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Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9



        A pastor went into a supermarket to pick up his wife.  As he waited near the checkout lanes, he overheard a clerk telling a young mother that she couldn't use her food stamps to buy the socks her daughter had selected.  He saw disappointment on the child's face, so he impulsively stepped over, handed her a few dollars, and quickly walked away.  He didn't dare look at the mother because he was afraid he might have embarrassed her.  He was only trying to practice the principle of

Matthew 25:40, "And the King will answer and say to them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'"

        We sometimes find it difficult to see the poor through eyes of compassion.  Rather than dwelling on the exceptions, we need the attitude expressed by Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr.  He wrote:

Jesus, why didn't You tell me You were hungry?

Why didn't You tell me You were thirsty?

Why didn't You tell me those were Your toes sticking through cracked shoes?

I didn't know You needed Medicaid;

Why didn't You tell me they'd sent You to jail?

I want to open the door and invite You in;

Please tell me who You are next time You knock.

        Jesus gives us many opportunities to express compassion to Him through the various people and circumstances that we encounter in life.  It is up to us to recognize, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that opportunities to be compassionate towards anyone are opportunities to minister to Jesus!

        Jesus took every possible opportunity to be compassionate towards people.  One such opportunity was the feeding of the hungry multitude to whom He continually ministered.  The most famous of these feedings is The Feeding of the 5,000.  The lesser known and, I suspect the lesser preached feeding, is The Feeding of the 4,000.  The Evangelists Matthew and Mark both record The Feeding of the 5,000 and The Feeding of the 4,000.  Matthew is a Jewish tax collector who wrote to a Jewish audience to convince them that the King of the Jews had come.  Mark presented Jesus Christ as a Servant to a Gentile audience that knew little about Old Testament theology.

The four narratives are so similar that I believe it would be beneficial for us to use Mark's account in 6:30-44 and harmonize the other accounts with it.  The other accounts are The Feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14:12-21 and The Feeding of the 4,000 recorded in Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-9.  All of these narratives are about Jesus' compassion to the hungry multitude.

        Before we can harmonize these narratives, we need to read Mark 6:30-44.

(Remember this is a narrative and will be more easily understood if it is treated as accordingly.)


The Feeding of the 5,000 occurred shortly after the death of John the Baptizer.  Jesus and His disciples were not only tired from constant ministry, they were probably dealing with grief.  Jesus instructs the disciples to come away with Him to rest, because they didn't even have time to eat.  So, they got on a boat to go to a lonely place, but the people ran ahead of them to the destination and waited on shore.  When Jesus comes on shore, the action of the story begins.

        The setting of the feeding of the 4,000 was near a mountain by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus had just healed the multitude and the multitude was about to disperse.  As they were about to disperse, He noticed that they had nothing to eat.

        Whether tired, bereaved, or occupied with ministry, Jesus demonstrates insight, foresight, and compassion towards people.

(We are aware of the circumstances, so let's look at:)


1.      The Protagonist is Jesus Christ.

Both Mark and Matthew portray Jesus positively.  His attitude and actions are exemplary.

2.      There is no stated antagonist.

Although there is no stated antagonist in the story, life brings unexpected, antagonistic circumstances.  People are often hungry, sick, and shepherdless, because of time and chance.

        Likewise, Satan is an unseen antagonist in this narrative.  Satan was always the undercover antagonist against everything that Jesus did, said and stood for.

        There is also here some mild antagonism from the disciples.  They suggested that the people be sent away.  They manifested, probably unknowingly, unbelief in the miracle working power of Jesus Christ.  They also manifested a different motive and manner of ministry than their Lord, Teacher and Master.  When will we learn that to have a different motive and manner of ministry than your leader is to demonstrate some antagonism?

(Alright!  We have covered the circumstances and the characters.  Now we are ready for:)


The conflict before us is a moral conflict.  The conflict is between the morality of Jesus and the morality of the disciples.  In all of these narratives, Jesus is concerned that the people will faint from hunger on their journey home.  The disciples morality did not include any sense of responsibility or concern for the multitude that was following Christ.  The morality of the disciples was based upon figures, rather than faith which expresses itself through love (Galatian 5:6).  But by contrast, Jesus felt compassion for the multitude.  This is 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.   Four of those occurrences are found in these narratives.

feel compassion and 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]

compassion splagchna "The verb gives the oriental idea of the bowels as the seat of compassion."

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 because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He was the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Chief Shepherd.

        The shepherd's job was a job of care and tenderness.  It was job that included guiding, guarding, and grazing the sheep.  In this particular context, He displayed His compassion for them by feeding them both spiritually and naturally.

        He cared about and was concerned about the welfare of the multitude.  He was not just concerned about the salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.  He was concerned about the quality of their journey home.  Jesus was compassionate towards the full spectrum of human pain, i.e.

1.      He was compassionate concerning their spiritual condition.

2.      He was compassionate with respect to their lack of direction.

3.      He was compassionate towards their physical sickness.

4.      He was compassionate towards the quality of their journey home.

5.      He was compassionate concerning their physical hunger.

        It is also important to point out that Jesus expressed His compassion physically.  He didn't just command a supernatural fullness in their stomachs, but He provided real food for their nourishment.


