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Matthew 9:35-38



        Eleanor Chestnut, a former medical missionary in China, beautifully exemplified Christlike love.  A beggar had come to the hospital badly burned, but no one was willing to donate skin for a graft.  So the next morning the nurses were surprised to learn that the operation had been performed.  Then they noticed that Dr. Chestnut was limping and realized that she had surgically removed some of her own skin to save the victim's life.  They were amazed at such a sacrifice, for they couldn't understand why she would do that for a total stranger.

        Later, during the Boxer uprising, this gallant missionary again manifested a selflessness that profoundly impressed the Chinese people.  As she was being led to prison, she saw a little boy bruised and bleeding.  Immediately she broke away from her captors, and kneeling down she bound up the youngster's wound.  A few hours later she was executed.  Even after 50 years had passed, people in China were still talking about the foreign doctor whose loving concern for others made them think of Jesus.

        We have been studying the compassion of Jehovah God for 19 messages.  In the past three messages, we have been observing the compassion of God as it was demonstrated through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  We have noted one confirming statement concerning the compassion of Jesus Christ, and we have studied the two passages of Scripture where Jesus demonstrated the compassion of God and the word eleos 1656 is translated compassion.

        We are now ready to further study the compassion of God as it was demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ.  This study brings us face to face with the Greek word that is most often translated "compassion."  The Greek word is splagchnizomai 4697.  This word is translated "compassion" 11 times in the New Testament; 10 times of Jesus directly or in illustration and 1 time about God in illustration.  Today we shall begin our study of these 11 occurrences of the word splagchnizomai.

(Would you turn with me to Matthew 9:35-38 and follow along with me as I read this passage for us.  Let's first consider:)


Jesus had established an itinerant ministry in the cities and villages of Galilee.  He was accustomed to teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness.

teaching 1321 didasko - to teach

proclaiming 2784 kerusso - to be a herald, proclaim

gospel 2098 euaggelion - good tidings

disease 3554 nosos - disease, sickness

sickness 3119 malakia - softness, weakness

Three components of Jesus' ministry are mentioned here:  (1) teaching; (2) preaching; and (3) healing.  I believe the same three components of ministry are important today.  People need to be taught, i.e. they need to have things explained to them.  Jesus did this through contrast, question and answer, parable, narrative, object lessons, etc.

        At times, people need the good news of the gospel heralded to them with all of the formality and gravity which is due the subject and the Originator.  So, people need a balanced diet of preaching and teaching.

        People need a balanced diet of preaching and teaching, but they also need to have their practical needs met.  Jesus also healed their bodies of every kind of sickness and weakness.  Jesus, the King of the coming kingdom, gave people a taste of the coming kingdom.  He provided for their intellectual, emotional and physical needs.  Even though we may be unable to heal the sick as Jesus did, we can promote practical healing for our listeners by dealing with practical matters.  We can also dispense the healing of

Luke 4:17-19, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."

That quote comes from Isaiah 61:1-2, where the phrase "He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted" occurs.  If we pattern our ministry after that of Jesus Christ we will teach, preach, and heal the broken-hearted.

        At any rate, here, during His ministry, He took special note of the multitude.

(Since we know the circumstances, let's get to know:)


1.      The Protagonist Is Jesus.

This whole paragraph is concerning the ministry of Jesus Christ.  It specifically takes up the perception, passion and, pronouncement of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the Protagonist is Jesus Christ.

        We can learn valuable lessons concerning ministry by watching and emulating Jesus Christ.

2.      The Antagonist Is Not Stated.

Although there are no stated antagonists in this discourse, we can infer that there are two antagonists.

1)      The first inferred antagonist is self.

We can infer this from the clause,

"because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd."

"The crowd was in a sad and pitiful state" (A. T. Robertson).  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  People are often likened to sheep in the Bible.  Sheep are helpless, defenseless, aimless creatures.  The do not fare well without some kind of care.  A sheep's life is meant to be lived under the keeping of a shepherd.  People who have no regular care from a shepherd are distressed and downcast.  One meaning of the word "distressed" is "to give one's self trouble" or "to trouble one's self."  This leads me to the conclusion that self is sometimes one of our enemies.  Sometimes life is bitter, cruel, hard, difficult, and confusing.  People like sheep need someone to care for them, feed them, and lead them.

        Spiritually, life is meant to be lived under the keeping of the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  Those who live their lives apart from the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, will be distressed and downcast.

