Date: 30 Oct 2016
Text: Luke 22:31-38
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the prophecy in Isaiah 52 & 53 of what was going to happen to Jesus, this man of sorrows; this suffering servant sent by God to pay the price for our sins. I pointed out then just how amazing it was that so much of the prophecy in Isaiah 52 & 53 was fulfilled over 700 years later. We move on this morning to look at a few verses in Luke 22 & 23; verses which describe in detail the actual fulfilment of so many of those prophecies. These two chapters in Luke contain long descriptions of the events of the last hours before Jesus’ crucifixion, and so I am just going to pick out a few verses that demonstrate that Jesus truly was a compassionate Saviour.
Luke gives us very full details of the events from the moment that Jesus organised the Passover meal that became known as the Last Supper right up to the time He died on the Cross. Scattered within those verses are a number of mentions of the amazing compassion that Jesus showed as events unfolded and it is those events that I intend to focus on.
Jesus and Compassion
Whilst I want to concentrate this morning on the compassion that Jesus showed during those crucial final hours of His earthly life, I want to start by highlighting a few of the occasions in the New Testament that also mention Jesus showing compassion.
In Matthew 9:35-38 we read of Jesus going out and about preaching, teaching and healing people. On that occasion He looked down on the vast crowd in front of Him and “had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Later, in Matthew 14 and Matthew 15 we can read the stories of the feeding of the 5000 and then the feeding of the 4000. In Matthew 14:14b we read that Jesus saw the crowd and “had compassion on them and healed their sick”. In Matthew 15:32 Jesus once again looked at the vast crowd and said to His disciples, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." Showing compassion formed a major part of Jesus’ earthly ministry and He always demonstrated that compassion by taking action to help the people He came to save.
Each of those three incidents that I have just highlighted happened as Jesus went about His regular ministry. The compassion that I want to focus on next was displayed at a time when Jesus was under great pressure and stress and goes to show just how compassionate a Saviour He truly was.
The Last Supper
At the time of the Passover it was traditional for people to replicate the meal that their ancestors had had shortly before God passed over Egypt killing all the first born males and animals. In accordance with this tradition, Jesus sent two of His disciples, Peter and John, to go on ahead and make the arrangements for the Passover meal. Neither of these two had any idea of what was going to happen that evening although Jesus most certainly did. They thought that they were all going to get together and celebrate the Passover as usual; no doubt they were in a jolly mood and were looking forward to a good evening of thanks and celebration for all that God had done in the Passover. However, both the mood and the events changed as the evening wore on. When Jesus sat down with His 12 disciples He knew that Judas would betray Him at some stage during the coming hours. Jesus also knew that Peter would deny Him three times.
When we think of the influence of Satan on all that happened that evening; we normally only think of Judas being led astray. Luke records that “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve” (Luke 22:3). It was Satan who was at work in Judas and it was Satan who led Judas to do a deal with the authorities to betray Jesus. Now we read in Luke 22:31 that Satan was also trying to lead Peter astray; the enemy never gives up! Notice though the compassion that Jesus showed towards Peter. Luke tells us that Jesus knew this was happening and yet said to Peter, “I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32a). At no time do we read of Jesus raising His voice or getting angry with any of His disciples and certainly not with Peter. Jesus also told Peter that he would betray His Lord three times, something which, of course, Peter vehemently denied would ever happen! We all know that subsequent events proved Jesus to be right!
Having held their Passover meal and having been instructed in the holding of what we know as the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and His disciples left the meal and went to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives so that Jesus could pray. This gave Judas the opportunity he had been waiting for; the Garden was the perfect place for Him to betray Jesus. When they got to the Garden, Jesus went off by Himself to pray and told His disciples to stay alert. Despite that request, they fell asleep! Jesus was understandably upset with them for falling asleep when He had only gone to pray for an hour; but although He was no doubt annoyed Jesus didn’t get angry.
It was at this time that the guards arrived and Judas betrayed Him. Jesus went quietly but not before someone had cut off a guard’s ear. Something which obviously annoyed Jesus as it was not what He wanted to happen; notice though that once again He showed compassion by healing the guard; He could have laughed at the irony or just turned His back but He didn’t, He healed the injured man and then went quietly. Imagine the pressure that Jesus was under; He knew what was coming; He knew that He was to be hung on a Cross and suffer excruciating pain as He hung there to die; and yet, He was still able to show compassion towards the guard. I’m sure that in a similar pressured situation the vast majority of us would only have thoughts for our own wellbeing.
Following His arrest, Jesus was led away by the guards to appear before the High Priest. Luke helpfully points out that “Peter followed at a distance” (Luke 22:54b). When they got to the High Priest’s house there were a few people waiting in the courtyard and since it was late at night and very cold, they lit a fire. Peter sat down with them and tried to get warm. It was at this point that a servant girl recognised him and challenged him by saying, “this man was with Him [that is, Jesus]” (Luke 22:56b). Peter immediately denied that he knew Jesus; that was the first denial. A little later someone else recognised Peter and challenged him; once again Peter denied that he knew Jesus; that was the second denial. About an hour later a third person challenged Peter and once again Peter denied knowing Jesus; that was the third denial! Just as Peter had uttered those fateful words, the cock crowed. Jesus’ prophecy had been fulfilled. Jesus was obviously within earshot of this last conversation since Luke tells us that as the cock crowed “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). I wonder what sort of look it was! When Jesus was under pressure He showed compassion for others. Sadly, when Peter was under pressure his only concern was for his own welfare. If someone you regarded as a good and faithful friend betrayed you, what kind of look would you give them? Would it be a look of anger, a look of bewilderment or a look of love and understanding? Remember that Peter had denied knowing Jesus not once, not twice but three times. As frequently happens, the English language doesn’t do justice to a word and the NIV simply says that Jesus “turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). The Greek word that is used for look usually signifies a look of interest, love or concern and I can imagine Jesus feeling all three of those emotions as He looked Peter in the eye. That look though had a profound effect on Peter as he remembered what Jesus had said to him and “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62b).
