Update: If you want to listen to the sermon, you can listen to it here.
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14 ESV)
This Sunday I am getting another opportunity to preach, this time at Fellowship White Rock. As part of our series, The Journey, I will be preaching on Matthew 13:53 – 14:21, focusing especially on Jesus feeding the five thousand. It is amazing to me how strong and driving Jesus’ compassion was in spite of all the opposition he faced, especially in this passage. Jesus first gets rejected in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-58), and then he hears of the death of John the baptist (Matthew 14:1-12), which was a sign for what was to come for Jesus himself. After meeting some of his strongest opposition to date in his ministry, Jesus tries to retreat away from the crowds and the tension and find some solitude.
Instead, the crowds follow him. He gets no quiet refrain to recover from his wounds, he gets no solitude to be with His Father. He is met by a massive crowd of needy and hurting people, the same people who within a year would reject him and support the decision to crucify him. Jesus had every reason and right to respond with anger, indifference, or hostility. He could have seen the crowds on the shore, and just rowed the boat back out to sea to find rest somewhere else.
But that’s not what Jesus did. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them and he healed them. The main point that I will be making this Sunday is that Jesus’ response to opposition is compassion! The kingdom of heaven that Christ preached, the very reign of God that Jesus heralded, is one where compassion triumphs over persecution. It is a kingdom where the drive to seek justice for those in need overpowers the resistance put up by the needy.
Seeing that Jesus responds to opposition with compassion, this Sunday I want to take time looking at the feeding of the five thousand (the only miracle apart from the crucifixion and resurrection that is included in all four gospels) and see what we can learn about the compassion of Christ. These are the main points that have stood out to me:
1. Jesus’ compassion actively seeks justice
2. Jesus’ compassion desires our participation
3. Jesus’ compassion is not limited by our scarce resources
In preparation for the sermon this Sunday, I have been looking over the life of Martin Luher King Jr., specifically the events surrounding his open letter, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I had read bits and pieces of it before, but never the whole thing. What an example of a man responding to opposition and hardship with compassion! I don’t typically like to just copy and paste large chunks of things others have written into my blog, but this section is just too good to not share. It is important and relevant not only to the sermon this Sunday, but also to a modern church who, if we do not take seriously the call of Christ to have an active compassion, will sink into irrelevancy.
“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they whenGovernor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” -Martin Luther King Jr. from Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.