The Compassionate Christ
January 10th, 1988 @ 8:15 AM
THE COMPASSIONATE CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-10-88 8:15 a.m.
And welcome once again to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Compassionate Christ.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we have come to chapter 11, truly one of the tremendously moving chapters in all the Word of God. It is the story of the death and the triumphant resurrection, the bringing to life of the brother of Mary and Martha in Bethany.
Beginning at verse 1, just as a background for the passage:
Now a certain man was sick, whose name was Lazarus—
that is a shortened form, though not much shortened in English, of Eleazar—
of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
Therefore his sisters sent unto Him—Jesus—saying, Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.
When Jesus heard that, He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man might be glorified thereby.
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
This is the introduction to the story in that beautiful chapter.
The first thing that comes to my heart, when I begin reading the chapter, is this: our Lord, when He was in Judea and in Jerusalem, made His home with these two sisters and brother in Bethany [Luke 10:38-40; John 11:1]. And He loved—the Bible avows it so—He loved those three children [John 11:5]. Wouldn’t you have thought, wouldn’t you now—wouldn’t you have thought that the last home that you could name, into which sickness and sorrow and death would enter, would be this home in Bethany where Jesus loved to stay? And yet the story begins that it is in that home, where Jesus so often dwelt, and whose occupants our Lord did truly love, it was that home into which this sickness and sorrow and death did enter [John 11:14, 21].
That surely is a strange circumstance, providence, to equate with this gospel that you hear on the radio constantly. “You send me a thousand dollars,” said one of the pastors here in Dallas, “and you’ll have health and wealth and prosperity.” Ah! So often is it repeated, “You give your heart to the Lord, and you follow the discipleship in the Lord Jesus, and you’ll be free from,” and then they just name all kinds of sorrows and distresses in life.
My impression of the history of the Christian church is just the opposite. Who are the martyrs? And what do you mean by martyr? You’re talking about these who are stoned, and sawn asunder, and imprisoned, and starved, and burned at the stake. They were Christians, and they suffered such great outrages because they were Christians.
In the ninth chapter, just preceding this, our Lord is passing by with His disciples, and they see a man born blind [John 9:1]. And the disciples, according to the theological explanations of the day, turned to the Lord and said:
Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
And the Lord replied, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents—that he was born blind—but that the works of God might be manifest in him.
It is the same story as we read in Job, in the Old Testament. His comforters came saying, “Job, you are a great sinner because you suffer such sorrows and sicknesses and afflictions” [Job 4:7-8]. That kind of philosophy would make of our Lord Jesus a violent transgressor. Did any one suffer more than our Lord, the Son of God? [Matthew 27:26-50].
Oh, how different the gospel of Christ and its truth from what we hear constantly on modern radio and in modern pulpits. There can be, and there is, affliction, and sickness, and sorrow, and hurt, and pain that leads to the glory of God. In this our Lord is magnified by the hurts and the sorrows that we bear [Romans 8:17].
As you know, I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming to be undershepherd of this dear church here in Dallas. And in Muskogee is the only Christian Indian college in America. It’s called Bacone. And on the foundation of Bacone College are written these words. They are from Charles Journeycake, chief of the Delawares. I quote from Charles Journeycake, chief of the Delaware Indians:
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, that 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 these 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 we have suffered.
April 1886, Charles Journeycake, Chief of the Delawares
That’s one of the most magnificent things in American history. Out of such sorrow, and hurt, and desperation, and death, he praises God for the blessing that came to his Delaware tribe through the white man and the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God.
I sum it up before I go to my next avow. Out of the sorrows and sicknesses and hurts of life come our greatest blessings. Dear Lord, in the hurt that may come to me, or the sorrow or sickness that may overwhelm me, may I in it glorify Thy name. And when I pray for myself I pray for you, my dear people.
Now what did they do in the hour of this poignant distress? It says that they sent and told Jesus [John 11:3]. That is the response from every one of our Christian hearts. We bring it to the Lord Jesus; a disappointment, a frustration, a hurt, a sorrow, a despair. We tell it to the Lord Jesus.
In the Gospel of Matthew, when their leader, John the Baptist, was beheaded [Matthew 14:1-11], it says, “And the disciples went and told Jesus” [Matthew 14:12]. In this Gospel of John, when this Capernaum nobleman had a lad sick unto death, he went and told Jesus [John 4:46-47]. We have a song like that:
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but tell Him, Jesus will help me,
Quickly, so quickly, make my troubles an end.
[from “I Must Tell Jesus All of My Trials” Elisha Albright Hoffman, 1894]
That’s our Lord. In this beautiful, beautiful story, it says in one of those things that a man did to the Bible that is marvelously, wonderfully, inspirationally done—it puts in a verse to itself, the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept” [John 11:35], Jesus cried.
How typical of our Lord to be moved, loving Lazarus, and now the word that he has died. “Jesus wept” [John 11:35]. Three times in Holy Scripture does it say that Jesus cried. This is one. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus [John 11:32-35]. The second: on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem—we call it Palm Sunday. When He came to the brow of Olivet and saw the city lying before Him, and being prophetic, seeing its destruction upon His rejection in the future, He wept [Luke 19:41]. The third is described in the Book of Hebrews. In Gethsemane with strong crying and tears He made supplication to Him, His Father, who was able to save Him from death [Hebrews 5:7], the compassionate Lord, moved!
There is a dull, dry, prosaic, intellectual theology that clips the wings of faith, that interdicts the soul’s vision of the mystical city of Abraham toward which we’re pilgrimaging [Hebrews 11:8-10]; and shuts out the sound of the angels that Jacob heard while he slept [Genesis 28:12].
There are some of the greatest experiences of life that cannot be described other than in tears and in weeping. It could be when you were saved; it could be some great moment of deliverance and comfort. But it cannot be said in verbal language; it is expressed in tears, in deepest feeling and emotion.
