Summary: Do we believe that we are the hands-feet-arms-mouth-body-wallet-ride-smile-kind word-gentle touch-shelter provider-etc.-etc of Jesus Christ now that He is in heaven? Then how should we respond when we see a need? Mull this over as we continue.
Peter Ustinov said, “Charity is more common than compassion. Charity is tax-deductible. Compassion is time consuming.”
What we are going to talk about today is compassion – godly, Christ-like compassion. Compassion in the midst of our own wants, our own needs, our own limitations. Compassion because compassion has been shown to us, and we know what it is like to be in need of compassion. Compassion because Jesus looked for the poor and broken, dealt with them with compassion, and then He left them for us to care for.
Our poverty is overcome by Christ’s plenty. That is the basic message behind the story we know as The Feeding of the Five Thousand. But we are not talking about monetary poverty, for that would make the Gospel a commodity to be bought and sold.
No, we are speaking of spiritual poverty, as Jesus references in the first of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is when we realize that we are destitute that we are ready to turn to Jesus Christ for help, for saving. Spiritual destitution is the starting point for all spiritual wealth and riches.
That is not to say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about physical or felt needs. They do have a place in the Gospel. But, the Gospel of Jesus Christ uses the physical to explain the spiritual. Our physical need is a picture of our spiritual need.
That is what we have in the miracle that we are studying today; we have the heart of Christ ministering to the physical needs of lost sinners with the same passion and compassion that He came to minister to our spiritual needs.
To Jesus, all of our needs are important. The spiritual, of course, far exceed the physical, but He knows how limiting physical need can be when it comes to experiencing spiritual health and vitality. Hungry, angry, lonely and tired people have a difficult time being spiritually strong unless they have a mature faith in Jesus Christ. Even then, it can be very taxing to walk and live with Christ-like joy in our circumstances.
All four of the Gospels record this story, each with a different amount and combination of the details, some with much conversation, some with little. As we have discussed before, any time something is mentioned more than once, it has special significance. Three times means, “Sit up and pay close attention.” Four times? “You had better engraft this into your soul.” That is what we are here to do today – make the Word of God a living part of us.
Matthew’s account, where we are today, is simple and straightforward in its presentation: easy to read, easy to understand, easy to digest. Matthew addresses this miracle from the simple standpoint that Jesus saw the needs of the people and He met those needs in a way that only He could. That, after all, is the basic thrust of the focus of Matthew’s Gospel. Yet, He did so not alone, but with the help of His disciples – just as He does today.
As we begin to follow the narrative, we see that Jesus, hearing about Herod’s suspicions of Him and why, leaves the area with His disciples. Better not to tempt His enemies too much just yet: His time has not yet come.
Jesus withdraws from the crowds and crosses over to another shore of the Sea of Galilee. When we look at Luke’s account in Luke 9:10-17, and John’s account in John 6:1-14, we discover that Jesus went to “a town called Bethsaida”, on “the other side of the Sea of Galilee”. That would place Him at the north-central point of the Sea of Galilee, about where the Jordan River flows into it.
We also see from these accounts, as well as the one in Mark 6:32-44, that Jesus and the disciples were tired and hungry and needed a time of respite and refreshment. But the crowds saw where they we headed in their boat, so they ran the long way around along the shore and met them when they landed.
One of the biggest statements in all of the Scriptures is found here Matthew 14:14: “When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.”
Let’s talk for a moment about that word “compassion”, shall we? The Greek word, splanchnizomai, means “yearning with the bowels”. Doesn’t seem like a likely word-picture to use to describe the heart of God, does it? But, that is exactly why it is best suited here.