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The Compassion of Jesus

Jesus with the leper

by Dennis Pollock

People imagine the nature of God in numerous ways. One erroneous idea is that God is pure mind and intellect, without any feelings or emotions whatsoever. He sits outside our world and dispassionately contemplates His creation, observing, analyzing, and weighing all that goes on, but without a trace of feeling. Of course, no one has any real basis to believe this, other than the fact that some suppose that if there is a God, this is how He should be and must be.

Evangelical Christians and orthodox Jews have never held to this view. In their respect for and knowledge of the Scriptures, they agree with the Biblical presentation of our Creator as possessing feelings, indeed very deep and passionate feelings. The God of the Bible can be angry, He can be fervent, and, to the point of this study, He can be caring and compassionate.

Christians have two foolproof means of identifying and pinpointing the nature of God. First, as mentioned, we have the entirety of the Bible. And second, we worship a Person who was God manifested in human flesh. John writes about Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus declared, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Since we believe this is true, there is no need for wondering or speculation about the nature of God. It is not much of a mystery. If we want to know precisely what God is like, all we need do is open our Bibles and read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. By the time we are through, we will have a very good idea about the nature of God.

Man of Compassion

In this area of feelings, and specifically compassion, we find that Jesus was indeed a Man of deep feeling. In the gospels, we find numerous accounts of a compassionate Jesus. Our Lord was no mechanical robot, walking about Israel, doing good deeds, but devoid of all emotions or feelings. Just as God the Father is represented in Scripture, Jesus also could be angry, joyous, or compassionate. In fact, five times in the gospels we are told that Jesus was “moved with compassion.” He was not just compassionate; He was moved with compassion.

We’re going to look at three examples wherein the Bible speaks of the compassion of Jesus, but before we do, let’s consider the word “compassion.” It’s a good word, and it’s a great attribute. If there were more compassion in the world, crime would take a nosedive. If there were more compassion in marriages, divorce would go out of style. If leaders led with more compassion, there would be a lot less rebellion among the followers.

Compassion is defined as: “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Compassion is never fully realized when all is well, when nobody is hurting, nobody is suffering, and we are all feeling fat, sassy, and on top of the world. In order for compassion to be manifested somebody must in some way be hurting. Someone must be experiencing a tragedy, a trauma, a disappointment, a disease, a rejection. But compassion is never realized through our own pains and sufferings. Compassion is known when we see people around us in anguish, grief, or pain.

It has a great big dose of tender feelings and empathetic pain. You cannot claim to have compassion on a friend who is undergoing terrible suffering, and then tell him, “I see that you are in pain, and I admit that I don’t feel a thing for you. However, by an act of my will I choose to pity you.” Compassion is not so ice-cold. It is tender, it is emotional, it has great surges of feeling and warmth, and contains within it an inescapable and overwhelming desire to relieve the suffering if it is within your power to do so.

Moved with Compassion

In Matthew’s gospel we read these words:

And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

The gospels are saturated with accounts of Jesus healing people. In this case we read of “a great multitude” being with Jesus. This was not unusual. Jesus of Nazareth had arisen in a very short time to become a celebrity in Israel. Thousands of people showed up wherever He went. Frequently we read of cases where Jesus healed all that were sick, and this is one of those situations. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Jesus healed a few of them or that He healed some of them. It says, “He healed their sick.”

Somehow compassion was related to this. First, He was “moved with compassion for them” and then “He healed their sick.” He felt for these folks. These men and women who suffered from tumors, cancer, pneumonia, infections, colds, flus, leprosy, fevers, and other afflictions touched Him deeply. And He had the anointing to do something about it. In fact, relieving suffering was at the heart of His ministry in Israel. At the beginning of His ministry He had declared that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Him, saying:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD (Luke 4:18, 19).

It is an inescapable fact of ministry that when God anoints us to minister to a certain people, He will give us a special, Holy Spirit infused love and compassion for those people. Anointed pastors care deeply about their congregations, anointed evangelists feel powerfully about the people to whom they are called to preach the gospel, and healing ministers feel passionately about the physically afflicted.

Anyone claiming to be anointed for ministry, and caring very little about the people to whom he thinks he is called to minister has missed it and will never be effective, regardless of the level of his intelligence or the diligence of his labors. Compassion, the love of God, skill, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit will all mingle together to produce life-changing ministry. But if there is only skill, lives will never be changed and any such “ministry” will be anemic and impotent. The Holy Spirit upon a man or a woman produces both divine empathy for people, and a supernatural ability to do something about their lack or suffering or needs.

