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Compassion for People

July 26, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

Our text for today is the gospel lesson from Mark 8:1-9 along with some Scriptures both before and after this passage. Right at the beginning of this passage, as a large crowd had gathered around Him, Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd” (Mark 8:2). Compassion is a deeply heartfelt care and concern for others, where one wants to bring help and mercy to them. It is a feeling that leads, at least in the case of Jesus, to action.

In Mark, chapter six, another large crowd, mostly made up of His own Jewish people, came to Jesus, and we read, “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And so, he began to teach them many things” (v. 34). We know, from John’s gospel, that Jesus especially taught them what they needed most of all - to know that he was the very “Bread of Life,” and that by trusting Him and His Word, they could have eternal life themselves (John, chapter 6, especially v. 26ff). But, He also had compassion on them, then and there too, because they were hungry, and so He provided a meal for 5,000 men, plus women and children (Mark 6:35-44).

In our text for today, another large crowd had gathered around Jesus; but this time, it seems to have been a group mainly made up of Gentile, non-Jewish people. For (you can read about it yourself in Mark, chapter 7) Jesus had just made one of His very few trips, ever, outside of the land of Israel. He went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, north of Israel, with His disciples, (v. 24), and right away, a Gentile woman came to Him, begging that He would cast an evil spirit out of her little daughter, and even saying that if she could only have a few crumbs of help from Jesus, the Bread of Life, that would be enough. Jesus immediately heals the daughter, a long distance away, and when the mother gets home, she finds the demon gone and the daughter at rest and peace, at last (v. 25-30).

Jesus and His disciples soon head back toward Israel, and a man who was deaf and could not speak properly, was brought to Jesus; and Jesus heals him privately (Mark 7:31-37). From where this man was healed, this man might likely also have been non-Jewish. Finally, later on, Jesus and His disciples stop in a “desolate” place, our text says (Mark 8:4). This word means an uninhabited, desert-like place. The only towns anywhere close were mostly Gentile areas, again.

Jesus and His disciples get little rest and peace though. Another big crowd gathers, 4,000+ people, mostly non-Jews also, it seems. Jesus had compassion on them too, as we have heard. They were with Him for nearly three days, our text says. Jesus was bringing them His most important gift too - the Word of God and His Good News. The compassion of Jesus continues. If the people had brought food with them, it was surely gone after three days. It was an uninhabited area. No place was close to go and get food. The people might faint on their way home, Jesus said. And so, in His compassion for them, Jesus provides another miraculous meal starting with seven loaves of bread and a few fish, He fed 4,000+ people and had seven big baskets full left over to gather up. Apparently, even in the Bible, leftovers were good - and worth saving and using later - even if we today don’t always think so (Mark 8:1-9).

But, an even greater miracle might have been that Jesus was even willing to talk with and associate with so many non-Jewish people, and even provide a meal of fellowship with and for them. At that time, the general attitude among the Jews was that they only were the chosen people of God and non-Jews were unacceptable and unclean. To put it in contemporary language, for Jews, “only Jewish lives mattered.” To get a sense of that, you could read Acts, chapters 10 and 11. Peter is asked to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman, non-Jewish, soldier. It took a vision and voices from God and a direct message from the Holy Spirit to get Peter even to get moving to the house of Cornelius. And when he got there, he literally said, “You yourselves know how unlawful (unlawful! - to Jews, but not to God) it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28. See also 11:2-3).

That is what Jesus was teaching and living out in our text for today - in His compassion for all, big crowds and individual people, no matter who they were, no matter what their background or nationality or what problems they were struggling with. In fact, not long after our text, still in Mark, chapter 8, a blind man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus helps and heals him too (v. 22-26).

