Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Zechariah’s Hymn, Day 8

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says when a woman becomes a mother, a special bond is formed.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There’s just something in that mother’s heart that just loves that child, that yearns with compassion. Do you moms know what I’m talking about? That is the heart of God—the tender mercy of God. That’s the kind of compassion God has toward His people.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Wednesday, December 23, 2015.

It’s well known that charitable giving goes up during the Christmas season. What is it that makes people more generous and more compassionate at Christmas time? Maybe we’re all just responding to the incredible compassion of God that we see in the gift He gave us. Nancy’s going to reflect on that compassion as she continues in a series called "Zechariah's Hymn."

Nancy: We come today in our study of Zechariah’s hymn, Zechariah’s benediction or blessing in Luke chapter 1. We come to one of my very favorite phrases and one that has come to mean a whole lot more to me since I’ve been involved in this study.

You remember that the scene here is the birth of John the Baptist. He wasn’t called “the Baptist” then, but we came to call him that later; but the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah is blessing the Lord for visiting and redeeming His people in the form of Christ, who was soon to be born, and then looked at his eight-day-old son John and said, “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76–77). 

Then we come to verse 78, “because of the tender mercy of our God.” Now this is the first place in the gospels where this word appears. Actually, it’s a combination of two words. It’s a compound word: tender-mercy. It sounds like something very gentle like just a nursing mom rocking her child to sleep. Just tender and gentle—that’s the image I first had when I began to study this passage.

But in fact, the concept here as you dig into the background on these words is a very intense concept that I hope I can convey to you in a way that will always make you think differently of this phrase when you see it in the future. It’s a combination of two words.

I don’t want to bog you down with Greek lessons here, but the word mercy is one word. Then the word tender is the word splanchnon in the Greek: s-p-l-a-n-c-h-n-o-n. It’s a word, the root of it from which we ultimately get our word spleen. It’s an inner part.

The King James Version of the Bible actually translates this phrase when it appears in a way that’s kind of unseemly. We don’t have it in our more modern translations. Do you remember what it says in this passage? It talks about bowels of mercy. Do you remember reading that—maybe when you were a kid—and thinking, “What are bowels of mercy?” I mean that just sounds like something you don’t say in public.

But that’s actually a really literal translation of this concept. The mercy of God—God’s mercy which is referred to five times in Luke chapter one; twenty-seven times in the New Testament—God’s mercy that is extended to alleviate the misery caused by sin. But what kind of mercy is it?

It’s tender mercy. And that word splanchnon, tender mercy, splanchnon mercy is often translated “affection; compassionate.” It refers to the inner parts of the body. You see, the Hebrews in those days thought of the heart, the emotions, as being the innermost part of you, the part that feels most deeply.

So it is what we would call the bowels. It’s something that’s deep down under the surface. It’s buried. It’s what a mother feels for a child that might be in danger or might be hurting or might be sick or needy. It’s this mother’s heart.

In fact, I said to someone the other day, “You know, I think mothers probably understand as well or better than anyone because they have this intense feeling for their children. Even those women who didn’t think they ever wanted to be moms or didn’t think they’d ever be a good mom or weren’t natural with children, didn’t like babysitting other people’s children, when they get their own child there’s something in that mother’s heart that just loves that child, that yearns with compassion."

Do you moms know what I’m talking about? That is the heart of God, the tender mercy of God. That’s the kind of compassion God has toward His people. That’s what motivates God to forgive our sins. That’s the context of this passage—to give knowledge to salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins because of the splanchnon, the deep-seated, tender yearning with compassion of God toward His people.

It motivates God to not only see our need, but to do something about it. You see, our sins never could have been forgiven by God’s justice, so God extended mercy. And it wasn’t just mercy. It was tender-hearted, deeply felt compassion and affection and mercy toward us as sinners.

Our sins never could have been forgiven by God’s justice, so God extended mercy.

Now God displayed that kind of affection and compassion toward us. So when Jesus came to earth, He is the exact likeness and image of God. He was the Son of God in the flesh. And it’s to be expected that Jesus would have displayed that same kind of affection and compassion and yearning toward needy people. That’s what you see all through the gospels.

I’m amazed at how many instances there are. Let me share several with you. For example, in Luke chapter 7—we referred to this passage earlier in the series. The widow whose son had just died? Jesus had come upon the funeral procession. And it says in the NIV, it’s translated “his heart went out to her” (v. 13). 

