What Is Compassion?
We continue our study of the fifth Beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy". Mercy is the active expression of the character of God as it exhibits itself through tangibly meeting the needs of those who are afflicted. This is done in such a way that God gets the glory for it. Mercy unfolds itself in five stages, through the mind, emotion and will. With the mind we see. With the emotion we sense, search and suffer. With the will we serve. With the mind we look and are arrested by the reality of another one's needs. We see someone terribly sick, and we realize they have a real need. With our minds we determine from a state of reality that they need help. This is step one. With our will, we serve them.
We learned in the last lesson that in this process there is a spirit of our emotions entering in that is called compassion. We sense this with our spirits as we are awakened to the depth of their heart's needs. Not only are they sick, but they are also fearful, and their friends and relatives have needs surrounding their sick loved one. Not only are they sick, they have needs that are physical, emotional and spiritual. We need to ask God to awaken our sensitivity to their needs. Having sensed these needs, we search our own hearts for the capacity to identify with their hurt. We do that until we suffer in our hearts, if need be, as they suffer in their hearts. We do this all the while serving, actually meeting their needs. This is mercy in its full context. The middle three stages are best defined as compassion which is the literal entering into the suffering of others.
Let me ask you a question, What is the level to which your heart breaks when someone else, or even someone who does not directly affect your life, has a problem? Perhaps, you hear of someone in the church family that has a death in the family, or maybe you read a request in the bulletin to pray for Mary Smith whose father died. What do you do when you read this in the bulletin? You make a mental note, at least sometimes, that Mary Smith's father died. Then you may think, "I don't know Mary Smith. I'll scratch that one off my prayer list." So we sail on through life, when in reality what we are supposed to do is to ask God to give us a sensitivity to the family of Mary Smith's father. We should go home from church, get down on our knees, and if necessary pray until we weep, because a part of our body has been hurt and is grieving. We need to ask God to move our hearts until we feel their hurt, feel their tension. We take that hurt and tension and give it to God. In any way we can, we then reach out to that family.
Maybe you read in the newspaper about a natural disaster such as a tornado, earthquake or a flood. When I read about those things in the paper, I put on my bifocals to scan the article to find out if there is anybody in that area that I might know so that I might determine if that tragedy affects me. Usually I will say, "Phew, nobody I know lives there." I don't usually stop to realize how many people have been affected by that tragedy. I don't stop to realize how many Christians have been affected by that tragedy. I don't realize what a witness they can be in the light of that tragedy; and therefore, I neglect to pray for my Christian brothers and sisters who are involved.
Maybe there is an airplane crash where 250 people are killed. We scan the list to be sure that we don't know anybody who was killed. If we don't know anybody, we are relieved. Out of those 250 killed, there has got to be at least 1,000 to 2,000 immediate family of those 250 people killed. This doesn't even count friends and coworkers. Of those 250 people, there are mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, and many other relatives. We have a great opportunity to pray for these people, but do we really pray?
Maybe we read in the paper about a robbery, a rape or a murder. I am personally a North Side prayer. When I read in the newspaper that a North Side apartment has been robbed, I read that article to find the name. If I don't know the victim, my compassion goes out the window being glad it wasn't somebody I knew. That isn't compassion, that is self-centeredness.
When you hear about these kinds of things, how does it affect your life? Do you expect more sympathy than you give? I don't know about you, but I can see somebody in a tremendous state of tragedy and give a nodding glance of compassion which really isn't compassion at all. But you let me break my little toe, and I've got it in a cast, and I've got a broken finger from pointing to my toe cast. I will be sure that everybody I meet sees my broken toe. I want compassion. I think, "Don't you care that my little toe hurts? Woe is me." Scripture says that the mercy you give is all you will get.
