Rev. Alan Kimber was at one time the pastor of Westfall United Methodist Church in Durban, South Africa. He said that at the time there were two classrooms in the township, with 500 kids going to school in two sessions, 8:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00-4:00 p.m. The children were poor. Many had no shoes. And the classes sometimes took place under the shelter of trees. The kids had a hard time learning because they were hungry.
It soon became apparent that in order to facilitate learning they were going to have to first feed these children. That was a problem he tried to address one Sunday morning. Finally one man said he had $5 and another said he had $10. That Sunday morning the church collected $2,000 on the spot and began to feed those children.
Well, like the children in South Africa, the story today has a hungry hoard of people ”ten to twenty thousand. The 5,000 represents only the men ”doesn’t count the women and children.
Let’s begin with our story in verse 13: “Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.”
Think back with me. Think back to a time when you wanted to be all alone.
I love being around people. I love being around God’s people, church people, more than any people at all. But the reality is the older I get, the more I also enjoy solitude. Alone time. Just a little time to sit on the bench before I have to go back into the ball game.
Put yourself in this story. Cast your mind back to the last time you were really, really sad. After the death of a close friend. At that time of sadness, what you needed most, what you wanted more than anything in the world after the funeral, was to hide away and be quiet. To be alone for a minute. Maybe to pray. Maybe to ponder. But, above all, to be still and not have people bother you. No questions. Not even words of comfort. What you want most is silence.
Now suppose right after you find that quiet place — in this case, Jesus was mourning the death of his cousin, the death of a good friend, the death of John the Baptist who had been so close to Jesus. The very one who had baptized Him. He had lost John, a cousin and a colleague. Not only that, seeing the way they treated John reminded Jesus of what lay ahead for Him. He just wants to be alone. But the crowds discover where He is going and they converge around Him.
I would have been frustrated. Maybe even angry. Certainly disappointed. But not Jesus. Jesus had a different attitude. Jesus showed compassion.
Look at Matthew 14:14: “And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.”
Yes, Jesus’ popularity had grown to Olympic-sized proportions and people were following Him everywhere around Galilee, listening, hoping, and wanting to be healed. The crowd was relentless in pursuit of Jesus, much like the paparazzi following a star athlete or a Hollywood celebrity.
Don’t you know, sometimes people just want to be alone. But despite His heart’s desire, Jesus has compassion.
As the day progresses, the disciples inform Jesus that it is getting late and the people needed to go back to the city because hunger is going to set in and there is not going to be any way to feed them.
“No, they don’t need to go away,” Jesus said. Look at verse 16. “You give them something to eat!”
The first thing I want you to see in the story is this:
Sometimes Jesus gives us assignments that seem to be impossible.
Howard Batson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He holds degrees from Lander University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from Baylor University. He and his wife, Lisa, are the parents of three daughters: Ryan, Jordan and Chandler.
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