When we attempt to describe the Jesus who walked among us so many years ago, the first word that likely comes to mind is compassion. We remember that as he looked out over the crowds who came to hear him “he had compassion for them” (Matt. 9:36). When he went ashore and saw a great crowd “he had compassion on them” (Matt. 14:14). To the crowds of people who had been with him for three days with nothing to eat he said, “I have compassion on them” (Mark 8:2). When the widow of Nain passed by with the corpse of her only son Jesus “had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13). And the important thing is that in each case he did something about it. In the four incidents just mentioned, after being moved with compassion, he taught the crowd, he healed the sick; he fed the 4,000, and he raised the widow’s son to life.
The world does its best to define and describe compassion. Dictionaries tell us that it is “a feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another” (British Dictionary ), and philosophers and religionists observe that “compassion is the basis of morality” (Schopenhauer) or “without suffering, there’d be no compassion” (Sparks). All correct as far as they go. To move closer to the meaning of the word, consider the Greek verb in Luke 7:13, splangnidzomai, “to be moved with compassion.” The noun form refers to the inward parts of the body, the “viscera,” which in that day was considered to be the seat of the emotions. To be deeply moved was to experience something at a profound level.
One of the more beautiful qualities of our friend Jesus of Nazareth was his compassion. We can only guess how it expressed itself when he was as boy in Nazareth. Imagination is not wrong when it suggests a boy anxious to help, responsive to need, more than willing to take the necessary step. We do know, however, how his compassion looked during his three years of ministry. As we mentioned, it moved him to heal the infirmed, provide food for the hungry, reach out in concern to a mother quietly mourning the loss of her only son. On his way to Bethany where it had been reported that his friend had died, Jesus encountered Mary, the brother of Lazarus. When asked where he had been laid, Mary asked Jesus to come and she would show him. Deeply moved in the presence of a very close family in mourning, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35 – the Greek means “to burst into tears”).
It is well to remember that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God, the eternal second person of the triune God. He wept. The sorrow of the moment moved the Creator to “burst out in tears” over the tragic loss of an earthly friend. If the eternal Son of God can weep over an earthly misfortune, what should be said about our reaction in a similar situation? I refer not simply to the emotional response but to the intense involvement of God in the life of each of us. He cares. He is moved with compassion, a compassion so great that he left the eternal glories of heaven, became one of us, lived a perfect life, died for our sins, and was raised that we forgiven sinners might spend eternity with him.
After finished approximately 80 posts on learning from what Jesus did (rather than from what he taught) we began what might be called a Dictionary of the Gospels. The intent is to go through the ABCs of those insights set forth in the gospels that are relevant to and supportive of the same goal – living a Christ-like life. Having talked about Anxiety, we now move ahead to B is for boldness
Since words often have a wide range of meaning it will well to define what, in this post, we mean by “bold.” As I will use the term, to be bold does not mean to be brash. The gospels do not support actions that are brash, that is, impudent, tactless, as in “He is a brash young man who drives recklessly.” By “bold” we will be describing the person who is not hesitant or fearful in the face opposition or danger. The life of Jesus displays a number of cases in which he acted boldly. Let’s look at them and consider how they may apply to the way we are to live.
As a boy, Jesus went with his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We do not know what other boys were doing but we do know that Jesus went into the temple where he sat with the rabbis in a learned discussion of religious issues. Rabbis were the most influential and highly regarded segment of society at that time, so it is amazing that the lad Jesus had the boldness to enter their presence as though he were one of them (Luke 2:41-52).
Jesus had begun his public ministry. One day as he was walking along he saw Matthew the tax collector sitting at his booth. Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me.” Then, as the text puts it, “Matthew got up and followed him” (Matt. 9:9). On another occasion he said to Philip, “Follow me” (John 1:43) and he did. When he told the rich man to go sell everything he had and then, “Come, follow me” (Mark 10:21), the rich man went away sorrowfully. Jesus taught that whoever wanted to be his disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and “Follow me” (Luke 9:23). Without hesitancy of any sort Jesus simply told his disciples to follow him. No explanation, no promise of reward – a bold challenge.
When Jesus entered the temple and found that it had been turned into a market place he drove out the merchants, turned their tables upside down, and declared, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:46). In the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers burst in asking which one was Jesus, he very calmly said, “I am he,” and they “fell back and sank to the ground” (John 18:24). It was an extremely bold act on the part of Jesus in view of the fact that within 12 hours they would nail him to the cross.
