The Compassionate Christ
January 10th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-10-88 10:50 a.m.
You are now part of our First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Compassionate Christ. It is an exposition of the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John. In our preaching through that Fourth Gospel, we have arrived at one of the greatest chapters, one of the most moving and meaningful in all the Word of God. It is the story of the illness and death of Lazarus, the friend of our Lord, and his resuscitation from the dead.
I read the first five verses, just as a background. John 11:
Now a certain one, a certain man was sick, named Lazarus—
that is a Greek form of Eliezar—
Of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
(It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
Therefore his sisters sent unto Jesus, saying, Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.
When Jesus heard that, He said, This illness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus.
To begin with, may I ask your judgment in something? Would you not think—would you not, that this is the last home in this earth, into which you would ever suppose that illness and death would enter? This is a home where Jesus lived away from home. When He was in Judea, and when He was in Jerusalem, He stayed there in Bethany, in the house where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived. And the Bible itself here reiterates, Jesus loved those three, the two sisters and the brother [John 11:5]. And having Jesus in the home as a guest, and our Lord presented as a faithful friend and devout lover of those three, I ask you, wouldn’t you think that this would be the last home and house in the earth into which such sorrow and hurt would enter?
That gives me an opportunity to make an observation about modern preaching. I do not know of anything that is more aberrational, erroneous, than modern preaching that you accept the Lord as your Savior, you be a Christian, and you will be rich, and you will be wealthy, and you will be healthy, and you won’t have any trials or troubles.
The whole story of the Christian faith is interdiction of that. When you use the word “martyr”—martyr; martyr is a Greek word for “witness,” spelled out in the English language, martyr. When you use the word martyr, you are speaking of a Christian who laid down His life. They were sawn asunder. They were persecuted. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; naked, tormented, afflicted. They were imprisoned [Hebrews 11:36-37]. They were burned at the stake because they were disciples of the Lord. And yet, it is a constant refrain that you hear on radio and on television; “You be a Christian, and you’ll be delivered from all of the hurts and the sorrows and the trials of life.” There’s no such thing as that in the Word of God or in Christian experience.
If I turn back just one page to the ninth chapter of the Book of John, out of which I’m preaching, the Lord and His disciples are passing by, and they see a blind man from his birth [John 9:1]. And the disciples ask the Lord:
Lord, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
And the Lord replies, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents, that he is born blind: but that the works of God might be glorified in him.
[John 9:2, 3]
A great purpose back of the sorrow and hurt of that afflicted man [John 9:3].
It is the story of Job. And why the message of the Word of God does not come to our hearts in that, I cannot understand. Job’s friends, Job’s comforters, came and said to him, “You must be a great sinner. You suffer so much” [Job 4:7-8]. And the Word of God presents the old patriarch not as a sinner; he was the most just man and righteous in all the earth [Job 1:8, 2:3]. The Word of God presents the whole dramatic story. This Job, who suffered beyond any old patriarch presented in the Bible—this Job suffered that the glory of God, the goodness of God, might be revealed in him [Job 42:10].
Out of our sorrows and out of our hurts, out of our trials and tribulations, come God’s greatest blessings. One who has never suffered and never sorrowed, one who has never cried, could not know the depths or the heights or the lengths or the breadths of the love God and the comforting presence of Jesus. In these are deposited our greatest blessings.
As many of you know, I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before I came here to be undershepherd of our dear church here in Dallas. In Muskogee is the only Christian Indian college on the North American continent, and I suppose, in the world. It’s called Bacone College, built there by Northern Baptist fellowships.
Well, on the foundation of Bacone College is a word from Charles Journeycake, chief of the Delawares, carved in stone on that beautiful chapel building. I was so surprised when our wonderful friend from Conway, Arkansas, said to me that Charles Journeycake was the great-grandfather of his dear wife.
