The Sympathetic Heart

The Sympathetic Heart

March 24th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM

Ezekiel 3:15

Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

Ezekiel 3:15

3-24-85    10:50 a.m.


This is the pastor of the church bringing the message from Ezekiel this day entitled The Sympathetic Heart.  It is based upon the experience of the apostle, the experience of the prophet in the third chapter of his book, Ezekiel chapter 3.  And we shall read verses 10 and 11, and verses 14 and 15.  Ezekiel chapter 3, verse 10:

Moreover the Lord said unto me, Son of man, all My words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.

Say: to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.

[Ezekiel 3:10-11]

Verse 14

So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.  Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.

[Ezekiel 3:14-15]

When the word of the Lord came to the prophet, it was sweet as honey [Ezekiel 3:3].  His call and commission were rapturous, they were ecstatic.  And any man who has an experience with the Lord will find that to be true.  It is heavenly, it is marvelous, it is glorious, an intimate experience with the Lord.  The third chapter begins that way.  God said, “Son of man, eat this roll, so I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat the roll.  And it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” [Ezekiel 3:1-3]—the word of the Lord to enter his mind, and his heart, and his soul, the message from heaven that the prophet was to deliver.

But, when he assumed that ministry and answered the call of God to deliver His message, it was in a far and different context than he ever thought for or guessed for.  There was written in that roll lamentations, and mourning, and woe [Ezekiel 2:10].  His message was one of judgment and condemnation.  It was one of visitation from heaven.  It was one of destruction, and violence, and blood, and captivity, and slavery, and the ultimate final destruction of the nation, of the city, and of the holy temple.  It was a bitter message.  So he says that in keeping with the call and commission of the Lord God, he went in bitterness, in the heat of his spirit [Ezekiel 3:14].  All of that judgment that God had given him to deliver, it was bitter to him.

Then he says, “But the hand of the Lord was strong upon me” [Ezekiel 3:14].  He had the same experience that Jeremiah did, that the prophet describes in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah.  The message that God gave him to deliver was one of violence and suffering and slavery [Jeremiah 20:8].  And Jeremiah said, “I will not deliver it.  I will not speak in His name.”  But Jeremiah said, “His word was in my body as a fire burning in my bones, and I could not forebear” [Jeremiah 20:9].  That is the experience of Ezekiel, the bitterness of the message.  “But the hand of the Lord was strong upon me” [Ezekiel 3:14].  He had to deliver it.

So he comes to them of the captivity who dwell at Telabib, by the River Chebar, one of the great, grand canals of Babylon.  And as he came to the captives there who dwelt by the River Chebar, he says, “I sat where they sat, and I remained there astonished among them for seven days”—the sorrow and the suffering of those enslaved and destroyed people.  “I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished” [Ezekiel 3:15].

That word is one of the most dramatic of all the words in the Hebrew language shamem, shamem translated here “astonished” [Ezekiel 3:15].  The word means to be appalled, to be devastated, to be made desolate.  Let me give you an instance of that word.  In the thirteenth chapter of 2 Samuel is described one of the most terrifying and sorrowful experiences that a girl could ever have.  David had a daughter named Tamar.  He had a son named Amnon.  And Amnon ravished and raped his sister Tamar [2 Samuel 13:8-17].  For that, as you remember, Absalom slew him.  Absalom, the brother of Tamar, slew Amnon for what he did [2 Samuel 13:28-29].  Anyway, in that chapter, it describes the feeling, and the destitution, and the desolation of Tamar after she was raped.  And the word is this word shamem, devastated, destroyed [2 Samuel 13:18-20].  The experience of Ezekiel—in his heart, that bitter message that he had to deliver—and when he came to deliver it and saw those wretched captives there in Babylon, and seated where they sat, he remained there shamem, appalled, desolated, destroyed, seven days [Ezekiel 3:14-15].

Those words there, “I sat and remained there among them seven days” [Ezekiel 3:15].  That in that time and era was a sign, a dramatic presentation of the desolation of the heart, mourning.  For example, Lamentations begins, “How doth the city”—talking about the wasted Jerusalem—”how doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!  How has she become as a widow!” [Lamentations 1:1].

In the next chapter, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence” [Lamentations 2:10].  When the prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming captivity of his people, he writes in chapter [3], “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.  Her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground” [Isaiah 3:25-26].

In the description of the depth of the grief of Job, his friends came to comfort him and in Job 2:13, “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him:  for they saw that his grief was very great.”

This is the meaning of the response of Ezekiel when he was commissioned of God to bring a message of judgment and condemnation because of the sins of the people [Ezekiel 3:10-11].  So he responds to God’s call and commission to deliver the word of the Lord.  And when he comes to deliver it, his heart smites him [Ezekiel 3:14].  He looks at those despairing and suffering slaves who have been destroyed by the armies of Babylonia.  And he sits there where they sit, and for seven days his heart goes out to them in deepest sympathy and compassion [Ezekiel 3:15].  That is the background of the subject of the message, The Sympathetic Heart. 

First:  love and compassion in condemnation.  There is a time in every experience, in every life, and in every family, in every nation in history, we are a fallen people; a sinful nation.  There comes a time when God’s message addressed to the people is one of condemnation.  Isaiah 58:1, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice as a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”  That is a part of the word of God; a word of condemnation.  When you read the Book of Proverbs, for example, the [thirteenth] chapter, there does this wise man admonish parents of children that our children must be disciplined.  He speaks of the rod [Proverbs 13:24].  And an undisciplined child will be a heartbreak and a disappointment to the family and an unwanted guest wherever he goes.  Discipline, condemnation, warning is a part of the Word of the Lord.  And if we deliver the Word of the Lord God that will be a part of it: warning of our ways, lest we fall into death and damnation.  But when that Word is delivered, whether in the home in disciplining a child, or whether from the pulpit in addressing the people and the nation, always the word of condemnation is to be delivered with love, and compassion, and a broken heart.

The bitterest of all of the literature I have ever read in my life, whether it is in Greek, or Hebrew, or English, or translated out of other languages, there is none as scathing and as withering as the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew, when the Lord denounces the scribes and the Pharisees, and the elders, and the Sadducees, and the rulers of the people that brought destruction to the nation and to the city [Matthew 23:1-39].  Do you remember how it ends?  It ends in sobs and in tears as our Lord weeps over that fallen city [Luke 19:41]—compassion and love in condemnation.  In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul describes his ministry in Ephesus [Acts 20:17-35], and he says, “Remember, by the space of three years that I cease not to warn everyone day and night with tears, with tears” [Acts 20:31].

There is a saying that is everlastingly and gospel truth: we are to hate the sin, but never are we to hate the sinner.

Anything, O God, but hate.

I have known it in my day.

And the best it does is sear your soul

And eat your heart away.

. . .

O God, if I have but one prayer

Before the cloud-wrapped end,

I’m sick of hate

And the waste it makes,

Let me be my brother’s friend.

[from “Prayer for 1930,” Fanny Heaslip Lea]

I have heard men preach on hell, the damnation of the soul.  I have heard them preach on hell as though they were glad, a message of triumph—these lost sinners, damned in fire and perdition forever.  Even as a lad, when I began to preach, I prayed before the Lord when time comes in delivering the message of God and I preach on damnation and hell, Lord, let it be, let it be with a broken heart.  And if I cannot preach the judgment of God with a heart that breaks let me not preach it at all—love and compassion in condemnation, not rejoicing over the sins, and the loss, and the suffering, and the judgment of people, but looking upon it with tears, and intercession, and love, and compassion.  God grant it.

Number two: the sympathetic heart, understanding and charity in judgments.  I read this week of a professor in a university.  And in the class that he taught—a large class—was a new student.  And in the teaching of the class, the professor called upon that student to read.  So the young fellow stood up in obedience to the invitation of the professor, and he started to read.  And the professor said to the lad, he said “Son, take both of your hands and read with the book in both of your hands.”

The young man did not respond, he just kept reading with the book held in one hand.  Then the professor explained, he said, “Young man, read with both of your hands.  Hold the book with both of your hands.  When you come to the end of the page, hold it with one hand and with the other hand, turn the page.  Read with both of your hands.”  And the young fellow stood there and continued reading, holding the book with one hand.  And the irritated professor said, “Young man, I said read the book holding it with both of your hands.  I command you to read the book holding it with both of your hands!” Thereupon, the young fellow took out of his pocket a stub of an arm.  And the professor looked at him and said, “I —I understand.  I understand.”

