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When Jesus Had Compassion on the Crowds

Most of the crowds in the Gospel of Mark are amazed at Jesus. They don’t necessarily have saving faith, but they constantly marvel at him. They find him fascinating and intriguing.

But not in Nazareth.

Mark 6:3 says the people “took offense at him.” They were scandalized by Jesus because he was this boy they all knew. They knew his family. He was just one of them. So where does he get off acting so high and mighty, behaving like some kind of Messiah?

And so it says in v. 5: “And he could no mighty work there, except that he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them.”

This has often puzzled Christians. Why couldn’t Jesus do many works there? It wasn’t because their lack of faith robbed Jesus of his miraculous mojo. It was because their unbelief acted counter to his primary purpose. He hadn’t come to Nazareth to put on a show. He wasn’t there to be a one man healing clinic. That’s not why he came out. As much as he had compassion on sufferers, he never went into a town just to relieve suffering. When the crowds wanted Jesus to be useful to them and nothing more, he refused to oblige. He cared for people’s physical pain, but he also cared about, and was even more deeply disturbed by, their unbelief.

When we use the language of “compassion” we almost always think of meeting physical needs, but for Jesus teaching was also compassion ministry.

Consider the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. You have all these people listening to Jesus. It’s probably a nationalistic, maybe Zealot, crowd. They are looking for a military Messiah. That’s why John’s gospel says they tried to make Jesus king by force (John 6:15). They were agitated and looking for a leader.

Mark 6:34 says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus is moved with pity because they don’t have a true shepherd to lead them. So what does Jesus do next? What did Christ’s compassion look like in that moment? The verse continues: “And he began to teach them many things.” Do you see the connection? Jesus had compassion on them, so he began to teach. Teaching the crowd was not motivated by something less than compassion.

He came out to preach (Mark 1:38). He left Nazareth when they didn’t want him to preach (Mark 6:1-6). And he taught the crowds when he saw they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a good shepherd. For Jesus, preaching was mercy ministry.

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