Knowing God is the focus of this year’s Chariots of Fire. Recently, the story of Lazarus’s resurrection caught my attention. I think you’ll be encouraged, as I have been, as you consider the shortest verse of Scripture in the entire Bible, “Jesus wept,” which exemplifies something we need to know about our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
But go and learn what this means: I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matt. 9:13).
Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:32-36).
God Desires to Show Compassion
It is important to understand that God desires to show compassion to His creatures rather than to reward their self-righteous efforts. If our primary focus is on obeying God instead of knowing God, we become more attentive to His law than to His Spirit. The shift from gratefully receiving His mercy to dutifully fulfilling our obligations (God’s requirements) is usually so subtle that we don’t even realize it has happened. You might ask yourself if your thoughts are filled with what is “acceptable,” or “right.” Such language frequently spoken to ourselves, our children, or others may indicate that we have stopped concentrating on God’s mercy and have fallen into the trap of religious performance. In time, we may forget that God desires to have mercy on us and find ourselves trapped in a miserable life of religious performance, fear of failure and rejection, and impatience with ourselves and others. We may find ourselves also requiring from others the same kind of performance that we demand of ourselves, expecting them to express uniformity with our beliefs and compliance with our views before we will accept and love them.
This is a very dangerous posture, because it is completely unlike our Father and all the ways that Jesus made Him known to us. The passage above from John 11 can help to restore our focus on God’s mercy toward His creatures, including ourselves, and especially ones who are hurting. Jesus’ ministry to Mary in the midst of her tremendous loss of her brother Lazarus, and her emotional pain, sorrow, and disappointment that followed his death, helps us know our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, more personally.
Mark this: If you know that God is pleased to show compassion to those who suffer and are afflicted, then you will abide in Christ so that you can please the Father by displaying His compassion toward others (not to mention toward yourself). You will be less concerned about whether they deserve mercy, less judgmental towards them for the suffering they are enduring, and more compassionate toward them because your attention will be on the mercy you have received and on your certainty that God delights to show mercy. The story of Jesus’ tender mercy toward Mary and Martha before He raised Lazarus from death is a beautiful illustration of God’s heart.
God Will Orchestrate Circumstances For You to Show Compassion
Jesus knew the Father had heard His prayer to glorify His name and raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:4, 15). Just before calling Lazarus out of the tomb, Jesus spoke to His Father, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me” (John 11:41-42). That’s why Jesus told Martha that if “she would believe she would see the glory of God” (verse 40).
Jesus wanted everyone to know that God, the Father, hears Him when He prays and He loves to glorify Himself through His Son. Do you realize how important this is for you to plug this permanently into your thinking and living? Jesus knew what His Father was doing as He delayed Jesus from responding when He first heard that Lazarus was sick. It’s easy to see God’s glory in a dead man being raised to life, but I don’t want you to miss the significance of Jesus’ weeping with Mary, Martha, and their friends.
Let’s remember this great truth: Jesus’ actions reveal the Father’s heart and will. A few days after the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Jesus knew that His Father desires to show compassion (pity, mercy) on the afflicted. So when He saw Mary’s pain, He entered into it with her. Jesus wept. What catches my attention in this story is that He knew what His Father was about to do. He had the perfect solution to Mary’s problem in His mind and was confident of what was going to occur, yet He wept with her.
Perhaps a contrast might best illustrate what I wish to emphasize. As I think about my natural response to the problems of others, I’m convicted by Jesus’ compassion. In contrast to Jesus’ expression of His Father’s compassion, my natural response with others’ problems is to jump right to the solution. I want to fix the problem to show them that I know what to do or what truth to apply. I want them to know that I hear God and can help them with the problem. But that’s not what Jesus did. Because He knew that His Father had orchestrated the events and that He loves to show compassion, when Mary came in tears of disappointment and loss to meet Jesus, He viewed that moment as an opportunity to reveal His Father’s compassion before He revealed His Father’s power. He expressed the compassion of God by entering into Mary’s love for Lazarus, which was expressed in a flood of tears. Mary wept out of love for her brother, and so did Jesus. In fact, that’s exactly how her closest companions interpreted his tears. “See how He loved him!” I’m sure Mary also felt understood and loved.
