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He Gets Us Week 2: Compassion – Sermon Notes

He Gets Us Week Two:  Compassion

Pastor Svea Merry
April 22-23, 2023

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In 1985, a 49-year-old lady named Brigette Gerney walked home from the dentist in New York City when something horrific happened. A massive crane atop a skyscraper fell off, plunging several stories down, landing on Brigette’s legs. Amazingly, she was not killed. More amazingly, she would walk again and live to be 85, passing away just a little more than a year ago.

But when that crane fell, she was pinned to the street for over six hours while rescue workers and emergency personnel tried to get her out from under that piece of steel. How did she survive? When emergency worker Paul Ragonese arrived on the scene and saw her unable to move, he held her hand. For six hours. They eventually were able to get her out from under that crane and rushed her to the hospital. She went through surgery after surgery.

About two months later, when she was finally discharged from the hospital, the news department at one of the television stations in New York went to cover her finally going home. They asked her, “Would you tell us what made the difference in your surviving this kind of an ordeal?” Her answer was simple. She pointed to the kind rescue worker. “What kept me alive is that he held my hand.”

The compassion of a stranger to hold another stranger’s hand for hours in the direst of circumstances reminds us how powerful it is when we show someone that we care.

Today, we’re going to see that compassion is a defining aspect of who God is.  We’re going to be encouraged by discovering the incredible compassion of our Lord Jesus. We’ll see that he not only gets us and empathizes with the needs that we have, but that his compassion always moved him to do something about the needs around him. And as we look to Jesus, and make much of him, we’ll challenge ourselves to try to take a step this week to be more like him.

If you were here with us last December, you might remember that during our advent series, Pastor Rick pointed out that the very first word God ever used to describe Himself was compassionate. This description occurs in Exodus 34. Moses, the author of the first five books of our Bible, had a unique encounter with God, and in that encounter, God described Himself as “the Lord who is the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Now, if I were God and I were describing myself for the first time, knowing it would be recorded for all of human history, I would probably say something like, “As God, you should be encouraged to know that I know everything, I’m perfectly capable in every way, I can make anything happen according to my will,” and so forth. And all those things are true about God. And He could have said them if He wanted to. But that’s not what our God did. This is the description our God chose: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.

Are you curious to connect the dots on what made Him say this? This happened after Moses was entrusted with the two stone tablets that had the 10 Commandments etched onto them by God. Moses took these tablets down the mountain, back to the camp where his people were. He was filled with good intentions and excitement to share with his people what it would look like for them to honor God in every way, but when he arrived, he discovered them completely disrespecting God by worshipping an idol, the notorious golden calf. Moses was overcome with anger and smashed the sacred tablets, ruining them. Biblical scholars admit this was an impulsive move on Moses’s part, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong for doing it. By destroying the tablets, he was symbolically declaring that the people had already broken the commandments and that their regard for God was in shambles. He was basically saying that if the people weren’t prepared to obey the law, they didn’t deserve to have it.

Now, I’m willing to go out on a limb and bet that it’s unlikely any of you have ever destroyed a precious object given to you by God Himself but do you know that feeling of basking in a mountaintop experience and then getting gut punched with a broken reality and all your optimism comes crashing down?

Here’s what happened: God and Moses dealt with the immediate crisis at hand. Consequences were experienced and changes were made, until the issue of the smashed tablets and all they represented remained.

So The Lord said to Moses “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.” I love that. “Which you broke.” It’s like, “in case you don’t think I know how this happened, bucko.”  “Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain.

Does this remind you of a time as a child when you broke something precious, and your mom or dad told you to wait in your room and that they’d be up to talk to you soon? What was your stomach doing at that moment? Now Moses wasn’t really himself in trouble with God, but still, try to put yourself in his sandals.  How would you like to be the “the buck stops here” person in leadership over a people who had blown it before God, and then have God summon you for a one-on-one meeting to deal with the aspect of the situation that you were responsible for?

Here’s what happened:

Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

God had seen what the people did, He knew what Moses did, and He handled everything justly, but in this tender moment, this first documented occurrence of how God expresses in words what He is like, He describes Himself as compassionate before anything else. He is saying, in essence, “Moses, I get it. I saw all that happened, and I want you to understand that my love for you and for the people is forever.”

That’s great news for us about who God is, and it gets even better than that when you fully understand what the Bible means when it talks about our God being compassionate. You see, compassion is one of those words that most of us are pretty sure we know what it means but may stumble around to put it into words. Many of us would probably say that it’s like feeling empathy for someone.

There’s a component to compassion that definitely includes empathy, entering into someone else’s feelings, but in the Bible, it’s more than that. You might remember when Pastor Rick talked about God being compassionate, he pointed out to us that in Hebrew, the language Moses was speaking, the word for compassion is derived from the word for womb. It carries with it the kind of visceral connection that a mother has for her child. It’s feeling something deep in your gut.

