Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 6 When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were troubled and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. -Matthew 9:35-37
“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” That one sentence describes Jesus’ entire three-year ministry on earth in general terms. He did not sit in one place and wait for people to come to him. He went out to all the little villages and towns and shared his Gospel and healing power. He went out and found people who would not otherwise have found him. In three years, his Gospel spread throughout Israel and neighboring lands with breathtaking speed. It was an urgent mission because the harvest was quickly ripening.
Jesus’ motivation for his ministry is also revealed in these verses. “When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were troubled and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.” It is interesting that while so many sick and diseased people crowded around Jesus, hoping for a miracle, Jesus took particular notice of their spiritual and emotional condition. “They were troubled and downcast.” The people were overwhelmed with the troubles of life: poverty, sickness, disease, and the heartache that comes with it. They were downcast. That is, they were depressed. They had no reason for hope for a better life in this world or in the world to come. To make matters worse, they were like sheep without a shepherd. There was no one to offer them help. No welfare agency, no food stamps, no government unemployment checks, no pastor to pray with them or guide them, or share the scriptures with them.
Jesus came to help with all that. Yes, he healed their diseases, but he also gave them hope. Hope in a living God who cared about their troubles. He prayed with them, provided food and ate with them. He shared the good news of heaven- that after this life there is a room in the Father’s house for each one who believes. He forgave their sins and declared them right with God. He began to speak of the sacrifice he would make on the cross in payment for all their sins. No wonder so many of the poor outcasts from society loved Jesus and followed him.
This is our Jesus, whom we also trust in. He is compassionate toward us too. He heals our diseases and brings us comfort and hope in his Gospel. We are no longer like sheep without a shepherd. We have the Good Shepherd, who teaches us and guides us through his written Word in Scripture. And under the Good Shepherd we have his under-shepherds, our pastors, who faithfully watch over the people, teach them the Scriptures, feed them the bread and wine, body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, pray with them and counsel them in life and death.
Jesus and compassion. Those two belong together and we should never forget it. His compassion was like a refreshing, divine breeze that wafted over Israel during his brief ministry on earth. It is still with us, comforting hurting people today in our world.