So many of the things in our lives—if we knew all about them and why—it would be an amazing understanding and charity on our part.  The Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 7, verses 1 and 2, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, you yourself shall be judged:  and with what measure you mete, you shall be measured again” [Matthew 7:1-2]—charity, and understanding, and kindness in judgment.

Some of these things that happened to me when I began as a pastor, started when I was seventeen years old, some of those things that I experienced in my beginning work made indelible impressions upon my soul.  This is one: in the little country church where I lived, up there was a hollow filled with Burts, and I went up there in the hollow and visited with the people, and prayed with the people, and won them to the Lord, and baptized them, the whole tribe.  And they were down there in my little country church, the Burts.

Will Burt, the patriarch up there, had a daughter.  We didn’t have any high school there where that little country church was located, so he sent his daughter to the county seat town to go to high school.  And after the passing of days, she came back pregnant.  She is going to have a baby, an unwed girl.  The reaction on the part of one of the deacons in the church was fierce, and vituperative, and vitriolic.  He demanded of me—and I was just a teenager—he demanded of me that that girl be excommunicated from the church, that she be turned out of the church.  And with vicious words, he castigated the whole family.  They weren’t fit for association.  And of course, all of them left.  They did not come back to the church anymore.

And that deacon, John Davis, kept up his diatribe.  Over fifty years ago, that was a deep, dark, and unpardonable sin.  He had, John Davis had two girls.  One of them, the older was named Ina, and she was mentally retarded.  And the other girl married.  She and her husband, young husband, came to the home of John Davis, the father.  And she was going to have her baby there in the home.  And while she was waiting for the baby to be born in the home of John Davis, Ina the older sister, mentally retarded, Ina became pregnant with child by the husband of her sister; by her brother-in-law, in the home of John Davis.

And if I were to live a thousand lifetimes, I would never forget.  The cemetery was on a slope of a hill, and at the bottom of the cemetery ran a country road.  And on that country road, I met John Davis.  You have never seen in your life a man cry and weep and lament as John Davis.  And he said to me, in his tears of anguish and suffering, he said, “What makes it so terrible is the words that I spoke about Will Burt and his daughter, and all of the things that I have done against them.  And now this has happened, not only to my own daughter, but in my own house.”

It behooves us whoever we are and however righteous we may be, it behooves us to look with pity, and compassion, and love, and understanding on the sins of other people.  It may be that just such a tragedy might overwhelm you, and your home, and your family—charity and understanding in judgment.

A third thing:  not only love and compassion in condemnation [Luke 19:41; Acts 20:31], not only charity and understanding in judgment [Matthew 7:1-2], but also prayer and helpfulness in human need, in the sorrow and tragedies of life [Romans 12:15].  In my reading—and I read all the time—in my reading, I came across one of the strangest things that my mind could imagine.  It was a manual for a mechanic, how to make instruments in steel of perfect measurement, working with lathes and making those things out of iron.

And one of the rules in the book for mechanics was this: “Remember, the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.”  I read that I don’t know how many times.  Remember, the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.  That manual is talking about cold steel!  That manual is talking about iron, hard iron!  And the manual says, remember, the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.  It will move cold steel—the warmth of a human hand, the touch of a human hand.  When I read that, I think if the warmth and touch of a human hand will do that to a bar of cold steel, think what it will do, the loving, warm, compassionate, prayerful touch of a human hand to a human heart; to a human life.  To someone who is sick in soul or hurt in heart, or grieved in spirit, the touch of a human hand; I think of the hands of our Lord.

At this 8:15 service, I said, “You know, one time I preached on the hands of Jesus.”  It was a series I remembered.  I preached on the face of Jesus, and the shoulders of Jesus, and the hands of Jesus.  Well, did you know half a dozen people after that came up and said, “Pastor, you delivered that message—those messages in 1982?”  I couldn’t remember it at all.  Man, I’ve got to remember that people remember what I preach here.  I’ve got—I have to make new sermons.  I must!  I can’t preach the same ones.  They remember them.  Isn’t that something?

