Summary: It is never a fruitless exercise when we bring others to Christ.
COMPASSION: THE HEALING TOUCH
It was with some measure of excitement that the twelve apostles returned from their first outreach. They had fulfilled their commission, and were keen to report to Jesus on all that they had said and done (Mark 6:30). If ever there was a focus for the Christian life, and for ministry, it is this: that in the final analysis we are accountable to Jesus (Luke 12:37; Luke 12:47-48).
Jesus was more composed in His reaction. Sometimes we need someone to calm us down a little after intense activity, especially when that activity involves spiritual warfare. Jesus cares that His servants should not suffer from burnout, and would have us come apart from our labours for a while, and rest in Him (Mark 6:31). Everybody needs a Sabbath.
Before the apostles drew aside with Jesus, there was much coming and going, to the extent that they had no leisure, not even leisure to eat (Mark 6:31). Life crowds in, but how shall we feed the thousands if we are not fed ourselves? Others have been refreshed in the wilderness - Moses, David, Elijah, the children of Israel… - so it is with some purpose that Jesus would draw His servants into “a desert place apart” (Mark 6:31-32).
Even if our short-term intention is thwarted - if we do not on this occasion reach a desert place where we are truly “apart” with Jesus - yet at least we can take the journey with Him across the sea of life (Mark 6:32). Mrs Wesley may not have had much leisure for prayer, being the mother of a small clan, but she would bury her head in her pinafore and commune with the Lord nonetheless. Bible study and prayer are the very heartbeat of true Christianity.
Yet we need not be so rigid in our routines and rituals that we have no time for others. The needy continued to crowd the Lord and His disciples and - faced with different priorities - Jesus changed the plan, and began to teach (Mark 6:33-34).
Jesus’ motivation for this change of plan was that He was “moved with compassion” towards the crowds (Mark 6:34). The verb speaks of Jesus being moved with pity - not just sentimental sympathy, but heartfelt empathy, whereby He enters into the sufferings of needy lost people. They were ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ - but He is the good shepherd, who was already beginning to give His life for the sheep (John 10:11).
In our second selected section, we see the little band again taking to the water, and again the crowds pressing ahead of them (Mark 6:53-54). There was no lack of motivation on the part of the crowds, although perhaps their reasons for pursuing Jesus fell short of the ideal (John 6:26). Yet there was a genuine care for one another as they carried their sick on beds and mats to where Jesus was (Mark 6:55).
We are reminded of the friends who lowered a paralysed man to Jesus’ feet by digging through the roof where He was (Mark 2:4). That man received more than he and his friends had expected. The paralysed man was ‘forgiven’ when Jesus saw THEIR faith (Mark 2:5) - and was physically healed as they had hoped (Mark 2:10-12).