The Compassion of God

Steve Viars August 11, 2007 Matthew 9:35-38

 

- recently I had the opportunity to read a biography of Abraham Lincoln entitled Team of Rivals...

- it emphasized how Lincoln built his cabinet around the very people who had lost the presidential primary...on the notion that doing so would bring the best leaders into service for their country [that’s how they got that far to begin with] and also heal some of the divisions that existed at that period of our nation’s history...

- one of the themes that comes through very clearly is Abraham Lincoln’s compassion...

- instead of leading by marginalizing those who had different views...

- or casting their positions in the worst possible light and making the divisions even deeper...

- he truly sought to see the situation from the other person’s perspective...

- and find as much common ground as possible...

- and treat even his rivals and adversaries with a measure of grace and dignity...

- of course that does not mean that he didn’t have strong beliefs and convictions---we know that is not the case...

- but all of that was exercised with a spirit of compassion...

- one example is the way Lincoln viewed presidential pardons for soldiers who were up for court-martial and execution...

- his secretary John Hay told of a day where he and Lincoln spent 6 straight hours reviewing 100 such cases...the biographer later wrote...

”Whereas the young secretary was in a state of entire collapse after the ordeal, Lincoln found relief and renewed vigor as he exercised the power to pardon.  As they went through the cases, Hay marveled at the eagerness with which the President caught at any fact which would justify him in saving the life of a condemned soldier.”

- this tendency bothered some of the generals in the field...so much so that General John Eaton wrote to the president to report that some of the officers believed that Lincoln was exercising the power to grant pardons too freely...

- Lincoln’s response says a lot about his heart...the biographer described it like this...

 “Although officers only see the force of military discipline”, he explained, he tried to comprehend it from the vantage of individual soldiers—a guard so exhausted that “sleep steals upon his unawares”, a family man who overstayed his leave, a young boy “overcome by fear greater than his will”.

- that is compassion that seeks to see the situation from the other person’s perspective...

- it also caused him to care deeply about what was happening to the people around him...

- [power point only] a man named Schuler Colfax came to visit Lincoln at the White House during one of the battles of the Civil War and he later reported this...”I saw [Lincoln] walk up and down the Executive Chamber, his long arms behind his back, his dark features contracted still more with gloom; and as he looked up, I thought his face the saddest one I had ever seen. “ 

- and even though the President was also known for laughing and joking, sometimes to the point of being criticized for that, too...many of his pictures show a very sad countenance...

- his compassion was also evidenced in the way he treated those with whom he disagreed...

- writing about his second Inaugural speech, not long before his assassination, the biographer said...

In his Springfield speech a decade earlier, Lincoln had maintained that he could not condemn the South for an inability to end slavery when he himself knew of no easy solution.  Now the president suggested that God had given "to both North and South, this terrible war" as punishment for their shared sin of slavery.  Speaking with "the eloquence of the prophets," he continued, "Fondly do we hope - fervently do we pray - that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"

Drawing upon the rare wisdom of a temperament that consistently displayed uncommon magnanimity toward those who opposed him, he then issued his historic plea to his fellow countrymen:  "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

- if time allowed, we could illustrate this point in all sorts of ways...

- like his treatment of African American leaders, welcoming them to the White House and modeling love for fellow man...

- or the way he often visited the troops...so much so that Lincoln earned, as one writer said, an almost mythical devotion among his troops....

- there’s no question about 2 things...

- Abraham Lincoln was clearly one of the greatest presidents in our country’s history...

- he was a man who was known especially, for his...compassion...

- why do you think that resonates so deeply in our hearts?...

- perhaps it’s because we were made in the image of God...who was also known for His compassion...

- with that in mind, I’d like to invite you to open your Bible to Matthew chapter 9...page 7 of the back section of the Bible under the chair un front of you...

- this morning we’re completing the study we’ve been doing all summer entitled Reaching New Heights in Our Knowledge of God...

- just so you know, next week we’re going to begin a verse by verse study of the book of Romans chapters 6-8, one of the most extended passages in all of the Bible about how to grow and makes the changes that God desires...

- but this summer has been all about theology proper...the doctrine of God...

- and so far we’ve studied the holiness of God, and the mercy of God, and the sovereignty of God, and the power of God, and the justice of God...and many other of His attributes...

- and the point has been...we can’t possibly accomplish all we have set out to do as a church unless our efforts are grounded in a growing knowledge of our God...

