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Motivated by Compassion

June 18, 2023 |Motivated by Compassion |Matthew 9:35-10:10

JD Cutler

Two weeks ago we looked at the great commission that marks the end of Jesus’ ministry on Earth and the beginning of the church’s mission when Jesus sends them out with the command to make disciples of all nations.

We saw that the singular command is to make disciples, that we are to do that by receiving men and women into the church in baptism and then teaching them to obey all that Jesus teaches. We also saw that we have made a great confusion of the great commission leading to a great crisis in the church where we have groups of confused converts rather than disciple making disciples.

We committed to following Jesus with renewed focus on his instructions rather than the confusion we have often followed.

Last week we saw that we should not grow weary doing good. That following Christ is hard and there is a reality of growing weary, but we were encouraged to keep pressing forward, keep living out the great commission.

Today, I want us to continue with that thread as we look at living our lives as commissioned disciples. Not by looking again at the great commission, but by examining an earlier one.

The Great Commission was not the first time Jesus commissioned his disciples. As we will see today, after the disciples had been with him for a time during his preaching and teaching ministry, he sent them out to do what he had been doing. We find this recorded for us in Matthew 10.

In this early commissioning, I believe that we can learn a great deal about our own mission as disciples who make disciples of all nations.

This morning, I want to share with you two observations from the sending of the twelve disciples that inform our own lives as we seek to live life on mission.

Two observations from the ministry of Jesus for us to live on mission.

The first observations is...

Jesus was motivated by compassion.

Open your bibles to Matthew chapter 9 at verse 35.

​​Matthew 9:35 (ESV) 35 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.

This is a description of the ministry Jesus was doing.

Traveling throughout all the cities and villages- cities being the larger, often walled areas and villages being the groups of people living often around the outskirts of the cities.

We see Jesus going from place to place spreading the gospel and ministering to the people. Jesus ministered in the larger cities and in the smaller villages, there was no one unimportant or less important in his ministry.

Teaching in their synagogues-

(Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary) In the times of Jesus and the apostles every town, not only in Palestine, but also among the Gentiles if it contained a considerable number of Jewish inhabitants, had at least one synagogue, the larger towns several or even many.)

These were the religious centers of Judaism outside of the temple in Jerusalem.

The Bible records some of this teaching for us, we know that it was full of wisdom and that it was full of authority, the likes of which had not been seen.

Proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom- this is different than teaching, this is the proclamation or preaching, the declaration that the kingdom of God was here.

Healing every disease and every affliction- likely these two words represent sickness and disability, together covering the complete experience of the human condition.

This description of Jesus itinerant ministry is used by Matthew twice to describe seasons of Jesus’ ministry. Traveling from place to place to place, entering the synagogues to teach, proclaiming the gospel, and liberating people from their sickness and disease. In fact, this describes much of what Jesus spent his ministry doing and there is no surprise here, but why was he doing it?

We know from his own admission that it was in obedience to the Father’s command, but we also see that it was not out of a detached sense of duty that he ministered.

We find in Matthew’s inspired record of this time in Jesus’ ministry that it went much deeper than that.

Matthew 9:36 (ESV) 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

What is compassion?

The Greek word here means bowels. Now, immediately that doesn’t really click with us. I don’t think there is a hallmark card that says ‘I love you from the bottom of my bowels’, right?

But in Hebrew culture this is akin to our modern idea of the heart being the seat of our emotions like love. When someone says they love us with all their hearts or from the bottom of their heart, we know they are not talking about the literal muscle in their chest but that in the very deepest parts of who they are, they love us.

In the same way, this word carries the idea of being moved in the deepest parts of who we are.

It is more than sympathy that says I feel pity for your situation.

It is more than empathy that says I understand, or I have some idea of what that feels like.

Sympathy and empathy are important, but they are lesser than compassion.

Compassion is what moves us from thinking and feeling to doing. It is the willingness to relieve the suffering of another.

Sympathy is seeing someone in need and feeling sorry for them.

Empathy is seeing someone in need and being able to understand what they are feeling.

Compassion says I see their situation and I want to help them in it.

You can see this distinction in the gospels whenever it says that Jesus felt compassion.

Matthew 14:14 (ESV) 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 15:32 (ESV) 32 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.”

