Henry Dunant grew up a well-to-do Swiss Calvinist home, where he watched his parents do one good deed after another, driven by Christian empathy for the needy. His father labored tirelessly to assist orphans and ex-prisoners, and his mother had a burden for the sick and poor.
This was a time of spiritual revival in Switzerland, and Henry grew up feeling compelled to do all he could to serve Christ. As a teenager, he helped organize young men in regular Bible studies and in projects for the poor. He helped found a chapter of the YMCA in Geneva. In college, Dunant was so preoccupied with his mercy ministries that he neglected to study. At age 21, he was forced out of school by poor grades. He found a job, worked hard, established his own business, and prospered.
On June 24, 1859, while traveling in Italy on business, Henry arrived in the town of Solferino in the aftermath of a battle that had resulted in 38,000 wounded soldiers. The scene shocked him—thousands of young men were writhing in pain, and there seemed to be no one to help them. Henry abandoned all thought of business and went to work organizing the local people to assist the wounded troops. He convinced volunteers to aid all soldiers regardless of what side of the conflict they were on.
Dunant returned to Geneva a changed man. He was haunted by the fact there was no organized way of caring for wounded soldiers in times of war. Writing a book of his experiences, he had it self-published and distributed to political and military leaders. It included a plan for creating a politically-neutral organization to care for wounded soldiers regardless of the uniform they wore. Ultimately his efforts were rewarded. On February 17, 1863, a committee of five men gathered to establish the “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded.” Shortly afterward the name was changed to the “International Committee of the Red Cross.”
Why the Red Cross? This organization was established in Switzerland, and in trying to think of a protective symbol for hurt soldiers and medics, it seemed sensible to use the symbol on the Swiss flag. Switzerland’s flag is red with a white cross. The origin of the flag dates to the thirteenth century when the emperor carried a banner bearing the cross as a holy sign, understanding himself to be the protector of Christianity. Ultimately it points back to the cross of Christ.
The founders of the Red Cross took the flag, reversed the colors, and created a red cross on a white background. Thus the Red Cross became a symbol of empathy and mercy that has brought immeasurable healing and relief to a world rent by war.
The cross is a symbol of love and an emblem of ministry to the sick, poor, widowed, hungry, oppressed, abused, endangered, and illiterate. From the beginning, the cross has represented an empathetic Savior, One who felt the pain of sinners and sacrificed His life for their salvation. As believers, we should bare the marks of the cross in how we live and in how we respond to the hurting.
A Short History of Empathy
Many people don’t realize the brutality of the Roman world into which Jesus was born. Empathy and compassion didn’t extend beyond the family circle. Life was cheap, and society was harsh and heartless. Jesus came with a message of love, and His parable of the Good Samaritan was like a lightning bolt of love in a blackened sky. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told of a man who’d been waylaid and robbed on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Various passersby saw the man injured and lying in the ditch. But only one person—a Samaritan—stopped to help.
But in Luke 9, Jesus was rejected by a village of Samaritans as He traveled to Jerusalem and His appointment with Calvary. He did not revile. He was not angry like the disciples, He simply traveled on to the next village. In Luke 9, the Samaritans disdained Jesus; in Luke 10, Jesus commended a Samaritan.
Our Lord was (and is) a good forgiver. His spirit was (and is) impervious to harboring bitterness or resentment. He taught empathy and compassion, and He told us in this parable: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Whatever our role in life, let’s find a way today to carry on the Christian tradition of extending the love of Jesus to others under the banner of His cross.
While the loss of love is a disheartening experience in any area of life, there is one area in which the consequences are most serious: when we lose our spiritual love for the things of God. I have seen this happen to many Christians in my years as a pastor; and, like all Christians, I have even felt the temptations myself. Without diligence, the fire of love that burned brightly when we first met Jesus Christ can begin to fade and provide lesser and lesser amounts of light in this world.
Get Into a Good Book
More than five centuries ago, Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, revolutionized the way books were made by creating a system of movable type: Load tiny metal letters into a tray, ink the type, and press the tray of letters down onto a sheet of paper. For five hundred years, books changed very little: pages sandwiched between front and back covers. That was until electronic (digital) books became available. Not only would Gutenberg be dumbstruck at the sight of modern printing presses, he would be even more shocked at how books are distributed digitally. Today books and magazines are easy to store and access. You can take hundreds of books with you, stored in your digital reading device, and read them anytime, anywhere.Get Focused
In 1828, a family named Hermès settled in France and opened a harness shop in Paris. Soon they were selling upscale products to European noblemen, and they haven’t stopped. Today you can still buy expensive, high-quality Hermès products worldwide.
Hermès closed its stores in America for three days a few years ago and flew their employees to an upscale hotel in Princeton. Motivational speakers were there to inspire and reinvigorate the company’s sales force. Hermès recognized that joyless employees wouldn’t be successful selling $2,300 bracelets. They needed motivators to fire up their enthusiasm.
Many companies rely on inspirational conferences to rekindle enthusiasm, enhance attitudes, and restore focus to employees. But human advice only goes so far. To really find spiritual focus, sit at the feet of Jesus. Nothing equals the motivation He gives for victorious living, and no one can equal His insight. Best of all, we can arrange a personal meeting every day.
You can accurately refer to them as “learning opportunities” or “wake-up calls,” but that doesn’t make unpleasant surprises any less painful. Dr. David Jeremiah examines how God uses these unplanned intrusions to grow us.All Sermons by Dr. David Jeremiah