A Compassion That Compels
by Pastor Gene
Before He ascended into Heaven, the Lord Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit who was about to come. The Spirit was already “with” them, Jesus said, but He would soon be “in” them, and “in” them “forever”! The coming of the Holy Spirit would manifest itself in two profound ways in the lives of these disciples. First, they would have “power”. Second, they would be Jesus’ “witnesses” (John 14:16-17, 16:7; Acts 1:4, 8).
The idea is that the Spirit’s arrival would provide Jesus’ followers with everything they needed to fulfill His perfect will. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” Jesus promised. And Peter reminds us that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (Acts 1:8a; 2 Peter 1:3a).
Furthermore, Jesus told them, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you … you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The Spirit would energize believers in their pursuit of fulfilling the Great Commission: “Go … make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
So, Jesus not only saved us, He also empowered and commissioned us, leaving us – His image-bearers – to join with Him in His work of proclaiming His name and making Him famous. For, after all, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Fishing & Harvesting
Call it what you like – soul-winning, evangelizing, fishing for men, laboring in the Lord’s harvest – it all amounts to the same thing: seeking the lost.
Jesus asked Peter and his brother Andrew to put down their nets and follow Him. And if they would, He’d teach them to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). So, this is our business, our work as followers of Jesus. Fishing for men.
Or, to use another analogy, there are fields ready to be harvested. We have the message that leads to life! And, with it, we are gatherers for God – gathering in His elect from fields far and near. And this is a great responsibility. “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.” (I think we can apply Proverbs 10:5 to the idea of spiritual in-gathering if fishing can speak of the same.)
What a privilege we have to join with Jesus in His work of seeking and saving the lost!
What Motivated Jesus?
Consider this: “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38).
Did you catch what caused Jesus to bemoan this lack of laborers? Go ahead, read it again. I’ll wait …
Did you see it? It was His compassion. He “saw the crowds” and “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Our Lord’s compassion compelled Him to press on – even to the point of physical exhaustion – to reach these shepherdless sheep. Mark 6:31 reminds us that “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat”!
The Greek word translated “compassion” in our text (σπλαγχνίζομαι) suggests strong emotion. It means to feel ‘deep sympathy’ for someone, or to ‘have pity.’ The desperate condition of the crowds moved Him deeply, and it should move us too.
The compassionate heart of Jesus comes up time and time again in the Gospels.
- In Matthew 14:14, He had been grieving the death of John the Baptist at Herod’s hand. Eventually, a crowd discovered where He was and began following Him “on foot from the cities”. Despite His grief, when He saw a great multitude He “felt compassion for them.”
- It was compassion too that motivated Jesus to feed the 4,000 with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. Looking out at the people covering a mountainside in Galilee, He privately told His disciples, “I feel compassion for the multitude, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not wish to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32).
- When Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping over the death of her brother Lazarus, “He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled,” and He wept with them (John 11:33, 35). The phrase “deeply moved in spirit” carries the idea of an anguish that is physical, emotional and spiritual.
- Luke tells us that when Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, “He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42).
- Even suffering upon the cross, we see His compassionate concern for others.
He prayed for His persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
And, before committing His spirit to the Father, He arranged for the care of His mother: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27).
Our Lord’s compassion would not let Him give up the spirit until He’d first provided for His mother.
A Man of Sorrows
But nothing moved Jesus more than the lostness of those around Him. He agonized that He’d been rejected by His own people. In one of the most poignant passages in Holy Scripture, He laments, “O 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” (Matthew 23:37). I sense no anger here, only the broken heart of a Father longing to embrace His children who simply refused to come.
It’s no wonder that Isaiah predicted Messiah when He would come would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
Compassion drove Jesus to seek and to save the lost; it should drive us too.
I don’t have that heart – not nearly as I should have it – but I want it. I want to be moved like Jesus was moved when He saw lost people. I have the Holy Spirit. I’ve been empowered and commissioned. May He cause the Lord’s compassion to grow within me. And may that compassion compel me with fervor to bear His image in the field of souls.
To consider …
- It is obvious from our Lord’s words that seeking the lost and making disciples constitutes the Church’s vital mission.
How important is reaching the lost to you personally?
Think of those with whom you work or interact regularly. As God’s image-bearer, do you make a conscious effort to reflect something of God to them?
Do you look for opportunities to share your faith with them? To ‘make Jesus famous’ where every you go?
Is your attempt to do so haphazard (‘If the situation presents itself I might say something’) or intentional (‘Lord, help me to be mindful of every opportunity to proclaim You today – in word and in deed’)?
Do you get the sense that the Lord expects His followers to be intentional about image-bearing?
- Jesus, moved by compassion over the plight of the crowds, declared: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38). Notice: this is NOT the Great Commission per se (that will come later). This is not an appeal to ‘GO’; it’s an appeal to “PRAY” (“Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”).
In God’s order of things, prayer should proceed everything.
Why do you think Jesus didn’t simply say, ‘Get out there into the field and start harvesting’? Could it be that our hearts needed to first be changed before we could engage the work in a way that pleased the Father?
Honesty time: Is evangelism and disciple making – communal or personal – part of your regular prayer life? Do you pray for the Lost? Do you pray that God would send more workers into the harvest? Do you pray about your part in that great work?
- Does it challenge you to read that compassion was the stated motivation for much of what Jesus did?
What generally motivates you to do what you do?
Is the focus usually upon others, or yourself?
Can you honestly say that you feel compassion for the lost? Do you feel it strongly enough to have it move you into action?
When you engage with unbelievers, do you see them as Jesus saw them – in their need and in their lostness?
Do you consider their end should they persist in their rejection of Jesus?
Should asking the Father to grow compassion within you be a part of your regular prayers?