Now how do we have the compassion to show mercy? Our example is Jesus Himself. The Scripture teaches us that He totally identified with the sufferings of others until He experientially entered into their hurt or pain. He then met their needs. We watched Him in the last lesson when He was confronted in His day to day ministry with two blind beggars. They heard that Jesus was passing by, and they cried out for mercy. We read that Jesus stopped and stood still. God stopped dead in His tracks and listened. He called to them as He said, "Bring them to Me." He listened to them. He spoke to them. The Scripture tells us that He was moved with compassion. That literally means that Jesus, in that moment, was stricken blind. In His spirit, He took on the identity of a blind man begging for crumbs, unable to see even the light of day. Jesus assumed that position momentarily so that He could feel what those men felt. He was then moved with compassion.
Every time you are studying Scripture and you find the phrase, "Jesus, being moved with compassion," take a pen or pencil and draw a big heart in the margin of your Bible. You will find before long that you will be continually reminded of the compassionate spirit of God.
When has your heart ever broken over a blind person? Some of you have. Would you have traded places with them in your thoughts? Would you have been willing to give them your eyes and take on their darkness? This is the essence of what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. This is the essence of compassion. It is the concept of trading your lot for that of a lesser in order to relieve the suffering of the lesser. That is compassion. That is what Jesus did 2,000 years ago when He came to earth. It is His very nature.
The Scripture tells us that Jesus traded in His deity to take on the form of a servant to be made in the likeness of man. This is like taking a new Mercedes and trading it for a wheel barrow. Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:21,
For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
He traded all He had for what we had, nothing. He traded places with us. That is the very essence of compassion. In His mind's eye, that is compassion. In actuality that is mercy. Until we begin to be willing to trade places with those who hurt, first in our hearts and then by our actions, we have not fully grasped the meaning of compassion.
We followed Jesus a little further in the last lesson and saw a leper cry out. He was a helpless creature. We saw that Jesus was moved with compassion. He became a leper in His mind for a moment, being mangled, helpless and unclean. He was moved with compassion, then He met the leper's needs.
In this lesson, we will take up our journey with Jesus as we view His compassion for those who are mourning the death of a loved one. The Scripture has a lot to say about death. It is a very integral part of life. Let's turn to Luke 7, which begins with an encounter between Jesus and a centurion. The centurion had a broken heart, because one of his slaves was sick and dying. We see a very important man with very important things to do, but one of his employees had a problem. He stopped what he was doing in order to go to Jesus for help.
How about you? Is this the motivation of your heart when someone at work or someone you live with has a problem? Do you stop what you are doing, lay everything aside no matter how "important" you think it is, or how important you think you are, and take that person's need to Jesus?
Jesus was moved by this centurion's faith and healed the servant. Then we take up the reading in verse 11. As we begin to read this passage, it indicates the very next day Jesus went out to continue His Father's work. Sometime take note of every time Jesus does a miracle and you see the words, "and immediately after" or "the following day." Jesus never had any lost days. Jesus' attitude was to do His Father's work. He must work while it was day, to do His Father's will. He took time alone to be with the Father, but He was in the business of ministering to the needs of the people. Let's look now at the next verse.
Luke 7:11 And it came to pass the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people.
Now there was no commuter service to Nain. He looked in the paper at the directory, and there was no way to get there but walk. It was 21 miles from Capernaum to Nain. Jesus and His followers made this walk the very next day. No doubt He got up very early to make the walk.
Now it would appear from man's perspective that Jesus got to Nain a day too late. You remember that Lazarus' sister made the same observation when she said, "Oh, Lord, you should have been here yesterday." Jesus could have been there yesterday, but Jesus always arrives at the precise second of history for MGF which stands for Maximum Glory to the Father. He never arrived a second before or a second after He needed to. You and I are always asking God to check His watch. Faith says, "Father, my watch says it is too late, it must be about time for You."
So Jesus arrives. The Living Bible says,
He arrived with the usual crowd at His heels.
The Amplified Bible says ,
He arrived with a great throng.