So, in what ways should boldness like this be a part of Christian demeanor today? I believe it is clear from the current state of the world there could be in the near future a significant demand for Christian boldness. Even now in a number of places in the world, followers of Christ are sacrificing their lives rather that denying their allegiance to God and his Son, Christ Jesus. Prophecy clearly teaches, in broad if not specific terms, that at the close of history there will be the final battle between good and evil. The call for us is to boldly proclaim, by life as well as word, the redemptive message of faith in Christ. Like our Master, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and “follow him. ”
If there is any one thing that takes the fun out of living and replaces it with a heavy heart, a nervous stomach, and/or a furrowed brow, it is anxiety. Unfortunately, life provides us with a lot of opportunities in which to be anxious: Are you sure our plane will arrive in time? Will we be able to buy it? Will our house still be there after the tornado? Do I look okay? Etc. Anxiety has little to do with whether or not the situation is real or imaginary, rare or common. It just is. It conflicts the young and the old, the rich and the poor. Anxiety is a common ailment of the human species.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the issue. He tells the crowd not to worry about what he calls “little things” such as having enough to eat and enough to wear. We might question whether, in a day when most people spent their life close to poverty, it was accurate to say that food and clothing were “little” things. Government programs for the disadvantaged, food stamps, and subsidized living arrangements would have been dreams for the next world. Jesus went on to remind them that God takes care of the wild birds that didn’t plant or harvest, and provides beautiful attire for the wild flowers in the field, so wouldn’t it be far more likely that he would feed and clothe people created in his own image? The answer is clear: God is in control. Instead of being anxious people are to set their heart on the kingdom of God and he will provide them with all they need (Matt. 6:25-34).
There is an important point about anxiety that I want to emphasize, and that is its relationship to concern. To be concerned about having enough for the family to eat leads us to look for new ways to earn the necessary finances. To be anxious is something else because most of the things we are anxious about are those over which we have no control. To be anxious that we not have a major earthquake is irrational because there is nothing we can do to prevent it. The point is that concern is rational and appropriate but anxiety is irrational and beside the point. Jesus would encourage us to do something positive about issues of concern but not to waste time and energy trying to solve our anxieties about problems over which we have no control. Is it not true that anxiety is a form of what we might call “practical atheism” since it implies that God is not there so I have to be anxious about it?
On one occasion Jesus was at dinner in the home of a Pharisee when a woman entered and anointed his feet with perfume and tears. The host was skeptical, reasoning that if Jesus were a prophet he would know of her sinful lifestyle. Jesus used the occasion to correct his lack of proper manners and to commend the depth of the woman’s love (Luke 7:36-50). How Jesus responded to the situation provides insight into several remarkable qualities of Jesus: he remained open to his critics, he was not offended by the lack of courtesy, and he was appreciative of a woman’s loving concern. Let’s go through the story.
It was no secret that the Pharisees were dead set against Jesus and the message he was spreading. Prior to the incident we are discussing they had accused him of driving out demons by the prince of demons (Matt. 9:34), and even plotted how they might kill him (Mark 3:6). So to accept an invitation for dinner in the home of a Pharisee, one who was part of that powerful group that opposed him so strongly, is remarkable. It appears that Jesus’ concern for the Pharisee was far greater than the Pharisee’s disapproval of him.
During dinner a woman came with perfume and, kneeling behind Jesus, began to anoint his feet with expensive perfume, while weeping profusely and drying his feet with her hair. Although the host obviously disapproved of the woman, Jesus used the occasion to teach a lesson on love and forgiveness. He pictured a moneylender who canceled the debts of two debtors, one double the other. In answer to the question as to which debtor was more appreciative, the Rabbi correctly chose the one to whom more had been given. The application was clear. The host had not provided water for the guest to wash his feet, had not given him the customary kiss nor anointed his head with oil. The woman, had, in her own way, done all three and went away forgiven. Jesus was not offended by the rude behavior of the host and the sins of the woman were forgiven.
How Jesus’ actions and reactions in this setting apply to life is not hard to understand. To live like Jesus is to remain open to those who have taken positions on issues that are contrary to ours. In this national election period it is easy to see how not to conduct oneself. No one is moved to change his point of view by being ignored. Jesus went to dine in the house of a person we would classify an adversary. Nor was he offended by the lack of courtesy on the part of the host. What the other may or may not do has nothing to do with how we are to treat another. And the last point is obvious – Jesus showed genuine appreciation for the loving concern of the woman.
To summarize: Those who want to reflect the life of Jesus do not categorize other people, are not offended by neglect, but show appreciation wherever it is due. We’ve always called that being a lady or a gentleman.
Luke tells us that one day when Jesus had just finished a time of prayer, one of his disciples approached him and asked if he would teach them how to pray. That’s what John the Baptist did for his disciples (Luke 11:1-4). I’ve always pictured John the Baptist as one who did what his name tells us, he baptized. He was the forerunner of the Messiah whose mission was to call the nation to repentance and upon confession to baptize them in the Jordan river. He certainly did that but, as the text says, he also taught his followers how to pray. The two go together. Effective ministry requires a continuing contact with the source of all power
Recently Jesus had spent time in the home of Mary and Martha. It seems that he was taking a break for some time to relax with dear friends (Luke 10:38-42). Now that he was back on the road it was important for him to stay in contact with his Father. On this particular day his disciples noted that Jesus was as usual taking time to pray. After he finished they came to him and asked that he teach them how to pray. What follows is normally called “The Lord’s Prayer” but should probably be called “The Disciples’ Prayer.” It was how they were to pray.
