Our Lord's compassion

The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mar 6:30)

Names written in heaven

I'm sure the apostles would have been eager to tell the Lord what the Holy Spirit had said and done through them on their recent ministry trip (Mar 6:6b–13).

Mark doesn't tell us how Jesus reacted to this, but Luke tells us what he said when the seventy-two returned with a similar report. He said, 'Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luk 10:17–20)'. That correction may have deflated them a little, but it was a word both for them and for us.

Everything these men had done: preaching the gospel, driving out demons and healing the sick, had been for the benefit of others. The fact that God had written their names in the Lamb's book of life from the creation of the world (Rev 17:8) was for their benefit. That was what Jesus wanted them to rejoice about.

We can become so focused on ministry that we forget the most important thing—our own salvation. Spiritual gifts are given for the common good (1Co 12:7), and we should eagerly desire them (1Co 12:31;14:1) and use them to serve others (1Pe 4:10); but we must always keep those gifts, and any spiritual ministry we have, in proper perspective in our lives.

Salvation is a personal thing. God has chosen us, individually, out of all the people on the earth, to know him, to receive his forgiveness and to dwell with him for ever; and we should never stop thanking him for that. Spiritual gifts are what God does through us; salvation is what God does for us.

Get some rest

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' (Mar 6:31)

We don't know how long the apostles' ministry trip lasted, but Jesus judged that they should now spend some time resting. Do you think the Lord says that to us? I'm sure he does—but are we listening?

In the revival that swept through the UK in the mid-eighteenth century, John Wesley and George Whitefield were contemporary preachers who were mightily used by God. They both travelled vast distances, usually on horseback, preaching wherever they could; but their view of life was different.

Whitefield believed strongly in predestination. He believed that no matter how he treated his body, he would not die until God had done through him what he wanted to do. 'It is better to wear out than to rust out,' he told those who urged him to take more rest.

Even though he suffered from asthma, angina, and an unknown condition which gave him a bloated appearance (though he ate very little), he pushed his body to extremes declaring, 'I am ashamed of my sloth and lukewarmness and long to be on the stretch for God.' Wesley, by contrast, took more care of himself, resting more frequently.

In October 1764 he wrote in his journal:

'Mr. Whitefield seemed an old, old man, being fairly worn out in his Master's service, though he has hardly seen fifty years; and yet it pleases God that I, who am now in my sixty-third year, find no disorder, no weakness, no decay, no difference from what I was at five-and-twenty; only that I have fewer teeth and more gray hairs!'

George Whitefield died at the age of fifty-five; John Wesley was still preaching in his eighties.

You could argue that God had blessed Wesley with a stronger constitution and healthier body than Whitefield, but how much longer could Whitefield's ministry have blessed this earth if he'd taken our Lord's advice to 'Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest.'? God alone knows.

Jesus said, 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mat 11:30).' That doesn't mean we shouldn't work hard for the Lord and put every effort into labouring in his vineyard, but the human body has limitations and we should respect that.

God instituted the Sabbath day for man's benefit (Mar 2:27), not for his own. God doesn't need to rest; man does. And even though Christians are not under Law, and are free to do as they please on the Sabbath (Rom 14:5; Col 2:16–17), it's a wise believer who takes time out for frequent rest.

The wisdom of the Sabbath still stands, even though Christians are not bound by its rules and regulations.

Compassion stimulates action

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mar 6:32–34)

In the parallel passage in Matthew's Gospel, it says that Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick (Mat 14:13–14).

Perhaps Jesus, having a human body like our own, felt he also needed to rest. If that was so, then the desire was put aside when he saw the crowd before him.

Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. These people were spiritually lost; they had no one to lead them. So, as the good shepherd (Joh 10:11), sent by his Father to the lost sheep of Israel (Mat 15:24), he began to teach them.

An important aspect of our Lord's earthly ministry was his compassion. Compassion is a feeling of pity or concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. It's a powerful emotion that stimulates action. It's very difficult to feel compassion for someone and do nothing to help them.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.'

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. (Mar 1:40–42)

Jesus was filled with compassion when he saw the man's suffering, and he healed him. And Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever (Heb 13:8); he still has compassion on the sick and heals all who come to him in faith.

I and the Father are one

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us (Joh 1:18). Consider the following statements he made:

'I and the Father are one.' (Joh 10:30)

'Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.' (Joh 14:9)

'The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.' (Joh 5:19)

Jesus was the exact representation of the Father in a human body. Jesus healed the sick because the Father was healing the sick. Jesus had compassion on those who were spiritually lost because the Father had compassion on those who were spiritually lost.

The God of compassion

The Bible describes God as the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2Co 1:3).

In Exo 33:18–19, Moses asked God to show him his glory—Moses wanted to know God and to understand him. So God said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.'

The three parts of his character God chose to reveal to Moses were his goodness, his mercy and his compassion. There's no wonder, then, that Jesus went around doing good (Act 10:38), showing mercy to people (Luk 18:35–43), and having compassion on them.

But why didn't God tell Moses about his love; God is love (1Jo 4:16) and it was because of his love that he gave his Son to die for us on the cross (Joh 3:16)? I believe God chose to emphasize his goodness and mercy and compassion to Moses because they are as responsible for our salvation as his love is.

In Rom 9:15 Paul, writing about those whom God has chosen to save, quotes Exo 33:19: 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' God shows mercy to those he has chosen to save by not punishing them as their sins deserve; and his mercy is motivated by his compassion—his pity for their lost state.

As I've already said, compassion is an emotion that stimulates action. It wasn't just our Lord's love for us that sent him to the cross, but also his goodness, his mercy and his compassion. Jesus demonstrated all of those attributes on earth because he is God.

Then I called on the name of the Lord: 'O Lord, save me!' The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. (Psa 116:4–5)

Michael Graham
September 2008
Revised October 2014

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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