The Compassionate Christ
Christ was the final and complete revelation by God of himself to the children of men. Certainly one trait of divinity which is most clearly demonstrated by Christ was the infinite love God has for his creatures. Paul bases an exhortation to the Philippians upon the very fact of the mercy of God's son, saying, "If there be, therefore, any consolation in Christ, if there be any comfort in love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions..." Thus the exhortation was based upon these premises; "if" these things are so, or rather "since" these things are so, Paul desires them to make full his joy. (Phi. 2:1)
The records are filled with instances demonstrating the love of Christ. Matthew, for example, records the story of Jesus healing certain blind men (two of them) near the city of Jericho. Knowing that Jesus was to pass this way, they took their stations near by, and "when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, 0 Lord, thou son of David. And Jesus stood still and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you? They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him." (Matt. 20:30-34)
Christ was "moved with compassion." That word compassion simply means to be able to stand where another stands, to take his place or position. Jesus was able to put himself in the place of these blind men; he could understand their pitiable plea from their point of view; he could stand in their shoes, so to speak, or, as the prophet expressed it, he could "sit where they sat" Jesus, in sharp contrast to the impatience and indifference of the multitude around him, was moved with pity and compassion. By the power of God which he had and which he was he opened these blinded eyes, and restored sight to the unfortunate beggars.
A Widow's Only Son
Perhaps no story is more tenderly told or touched with deeper pathos than the one Luke gives us of the raising of the son of a bereaved widow of Nain. As Jesus neared the gate of the walled city with his disciples one day, he was met by a funeral procession going out from the gate of the city. An unfortunate woman had been widowed, but had a son left to comfort her in her sorrow. But now, to overflow her cup of woe, the only son had died. Twice bereaved was she. As she carried his body out of the city her own heart and spirit were broken. She was burying the last comfort and joy this earth could give her. But suddenly there is an interruption. But let us let Luke tell the story:
"And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother." (Luke 7:13-15) The great heart of God's Son was moved with compassion. That is the same word Matthew used; that is a word that is used over and over again in these descriptions of the works of Christ. He was moved with compassion; he had a feeling for mercy, pity, tenderness toward the bereaved, the suffering, the sinful.
Mark joins with Matthew and Luke in declaring the compassion of Christ. He relates one of the most impressive of all the gospel stories along this line, for he tells of Jesus' contact with one of those filthy and miserable outcasts of the day, a leper. Leprosy was one of the most loathsome and terrible afflictions possible for man to suffer. Those who were leprous were compelled by the law to lift a hand in warning gesture when any one drew nigh, and to cry out three times, Unclean! Unclean! Unclean! They were ostracized from human society, and could never know the touch of a friendly handclasp, or a pat on the shoulder; no loved one could put an arm about them to bring comfort or help. Shut up forever in the bitter loneliness of suffering and fear, with no help and no hope, they truly lived a "living death."
But let Mark give us the story of Jesus' compassion for a certain leper. "And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean." (Mark 1:40, 41) Jesus touched him! How many years had it been since he had felt the touch of a human hand? But Jesus was "moved with compassion." It was not enough for him merely to speak the word—he adds that extra gesture to it; he could put himself in the leper's shoes. He could understand how much it would mean to feel once more the touch of a loving hand, to feel the tenderness of a hand reached out to help. There was no hesitancy in the movement of Christ's outstretched hand; there was no shrinking or drawing back from the loathsome and repulsive rottenness of this miserable piece of human wreckage.
These incidents, and others like them too numerous to relate, all serve but to emphasize and sum up the perfect love of God toward humanity. His is the love that knows no separation, and no withdrawal. God loves us in spite of our own unworthiness, in spite of our wrong-doing, in spite of our sinfulness. Christ declared, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love." (Jno. 15:9) Christ was the perfect expression of God's love, and in his own life and action he demonstrated how completely he and the Father are "one" in that divine attribute of mercy and compassion. Therein lies the only hope the race of men can ever have for eternal salvation.