Monday, May 17, 2010

Real Compassion Leads to Teaching

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church preached by Kevin Shingleton, entitled "The Heart of Jesus and His Ministry." Click on the title to get to the audio.]

As a pastor, I don't often get to listen to live preaching. I can listen on my computer or my mp3 player, but this past week, I had the privilege of listening to lots of live preaching. I attended a conference on pastoral ministry called the Basics conference from Monday-Wednesday, and yesterday, I got to hear my brother, Kevin Shingleton, preach at Gray Road.

As Kevin continued our congregation's study of the book of Mark, he dealt with a very familiar passage of Scripture...Mark 6:30-44 (a.k.a. - the feeding of the five thousand). In a prior entry, I mentioned the temptation to skip over passages of Scripture that we feel like we already understand, but I'm glad Kevin didn't do that. My thought in this entry follows right on the heels of something he emphasized in the message yesterday.

In Mark 6:34a, we read, "When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd..." The eyes of Jesus have a way of diagnosing the conditions of those standing before him. As he glanced on this crowd, he didn't see moms, dads, farmers, fishermen, bakers, and fellow carpenters. He didn't see upper, middle, and lower class. Jesus saw sheep, but not just any kind of sheep. He saw lost sheep, helpless sheep, harassed sheep...sheep without a shepherd.

What Jesus saw led to how Jesus felt. He felt compassion on them. Quite literally, he was moved in the depths of his bowels because of their helplessness and hopelessness. Have you ever seen someone that seemed to be in a desperate condition, and it just about turned your stomach? I have. On my way back from Cleveland on Wednesday, I made a pit stop to get something to drink. As I walked through a fast food restaurant, my stomach turned, but it wasn't because of the nature of the establishment's food. It was because I saw a boy...about 4 years old...and he was doing some major league sobbing. His eyes were huge and like those of a puppy dog, glazed with the continually presence of tears. He was heaving breaths and constantly wiping his nose. He was looking around, as if he was searching for someone. And...the restaurant was empty.

I went into the restroom thinking this boy's mother or father would be comforting him when I emerged, but I was wrong. He was still alone. My stomach turned all the more, my fatherly instinct kicked in, and I went to him and asked if he was okay. He nodded through tears. I asked if his mom or dad was close by, and he pointed behind the counter. Whew! The knots finally left...and so did I.

However, when I saw that boy, he looked harassed and helpless. Certainly my compassion toward this crying boy's temporal difficulty is not the same as the Savior's compassion toward the crowd's eternal condition, but I think I felt something of it. As Jesus looked at this crowd, their condition created a pit in his stomach. He saw the sheep without a shepherd, and he had compassion.

Here's where my thoughts have lingered. What Jesus saw led to how Jesus felt, and how Jesus felt led to what Jesus did. The rest of verse 34 says, "And he began to teach them many things." The pit in Jesus' stomach did not immediately lead Him to fill their stomachs. The overwhelming grumble He heard was not their empty stomachs but their empty souls, so He taught them. What did He teach them? Well, we don't have everything He said here in this text, but Luke does hint, in his parallel, that Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God (Lk. 9:11). So, though we don't have a transcript of the sermon, we do know the flavor of Jesus' teaching, in general: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mk. 1:14-15).

This was the meal they needed. Though they would receive bread (and that in a miraculous way), they must understand that man doesn't live merely by bread he puts in his own mouth but by the words that come from God's mouth (Deut. 8:3). The feeding and satisfying of this massive crowd reminds us that the real feeding...and the real satisfaction...comes from the message of Jesus. As with any other miracle, its purpose is to put a divine stamp of verification on the message being preached.

So, what Jesus saw was a flock of lost, hopeless, helpless sheep. What Jesus felt was a gut-wrenching compassion for the sheep. What Jesus did was feed the sheep...He led them to the green pastures of the gospel so their souls would be filled, and then His status as the source of life was verified as the bread and fish were miraculously distributed. Let us ask God for the grace to see what Jesus saw, feel what Jesus felt, and do what Jesus did!