Jesus saw them from a long way off. They were His disciples when He sent them out and now they returned His apostles, literally the sent ones. That’s what apostle means. He had sent them out with authority and His Father had empowered them to heal the sick and cast out demons. They were bursting at the seams to tell what they had seen and done. He watched them approach and their excitement filled the air with anticipation.
They were like children so often. Not fully understanding what was asked of them but doing the best they could. Now they had tasted of what was possible. They hadn’t just seen miracles, they had performed miracles. Like schoolyard kids, they were clamoring over each other with this story and that miracle.
When they came to Jesus on the shores of the Galilee, they couldn’t wait to hear what Jesus would say about their adventures. Like children, they wanted His approval but as men, they were aware that they were entering a new realm of faith that was so far beyond them.
They had no way of knowing what wound had been inflicted upon their Teacher. Jesus was attentive to their moment but overwhelmed by His own sorrow. His cousin, John, had been murdered. Beheaded at the request of a child.
He and John were bound in a way no man can understand. In their mother’s wombs, they knew each other’s presence. They both burned with a passion for their heavenly Father but in different ways.
John was like wildfire burning through the desert. He cried out against all who opposed the way of God and did not hesitate to condemn the sinner no matter the cost. Now it had cost him his life.
Jesus had called him the greatest man born of a woman. Like an ember, he burned brightly and now he was gone. John understood Jesus as no other man. He knew He was the Lamb of God sent to redeem the people. He knew that both of them would come to a similar fate.
These disciples now apostles did not fully understand what was facing them. They did not realize that they too would share such a fate. But Jesus would not dampen their enthusiasm. Instead, He called on them to depart by boat to escape the crowds surrounding them so that they might consider all these things.
Jesus knew that the disciples were tired despite their emotion. Like them, we forget that Jesus could be tired as well. He had set aside His divinity that He might be as us. Jesus knew what gave Him strength in such moments. It was to get away. To ascend the lonely mountain where He and His Father could talk.
And so Jesus sought to take them to a desert place. Yet the Aramaic term used here is not of sand dunes and sun but of a solitary place, a wilderness where a person could hear what was going on in their very heart.
It should not surprise us that He would do so. The wilderness held a special place in His life and the life of His people. They had been born in a wilderness that was 40 years in the making. In the wilderness, they had found both struggle and testing, success and failure.
Jesus had His wilderness. He knew what pain could be inflicted by the enemy. He had been tempted and tried. He had come to terms not just with who Satan was but who He was.
We all need a wilderness now and then. We need a place where we can go and wrestle with the struggles the world is bringing upon us. A place where we can seek out the Lord to try and come to terms with where we are in our desert journey.
Jesus knew such a wilderness but more, He knew what that wilderness can do. It can change you. It brings you into the place where you can encounter God or should I say, He encounters you. It is in those overwhelming moments where you experience His provision and His protection. He takes you into the hollow of His hand and shelters you there long enough for you to be renewed physically and spiritually.
From there, He releases you back into the world with a new sense of direction. A sense of why you are here and why you are enduring these trials and tests.
That is what Jesus wanted them to know. He wanted them to experience that rest that heals and strengthens because He knew that something wonderful occurs when you share that wilderness with another. You become a community. You become whole and move as one.
How do you think God views our world and our lives?
Is He some distant being that has set us in place and left us to our own devices? The world imagines Him as such or as nothing at all. If they grant Him any place, it is as a creator or designer who put all these marvelous things in place. If they recognize Him at all is from the perspective that we have little in common with Him outside that creative act.
The world more often sees Him as wrath and judgement that they know they deserve. They choose not to speak of Him as if by doing so they would invite His condemnation. They relegate Him to the back of their mind and the fringes of their world so that the guilt is not so overpowering.
How we view God is basic theology. But the more pertinent question is how does God want you to view His world? His ways are not our ways and we are as different as the east is from the west. We accept that. He would not be God if He could be framed in our mortal minds.
But we can answer the question of how we should view the world and our lives because of Him. That is basic morality. Every choice, every challenge and every decision of this life is a measure of what we think of God. All ethics flow from our theology. All our actions reveal what we think of God.
Imagine that you had to explain to a child who God was. Who of us would not struggle with that task, but who of us has not been there? The truth is that what we do has taught our children far more about God than what we can say.
In our language, they may or may not hear His voice. In our struggles, they may or may not see His hand. It all depends on what we see in this world and what this world brings out of us. Does it bring out the worst of us or do we allow God to be seen in those moments?
