When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:34)

Mark’s gospel shows Jesus as a man of action, a servant to the purposes of God. Yet Mark does not fail to also give us glimpses into his heart, what motivated him and fed his zeal. It is the things that we do in private, the little snippets of interests, that reveal best what is in our heart.

Christ’s Compassion: Christ needed only to look at the masses of people to be moved to compassion. Our Savior is characterized most often as being a man of compassion, and it is good that we remember this at all times. Our Savior came to this earth to save us out of the compassion and love of the Father, but also as the embodiment of this same love. He saw the crowds – men and women, children, elderly, troubled and perplexed, as well as wealthy and successful. He was not drawn just to some personalities, but to all people. It was American Will Rogers who said, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” but of Christ it could be said that he never saw a human whom he did not love. He loved his persecutors no less than his disciples.

Sir George Adam Smith, who traveled through Palestine, where there are still shepherds today, beautifully described the shepherd’s heart:

On some high moor, across which at night the hyaenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.

Christ had brought his disciples away on this occasion for a few days of rest, going by boat to a solitary place. He had intended it to be a time of respite and retreat – the human soul has need for this – yet the word spread to the people that Jesus was going there and when they arrived there were people running to see him. But Christ never took a vacation from his compassion, and his heart was moved with the needs of the people.

We cannot look at this without questioning our own motivations. Those of us in ministry often find ourselves overwhelmed with people, and no matter how sincerely we offer our help to them, there will inevitably come the time when we need to be alone with God. Yet we have no right, nor is it beneficial, to have anything in our hearts but the love of Christ for them.

I have known of some who think otherwise, who pull away and vent their anger and frustrations. Naming names of those who frustrate them or torment them. I believe we all understand this tendency, and, when we feel that we cannot take anymore, it is better to curse people in some solitary setting than in a public place. But, let’s be clear on this matter. This simply reveals that in our hearts we are not Christ-like enough. It is best to not curse at all, but to bless them instead. If there are those who frustrate us, even those who betray us, if we will be like Christ then we must grow into his compassion, and let his love dominate our souls.

True love from the Father is restoring to the soul of the one who loves as well as the object of his affection. Love cannot pass through us without leaving its imprint on our hearts. When we are in doubt as to what to do, how to respond, how to minister and lead, let us begin with the love of God, and the compassion of Christ. If we will be his people, worthy of bearing the name Christian, then the first obligation we have is to be touched by his love. If we fail in our reactions and responses, we have first failed in our hearts. To be Christ-like means to carry his compassion in our hearts.

William Barclay wrote, “We must never seek the fellowship of God in order to avoid the fellowship of men but in order to fit ourselves better for it.”

The Greatest Need of Humanity: We are often caught up discussing what the greatest needs of humanity are, and, most notably, whether they are political and economic in nature, or if they are physical or metaphysical. Certainly we need our “daily bread,” and we need good health, as well as family and friends. But in this verse above is revealed our greatest need: understanding.

All physical healing, as wonderful as it is, has some built-in limitations. We all must die. “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:50). But the work of God in the human soul to bright enlightenment and salvation means eternal life.

Healings and miracles were always secondary in the work of the early church. They revealed the power of God, and brought attention to the validity to the claims of the Christian message, but salvation and life came through the preaching of the gospel. People need to know the truth that they might be saved and understand the purpose that God calls them to.

As “sheep without a shepherd” the people are vulnerable to attack, and without the truth of God people are easy pickings to the false doctrines of cults and false religions. Without a shepherd sheep cannot find their food, and they starve for nourishment. Our souls need the teaching of Christ to be strengthen by the truth. Without a shepherd sheep cannot find water, and our souls are thirsty for the life of the Spirit of God. Without a shepherd sheep cannot know the seasons or how to make preparations for winter, droughts, summer heat. And without the truth of Christ being taught to us, we are unprepared for the challenges of life.

Christ is our Shepherd to protect us, to lead us, to minister to our souls for the injustices we suffer. Christ’s life of service and rejection, as well as his heart of compassion, fit him to be our Shepherd.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:23-25)

Its meaning for us today: There can be no finer thought nor greater work than to let the love of Christ strengthen your love for all people, and then, from this love being embedded in us by the Spirit, to teach people the word of God. We should endeavor to excel in both areas: in love and in teaching. 

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