Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and how compassion is building bridges to others who are unable to get from where they are to where God wants them to be.
Luke 6:35-36 – …he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.
In our English Bibles, sometimes verses that express compassion will mention mercy or kindness; sometimes compassion is equated with forgiveness. However it is expressed, we are commanded by Yeshua to be like God in regard to his mercy and compassion. What does that look like? Some examples taken from God’s dealings with ancient nation of Israel can provide us some indications of how God’s mercy and compassion is defined.
- Ezekiel 16:5 – No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you, to have compassion on you; but you were cast out in the open field, for that your person was abhorred, in the day that you were born.
- Psalm 78:36-39 – But they flattered him with their mouth, and lied to him with their tongue. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they faithful in his covenant. But he, being compassionate, forgave iniquity, and didn’t destroy them. Yes, many times he turned his anger away, and didn’t stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away, and doesn’t come again.
- Micah 7:18-19 – Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity, and passes over the disobedience of the remnant of his heritage? He doesn’t retain his anger forever, because he delights in loving kindness. He will again have compassion on us. He will tread our iniquities under foot; and you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
- Jeremiah 12:15 – It shall happen, after that I have plucked them up [from their land due to their disobedience], I will return and have compassion on them; and I will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.
God’s compassion has been evident in choosing to take care of Israel as caring for an abandoned baby. His compassion is evident in forgiving them when they were consistently unthankful and disobedient to him. His compassion is evident in restoring Israel to the land he had promised them even after their captivity for disobedience.
If we are to be merciful and compassionate like our Father, we need to recognize that the examples he sets for us are teaching us that compassion is all about reaching out to and helping those who are unable to help themselves.
Yeshua exhibited this same type of compassion, just like his Father, helping those who could not help themselves.
He understood this principle and took it upon himself to teach and shepherd his people who were like lost sheep without a shepherd. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 50:6 – My people were lost sheep; their shepherds led them astray, guiding them the wrong way in the mountains. They wandered from mountain to hill; they forgot their resting place.
Yeshua recognized that this was the condition of his people, which is why he so ardently strove to ensure they had a correct understanding of the Kingdom of God, not just the corrupted traditions of the religious elite.
- Matthew 15:24 – [Yeshua] replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
- Matthew 9:36 – When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
- Mark 6:34 – As Yeshua came ashore he saw the large crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he taught them many things.
The text tells us that the act of teaching them “many things” was an act of compassion on his part. Perhaps these were the teachings of Luke 6, compared to the instruction of the Sermon on the Mount. If these were part of Yeshua’s regular teachings, it is not unlikely that they may have been conveyed at this time.
Additionally, he compassionately healed their sick.
Matthew 14:13-14 – Now when Yeshua heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Yeshua healing the sick was an act of compassion for their suffering, and also an indication that the Kingdom of God was present among them.
Luke 11:14, 20 – Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the man who had been mute began to speak, and the crowds were amazed. … But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.
Yeshua’s compassion was an indicator that God’s Kingdom on the earth was becoming a reality, and that soon it would be a universal constant among all the nations.
Also, Yeshua demonstrated compassion on the crowd’s physical hunger in the remote place where he had been teaching.
Matthew 15:32 – Then Yeshua called the disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry since they may faint on the way.”
He miraculously provided for them in a dramatic demonstration that God has the ability to provide for all physical needs.
Finally, and most importantly, in a representative fashion Yeshua took up the sins of the rebellious upon himself.
Romans 5:6-8 – For while we were still helpless, at the right time Messiah died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us.
The text mentions the helplessness of those whom Messiah died for; there was nothing they could do to change their condition before a holy God. They are classified as ungodly and sinners. The word for helpless is literally strengthless, having no strength in and of themselves to overcome their ungodly and sinful ways. By all rights, these are individuals who are deserving only of the the wrath of God due to their defiance of his ways. Yet the example of Yeshua, by assuming the symbolic role of a sacrificial lamb for those who place their faith in him, assumes their place and identity before God. His death then becomes representative of the believer’s death for disobedience, and they are counted by God as released from their due penalty for breaking his laws and are allowed life.
John 15:12-13 – My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.
Our compassion is to be based on this type of love and compassion that have been exhibited by Yahweh and Yeshua. It is a compassion that provides for the needs of others when they do not have the ability to help themselves, even at the expense of our own lives. But how are we to apply this same concept in our daily living? In a moment, we will begin to explore some application of these principles in the lives of believers today.
As stated previously, if we are to be merciful and compassionate like our Father or like Messiah Yeshua, we need to recognize that the examples that are set for us are teaching us that compassion is all about reaching out to and helping those who are unable to help themselves.
Zechariah 7:8-10 – Again the word of Yahweh came to Zechariah: “Yahweh who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’
Yahweh, speaking through the prophet Zechariah, instructed his people that demonstrating true justice is evident when they show brotherhood and compassion with each other. He lists helpless among them, like widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners (all who were considered the lowest class of their society) were not to be oppressed in any way. There should never be any indication of plotting evil against others for selfish gain or personal agendas.
1 John 3:16-18 – By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet shuts off compassion against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Having the ability to share our worldly resources with those in need is certainly one of the most recognizable ways we can demonstrate compassion with others. In this passage, the apostle John equates this kind of compassion with love: the same type of love that Yeshua demonstrated with us.
Yeshua himself taught that no matter who the individual is, the helpless one should be a concern for those who have the ability to help; this is a true demonstration of compassion.
Luke 10:33-35 – But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’
In this most famous parable of Yeshua regarding the good Samaritan, the illustration is placed before us of the depth of compassion shown to be evident in someone caring for the needs of another, an anonymous individual who had no ability to help themself after being assaulted and left for dead. I can think of no greater example of helplessness than this. We are encouraged to follow the example of the Samaritan in the parable in the summation of the lesson by Yeshua.
Luke 10:36-37 – Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Yeshua said to him, “Go and do the same.”
This mercy or compassion is the quality that should be evident in our lives, even if we do not know the individual who is in need.
In a more subtle way, we can also demonstrate compassion on those with whom we may be at odds due to some unreconciled conflict.
Matthew 5:23-24 – “So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, “leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
If someone has wronged you, the relationship cannot be restored unless you extend compassion; you are helping someone who cannot get help themselves get past some misunderstanding or offense. This is equally as compassionate as providing food or clothing to those who have none, or very little. If we are to imitate our Father, it has to be in relentlessly building bridges between those who are unyielding in their positions or those whose circumstances will not be changed without some sort of intervention. Our compassion is designed to be the catalyst that drops barriers, opens doors, meets physical needs and sparks understanding. Compassion is building bridges to others who are unable to get from where they are to where God ultimately wants them to be.
This is the end-goal of the command for us to be merciful and compassionate with others. It has less to do with our obedience and more to do with genuinely desiring to help those who cannot help themselves. When we lay down our own lives (our personal ambitions and plans) for the sake of others, we are then acting in a godly fashion that God expects of his children. To exhibit the characteristics of God by helping the helpless is not only an honor and privilege he affords us, but we also then become the avenues through which God can work in practical ways in their lives.
Through helping the helpless, we demonstrate we are followers of Messiah Yeshua. This is how we bear God’s image in this world. This is how we become God’s workers and co-laborers in the building of the Kingdom.
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