And may I make a comment about that? It is in the deep, moving, feeling, compassion of life that we are delivered from some of the tragedies of our fallen race.
I was in Dachau not long after this terrible Second World War. And what they had done in that awful place, just outside Munich in Bavaria, they had taken human life, uncounted numbers of them. They had take human beings and experimented with them, such as you do with rats and animals in a scientific medical laboratory. They had taken human beings and experimented with them in order to learn how, and then a thousand things: what kind of clothing would protect a soldier in cold weather in Russia, the temperature at which he would die, on and on.
What’s the matter? Germany was the most intellectual and the most academic of all the nations that ever lived, that ever existed, that ever has been. It’s height of literacy, beyond anything any other people had ever reached. But what was the matter was in the Nazi heart. They had lost their compassion and sympathy. O God! I think of it today while we are learning how to make atomic bombs, so lethal and so awesome; while we are learning to do it.
I think of my visit to what they call Hir-o-shima. We call it Hiroshima. I visited in the hospital there, looking at those people who survived that awesome blast. O God! What we need is the compassionate heart that would remember the suffering of these against whom such awesome artillery would be aimed. This was our Lord, a compassionate Savior [Matthew 14:14].
I admire, as you do, the wonderful life of Jesus; His works of righteousness. Even an infidel could not but admire His exalted morality, expressed in such passages as the great, incomparable Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. But if I look at His life, so infinitely precious, and at His teaching, so godly and heavenly, yet I still say that what moves me the most is His gentle and sensitive and loving heart.
In the ninth chapter of the Book of Matthew it refers to our Lord as “Jesus, moved with compassion for the people” [Matthew 9:36]. What a beautiful expression, “Jesus, moved with compassion.” That is His ever enduring name [Matthew 14:14, 15:32, 20:34]. Is anyone hungry? He hungered in the wilderness [Luke 4:1-2]. Is anyone thirsting? He cried out from the cross, “I thirst” [John 19:28]. Is anyone weary? He sat weary by the well [John 4:6]. And is anyone hurt and suffering? He is “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3].
In the days of His flesh our Lord was so sensitive to the people around Him. Do you remember one time Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” And Simon Peter said, “Lord, what a question. They throng Thee and press Thee, the multitudes on every side. And yet You said, Who touched Me?” [Luke 8:45]. And the Lord replied, “But someone touched Me” [Luke 8:46]. And when that woman with an issue of blood [Luke 8:43], saw that she could not hide herself in the throng, she vowed, “If I could but touch the hem of His garment, I knew I would be saved” [Luke 8:47]. How sensitive our Lord was to human need, human hurt, and human suffering. “Who touched Me?” [Luke 8:45].
The Bible is careful to avow that He is still as sensitive to His people in heaven, where He now mediates our daily need, as He is today, as He was then, as He ever is. For example, in the Book of Hebrews it says:
He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham—
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren—
that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. . .
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, peirazō, tried; He is able to succor them—to help them, to sympathize with them—who are tried.
We have not a High Priest that 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.
As He was here in the days of His flesh, so is He there. His heart has not changed. He is the same compassionate Savior today in heaven as He was in earth [Hebrews 13:8].
Could I elaborate on that just for a moment? It is amazing to me how the Scriptures takes time out to try to assure us that our Lord Jesus raised from the dead, resurrected, immortalized [Matthew 28:1-7; John 20:1-9], is the same compassionate Savior as He was when He walked among men. Look at it. Mary of Magdala, Mary thought that He was the gardener [John 20:15]. And she recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name. When He said, “Mary,” she recognized Him; the same Lord Jesus [John 20:16]. When Simon Peter and John ran—Simon Peter into the tomb and John followed him [John 20:6, 8]—John writes, saying, “When I saw the napkin folded up in the place by itself, I believed that He was raised from the dead” [John 20:7-8]. He recognized Him by the way Jesus folded up His napkin.
In the passage, which I think is one of the most beautiful in the world, that we just read, the two disciples in Emmaus recognized Him by the way that He said the blessing [Luke 24:30-31]. Our Lord had a way of saying grace at the table, and they recognized Him by the way He said grace at the table; the same Lord Jesus.
Or take again when He appeared to His apostles. He said to them, “Handle me, and see that it is I Myself: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as you see Me have” [Luke 24:39]. And then He added, “Have you here any thing to eat?” [Luke 24:41]. And He ate a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb [Luke 24:42-43].
May I take, not to weary you, may I take just one other instance? In the first of the Revelation, when the apostle John, on the island of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], when he sees the Lord glorified [Revelation 1:12-16], the vision was so overwhelming that John fell at His feet as dead [Revelation 1:17]. And do you remember the next verse? And the Lord reached forth and put His right hand upon him, His right hand, His right hand [ Revelation 1:17]. How many times in days past had John felt the touch of the right hand of the Lord upon him, teaching him and guiding him in the way, and now glorified in heaven? It’s the same Lord Jesus. He put His right hand upon him and said, “Fear not; I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last: I am He that was dead and is alive forever more; and I, I have the keys of Hell and of Death” [Revelation 1:17-18]; the same Lord Jesus, our compassionate Friend [Hebrews 13:8].
‘Tis a precious gospel, ‘tis a holy, heavenly open door [Revelation 3:8], that we have to bring our souls to the great omnipotent Creator of the world [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16], and find Him to be our loving Lord Jesus, precious name, beautiful Word, loving Lord, wonderful Jesus.
Doug, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song, a family you to come to be with us in our dear church, or one somebody to accept the Lord as Savior [Romans 10:9-10], or God having called in your heart to answer with your life, while we sing this appeal, make that decision now. And from the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I stand.” Welcome, a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.