He was moved with compassion. He had tender mercy toward this woman. In Matthew chapter 14 we read just following the incident where John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. The disciples came and told Jesus. "And when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds saw it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore . . .” (vv. 13–14).

Now he had gone to grieve, to be alone with His heavenly Father, mourning the death, the martyrdom of His cousin, John. But He gets on shore and there’s this crowd that had followed Him there, and what did He do? He had compassion on them—splanchnon. 

So what did He do for them? “He saw their need, and he healed their sick” (v. 14). That splanchnon, that compassion, that mercy of God made Him sensitive to our needs and our affliction. The splanchnon, the tender mercy of God always moves Him to do something about our need.

You see the same concept in Matthew chapter 15—just a chapter later—where the crowds came to Him and they brought the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at His feet and He healed them.

Then verse 32, “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 had nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’”

So Jesus had this splanchnon, this deep-seated bowels of mercy, compassion toward this hungry crowd. So what did He do? He made lunch. He took the loaves and fishes and fed that five thousand. He did something about their need. 

You see in Matthew chapter 20, two blind men sitting by the roadside outside of Jericho. They heard Jesus passing by and the cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us” (v. 30). And Jesus stopped and called them—these blind men. He said, “What do you want me to do?” They said, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened” (v. 34 paraphrased). Moved with compassion, splanchnon, bowels of mercy, intense inner affection. Jesus did something.

What did He do? He touched their eyes and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

In Mark chapter 1 you see a leper who came to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him, beseeching Him saying, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean” (v. 40 paraphrased). Moved with compassion, splanchnon, tender mercy, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched the unclean man and said, “I am willing, be cleansed" (v. 41 paraphrased). 

You see it in the story that Jesus told in Luke 10 about a man going down to Jericho. He fell among robbers who stripped Him and beat Him and departed leaving Him half dead; how a Levite and a priest passed by that way. They saw the man, but they just kept right on going.

Then there was a Samaritan who as he journeyed came to where this poor man was. When he saw him, he had splanchnon; he had compassion; he was moved with compassion.

"He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him up on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him (v. 35). Now the passage goes on to refer to the Samaritan, the Good Samaritan, as the one who showed him mercy. It’s the same two words that we see in Luke 1—the tender mercy of our God.

You see it in the heart of the father of the prodigal son. When his son comes back, repentant, his father saw him when he was still a long way off. He felt compassion, splanchnon.

And what did he do? He ran; he embraced him; he kissed him; he restored him. He did something about the miserable condition that his prodigal son was in.

So we see that Jesus came to this earth and all the time, everywhere He went—with crowds, with individuals, with lepers, with blind people, with prostitutes, with anybody who had a need—He had splanchnon, tender mercy, compassion, intense affection, a heart full of tender mercy.

It was the heart of God toward the afflicted, toward the needy, and toward the sinful. It was the heart that moved Him to do something about the condition.

The apostle Paul, as we move into the New Testament, having experienced for himself the tender mercy of God in forgiving him of his sins, he yearned for others with the same splanchnon, the tender mercy, the affection of Jesus Christ. You see this coming out in his letters.

Remember Philippians 1, verse 8 where Paul says to the Philippian believers, “How I yearn for you all with the affection . . .”—the splanchnon, the King James there says the bowels. “I yearn for you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

We are called to have that same tender-hearted mercy, that intense compassion and yearning and affection toward others around us who have need.

That’s what you read in Colossians chapter 3, verse 12, “As those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved [those, I might add who have received the tender mercy of God, what are we to do?], put on a heart of compassion.” Put on splanchnon; put on tender affection—tender mercies one translation says. Again, I go back to the King James—bowels of mercies. Same phrase here.

God has it; Jesus demonstrated it. Now that you have received the tender mercy of God, you demonstrate it to others. Now, I just want to emphasize that the splanchnon of God always results in some action.

It’s not just something you feel. It moves you to do something about the need of the person who is in the distress, the person who is afflicted. The splanchnon of God, the splanchnon of Christ motivates them to do whatever is necessary to meet the need.

So you have compassion on the hungry crowd? You feed them. You have a bereft widow? You comfort her and give her her son back. You have sick people in the crowds? You heal them. You have the blind man who needs sight? Your compassion moves you to restore sight. You have the leper? The splanchnon of Christ moved Him, moved with compassion He touched and healed the leper.

