Jesus the Compassionate Provider
Jesus was an extraordinary man with extra-ordinary power.
He had come from heaven to do his Father's will
He had come to be the Saviour of the World
All this would be fully accomplished in and through the events that cluster at the end of his earthly life: his death, his resurrection and his subsequent ascension back to heaven again.
Everything that Jesus did during his life on earth prior to this was in some way or another related to climactic cluster of events.
As we make our way through Luke's account of Jesus' earthly life we are brought to understand what kind of person he was: we hear what he said and taught; observe the behaviour he demonstrated and we see the kind of things he did.
His life is - and was meant to be – a revelation of what God himself is like.
As we proceed we find Jesus presented to us in a whole range of different settings. In each setting Jesus operated he did so in perfect harmony with the will of God. We are being given a picture of the life that would soon be laid down on behalf of sinners, it is the picture of a life without spot or blemish – it had to be if it was to be a life capable of saving sinners like us from eternal ruin.
Jesus didn't go straight from heaven to the cross but instead he lived a fully human life. The life he lived was not that of some sheltered recluse either. No, Jesus' life exposed him to the stresses and strains of normal everyday life so that the life he would offer in sacrifice would be a life of mature perfection that had been tried and tested in every way as we are yet without ever falling into sin in any way. Had he fallen once, just once, he would not have been able to save himself let alone anyone else.
As we study Jesus' life we find him living exactly the kind of life that God's wants a human being to live - he sets the bench mark if you like of what a human life ought to be like. But we must not imagine that the primary purpose is to show us what we must do to save ourselves. Jesus' life does set us a goal to aim at but we are not to imagine that aiming at this goal is what salvation is all about. After all Jesus' life serves to show us just how far short we actually fall of God's standards!
The importance of the gospel record of Jesus' life lies in the fact that it helps us understand the identity of this wonderful man and to appreciate his worth and value – he is a man who was and is and always will be utterly trustworthy. We will not be deceived if we put our trust in him.
Bearing all this is mind we can turn to our text this morning and ask what is it that God wants us to understand about Jesus today.
Jesus' Compassion For his Apostles
The twelve followers that Jesus appointed in a special way to be with him are only referred to as apostles a handful of times in the gospels so it is significant that they are referred to that way here.
Jesus had sent them out of a preaching and healing mission as his representatives. He had sent them out to act in his name and on his authority – they were his special ambassadors if you like. In fact Jesus had sent them to do just what he himself had been doing and would continue to do.
Well, after that mission was over these men returned to Jesus for debriefing and they gave him a full account of all they had done.
Luke then tells us that Jesus withdrew to a town called Bethsaida v.9. (Or more, accurately to a quiet spot near to that town cf. v.12 "for we are in a desolate place".) Luke doesn't tell us either why or how he went there but the other gospel accounts help us get a fuller picture.
Why did Jesus do that? Why did he get into a boat and sail across the NE corner of the Lake of Galilee?
Well Jesus realised that his apostles had been busy on their mission and needed some rest. The situation prevailing where he was when they returned to him wasn't favourable, the crowds were still milling around making it difficult even for Jesus and his disciples to have a meal together. So Jesus organised a departure. Going by boat would make for some privacy at least and they would have some time to themselves. Even when they arrived at their destination they would probably have something of a breathing space before the crowds would form again.
But if the apostles were expecting some prolonged respite they would be disappointed as their peace would soon be broken and their rest curtailed.
Rest and relaxation are good things – we need such times and Jesus not only knew it but so ordered it that his disciples might benefit from such refreshment. However rest and relaxation are not absolute goals to be pursued at all cost – Jesus was ready to curtail such rest when other more pressing needs presented themselves. Is this a lesson we need to learn in our day and age when our possible leisure pursuits seem almost limitless?
I wonder whether the disciples thought they had done rather well. They didn't try to chase the crowd away too quickly after all did they? They waited until the day was declining before they approached Jesus about it all.
And yes, weren't they learning to be compassionate like their Master – wasn't it good of them to spot the needs of the crowd – need for sustenance for example – and wasn't it a very practical suggestion to send them away so they could buy food for themselves?
And yet the disciples still needed a better understanding of their Lord, of who he was and what made him tick. The trouble was that the disciples were still really quite good at trying to get rid of people, people who they thought were becoming something of a nuisance.
In Mt.15 they tried to stop a Canaanite woman with a possessed daughter pestering Jesus. In Lk.18 we'll see them trying to stop mothers bringing their children to him. One commentator has suggested that their slogan was all too often "Don't bother the Master and don't bother us."
Jesus listened to what his disciples were saying and while accepting the observation that the crowd need feeding rejected the solution the disciples were proposing. He wouldn't send them away when they were in need and he told his disciples that they had responsibilities. They were after all his special ambassadors and representatives!
Remember the context! These men had just returned from a mission on which they had been enabled to do wonderful things when acting under Jesus' authority. Could not such authority be exercised in other fields to meet other needs too?
Of course, the disciples couldn't provide food themselves for all this crowd but they had not it seems thought for one moment about asking Jesus for instructions – they were very ready to tell him what to do however.
With loving compassion Jesus didn't chide them for their reaction but continued to involve them in his plans and to give them a share in his ministry – and what a wonderful privilege that was!
These men learnt another lesson that day. Their first task was not so much to understand exactly how Jesus would bring his purposes to fruition, their first task was to do what he told them. Why should they tell the crowd to sit down? Wouldn't that only increase some sort of expectation when the disciples knew there was no food to go round? But Jesus knew what he was going to do and so his disciples could trust him – understanding would follow later!