We don't know how many, exactly, but we know it was quite alot. We can visualize this traveling entourage with Jesus in the middle, surrounded by the disciples, then a huge mob around them. The disciples thought they were the Secret Service and were there to protect the Master; but what they were supposed to be, were the humble servants. Here they all come, this huge mob as they came to the city gates.
As they arrived at the gate, they came upon a funeral procession. In this day, a funeral procession was usually headed by professional mourners. They had been paid to get their instruments and wail and holler and make noise. They had flutes and cymbals. They would work themselves into a huge frenzy until they could only utter shrill cries of grief. The dead had to be buried outside of the city unless they were royalty, therefore we see this procession coming out of the city while Jesus and His mob of followers were entering it.
I don't know about you, but most of us don't stop when we see a funeral procession. The next time you see a funeral procession, think about simply pulling over to the side of the road, even though you may not know the family and friends of the deceased. A compassionate heart will pray that God will pour His Spirit upon them and give them comfort as you wait for the procession to pass, knowing that they have hurting hearts. Jesus, however, didn't just see a funeral procession; He saw who was involved. Let's read the next verse.
Luke 7:12 Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow:
We see that the man was really dead. Don't let anyone try to explain this miracle away that the man wasn't really dead. I read in one commentary this week that offered the suggestion that the doctors had just misdiagnosed his death, and that he was really in a coma. The Greek word to explain that is hogwashio. What the Scripture says is that he was a dead man. In the Greek that means dead and in the Hebrew that means dead and in English that means dead. This means he was really dead. Don't let anyone ever try to tell you he wasn't.
He was the only son of his mother. God understood what the loss of an only son meant. This mother was also a widow. The next lesson will teach about God's provision and compassion for four specific groups of people to which the church and the body of Christ are never supposed to fail to minister mercy. These are the widows, the fatherless, the poor and the stranger. God has a very special place in His heart for those who are widowed. This is the circumstance in which Jesus found Himself. Upon finding who was involved, Jesus got involved. We continue with the end of verse 12.
Luke 7:12b ...and much people of the city were with her.
Now can't you just picture this. There were probably 250 to 300 people following Jesus. Here comes this funeral procession with 150 to 200 people following the coffin with this dead boy and the widowed mother. Try to visualize these two mobs moving towards each other at the city gates. It was mayhem. In the midst of all the mob, there were three central figures, a widow woman, a dead son and a Living God. Let's continue reading.
Luke 7:13 And when the Lord saw her,
An omniscient God in the middle of a crowd saw the one person in the mob with the greatest need. Do you ever do that? Do you ever walk into a restaurant to eat and ask God to sensitize your spirit to the person around you with the greatest need, so that you can pray for them and, if necessary, be available to them? Or do you pray, "God make the food good, I'm hungry."? Do you ever go into a school room, if you are a teacher, and ask, "Lord, give me the sensitivity I need for these students today. There may be one of them hurting more than the rest. Open my spirit."
The Lord's heart went straight to the grieving mother's need. Let's continue the rest of verse 13.
Luke 7:13 And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her,
He became in His heart a grieving widow whose only son had just died. He totally identified with her to the point of weeping, and it broke His heart. Let's finish the verse now,
Luke 7:13b ... and said unto her, "Weep not."
Now Jesus was not saying that it was unspiritual to cry at funerals. Jesus never sinned, and we know that He cried at a funeral, so it is not unspiritual to cry at this time. Jesus was saying to her that it was not wrong to cry, but it was wrong to cry from a sense of hopelessness. Verse 13-14 in the Amplified Bible says,
Luke 7:13 ...and Jesus said, "Don't cry".
14 And He went forward and touched the funeral couch.
We don't have time right now, but it would be good for you to do a word study on "touch" in Scripture. You would need to find out what happened every time Jesus touched something. Then make spiritual application to the lives of the saints, and you will be amazed. Jesus touched something and what happened? Verse 14 goes on to say,
Luke 7:14 and they that bare him stood still.
