Summary: You can count on Jesus because he is compassionate, he knows your needs, and he provides.
How many different ways can you count the objects you see on the screen? You can count them one by one. You can count them in groups of twos or threes (2, 4, 6… or 3, 6, 9…). Counting in English isn’t so difficult. Counting in Japanese, however, is another matter. It’s not that adding up the total is difficult; it’s choosing the right word to express the sum that’s hard. For example long objects like pencils are counted differently than small round objects like candy (ippon vs. ikko). Birds are counted differently than cows (ippiki vs. itto). People are counted differently than paper (hitori vs. ichimai).
You may never learn to count in Japanese but the Holy Spirit doesn’t care about that. What he wants is for you to learn how to count on Jesus. We’ll learn that we can count on Jesus as we watch him multiply five loaves of bread and two fish, a fete that added up to a feast for over five thousand hungry people.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand took place on the remote coastline of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus arrived at this location by boat to be alone with his disciples. One reason he wanted peace and quiet was to digest the news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by King Herod. The other reason was that he had been so busy healing and teaching that he and his disciples hadn’t even time to eat. A little break. A little respite. That’s what Jesus was aiming for.
How do you think Jesus felt then when he arrived at this remote location only to find that the crowds had followed him there on foot? If I were Jesus, I would have felt like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the movie “What About Bob?” Poor Dr. Leo Marvin. That successful psychiatrist just wanted to escape his practice for a while but one persistent patient, “Bob” played by Bill Murray, showed up at Dr. Marvin’s vacation home and wouldn’t leave. Eventually Bob drove Dr. Marvin crazy.
You don’t need to be a busy psychiatrist to know how it feels to have your “problems” from the office follow you home at night or tag along on vacation. I know how I would have dealt with the crowd Jesus found waiting for him. “Keep sailing, Peter. We’ll land at another port where they can’t find us!” But that’s not what Jesus did. Mark records the following: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Instead thoughts of anger and resentment, Jesus felt sorry for the crowd. And what kind of crowd are we talking about here? We’re not talking about a few dozen well-mannered autograph-seekers. We’re talking desperate people. Thousands of them. Many of them sick. In spite of that, Luke tells us that Jesus welcomed them (Luke 9:11).
Here’s the first reason we can count on Jesus. We can count on Jesus because when he looks at us, he doesn’t see people who should be avoided but people to embrace the way a shepherd embraces a lamb. Don’t feel like a cuddly little lamb? Don’t think Jesus would want to touch you or your problems with a ten-foot pole? That may be true of others, those who say that they are your friends but then talk about you behind your back. It may have even been true of people in the church. You thought you could come to a place like this and find comfort and refuge but were put off by how vindictive Christians could be. I’m glad to say Jesus is not like me. Even we pastors get cranky and would sometimes rather not answer the phone because we just want some peace and quiet. Not Jesus though. His love for you is perfect. His love for you is constant. His love doesn’t keep office hours.
So how exactly did Jesus welcome this desperate crowd? He healed them. You’d expect that but he also did something you wouldn’t expect. He taught them about the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11). This reminds us that the best thing Jesus does for us is teach us about life, death, sin, grace, heaven, and hell. And who better? Jesus is the Son of God and so knows everything there is to know about spirituality. I mean he invented it. Sadly we often disregard this essential thing Jesus has to offer. Instead we want him to feed us. To fix our marriage. To make us look prettier or stronger. To make school easy. But what he wants to do above all, Friends, is to take you to heaven with him. That’s what he wanted for that desperate crowd so he taught them. He taught them that they each had a problem with sin. Some of their sins were obvious like unkind words, and thieving hands. Other sins were not so obvious but equally damning in God’s eyes. For example, in their rush to see Jesus, had some in the crowd fallen to the ground? If so, I wonder how many people walked by without offering a helping hand? Failure to help others is the sin of selfishness. Jesus wants us to know about our sin too. He doesn’t want us to think that because we haven’t ever been arrested that God is pleased with the words that we speak or the looks we give. Each of us is in need of a savior.