Is that where some of you are stuck at the moment? You don't know how things will pan out in the end so you are holding back. Well see from this episode that although the disciples didn't understand what was about to take place they did nevertheless respond to Jesus' instructions and prepare the crowds and their preparations were richly rewarded don't you think. Not only was the crowd satisfied there were basket loads of food left over. Yes, the disciples had some work to do in distributing the food that Jesus multiplied, they had some work to do in collecting up all the left-overs but don't you think they would have thought it work worth doing?
This is often the Lord's way with us – he reveals to us what we are to do one step at a time. We can trust him because he is trustworthy, he knows what he is doing and he has made wonderful promises to us as well but don't expect him to tell in the minutest detail just how he will work in your life day after day as he brings you to glory. In this world we are called to walk by faith – not a blind leap into the dark desperately trying to believe something we know isn't true – but putting our trust in a person who has shown himself eminently capable of doing what is necessary and eminently worthy of our trusting him.
Jesus' Compassion for the Crowds
The crowds that had been milling about Jesus on the shores had seen him get into the boat and sail away and they realised where he was going. They couldn't get in the boat with him but they were so keen to be with him that they set off on foot to walk to the destination.
Their eagerness for his company is impressive don't you think? What is ours like in comparison? Do you really want to be with him? What kind of effort do we make – if indeed any – to find him?
Jesus had been very busy and he knew his disciples had been busy too. He wanted them to have some rest and respite but now, probably not long after they had landed, he was once again surrounded by a great crowd.
I wonder how I would react, I wonder how you would react? How tempting to say something like "we're having a break right now, come back next week, " or "Office Hours are..." so come back then. But, no, there is not the slightest hint of that. Jesus saw the crowd with eyes of compassion – it was those sheep without a shepherd again and he was moved by the sight of them. So he welcomed them.
His highest goal was certainly not his own personal peace and happiness, he thought instead of the well-being of these needy people who came to him for the Bread of Life.
They may have come to him for a whole range of different reasons and he responded by meeting a need that perhaps some didn't even realise they had – he taught them. We read that he spoke to them about the Kingdom of God.
This is what he had been doing previously. This is what he had sent his followers out to do. And now faced with a new situation he continues in exactly the same vein – he spoke about the Kingdom of God. That is he preached about how God can come bursting into a person's life transforming from the inside out and establishing a completely new regime. His message was not "Try harder" or "Do this and do that" in fact he didn't focus upon what men thought they could do at all but spoke of something so much more encouraging – he spoke about what God has done and is doing!
Have you understood that this is the heart and soul of the gospel?
As ever there were other needs that brought men and women to Jesus – they came for healing for their bodily ailments. And Jesus met them and healed them. How kind and compassionate he showed himself to be. There wasn't an illness or a sickness that was beyond him. We don't read of him desperately trying to heal and then failing – all we hear is that:
v.11 he "cured those who had need of healing."
The gospel I have to share with you today isn't one that guarantees you perfect health here and now. The record of these miracles establishes for all time that Jesus is compassionate and worthy of trust. What is offered to you now is the forgiveness of your sins and peace with God. Perfect health is something you will enjoy – there will be no sickness, no disease in the life hereafter – every tear will be wiped away then and you will have a new resurrection body in which to live and serve this wonderful Saviour.
Don't go on any longer pushing him away or trying to hold him at arm's length but go to him in simple prayer confessing your sin and your need of him and ask him to receive you and to make of you one of his disciples. And don't stop doing that until you are sure that he has heard and responded: the gospel is not a matter of our doing but of his and he is sovereign. But he delights to save sinners and his invitation is all you need to go humbly to him asking for his grace to be poured into your life.
Jesus' disciples had made a true assessment of the situation – the crowd did need something to eat in order for life to be sustained. Their solution involved sending the crowds away to sort out their own problems but that was not Jesus' way. Instead Jesus met their need and met it with an overflowing generosity.
When his disciple's expressed their inability to meet the need Jesus nevertheless involved them in his own solution and had them organise the crowd into groups of 50 or so. Perhaps this was in 50 rows of 100 – such an organisation would certainly facilitate the distribution process. One thing we can say with certainty is that the groups weren't carefully organised so as to enable a precise and exact amount of food to be provided. Jesus didn't make a swift calculation and cautiously measure out just sufficient to meet the immediate needs and no more. No! Jesus provision was bountiful and rich and free – just like the provision God has made for the world in which we live where the problems of human famine and malnutrition are not to be laid at God's door but at the door of sinful men who fight and destroy and selfishly reserve for themselves rather than share with others.
What was the result? 12 baskets of fragments were collected. The generous provision was not to be disregarded or wasted but it was to be gathered up. To what use it was going to be put I don't know, but I'm sure the left-overs were put to good use.
All the food they had available was a couple of sardines and five bread rolls – OK I can't be sure they were sardines – but Jesus took them in his hands and prayed over them in the presence of God before passing them over to the disciples to hand out. At what point the miracle took place and in just what form I can't tell you. All I can say is that the food was handed on and on and on until no-one had room for any more. God is good and Jesus is compassionate and kind.
My friends this event in Jesus' life is recounted by all of the four gospel writers. They all saw this miracle as having great significance. Here we find a compassionate man with the power and authority to meet the needs of all who came to him. The man at the centre of this story didn't use or abuse his power to secure a trouble-free passage for himself through this world rather he came to serve others:
Mk.10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Here is a man to admire – you won't find skeletons hidden away in his closet – here is a man to whom you can safely listen – no awkward inconveniencies to be found lurking away in the small print. Here is the Saviour of the World and I commend him to you this morning – here is the Lord of Glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinner's friend. Is he yours?