“Compassion Without Question"

Pentecost 2
June 18, 2017

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”—Matt. 9:36

It seems like hardly a week goes by without hearing that someone we know is struggling with still another physical ailment or affliction, often in addition to other conditions that they are already dealing with.  Our hearts go out to them.  We try to share a consoling word with them.  We most certainly pray for them.  And we are confident that our heavenly Father is aware of their situation and that He will always answer our prayers according to what He knows is best for them.

For, our Lord is a compassionate Savior.  We heard that underscored in today’s text: “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

It was a sign to the world of Jesus’ true identity that He was able to perform the kinds of healing miracles that He did.  Only God Himself could do those things.  It was also a sign of the perfect restoration that is to come for all of us as we look forward to the bliss of heaven, where, God will, “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” (Rev. 21:4).   And how much we all look forward to that great and glorious day!  And how often we wonder how people can possibly go through this life without that gracious assurance.

And that’s why we hear our Lord say to His disciples in the very next verse, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Christ wants the world to know that the difficult things that we experience—indeed, even life itself—is meaningless without believing that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.

Knowing that God is our heavenly Father, trusting in Jesus as our Savior, living in that day-to-day recognition that we are completely reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ, makes all the difference in this world and in the next.  That assurance grants to us, regardless of our condition, that peace which surpasses all understanding.

Jesus also spoke about peace in our text.  Again, sending the disciples out, He gave them the instructions, “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

What makes one worthy of peace?  A similar question might be lingering in the back of our minds as we face own personal difficulties—questions like, “Is there something I could do that might make me more worthy of God’s attention?”  “Is that why I’m still struggling—because, in His sight, I’m just not worthy enough?”

Well, we already know what our worth is before God.  Once again, God so loved the world—including each and every one of us here—that He gave His only Son for our salvation.

Listen again to how today’s Epistle puts it: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”  

Your worth before God is beyond measure!  And, notice, that it is not a worth that comes from our own character, as though the things that we do have a bearing on how compassionate God will be.  No, while we were still the bitter enemies of God, He had mercy upon us and did what was necessary to save us, even though we didn’t deserve it.  

To paraphrase, then, what St. Paul says—“if God showed His love for you when we wanted absolutely nothing to do with Him, how much more—now that He has drawn us to Him, made us His children, and assured us of His faithfulness—will His love and compassion overflow toward those whom He holds so dear!”

Once again, the apostle says, Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”  To be justified means to be declared righteous and pure.  To be saved from His wrath, means that God holds absolutely no animosity against you—He will not treat us as our sins deserve because He already punished His own Son Jesus for all of our sins.

And that’s why, earlier in this chapter of Romans, Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).  There, again, is that assurance of peace.  And here also is the basis of our worthiness to receive that peace.  It’s all because, through faith, we trust in what Jesus Christ has done for us.  We are forgiven.  We are reconciled to God.  We are declared righteous.  We are loved perfectly.  Our worthiness comes from God’s perspective—not our own.

Bear that in mind now as you consider the physical afflictions and personal struggles that you are going through.  Never is it a case in which we have to fear that God is getting back at us for something that we’ve done wrong.  Nor is it a matter that we just aren’t worth God’s consideration because we haven’t met the grade.  No, as far as God is concerned, you are completely righteous because when He looks at you, He sees you through the holy blood of His Son Jesus.

And that’s why we confidently can join St. Paul in declaring, we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…  I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom. 8:28, 38-39).

Our sicknesses and tribulations compel us to rely upon the fortitude of our Savior Jesus—for when we are weak, then we are strong!  Those same struggles make us realize that we are but strangers here in this world and that heaven is our eternal home that we look forward to.  But, most of all, we simply are following in the footsteps of our Savior.  Again, the apostle writes, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him,” (Rom. 8:16,17).  

Just like prayer, worship, fellowship, and charity are indispensable parts of the Christian life, so also suffering is an essential part of that list.  But never is it suffering without purpose or apart from God’s loving will.  And that’s the blessed insight that we, as God’s children, have over the rest of the world.  We are not being punished by God.  We know that God isn’t ignorant or indifferent about what’s going on in our lives.  Quite the contrary.  

He has compassion for you as one whom He knows and loves intimately and perfectly.  Everything that is happening if your life He is aware of fully.  And far from abandoning you, He has provided you with the Good Shepherd, so that we never need think of ourselves as harassed and helpless—not when we have Jesus as our Savior.  Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil—for He is with us.  And if He is there for us, then no one and nothing can be against us.

Dearly beloved, whatever your struggles might be, lift up your hearts.  Lift them up to the Lord.  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God for He is accomplishing His perfect will in your life, to be conformed to the image of His Son, to be a beacon of hope to this dying world around us, and to assure you of life everlasting with Him.  And you have His promise that the peace that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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