Suffering with hope

The Compassion of God

We’re used to the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (Subtext: Go thou and do likewise.) So here’s a different one—’How Would Jesus Feel?’

It’s a question I’d not really pondered much till a year or so ago, till I felt led to do six short talks at The Good Book Company staff prayer meetings under that title. But thinking about it really helped foster an appreciation of God’s love (at least, it did for me—I can’t speak for the staff team!) For, of course, when we see Jesus, we see God (John 1:18; 14:7). And the more we see of God, the more our hearts are drawn to love and worship and enjoy him. 

The Gospel writers do not often tell us how Jesus felt—and so when one of them does, it’s worthy of our consideration. Here, we’ll hold up and enjoy just one of them: Compassion.

JESUS FELT GUT-PUNCHED

In Luke 7, Jesus is walking past Nain when he meets a funeral procession coming the other way. The man being carried out is “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow” (Luke 7:12). In that culture, what is lying on that bier is that woman’s future, her security, her protection, her hopes—all of that, wrapped up in her son, now lying there, dead. I remember when I was a teenager and my uncle became seriously sick, my gran said that the worst thing any mother could ever have to do is to bury her child. And that’s what this woman, who’s already stood at her husband’s graveside, is now doing.   

And there follows ten precious words:

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.” (v 13)

The NIV translates this verse as “His heart went out to her.” That’s too soft and too nice. Literally, Jesus’ guts moved. His stomach churned. He felt gut-punched. You likely know how that feels—it does not take many years of living in this fallen world to experience a moment when the bottom falls out of your world. 

Jesus has felt that. Because this is how our God feels about hurting people, people who’ve been broken by the fallenness of this world. Of course this woman, like us all, is a sinner. But here, she’s a sufferer. And Jesus feels it. Literally. Deeply. Viscerally.

That’s compassion. 

Then comes the surprise. Compassion moves us to weep with weeping people. Jesus should weep with this widow. But he doesn’t. In fact, he tells her not to weep herself. Imagine, for a moment, walking up to the grieving widow and telling her to dry her tears. That’s what the Lord does here.

Why? Because Jesus’ compassion which is far deeper than ours is allied to a power that is far greater than ours. He doesn’t just feel with the widow—he can help the widow. 

“He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. Then he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’” (v 14)

Picture the scene. Here is a man who interrupts a funeral procession, tells a grieving mother not to cry, and commands a corpse to get up. 

And the corpse does.

“And Jesus gave him to his mother” (v 15). Her future. Her hope. Her joy. Her boy. All restored to her. 

YOU HAVE A SHEPHERD

In Jesus we see a God who is powerful and who is compassionate. He did not float through his earthly life, effortlessly fixing things. No. He felt the brokenness. And then he did something about it. He wants to help, and he can help. 

Compassion is at the heart God’s posture towards his people because compassion is at the heart of who God is. What was it he revealed to Moses when Moses asked to see his glory, his God-ness? “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God” (Exodus 34:6). Compassion is not just what God is, it is who God is. 

And so it was that when Jesus looked out at the crowds—some sick, some healthy, all human, all sinful—“he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). And in his compassion, he started talking about the need for people to go and tell that crowd about him, the Good Shepherd. 

Left to ourselves, left by ourselves, we are like the widow of Nain—without a future, without protection, without joy. Harassed and helpless, we are sheep without a shepherd. And there’s a reason you never meet a wild sheep—they are not built to survive alone.

But there is a God who has compassion on us, and so he came as our shepherd and he will one day come to raise us. Christian, you have a shepherd—and that makes all the difference to how you walk through the valleys as well as how you scale the peaks.

DON’T CRY

What do we do with this glimpse of how Jesus feels? Of course, it should inform us as we seek to be like him. We’re called to be Christlike, and you cannot be Christlike if you are not compassionate like Christ. Hurt and pain and death should gut-punch you. People wandering through life without a Savior-Shepherd should gut-punch you. We should weep with them and witness to them, because we love them. How would Jesus feel? As we see his compassion, we’re told: Go thou and love likewise. 

But… first and foremost, rather than seeking to be Christlike towards others, we should enjoy the reality that this is what God is like towards us. God is more compassionate than any of us realize. Jesus feels our pain and our grief more than we’ve perhaps appreciated. He sees you. He gets it. And then he says, Don’t cry, for I will raise you up. That’s the compassion of Jesus. 

Carl Laferton is EVP Publishing at The Good Book Company, a publisher of biblical, relevant, and accessible resources. He’s also the author of the bestselling kids book The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross. He’s an elder of Grace Church Worcester Park, London, and is husband to Lizzie and father to Benjamin and Abigail.

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