I remember tucking my son into bed one time when he was 8 years old, and being amazed at the kind of wisdom he displayed. He said, “Dad, let’s pray that people all over the world will go to church.”
I thought that was a great thing to pray for, so I said, “Let’s go for it!” But I reminded him, “Nathan, there’s a lot of people who come to church for the wrong reason. They come because it makes them feel good, or to hear the band, or to find a boyfriend or girlfriend. Not everybody in church is a Christian.” And he said, “Yeah, but Dad, it doesn’t matter why they come. Even if they come for the wrong reasons, Jesus can reach out and grab hold of them.”
I thought, He’s got it! He understands the power of God and the compassion of Jesus Christ.
I am forever in awe of God’s compassion. It’s one of the defining characteristics of our Lord. He came to this earth because of His compassion for a lost world, and His entire life and ministry were marked by a deep compassion for the needs and the frailties of mankind.
As I see it, Jesus’ compassion had a dual role. He met people’s physical needs, but at the same time He aimed at their spiritual needs. Jesus gave people rest for their body and soul.
Mark 6:31 gives us just a small example—one that is sometimes overlooked—when Jesus addressed His closest followers, the Twelve Apostles. He said: “‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
Imagine being so pressed by the demands and needs of others that you don’t even have time to grab a sandwich (or falafel). Now, that’s busy!
Jesus and the disciples always had crowds around them. These people didn’t all come for the right reasons. Some of them came out of curiosity. Some of them came to see some great, awesome work. But others came to be part of the bread line—they just wanted a free meal. But no matter what their reason for coming, Jesus had compassion for them. He was ready to receive them and to meet their deepest needs.
We all need to understand and to remind ourselves when we feel stressed or lonely or overburdened that Jesus always sees us, and that He has great compassion for us.
Mark further informs us, “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
All through the Scripture, we read of the compassion of Jesus. Here, the word for compassion comes from the Greek word splagchnon, which refers to the gut or intestine, because the Hebrews believed that’s where the emotions resided. We have an expression that is similar to this; we call it feeling something in the pit of your stomach. You know that feeling if you’ve ever been told that someone you love has died; you feel it in the pit of your stomach.
Jesus had that kind of compassion, that deep gut feeling toward people as He observed them and ministered to them. He didn’t see them as just a number; He saw them as needy individuals, like sheep who needed the care of a shepherd.
I’m impressed with the many times Scripture shows us the compassion of Jesus Christ. He had compassion on the widow whose son had died, and He raised him to life (Luke 7:11-13). Many times when He healed people from sickness and disease, He felt compassion on those who were afflicted (see Matthew 14:14, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 5:19).
Even in the garden of Gethsemane, where in great personal anxiety He sweated great drops of blood, Jesus was still concerned about His disciples. When the Roman guards came to arrest Him, He said, “You’re after Me. Let them go.” His compassion and care for those He loved never ceased. Even on the cross, engulfed in His own excruciating suffering, as He was hanging and bleeding for our sins, He remembered to give His mother into the care of the Apostle John. No matter what He was experiencing, He had compassion on people. He was concerned about their needs.
And so when the people came to Him from the Galilee region, He had compassion on them. He taught them, because He knew their greatest need was to understand the truth about God. He was concerned for their lives and their eternal destiny. He was concerned for their comfort, and so He had them sit. He was concerned for their bodily needs, and so He fed them.
But that simple, quiet moment in Mark 6:31 shows the same compassion in perhaps a more poignant way. He was concerned for His disciples, that the demands on them were too great, and so He called upon them to come aside and rest.
I believe Christ still deals with us in that same way. He calls us to come aside and rest. You might say, “But there’s so much work to be done for Christ!” After all, Jesus says in Matthew 9:37 that “the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Yes, that is true, and those who labor for the Lord are to be commended. But your all-powerful, all-knowing, untiring Master is aware of your situation, and He knows that you sometimes need a break. So come aside and rest.
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This means rest from labor, from worry, from fatigue and from being overburdened. He calls you to find rest for your soul.
Are you weary? Heavy-laden? Overburdened because of all the needy people and the tasks all around you? If you’re tempted to keep carrying those burdens as some kind of “badge of honor,” remember this: Jesus doesn’t want you to “burn out for God.” As the saying goes, “Get over yourself!” Come aside and rest.
And to those of you who are burdened by life and its worries, but have not yet surrendered to this loving Savior and Lord: Choose Christ! As my son put it, Christ wants to reach out and grab hold of you! Why not reach out and take His hand today? Let Him be your resource, your resting place, your Redeemer! ©2012 Skip Heitzig
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.