The Compassion of Jesus- The Motivation for Mission and Ministry


I have been thinking a lot about the passage in Matthew 9 which describes Jesus ministry,

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming 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.”  (Mt 9:35–38).

When Jesus saw the crowds he saw them as sheep without a shepherd and he desired to gather them into the kingdom, this we are told is because he had compassion for them. His heart is full and yet he realizes that he cannot reach all these people by himself others must go into the harvest field. The reason Jesus told the disciples to pray for other workers to be sent out is this great compassion he has for people. In the next chapter we find Jesus sending out the disciples on their first mission and his charge to them once again demonstrates how his heart is filled with compassion. Listen carefully to what he has to say,

8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  (Mt 10:8).

The instructions show his compassion for those he is sending the disciples to minister to. Healing alone is an act of compassion, but they are also told to bring healing to the outcasts of their society, the lepers. They are also to drive out demons, again we can see that Jesus wants to see people set free. He underlines to them that they have received everything freely and therefore they are to give freely to others.

So many preachers today and in the past see people scattering and denounce them as sinful rebels but this is not the way Jesus went about it. Jesus had no time for sin but he had a lot of time for sinners. We could list so many examples of Jesus showing an outrageous love and compassion to the sinful. But we will just look at a couple of examples.

Firstly look at the way he dealt with the Samaritan woman in Johns gospel,

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”   ( John 4:1-26 )

The gracious attitude to this sinful woman amazed both her and the disciples, the result she puts her faith in Christ. There is no hint of a judgmental attitude in anything he says. he is honest with the woman and he answers her questions in a loving and gracious way. So often we lack the graciousness of the saviour and instead of drawing people closer to him, we drive them away. Notice that Jesus does deal with the sin, he does not water down the message but all he says flows from his compassionate heart. jesus always draws sinners to himself, lets look at another example,

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19:1–10). .

Zacchaeus was an agent of the Romans collecting taxes from his own people and exploiting them to his own financial advantage, this is the type of person we would naturally denounce as a traitor, whose sin is beyond the pale. but the attitude of Jesus is amazing, hge invites himself to dinner at this mans house and then draws this man to repentance and salvation. When Zacchaeus saw the grace of God in Jesus he comes to repentance and faith..

The attitude of Jesus should be our attitude, we should be willing to reach out to a lost and needy world with compassionate hearts. When we do this people will be drawn to the Saviour. we need to have our hearts filled with his love and compassion and then and only then will be successful in our mission.

We also need to look at why we urge others to engage in mission, we often say, it is our duty to reach out but duty will not win anyone, unless that duty is saturated in the love of Christ. We so often try to pressurize people into mission but this is doomed to failure. When a Christian grasps the depth of the love of God for his/herself then they will want to share the good news with others. We need to emphasize the grace of god that transforms sinners into saints, a grace that is so rich and free that it transforms our lives. With the compassion of Jesus in our hearts our whole attitude to mission will be transformed. It will no longer be a duty but a delight in sharing the love of God.

We know where we have come from and how much grace we have received from our Lord and Saviour, we know he has shown his compassion to us, will we show it to others?

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 22 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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