Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Vision (11/4/10): The Compassion of Christ

Note: In the month of November we are giving emphasis to Public Witness and Outreach at CRBC. The notes below are taken from a sermon preached at one of our first gatherings as a church plant on January 10, 2010.

Matthew 9:36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

One of the great things that we learn here is that the general disposition of Jesus toward sinners is one of compassion. There is a place for the wrath of God, for the justice of God. But here we see the compassion of God as expressed through Christ. When we see people who follow false religions or those who fall into the new atheism, we might have a tendency to be angry or frustrated with them. But notice the kind disposition of Jesus. He aches for those who are scattered on the mountains of unbelief. He hurts for those who lack the True Shepherd. He longs to feed them, to nurture them, to bind their wounds, to guide them, to protect them from wolves. We Calvinists with a high doctrine of God are quick to speak of the justice and wrath of God—and rightly so—but let us not forget the love of God and the compassion of God!

Indeed, what we are seeing here is not merely human compassion in Jesus but divine compassion as well. In Deuteronomy 30:3 Moses had prophesied to Israel of the day when the Lord would bring them back from captivity and “have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you.” This is now being fulfilled in Christ. God Himself is having compassion on a people.

In v. 37 the metaphor shifts from a pastoral or shepherding image to that of a farming or agricultural image. Jesus also turns his attention from the vast crowd to his disciples, to his followers. And he says, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (v. 37). Notice that now in Christ’s eyes the scattered, battered, and forlorn sheep are seen as a vast and abundant harvest. Think for a moment of the more than 200,000 people who live in the area around where we are right now. Think of how many of those do not know their left hand from their right, spiritually speaking. Go some day to Rt. 29 or Wal-Mart or the Downtown Mall and just watch as people pass by and consider how Christ looks upon them not with scorn but with compassion. Then lift your gaze beyond our little area to this larger nation and then to this world. Consider how the Lord looks upon those who follow Islam. Think that he is moved by their plight and sees them as a vast harvest that is ready to be gathered into his barns.

No believer can look around at the world and say, “Well, there’s really nothing left for me to do. The Bible has already been translated. There are plenty of churches out there dotting the landscape. There really isn’t anything left for me to do.” No. There is a vast harvest out there, just waiting to be gathered for the Master’s good keeping. And, what is more, if it is not taken in while it is ready it will all go to ruin. It will rot and be good for nothing but the fire. The harvest is plentiful.

Yet here is the contrast. The laborers are few. The size of the task is always out of all proportion to those who are willing to wade into the fields and gather the harvest for the Master. Where is our passion for the harvest when we know the great compassion of Christ? The famed missionary Hudson Taylor was given a burden for the land of China while he was still a teen. He wrote once to his mother contemplating the fact that each year 12 million would die in China with no knowledge of Christ:

Think, Mother, of twelve millions—a number so great that it is impossible to realize it—yes, twelve million souls in China, every year passing without God and hope into eternity…. Oh, let us look with compassion on this multitude! God has been merciful to us; let us be like Him….

Maybe God would give you a heart of compassion and action for a people group like that which Taylor had for those in China. Maybe he will grant you such compassion even for those who surround us here in this community.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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