Now the pallbearers were really four men, one at each corner of a straw-like basket. It was half like a coffin and half like a container to carry something in. It was used to carry the dead people outside of the city. They would bind the dead person's feet. His body would be wrapped in grave clothes, and a shawl would be over his face. There would be a ring at each end of this box like the ark of the covenant. A stick would be going through these rings with a man stationed at the four corners to carry the body beyond the city gates to the cemetery. Let's continue to see what happens after the pallbearers stood frozen in their tracks,
And Jesus said, "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise."
Jesus is the only voice a dead man can ever hear. In verse 15 we see,
Luke 7:15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.
Underline the words, that was dead. There are so many truths in this one verse. The knowledge of death had to precede life. That is why Jesus wasn't a day late. Jesus was right on time. He could not have brought someone to life until He had found out that he was dead. Otherwise, it could have been explained away. That is the reason we know how to pray for our friends and relatives who are not Christians. Pray that they will find out that they are dead. When they realize that they are dead in their trespasses and sins, then they will look for a way to find life. That is how we need to pray for those who are in the field of evangelism, that the people who they relate to will recognize their need, that they are dead and cut off from God. Apart from Christ, they are without hope and without help.
Jesus spoke to the dead man, then he sat up. The Greek word here means that there was a change in position that indicated a change of condition. When the man sat up it certainly was a change of condition. The most beautiful phrase in this whole scenario follows in the Amplified.
And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
I think every parent goes through heartbreak at one time or another in the process of raising children. There are so many times when your heart aches, and you expect certain things to happen, and they don't. There are so many times when we see transformation in our children's lives, then we see things that enter into their lives that cause us to fear. The world assaults and assails, and we make mistakes. How beautiful the promises are that we have.
And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Look where His compassion was for the widow. We continue in verse 16.
Luke 7:16 And there came a fear on all.
This is the real source of evangelism, a changed bunch of lives.
Luke 7:16 ...and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited His people.
Here are some key principles that we can glean from this passage concerning God, death, and funerals.
1- God understands death.
a) He understands that death is a result of sin.
Ge 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou you shalt surely die.
Ro 6:23 For the wages of sin is death;
Ro 5:12 Wherefore by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
Death is a reality, physically and spiritually, because of sin.
b) God also understands that there are no exceptions.
Heb 9:27 It is appointed unto all men once to die and after that the judgment.
c) God also knows that there is a time appointed for everyone, and that He appoints the time. There is a time to be born and a time to die. Sometimes we say, "He died too young." Jesus was 33. The key question is: "Was His mission finished?".
d) God jealously guards that time.
Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
He does not take lightly the death of believers. God controls that factor. When Satan was contesting for Job, God gave Satan more and more freedom to take his health and whatever he wanted, only Satan could not take his life. Death was God's business. Satan didn't like it, but he didn't have a choice.
2- God has a plan for funerals. Funerals are a time to consider eternity and the issues of the life and death of a soul. Funerals are a time to glorify God. The people praised God and said, "He's not really dead." Funerals are also a time to convey compassion. Jesus was moved with compassion.
3- God has a portrait of spiritual truth that can only be told in death. It is the principle of separation.
4- God has great compassion for those who grieve. Jesus was moved with compassion. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. He understands separation, because He has been there. God the Father had to be separated from His only Son; and God the Son had to be separated from His Father. He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He understands separation. He understands what death does to two people.
5- God expects you and I to express compassion to those who grieve. The next time you see a funeral procession, the next time you read the obituaries, ask God to give you a heart that is broken for those who grieve. You don't need to know them personally. Ask God to give you a heart for those who are living with dead people, spiritually dead people. Pray for women whose husbands are spiritually dead and men whose wives are spiritually dead. Pray for parents whose children are spiritually dead. These are greater hurts and greater problems than physical death in many cases.
