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The Mercy and Compassion of Christ

Since Christ is the incarnate display of the wealth of the mercies of God, it is not surprising that His life on earth was a lavish exhibit of mercies to all kinds of people. Every kind of need and pain was touched by the mercies of Jesus in His few years on earth.

Compassion For the Outcast

When the blind beggar cried out, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me,” many were embarrassed and indignant. But “Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 18:38,42).

Lepers were feared due to their revolting appearance and the possibility of contagion. But when they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” He stopped and took pity on them and said, “Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed” (Luke 17:13–14). Even more remarkably, Mark recalls the time another dreaded leper fell on his knees, pleading with Jesus to make him clean, and Jesus not only spoke to him, but also touched him: “Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed” (Mark 1:41–42).

Compassion For the Suffering

When Jesus saw a widow who had not only lost her husband but now her only son as well, Luke tells us, “[Jesus] had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13). Then he raised her son from the dead. And in this case, not a word was said about her faith. It was a free and lavish overflow of divine mercy, even before faith.

Mercy also drew Jesus to those who were made miserable by demons. One man brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus after years of sorrow. The boy was unable to speak, and the evil spirit often threw the boy into the fire. The father pleaded with Jesus, “Have compassion on us and help us.” And even though the grieving father could only manage a mustard seed of faith—“I believe; help Thou mine unbelief”—Jesus responded to the cry for pity and rebuked the spirit and cast it out (Mark 9:17–27).

Compassion For Sinners

Not only was the mercy of Jesus kindled by suffering, but also by sin. When Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners,” the Pharisees and scribes criticized Him. But Jesus told three parables to explain what He was doing. One was the parable of the prodigal son. The climax of this parable pictures God, filled with compassion for His sin-soaked, homecoming child: “his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). In other words, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners because He was the incarnate display of the Father’s tender compassion for sinners.

Compassion For Multitudes

Jesus showed this compassion not only for individuals who sin and suffer, but also for whole multitudes. He did not look on masses with contempt or with impersonal indifference. Once when great crowds had followed Him and had not planned well for their food, Jesus looked on them and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with Me three days, and have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2). On another occasion, it was not their hunger but their spiritual need for truth that filled Him with compassion for the crowds: “Jesus … saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).

Compassion and the Law

One of the most sweeping statements about God’s mercy that Jesus ever made came from Hosea 6:6. It was Jesus’ way of putting the whole Old Testament ceremonial law under the banner of mercy instead of meticulous rules. When He was criticized for going to dinner at Matthew’s house with unclean tax collectors, He turned the criticism around and said, “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice [Hosea 6:6]: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). And when His disciples were rebuked by the Pharisees for picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7). In other words, Jesus’ entire ministry was shaped by the insight that mercy is the ultimate meaning of God’s law. And since Jesus came not to abolish—but to fulfill—that law (Matthew 5:17), He was the incarnation and manifestation of the wealth of the mercy of God.

Compassion For Us

The same is true of Jesus today. In this regard “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). This is why God, who is called “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3), beckons us to come boldly to His throne through Jesus Christ who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is our sinless, all-sufficient High Priest. He has offered Himself as our substitute in perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. All the Father’s mercies belong to those who come to God through faith in Jesus. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

—From Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper