THE SYMPATHIZING JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-30-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sympathizing Jesus. It is not a new message, if come to church at night. It is something that I just felt in my heart I wanted to do. It is a summary of some of the things that I have been thinking and saying and preaching from the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. And if you would like to turn to it, you can follow the message easily, Luke chapter 19:
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 the Lord 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 all the people around saw it, they murmured, saying, That He had gone to be the guest with a man that is a sinner.
And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, [beginning now], the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I will restore him fourfold.
And Jesus said unto him, Today is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he is also a son of Abraham.
For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
The sermon is taken out of a turn in the life of our Lord. And it is so well illustrated, as you will later see in this passage. You will see it as I turn back to the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, houtos, houtos —
this guy, this fellow, an epithet of contempt—
Houtos, this Fellow receiveth sinners, and eats with them.
An amazing thing to them; and He eats with them. Now, the same thing in this story. And when all of those around saw it, that He had gone to the home of a man that is a sinner, they murmured saying that He was gone to be the guest with a man that is a sinner [Luke 19:7].
Well, you are as I am; you have observed that ungodly people don’t like to be with godly people. The people of the dark seemy underworld don’t go to church, period. Nor are they interested in making friends with church people. Godlessness and godliness just don’t go together, and when a man gives his life to ungodliness, he just shies away from godly people, period. That’s just something you will see everywhere. Except in the life of our Lord; it was not true of Him, “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him” [Luke 15:1].
That’s one of the most inexplicable things about the life of Jesus you could ever find in studying about our Savior. Harlots, and prostitutes, and sinners steeped in infamy, and public characters loved to see Him and to hear Him, and they pressed around Him on every side. It was hard for the scribes and the Pharisees to get close to Him because the sinners and the infamous surrounded Him on every side. Well, I would like for anybody to explain that to me. I don’t have an answer. But this morning I am going to point out two things about the Lord that are part of the answer; the strange attraction and appeal that Jesus had for sinners.
First: His sympathy for all people everywhere [Luke 15:1-2]. If I were to phrase it more beautifully, the universality of His sympathies. In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, the disciples are in Sychar buying food [John 4:7], and when they came back the Lord was seated by the side of the well of Jacob because He was weary from the long day’s journey. It was even tide, and He had walked from Jerusalem up to Sychar in Samaria [John 4:4-6]. And when the disciples came back, they found the Lord seated there by the side of the well talking to a despised, outcast, Samaritan woman [John 4:27].
And in the King James Version, you have it translated, “And the disciples marveled that He talked with the woman.” What the Greek of it is, “And the disciples marveled that He talked with a woman” [John 4:27], for no self-respecting and dignified rabbi would be seen in public conversing with a woman. But Jesus did. Not only with that dear, unfortunate, unhappy woman but with womanhood wherever He met her kind and like. Such as the poor widow of Nain following after a casket, weeping over her only child and only son who had died. You don’t have funerals in the presence of the Lord in the days of His flesh because He raises them from the dead, and He did to that woman’s son and gave her back her only boy [Luke 7:11-15], the sympathies of our Lord. And the disciples marveled that He talked with a woman [John 4:27]. And it is a truism to say that womanhood owes more to Jesus than to any other force in human history.
All right, again, in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, you find mothers bringing little children to the Lord Jesus that He might hold them in His arms, that He might pray, that He might bless them. And when the disciples saw it, they were very much offended, for the Lord Jesus had great responsibilities. He had sermons to preach, and He had multitudes to minister to, and He had throngs to teach. He was a great prophet and a great rabbi. And when these mothers came with little children and began to place them before the Lord that He might pray for them, and bless them, and touch them with His hands, the offended disciples rebuked the mothers and said, “Don’t you see the Master is busy. He has great responsibilities. He has throngs to minister to, and here you are bringing in these little children. Get these children away.” And the Lord said:
No, no! Not so, suffer the little children, allow the little children, to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such—
innocent, trusting, full of faith—
for of such is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 19:13-14].
