Today we find that God is the Lord of compassion. In Isaiah, where we’ve been studying prophecy, we find Isaiah 61 and its description of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He was sent by the “Spirit of the Lord” and because of that, we see a prominent aspect of the Lord’s nature that applies to every one of us.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
This is the prophecy that Jesus read aloud, in his hometown synagogue, and then sat down and said that He was the fulfillment of that prophecy.
But you know what’s interesting?
He didn’t read all of what we read this morning.
He stopped his reading with the words “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. We’ll get to why in a few minutes.
Here’s what I want you to remember from this message today:
God is the Lord of compassion.
I felt it dramatically for myself when I was walking around Beijing city with some friends years ago. It was a busy morning; cars were beeping and filling the streets, bicycles, motorbikes, really busy. In big cities, where there’s a big street, they’ve constructed flyovers – bridges that people can use to cross the street. It’s too dangerous otherwise! So I went up the steps of the flyover on one side of the street and the stairs ended at the walking ramp. I looked to my right and there was an older woman in worn clothes sitting on a blanket with a small child also dressed in worn clothes, begging. Inside me, by the Holy Spirit, God’s compassion rose up in me. It surprised me. I burst into tears, looked away and walked away, but for a moment I felt it…compassion.
Let’s go through the prophecy piece by piece.
First, notice the agent of this ministry to people. “The Spirit of the Lord God”.
We often get hung up with the objects of compassion: the poor, etc. But the most important takeaway you can have from this prophecy is that the things described here are what God wants to do.
What is God’s nature? Many faceted, for sure.
God’s nature is to do for the humble and broken that which they cannot do for themselves. The impossible done for the undeserving out of pure compassion.
Now why do I say that He does this for the humble?
Because every specific category of human condition listed next refers to a person humbled by their situation in life. He tells us that He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Jesus was sent to preach or proclaim good news to the Poor. The Hebrew word here literally means “the afflicted”. That is, people that are afflicted with something like a disease, a condition, abuse… in other words, they have been whipped by something.
Again, years ago, but in Rochester this time, our previous pastor and I went to visit an elder who had landed in a rehab facility in Brighton. When we went there I expected it to be like a hospital, and in some ways it was, but that quickly faded when I got inside. Once we signed in, we turned a corner and there were a number of people in wheelchairs in various states of health. But just as we got to the elevator, the doors opened and a nurse was wheeling out a patient in a wheelchair. I stopped breathing. His face was so awful looking, grossly distorted, burned in an accident or something like that. Once again the compassion of the Lord rose up in me and as we stepped into the elevator ourselves, I was grateful that I was able to hold it in until the doors closed. I couldn’t control myself. That man was afflicted.
You don’t need an outward affliction to be afflicted. Many have been whipped by life in other ways. However, the compassion of the Lord is specifically directed to the afflicted poor.
Jesus was sent to heal the brokenhearted. Again, it’s insightful to know what the Hebrew words behind brokenhearted are. Heart here refers to the deepest part of you; the central part of your being. It’s there, but so many have lost touch with that deepest part because of the first part of that word brokenhearted.
Broken here means tattered and shattered. That word is used in another part of the Bible to refer to ships ruined by storms. Picture an old style vessel, shattered by wind and wave. Hearts can be broken, and are broken like that. Just talk to someone who’s been through a messy divorce.
Jesus was also sent to the captives.
Ever say, I wish I could be as free as I was when I was a child? What happened in between? This Hebrew word refers to those who are bound, like a horse to a plow. Doing something, being somewhere where you don’t want to be but you must and you can’t get away. Like a prison.
Have you ever visited someone in prison? I hear there are some men who do want to stay. I’ve never met a man who wanted to stay there, unless being out was more of a prison than being in one.
To all of those, God says I proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
What was that? It actually referred to a specific, special year in Jewish Law. Every 50 years there was a Year of Jubilee. In that year, debts were forgiven. Lands were restored. Servants were released, all of them. How many of you would think that there would be a lot of happiness in restored families and individuals? But there was a class of people who didn’t like the year of Jubilee. Who do you think they were? Yeah the rich, and specifically the rich who thought they were all that and then some; those who didn’t allow themselves to be broken by God’s compassion.
Jesus stopped at the year of Jubilee because that was what He did in His first coming. His next coming will be the day of vengeance, judgment.
So what should you take home from this?
God is the Lord of compassion.
He has compassion for me, and it’s released when I humble myself, rich or poor in this world’s goods.
He has compassion for others in the same way. I am most likely the agent He wants to use because if this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and we are His body on earth, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us as well.
God is the Lord of compassion.