaccheus, a despised publican [Luke 8:2], He could see a son of Abraham [Luke 19:9-10].
All right, not only the universality of His sympathies—just all of us, all of us—second, I am trying to find answers to why it is that publicans and harlots and infamous people loved to see and to hear and to press close to the Lord Jesus. Second: the personal nature of His affections and His love and His compassion. It is easy to affect love for a country, as for England, and never care for a single Englishman. It is easy to affect a great sympathy with the downtrodden masses, yet never do a loving kindness to one of them. It is easy to affect the philanthropic spirit and yet never do a helpful deed to help one of these who are in such agony of penury and want. Jesus, Jesus never delivered any high-sounding perorations on the elevation of the masses, you won’t find it. And He never spoke on the progress of the species, and so far as I know, He never gave Himself out as the champion of the publican and sinner’s cause. What He did was, as He lived His life and followed His peripatetic ministry walking around, He treated everybody as a fellow creature, as a brother, as a son of Abraham.
Now look at it: in the eyes of that throng in Jericho that shut out His view, Zaccheus was a despised sinner. He was a little man, and he was an outcast from society. But, when Jesus looked at him up there in the top of that tree, Jesus saw the spiritual hunger in his heart, his famished, starved soul [Luke 19:1-5]. Isn’t that strange? The Bible says he was a rich man; wouldn’t you think that money and affluence and wealth would care for all of the needs in a man’s life and in his soul? Anyone who is affluent or who is wealthy will be the first to tell you that the money is just stuff. It doesn’t feed the heart, it doesn’t feed the soul. It makes us even more sterile and empty in itself.
And Zaccheus was like that; spiritually hungry and starved. And the Lord called him before all of that throng, and the little man came down [Luke 19:5-6], and when Jesus told him what He wanted to do, to spend the day in his house, that little fellow stood up ten feet tall. For the first time in his life, he felt not despised and outcast and hated.
All right, one other illustration out of many: how Jesus treated people. Do you ever wonder when you get through reading the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, do you ever wonder at what happened and how it could have happened in the eighth chapter? “And when Jesus came down from the mount, great multitudes followed Him,” throngs of people [Matthew 8:1]. Sometimes He would feed them—five thousand [Matthew 14:15-21], four thousand [Matthew 15:32-39]—great throngs followed Him.
And, behold, a leper came up to Him and said, “Lord, if Thou will, Thou canst make me whole” [Matthew 8:2]. Do you ever wonder how, how could a leper come up to Jesus just like that when He was thronged on every side, pressed on every side? [Matthew 8:1]. “And behold a leper came up to Him.” Well, when you think of it carefully, the answer would be very obvious. For wherever the leper went, by the law he had to cover his mouth with his hands like this, and say, “Unclean, unclean, unclean” [Leviticus 13:45-46]. And that leper just walked right up to Jesus, just walked right up to Him [Matthew 8:2], for wherever that leper went, there was a chilling open circle all around him, nobody, nobody, nobody dare to come close to him. So he just walked wherever he went, and wherever he went, that chilling circle, the people falling away on every side, walking alone, outcast, unclean, unclean, unclean. So he walked right up to Jesus, and the crowd fell away. And the Book says “And Jesus having compassion on him touched him.” Put His hand on him. I can just see the crowd gasp! “And Jesus touched him” [Matthew 8:1-3].
I wish somebody right here could sing that song that so moves my heart, “He Touched Me.” Somebody sang it here at the evangelistic conference, and I thought the whole group was just going up to heaven; He touched me, He touched me. Why, bless your soul, it was half the cure! That leper had forgotten how it was to feel the warmth of a human hand. And the Lord touched him, put His hands upon him. And he was clean [Matthew 8:3].
Well, I try to think how it would be if I were unclean like that, or if my life were outside the circle of God’s love and mercy, how would it be? I think I might be attracted also to the blessed Jesus. I think I would.
It is so easy to condemn, and to belittle, and to castigate, and to judge, and to press down. It is so easy to be critical, sarcastic, unsympathetic; it is so easy to condemn. But if I can read the life of our Lord aright, the only time He condemned was the pharisaical spirit of superiority and self-righteousness. There go I, but for the grace of God; the sympathizing Jesus.
Do you remember when I came back from Africa? I told you about the most unusual church I had ever seen in my life, made out of mud. The whole church was made out of mud, all of it. The pews were made out of mud. The pulpit was made out of mud. This desk was made out of mud. The choir was made out of mud. The whole little church, all of it was made out of mud. (laughter) I guess I ought to say the choir loft was made out of mud. I was in a leper compound.
As you know, in Africa little children have leprosy; one is found leprous, they throw him out, push him out in the bush or in the jungle to die. And our Baptist missionaries had gone over there and gathered all of those lepers in a large compound, and they had their own villages and their own life. And they had built that church.
And I preached to them best I could. And when I got through preaching, I stepped down out of that mud pulpit, and the missionary who was translating said to me, “They want you to come back up into the pulpit because they want to sing you a song.” So I went back up into the pulpit and stood behind that mud desk. And those lepers stood up, and they sang me a song. Guess what it was?
The Great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to tear.
Oh! Listen to the voice of Jesus,
The sympathizing Jesus.
[“The Great Physician,” William Hunter, 1813]
And that love and mercy reached down to me, and I am so glad. The forgiving grace of our blessed Lord came to my own soul, and I am so glad. And the Lord that died for you with hands extended [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:9], extends invitation, and if you will hear His voice, “Oh! list to the voice of Jesus!” you will be saved. You will be blessed, and you will be happy, even in sorrow, and tears, and agony, and death. Our friend, our compassionate Savior who understands all about me and still loves me; what an amazing, what an amazing confirmation of God’s grace and God’s love!
Our time is gone, and we must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus; would you come and stand by me? On the first note of the first stanza, would you come? In the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Make it now, do it now, come now. “Pastor, going to pray with you, going to serve God here with these dear people,” come, and God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The universality of His sympathies
A. Depicted in
publicans, sinners gathered around Him (Luke 15:1-2)
2. The disciples amazed
a. That He talked with
a woman (John 4:27, Luke 7:11-17)
b. That He blessed
little children (Matthew 19:14)
c. His attitude toward
the Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37, 17:16)
3. The woman taken in
adultery (John 8:1-11)
B. His basic attitude
1. We belong to God
in the image of God; Satan marred us, hurts us
II. The personal nature of His affection
to feign, affect love for a country
to feign philosophical spirit of helpfulness toward needy
B. Jesus the opposite
1. His treatment
of people personal; called them by name
a. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-11)
b. The leper (Matthew 8:1-14)