When my first baby was just a few weeks old, he spiked a high fever and we ended up in the ER. They needed to take a blood sample and when the needle poked him and he began to wail, I wanted to cry too. It made me nauseous to see my baby in distress. As soon as the providers were finished with what they were doing, I launched myself over to scoop my baby up in my arms and comfort him.

This depth of feeling is what Moses understood God to mean when He said He is compassionate. It’s the ache we mothers feel when we see our kiddos cry out in pain or have their hearts broken. It’s also what fuels us when our little ones melt down in frustration and clearly need some grace, and we just hold them close as they fall apart.

This is the compassion of God. He gets us. Even when we’re at our worst, He holds us close as our compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.

But for every one of us who might say that this sounds great but feels theoretical because we cannot actually see God, we can look to Jesus, the one who is both fully man and fully God, to see God’s compassion modeled for us in human form.

You see, the Son of God became our Immanuel, which means our God with us, in the person of Jesus. Jesus as God retained the perfection of God’s attributes such as his compassion, and yet he was also fully human, so he knew what it was to experience everything we do. He knew hunger and fatigue and pain and loneliness and disappointment and he also knew love and laughter and empathy. He gets us because he was one of us and that’s a huge reason why we can confidently trust him.

In the book of Hebrews, it talks about this being why Jesus is the ultimate mediator between us and God, our great high priest. I love the way the Message translation puts it. Referring to the beauty of Jesus as our representative, it says:

“When he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.”

A couple of chapters later, it encourages us to lean into his compassionate goodness because of that:

"Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help."

I want to take to you a passage in the Gospel of Matthew to see more of how Jesus displayed compassion so that we can learn from him. We’re going to just begin to consider it now, and then we’re gonna come back to it again later. Because, like a great book or deep movie, this is a scene that the more we fill in the backstory and see the character development, the more we’ll enjoy it when we put it all together.

This is Matthew chapter 9, verses 35–36:

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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

With our first reading, we can already see some great things about Jesus here. We see that he was all about teaching, proclaiming the good news, and healing the sick. And, When he saw the crowds of people who were increasingly coming to him for help, he had compassion on them.

But if we’re going to be people who are fully devoted to Jesus, if we want to let him be our guiding authority, if we want to find our identity in what he did, and importantly for this message, if we want to let his example drive our activity so that we love others the way he loved, we need to observe and learn all we can from what he did.

What I’m about to walk you through is a great tool for accomplishing this and for growing in your discipleship. Whenever you want to have a better idea of what Jesus would have done in a certain situation, look up all the verses that depict him doing that and see what you can learn and apply. So in our aim to discover how Jesus showed compassion, a great way to start our study is to go to a concordance, which is like an index, at the back of most paper Bibles, and look up the verses that include that word. Or if you’re more of a digital person, go to a Bible study website such as and search on the word “compassion” and look for all of its uses in relation to Jesus.

I did that prep work for us, and besides the passage we just read, there are 5 additional stories in the Gospels that speak about the compassion of Jesus. Rather than me just telling you what I have learned, I’d like you to work through these verses with me so you, too, can have the joy of discovering some good stuff about our Lord in real-time. As we quickly glance at these 5 verses, I want you to put on your detective cap, and see what you notice about the compassion of Jesus. The references are included on the handout sheet for you, so don’t feel that you have to scramble to write them down.

After the verse we already saw, the second occurrence of Jesus’s compassion is in

Matt 14:14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Occurrence #3 is right before Jesus did the miracle of feeding thousands by multiplying 2 loaves of bread and 5 small fish.

Matt 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

This same story is also recorded in the Gospel of Mark and says the same thing, it just leaves off the second sentence.

The fourth time we see Jesus’s compassion is a story in Matthew where two blind men heard that Jesus was walking by them, and they cried out to Jesus, asking him for mercy, asking him to restore their sight. You might recall this from when Pastor Otis mentioned it in his message on Palm Sunday.

Matt 20:34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Fifth, in Mark 6:

Mark 6:34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Finally, my personal favorite is because it shows the depth of Jesus’s heart for hurting people. Jesus was walking into a town and encountered a funeral procession. A boy had died, and not only did he leave behind a grieving mother, but this poor mother was also a widow.

Luke 7:13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her (another translation says: his heart went out to her) and said to her, “Do not weep.” And he said that because in the next verse, out of his compassion for this woman who had now lost both a husband and a son, Jesus raised her boy back from the dead and gave him back to her.

Our Jesus is amazing.

Well, now that we’ve quickly seen each case of where it is recorded for us that Jesus felt compassion, each example of his heartbreak, the next step in this study is to consider two things:

  • What was it that caused Jesus’s heart to break, compelling his compassion? and
  • What did he do about it?

