“Many saw [Jesus and the Twelve] going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.”
Children without parents. Tourists without a guide. Students without a teacher. Soldiers without a captain. Groups who lack a leader suffer many problems. There is a dependence upon guidance and wisdom, for someone to provide expertise that the group members do not have. This is especially so for flocks of sheep. Sheep without a shepherd will be in grave danger. No one will lead them to safety. No one will guide them to safe pastures. No one will keep the wolves at bay. Instead, the sheep will be left to ineptly fend for themselves.
The Old Testament Scriptures use the term “shepherd” as a way to speak about the leaders of the Lord God’s people,
So the kings of
But the Lord God’s character is not vindictiveness and anger alone. Where these are required, He will show them. However, it is His character to be compassionate and merciful. He wants what is best for His people. So when the Lord God sees His people abandoned, He removes the poor shepherds, so that new shepherds can be appointed: “I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.” By the appointment of new shepherds, the Lord God provides for the welfare of His sheep, the people of His flock.
The care which the Lord God has for His people always has a spiritual and eternal character. He does provide for physical well-being, but His greatest care is for the salvation of His people. That is why He was so angry with the kings of
You heard how Jesus went away with His disciples for a time of rest: “The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’” But what Jesus encounters drives Him to compassionate action: “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” Faced with the wandering people with no leader, Jesus shows His character: He acts for their benefit. He does what had been promised by the Lord God centuries before. Jesus becomes the shepherd who cares for these Galilean Israelites, teaching them the ways of the Lord, as well as providing food for their hunger.
Why Jesus acts this way is critical to understanding His identity and mission. It is Jesus’ goal to redeem, to rescue, to provide aid for those who cannot help themselves. The people whom Jesus encounters on the lakeshore need His help: “They were like sheep without a shepherd.” The crowds needed someone to remind them of the Lord God’s covenant with them. They needed the wisdom which Jesus possessed: the words of eternal life. They needed to hear how their sin, their guilt, their imperfections could be removed from them. But all these needs could not be met by their efforts, so “[Jesus] began to teach them many things.” Jesus meets their needs by declaring His words to them.
As the teaching continued, another need of the crowds arose: “When it grew late, his disciples came to [Jesus] and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’” But Jesus continues to show His compassion for the crowds. Though the people could not provide a meal for themselves nor could the Twelve disciples, Jesus could: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied.”
This event in Christ’s life shows His interest in the spiritual and physical welfare of His people. The compassion and pity that Jesus shows to the crowds is what He shows to all sinful humanity. Jesus saw the crowds in
Recall again the Lord God’s promise through the prophet Jeremiah. After speaking about new, earthly, human kings which He would appoint for His people, the Lord God includes another, greater promise: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days
The Son of God and Son of David who is raised up does what is impossible for you. Driven by His compassion as He saw you as sheep without a shepherd, He became your servant. Jesus gave Himself, His efforts, His life for you. Offering Himself in atoning sacrifice for you, Jesus made up for your sin, guilt, and imperfection. Everything which kept you from righteousness and true knowledge of the Lord God has been overcome by Jesus’ work. This was not done begrudgingly, but out of His pure goodness and mercy.
But like the crowds in
All this the Lord Jesus does for you because of His compassion and pity. He fulfills the promise that His Father has made for you: “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”
What the Lord God promised has been accomplished for you by the incarnate Lord God: the One who took upon human nature, the One who saw the crowds and took pity on them, the One who sent His apostles and their successors with directions to care for His people, the One who provides for the needs of body and soul, the One called “The Lord is our righteousness.” So you may be brought to the promise of everlasting life “with the saints and members of the household of God,” those who have received the compassion of Christ.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.