Now let's follow the Master and watch Jesus as He has compassion on those when there seems to be no hope. In Mark 9:1-13, we read about the Mount of Transfiguration. In verse 14, Jesus was just coming down from the mountain. There are so many parallels between Moses coming down from the mountain and Jesus coming down from the mountain. We don't have the time to go into this further, but just remember the one parallel that Jesus and Moses both came down into the midst of a problem. Jesus comes down and here is a reporter for "Eyewitness News" with a microphone stuck in the face of the disciples. Let's look at verse 14:
Mark 9:14 And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
Jesus had left the disciples for a few hours. When He came back, they were on Candid Camera. Look at verse 15:
Mark 9:15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld Him, were greatly amazed,
The Amplified Bible says,
Because His face was still aglow from being with the Father.
The people left the disciples and all came running to Jesus as we see in the rest of verse 15:
... and running to Him saluted Him.
All of the crowd came running to Jesus. The crowd wasn't looking for an argument, they were looking for Jesus. They were in the midst of quite an argument with the disciples, but when they saw Jesus, they left the argument and ran to Jesus. They ran to the glory of God manifest in human form. That is what the crowd was looking for. In verse 16, Jesus asked the interviewers, "What are you questioning my team about?" It is like when a coach enters the locker room after a game, and all of a sudden a reporter has the star in the corner questioning him about the tactics of the game. In verse 16 in the Living Bible Jesus approaches the interviewers and asks, "What are you arguing about?" We can continue.
Mark 9:17 And one of the multitude answered and said,
It wasn't one of the disciples or one of the interviewers; it was one of the multitude that answered. We continue on in verse 17 as he said,
Master, I have brought unto Thee my son,
This is a familiar theme, isn't it? Luke 3 tells us my only son. Then the father describes to Jesus, even though Jesus knew in great detail the heart of the father and the needs of the boy, the condition of his son and the heartache it has brought. The father said, "I want to tell you about my son. He can't talk. He is demon-possessed. He is a hopeless case. He throws himself onto the ground, foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, falls into a motionless stupor and is wasting away to nothing."
How many parents would stop and trade your child's condition for this one if it meant healing this child? The father goes on to say, "In actuality, Lord, we have tried everything. We have taken him to Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins. They say it is some kind of birth defect, and they tried new kinds of medicine and nothing has worked. Lord, we took him to the top psychiatrists, and they said he was misunderstood as a child, but they didn't know what to do about it. Lord, we tried religion. We took him to your disciples. We begged them to cast it out, and they couldn't do anything." In verse 19 we see Jesus' response,
Mark 9:19 He answereth him, and saith, "O faithless and perverse generation,"
Jesus wasn't talking to the father. He was talking to the crowd and to the disciples. It is the most beautiful phrase in the whole passage. He turns to the father and says,
"Bring your son to Me."
While the boy was approaching, it got worse. The demons started to react, and the closer the boy got to Jesus, the rougher it became. That is often the case. We so often get discouraged as we are ministering to children and to others as they are almost frantic in their effort to deny the Lord. Often times that is because God is at the door of their heart, and they are just about to the breaking point. The closer they get to the Lord, the more frenzied Satan becomes. The warfare intensifies when you get on the front lines. What Satan had said to this father was, "This is hopeless." Let's continue on in verse 21,
Mark 9:21 And He asked his father, "How long is it ago since this came unto him?" And he said, "Of a child."
The father knew this was a tough situation. I can just see the disciples were elbowing each other saying, "See, He can't do anything about it either. It is impossible." You see, the greater the odds; the greater the glory for God. The harder it is for God; the more beautiful it is for God's glory. There was no help from the world for this boy. There had been no help from the disciples. He had this problem all of his life. Watch the miracles that Jesus displays and take note of how many times Jesus asks how long the problem had been there and how serious it was. Then the father addresses Jesus,
Mark 9:22 "...but if Thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us."
The father was saying, "Please put yourself in my shoes. Do you have any idea what it has been like to watch your only son be tormented?" God said, "Yes, I do, and I hurt with you." God wasn't looking on in glee at the suffering of this parent. He was moved with compassion. Here is a parent without hope from the human perspective. He is a parent who is not even sure that God can change his son. He was honest enough to tell God he wasn't sure if God could do it or not. Jesus answered his question in verse 23:
Mark 9:23 Jesus said unto him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."