Which led to him miraculously feeding 4,000 men plus women and children.

Matthew 20:34 (ESV) 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. (the word pity here is the same word, it would be accurate to say, moved with compassion he touched their eyes)

We find the same word in Mark 1

Mark 1:40-41 (ESV) 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”

In Luke, we find him confronted with a grieving mother.

Luke 7:11-15 (ESV) 11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 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. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Jesus uses this same word to describe the good samaritan in his story about who is our neighbor, the Samaritan was moved with compassion and therefore helped the man who was beaten and left for dead.

When Jesus wants to explain what makes the Father in the parable of the prodigal son run to embrace his son, he says (ESV) But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

In each one of these we see that this word compassion leads to action.

Whether it is healing, feeding, restoration of what has been lost, meeting the needs of the hurting, or receiving rebellious family members back, compassion is what motivated the action.

Why did Jesus have compassion on the people as he traveled around preaching and teaching? The bible says he saw them and they were…

Harassed- the literal translation of this word is to flay, or skinned

Helpless- struck down

Like sheep without a shepherd- defenseless, aimless

The idea here is a scattered flock of sheep who have been wounded, attacked, and uncared for. This language reflects a description God gave Ezekiel to announce against the leaders of Israel. Ezekiel 34:4-6 (ESV) 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd God describes that will seek the scattered sheep, bind up the wounded, feed the hungry by leading them to green pasture, give them rest by making them lie down, and to give justice to the shepherds who had failed to care for the sheep.

It is the compassionate heart of the Good Shepherd that moves him to action.

He teaches truth where there has been perversion. He brings freedom where there has been bondage. He heals where there has been hurt, right? You can see his compassion in action throughout the pages of the gospels.

This is what he sent the disciples out to do, first to the house of Israel, and then in the great commission, to the nations.

Why then do our churches, who have inherited the ministry and mission of Jesus, not always reflect this ministry of Jesus?

Because we are too often wrongly motivated.

In my short time here on this earth and in my dealings with the church there are two motivators that are regularly used.

Guilt and fear.

Guilt sounds like, if you don’t reach your neighbor who will? If you don’t lead this Bible study who will? If you don’t (fill in the blank), then it won’t happen.

If you really loved Jesus, you would…

Listen, guilt can be a powerful motivator, for a brief time, but it is unsustainable and ungodly.

The other common motivator is fear. If you don’t knock on x amount of doors, or give this or do this, you will be put out of the church. If you don’t follow these rules, do these things, you can lose your salvation, right? Fear of an angry God sitting in heaven just waiting for you to mess up. In the same way as guilt, fear can motivate for a short time.

Jesus was neither motivated by or used either of these as motivation.

As we have noted, he was motivated by compassion, by love for his sheep.

If we want to be the kind of church that reflects the heart of Jesus, we don’t need guilt or fear, we need a deep and abiding compassion for the people around us, many who are wounded by the world, hurt by their own sin, wandering aimlessly through life, in desperate need of an encounter with the Good Shepherd. Amen?

Isn’t this exactly what Jesus shared with his disciples in our next few verses?

The second observation is…

Jesus cultivated compassion in his disciples.

Matthew 9:37-38 (ESV) 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

How do we cultivate compassion in our lives? Jesus walks his disciples through it.

First, we realize the desperate need.

The harvest is plentiful- Jesus uses an agricultural image to emphasize to his disciples the desperate need before them.

Imagine the fields as far as the eyes can see are ready to harvest and there are just a handful or workers ready. The need far outweighs the ability.

Reaping must be done when the crops are ready or you risk losing the crop. There is urgency in Jesus’ analogy. In the same way a farmer would look out at his fields with a sense of urgency and yes, even compassion over the loss if something did not get done, Jesus tells his disciples, it is time.

Men and women, who have been beaten down by the world, let down by its systems, who are starving and injured are ripe to hear the good news of the kingdom, but there are not enough men and women to share it.

Do you see the people around you this way?

That no matter how bad their life is, no matter how deeply injured by their sin they are, no matter how far they have strayed they could be someone who is ready to hear the good news of the kingdom?

Jesus did not see sheep that were too far gone, he saw men and women who desperately needed to encounter the miraculous love of the Good Shepherd.