Following His arrest and before being taken before the Pharisees to be charged with blasphemy, Jesus was badly beaten and abused by the guards. At no point did Jesus complain, as Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth”. When He was finally taken before the chief priests and the teachers of the law, Jesus answered their questions briefly but offered no details or explanation. No doubt exasperated by His attitude, these people sent Him to Pilate and Herod. Pilate of course could find nothing wrong whilst Herod had always wanted to ‘get Him’ and, having found nothing concrete to charge Him with resorted to ridiculing and mocking Him. Still Jesus stayed calm. He was taken back to Pilate who wanted to release Him although when he asked the people what he should do they demanded that he release the murderer and terrorist Barabbas rather than Jesus. The compassionate Saviour was to be executed whilst a murderer and terrorist was to be released.
No sooner had Pilate reached his decision than Jesus was led away to be executed. Luke tells us that Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus as our Saviour walked slowly to His death. It is the little details that Luke provides that I find fascinating. Luke tells us in Luke 23:27-29 a little about the women who followed Jesus on His final walk. They were weeping and wailing as Jesus turned and spoke to them. Once again He was more concerned for the women than for Himself. His compassion shines through as Jesus spoke to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and your children” (Luke 23:28). That doesn’t strike me as being the comment of someone Who was so self-centred that He wasn’t worried about anyone else but of someone Whose major concern was only for those He would be leaving behind.
As the execution of Jesus reached its climax Jesus remained silent. The soldiers continued to mock Him; they cast lots for His clothes; they fashioned a crown of thorns and rammed it on His head causing yet more pain; and finally they nailed a notice to the cross above His head. They nailed Jesus to the Cross and no doubt some of those involved thoroughly enjoyed doing it. It is in the final throes of the death of Jesus that the four gospels vary slightly. Mark tells us in Mark 15:34 that Jesus cried out in His anguish, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” which is a direct quote from Psalm 22:1. That is the only time that I can detect any concern that Jesus had for Himself and I think that at that very moment it was justified. When we turn to John’s gospel we find that when offered the wine vinegar, Jesus took a drink although Luke says nothing about that incident. It is after that that Jesus took His final breath and gasped “It is finished” (John 19:20); the work that God had sent His Son to carry out had been completed and Jesus could now return to be with His Father; nothing more needed to be done for millions to be saved.
Jesus was crucified with two thieves, on crosses on each side of His. One of these thieves joined in the mocking, after all he had nothing to lose; or did he? The other thief though showed a bit more understanding and asked Jesus to remember him “when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus could have laughed at him; He could have mocked Him; He could have ignored him. But He didn’t; Jesus was full of compassion for this dying thief and told him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). I don’t know about you but I find those to be wonderful words of assurance at a crucial moment; and at that crucial moment Jesus showed once again that He was more concerned for others than for Himself.
The exact sequence of what Jesus said and when always appears to me to be a bit cloudy and I’ve struggled to understand the precise sequence of everything that Jesus said as He hung dying on the Cross. The problem is that there is no single definitive list of what Jesus said and so we have to try and work things out for ourselves, which is why I suspect that possibly the last but one utterance from Jesus came as He gazed at the crowd watching Him die. As He hung there in agony, Jesus looked down and prayerfully uttered those wonderful words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In those few words Jesus’ compassion for God’s people shines through once again.
I find this whole story of the final hours of Jesus’ earthly life to be so moving and so emotive that I’m almost left speechless. In these verses in Luke 22 & 23 we have followed Jesus in His final hours and walked with Him from His Last Supper to His last words. In between those two momentous events Jesus suffered greatly. However, throughout His suffering Jesus showed nothing but compassion for those around Him. He healed the guard whose ear had been cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane; He prayed for Peter even though He knew that Peter would let Him down; He gave Peter a loving yet concerned look as He was led away to face His mock trial; He showed compassion for the women He passed as He headed to Golgotha; He showed compassion towards one of the thieves who was crucified with Him; finally He showed compassion towards those in the crowd who only hours earlier had bayed for His blood.
As He hung there dying Jesus made a promise to one of the thieves hanging next to Him. That promise has been kept and we can be assured that the thief who in his own, perhaps strange, way acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, is now with Him in paradise.
When Jesus said with His final breath, “it is finished”, He meant that the work needed to bring salvation to the world had been completed. His heavenly Father had given Jesus a task, a task that was completed on that Cross of Calvary. This Man of suffering Who Isaiah spoke of in Isaiah 53:3 suffers no more; He is sat at the right hand of God in heaven and one day, sooner or later, all those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour will see Him.
Jesus died as the compassionate Saviour and He is holding His hand out to welcome all those who don’t yet know Him to come to faith in Him; to accept that He died to pay the price for their sins and become members of His family.