He taught the multitudes who were without a Shepherd—that’s another passage that we didn’t look at. “He was moved with compassion because they were sheep without a shepherd.” He reached out and taught them.

The Good Samaritan who had splanchnon—he didn’t just walk by and say, “I feel so sorry for you,” as we sometimes do when we see a TV program, a movie, or a documentary, a news report about some part of the world where there’s something terrible going on, and we say, “Oh, that’s terrible! I feel so bad.” And we might even cry. We might feel really bad.

Splanchnon never ends with feeling bad. It doesn’t end with feeling compassion. It moves to action. So the Good Samaritan did something about the needs of the wounded man who was by the side of the road.

God's mercy never ends with feeling bad or feeling compassion. It moves to action.

The father of the prodigal—he didn’t just feel that compassion, he ran; he embraced; he kissed. He restored his prodigal son who was repentant.

A friend stopped by and we got to talking. She has a ministry of caring for foster children. She was telling me about some of the desperate home situations that some of those kids come from. The week before she had just gotten a call from the birth mom of one of those foster children who had the child back with her now. The child was back in the home. The birth mom had called and said, "Can you help me go to the emergency room with my child?"

There was situation after situation she was telling me about of the horrible situations that so many of these children come from. My friend was saying how this all just breaks her heart. You could tell as she was talking about it that she was just so exercised over where these children come from; what’s going on in their homes and the agony it is to have to send some of these foster children back into these home situations where they know what it’s going to be like.

She was filled with splanchnon while she was telling me this. It was so deeply felt in her. She said, “Nancy, there are times when I have sobbed myself to sleep at night thinking about what’s happening with one of these children.” Here’s a woman who was moved with compassion, bowels of mercy, deep inner emotion and sympathy and concern.

She can’t just sit there. She’s a woman who has been moved to do something about it. So one after another, she and her husband and their children take these foster children—babies, little ones—into their home and care for them.

It’s splanchnon that shows itself in mercy. As I listened to her as I was right in the middle of working on this session, I thought, “I have just seen a visual illustration of the heart of God for sinners.”

John the Baptist came to give knowledge of salvation to his people, forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God. I was just reminded as I saw this woman of what a wonder it is that God would have that heart toward us; that He would see our need, and that the God who is high and lifted up and holy—so far above, infinitely above and beyond us—would stoop to have splanchnon, tender mercy, bowels of mercy, compassion. A God who would care deeply, who would yearn with compassion, who would be moved with compassion.

Why should God care about you and me in our sin? Why should He care? We set ourselves up to be His enemies. Why should He care? Why should He do anything about it? Why should He clothe Himself in human flesh and come into the earth and live in our sinful world and die our death so that we could be delivered from our sins? Why? It’s all splanchnon—the tender compassion and mercy of our God. What a wonder!

Leslie: Did you ever realize that a compassionate mother is such a rich picture of God? Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving us insight into God’s incredible compassion.

Today’s lesson is part of a series called "Zechariah's Hymn." Some friends have been listening to Nancy’s teaching along with us. We are going to hear what some of them have been learning over the last several sessions.

Woman 1: When we were talking about the past, present, and future—God is the I AM God. And the I AM God is the all of past, present, and future. So we can’t have the past and present without the future. It’s absolutely guaranteed. He is the eternally present tense God, the I AM God, the God of being. We have it all in Jesus.

Nancy: She just said in sixty seconds what it took six hours for me to say.

Woman 2: Your thoughts just helped me in realizing, and really bringing me under conviction, of celebrating Christmas. So much of the emphasis is on Jesus coming, God coming in flesh. I was pondering on that—His love and His tender mercy. Yet, I have not meditated on Him as redeemer. This has brought that freshly to me. Thank you. I want to meditate on that some more.

Nancy: We often think of Christ as the redeemer when we come to Good Friday and Easter. But it’s interesting that around the time of the birth of Christ, or just before the birth of Christ, Zechariah said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed His people.”

The redemption was bound up in the birth of Christ. It’s all that came with Christ. It’s all that would come through Him is part of that. So as we celebrate this Christmas, we celebrate not only the birth but the redemption that is ours through Christ.

Woman 3: I think the thing that struck me the most was that fact that we cannot turn the light on in someone else’s heart. I think sometimes by the virtue of manipulation, doing a run around God, we try to make people do things that only God can do. So I was very encouraged by that.

