October 30, 2008
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
Matthew 15:32, NIV
The most common question asked of God in the Bible is, “How long, O Lord?” How long will trouble continue? How long will problems plague the planet? How long will sickness endure? How long will evil persecute goodness? How long will doubts, temptations, worries, depressions, and loneliness stalk the pathways of human life?
Three answers are given by God in the Bible that give us comfort in facing our challenges.
First, God explains to us how deeply this planet is fallen. When God created life on this planet he pronounced it good, and he placed humanity in a beautiful spot to watch over and manage creation. Sin, however, crept into the human heart and due to humanity’s inability to function spiritually as God intended, sin also crept into creation as a whole. Now creation that was meant to display the glory of God is unable to do so: “For the creation was subjected to frustration” (Romans 8:20).
Second, God explains to us that one day, because of the redemption Christ had purchased through his shed blood on the cross, we shall be redeemed. The same Romans 8 passage that speaks of the frustration of creation continues: “…in the hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). God promises us a new heaven and a new earth one day, where tears and sorrow are no more, where trouble and evil are vanquished, where we enjoy a close fellowship with God and with one another, where the wounds of sin that have scarred our very consciousness will be healed and removed (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5).
These two answers explain why we have problems and give us the hope and confidence that these problems will not always exist, that the day will come in the plan of God when they will be removed.
But there is a third answer given by God that has a direct impact on our lives today, the compassion of God for us today. As we wait for the redemption of our bodies and of this world, as we wait for the perfect healing of our hearts and souls, as we wait for that moment when we are to be ushered into the presence of God and never again to leave him, what hope do we have that anything in our lives can be changed today? Is the best we can do merely to hope that one day we will find perfect peace, or can there be a taste of that final victory today?
This is the third answer, that God cares for us today, that he can help and can make a difference today. As with the final plan of God for our total redemption, Christ plays the key role. In this setting with the disciples he looked at the masses with compassion. He had been healing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and others as well, he had touched them with his power and made them whole, taking away not only their physical ailment but also bringing also the potential for emotional and spiritual wholeness to them. His teachings were central to that experience of inner healing. “I have compassion for these people,” Christ said, I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
We are given these simple stories about Jesus so we can have the record of his compassion; as he looked at that fatigued group of followers, so he looks at us with compassion. He sees the burdens we carry, the fatigue that goes deep within us, fatigue from ministry or from dealing with difficulty and sickness, emotional fatigue that stems from enduring difficult situations, and his heart says that he does not want us to not have what we need to sustain life, or we may faint on the way. We need our daily bread for life, but we also need encouragement, friendship, rest, and the renewal of our souls.
The simple knowledge of the concern of God for us, so perfectly demonstrated in the life of Christ, is uplifting. God cares for the burdens you carry and he never leaves his children alone in the difficult moments of life. Sometimes he acts independently to remove the burden; sometimes he sends believers to us to encourage and befriend us; sometimes he takes that burden which is so difficult to carry and translates it into a new potential and direction in life; and when the burden remains unlifted, when the circumstance remains unchanged from the physical perspective, he stays by our side through his Spirit assuring us that nothing in all the universe can separate us from his love.
Look up to God through Christ and see his compassion for you. He does not want you to “collapse on the way” but to know his strength and joy. This is the character of the Christ, as Isaiah wrote,
See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young…
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Isaiah 40:10-11,28-29, NIV
Lord, we thank you for your graciousness to us. We need to understand the source of our problems and the assurance of our final victory. But in this life we also need the encouragement of Christ Jesus, to know that he cares and that he can help. Meet our basic physical needs for life, heal our diseases, both of the body and of the soul, bring us your life and let it flourish within us. And in the dark times of life let us know you are there, that you have compassion on us and are with us. Amen.