You listen to what that chief, that Indian chief, said. Quote, and this is carved in stone on that foundation:
We have been broken up and moved six times. We have been despoiled of our property. We thought when we moved across the Missouri River and had paid for our homes in Kansas we were safe. But in a few years the white man wanted our country. We had good farms, built comfortable houses and big barns. We had schools for our children and churches where we listened to the same gospel the white man listens to.
The white man came into our country from Missouri and drove our cattle and horses away, and if our people followed them, they were killed. We tried to forget those things. But we would not forget that the white man brought us the blessed gospel of Christ: the Christian’s hope. This more than pays for all that we have suffered.
—April 1886, Charles Johnnycake, chief of the Delawares.
That is the Christian faith: that out of the troubles, and sorrows, and hurts, and trials of life come our greatest blessings.
Now in this story in the life of our Lord; when Lazarus became sick, they sent and told Jesus [John 11:13]. That’s the way the story begins. And isn’t that so typical of the relationship and the response that the disciples of the Lord made to our Savior? When John the Baptist was beheaded [Matthew 14:1-11], the Scriptures say that His disciples went and told Jesus [Matthew 14:12]. When the nobleman at Capernaum had a son who was sick unto death, the Scriptures say, he went and told Jesus [John 4:46-47].
Wasn’t that a moving song that our sweet gospel singer sang just now?
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles.
He is a kind, compassionate friend.
In my distress He kindly will help me.
Make of my trials swiftly an end.
I must tell Jesus . . .
I cannot bear these burdens alone.
[from “I Must Tell Jesus,” Elisha A. Hoffman]
And in the compassionate story, whoever translated this did a remarkably pertinent thing when he placed the response of our Lord in a little verse to itself. Isn’t that remarkable? “Jesus wept” [John 11:35]. A verse set aside, alone; John 11:35, the compassionate heart of our Lord. He cried; the Greek is “He burst into tears,” though it’s still just two words: “Jesus wept.”
Three times in the Bible is our Lord described as crying. This is one, at the tomb of Lazarus [John 11:35]. A second was on Palm Sunday, we call it. In the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when He came to the brow of Olivet and saw the city spread before Him, and being prophetic in character, knowing of the destruction of 70 AD, the Bible says our Lord wept over the city [Luke 19:41]. The third time He is described as crying is in the Book of Hebrews. In the garden of Gethsemane “with strong crying and tears, He made supplication to Him who was able to save Him from death” [Hebrews 5:7]; the compassionate, tender heart of our Savior.
It seems to me that there are deep experiences in the Christian life that can be expressed only in tears. To verbalize it doesn’t say it. Maybe it was a wonderful experience when I was saved. Maybe it was a deliverance in a trial. Maybe it was an answer from heaven. But somehow, it can’t be placed in speech, just in tears.
I’ve often thought that a dull, dry prosaic religion is so alien from the mind and heart of our blessed Savior. Dear God, how could one respond to the sweetness and preciousness of the love of Christ for us, and do it without being moved, even unto tears? Such a religion as that unfits us. To see the mystical city that Abraham saw [Hebrews 11:10, 13], toward which we pilgrimage in our lives; or to hear the angels, who sang while Jacob was asleep [Genesis 28:10-19]—and may I speak of a concomitant and a corollary of that avowal? When we lose our human sensitivity and compassion, we also lose our moral discernment.
I wandered around Dachau—walking around Dachau, not long after the Second World War, just outside Munich, where Hitler rose to power. And I would look and look and look—whereas today we use, say, rats and mice and guinea pigs in a scientific medical laboratory, Hitler used human beings, mostly Jews. And he experimented there in Dachau with human beings, “created in the image of God” [Genesis 1:27].
Seeking an answer to what kind of clothing they would wear when they invaded Russia, at what temperature this Jew, this human being, would freeze to death, all kinds of experiments like that. Well, how, where could such insensitivity come from? From the most intellectual nation that has ever lived in human story? There never has been any people in history who ever had the intellectual prowess, university training that Germany had. And this is the result: a moral insensitivity that comes out of the lack of a loving, compassionate heart.
