The gospel message, in Scripture, is a message of compassion. John 3:17 says that God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. He humbled himself and became one of us and lived a perfect life so that when we tortured and killed him he could represent all those who would receive him - he would take their place. My sin would become his sin and his righteousness would become my righteousness. As Luther said, “Lord, you are my righteousness and I am your sin.”
If this is beautiful to you; if this is breathtaking to you, you are a recipient of God’s compassion. God’s compassion toward us MUST change us - in ways that are noticeable to everyone.
Many Christians are disillusioned with the Christianity in our land today. It seems to offer little more than any secular organization might. There are regular gatherings that create a social subculture. There is often a political direction that can feed endless conversation. There is usually a religious trajectory that emerges on Sunday and then subsides during the rest of the week - after all, my faith is a private thing. In the end there seems to be little difference between the Christian and everyone else. Little difference in hopes and dreams, little difference in language, little difference in marital success, little difference in entertainment, little difference in financial priorities…, there’s just not much difference.
This is certainly not how Jesus lived - he was different. He impacted those around him, and he died because he belonged to God and would not bend to religiosity. This is not how the apostles lived - they were different. They impacted those around them, and died because they belonged to God and stood for Christ. This is not how countless followers of Jesus have lived. They struggled and died in this life because they belonged to God and stood for Christ.
Jesus said some radical things about how his followers live:
Matthew 10:37 (NIV)
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…”
Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
If we here, as a fellowship, are going to be a light for the lost; if we as a group are going to be salt and light; if we are going to have an impact for the Kingdom, the gospel and all it means must permeate our lives.
Today we’re going to visit a topic and concept I hope we will repeat, in one form or another around the Thanksgiving and Christmas season every year - moving from consumption to compassion. Before we talk about this, however, I want you to know that I think this is a very difficult subject. Not because Scripture isn’t very, very clear on the subject, but rather because this goes to the heart of a critical battle for King and Kingdom. This subject, in many ways, is at the heart of God’s purpose for us - living by faith. Will we live by faith here depending on God for fulfillment or will we follow the culture? Will we put our life’s vision toward the Kingdom or toward self?
1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
Hebrews 13:2-3 (NIV)
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Colossians 3:5-12 (NIV)
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
When our spiritual eyes are opened and we see Jesus for who he is, who we were goes off and the new self is created. And this new life, this new self, through the Holy Spirit’s work in our minds is being moved toward the image of Jesus. This new person does not need to be controlled by sin. So, in verses 5-10 Paul tells these Corinthians how they SHOULD NOT be, but what does he tell them to do instead?
11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
In other words, those God has selected for his purposes, God’s chosen people, should understand that first - God’s vision is not limited or confined by ethnicity or economic status, and second, we should be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient - starting with compassion.
Let’s quickly look at a few examples of when Jesus felt compassion. These are verses that actually use the Greek word for compassion.
In Matthew 14:14 we read that Jesus had compassion on a large crowd - and he healed the sick. In Matthew 20:24 we read that Jesus had compassion on two blind men - and he healed them. In Mark 1:41 we read that Jesus was filled with compassion for a leper - and he healed him. In Luke 7:13 we read that Jesus had compassion for a widow who just lost her son - so he raised him from the dead.
Mark 6:34 we read that Jesus saw that the crowds were like sheep without a shepherd - and he taught them (undoubtedly about the Kingdom).
It seems that Jesus really cared about people’s day to day needs AND, obviously, their greatest need - recognizing the Messiah.
Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
On the one hand I want to be the person God wants me to be - I want this fellowship to be what God wants it to be. On the other hand I want to be that person while not fully committed - that‘s a tough one. I want God to fully make himself known through me while limiting his reign in my life.
This was the point of a story Jesus told as he was talking to the religious leaders of the day. They were attempting to rationalize why their love for others was limited and measured:
Luke 10:30-38 (NIV)
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.