- we would say with the apostle Paul...Philippians 3:10 - that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;

- and I hope that has been happening all through the summer...

- I’m really glad to conclude this series with a study on...The Compassion of God...

- Matthew 9 finds Jesus and His disciples in the region of Galilee, near where He had grown up...

- and verse 35 says that...Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

- and then verse 36 and following give a wonderful picture into the heart and ministry of Christ...

- and our question for the rest of the morning is going to be...are you like this?

- READ Matthew 9:35-38

- this passage breaks down pretty easily...we’re going to use the rest of our time by thinking about:

I. The Nature of Compassion

II. The Motivation of Compassion

III. The Results of Compassion

I. The Nature of Compassion

- we’ve used this word over and over this morning, but it would be probably be wise to take a moment and define it, at least from the perspective of how it is used in Scripture...

A. Definition.

- the noun form behind the verb “felt compassion” is the word...

- splanchna – bowels, intestines...

- as we all know, many times when we are affected deeply by something, it impacts our stomach and digestive tract...

- that is why ancient people associated strong emotions with this reason of the body...

- compassion isn’t some passing fancy...or trite occupation of your mind...

- if you’re compassionate about something in biblical terms...you feel it in your guy [we might say today]...

- it moves you deeply...it might even make you ill, or upset your stomach...

- after thinking about that, or experiencing that, or being reminded of that...I don’t even feel like eating...compassion...

- to get a sense of how the noun is used in other places of the Bible, let me just mention a terrible one...

- I even debated whether I should use this, but in a day when so many of us struggle at times with apathy [is it OK for me to say that?]...maybe a jarring illustration will help...

B. Other examples in Scripture of the noun which forms the basis of biblical compassion.

- do you remember the way Judas, the one who later betrayed Christ, died?...

Acts 1:18 - (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.

- the word intestines is the Greek word splanchna...

- now, please let that illustration grab you, but only for a moment...

- when we think about the character of our God...the Scripture is clear that Jesus was often moved with compassion...his love and concern for people was genuine and intense...

- we see that throughout the gospels...

C. Examples in the life of Christ.

1. Regarding their sickness - Matthew 14:14 - When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.

2. Regarding their hunger - Matthew 15:32 - And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”

3. At the time of death - John 11:33, 35 - When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled...Jesus wept.

- and you could make the argument that on the basis of what Jesus was about to do, namely raise Lazarus from the dead, that what especially moved Him in spirit was the unbelief of the people who were present...and perhaps His response involved both...

4. Because people rejected His message - Matthew 23:37 - Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

- Luke reports that when Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time, that He wept over the city...

5. To illustrate forgiveness - Matthew 18:27 - And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

6. To illustrate the father’s joy over a son’s repentance - Luke 15:20 - So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

7. To illustrate the way godly people respond to others in need - Luke 10:33 - But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,

- there is no question that our God highly values, and is clearly characterized by...compassion...no wonder we read verses like...

- Psalm 145:8 - The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy.

- Lamentations 3:22-23 - Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

- now, there is much more in this text, but let’s just pause for a moment and ask some questions...

- what about you?...are you a compassionate individual?...

- is that the way you’re known in your family?...

- is that your reputation at work?...

- is that the way you function in our community?...

- in our church?...

1 Peter 3:8-9 - Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

- see, what moves you?...what excites you...what upsets you?...what makes your stomach church?...

- anything?...the right thing?...let’s go further into our text...because Matthew also explains...

II. The Motivation of Compassion

- there’s a difference being compassionate, and being compassionate about things that really matter...

- Jesus wasn’t moved because they had just cut the ribbon on the new Super Wal-Mart...

- this is where the context of this passage can really help us...assuming that we want to be like Christ, and minister like Christ...where did this characteristic come from?...

A. He wanted to be with people who had not yet trusted Him.

- that’s why we started by reading verse 35...

- Jesus wasn’t aloof...He wasn’t distant...He wasn’t turned off by their condition...or threatened by it...

- He purposely put Himself in positions where he was rubbing shoulders with people in need...

B. He put the time and effort into seeing their condition.

- the first few words in verse 36 are critical to all of this...

- v. 36 – Seeing the people...

- not looking beyond them, not closing His eyes and His heart to what was going on...and what happened?

C. He was troubled by their condition.

- and it wasn’t just their condition of being ill, or being hungry....though He clearly cared about that and did something about that...but there was more...

- one writer said it this way – “The divine eyes of Jesus saw infinitely more”...

