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What Constitutes The Compassion Of Christ?

What Constitutes The Compassion Of Christ? poster

It is a sorry state of things when people [who are] supposed to be Christians and moderately intelligent need to be reminded once a year that this world needs our Christ and that we have this “obligation” to offer the Gospel message and preach it to every creature. Why do we need to be reminded of such a simple fact?

We are encouraged to find that in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ here on Earth He Himself sensed this need to have sort of an annual missionary conference with His disciples, and at regular intervals He spoke often in the same words to them and said, “Men, do not forget the harvest; the harvest truly is plenteous, the laborers are few.” We turn to Matthew 9, one of the places where He used these words. The context here is that Jesus went about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, healing every sickness and every disease of the people. But when He saw the multitudes that needed Him, He was moved with compassion, because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “Men, this harvest truly is plenteous and the laborers so few.” When did He say it? When His heart was moved with compassion.

My friend, you will never know the need of the world of the harvest field until you see it through the eyes of Christ’s compassion. This is the message of this passage. You do not see the need of the world, you do not understand what Jesus Christ is talking about when He keeps talking about the harvest truly being plenteous and your heart is wearied by the incessant repetition of these words because you have not yet begun to know the compassion of Christ which compelled Him to use these words.

I imagine one of the reasons we do not understand the compassion of Jesus Christ is because we confuse it with compassion of our own manufacture. You know, this business of feeling sorry for people, of having pity on the poor of this world. Now let me not decry pity nor feeling sorry for people, but rather let me warn you that if you have no love and a purely human sense of regret that this world is as bad as it is and that some people are as poor as they are, that there are so many of these “underprivileged” people still living in what we call darkness, and that you who live in the light who have so much to give can in a patronizing manner reach down to this poor old world and give it something it doesn’t have because you are sorry for it, may I say this—that you do not know what the compassion of Christ is.

There are many areas in which this distinction can be seen if we are honest about this business of our pity for people who are poorer than we are. It’s very much as if you were going up and down the streets on a cold, wet, blustery day and saw some poor person coming up the street walking into that bitter wind, both of you just in process of walking by some place where they sold hot soup. All of a sudden your heart is moved and you think maybe that poor fellow hasn’t tasted hot soup since you don’t know when, and your hand goes down into your pocket or purse and out comes 25¢. You go up to him, just a little embarrassed you haven’t done such a thing for a long time, and you give him the 25¢ and say, “Excuse me, but would you just go and get yourself some hot soup? It looks like you need it.” And before you have time to turn around for him to thank you, you are on your way.

When you get home this is quite an important thing, isn’t it? Your wife may think you are a little on the mean side and you make certain she knows you have given away 25 cents of your hard-earned money. Maybe the next morning your neighbors know about it because they know what your wife thinks about you. And your wife is quite excited and the story gets around that you have now turned into what is called a “generous person” for you’ve given away 25¢!

Don’t let’s kid ourselves about this: you’ve done a little bit of good in the world. You’ve done something better than you did yesterday and maybe this has become a small turning point in your small life. But you haven’t done much, have you? What have you done? You have given away something that didn’t cost you anything. Oh, I know it cost you 25¢. That’s not even enough to take off your income tax. It doesn’t count! It doesn’t mean anything! And this is characteristic of human pity. We’re all very good at doing good deeds providing they don’t make any inroads upon those areas of our lives where real costliness resides.

Would you compare this then with the compassion of Christ, who started off this journey down to this world with the greatest sacrifice history ever saw. It was that time when the Son of God sat and in a sense compassionately looked at His Godhead, as Philippians 2 tells us. And looking there at His Godhead He said, in a sense to that eternal status of His, “I could hold on to this if I wanted to, but I’m not going to. I’m not going to count it a thing to be clutched at, but I’m going to lay it on one side and empty Myself by going down into the world.” That’s not 25¢ worth of coming; that is giving up eternity! That is giving up Godhead! And what happened down here? Did the world turn in amazement and awe and wonder that God the Son should have done such a thing? Not a bit! Instead of being accepted He was despised and rejected. And that’s not the end, because Jesus Christ was moved with compassion having left everything in heaven. He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. The price of compassion for God’s Son was nailed to His hands and His feet and a spear into His side. He gave Himself! This is the cost of compassion. This is what makes human pity different from God’s heart. We see the harvest field only when we begin to know compassion that costs.

