It was an exciting time for the disciples. They had been sent out by Jesus to proclaim that people should repent. While out doing so, they had cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. They had much that they wanted to share with Jesus. So, Jesus suggests that they get away from it all and rest awhile.
But have you ever tried to get away from it all for some R and R, rest and relaxation, and whatever it was that you were trying to get away from finds you anyway? In today’s day and age, this typically happens if the cell phone is not turned off. Emails from work still make their way into the inbox. Phone calls and text messages still buzz and beep. Getting away from it all has become quite difficult.
So it was for Jesus and His disciples. The text says, For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31b). They couldn’t even get a bite to eat in, the crowds were pressing them so hard. So they made for the boat to try and find another desolate place. But it didn’t matter, the text says, Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them (Mark 6:33).
Talk about determination on the part of the people. And talk about no chance at all for Jesus and His disciples to get some down time away from it all. It looked like that would have to wait for another time. Perhaps you can relate.
But here is where the text makes a shift away from trying to get away from it all. It says, When he [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).
That is the emphasis of our sermon for today. The Shepherd’s Compassionate Provision. May we as hearers of God’s Word trust in the Shepherd’s compassionate provision for us.
Here we see Jesus make an about face, to use the military term. He had been trying to get away from the people so that he could hear the testimony of His disciples. But then, all of a sudden, he saw this crowd, this determined crowd that would stop at nothing to see Him. And the text says that he had compassion on them.
Compassion. In the Greek this word means that Jesus felt this compassion for the people down to His very soul, even to His very bowels. It is a compassion that runs so deep where mercy and sympathy is moved to action in order to relieve people from their distress. That kind of compassion.
Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep, as you know get the reputation for not necessarily being the brightest of animals. Without a shepherd, they wander and get lost. They get disoriented, and they fall prey to predators as they meander about.
When Jesus looked at these determined people who had literally chased him around the lake, He had compassion on them. He saw them in their need, and like a good shepherd, He desired to tend to their needs. And that need was first to teach them.
It could so easily be lost in this Bible story that when Jesus had compassion on these sheep-like people, that the first thing He did was teach them. We tend to focus on the miracle that comes later, but Jesus places an emphasis first and foremost on filling them to the full with something far greater than mere bread and fish. He gives them the bread of life. The Word of God. The food for their souls.
As the people listen, the disciples start to realize they’ve got a problem. It’s late and there is no food in this desolate place to feed this large crowd. So, the disciples devise a plan of action to share with Jesus: Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat (Mark 6:36).
The disciples want to scatter the flock. They want to take the easy route. Because the easy route will mean that this will no longer be their problem, and they will finally get the time away from it all that they had been hoping for. Jesus, however, has a different plan in mind. But before carrying out that plan, He tests His disciples with a simple command: You give them something to eat.
You can almost see the jaws drop on the disciples faces. What! Are you kidding me? And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat? (Mark 6:37).
It is quite hard to fathom that disciples who had just gotten back from casting out demons and healing the sick would all of a sudden think that there would be a problem with something as simple as feeding these people. But this just goes to show that they didn’t fully realize who it was who stood before them.
So Jesus proceeds to show them once again. He tells them to gather up what they can find. Five loaves of bread and two fish are found. He says, “That’ll do.” Then the miraculous takes place. Five thousand men, plus women and children eat and are satisfied. So much so that twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected after everyone had eaten. Once again, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides for His people, His flock.
But how often are we like those disciples who stood there in disbelief, doubting the provision of the Lord? When problems or troubles arise in our life and we get overwhelmed, where do we first turn? Do we turn to the Lord or do we turn to ourselves and wander away from the Lord?
The second commandment directs us to call upon name of the Lord. The second commandment is: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
Is this our mode of operation, our m.o., when troubles find us in life? When financial burdens arise, when a medical diagnosis strikes, when conflict at work or school comes up, when a congregation enters into a time of vacancy. Are we first turning to the compassionate shepherd for His provision, or are turning inward toward ourselves?
The disciples started by looking inward toward themselves and quickly realized their limitations. They didn’t have the ability to care these people and their needs. They needed help. And that’s exactly what Jesus provided. The people were hungry, and He fed them.
We also are in need of help and provision from our Shepherd. I think about that now probably more than ever as a congregation that is facing some very big changes here in the near future. We need help. We do. You see, the devil is going to try and take advantage of this opportunity before us in hopes of scattering the flock. He is going to try and cause conflict and devise division and destruction in the church. He will attack the pastors and their families, because He knows where best to attack to bring down the Church. And the temptation will be when such attacks happen, to turn inward. To try and figure it out on our own. To dig our heals in and say, “We can do this! We can overcome!” But we can’t. We can’t do it on our own. We need help.
And so, we call upon the name the Lord. We call upon His name and the same Shepherd who looked out at those people with eyes of compassion will also have compassion upon us. He feels it right down to the very depths His soul and bowels. It was such compassion that led him to a cross to suffer and die for us. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. And we are His sheep. He is here to help us with all that we need in body and in soul, just as He has been doing since the start of this congregation back in the nineteenth century. After all, it is His Church. And here in His Church, is where we find all the provision we need. Forgiveness is here. Life and salvation is here. All because our Shepherd is here.
So do not be anxious or afraid. Just like He provided for those people and they ate their fill and were satisfied, so it is with us. As the 23rd Psalm told us, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1). We do not have to want when we have a shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters to fulfill our needs. As He gathered those people in groups together, so He gathers us. He gathers us in His house to sit side by side to be fed with the Bread of Life, the Word of God. He gathers us at His table to nourish and strengthen us with His body and blood. Through His undershepherds, the pastors of Zion, He fills us to the full so that our cup runneth over with His compassionate provision.
But it is true that the temptation during this time of transition and vacancy will be to only look inward. To look to ourselves and only focus on our cares and concerns. LCMS President Matthew Harrison once wrote in a collection of essays: “Proclaiming Jesus and loving the neighbor has to do with who and what the church is as the body of Christ. Where proclamation of the Gospel and acts of love and mercy are missing, the church’s life is not what Christ intended it to be.”
In no way do we want to lose sight of who we are during this time of transition by only focusing on ourselves. We are the Church, called to be the Church to a growing community, to feed them with the life-saving gift of the Gospel, to share hope and teach Christ. Teaching, just as Jesus first taught those people in our text for today. First we are taught, and then we share what we are taught of Christ with others.
So it is that our mission statement will remain the same, along with our vision and strategy. And we will continue to call upon the name of our Good Shepherd to help us to carry out that mission, vision, and strategy here in this community and even to the ends of the earth. All along the way, we can trust that the Good Shepherd will be faithful to compassionately provide for all that we need in body and in soul. Thanks be to God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.