And may I point out the same thing today? I was in Hiroshima, they call it over there, Hiroshima. And I visited in one of the hospitals, praying with some of those people who had lived beyond the atomic bomb. And if these reports are correct today, the bomb that was detonated over Hiroshima is a firecracker compared to the thermonuclear blast of which our nations are capable today. This is the result of intellectual experimentation and science. But, O God, what of the horror of human hurt in the midst of an atomic confrontation? I’m just pointing out that it is our moral sensitivity that spares us and delivers us; that we so desperately need to be like Jesus, like our Lord.
One of the things that is written in the ninth chapter of the Book of Matthew says that when Jesus saw those multitudes, Jesus was moved with compassion on them [Matthew 9:36]. “Jesus moved with compassion” is ever His enduring name. When I read the Bible, when anyone who would be unprejudiced would read the life of our Lord, he could not, I could not but stand in amazement at His beautiful life; full of good works, righteous deeds [Matthew 11:4-5; Acts 10:38], or at His marvelous teaching such as the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]; just heavenly. But out of all of the things that could characterize, did characterize, the life of our Savior, His beautiful work and His marvelous teaching, what moves me the most is His compassionate spirit, His response to human hurt and human sorrow [Matthew 9:36].
Is anyone hungry? He hungered in the wilderness [Luke 4:2]. Is anyone thirsting? He cried from the cross, “I thirst” [John 19:28]. Is anyone weary? He sat thus weary by the well [John 4:6]. Is anyone sorrowful? He is “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3]; our loving, compassionate Savior, our constant and faithful Friend [Matthew 28:20]. .
In the days of His flesh, our Lord was so sensitive to those in need around Him. Do you remember one time when He was thronged and pressed on every side, the Lord said, “Who touched Me?” And Simon Peter said, “Lord, this throng, this crowd, they press You and throng You on every side, and yet You say, Who touched Me?” And the Lord said, “But some one touched Me” [Luke 8:45-46].
And when she could not be hid, a woman with an issue of blood, fell at His feet and said, “Lord, I said in my heart, if I just touch the hem of Your garment, I would be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21; Mark 5:27-34]. How sensitive our Lord: thronged on every side, but sensitive to that poor, hurt, suffering woman [Mark 5:31].
Well, I have an avowal to make from the Word of God. He has not changed. He is the same in heaven today as He was here in the earth. The Scriptures are so emphatic concerning that:
Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also took . . . part of the same . . .
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be like unto us, that He might be a faithful and merciful High Priest . . .
Wherein that He Himself hath suffered, being peirazō, tried, He is able to succor them, to help them that are tried.
[Hebrews 2:14, 17, 18]
We have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
[Hebrews 4:15, 16]
The same there as He was here.
We somehow are prone to think that for a while and for a definite purpose, our Lord assumed our frail humanity, but that when the purpose was achieved His human nature perished, and He went back, ascended to heaven, His spirit reunited with pure deity. Now that’s what we are prone to think. The Bible goes out of its way to avow and to affirm the very opposite. As He was in the days of His flesh, a kind, compassionate Friend, moved by our hurts, so He is today in heaven; He has not changed. He is the same Lord there as He was here [Hebrews 13:8].
I must hasten. Let me take a moment in avowing that; how the Scriptures go out of the way to affirm the humanity of Jesus, there as here. In the story of the resurrection of our Lord, He stands in a garden and Mary of Magdala thinks she is standing by the gardener, when actually it’s the risen Lord [John 20:14-15]. And Mary recognizes Him by the way He pronounces her name, “Mary” [John 20:16], and she knew Him. Somehow, no one pronounced the name “Mary” as the Lord Jesus, and she recognized Him in the way He pronounced her name [John 20:16]. .
Or take again, when Simon Peter and John are running to the empty tomb, Peter just bursts into the door, and John follows after [John 20:2-6]. And when John sees the napkin carefully placed by itself, John writes that he believed Jesus had been raised from the dead, and had placed the napkin just so [John 20:7-8]. What? Jesus had a way of folding a napkin. And when John saw that napkin folded up in just the way Jesus did it, he knew He was raised from the dead [John 20:7-8]. .
