By Jeff Cloeter
Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy for another, accompanied by a desire to help. In the New Testament, the Greek word for compassion implies a feeling in the gut. Compassion is that churning sensation that wells up from deep inside us, moving us to care for someone else. Compassion is a feeling that leads to an action.
For some of us, compassion comes easily. We feel for others and are moved to act. A stranded family. A crying baby. A lost dog.
For others of us, compassion comes less readily. Sociopaths feel nothing when they see someone in need. But you don’t have to be a sociopath to find it hard to have compassion for someone who hurts you, betrays you, or takes advantage of you.
How do you have compassion on people who don’t deserve it?
At the cross, we see Jesus’ unmistakable compassion. For instance, the Lord saw Mary and John standing together nearby. Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, behold, your son!” and then to John, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27 ESV) Jesus saw his mother’s agony. His compassion moved him to act in love for her. Jesus was a good son, providing care for his widowed mother in the midst of his impending death. In these words, Jesus asked John to care for Mary.
We can imagine that Jesus spoke these words in compassion for John as well. Now John would have a home, a mother, and a sense of responsibility. These things would comfort John, giving meaning and purpose in the days of darkness and change that lay ahead.
Much of the time, it’s easy to have compassion on family members. It’s easy to have compassion on a helpless baby or rescued, abused dog.
But how do you have compassion on the convict? Or on a greedy financial advisor who bilks your trusting, elderly neighbor? It’s easy to have compassion on some people, but there are countless others who do not deserve our compassion.
Some people mistakenly think that God’s compassion means he’s “just nice to everyone.” Not true! God’s compassion is always coupled with confrontation. God is just, holy. He confronts our unholiness and injustice. God stands up when something is wrong. He judges when things aren’t right. Consider these words that describe both God’s justice and his compassion:
“In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:8 ESV).
God always couples compassion with confrontation. Always! God is always . . .
Just and merciful
Righteous and loving
Judging and forgiving
There is both confrontation and compassion at the cross. At the cross, God confronts sin. He does not excuse it. He doesn’t say, “Oh, I’ll be nice this time and just let it go.” NO! Sin is a violation against God. A debt has occurred! Someone must pay! Someone must die! But in compassion, Jesus says, “I’ll pay. I’ll die.”
Maybe confrontation is easy for you. But what about compassion? How do you show compassion when it’s hard? How do you do that when someone doesn’t seem to deserve it? To understand compassion, we have to look at God’s compassion. Two things about God’s compassion:
First, God’s compassion leads to action. Divine compassion is much more than a fuzzy feeling. As mentioned earlier, the Greek word for compassion relates to your guts. Your guts are moved for someone else; you feel for that person deep inside. And that feeling deep in the gut leads to action. God’s compassion moves him to act. His compassion moves him to rescue, to help, to deliver.
Second, God's compassion arises precisely when his people don't deserve it. Throughout Scripture, compassion refers to God’s gracious disposition toward his people precisely when they are in need or when they have rebelled. God’s compassion arises when his people stray, betray, and wander. His compassion isn’t dependent on their good behavior or obedience. It is aroused when they mess up, run away, turn away, fall down, and fall out. When you’ve denied, turned, lied, and rebelled . . . this is when God’s compassion becomes most evident!
Here are three Scriptures that demonstrate this:
Their heart was not steadfast toward him . . . Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity (Psalm 78:37–38 ESV).
My people are bent on turning away from me . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender (Hosea 11:7–8 ESV).
But while he [the prodigal son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20 ESV).
None of us deserves God’s compassion. But we are all recipients of that compassion precisely when we don’t deserve it. Paul writes, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). When we were more the criminal than the cute baby. When we were more the greedy financier than the rescued dog. When it was hard—out of his great compassion—God chose mercy.
The more we see the cross, the clearer we see God’s heart. The more we see God’s heart, the more we see his compassion. His saving work on the cross was not only for his mother and friend, but for his enemies. His compassion is for you and for me. Only because of his radical compassion can we begin to mirror that same compassion in our own lives.
Editor’s note: Today’s devotion comes from the sermon outlines that accompany CTA’s new Easter preparation theme, It Is Finished. Use these downloadable sermons and the included discussion questions to enhance your worship and Bible time in the weeks leading up to Easter!
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