That was spoken in the day when the exposition, the exposing of children was universal in the Greco Roman Empire. If you’ll just read the ordinary letters that were written in those days, time and again, I have read some of them. A man will write to his family and say, “Take this baby and expose it. I don’t want it.” And that was his privilege, and by exposing a child, we mean they would take the little thing and put it on the side of the road or in a mountain pass somewhere for the jackals to eat or the wolves to devour; or worse still for an unscrupulous family to take the child and break its bones and let it grow up in pitiful ugliness and set it on the side of the street to beg alms. And it was spoken in the day when children were looked upon as being nothing; the universality of His sympathies [Luke 15:1-2].
Again, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord is telling a story in answer to a lawyer’s question about who is his neighbor [Luke 10:29]. And in the telling of that story, the Lord used an example of a despised, outcast Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37]. And when He got through telling the story, He turned to the lawyer, and He said, “Of those—the priest who passed on one side, and the Levite who passed on the other side, and the Samaritan who ministered to the wounds and needs of this man who fell among robbers—of the three, who was neighbor to him that was in such necessity and want?” [Luke 10:36]. And the lawyer refused to say “Samaritan.” He wouldn’t defile his mouth and his tongue and his lips with the pronouncing of the word. The lawyer said, “He that showed mercy and compassion upon him” [Luke 10:36-37].
But Jesus was not that way; not only did He say “Samaritan,” not only did He use the Samaritan in a story of mercy and compassion, but He went through Samaria [John 4:3-6] and preached the gospel to the Samaritans. And the whole city turned in Sychar and trusted and received Him as the Lord of life: Jesus [John 4:28-42].
All right again, the universality of His sympathies [Luke 15:1-2]: in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John [John 8:1-11], you will find a story that was left out by the ancient copyists. And when it is stuck there in the eighth chapter of John, it breaks the story, it doesn’t belong there. The seventh chapter of John and the eighth chapter of John, that story in there about Jesus doesn’t belong. But they had to stick it somewhere in the Textus Receptus, so they stuck it there. Well, what’s the matter with the story? Well, it’s very evident what’s the matter with the story: why the ancient copyists left it out. In the story there is a woman taken in adultery, and she is flung at the feet of the Lord Jesus by the scribes and the Pharisees with the pronouncement of the judgment of death by the law of Moses. So, she is flung there at the feet of the Lord, and they say, “caught in the very act, and the law of Moses says she is to be stoned to death! What do You say?” [John 8:3-5].
Well, what did the Lord say? What did He say? He looked at those men, self-righteous and proud of their obedience to the law, He looked at them and said, “Yes, yes, then let us start, let us stone her. And let the one without sin cast the first stone. And then the next one without sin, let him cast the next stone. And the next one without sin, cast the third stone, until you have stoned her dead” [John 8:6-7]. And the Lord bowed His head and began to trace letters in the sand. And when He lifted up His head, there wasn’t anyone there but just that poor woman and Himself. For one by one, he dropped his stone. One by one walked away [Luke 8:8-9]. And the Lord said to her, “Where are thine accusers? Where are they?”
She said, “They have all gone, and I am here alone.”
“There are none to condemn thee?”
“No,” said the woman. And the Lord said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” [John 8:10-11].
And when the copyists read that, they left it out, for they said this condones and encourages fornication and immorality, and they left it out; which is a wonderful pointing out of the difference between the Lord Jesus and us.
He never lowered the standards. He said, “Except your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot even get in” [Matthew 5:20]. He never lowered the standards. He said we are to be perfect, as the Father which is in heaven is perfect [Matthew 5:48]. He never lowered the standards. He said, Just to hate is murder [1 John 3:15], and to look with lust is adultery [Matthew 5:28]. He never lowered the standards; He raised them up and up and up—and up to be like God Himself.
But there was a sympathy and an understanding in the Lord Jesus that those who didn’t meet the standards felt, and were moved by it deeply. There was a basic assumption in our Lord that is fundamental in all that you read in His life, and it is this; the assumption of our Lord was that we were not made for the devil, and the Savior is trying to steal us away from him. But the assumption of our Lord was that we have been made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and the devil has marred us and hurt us and destroyed us. [Luke 22:31; 1 Peter 5:8].
In my preaching through the Book of Daniel that I will begin after several months, in my preaching through the Book of Daniel, I read many, many books on archaeology. And in one of those books, there was an archaeologist who was talking about how easy it is, how easy it is, to date those bricks that they dig up in Chaldea and in Babylonia. “For,” said the archaeologist, “all those bricks have the image and the seal of the reigning king stamped in them.” And when the brick is baked, the image of the king and the seal of the monarch is baked into the brick. So when they dig them up, it is easy to date whether the brick was made by Nebuchadnezzar or Nabonidus or Belshazzar, easy.
Then one of those archaeologists said that he had seen a brick dug up out of Babylon that was in the British Museum that had on it the image and seal of the king and a dog’s track had covered it. And I thought that is humanity, made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and a dog’s track has marred us and hurt us and destroyed us. But underneath the imprint of Satan and the evil one, Jesus could see the likeness of God. In the vilest sinner, He could see the saint [Mark 5:1-20; Luke 5:8-10]; in the harlot of a woman, the purity of a Mary Magdalene [Luke 8:2]; and in an outcast, a son of Abraham [Luke 19:9-10]. That is the Lord Jesus.
And when I have the Spirit of the Lord in me, I can see that same thing in a man who is giving the strength of his life to the world, a man who could be a pillar in the house of God; a family that gives itself to the cheap, tawdry rewards of the world, a family that could meet the very presence and glory of God in the household of faith. That is the Lord Jesus.
All right, second. And where does the time go? We are talking about why it was that sinners, infamous persons, public characters loved to press around the Lord Jesus, to hear the Lord Jesus. Second—and I don’t have a complete answer for this, I am just pointing out some things; one, the universality of His sympathies [Luke 15:1-2], the mother, the woman, the Samaritan, the sinner.
Second: because of the personal nature of His affections—His compassion and love—it is easy to affect a love for a country; like loving England and not caring for a single Englishman. It is easy to affect a great sympathy for the downtrodden masses and yet never do a deed to help one of them. It is easy to be philanthropic in spirit and yet never personally care for any one of the wretches to whom you are giving. How different the blessed Lord! He never made any high-sounding speeches about the elevation of the masses, nor did He ever give Himself to any perorations about the progress of the species. And as far as I know, He never announced Himself as the champion of the cause to the publicans and the sinners. But what the blessed Lord did was, in His personal affections, He loved a man because He was a brother, a fellow creature, a child of God.
And now I turn to the story of Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-10]: this little fellow was despised, and outcast, and to the crowd that surrounded him, he was a little man and a cursed man and a despised man. But the little fellow wanted to see Jesus, so he climbed up in that tree to get a view of the Lord. And when the Lord came by, He knew all about Him, called him by his name as though He had known him all His life. Isn’t that amazing? Called him by his name as though He had been next-door neighbor to him for forty years, called him by his name! [Luke 19:1-5].
Inside of that human heart, He saw spiritual hunger and famine and a wanting for God. Isn’t that something? Because he was a rich man, he was affluent and well-to-do, money has only a negative value. If you don’t have it, you can’t buy groceries, and you can’t pay rent, and you can’t pay the light bill, but beyond that negative value, money has no value at all. It is stuff. You can’t feed your soul on money, or on the world, or on affluence; and Zaccheus, a rich man, was starved and hungry and empty in his soul. And Jesus came by, looked upon the despised outcast and said, “Zaccheus, come down, for today, for today, I will be the guest in your home” [Luke 19:5].