The hands of our Lord touching a leper [Matthew 8:2-3]—can you imagine it?  It was half of the cure.  Or touching the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-29], or touching the sick [Mark 1:29-31], or raising up Simon Peter out of a watery grave [Matthew 14:28-31]—the compassionate love of our Lord.  “Jesus filled with compassion” is His ever-enduring name [Mark 1:41].  “And the Lord seeing the people had compassion upon them.  They were as sheep without a shepherd” [Mark 6:34].  The love of our Lord for us and that is our deep, moving response to the love of Jesus in us.  Lord, Lord, that my own heart, my own life, might be filled with care and outreach for others, that I might be a blessing to them, that God would use me to speak words and to do deeds to encourage them and to bless them, and above all a heart to care for them when they are lost [Philippians 2:4].

I can’t tell this.  I didn’t grow up around the sea.  I grew up in high, dry, semi-desert, northwest Texas and northeastern New Mexico.  And the only water we ever had was from a windmill, pumping it out of the ground.  I was never around the sea.  And when I tried to think through to tell this, I just am not acquainted with its nomenclature, so I thought I would just read it.  I will just read it.  It is from Thomas Guthrie, a marvelous preacher in Scotland, lived in the last century, one of the great preachers of all time, Thomas Guthrie.  He was born by the sea.   He died by the sea, and all of his life he preached by the sea.  And his language reflects his intimate acquaintance with the great ocean.  And this is it:

During a heavy storm off the coast of Spain, a dismasted merchantman was observed by a British frigate drifting before the gale.  Every eye and glass were on her, and a canvas shelter on a deck, level with the sea, suggested the idea that there yet might be life on board.  With all its faults, no man is more alive to humanity than the rough and hearty mariner.  And so the order instantly sounds to put the ship about.  And presently a boat puts off with instructions to bear down upon the wreck.

Away after that drifting hull go these gallant men through the swells of a roaring sea.  They reach it.  They shout.  And now, a strange object rolls out of that canvas screen against the lee shroud of a broken mast.  Hauled into the boat, it proves to be the trunk of a man bent head and knees together, so dried and shriveled as to be hardly felt within the ample clothes, and so light that a mere boy could lift it on board.  It is laid on the deck.   In horror and pity,  the crew gather round it.  It shows signs of life.   They draw nearer.  It moves and then mutters, mutters in a deep sepulchral voice, “There is another man.  There is another man.”  Saved himself, the first use of his speech is to seek to save somebody else.  “There is another man.  There is another man on that hull, on that drifting wreck.  There is another man.”

That is the compassionate heart.  Lord God, how I praise Thee that I know Thee as my Savior, that God in His mercy touched me and saved me—but there’s another man.  There’s somebody else.  There’s that couple down the street.  There’s that neighbor.  There’s that one with whom I work.  There are these in this city numbering the thousands.  There’s another man.  There’s somebody else, and the heart of love and compassion leads us to invite to our Lord, to love our Savior, and someday, please God, to go to heaven with one another and with Jesus [John 14:3].

O Lord, what could be more beautiful than thus to give your life and soul and every glorious tomorrow to our wonderful Savior; to be filled with His image and His likeness and His compassion; to ask every day to be more and more like Jesus, and asking for a heart that would lead us in love and sympathy to others.  And it is that to which we invite you this day, this day.

And all over this vast throng, a family you to put your life with us in the church, “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children.  All of us are coming today.”  A couple you, a young man and his wife; you and your friend; or just you, “God has spoken to me this day, and I am answering with my life.”  On the first note of the first stanza, “I am coming.” No one leaving during the invitation, all of us praying, seeking the mind and the will of our Lord and answering it with our lives, “I want to join the church, and I am coming.”  Or, “I want to give my heart in faith to Jesus, and here I am.”  Or, “I want to be baptized just as God commanded in His Word” [Matthew 28:19-20].  Or, “I want to answer a call of God in my heart.”  Make that decision now.  Do it now.  And may angels attend you in the way as you come.

Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W. A.



I.          Background
of the message

A.  God’s call is sweet

B.  The message is bitter

C.  Ezekiel sat with the
people seven days in silence and sympathy

II.         Love
and compassion in condemnation

A.  There is a time for

B.  Not rejoicing, but
sorrow over the judgment of the people

III.        Understanding
and charity in judgment

IV.       Prayer
and helpfulness in misfortune

A.  The power of touch

V.        Care
for the lost