We are to try and live the Christian life in front of them. We are to pray; we are to trust; we are to watch God turn that light on in their hearts. So that was a great encouragement to me that we are to commit that to God.

Leslie: That’s what some members of our audience have been learning during our current series, "Zechariah's Hymn." 

When you study God’s Word, it not only enlightens your mind. It also stirs your heart and leads to action. That’s what some in our audience have been sharing. And it’s also what another listener has discovered.

Leigh Ann Dutton: I am Leigh Ann Dutton.

Leslie: When she was twenty-four, Leigh Ann fully surrendered her life to Jesus. She was looking for someone to show her what it meant to walk with God.

Leigh Ann: And I was really kind of lost. I didn't have any mentorship in my life. There wasn't a lot of Christian ladies around me. There were a few, but I was too immature to realize what I had in front of me. As I was searching for how to be a godly woman and what it meant to be a Christian and I came across Revive Our Hearts and Nancy Leigh DeMoss at that time and what it means to be a Christian woman.

Leslie: God used Revive Our Hearts to show this young woman how to live out her relationship with Christ. Once she got married, she again turned to Revive Our Hearts. She signed up for the challenge 30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband

Leigh Ann: And so I started getting emails in my inbox. Then I found another challenge through that and got another round of thirty days. So that was my entry point into Revive Our Hearts. Then I found the radio show and now podcasting. They are always playing and when my little boys hear the song they say, "Is that Nancy?" And I'm like, "Yes, it's Nancy."

Leslie: On Revive Our Hearts, Leigh Ann learned about a topic that had now become very important to her.

Leigh Ann: Motherhood and what it looks like to be a mom of little kids and how that is a ministry in and of itself. 

Leslie: Over the years, the Lord used Revive Our Hearts to encourage Leigh Ann to share what she’s learned with others. That came into focus when she visited the True Woman '12 conference.

Leigh Ann: It was around the time that I began to develop my calling to write. When my blog, Intentional by Grace, began to take off, I began to be aware of the weight of what it means to lead women.

Leslie: So the Lord used the website, podcasts, and events to help Leigh Ann grow and then share with other women.

Leigh Ann: And I think the thing for me throughout all of that that impressed me and kept drawing me back to Revive Our Hearts is not that Nancy is an amazing speaker; it's not that Erin is an amazing writer; it's not that "fill-in-the-blank." It's that Christ is central; Christ is the message, and Christ is what I was thirsting for. It wasn't until this year that I realized that that's why I keep coming back. That's why I came in 2012. That's why I was so sad I couldn't be there at Revive '13 and why I was so excited to come to True Woman '14. It's just knowing that however many times I come, it doesn't matter if I'm reading a book or listening to a podcast or coming to a Revive Our Hearts conference, I know that I'm just getting Christ. That's what's being exalted, and that's exciting for me . . . so . . . I'm hooked.

Leslie: Nancy, that’s a picture of a True Woman Movement in action.

Nancy: I love hearing Leigh Ann’s heart. And now she’s sharing what she’s learned at her blog, Intentional by Grace. It’s an example at how God calls women to teach other women in a variety of ways. I’m so thankful Revive Our Hearts can pour into the life of Leigh Ann and thousands of women like her, and that they are then pouring into the lives of others. That’s how a True Woman Movement takes place and spreads. We’re able to speak God’s word to generations of women thanks to the listeners who believe in the value of this teaching. They want to continue hearing it and sharing it with others.

If that describes you, would you pray for this ministry? And would you ask the Lord what He'd have you give to meet our current needs. As we enter 2016, we’re faced with some significant financial challenges. One major donor who helped the ministry get off the ground years ago scaled back their contributions throughout the past year and has now discontinued them all together. From the beginning, their heart was to give to help us get up and running, praying that listeners like you would take their place in supporting the ministry. I'm so thankful for other friends have stepped up to help meet this need. They’ve offered to match each gift in December, up to a matching challenge amount of $820,000!

I want to say "thank you" to everyone who has given a gift so far to help us reach this goal. We want to take advantage of every dollar of this challenge, so would you ask the Lord what He would have you give to help make that possible? How would He want you to get involved "for such a time as this"? Thanks so much for your heart for this ministry and partnering with us at this important time.

Leslie: Thanks Nancy. You can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959. 

Leslie: Tomorrow, hear why our righteousness is like a cheap string of tacky Christmas lights with half the bulbs burnt out.  Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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