I am so happy today to have listened to preaching about the compassionate heart of Jesus Christ for lost people. My Pastor spoke about what has been for a long time now my favourite text in scripture. I find in them some of the most beautiful, joyful, sorrowful, and heart wrenching words I have ever heard.
Matthew 9:36-38 “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. The he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’”
When Jesus saw the crowds, it is not as if he just looked out and observed that there were crowds of people. He is the Son of God, and he knows all flesh, even our thoughts. When he saw them, it is to say that he perceived their spiritual state- that they were dead, that they were blind, and that they were lost! He saw that they were walking around aimlessly; ready to follow whoever would make a claim to know something about God, something about truth. He knew all about the religious leaders who claimed to know the way to God, but were truly nothing more than hypocrites, and extortionist who saw ‘godliness’ as a means of financial and personal gain. He saw how they “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger (Matthew 23:4)” and how they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces (Matthew 23:13). Oh how deeply the Lord was grieved at seeing their terrible state!
He saw that they were all captives, held by Satan, and slaves to do his will. He saw that Satan the god of this world, had blinded their minds so that they would not see the light of the gospel. Our Lord knew, that left to themselves, they would remain forever spiritually dead and apart from him they would enter into an eternity of torment in Hell.
Beyond this Jesus did not only see them, he actually felt something for them- that is compassion. This kind of compassion can be described as having pain in one’s innermost being, as having emotional anguish in the depths of one’s heart. I can’t help but think of the prophet Jeremiah, the most emotional of the prophets. I have often felt that Jeremiah was a man who had the heart of God. He didn’t only deliver the word of God to people, it is as if he felt the very heart of God for those people, proclaiming the warnings and judgements of God and yet at the same time feeling pain for the doom that was headed their way.
Jeremiah 4:13 “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.”
Jeremiah 8:18,20-21 and 9:1 “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick with me…’the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me…Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of me people!”
It seems comprehendible to me that Jeremiah, being a sinful man like all the rest, would be able to mourn and be sick, and feel struck to the heart over the condition of his people. But to look at Jesus Christ, and see his heart go out to the very ones who crucified him, and to all lost sinners in love and compassion is an overwhelmingly marvellous thing that I cannot describe. But my friends, this is the very heart of God for the lost.
And it is not as if the Old Testament God is somehow different; it is just that somehow so many seem to miss him. Look at these tender words of God, and marvel at the depth of His love and compassion towards a rebellious people.
Hosea 11:1-4,8 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them… How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”
How wonderful and how awesome is our God, that he would have compassion and mercy on his enemies. That he would actually feel pain because of the pitiful state of our souls, and because of the abuse of false religious leaders.
I think what Pastor Tim said today really nailed it on the head. We don’t ask for God’s heart for lost people, because we are afraid to feel that deeply. Not only are we afraid to look and see and feel man’s desperate state of spiritual emergency, but we are afraid that if we feel it we will have to act on it.
Years ago, because of this very text in Mathew 9 I began to ask for God’s heart for lost people. And glory be to God he began to work this into my life in a most painful yet soul-satisfyingly wonderful way. Let me explain. When God began to work this heart in me, I began to see it in scripture everywhere I looked, and His heart of compassion for lost people shook me to the core. It challenged my faith, it challenged my priorities, and it made me glorify him for his marvellous love for this world. I say that it was painful, because well… when you begin to meditate upon the reality of lostness and Hell, there is a deep sombreness, and yes anguish that the Lord births in your heart. I remember well hearing a sermon from Paul Washer, where he put it plainly: “These aren’t numbers, they’re people! They go to Hell when they day.”
You start to look at your boss, your friends, your family and soon enough strangers and realize that everyone of these people are made in the image of God and if they don’t have faith in Jesus Christ they are without hope in this life, and perpetually in the next.
When you get home and you shut the door and you cannot help but be overcome with grief and weeping because of the blindness of this world, it is not fun. But in this, the cross of Christ increases in preciousness to you, because it is not only the salvation of your soul, but the good news for every dying soul you know. Then out of this anguish and out of the joy of Christ’s soul-purchasing, wrath satisfying work, you are thrust out into this lost world holding out the word of God “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).” “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him (Psalm 126:6).”
I can say this in honesty: Next to the joy of my salvation, and seeing and savouring Jesus Christ, there is no greater joy than sharing the gospel with lost people. To do so is to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, and obedience to Him is always joyful, even if people mock you or scorn you. Becoming a witness for Christ will bring lost sinners home to him, and will bring you closer to him in fellowship as well.
Know that at times my desire for evangelism is frightfully lacking, and my heart for the lost dwindles and gets cold. If you feel this way, you are not alone. We need to continue to seek the Lord for His heart for lost people, even if we have been the most faithful of witnesses. I truly want to write more but my arms are getting tired. Maybe I will write again soon.