The Compassion of Jesus
March 24th, 1975 @ 12:00 PM
THE COMPASSION OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-75 12:00 p.m.
As it has been announced, the theme of our noonday services this year is “The Compassionate Christ,” and the message today, The Compassion of Jesus; the message tomorrow at noon, The Love of Jesus; the message the following day, Wednesday, The Spirit of Jesus; the message the next day, on Thursday, The Tears of Jesus; and the message on the last day, Friday, the day He was crucified, The Blood of Jesus; the message today, The Compassion of Jesus.
Reading in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew:
Jesus departed and came nigh unto the Sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.
And great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, and blind, and dumb, and maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and He healed them.
Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, and the maimed to be whole, and the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.
Then Jesus called His disciples unto Him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away, lest they faint in the way.
And then the marvelous, glorious breaking of bread, the loaves and the fishes [Matthew 15:36]. “And they did all eat, and were filled” [Matthew 15:37].
What an amazing scene. Our Lord, withdrawing up into the mountains that surround the Sea of Galilee, to rest, to pray, to be quiet; and while He is there, in one of those mountains, the people finding Him present, bring to Him the blind, and the maimed, and the lame, and the deaf, and the halt, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet [Matthew 15:29-30]. What a sight, laying at His feet this human rubbish, the flotsam and jetsam of human life. What did He do and what did He say? Did the Lord say, “Take away these burdens, remove these blind and maimed and halt out of My sight. I have come to enjoy the solitude and the beautiful vistas of these hills and mountains, and I least expected to be worried and burdened with all of these who are in such helpless condition”? No, for you see, He belonged to them and they belonged to Him; and in their abject helplessness He wanted to be near and dear. And the Scriptures say, “And He healed them all” [Matthew 15:30]. Those that were brought up sick and afflicted went down the mountain in strength and in health. I can think of some who struggled to come to the height where He was seated, who depart whole and well again. And it says, “And they glorified the God of Israel” [Matthew 15:31]. The very mountains and hills shook and throbbed with the praises and jubilance of these who had been blessed by the healing hands of the Master. As the glorious poet and prophet Isaiah would have expressed it, “The very hills and mountains broke forth into singing, and the forests of the field clapped their hands” [Isaiah 55:12]. What a glorious, marvelous scene.
Does God do that today? On some glorious mountain, does the Lord look down in compassion upon the afflicted, and the sick, and the maimed, and the crippled, and the halt, and the blind? And does God heal us today? You know what I think? The only difference in people is this: some praise God for their healing, and others never think to return thanksgiving to Him who did it [Luke 17:12-19]. Always we ought to remember: the surgeon may cut, and the pharmacist may concoct a medicine, and the physician may prescribe and minister, but only God can heal. Only God can close a wound. Only God can heal us. And the hem of His seamless robe touches every bed [Matthew 9:20-22].
One of the men who was up here just now said, “I’ve taken my wife back to the hospital. She’s been there in serious illness before.” He’s taken her back again. I said to him, “Tell her we’ll be praying for the blessing of the healing presence of Jesus to be with her.” Ah, the marvelous ministry of our blessed Lord today. When a bad man turns to God, when lips of blasphemy burst out in prayer and praise, this is the work of the Lord, our compassionate Savior.
“And He said to His disciples, I have compassion on the multitude” [Matthew 15:32]. You know what I think? “Jesus moved with compassion” is His ever enduring and endearing name [Matthew 20:34, Mark 1:41, Luke 7:13]. His sympathy, His love, His understanding touched in sweet tones and ways every gesture that He made and every word that He spoke. It brought a wondrous gentleness and kindness into His eyes. It crept into the tones of His voice, haunting and gentle and tender. It characterized His whole life and ministry; the sympathy, and the kindness, and the understanding, and the compassion of our blessed Lord Jesus. When He preached, He preached with compassion. His words were steeped in deepest feeling. Like the apostle Paul, who besought men with many tears [Acts 20:31] and who punctuated his letters, he says, “with tears and weeping” [2 Corinthians 2:4], so our Lord spoke out of the fullness of His heart. He spoke to human need.
You read the words of the life of our Lord. You will never find them speculative or philosophical or theological. They’re always addressed to the heart, speaking to our human need. And even when the Lord denounced with scathing tones and words, He did it out of compassion. Not in all human literature is there a passage as bitter, as denunciatory, as you find in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew. But how was it that our Lord was moved to speak such bitter and blinding words? It came out of His love for the people. “You place heavy burdens,” He says, to the scribes and the Pharisees, “grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s backs. Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” He said, “and for pretense you make long prayers as you devour widow’s houses” [Matthew 23:4, 13-14]. On and on does He strike blows of bitterness and scathing denunciation [Matthew 23:15-36]. Why? Because of His love for the people. And when I turn to the end of the bitter twenty-third chapter of Matthew, do you remember how it ends? It ends in a sob and in a cry: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” [Matthew 23:37-38]. Always in the words of our Lord He spoke out of a heart steeped in deepest feeling and sympathy and compassion.
Why, when you think of His life and His ministry, everything that He did was motivated by an infinite, eternal love for us. Out of compassion did He come into the world for us sinners [Hebrews 10:4-14]. Out of compassion did He weep for the sorrowing [John 11:33-35]. Out of compassion for the despised and the neglected and the hated did He tell the story, the parable of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:30-37]. It was for us who were sick that in compassion He healed us [Matthew 14:14; Mark 1:40-41]. And it was for us lost sinners out of compassion that He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And it is out of compassion for the weary and the discouraged and the downcast of His believers in this earth that He lives in heaven today to make intercession for us [Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34]. And did you know that is the secret of the strange power that our Lord has over this world? The divine sympathy and the heavenly pity by which He looks down upon us is something that melts the hardest heart.