Prayer paid an essential role in the life of Jesus. As we read through the gospels we become aware of how often he drew aside to pray. Mark 1:35 records how, after a busy day, Jesus arose early in the morning and went out to a solitary place to pray. Luke tells us that Jesus often "withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (5:16). A bit later he writes that Jesus went out to a mountainside and "spent the night praying to God" (6:12). And then in Gethsemane he withdrew from his disciples to pray" (Matt 26:36).
The point I want to stress is that it was by what he did that Jesus taught his followers the necessity of talking to the Father and listening to what he had to say. Action is a powerful tool in moral instruction. What Jesus did was what they were to do. Had he not prayed, they probably would not have been moved to ask him to teach them. The lesson is that what we do is a major factor in teaching those influenced by us what they ought to do and how they ought to do it. The powerful influence of action is reflected in the statement, “What you do speaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say.” May it be true that, like Jesus, we will live the kind of life that will encourage others to say to us, “Teach me how to be like you
THE HELPING HAND
Jesus had just fed the crowd of 5,000, so when evening came he sent his disciples across the lake while he went up on the hillside to pray. A fierce storm arose on the lake but suddenly, there was Jesus! walking on top of the waves as he approached his disciples. They were absolutely terrified. But when Peter recognized that the one they all thought was a “ghost” was actually Jesus, he asked to go to him. All went well until Peter noticed how high the waves were. Then, as he began to sink, he panicked and cried out for help. I imagine that you or I might have hesitated for just a moment to teach Peter a lesson in trust, but Jesus “Instantly reached out his hand and took hold of him” (Mark 14:31).
Jesus is teaching us a very simple lesson: When another person is in trouble, reach out your hand, and do it right away. As we work our way through the gospel account of the earthly life of God’s son we find that the most distinctive quality of his ministry was helping the other person. It didn’t matter whether that person was blind or lame, was a demented tomb dweller, a mother whose son had just died, or a host who had run out of wine. Jesus was always on duty. He lived for the benefit of others and at the end of it all he died and rose again for our eternal benefit. Is there any question as to how we are to live? Jesus is our mentor par excellence.
If that kind of life seems a bit dull to you may I tell you a secret? Serving the needs of another can be the most joyful and rewarding experience of a person’s life. Do you remember when Paul spoke of a man who was “caught up to the third heaven” and then described his experience ? (2 Corinthians 12:2). In the same way, I know a man who for the last several years of his wife’s life had the privilege of taking care of her, as they say, 24/7. He got to sleep on the floor near her bedroom in case she awoke, cooked her favorite meals and then washed the dishes, pushed her around the neighborhood in a wheelchair, and read 28 books aloud to her as she lay in bed taking it all in. Her final words were a whispered, “I love you ______.” To serve her needs at the close of 60 years of wonderful marriage was the greatest privilege and joy of this man’s entire life. Heaven itself!
Concern that leads to action is what Jesus taught and demonstrated in his life. And we are his followers, that is, we live to the best of our ability in exactly the way that he lived.
I have always been interested in the influence that certain people seem to have on others. As a high school student, I remember a young pastor just out of Bible School who came to our little church in Minot, ND. It was summer and I was working on a farm north of town. I would come home Saturday evening in order to go to church the next morning. Then on Sunday afternoon this pastor would, from time to time, ask me if I’d like him to drive me back out to the farm. The very fact that he would do this impressed me. I can still remember different things he said along the way. He was a good role model for a young man. Whether or not either of us knew the word “mentor” I haven’t the faintest idea.
Some time ago I spent two years in Guatemala helping set up a Christian radio station (TGNA). Then a couple of years ago a distinguished man contacted me and said, “When I was a 12 year old boy I admired you because you had not only a motorcycle but a convertible as well.” What? He was the son of a fellow missionary and usually off to school in another town. In the 64 years leading up to 2014 we had no contact with each other, but now we are “good friends.” You never know, do you!
The point I’d like to make is that in those three years when Jesus was teaching throughout Galilee, the disciples not only heard what he was saying but undoubtedly were impressed by how he lived – what he did in various situations. In contemporary jargon, he “mentored” them. So, for the past year I have been my way through Jesus, in His Own Words taking note of everything recorded that he did, and reflecting on what they mean for the believer who wants to live a life that reflects the beauty of Jesus. Here and there along the way I have talked about what he “taught” by his reactions in various situations.
How would I summarize what Jesus was teaching by the way he lived? How would I state the lessons learned by his reactions? It is true, he was the “gentle Jesus” so often portrayed in pictures. He stopped when someone touched his cloak (Mark 5:30). He looked on the crowd with compassion (Matt 9:36). That is true but at the same time, according to John 2:14-17, this same Jesus cleansed the temple, turning over the merchants tables and opening the cages so the doves could go free. He referred more than once to the religious leaders as a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 23:33). While Jesus did describe himself as “gentle and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29), it is helpful to remember that in that setting he was reaching out to those who were “weary and burdened,” inviting them to come to him for rest.
Jesus is mentor to all who have taken his name, to those who are walking with him through life. What he did is as important as what he said. To watch him with care during those three years is a transforming experience. And the remarkable thing is that he is not simply a figure in the past but a real and present companion for every day of the believer’s life.