When have you most acutely felt in need? Perhaps there was a season when peace was elusive, and you longed for God to bring chaos to order in your life. Maybe you’ve felt the physical need for healing or restoration. Financial, emotional, and relational needs present themselves in countless ways. Demand is all around us.
Over two thousand years ago, on a hillside near Bethsaida, with the Sea of Galilea’s waves gently lapping at the shore, there was also need. Yet this story centering on Jesus’ miracle of feeding a great multitude does not begin with the crowd’s pressing lack, but with His selfless compassion.
Jesus and His disciples did not arrive at that hillside intending to lead a great movement. Rather, they came for rest and solitude. They’d just learned of the death of their dear friend, John the Baptist. In Matthew 14:13, we see Jesus’ reaction to this significant loss, “Now when Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself.” They were seeking a quiet place to process their grief and take a much-deserved break from ministry. We read the same story in the book of Mark which explains in verse 31 that after a busy season of work, “they had no leisure even to eat.”
And yet just as it is today, solitude was difficult to come by. We continue in Matthew 14:13, “But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns.” When Jesus saw the crowd, He did not see their need as an inconvenience. Instead, in Mark 6:34, we witness an incredible response: “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.”
In His fatigue and grief, Jesus met the crowd with compassion. He extends the same loving care to us in our need. Our prayers are not an interruption to Him, but instead, He welcomes our requests and questions. He sees our confusion and speaks reason and truth into our hearts and minds. Lamentations 3:22-23 speaks of the lavish compassion of our Lord:
“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.”
It wasn’t only their need for teaching and guidance that Jesus provided for that day. He also cared about a physical need that seemed rather insignificant: their rumbling stomachs. Many are familiar with Jesus’ miracle of feeding this crowd of 5,000 men, women, and children by multiplying a mere two fish and five loaves of bread into a great feast. But we often overlook what happened right after the miracle, with the crowd still brushing crumbs off their chins and discarding fish bones in the grass.
Matthew 14:22 says, “Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side….” At once, Jesus and His disciples left. He did not feed the crowd so He could continue the sermon. Instead, He fed them simply to meet their need. He could have taught and then left them to find their own dinner. But instead, He went above and beyond to care for their physical and pressing need of sustenance. Jesus is doing the same for us today. He doesn’t only care about our spiritual, intellectual, and emotional health and growth, but also our physical requirements. He isn’t only concerned with the big things of life, but also our small, immediate needs. Take a look around you today and note all the big and small ways you see Jesus offering compassion to you. How is He, as the great Shepherd, guiding and providing for you even more than He cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?
The next time you sense the very real needs that life presents, think of that hillside near Bethsaida. Feel the salty breeze of Galilea’s sea. Smell the aroma of fresh bread breaking in holy hands, and remember, His compassion is sufficient for every need.
Take no thought for tomorrow
For tomorrow will take care of itself
Take no thought what you’ll eat or drink
Or what you’ll wear, you needn’t care
Take no thought for tomorrow
Know that God is watching over you
Your Heavenly Father knows what you need
So take no thought for tomorrow