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Sheep Without a Shepherd

Sheep Without a Shepherd

If you have read any number of written materials that we have shared over the years, you'll know that we frequently discuss physical and spiritual care. This is not a marketing phrase or a passing fad. These are, in effect, the core tenets of our ministry—the example for which we find in Jesus' earthly ministry.

Mark says that when Jesus saw a large crowd, "He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things" (6:34). Matthew also refers to crowds that were "distressed and downcast" (9:36). Sadly, these people were lost and hopeless without the truth, and Jesus was concerned about their spiritual condition. Their physical needs were not ignored, though, as Mark records Jesus' miraculous feeding of the 5,000 after His time of teaching, and Matthew and Luke note that He healed those who were sick.

The compassion that Jesus had for both the spiritual and physical needs of this crowd is an accurate picture of His ministry. Of course, the Gospels are full of similar accounts. Matthew twice summarizes that Jesus was preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and sickness as he went through cities and villages (4:23; 9:35).

The many miracles that Jesus performed—healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the crowds—had a distinct purpose. When Jesus told the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2), the scribes accused Him of blasphemy. Jesus responded, "For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home" (vv. 5-6).

Clearly, these physical acts point to a greater truth—salvation through Jesus Christ. Those healed by Jesus didn't become immortal, and the crowds He fed would hunger again. In fact, when those very crowds were following Him, Jesus told them the reason they were seeking Him was "because you ate of the loaves and were filled" (John 6:26). But Jesus warns them not to work for the food which perishes, but that which endures to eternal life (v. 27) and that, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst" (v. 35).

As Jesus points to Himself as the source of eternal life, so too must we point to Him as we care for the needs of others, proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His name.