First impressions are said to last a life time. For the Christian, this is not true. When I meet a young Christian, I know he will be different and more mature next year. God conforms people to be in his image (2 Corinthians 3:18). A 40 year old Christian will look more like Christ than a brand new (6 week old) Christian (time references the new birth, not natural here). This is a life-long process in one sense. The Lord teaches me something, shapes my thinking, changes my actions, and matures me to be more like Him (Hebrews 5:14). But even unbelievers mature. I have few friends who are the same as when he was in high school. Jobs, children, cancer, death, and life will help change people.
But God’s first impressions really do not change. The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His character is the same. I love it. I love knowing the God Moses encountered is the same God I encounter. I love knowing the same Jesus Peter knew, I have a relationship with. (Btw, maybe we should talk more about how a relationship with Jesus is personal. I know Him! I wish sometimes I was excited about knowing Jesus as Buddy is in Elf about knowing Santa personally). My grandchildren will know the same Christ I do. I love knowing the Lord is faithful and responds to my forgiveness requests the same way He does in Scripture. How encouraging to know His love is loyal (Scripture uses “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness” to describe this love).
So how does the Lord introduce Himself to His people? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Yes!! Of course! He introduces Himself as the creator. He is the sovereign creator of the universe. He owns it. But focus the question in more. How does God introduce Himself personally to people? God gives us many accounts showing us how He personally revealed Himself. God fills OT revelation with personal stories about how He introduces or reveals himself (I will use the two interchangeably).
Remember when Moses asks the Lord to see Him? Exodus 33:18, “I pray you, Show me your glory!” He wants to see His face. The Lord’s answer tells us He understands the nature of Moses’s question. God replies,
“I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen” (33:19-23).
Later the Lord fulfills His promise and reveals Himself to Moses. I think there is something to observe here. Everything the Lord can tell Moses (and us) about Himself, He picks some very specific characteristics. A student of God will note, His revelation is not exhaustive here regarding His character. But the Lord isn’t trying to be exhaustive. He wants to be specific and communicate a message. Here, the Lord speaks His revelation.
“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. 9 He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession” (Exodus 34:6-9).
What is the first thing the Lord tells us about Himself? He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loyal love and truth, and forgiving of sins. WOW! . . . WOW!! . . . WOW!! (Look, if that doesn’t wow you, pray for your soul and ask why not?) The Lord is compassionate! This means He understands our plight and circumstances and looks upon us with sympathy, empathy, and the desire to serve us in our need. Do we have need? Of course! We are blind sinners who need help and rescued from myself. The Lord knows this and He rescues us from our pride and self-worship because He is compassionate! WOW!
This isn’t the only time God reveals Himself compassionate to a person (or group). Fast forward to Matthew 15:29-39. When Jesus encounters the crowd of Gentiles in a Gentile district, He reveals Himself as compassionate, gracious, loyal to love, and forgiving.
Now, I’ll admit, as I approached preaching this text I asked the Lord in prayer, “Am I really about to preach a text I’ve already preached before? Lord, haven’t we already covered this material?” If you’re a student to Matthew, nothing in 15:29-39 is new to the Gospel. These pericopes can be broken down into two stories. Jesus heals (15:29-31) and Jesus feeds four thousand (15:32-39). Well, Jesus healed the lame, blind, mute, and deaf earlier. In fact, the language matches Jesus’s answer to John in Matthew 11:4-6. Then, Matthew tells us He healed the crowds in 14:34-36. Feed a large crowd with a small amount of bread and fish? BINGO! We can cross that off in 14:13-20. “God did you inspire Matthew to wordiness repetition? We already know this!”
By the time we get to these stories in 15:29-39 we know these events are miracles only God in the flesh can do. This is slam dunk Jesus, the Christ, miracles. So what is the difference? For this we need to focus less on the red letter and read the black text. Jesus ministers to the Gentiles. Oh, I know. This is not earth shattering to us in the 21st Century. The church is filled with Gentiles. But to the 1st Century faithful Israelite, this is scandalous. How preposterous to think the Lord of Israel would care about any nation outside of Israel. The student of Scripture will not be shocked by this revelation. But the Lord had become a sign of nationalism to His people Israel. So for them, true worship required being a natural born citizen. But here is the Lord in the flesh, ministering, loving, and serving these dirty, rotten, stinky, SINFUL foreigners.
Now, put yourself in the Gentile’s shoes. You know nationalistic Israel thinks God shares in their nationalism. So, you hear Jesus is coming to town. Can this be good? Can He love us like He loves Israel? I’m not sure what drew the crowd, but I’d guess His ability to heal men born crippled in ways that makes them look brand new was a pretty cool show. I mean, Vegas has shows, right!?! We pay MILLIONS for Celine Dion. But Celine has nothing on this man that can heal blind, deaf, and mute as if she was never any of those! On the one hand you have to be skeptical of your ability to associate with Israel’s Messiah. Yet, even Gentiles are poor in Spirit and want grace, mercy, and compassion. So, on the other hand, you go to see. What is He going to be like? Is He what the stories say about Him? Will He be gracious?
Answer: Yes. How does He reveal Himself to them? Read the story in Matthew 15:29-39. He heals those He isn’t supposed to associate with. He shows compassion to the dirty, stinky, anti-god, idol worshipper Gentiles. He ministers to people we aren’t supposed to realize exist. “They are dead to us.” an Israelite might say. He ministers. They came with lame, deaf, crippled, blind, and mute. They laid them at His feet. He looked upon them with compassion, seeing their needs. He spent time with each of them, diagnosing the problem. And He healed them. All of them.
He was there three days. We gather from the text He also taught them, “sitting” being the position of teaching. What did He teach them? I’d argue a sermon like the Sermon on the Mount. He told all of them, the poor in Spirit are blessed and will find forgiveness in Him. They will find compassion from Him.
Now, what did they see when they first encountered Jesus? What was God’s first impression for the Gentiles? Compassion. Before the crowds departed, they were hungry and far from home. So that they wouldn’t faint on the way home, Jesus wanted to feed them. He looked upon their disposition and had compassion, “I feel compassion for the people” (15:32).
What first impression did Jesus make on them? What was the best foot He put forward? Compassion. Remember Moses? What was the first revelation? Compassion. God showed both crowds compassion, grace, patience (slow to anger), lovingkindness, truth, and forgiveness. So when God reveals Himself to His people, He likes to show them compassion.
What say you? When you put God forward in evangelism, your life, actions, and character. Which attributes do you put forward? May I suggest we can learn something from Christ? Maybe standing for truth (something we should do) isn’t as important as putting forth God’s compassion for the lost? What do we know about the kind of people God calls into eternal life? Each of us is poor in Spirit. We know we are bankrupt before God and need Him. We need, desire, and yearn for His compassion. Perhaps a compassionate act and word should be ready from us?
Think about it. How did the Lord draw you to repentance? Was it smashing your view of Climate change? Evolution? Hymns? Joel Osteen? No. It was simple. He showed you kindness, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). How did Jesus draw the Gentiles? Compassion, kindness, and the Gospel. Perhaps there is a lesson in His first impressions for us too?