Lesson 2: Compelled by Compassion
The disciples had observed the priority their Teacher had placed on personal, private prayer. This was an important lesson for them–one that would be reiterated throughout their ministry mentorship with Jesus. On this occasion, as they accompanied Him to the place of his prayer retreat, yet another ministry lesson came into focus. Again, it was not a lecture, or even an answer to one of their questions. Rather, it was a glimpse into the heart of their Teacher which allowed them to see the motivation behind His ministry.
As Jesus withdrew by boat to the solitary place for prayer, something caused him to change his plans. His personal retreat was momentarily postponed. Matthew explains why:
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14 ESV)
What exactly had preempted Jesus’ plans? What had caused him to turn aside from the important activity of prayer?
His heart of compassion. He had compassion on them. The sight of a helpless multitude of people looking for a morsel of hope compelled Jesus to interrupt what He was doing in order to shepherd those lost sheep. And so, for the better part of the day, the disciples watched as Jesus moved among the people, touching and healing them, as He taught them about the Heavenly Father who loved them and cared for them.
The take-away for the disciples? It was this: Jesus had demonstrated for them exactly what a heart for ministry looks like. It is compassionate concern for those in need. And if something is important enough to interrupt a personal prayer time, it must be really important. If prayer provides the gateway to empower our ministry, compassion fuels our motivation for ministry.
In the days to follow, Jesus would continue to mentor His disciples to become compassionate shepherds as He traveled about teaching and healing and giving them opportunities to do the same. He healed blind men; he made lepers clean; and every time, the disciples saw that same familiar look on Jesus’ face–the look of compassionate concern, the tender kindness of a Physician who enters into the suffering of his sick patients and desperately wants to help them.
Peter evidently “caught” the concept. This was probably in part because of that famous three-question oral exam Jesus gave Him after the Resurrection. Every time Peter tried to answer the question Do you love me?, the Teacher had admonished him to “feed my sheep.” Later Peter would write to other church leaders:
...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:2-4 ESV)
FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION: The question for us today: what truly motivates us for ministry? Is it a heart of compassion for others? Are we compassionate enough to allow our personal plans to get interrupted? Let’s pray that Christ will create in us a true heart of compassion. Let’s pray that Christ may allow our hearts to be broken over what breaks His.