So first, the circumstances. In both Matthew 9 and then later in Mark 6, Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were “like sheep without a shepherd” – which I’ll say more about later, but in essence, it meant that he sees and has compassion for people who are spiritually vulnerable.

In Matt 14, his compassion is for the sick. In the miracle story of feeding the thousands, his compassion is for the hungry, for the physical needs of the people who had come to learn from him. In Matt 20 and the story of the blind men, Jesus has compassion for those who are living with disabilities and, as a result, living as social outcasts. Finally, Luke 7 shows Jesus’s compassion for the emotionally distraught.

If you want to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus, if you want your heart to break over the same things that broke his heart, this is what Scripture tells us those were. These are the kinds of things that, like a mother seeing her suffering child, made Jesus ache in the pit of his stomach, and made his heart hurt.

If you, like many of us, have ever felt uncomfortably vulnerable, be comforted knowing that Jesus cares. If you have ever been among those of us who have been ill to the point of wishing it would just all end, know that Jesus aches with you. If you have ever lacked what you need in life, be reassured to know that Jesus provides. If you feel unwanted or unseen, Jesus sees you. If you have ever felt so sad that you couldn’t breathe, his heart breaks for you. He’s been there. He gets us.

But I have good news that even exceeds the comfort it is to know that Jesus gets us, you see, compassion is so much more than a feeling. It is a feeling, but it is so much more. If empathy is feeling another person’s pain, true compassion goes beyond empathy and takes action to relieve someone’s need or pain.

Let’s look at these verses again and answer our second study question: What did Jesus do when he felt compassion? I want you to notice that in every verse that expresses Jesus having compassion for someone, he doesn’t simply feel for them, he does something about it. Let’s see this.

Matt 14:14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matt 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

And so he miraculously fed them with the bread and fish until they couldn’t eat another bite.

For the blind outcasts,

Matt 20:34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Mark 6:34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

And for the poor grieving widowed mother, he told her not to weep because he gave her back her son.

Friends, Jesus never saw someone, ached for them for a bit, and then just went about his day. He never stopped and said, “Oh, you poor thing. That’s awful.” And then looked at his watch and ran off to his next appointment.

I find this both deeply beautiful and also deeply convicting. It is so easy to hear something sad or even tragic and to deeply hurt for someone, to be filled with genuine sympathy, and to have all kinds of good intentions. Maybe think, “I should send them a card or go help, or bring them a meal or something,” and then get busy or distracted, and by the time you get around to it, so much time has passed that it feels awkwardly too late?

I feel inadequate in consistently following through on my compassion, and the point isn’t to lay a guilt trip on any of you or on myself, but rather than let us off the hook, let me turn up the heat on that a little bit more: To the hurting person: Does unexpressed compassion feel compassionate?

This was the main point of one of the most famous teaching stories that Jesus ever told. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, recorded in Luke chapter 10, the powerful lesson of the three people who passed by a severely injured man lying in the street was to not be like the first two religious people who noticed him, but then went about their day, but to be like the Samaritan of whom it says “had compassion on him” and as a result, addressed the suffering man’s immediate needs and then resourced him in a place where he could get back on his feet again.

This is the kind of action that Jesus was pointing us towards. The Good Samaritan story is a picture of what it looks like for us to please Jesus in the way we show compassion. To not just notice the pain or needs of someone, but to use our resources to do something about it.

I could spend another half hour talking about compassion in this story alone, but I won’t do that. Instead, here’s a personal spiritual growth opportunity: read this story in Luke 10 on your own this week, and draw out all that you can from it.

But for us now, I want to return to the first passage in Matthew that launched this whole discussion of Jesus’s compassion. Let’s go back to Matthew chapter 9, verse 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.

Let’s revisit our observations here about these verses. We’d already noticed that Jesus was all about teaching, and proclaiming the good news to people, and healing the sick, but now that we’ve discovered this list of the specific things that caused Jesus’s heart to break, does that add understanding of why teaching, proclaiming the good news of salvation, and healing every malady was at the core strategy of Jesus’s ministry?

Everything Jesus did came back to the core of who he is as our compassionate God. The God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. The God who sees us and sees our pain and vulnerability and doesn’t just ache for us but does something about it.

So in the next verse, where it says, When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, we should now be more primed to not just notice that Jesus had compassion, but to want to know why he did, and what he would do about it as a result.

So, “why” first. In a few recent sermons, it’s come up that the Bible frequently analogizes us as sheep, and Jesus as our Good Shepherd. And for the original audience of these Scriptures who lived with sheep ever present, the implications of that analogy would have been obvious to them.