In our youth class on Sunday mornings, we have asked the same question of how you know God. We have discovered that no better way exists to know God than to know His Son. Of all that we may find in His written Word, the best is to be known in His living Word.
So what do we see when Jesus and His disciples sail across the Galilee and leave the crowds behind? In the time it takes to cross that body of water, those seeking Jesus travel some twenty miles to be waiting on Him when they arrive.
I like to believe that in those solitary moments that Jesus had with His disciples on the water were enough. That Jesus was able to affirm what they experienced and began to prepare them for what lay ahead. Perhaps He was doing that when they looked up and saw the crowds thronging the shoreline. Perhaps that was the greater lesson anyway.
Serving God doesn’t always allow us time to grieve or to find a solitary moment. Sometimes they are waiting on every shore.
But look closely to how Jesus responds to this sight and how the disciples saw the Father in Him.
“He saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34).
There is much to be found in that verse that defines Jesus and reveals His Father. If you were to define Jesus in one word, it would be compassion. A compassion that escapes the modern man. We are surrounded by convenience and support. Most every need we have, we have someone or something to address it.
When we are sick, we see the doctor. When we need legal advice, we see a lawyer. There is provision for most of our needs in this world. At least it seems that way. But we are far more helpless than we realize. Oh, we may look alright to the world and put on a good front but there are times we are lost and lonely inside. There are moments we didn’t measure up or worse, we fell headlong into sin. So many times, we are the walking wounded, but we can’t let anyone know. That would be weak.
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied of the coming One who would be the shepherd of his sheep, seeking the lost, bringing back the strayed, binding up the crippled, strengthening the weak, and feeding them justice and food (Ezek. 34:16-31).
Jesus looks at you like He looks at His disciples. He sees your enthusiasm. He knows your heart. And He knows what lies ahead when you do not.
That is why He calls you away to that solitary place. To a place where you can understand not just your wilderness but what He wants for you in it.
What did Jesus do when He saw all those sheep without a shepherd? The scriptures say that “he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
He taught them how to listen and to free themselves through repentance by turning to face Him.
You see, there is something He wants you to understand about what He asks of you. He does not simply command and expect obedience; He is also moved and affected by what happens in your life.
But Jesus also healed them by the hundreds. What touched His heart the most was how desperate they were for their loved ones who were suffering.
In order to get them near the prophet, they lay the sick in the middle of the streets so that they might touch Him or at least the border of his garment.
Jesus did not heal them by His own power. Remember that He had laid down His divinity when He came among us. He did only what His Father empowered Him to do. And on that day, the Father reached down through His Son and touched that lost soul who could only touch the edge of His garment.
You cannot speak of the life of Christ without talking of healing. You cannot speak of the early church without speaking of the healing found there. But somewhere in the last thousand years, the church today is unrecognizable as a place of healing.
Perhaps its because we have so many earthly provisions for our needs. So often, our first thought at illness is of a doctor and not of Christ. It’s not that we doubt Him but we just don’t think of Him immediately.
I think there is another reason. We are uncomfortable seeing ourselves as the huddled masses thronging around Jesus just to touch Him.
We do not want to be like these people! In their desperation they lack public decorum. To find healing and deliverance, they will cry out, beg, push through crowds, and suffer humiliation.
We think ourselves better than that. Look at our worship. Our services are designed for people who can be in control of their lives. We want everything decent and in order.
We look upon those people in the streets that day with pity. The same pity we feel when we see images of homeless people and people living in third world countries.
But what we need is compassion, not pity.
You see, pity is something you can manage from afar! You can throw a few dollars at pity and move on.
But not compassion. Compassion makes you like Jesus. It makes you hurt for them like Jesus did. It causes you to see them not just as sinners and unbelievers but as lost sheep who have no idea of the danger they are in.
Compassion causes you to pray for them. Compassion causes you to look for them each day when you are about. And compassion causes you to hurt for them until you do what you can for those who are on your shoreline.
We need to pray more for healing in our worship. We need to speak more of those who need our prayers. We need to come into this solitary place each week and feel what Jesus feels. Simply put, we need to come to Jesus for everything first; for without Him, we are sheep who have no shepherd.
Great Shepherd, do not let us wander without purpose nor allow us to so schedule our lives that we may not see those in need or You leading us there. Make us desperate for you, O Christ. Let us hear you voice and feel your hand upon us. Take us unto yourself O Lamb of God for we perish without you. Amen.