(But life is not the only antagonist that we can infer from the text.)

2)      The second inferred antagonists are the Pharisees.

This can be inferred from the two words describing the condition of the multitutde.  First, they were

distressed 4660 skullo {skool'-lo}

1b) to rend, mangle; to vex, trouble, annoy; to give one's self trouble, trouble one's self

A. T. Robertson says that the crowds were rent or mangled as if by wild beasts.  He says that skullo occurs in the papyri of plunder, concern and vexation.  This particular word is used here of the common people and describes their religious condition.  This was the religious condition of those without shepherds and those with hirelings for shepherds like the Pharisees.  They were harassed, importune, bewildered by those who should have taught them; hindered from entering the kingdom of heaven, laden with the burdens which the Pharisees laid upon them.


(Not only were they distressed, they were downcast.)

downcast 4496 rhipto {hrip'-to}

1) to cast, throw; throw down; to cast forward or before; to set down (with the suggestion of haste and want of care); to throw to the ground, prostrate

Again, A. T. Robertson says the masses were in a state of mental dejection.  This is what life does to you when you are not under the care of a good shepherd, or when you are harassed by a hireling.

(There is still one more antagonist that we can infer from this text.)

3)      The third inferred antagonist is Satan.

Jesus is using the metaphor of sheep, and we know that sheep have natural predators.  Robertson says that the Greek word translated distressed has the meaning of being mangled as if by wild beasts.  There are wolves, lions, bears, and thieves after the sheep.  Whom do these predators represent, but Satan?  Although Satan is not mentioned directly in the narrative, we know that he is ultimately responsible for the sinful plight of mankind.  Satan is the angry, insane prince and power of the air, the unholy god of this world.  Because He hates God, he wants to destroy people who are God's creation.  He provided the impetus for the initial fall of mankind and he continues to try to take all that he can to hell with him.  So whether any Bible text clearly states this fact or not, it must be understood that Satan is our antagonist as long as time exists.

        H. L. Willmington, in one of his systematic theology lessons on Satan, describes "The Sixteen Deadly D's of the Devil."  They are:















defamation, and


Here are two more D's that we could add to Willmington's list:  distress and dejection.

(Now that we have explored the circumstances and the characters, we are ready to consider:)


In our study of the narratives where Jesus demonstrates the compassion of Jehovah God, we have covered some of the narrative styles that are utilized in the Bible.  Today we are entertaining a new genre of narrative.  The narrative before us is simply a discourse narrative.  The major feature of this short story is the discourse of Jesus Christ.  So what we are to learn, we are to learn from the words of Jesus Christ.

        The conflict in this narrative is a spiritual conflict, i.e. the spiritual conflict of caring ministry versus uncaring ministry; compassion versus hardness.  Therefore, the action that precedes this discourse also revolves around choice.  There is choice here for Jesus.  The choice concerns how or if He will minister to this multitude of distressed, downcast people.  The choice that Jesus was faced with was a spiritual test.

(We can examine the action or plot and the discourse by considering three alliterated points:)

1.      Christ's Perception Is Sharp.

In the course of ministry, He sees the multitude.

seeing 3708 horao {hor-ah'-o}

1) to see with the eyes

The perception of Jesus Christ is sharp.  He takes note of the condition of the multitude.  Jesus was constantly trying to teach His disciples to be alert to the state or condition of people.  Jesus was constantly trying to teach the disciples to develop insight and foresight concerning people.  Insight deals with wisdom.  Foresight deals with planning.  Here Jesus exercises perceptual insight.  He perceived, through His wisdom, that the multitude was distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.

        I have been trying to teach the same thing for over 18 years.  I have been trying to teach us to see and perceive the spiritual condition of the people.  I have been trying to teach us to see the crowds of people who gather here as distressed and downcast, but this takes maturity and spiritual perception.

(Not only is His perception sharp in this situation, but:)

2.      Christ's Passion Is  Significant (Or Great).

Christ's passion is seen in the statement,

"...He felt compassion for them..."

felt compassion 4697 splagchnizomai "to have the bowels yearn," "to be moved in the inward parts," "to feel compassion."

splagchnizomai is from

4698 splagchnon "an intestine."

splagchnon "b. the bowels were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, especially kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence equivalent to our heart, [tender mercies, affections, etc.]."[1]

We have already spent much time studying the fact that compassion is "a deep feeling for and an understanding of suffering with an accompanying desire to relieve that suffering"  (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).  Christ was passionate concerning the multitude.  Jesus was deeply moved with compassion towards these people.  He had a deep feeling for the suffering of people.  He had and understanding of the suffering of people.  He had a desire to relieve the suffering of people.