Why, it’s the first time in memory the little fellow had ever been looked upon as any other thing than somebody to scorn, to spit at, to hate, to despise. And when the little fellow came down and Jesus so addressed him, I bet you he stood ten feet tall! And when the Lord spent the day in his house and said, “Today salvation has come to this home” [Luke 19:9]. Zaccheus stood up before the blessed Savior and said, “Lord, it’s a new day for me and my life. From now on, everything I have—half of it, I will give to the poor. And if I wrong any man, I will restore him fourfold” [Luke 19:8]. It’s a day of salvation for Zaccheus [Luke 19:9-10].
Now I want to take time just for one other: we are talking now about the personal affection of our Lord’s sympathies. In the Book of Matthew, the great sermon called the Sermon on the Mount is chapters 5, 6, and 7, and when you come to chapter 8, it starts out like this:
And when Jesus came down from the mount,
great multitudes followed Him.
Now, look at the next verse,
And, behold, a leper came up to Him and said, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.
Did it ever occur to you, how in the earth did a leper ever get to Jesus, surrounded and pressed on every side by throngs and multitudes, because the Scriptures say when He came down from the mountain great multitudes surrounded Him? [Matthew 8:1]. Well, how did that leper just walk right up to Him? Well, when you read about those days, it will be very apparent: by law when the leper appeared, he had to cover his mouth with his hand and to cry aloud, “Unclean, unclean, unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45-46]. Wherever he went, the people fell away from him, fell away from him, fell away from him, and he walked in the center of a chilling circle, always that circle wherever he walked. “Unclean, unclean!” and the people fell away, and he stood alone in the center of the circle.
When therefore, the Lord surrounded by those multitudes [Matthew 8:1-2], he walked right up to Jesus, walked right straight to Jesus, and the people fell away on every side, always that chilling circle, and he in the center of it—when he walked up to Jesus, did the Lord fall away? I could not have conceived of it, could you? The Lord stood there, and the leper came right up to Him, and in that circle, those two stood alone. And the Scriptures say, “The Lord in His compassion put His hand upon him and touched him” [Matthew 8:1-3].
At the conference here, the evangelistic conference, they had a singer stand here in this pulpit and sing “He Touched Me.” If I had thought about this, maybe we would have had somebody sing it right now. But I thought that bunch of preachers were going to glory. “And He touched me.”
And the Lord extended His hand. The Scriptures emphasize it, “and the Lord extended His hand and touched him” [Matthew 8:3]. I can see the gasp as He touched that lonesome leper. But my brother, it was half the cure! He had forgotten what it was like to feel the warmth of the touch of a human hand, and when Jesus touched him out of love and compassion and sympathy, he was well again, whole again, clean again; he was saved and a man again [Matthew 8:3].
I’m just pointing out to you why it is that maybe people, everybody who was not self-righteous and proud in their goodness, why people loved the Lord Jesus. And maybe that is why we love Him too. The goodness and grace of God has reached down even to us [Romans 10:6-8]. And I feel it in my heart and love God for it. For had the Lord condemned sinners, some of us would be having a hard time trying to face the day when the saints go into heaven, but in Jesus we have hope, and forgiveness, and love, and mercy, and compassion, and grace [2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 2:11]. And Lord if I had ten thousand lives they would not suffice to say how much in my soul I glorify and magnify Thee. “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory, and honor, and dominion, forever and ever. Amen. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]; magnify the blessed Jesus.
Now, Lee Roy let’s sing us a song, and while we sing the song, a family you, to come and stand by me, “Pastor, to pray, to work, to give my life to God, here I come. This is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today.” A couple you, or one somebody you, in the balcony round, there is a stairway at the back, at the front, on either side, the throng on the lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.”
Make the decision now. Do it for God. And see if angels do not attend you in the way. Come. Make the decision. Then in a moment when we stand, stand up coming. “Dear wife, let’s go.” Or you, come, while we stand and while we sing.