Sermon: Compassion on the Crowd (Mark 8)
Order of Service: Divine Service 1
#804, “O Worship the King”
#819, “Sing Praise to God, the Highest Good”
#849, “Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness”
Location: Triune God, Brooklyn Center, MN
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:1-2)
People love to listen to motivational speakers. They might not always agree with what they are saying, but they enjoy the way they say it. Jesus had this appeal. Just as John the Baptizer had before Him. People came out to hear Him because He was a great speaker. Even His enemies could not ignore Him.
We have Jesus out in the wilderness somewhere outside the Decapolis, somewhere around the Sea of Galilee. “In those days” shows that it wasn’t too far after Jesus healed the deaf man on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.1Mark 7:31-39 “Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.”2Mark 7:36
So, we understand why there are four thousand men, not counting women and children, following Him around everywhere.3Mark 8:9; cf. Matthew 15:38 His widespread fame had attracted the attention of everyone who was in any sort of need. Whether they agreed with Him or not, they were there because something wonderful might happen while they were with Him. And they weren’t disappointed.
The one big flaw in the group logic was their location. They had followed Him out into the wilderness, but no one had brought sufficient provisions for themselves, much less anyone else. They had followed Him for three days. They had had no food. They were likely starting to collapse along the way due to hunger and fatigue.
They were no different than their ancestors wandering around in the Wilderness with Moses. They were totally dependent on what Jesus could and would provide for them. They had nothing from which to take care of themselves.
How much is that like all of human existence! As poor, miserable sinners, we are completely dependent on what God gives us to support this body and life. Which is why we pray the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
As Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, “Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” Jesus knew that the crowd needed something before they passed out from exhaustion and hunger.4Mark 8:3 However, He also knew, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”5Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4
While He had done the teaching, giving them the Word from the very mouth of the LORD, Jesus also knew that man cannot survive on that alone. The body needs food. The body will not survive long without food. He has compassion on the crowd because their mortal bodies were beginning to fail. He had compassion on them by bringing them to one place. No more wandering around. Just settle down so He can take care of them.
Jesus asked His disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”6Mark 8:5 Seven small loaves of bread. Likely enough to fill the bellies of a couple of people. What was that in the face of thousands of starving people?! Among you and me, almost nothing. It would more likely cause a riot that would destroy the food so that no one would be able to eat.
But Jesus was going to show exactly who He is. Our Psalm this morning tells us, “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”7Psalm 33:6 Jesus is the Creator. “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”8Psalm 33:5 And His steadfast love drives Him to compassion on the crowd.
He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people … And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, He said that these should also be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied.9Mark 8:6-8
Blessing the loaves and the fish, Jesus creates enough food to feed and satisfy everyone. He looks to their immediate need and takes care of them. Afterward, He sent them away.10Mark 8:9 Even those who “have come from far away” have enough to be able to make it home without fainting along the way.11Mark 8:3
But they did not go away quietly. Just as this group had followed after Him because of what they had heard from the Decapolis, they went home glorifying and praising Him for what He had done. They “stand in awe of Him”12Psalm 33:8 because He had done such a great thing with so little. “He spoke, and it came to be.”13Psalm 33:9 Jesus showed compassion on the crowds following after Him by taking care of their physical needs.
But physical needs aren’t our greatest problems. Before the miraculous feeding, Jesus spent three days teaching the people. He took care of their spiritual needs first. Jesus’ primary mission in His ministry was to proclaim His Father’s Word of forgiveness to His people. He shows His compassion in that He keeps speaking it even when the people don’t want to listen. He never denies them the opportunity to repent. Forgiveness of sins is where God’s true compassion is shown. Forgiveness is how the world is filled with God’s steadfast love.14Psalm 33:5
When Jesus came into the area of the Decapolis, He came because they needed to hear the Gospel of salvation. They needed to hear the forgiveness of sins. When He comes into our midst, it is still the Gospel of salvation—the forgiveness of sins—that He speaks to everyone.
Part of that great Gospel proclamation is the verbal Word being proclaimed. But it also includes us feasting on the Bread of Life.15John 6:35 The sacramental union of earthly bread and the holy body of the Son of God. The one bread that truly satisfies. We receive a small morsel or bread, but it satisfies the soul with the forgiveness of sins.
So much greater is this satisfaction than with the bread and fish, but it is similar in its need to be repeated. Yes, the four thousand were satisfied with the miraculous meal, but they needed another meal when they returned home. So also you are satisfied with the forgiveness of sins you receive this morning, but it won’t be long before you need it again. We began the service receiving forgiveness through the spoken Word. We will end the service receiving forgiveness through Jesus’ body and blood. But you will need it again. Jesus knew this.
When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, He said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.”161 Corinthians 11:26 This Supper was not meant to be a one-time even or a rare occurrence. It is one of His ways to show His compassion to the crowd. And the crowd doesn’t have to number in the thousands. “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”17Matthew 18:20 It can be a large crowd in the Wilderness, or a church building with a modest crowd, or two or three in a family home. Wherever His people gather around His Word, Jesus has compassion on them and blesses them. Amen.