Or in the beautiful passage we read together, when Jesus is seated at the table at supper in Emmaus with the two disciples, when He said the blessing, they knew Him [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. No one said the blessing in just the way that He said it. And in the way that He said grace at the table, the disciples knew Him.
Or take again, when our Lord appealed to His apostles; He said to them—in their fright, thought they were looking at a spirit—He said, “Handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:39]. Then He asked, “Do you have anything here to eat? And they gave Him of a piece of a fish and of a honeycomb. And He ate before them” [Luke 24:41-43]. What happened there, of course, is that second stage. When you eat, the first stage, it turns into living flesh. There, it took the second stage. It turned into a spiritual body, the same Lord Jesus.
Or take one other, in the first chapter of the Revelation: John, on the Isle of Patmos sees the Lord [Revelation 1:9]. Oh, how glorious, resurrected, glorified, magnified, immortalized, raised, living; he sees the Lord Jesus. “I heard a voice behind me and being turned . . . I saw Him walking in the midst of seven golden candles, candlesticks” [Revelation 1:10, 12-13]. The seven churches of Asia; the Lord with His people, the Lord in His church, the Lord here. John sees the glorified Lord Jesus. And so overwhelming is that vision that John says, “I fell at His feet as dead.” And do you remember the next verse: “He reached forth His right hand and touched me” [Revelation 1:17].
Sweet people, I would think the Lord had done that, world without end, in the days of His flesh; put His right hand upon the sainted apostle John, teaching him the way of God. The same Lord Jesus:
. . . I fell at His feet as dead. And He put forth His right hand, His right hand, and said, Be not afraid. I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.
I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore… and I, I have the keys of Hell and Death.
The same Lord Jesus, in His gestures, in the little idiosyncrasies that make you, you, makes Him, Him. And “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” [Hebrews 4:15]; there is no one of us that is hurt but that He understands; no one of us cries but that He can cry; touched with the feeling of our weaknesses [Hebrews 4:15].
Lord, what a wonderful Savior You are!
The Great Physician now is near
The sympathizing Jesus.
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer.
O hear the voice of Jesus.
Sweetest note in seraph song.
Sweetest name on mortal tongue.
Sweetest carol ever sung.
Jesus, our Friend and Savior.
[“The Great Physician Now Is Near,” William Hunter,]
And that is our appeal to your heart today; to give life and trust and soul and eternity to Him. May we pray together?
Our Lord, what an ineffable, infinitely precious comfort to know Thee as a friend, to talk to Thee, to speak to Thee, to lay before Thee all of the decisions of life; to share with You the burdens of our hearts; the tears and the hurts of life; what a kind and compassionate Friend! And our Lord we pray that every family, and soul, and son, and daughter, and household member into Thy presence today will be drawn to the loving heart of our Savior; not only in the pilgrimage of this life to be with us, but in the hour of death to stand by us, and someday to open for us the door and the gates of heaven. O God, that all of us would without loss of one, might be counted in the circle of Thy family and friends; in Thy dear name, amen.
In a minute when we stand to sing our hymn, down one of these stairways in the balcony round, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], or to come into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], how welcome you are. And the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Make the decision in your heart, and on the first note of this first stanza come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Sorrow in the Bethany house
A. Would think this
house exempted from sorrow, affliction
1. Jesus stayed
here when He was in Judea and Jerusalem
B. Christians not
exempt from pain and suffering
of our suffering come God’s greatest blessings (John 9:2-3, Job)
Johnnycake in Muskogee
II. They send for Jesus
A. The sympathizing
1. His tears
(John 11:35, Luke 19:41, Hebrews 5:7)
a. Some experiences
only expressed in tears
2. His compassion (Matthew
9:36, Isaiah 53)
III. Today, the same Lord Jesus
A. Sensitive to our
need in the days of His flesh (Luke 8:43-48)
B. Same in heaven now
(Hebrews 2:14, 17-18, 4:15-16)