Oh, How Great is Your Compassion

Text: Mark 8:1-9

In Psalm 23, King David confesses his faith in God’s loving kindness. He gives thanks to the God who leads him beside still waters, and who restores his soul by the saving Word. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” sang David, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4, English Standard Version) The Lord’s Word and Sacraments – His rod and staff – comforted David in all distress. The Psalm continues, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (23:5) Here, David continues praising God for His kindness and grace in Christ. The forgiveness David had by faith in Jesus overflowed into a wellspring of eternal life. Yet, there were other ways in which David’s cup overflowed.

For example, the Lord provided him with a wife and children. He provided a faithful friend in Jonathan. David had food and drink, a home, a throne. Even in the midst of his enemies, the Lord provided for David. He provided for his soul, by granting him forgiveness of sins through faith and He provided for his earthly needs, as well. He didn’t do all this because David deserved it – quite the contrary, as we know. God provided for David because of His own grace, His love, His compassion. In our text from St. Mark’s Gospel, we see our Lord’s compassion on display as He abundantly provides for both soul and body.

I.

In our text from the 8th chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, the Lord is continuing His work of preaching and teaching, even among the Gentiles. Earlier in the Gospel our Lord had said to the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24) Yet, by healing her daughter, Jesus showed that the forgiveness and life that are in Him don’t belong only to those who are descended from Abraham by blood, but they are given to all who receive Jesus in faith – Jew and Gentile alike. This Good News, that God freely forgives all who repent and believe in Christ, regardless of race, drew people to Jesus. Many of them travelled, even great distances, to hear the Gospel from Jesus. By faith in Him – in His upcoming death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins – they were, indeed, forgiven and inheritors of eternal life.

St. Mark writes that at one occasion a great crowd had gathered and was listening to Jesus, but “they had nothing to eat.” (8:1) Whether they had forgotten to bring supplies or whether they had run out, we don’t know. What we do know is that this crowd had remained with Jesus for three days. They were listening to Him preach and teach, and none complained about how long His sermon was. They desired only to hear from Him the Words of Eternal Life. But now they were without food.

[Jesus] 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. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.

Mark 8:1-3

Our Lord had been feeding them food for their souls for three days, but now they needed food for their body. Our Lord didn’t send them away to fend for themselves. Instead, He had compassion. He had the crowd sit down. Then, He took the seven loaves of bread and the few fish that the disciples did have. He gave a prayer of thanksgiving and through the disciples distributed everything to the crowd. “They ate and were satisfied,” Mark said. (v. 8) All 4,000+ of them. When they went to gather the leftover broken pieces, there were seven large baskets full. With this miracle, Jesus, again, demonstrates that He is God. What’s more, this miracle gives a beautiful and comforting picture of our savior. Jesus tells us why He did this miracle. He said, “I have compassion on the crowd.” Jesus felt compassion for His little flock and set that compassion to work by abundantly providing for them in both soul and body.

II.

The Holy Spirit teaches us in the letter to the Hebrews that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8) Because Jesus is God, there is no change in Him. As Jesus was in the Gospel reading, so He was at the creation of the world. When our first parents doubted His Word and disobeyed His Commandment, He preached to them a word of Law. Because of their sin – among other things – childbirth would from then on be painful and man would have to work the ground to eat of it. Then, because of sin, they would die. Yet, our Lord always preaches both Law and Gospel. Even there in the Garden, our Lord’s compassion was on full display. He promised to Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would defeat death and the devil. In the Garden, Jesus showed compassion by promising His own death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.

Such as Jesus was then, so He is now. Out of compassion, He continues to daily and richly forgive us our many sins. Though we, of ourselves, can do no good thing, Jesus continues to show us His compassion. He continues to cause His Word to dwell among us. He places His Word in our hearts and upon our lips, here and throughout the week. He graciously comes to us and dwells in us, also, by the blessed Sacrament of the Altar. There, He distributes to us the same body which was broken and the same blood which was shed for our forgiveness on the cross of calvary. By His Word and Sacraments, Jesus creates faith and sustains us in it; He gives to us the forgiveness of our sins by these means, and assures us of the same.

Our Lord’s compassion doesn’t stop at providing for our souls, however. Out of His great compassion and love, our Lord also provides for all our needs of body, as well. He causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall. He makes our crops and animals grow. He gives us homes, jobs, families, and food. In short, all that we need He graciously supplies. He provides for us through others and through us provides for even yet others – those whom He places in our lives. He doesn’t do any of these things because we deserve them, for we truly are not better than King David on his worst day. Jesus provides for us because He has compassion. In the Gospel, Jesus knew what the crowd needed even before they did. Before they could ask, He was already at work providing for them. This was King David’s faith, and it is our glad confidence, as well. Our compassionate Lord Jesus Christ abundantly provides for all we need in both soul and body.

With the Old Testament, Psalm, and Gospel readings today all speaking about our Lord’s creating and providing, it’s also a good opportunity to confess together the meaning of the First Article of the Creed. The First Article, we know, is “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Because our God is triune, though we speak about the First Article being primarily about the Father’s actions, we also know that the Son is included in the work of creation and the Spirit, too. Let’s confess together the meaning of the First Article:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html

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