No better sign of the love and pity and sympathy and compassion of our Lord could ever be thought for than the sign and aegis of His cross. With the arms outstretched as wide as the world is wide, as far as the east goes east and the west goes west, so the arms of love and pity and forgiveness of our Lord are extended [Matthew 27:32-50]. He is the one great Redeemer [Ephesians 1:17, Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9]. All others are but poor facsimiles and copies of Him. All others are but broken pieces of Him. He is unique and separate and apart [Hebrews 7:26], the great compassionate Savior of the world.
And it is just such a Lord and just such a Savior that we need in our hour of trial, and discouragement, and illness, and death. The clever man may amuse us for a moment. The clown and the comedian may entertain us for an hour. The materialist and the secularist, they somehow assuage our bitterness with their philosophies and their explanations, but they soon weary us all. Who can build his life upon cleverness? The antics of the clown and the comedian soon satiate their dupes, and the theories and speculations of the secularist vexes our soul and wearies our minds. In the hour of deepest need, we look for Him from heaven to stand by us in understanding, in pity, in comfort, and in strength. In the chamber of affliction and in the hour of death, who sends for the clever man or the comedian, saying, “Just how was that turned in word, and tell me again, just what was the punch line in that joke?” In the hour of deepest trial and necessity and need, who sends for the speculator and the philosopher and the secularist and the materialist, saying, “Now what was that philosophy?” No. We send for Him who is able to give us help and grace in our time of need [Hebrews 4:14-16].
When I was a country pastor, long, long ago, way, way back out in the country, there was a young woman who had pneumonia. And when I was a boy that was a death sentence; if you had a heavy case of pneumonia it meant death. And the young woman was dying; and as the pastor of the church I went to see her. And seated by her side, she said, “Would you read to me from the Bible?” And I read from the Scriptures. And she said, “And now, will you sing me a song?” What was it that the Lord promised? That’s what we grasp for, and need, and seize, and want. What was it that He said? “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. O blessed God, yes! “I go to prepare a place for you” [John 14:3]. O divine Master, yes!
Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life
Words of life and beauty,
Teach me faith and duty
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
Wonderful words of life—
[“Wonderful Words of Life,” Philip P. Bliss, 1874]
the words of our compassionate Lord.
Just one other thing in this text: you find in the story the basis for His marvelous miracles, the compassion of our Lord. He said, “I will not send them away, lest they faint by the way” [Matthew 15:32]. What was the purpose of His miracles? That He might demonstrate His mighty, miraculous power? That was the second temptation: Satan said to Him, “Cast Yourself down from the top of the pinnacle, and the angels will bear Thee up, lest Thou dash Thy foot against a stone [Matthew 4:6]. And let all the world and all Jerusalem wonder at the miracle of Your casting Yourself headlong without hurt or accident or death”; a demonstration of His power for men to see and be overwhelmed and amazed at. That was the temptation of Satan. What was the purpose of His miracles? Always out of the love of His heart and the compassion of His soul, “Do not send them away, lest they faint in the way” [Matthew 15:32].
Did you know you could prepare a sermon on the preventive ministry of our Lord? “Lest some evil befall them [Matthew 15:32] . . . Lest they come into hurt [Matthew 15:32] . . . Lest they faint in the way” [Matthew 15:32]. Think of your life. Are there not a thousand things that might have happened, but they didn’t? Why? Because God took care of you, He sent His guardian angel to precede you. Oh, blessed preventive ministry of our Savior: sending an angel to take care of Simon Peter when Herod Agrippa had prepared to behead him the next morning [Acts 12:7-10]; Daniel crying to the king, “God hath sent His angel and stopped the mouths of the lions” [Daniel 6:21-22]; or the apostle Paul in the terrible storm, “For there stood by me this night the angel of the Lord” [Acts 27:23]. There were a thousand times in your life and in mine when so much tragedy and accident and hurt could have followed; but God’s preventive, gracious, compassionate hand stopped it, sent His angel, His guardian angel to take care of you.
And I close with a word about our Lord’s great ministry in heaven today. It is just that: He is there in heaven at the right hand of God [Romans 8:34], lest we fall and faint by the way. “It is expedient for you,” He said, “that I go away [John 16:7]. But if I go away, I will come for you” [John 14:3]. And He lives in heaven to save to the uttermost those of us who come to God by Him [Hebrews 7:25], lest we faint or fall by the way. He is there, preceding us in glory, preparing for our safe arrival. That’s what Stephen saw. Everywhere in the Book, when the Lord is pictured in heaven, He is seated at the right hand of Power [Hebrews 10:12; Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 3:22; Ephesians 1:20], all except one time: when His first martyr was stoned, He stood up, He stood up to receive the soul of Stephen [Acts 7:55-56].
God does that for us today. In the hour of our death He sends His angel to take us to glory [Luke 16:22]. And He is there preparing a place against the day of our coming [John 14:2-3]—lest we faint or fall by the way [Matthew 15:32]—our sympathetic and understanding and compassionate Savior [Hebrews 4:14-16].
And our Lord, in that sweet confidence that Jesus knows all about us, cares for us, loves us in spite of our weaknesses and failures, forgives our sins in His own blood [1 John 1:7], washes us clean and white by His own cross [Revelation 1:7], has been raised from the dead for our justification to declare us righteous before the presence of God [Romans 4:25], and is in heaven today preparing for our coming, lest we faint or fall by the way [Matthew 15:32], oh, blessed, compassionate, loving, redeeming [1 Peter 1:18-19], sympathetic, understanding Savior [Hebrews 4:14-16], give us a greater capacity to love Thee more; in Thy endearing, compassionate name, amen.