Matthew applied the words of the prophet to Jesus. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). Jesus said of himself, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:44-45). So I continue thinking about God as I know him in Jesus. To see Christ is to see God. To know the Son is to know the Father. To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe in God. God as I know him in Jesus is good, compassionate, and loving.
“And as (Jesus) was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10:17-18). I know, Jesus’ statement is much discussed as to meaning. My point in looking at this text is to notice Jesus taught God is good. Jesus also demonstrated by his own life God is good.
The disciples of Jesus spoke of Jesus as good and sinless. “But with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). “For our sake (God) made (Jesus) to be sin [on the cross] who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God as I know him in Jesus is good. God is the very definition of what is good, what is right. He does not act contrary to his goodness. God is good toward his creation, toward all people, and toward his people who believe in him through Christ. When Jesus taught love for our enemies he taught that he is calling us to be like our Father who is in heaven. “For (the Father) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God is good.
When bad things happen in life I may question the goodness of God. Yet as I see the goodness of Jesus, his life, his teaching, whatever happens, even when I do not understand, I know God is good. I know God desires my good. He is seeking in all things to accomplish the best good for me–being transformed into the image of Christ and receiving the salvation that is in Jesus Christ.
I know God is good through the goodness of Jesus especially as seen in the compassion and love of Jesus. Speaking of the compassion and love of Jesus one of the texts that comes to mind is Matthew 11:28-29. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
“Compassion” is composed of two Latin words meaning “with” and “suffer,” thus the meaning “to suffer with.”1 The heart of Jesus went out to people. His heart was genuinely moved and grieved when Jesus saw people hurting. His heart broke as he watched people live lost in sin. Jesus reached out with compassion and desire to help as he saw people whose lives were wondering aimlessly, confused and helpless. He wept with those whose lives were devastated by sickness and death. Jesus grieved with the grieving. Out of his compassionate and loving heart Jesus unselfishly gave of himself. He suffered with us. Jesus came to live among us. He reached out to people with teaching, healing, feeding, befriending, forbearing, and forgiving. His compassion led him to the cross, offering himself as the sacrifice to give us forgiveness and life. He suffered with us. The following selected passages of Scripture paint this picture of Jesus.
“And 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” (Matthew 9:36). Other translations of “harassed and helpless” further picture the situation of people, of us, as they, we, experience the struggles of life–“distressed and dispirited,” “confused and aimless,” “confused and helpless,” “weary and scattered,” “hurting and helpless,” “bewildered and miserable.” “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:13-14). “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32). Two blind men on the side of the road as Jesus was leaving the city of Jericho were told by people not to bother Jesus. They did not listen and called out to Jesus. “And Jesus in pity [or had compassion on them] touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34). “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7:12-15). When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died Jesus went to Lazarus’s home. As the apostle John shares the story with us he tells of when Jesus saw Lazarus’s sister Mary and of Jesus going to the tomb. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Jesus wept. Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb” (John 11:33, 35, 38).
The compassionate heart of Jesus and his response to people reveals the compassionate heart and response of God toward us. Especially is the compassion of Jesus seen in his response to those who rejected him and who crucified him. When Jesus approached Jerusalem knowing his time had come to accomplish his purpose, he was saddened by the thought of the judgment coming upon the city. “And when he drew near and saw (Jerusalem), he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Matthew’s record reads, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37). As the Gospels record the arrest of Jesus we read, “And one of (the disciples) struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:50-51). Dying on the cross, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:34). In Jesus we see the compassion of God as his heart is grieved by our sin and rebellion, yet he continues to give himself to and for us, reaching out to us with his readiness to forgive.
They were finished eating their last Passover meal together. Judas had left to betray Jesus. Jesus knew what was coming. The disciples were confused. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). John began his record of that evening describing what was going on in Jesus’ mind and heart. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). What follows is Jesus acting as a servant, a house slave, washing the disciples’ feet. Then he taught them, preparing them for what was about to happen. It was understandable for Jesus to be turned inward. He knew Judas was going to betray him. All the disciples, in fact, were going to flee for their own lives forsaking Jesus. His heart was heavy with the anguish and intensity of what he was bearing in obedience to the Father and because of the love with which he loved his disciples and all people. The cross was hours away and Jesus could see it with his heart. Oh the dread he expresses later in his prayer in the garden. To have his heart turned toward himself was understandable. To the contrary his heart went out to his disciples. He loved them in heart and action to the end.
Jesus spoke of his purpose, of his self-giving, and of his sacrificial love for us all. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11). “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). “By this,” the apostle John wrote, “we know love, that (Jesus) laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
The love Jesus Christ lived, unselfish, humble, self-giving, willing to take on our suffering, to serve, willing to lay down his life for us. God as I know him in Jesus loves me to the end. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
My faith and hope are strengthened throughout life, even when I do not understand what is happening and why. For as I believe in Jesus I believe in God. As I know Jesus I know God. What I know is that God “who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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” (Romans 8:32, 35-39).
God as I know him in Jesus is good, compassionate, and loving. I am strengthened and encouraged by this knowledge of God. I am also challenged to imitate God in his goodness, compassion, and love. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 4:32; 5:1-2).
1Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, Volume 1, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Dallas: Word, 1987), 363.