But I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been within 50 feet of a sheep. Now, one of those times actually had me dressing a sheep in human clothing while my husband held it for me, but that’s a story for another time. But my point is, we might not appreciate the significance of Jesus’s compassion on people described here as sheep without a shepherd.

Now those of you who have been in church a long time have probably heard enough sermons mentioning sheep to have heard that they are rather dumb and defenseless creatures, and in their great vulnerability, depend on their shepherd to care for them and keep them safe from thieves and predators.

But what you might not have heard as frequently is that there’s another dimension to the compassion Jesus has as our Good Shepherd on people who are like abandoned sheep. For that, we need to go to the Old Testament to see something.

You see, leaders all the way back to the early history of God’s people were likened to shepherds. In fact, shepherding is the most frequent analogy for good leadership in all of Scripture. We began this message by looking at a story about Moses, who became one of the great leaders in all of biblical history, and when he died, they appointed Joshua as leader of the people, so “the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Num. 27:17).

From the beginning, God wanted His people to be led by wise, compassionate people who would be attentive to their needs. He put people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David in key positions of leadership to watch out for and care for people.

But there was no such leader in the days of Jesus. The Jewish leaders had not fulfilled their responsibility to guide people in the way of the Lord, so the crowds were harassed and helpless, descriptions that indicate their vulnerability to distress and to being spiritually led astray.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, out of his heartbreak, oriented his ministry towards caring and providing for people as they should have been cared for all along, most importantly, proclaiming the good news of the hope of the Kingdom, the way of salvation. But what Jesus did out of his compassion in this passage is even more incredible than if he just picked some people out of the crowd and miraculously healed them. It’s something I think plays like a scene at the end of a good movie.

Imagine the scene. Imagine seeing Jesus standing in the field with his disciples, looking at the large crowd of people who are clamoring to see him. He’s gone from town-to-town teaching, preaching, and healing, and it’s been amazing to watch each time he encountered a situation that broke his heart how it impacted him and to see him do something about it. And now, as Jesus surveys the crowd, you recognize that familiar expression on Jesus’s face. You see the compassion in his eyes as he looks at them. And you wonder what he’s going to do this time.

But this time, he does something a little different. This time he turns to the disciples and says,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

And you realize that what he is doing out of his compassion this time is reaching beyond the scene and addressing you directly.

You are the answer to Jesus’s prayer request when you are moved by compassion to care for others and tell them about him. It is easy today to become discouraged in a world that seems increasingly disinterested in the Lord, but there is an abundant harvest to be had. We need the eyes of compassion as Jesus had to see it, but when we see it and answer the prayer to be a laborer in this harvest, it will lead to some of the most satisfying moments in life.

Jesus wants us to join him in being people who will meet compassionate needs. He is looking for people in every generation who will follow him in making the most of opportunities to share his love with hurting people, most importantly to care for the spiritually vulnerable and point them to how they can be saved. Are you praying for salvation for anyone these days?

Or, if you are not yet a follower of Jesus and here today either because someone invited you or you’re watching online because someone shared this message with you, has it occurred to you that they may want Jesus for you because, out of their compassion, they care about you and want you to have what they have?

As we seek to be like Jesus, practicing compassion is a key component of our discipleship. A measure of our maturity is how we care about the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of others.

What does this look like practically? Ask God to show you. The next time your heart breaks for someone, let that feeling prompt you to ask God how you could be like Jesus that person. Could you share the hope you have in Christ with them? Like the Good Samaritan, could you use your resources to meet a need they have? Like the rescue worker who held the hand of someone in distress, could you be a reassuring presence for someone? Ask God to prompt you to be compassionate like Jesus to that person in their need.

Maybe God has someone on your heart even now, or maybe you’re thinking more broadly about a need you see. If you’d like to explore more of what it looks like to have a biblical approach to caring for the needs of the vulnerable and marginalized, we’re holding a seminar here on Sunday evening, May 7th led by the Reverend Steve Eng who is part of our congregation and advocacy director for the National Association of Evangelicals. In this seminar, he’ll give both a further understanding of what the Bible has to say about caring for the marginalized and some practical ways to do it. I commend this opportunity to you and would love to have you join me there.

I trust that God will give you many opportunities to practice compassion in the days and weeks ahead in your own context, and so before we get ready to leave this place, I’d like to honor Jesus’s call to pray that God would move us to be laborers in His harvest. Would you bow your heads with me?

Dear Compassionate God,

I pray as Jesus said that you would inspire us to be laborers for your kingdom. Give us the privilege of getting to participate in bringing many people to faith in you, to watch them be comforted with the same comfort you’ve given us. God, break our hearts for the same things that break yours, and when we feel that heartbreak, God, direct us in wisdom to take good steps to do something about it. Make us a church that is increasingly known as being compassionate, as being like you. Amen.