        Jesus is still the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Chief Shepherd and He is deeply moved by our distress!  Praise God!

        This narrative generates interest by revealing the feelings of Jesus about the multitude that He continually ministered to.  Leland Ryken, in his book How To Read The Bible As Literature, says, "Look upon the protagonist's experiment in living as a comment about a significant aspect of human life and values."  When we follow Mr. Ryken's advice we are able to deduce the fact that passion over the plight of people, or compassion, is a extremely significant value for ministry and life!  How can anyone minister without being compassionate?  How can a Christian live the Christian life without being compassionate?  And yet many in our day try to dismiss the importance of emotion in ministry and in life!!!  Emotion is not all-important, but it is important.

(In this narrative we can see that Christ's perception is sharp, His passion is significant and:)

3.      Christ's Pronouncement Is Serious.

Christ makes a serious pronouncement which proceeds from His perception and passion.

(This pronouncement is the climax of the action in this discourse narrative, so let's continue on and cover it under:)


The climax of this story is in the final pronouncement of Jesus Christ.  Jesus gives them insight into ministry and instructions for ministry.

(Let's consider first:)

1.      Christ's Insight Into Ministry.

The insight that Christ gives to His disciples is a contrast between the harvest and the workers.  Jesus wants the disciples to understand that the harvest is plentiful, while the workers are few.  Christ changes metaphors from the sheepfold to the field.

harvest 2326 therismos

1) the act of reaping, figuratively of the gathering of men into the kingdom of God, i.e. referring to time of reaping, the final judgment, when the righteous are gathered into the kingdom of God and the wicked are cast into Hell for ever.

plentiful 4183 polus {pol-oos'}

1) many, much, large

few 3641 oligos {ol-ee'-gos}

1) little, small, few, of number, multitude, quantity, or size; of time, short; of degree or intensity, light, slight

Christ's insight concerning ministry is as true today as it was when He said it.  There are so many people who need salvation.  There are so many people who are distressed.  There are so many people who are downcast.  Yet, there are so few laborers, soul-winners, workers for Jesus Christ.  The result is that Christianity is losing ground to the population growth.

(Now only does Christ give His disciples insight into ministry, but instructions for ministry.)

2.      Christ's Instructions For Ministry.

Christ's instructions for ministry are based upon His perception and His passion.  His instructions are "Beseech God to send workers into the harvest.  Entreat God to send workers to win souls.  Earnestly pray to God to send workers into His vineyard."

        This is still our downfall today.  Certainly, the problem has not changed.  We still have an overwhelming harvest and very few workers.  Evidently, we must do more than exhort, guilt-trip, recruit, and train people.  We must fervently pray to the Lord of the harvest.  This is God's harvest.  We must entreat, pray, beg Him to send workers into His harvest.

        Our second downfall maybe that we are praying for the wrong kind of people.  We should not be praying for the intelligent, nor the wise; the bold, nor the boisterous; the great, nor the gifted.  We should be praying for workers!!!  Ministry is work!  Soul-winning is work!  Discipleship is work!  Bonding people to the ministry through small group activity is work!

        The foil, i.e. the thing which sets off or heightens that which is most important in the story, is the Pharisees.  The attitude and actions and assertions of the Pharisees in the preceding paragraph are in stark contrast to those of Jesus Christ.  The Pharisees were concerned with trapping Jesus, rather than helping people.  They were concerned with how Jesus was casting out demons, rather that the fact that someone had been delivered from demons.

        The important value for ministry, i.e. what really matters most in ministry, is compassion!!!  Compassion would motivate the disciples to pray to God for workers.  Compassion would motivate us to pray to God for workers.  A lack of compassion, kept the Pharisees from any such action.

        This is an admiration story.  An admiration story is one in which  a sympathetic hero successfully masters one threat after another.  All that we can do is admire and learn from our hero, Jesus Christ!!!  What compassion He had for the shepherdless multitudes!  Jesus is moved by our distress!!!

        What compassion we ought to have for the shepherdless multitudes of our day; just like our Shepherd and Hero Jesus Christ!!!

(Now is the day of salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Nineteenth Zondervan Printing 1978, pp. 584-585.

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