The father had asked, "If there is anything You can do, would you do it?" Jesus answered, "If you can believe, I can do it." The father broke down and cried and said, "Lord, I do believe, but my belief has some holes in it, help my unbelief. I want to believe more." Jesus rebuked the spirit in the child and healed him. The child seemed at that point to have died. Jesus lifted him up to life. It is a beautiful passage and in Luke we read,
"And Jesus gave him back to his father".
It ends with the statement,
"and they marveled at the majesty of God".
Now they went into a house, and the disciples took Jesus aside. They weren't happy. They weren't rejoicing. They were embarrassed. They asked Jesus why they were not able to heal the boy. Jesus answered,
You didn't have enough faith. If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could speak to a mountain and it would move.
They asked Jesus how they could get that kind of faith. They wanted to know how they could reach the point that they could believe so that they could move those mountains. Jesus gave them a clear, definitive answer, "This kind comes only by prayer." Some manuscripts add, "and fasting." Jesus told them, basically, when you have the "want tos" bad enough to stay on your knees before God lingering before God, pleading before God for the faith to believe (if necessary, giving up everything else, and every pleasure in your life). He will give you that faith and translate that faith into victory according to His will.
There are eight principles we can glean from this story.
Principle 1 - When things seem impossible, look at God's compassion. He knew all about the son's problem and all about the father's broken heart. If you are a parent today with a broken heart, God knows just how you feel about every need your child or children have. You may say, "But my child has rebelled." God knows about that, too. God Jehovah speaks in another passage and says,
I have brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.
Principle 2 - God hates Satan's domination in someone's life far worse than you do.
God is spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
This was a spiritual problem, and it broke the heart of God more than it broke the heart of the father.
Principle 3 - Lifetime problems don't mean a thing to God. You and I go buy an appliance and we see the label, Limited Warranty. There is just so much the manufacturer is willing to do. God's program isn't that way. There are no limits to God's ability both in time or intensity of the difficulty to save.
Principle 4 - God listens to brokenhearted parents and has compassion on them.
Principle 5 - The parent's faith is often vital to heal the child. Jesus didn't speak to the child, He spoke to the father and said, "If you believe, I will do it."
Principle 6 - God appreciates our honesty regarding our unbelief.
Principle 7 - Real faith still produces real miracles. Remember that it is not faith in your faith, but faith in the object of your faith that changes the world. The only object of your faith that can change the world is Jesus.
Principle 8 - Real prayer, maybe even fasting, must be a tangible demonstration of our compassion. On many occasions Jesus said that we have not because of two reasons:
1) We ask not.
2) We ask wrongly out of selfish motives or we are wavering, in unbelief. He that wavers will not receive what he asks.
I would like to conclude by saying that we have walked these past two lessons in the sandals of Jesus. We have watched Him as He entered into the hearts of blind men and became blind. We watched as He entered into the hearts of lepers and became a leper. We saw Him enter into the heart of a grieving widow and became a grieving widow. He entered into the heart of a parent with a son who was a hopeless case. He was moved to compassion. He continually had His heart turned inside out as He took on the hurts of others, until He was moved to heal the hurts.
I would like to challenge you and me to ask God for that kind of compassion. To the measure we seek it, He will give it. I can promise you one thing, it will turn our lives upside down. It will turn our ministries upside down. It will turn our church upside down. It can turn this city upside down. In fact, it could be said of us, "These are the ones who turned the world upside down." It can start right now. Someone you know or even someone whom you don't know is hurting. Ask God to sensitize your spirit so that you can see and sense and search and suffer and serve the needs of those within the body. You can hear God whisper,
If you do it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto Me.
My friend, that is mercy, and that is the gospel.
© Russell Kelfer. All rights reserved.