Shepherdless Sheep

Another Biblical example of the compassion of Jesus is found in this passage:

And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).

In this case it was not the sicknesses of the people that moved Jesus, but rather their ignorance and their lack of someone to guide and teach them in the knowledge of God. The Bible tells us that they were like shepherdless sheep. And a sheep without a shepherd will wander around aimlessly, ignorant and clueless, and eventually it will starve to death or be devoured by predators. It wasn’t that the Jewish people did not have leaders at all. In fact, there were Rabbis and instructors in the Scriptures throughout all of Israel. Even most of the smaller villages had a synagogue with a “ruler of the synagogue.” They would meet there and be instructed in the writings of Moses and in the prophets every Sabbath day.

But their teachers and leaders were as clueless as the people they taught. They were the blind leading the blind, and the result was ignorance, and an inability to know the ways of their God. It was ironic that the people from whom the Scriptures had come were nearly as ignorant as to what God wanted, expected, and emphasized as the heathen and pagan peoples throughout the world who had no divinely-inspired Scriptures. This situation touched Jesus. He was deeply stirred by the spiritual darkness that engulfed the chosen people of God. The result of Jesus’ compassion for them was the line which followed this description: “So He began to teach them many things.”

Jesus gathered these leaderless, clueless sheep, opened His mouth, and taught them what the God they professed to serve was really like: what He loved, what He hated, what He demanded, and what He offered to those who would diligently seek Him and serve Him. And through His words and incredibly eloquent and insightful teachings, darkness was dispelled and glorious light and truth were revealed. People began to understand and grasp the nature of the God who had appeared and spoken to His servants and their ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“I have Compassion…”

In another case, Jesus Himself declared the compassion He felt for the multitudes around Him. Knowing that the vast crowds which had followed Him into a wilderness area to hear His teachings had eaten little or nothing for three days, He told His disciples:

I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way (Matthew 15:32).

Hunger and the need for food are a very basic aspect of human existence. In some ways we would hardly expect Jesus to even notice or worry about such things. We might think him so spiritual that He would be more concerned with our spiritual food and hardly notice our need for physical food. Surely Jesus does consider our spiritual needs far more important than our physical ones, but this does not mean that He is unconcerned with the physical realm. Jesus took on flesh and has become a High Priest to us. He endured all that we experience in this life, and He knows what it is to hunger. He knows that when we are desperately hungry, it is hard for us to concentrate on anything else. It is of little use to preach an eloquent, three-point sermon to a starving man. First give him a sandwich, and then teach Him the ways of God.

Jesus’ compassion moved Him. Knowing that these people had a good, long walk back to their homes, and that some might faint out of exhaustion and for lack of food, He wanted to give them a good meal before dismissing them. It was this compassion of Jesus which led to the famous and miraculous feeding of the multitudes with bread and fish. What a blessed thing it is to contemplate the love and compassion of Jesus, which reaches out and ministers to all our needs, spiritual, emotional, and physical!

Stirred by Compassion

In the three instances mentioned in this study there were similarities. In each case there was a need: one for healing, one for teaching, and one for food and nourishment. Each time Jesus felt compassion and was “moved with compassion.” His compassion stirred Him to take action. He could not simply note the need and do nothing. Compassion, if it is genuine, will always seek to supply the need and remedy the condition. But in many of our own cases we may feel compassion, only to be defeated by the thought: “There is little or nothing I can do about this.” In Jesus’ case, He not only saw the need; He had the divine ability to bring a solution to the need. The sick were healed, the hungry were fed, and the ignorant were taught.

The Bible tells us that the strong should support the weak; those who have should come to the aid of those who do not have. Jesus was the ultimate example of this. He was the strong One, indeed He was and is the “mighty God.” He came to a people who were weak and perishing, and brought real solutions. Today nothing has changed. We are still born into this world weak and flawed, insecure and selfish, fearful and ignorant. We need a Savior to teach us, to provide for us, and to Shepherd us. Most of all we need to be reconciled to God and receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus came to this earth, lived a perfect life, died on a cross for our sins, and rose from the dead in order to provide all God’s fullness for all our emptiness. The strong One came to save the weak. And yes, He is still moved with compassion for men and women today!


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