“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long way.”
One of the advantages of following a consistent plan of study which works through a whole book of Scripture is that it exposes us to the bigger themes that can be traced through whole books or sections of books. Such is the case with the text which is before us today. In Mark chapter 8:1-10 we read about the second time that Jesus feeds a massive crowd with a few loaves and fishes. That this is a second feeding miracle performed by Jesus, rather than a repetition of the same event, is apparent from the discussion which takes place in Mark 8:17-21. It is part of a larger section in which we see how the Disciples are brought to faith in Christ. Their hard, unbelieving hearts are being broken up in chapters six through eight. We read these chapters and we find that our own hardened, unbelieving hearts are being broken up.
Our text is found in a scene in which some four thousand people are attending to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. What might that three day teaching session have been like? We can guess that it must have been a wonderful time in which real spiritual needs were being met as we read that the crowd had been with Jesus for three days in a wilderness region without adequate food yet they stayed on listening with rapt attention to the words of life which came from the lips of Jesus. Mark does not see fit to give us the content of Jesus’ teaching here. He is intent on showing us the compassion of Jesus as He performs a powerful sign miracle which will break up the stony hearts of His disciples.
There are many things which we could examine here. We could explore the fact that Jesus was involving His disciples in this work in order to form them into a new Israel, in the wilderness being fed on the Manna from heaven. Robert Rayburn makes reference to this as he writes. “That Jesus involves His disciples in these miracles indicates that Jesus is creating a new Israel, having summoned His people out into the wilderness.” (Rayburn: “A Miraculous Sign”)
We could profitably explore this theme but we will not do so here. Mark goes deeper exposing us to the character of the Lord Jesus. We see here His compassion for a lost, and in many ways desperate people. He sees their need, just as He sees ours. He responds, using the response to teach His disciples how they must live in this world. His example guides and motivates His people even today. Here we see something of the compassion of His Father for us as He meets their needs. Here we learn to trust Him because we see that He will also meet the real needs He discovers in us.
Jesus’ compassion is on display here. We begin to see it clearly, and we hear His call to take that compassion out into our world. It is said that one of the events that resulted in the growth of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle was the response of Spurgeon and many of the members of his Church to a plague. They compassionately stayed in the city and ministered to the sick and the dying even at great risk to themselves.
The Father of Church History Eusebius tells us a similar story from the third century in which Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria tells of how Christians responded to a terrible outbreak of the plague following a war. He writes, “Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease.” This was the compassion of Jesus reproduced in His people. As we read these accounts we can almost hear the voice of our Redeemer saying, “Go and do Thou likewise.”