Showing Compassion Reveals that You Heard Them
He demonstrated His love for her by showing that He had heard her heart, her pain, and her disappointment. He wanted her to know that God had heard her and felt it with her. When you are separated by death from someone you love, you hurt—if you are human. Jesus’ weeping revealed the union of divinity and humanity within His being. We learn from Jesus what Spirit-filled humanity looks like when God brings people into our paths who are afflicted and needy. He did not demand that Mary perform up to His expectations of what “godly faith” looks like in grief. Similarly, when we encounter hurting or afflicted people, we first must let them know that we hear them and have comprehended the incredible challenge, grief, disappointment, and suffering they are experiencing. To do anything before expressing compassion reveals that (as yet) we don’t really know by experiential revelation this aspect of God’s character and are only concerned about our own agendas or showing our own rightness and wisdom (which of course is pride).
One of the takeaways from this story is this: When God puts people in your path who are afflicted by weakness, sickness, loss, or disability, the Father intends for you to show that you know Him through Jesus Christ by first letting them know you have heard them and feel with them in the situation in which God has placed them. Before you say or do anything, even if you think you know what should be done, you can please the Father by asking for help to show His compassion. You might pray that the person will experience your love as you identify with them.
Although this isn’t the situation in the passage, showing compassion to someone who is trapped in sin is just as important. However, true godly compassion doesn’t tolerate the sin or addiction, but instead calls the person to repent and flee from the sin. Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery, but He also told her to “sin no more.”
Show That You Know God and Have Heard Him
After showing Mary that He had heard her grief, Jesus then proceeded to show her that His Father had also revealed how He was to minister to her. For His Father’s glory, and so everyone would know that God was with Him and that He had been sent by God as “the resurrection and the life,” Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!”
How should this story impact our lives? After showing a troubled person that we have heard their affliction and have identified with them, we should then seek God’s help to know how He wants us to minister to them for His glory. We should seek to get in touch with Jesus’ intercession on their behalf so we can pray accordingly. This occurs through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name,” and we can have assurance that our Father hears Jesus’ intercession. This gives us confidence to speak and act. Until we know by faith that we are expressing His life and love, we should remain silent and wait upon the Lord. He may not want us to do anything else but show His compassion. Once we have heard from Him and have verified the harmony of what we’ve heard with what is revealed in God’s Word, we then may move into action or speak.
This demonstration suggestion is different from previous ones, which were designed to use in family devotion time. Instead, this is designed as a lifestyle demonstration. The next time God puts your spouse, child, or another person in your path who is hurting, grieving, troubled, or suffering affliction, consider it an opportunity to demonstrate that you know God’s heart and that you desire to show compassion by listening to them and entering into their thoughts and feelings.
Ask the Lord Jesus to express His compassion through you. Listen. Consider their plight, put yourself into their shoes, and let them know that you understand how difficult it is for them. I suggest you make statements that communicate that you understand what they are going through. Statements such as, “It must be very difficult to …” or “I can see how hard it must be to suffer as you have” can be effective. You might also ask questions until you know that you understand them. Helpful questions might be: “How do you feel in this situation? What are you afraid of? Would you help me understand what you are thinking and feeling right now?”
Once you know you have entered into their situation with them, then ask God how you can know His presence and bring His presence into the circumstance or relationship. Listen again. Run what comes to mind through the filter of God’s Word and the character of God revealed in His Word. Perhaps you might ask if they would like for you to pray for them. Then, if you have faith that God has revealed how you might minister to them, speak or act accordingly, and help them to move from what they think and feel to what God thinks and is doing.
I encourage you to watch what God does in and through you, as well as in the other person. Learn what you can about God, your relationship with Him, and how you relate to others in His name. In this way, you are fanning the flame of eternal life within you, which is “knowing God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). That is the purpose of life, as well as of the Chariot of Fire articles this year.