All of this is really a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, chapter 35, predicting what would happen when the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would come. It would be amazing things coming to desolate places - a prophecy spoken some 800 years before they happened. Listen to some of these words: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice …” (and that is exactly where Jesus is in our text) … “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God…” (and the glory of God is seen in what Jesus does) … “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come… He will come and save you.” (Jesus is God the Son, who came into this world to save.) … “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped … and the tongue of the mute sing for joy …” (These are the very miracles Jesus performed, plus many more!) … “The redeemed shall walk there … (Those rescued by Jesus) … They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:1-10, selected verses).

These last words of Isaiah 35 also remind us that Jesus was willing to go even farther in His deep love and compassion for those people and for us and for the while world. Jesus knew the warning God gave Adam in our Old Testament lesson: “If you eat of the tree… you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Jesus also knew that Paul would write of the reality that “death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) and the sobering words of our epistle lesson, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That is what our sinful work has earned for each of us, left on our own. Everyone will eventually suffer physical death unless Jesus comes back first, on the Last Day.

It is no surprise, then, that we still see so much suffering and sorrow and death, even today, and so much yelling and screaming at one another, and so many tears, because we all struggle with a lack of compassion for others, at times. But we are not left on our own, struggling with all of this. That deep compassion of Jesus, that love for us and the world, carried Him through all the events we talked about today; and His compassion carried Him, finally, to the cross for us and our very sinful world. Think about it. Jesus did not need to die, himself. He never earned that wage of death, because He never once sinned in all His life (2 Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 4:15). But for us and for the whole world, He died, taking all our sins upon himself and paying for them all by suffering in our place, a horrible physical death on the cross - and somehow, suffering even the eternal consequences of sin, being forsaken by His Father. That is the worst thing about hell - being totally separated from God. And through it all, his compassion continued as He prayed for us from the cross, “Father, forgive them” (Matthew 27:46, Luke 23:34).

And then He rose in victory over sin and death on Easter morning to bring to us that great promise also in our epistle lesson: “The wages of sin is death; but, [BUT!] the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That amazing promise is ours as we are brought, by Christ’s compassion, to faith in Him and all He has already done for us. And we rejoice in our own baptism, as we have died to our old life of sin and risen to new life in Jesus.

Jesus himself is risen and still alive, now and forever; and His compassion comes to us, still today, as we hear His Word, the Scriptures, as the people did in our gospel lesson. His compassion still comes today as He also feeds us in the Lord’s Supper with His real presence and forgiveness and strength. And Jesus, in His compassion, also gives us each other as family and friends and as a church. As we are strengthened by the Lord and His compassion, He can open our eyes to look at each other with more compassion too. Jesus brings all the blessings; but He can work through us too.

If you would go back and read through Mark, chapters 7 and 8, you would see that ordinary people were also involved along with Jesus. Jesus cast the evil spirit out of the little daughter, but it was because her mother loved her and went and begged Jesus to help. Prayer is so very important (Mark 7:25-30)! We read later on: “They brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Jesus to lay His hand on Him” (Mark 7:32-25). Did you ever wonder who “they” were? Probably just ordinary people, like you or me, who had compassion on this man.

When Jesus fed the 4,000+, He didn’t do it all by himself. He involved His disciples. He did the miracle, but we read: “He gave the bread and the fish to His disciples to set before the people, and they set them before the crowd” (Mark 8:6-8). And later we read: “Some people brought to Jesus a blind man, and begged Him to touch him” (Mark 8:22). Jesus did the healing, but who were the “some people” who brought the man? It could have been some of you who just had compassion on someone else and helped them out. How exciting that the Lord could work through us and our compassion and caring to draw others a little closer to Him and His love; and He can then do His miraculous work with them.

How comforting it is, that in all our own joys and struggles, Jesus knows us and has compassion upon us and will keep giving us His free gifts so that we can carry on in faith, even on days when we wonder if we can keep going one more day, until that day when the prophecy of Isaiah 35 is completely fulfilled, and we will have only gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away, in life everlasting together with Jesus. Let us pray: Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe, only where they are safe, in Christ Jesus our Lord, and His compassion for us.


Tags: Mark 8:1-9