A Heart of Compassion: What Happens When We Leave the Mountain?
The greatest, most famous sermon ever was Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” but then Jesus came down the mountain to face the reality of hurting people. The best church service on Sunday means nothing if we lack compassion for people on Monday.
The Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5, 6 and 7
Jesus began with the beatitudes — “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — and ended with the man who built his house on a rock — “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
And the people responded:
When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard. — Matthew 7:28-29, MSG
But then what?
Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.” — Matthew 8:1-2, MSG
Preachers love great crowds and we all love a great church service. But we all have to come down off the mountain and be willing to face the single leper. We have to live the mountain on the ground. We love Matthew 5 through 7, but chapter 8 is where life gets real.
But neither can we focus entirely on the ground, or we become a humanitarian organization and forget to give people the eternal healing and salvation they really need.
There has to be a balance of mountaintop experiences and loving the needy on the ground.
Leave Church and Be the Church
There is a recurring pattern throughout the gospels:
- When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. — Matthew 9:36, ESV
- When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. — Matthew 14:14, ESV
- 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, ESV
- Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” — Mark 1:41, NASB
- Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”— Luke 7:12-13, NASB
- But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. — Luke 10:33, ESV
- And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. — Luke 15:20, ESV
Every time, Jesus:
- Saw something
- Felt something
- Did something
We are bombarded with need, probably more than at any other time, because of social medial and a 24-hour news cycle. And it’s dangerous. Because we need a little bit of a thick skin to just survive life—you can’t get devastated every time someone criticizes you—but you cannot develop callouses. We see need, but we don’t feel anymore.
What is Compassion?
Compassion, in the Greek and Hebrew of scripture, means:
- To be moved in the inward parts
- To feelsomething
- The inner parts, the womb, something is felt and something is being birthed
The Harvard Graduate School of Education asked 10,000 teenagers what was most important to them: achieving at a high level, happiness, or caring for others. 20% chose caring for other people. But when we choose to care for others, we get the other two as well!
Compassion is the recognition of another’s suffering; a desire to alleviate that suffering with a subsequent action to help.
Three Tools for Being More Compassionate
We have three resources to help us demonstrate compassion.
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. — Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV
Show me two documents and I’ll show you where your priorities are: (1) your calendar and (2) your checkbook.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:21, ESV
We think this verse is descriptive, and it probably is, but it’s also prescriptive. If you want a great heart for something, start investing in it. If you don’t have a heart for missions, but you want to, start investing in missionaries. If you don’t have a heart for your local church, but you know you should, start investing.
We pray, “Got, let my heart break for what breaks yours.” Your heart will follow your treasure.
Your talents are your natural and your spiritual gifts.
You don’t have a lot of treasure? Neither did Peter:
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” — Acts 3:6, ESV
Your talent is God’s gift for you to give back to God by using it to bless and heal and save other people.
And there is no Christian who doesn’t have something to give.
Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well. — 1 Peter 4:10, CEV
See, Feel, Help
We have to be able to translate the sermon on the mount to the compassion on the ground.
And God never asks us to do anything he hasn’t already done himself. He saw you; he felt compassion for you; he helped.
We want to have a great, mountaintop experience every Sunday morning in the presence of God, but we have to be able to bring it down the mountain every Monday too.
Photo cred: Luca Bravo