        A story about President Lincoln appeared years ago in the Gospel Herald

        A large number of persons were waiting to see him one day in 1864, and among them was a delicate-looking boy of about 15.  The President, noticing that he was pale and faint, disregarded some dignitaries who were first in line.  Lincoln said to the boy, "Come here, son, and tell me what you want."  Advancing slowly and timidly, the young man said in a weak voice, "Mr. President, I was a drummer in a regiment, but I became sick and have been in the hospital for many weeks.  This is the first time I've been able to get out, and I was hoping you could do something for me."  Lincoln looked at him kindly and asked him where he lived.  "I have no home," he answered.  "Where is your father?"  "He died in the army."  "Where is your mother?"  continued the President.  "My mother is also dead.  I have no brothers, sisters or friends."  Beginning to sob, the teenager concluded, "Nobody cares for me!"  Lincoln's eyes filled with tears.  He took a pencil and wrote a note to an official, who would act upon his request immediately.  The note said, "Care for this poor boy."  The distressed lad never forgot that act of compassion.

        As Christians we are even more responsible to extend help and show compassion to the needy.

        The moral/spiritual test here is between compassionate concern and hardhearted unconcern!!!  Jesus was concerned; the disciples were unconcerned.  Isn't that the way people are today?  No, most of us are not going out of our way to hurt people or be mean, we are just unconcerned.  Unconcerned about our husband's pain at work!  Unconcerned about our wife's moods and transitions.  Unconcerned about our children's needs for our attention.  Unconcerned about our brothers' and sisters' plights when we encounter them.  Does it ever dawn on you, O husband, to reach out and hug your wife when she is angry with you?  Does it ever dawn on you, O wife, to reach out and hug your husband when is discouraged?  Does it ever dawn on you, O parent, to stop just for a moment when your child slams his/her finger in the car door?  Does it ever dawn on you, O Christian, to slow down and not race out of the church; but to take some time with that person you know is hurting?

        And why are we unconcerned?  Because we are not compassionate!  And why aren't we compassionate?  Because we are preoccupied with ourselves!!!  No wonder God has me preaching these 31 messages on compassion.  I have already preach 20 messages on compassion, and I still see all around me a lack of concern for our fellowman and a preoccupation with our own pain and problems.

        A lot of people would use these texts to support a food ministry.  I don't really have any problem with that, even though Jesus was not setting up a food ministry.  He was meeting the physical need that was presented to Him in the course of ministry.  He did not come back every Friday and pass out fish and loaves!!!  Nevertheless, we are presently exploring ways to provide greater help to the poor and hungry in our community.

        In each of these narratives we have been discussing the foil.  The foil is the thing which heightens or sets off the thing that is most important in the narrative.  The foil here which heightens the attitude and actions of Jesus Christ is the disciples.  Jesus said to the disciples, "You give them something to eat."  The disciples said, "Send them away."  It seems obvious to me that Jesus was trying to use the Feeding of the 5,000 as a ministry lesson for the disciples, by instructing them to give the people something to eat.  The disciples did not have the compassion nor the faith to handle this situation.

        This lesson for the disciples is likewise a lesson for us.  We should have the insight and compassion of Jesus, which we have developed through spending time with Jesus in His Word, to perceive the condition of people we encounter in our everyday lives.  Then we should have the faith, which expresses itself through love, to depend upon Jesus to equip us to minister to the needs that we encounter.

        The test motif is also represented here.  This was a test of resourcefulness.  The disciples were not even resourceful enough to simply believe in Jesus, but Jesus was resourceful enough to use what was present to feed thousands.

"Little is much when God is in it.

Labor not for wealth or fame.

There's a crown and you can win it,

If you go in Jesus' name."

We must be resourceful with what God has given to us in providing ministry to the hurting multitude!!!

(We have covered the circumstances, the characters, and the conflict of this story.  We are now ready to cover:)


The climax of this narrative is Jesus breaking the bread, dividing the fish and continuously giving them to the disciples until 5,000 and 4,000 adults, not counting women and children, were fed!  Jesus the Logos, i.e. the wisdom, thought, and Word of God used His creative ability to create food for hungry people.  The miracle of multiplication took place somewhere between the hands of Jesus and the hands of the disciples.  What an outstanding miracle and what an outstanding occasion:  to feed shepherdless, sick, hungry people!  Don't we see the truth here that God is willing to perform great miracles to provide for His children?  Didn't He send manna in the wilderness and cause water to follow the children of Israel underground?  Isn't He miraculously providing for us because we are trying to feed His children?

        But Jesus didn't just provide a few fish and loaves for the multitude, they were satisfied!!!  There are two important values being taught here to the disciples:  (1) the importance of compassion in ministry; and (2) the importance of faith in ministry.

        With compassion and faith we can provide satisfying ministry to those who are hurting.  It takes compassion to recognize and be sensitive to the needs of people, and it takes faith to trust God to provide for the needs of the people.

        The detail of fragments being left over probably demonstrates the fact that Jesus Christ came that we might have life; and have it more abundantly.  He provided more than what they needed, He provided exceeding abundantly more than they could ask or think.

        Of course this is an admiration story.  We admire what we see in Jesus in this narrative.  But this is more than an admiration story, it is also a witness story.  For the story witnesses through manner, motive, and miracle that Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One, i.e. the MessiahWho else could miraculously multiply food?


        Jesus had compassion on the sick multitude; Jesus had compassion of the shepherdless multitude; and Jesus had compassion on the hungry multitude.  Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, is a compassionate God!

(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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