- the problem with many Christian fundamentalists is that they don’t care about the physical needs of people around them---they don’t see that...

- the problem with many Christian liberals is that that’s all they see...and the text explains the progression...what especially troubled Christ and produced a deep level of compassion is that they were....

1. Distressed.

- skullo – flaying or skinning, being harassed or severely troubled, battered, bruised, mangled, ripped apart, worn out, exhausted

2. Downcast.

- dispirited...

- Rhipto – being thrown down and utterly helpless, as from drunkenness or a mortal wound...

- you might say, why would anybody be in that condition?...the passage is clear...

3. Because they had no shepherd.

- like sheep with no one to provide protection and sustenance and guidance...

- when you think about the Person of Christ, and how He views people who do not yet know Him...and therefore have all of the baggage that comes without yet knowing Him as Savior...all of the disobedience, and all of the rebellion, and all of the pride...

- or maybe all of the brokenness, and all of the pain, and all of the confusion...

- whatever it is in that particular persons life that comes from not yet having God as one’s shepherd...Scripture is clear...Christ’s attitude toward that...His response to that is one of....compassion...splanchna...of such a significant depth that your whole body is affected...

- well, what do we do with that?...

1. First of all, let me just say a word to those who are here this morning and you would say something like...I don’t have a personal relationship with God...

- there’s no genuine way that He is my shepherd, my Lord...

- I might have a bit or religion or ritual...but I don’t know Him personally in any kind of meaningful way

- my guess is then that there are ways in which you are distressed and downcast...

- maybe not everybody knows that...maybe you can put on the front...you can be the life of the party...but deep down...life is scary, or ugly, or distressing...

- here’s what we can say...whatever you put on the table, even if some of it doesn’t smell very good...Christ’s response to that is one of compassion...

- you might say – how do you know that?...it’s called the cross...

- Jesus doesn’t hate you...Jesus died for you...

- For God so loved the world...

- if you have never trusted Christ, we would invite you to do that today, because you want to have a relationship with a God who started loving you long before you ever thought about loving Him...

2. Christian friend...here’s the bottom line...

- we are at a critical juncture as a church...

- we have been working double time for several years to be in the position we are in right now...to significantly advance our ability to do community based outreach ministry...

- and God is blessing that in ways that are absolutely astounding...

- we are very much like a farmer...that has plowed the ground, and planted the seed, and fertilized, and watered...and now its time for the harvest...

- there is no question that we have the “being around those who don’t know the Lord thing” going on...

- and of course we always have...in terms of the ways we chose to relate to those around us in the community in which God has placed us...

- but now, more than ever before...[describe the conversation Brent had the other day]...

- there’s no question that we have had the opportunity to address some of the physical needs of people in our culture, and the strategy is working well...

- here is the singular question now...

- what kind of response are people in our community going to receive from us when they come?...[to church, to a sporting event, to some program in the community center...]

- and what kind of response do you think God wants them to find?...one of...compassion...

- now, can we just be straight with one another?...that is anything but automatic...

- it would be really interesting if we had a compassion thermometer this morning...to test the compassion of ever person here...and to take our corporate compassion temperature as well...

- what are some of the things that hinder compassion?...

1. Materialism...what moves the heart of some American Christians is more stuff...

2. Lust...looking at people through the lens of their physical body instead of their spiritual need

3. Pride...we’re better than those “other people”...

4. Apathy...who cares about someone who is distressed or downcast?...

- God would say...He does, and He wants you to...

III. The Result of Compassion

- where does this lead?...

A. Prayer for laborers.

- Jesus made it clear to His disciples that it wasn’t His plan to meet all of these needs Himself...

- He wanted them to pray that God would provide others with similar compassion for the needs of people...

- cf. Matthew 5:13-16 – [Let your light so shine among men...that they may see your good works...and glorify your God...]

- but please don’t forget how chapter 10 fits into this...

- what do we see happening in the next verses?...

B. A willingness to be an answer to that prayer.

- cf. Intro to Faith --- we need everybody on the team

- cf. FCI catalogs

- plan to participate

- plan to distribute them

- the point – everybody needs to be on their combine...plan to start driving them around town...plan to drive them to church...

- being here early....

- being on the lookout...

- being ready to take someone home for a meal...

- being ready to show hospitality at other times during the week...

- mention – VOH commitment

- Conclusion – deal with those who might say – well, maybe we should hire more staff to do this?...

- wherever you are now, plan the next step...reaching new heights...

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video