Jesus is an emotional person. We’re all familiar with the anger he displayed when he chased the money changers out of the temple courtyard. We remember he wept at Lazarus’ funeral. Is it fair to say that Jesus is just emotional because he has a human nature? Not really. Where do human emotions come from? We are made in God’s image and that includes emotions. God is an emotional God and so we are an emotional people.
But let’s focus on Jesus’ emotion of compassion briefly. Warfield, a wonderful teacher from the early 1900′s, noted in his article “The Emotional Life of Our Lord” (you can find this in the book, The Person and Work of Christ, B.B. Warfield) that this is the emotion that is most frequently attributed to Jesus.
Jesus was often said to be moved with compassion (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 20:34), and because of the compassion he felt he was moved to action. People often asked Jesus to have mercy or pity on them (Matthew 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30,31) and Jesus responded. His pity might be aroused by an individual’s distress (Mark 1:41) or simply by the universal misery of human beings (Mark 6:34). When he saw a widow proceeding to the burial of her only son, he stopped the funeral and raised the boy from the dead (Luke 7:13). Even the hunger of those listening to his teaching aroused his compassion (Mark 8:2, the only place where Jesus is recorded as testifying to his own feelings of compassion).
Jesus’ compassion was also roused by the sight of the crowds and the knowledge that they had no one to shepherd them and keep them from danger (Mark 6:34). So he began to teach them. That same group drew pity from him because of their suffering many illnesses (Matthew 14:14) so he healed them.
Jesus didn’t only teach and command us to love one another, he did it. As someone has noted, “He…not only required [love] but aroused it…Jesus’ significance to the [Gospel writers] does not consist in his having discovered the command of love, but in his having fulfilled it.”
Nobody loved like Jesus. When someone asked for something from him, he gave it. His love was not powerless to accomplish that for which his compassion was aroused. The utmost expression of this was when Jesus came to Martha and Mary upon the death of their brother Lazarus. Jesus wept with them over their loss, but then commanded Lazarus to come forth from the grave (John 11:17-37).
This raises a question in us much like that raised by the friends of Lazarus: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). If Jesus loves us and is so moved to pity and compassion for our distress, why doesn’t he remove all our distress? In Lazarus’ case he told his disciples that it was for “God’s glory” that he waited until Lazarus died (John 11:4).
The higher purpose for all that Jesus does is the glory of God. When Paul complained to God three times about the “thorn” in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) are we to suppose that Christ felt no compassion for him when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you” and did not heal him? Do you not feel compassion for your infant who shrinks from the doctor’s needle and yet you still allow the doctor to inflict your precious child with the inoculation because you know it is for his good.
Jesus’ compassion is always roused for us in our pain and misery. He never fails to love us, even if he does not choose to remove our pain. But many times he is willing to remove our source of discomfort if we will but ask in faith. Appeal to his compassion. It is roused for you.