The laborers are few- Jesus so far as been laboring alone, teaching, healing, proclaiming, and now he is about to recruit his disciples, but first he wants them to understand the situation so that they have adequate compassion for the people they are going to.

Second, we realize our dependence on God.

What does Jesus say the first thing they should do is as they realize the desperate need?

He calls them to pray. Isn’t that interesting, because our first step is usually to call a meeting or form a committee, isn’t it?

How many of us have been moved to action, only to find out we have done the wrong thing or said the wrong thing? We rushed to try and fix the problem, without fully understanding what was needed. Jesus, in cultivating compassion in his disciples, wants them to understand what it is the problem needs. Men and women sent by God into his harvest.

Therefore, he commands, they are to pray earnestly as it is translated in the ESV.

The word is translated beg in other places in scripture. The command is to a constant, passionate, petition to God to send laborers. Why?

Because God has to be convinced? No.

Because God won’t act until he is convinced you really mean it? Of course not!

I think it is because we pray about what we care about.

Jesus is telling his disciples that the harvest ought to be so fully in their hearts that they regularly petition God to raise up and send out workers into his harvest. The kingdom and reaching people for the kingdom ought to dominate our hearts and minds.

Not so we can build a bigger church, not so we can arbitrarily add people to a church roster, but so that we would see men and women beaten down by the world, abused and confused by sin, be healed and brought into fellowship with the one true God.

Third, we realize that we are some of those workers who are sent into the harvest.

After Jesus urges them to pray for laborers, he gathers his twelve disciples and sends them out to carry on his mission, fueled by the same compassion that motivates him. On the night before he called the twelve disciples, the Bible says that he spent the night praying, modeling dependence on the Father as well as the realization that there were men close to him that God could and would send out. He then encouraged them to pray in a similar way, so that twelve became 72, 72 became 120, and 120 became over 5,000, so that the gospel would spread into the lives of all the nations.

Matthew 10:1-10 (ESV) 1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

Notice that they were not to reach all the world by themselves, their mission at this time was to reach the people of Israel, those closest to them and those who were ready for the good news of the kingdom.

God has ordained where you would be born, where you would grow up, where you are now, and who you are around. You are in a mission field, even if you haven’t ever realized it.

In another place, Jesus tells the disciples to look up.

(ESV) Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

They were laborers God was sending into the harvest where they were.

What did their laboring look like in the harvest?

Free people oppressed by unclean spirits, heal people afflicted by disease, all the while proclaiming the kingdom of Heaven has come.

Not for money, nor for fame, not to indent people to you, but freely and compassionately.

Let me summarize that for you in terms of our mission.

The people had spiritual needs the disciples were to meet, the people had physical needs the disciples were to meet, and as they met them they were to proclaim the gospel.

I know we like to complicate things but meeting needs and proclaiming the gospel is the work we are called to do. God does the rest, amen?

Fourth and finally, we realize that we have been the beneficiaries of God’s compassion.

Freely you have received, freely you should give.

One of the things that keeps us from being compassionate is the sense that what we have we deserve, or where we are, we have gotten ourselves there. Or that if we use too much of it serving others we might find ourselves without.

Jesus assures them that they will be taken care of as they go. They don’t need to worry about money, provisions, or extra supplies, God takes care of his laborers.

This realization that we are compassionate because we are the beneficiaries of God’s compassion is what causes the apostle John to write in ​​1 John 4:19 (ESV) 19 We love because he first loved us.

How do we cultivate compassion, so that we can be motivated to live on mission like Jesus both modeled and commanded?

We realize the desperate need of the world around us, we realize our complete dependence on God for seeing men and women saved, we realize that we are laborers being sent into his harvest wherever we find ourselves, and we realize that we have been beneficiaries of God’s compassion.


Two observations from our text.

Jesus was motivated by compassion.

Jesus cultivated compassion in his disciples.

Are you struggling to live life on mission?

Your greatest need is not more training, it’s not more Bible studies, yes those things are beneficial and good, but your greatest need is to be full of compassion. I pray that you have seen how Jesus cultivated it in his disciples and if you are struggling then I pray that the Spirit would apply this text to your hearts and minds so that you might be filled with the compassion of our Lord to reach a lost and dying world.

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