Now understand, I do not speak to you as one who has learned this lesson. Perhaps here and there I have had little insights into this. I think of one time when I was on a return visit to Africa. I’d not been in this particular part of Africa for years, and I went into the bank, I had left 10¢ there when I left Africa and I wanted to check on the interest. I went into the bank and the manager’s door was open. When he saw me come in he didn’t worry about whether my account was 10¢ or $10,000. A smile came on his face, “Come in, fellow, glad to see you again! Where have you been?” I went in and we chatted for a while. And having had our chat and gotten our finances straightened out he said, “I’m just going down the street to have some lunch. Come with me.” So off we went. Now in this town there was really only one street, and away down at the other end I saw one of my African friends with whom I had preached the Gospel and who had worked on my staff. But there was a bit of a problem here, for in this particular part of Africa there is a “color bar” and there is a certain amount of embarrassment when you are walking down the street with a bank manager and find one of your African friends walking up the street with a big smile on his face, coming up to you to put out his hands and say, “Bwana, I’m so glad to see you!”

I needn’t go into the details of this. If you don’t know what that means, I don’t know where you’ve been all these years. I don’t want to be especially humble about this, but I’m as embarrassed as the next man. I didn’t know what to do. However, I soon concocted a little plan. I had money in the bank and I wanted at this point to get into a deep conversation with the manager about my financial problem, with my face looking almost right up into his that when my African friend went by I wouldn’t notice him. And then I’d get down the street and the bank manager would have his lunch and I’d go on my way and then, of course, I would turn around and come back up the street to see my African friend again and a smile would come on my face. There would be no white bank manager near and I would say, “Well, look who’s here. So good to see you.” There’s a measure of sin in the human heart, even in a missionary’s heart. So I got it all worked out. We walked on down the street: a great smiling African face coming up the street, and my grim face going down the street.

You know, one of the miracles of being a Christian is that when you receive Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the living Christ, comes into your life, and the thing that amazes you as you walk around as a perfectly ordinary “you” is that constantly that Holy Spirit is making you do things, think things, say things you never thought you could do, think, or say. They come straight from the heart of God. That is one of the privileges of being a Christian. This is what happened to me at that point.

Little, simple Peter Letchford was going to walk by that African brother like a hypocrite, ashamed to speak to him. Then that Holy Spirit of God did something in me I could not have done myself. He switched my head around away from the bank manager, he put words into my heart, into my head and into my mouth. He put a smile onto my face, He put joy into my heart, and He raised up my hand and it went out and the African’s hand went out and we crossed hands. I said, “How are you John? I’m so glad to see you.” The bank manager’s eyes turned to glass and his face turned to steel and he took one last look at me. He’ll never look at me again, he’ll never have me in his office again. But you know, when I gripped that fellow’s hand with all the joy of God in my heart, a nail went through that hand of mine. Yea, the sword pierced my own side. When I got to my room I just sank down on my knees and my soul was overwhelmed with a sense of the compassion and love of Christ that I never remember having before. We do not know what compassion means until we know what the cross means.

Now all this can become a matter of theology. We talk about the cross in the life of the believer, but I’m going to speak in simple terms of what this means, in terms of time, of money, of ambition, of children, in simple factual terms as to the bill God is going to call us to pay as our hands and our feet and our innermost souls are pierced with compassion. We can put it this way, that some of you get down with your wife and family after a conference and find out the maximum you can give to the missionary program of the church. You’re going to give all you can afford—and may God honor and bless you for it. But let me tell you from God’s Word, that having done that you still are unprofitable servants, only doing that which you are required to do. May I suggest the next step? Get down on your knees and begin to ask God what you cannot afford. This is giving with the cross in it.

Bring it into the area of your time. We can all give God time that we can spare, that we don’t need for other purposes. There is unprofitable praying—but by all means do it! Better to pray unprofitably than not to pray at all. When does the cross come into our prayer time and prayer life? It comes at the point when you go up to that television set, take hold of the knob and turn it off—just like that! Your heart has been enthralled and captivated by that screen and you must see the end of that program. Right in the middle of that “must” you turn the knob off and you sit there disappointed and frustrated, and you go off to your room. Maybe you don’t just put it this way, but you’re saying, “Lord, I desperately wanted this time for myself; now I’m going to give it to You for prayer. This is compassion with the cross in it.

Parents, will you start to give with the cross in it? Ask my parents. I happen to be the only child in my family and I think the most vivid recollection of all my missionary experience is when I left home. Patted on the back as a fine young man, giving up a fine career to go out to a terrible place like Africa. With a big head and boots not big enough to contain the feet I was going out with. Peter Letchford, going out to the mission field, what a wonderful thing! And just as I left England I saw two lonely people standing there just waving “goodbye” to all they ever had as a family, not knowing whether they’d see me again. In fact, my mother lived just about long enough to see me come home on my first furlough, and we buried her during that first furlough.

We don’t know the need of the harvest field until we know the compassion of the Christ who paid it all.

Lord, teach us that which we can so easily speak about but so hardly can we experience it. As the Father so loved the world that He gave His only Son, let this be the measure of our love for the world, that we give what costs us most.