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Sermon Message


"The Compassionate Shepherd"

Matthew 9:35-38
Theme: Jesus' example encourages us to be as compassionate to the lost and needy people of this world as He was.

(Delivered Sunday, November 13, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

I hope you'll pardon me if I begin my sermon today by telling you about a Greek word. (I have a feeling that my preaching professors from seminary would be upset with me for beginning a sermon that way. But since I don't see any of my professors here today - and since you're commanded in the Bible to love me no matter what - here goes!)

The Greek word I want to share with you has a very unattractive sound to it. It's the word splanchnizomai. It comes from the Greek word splanchna - which (forgive me for this!) is the Greek word for "guts" (or at least, that's how I translate it). It's the word that we draw from to name one of our own, very useful English guts - the "spleen". (And I'll bet some of you didn't think you were going to learn anything interesting in church today!)

Splanchna is a noun that has kind of a "gutty" sound to it; don't you agree? Do you remember the very ugly story of how Judas - the betrayer of our Lord - fell headlong onto the field he bought? We're told that he burst open in the middle; and can you guess what "gushed out"? It was his splanchna - that is, "his entrails" (if you want to be more 'delicate' about it). And splachnizomai is a verb that, in a literal sense, means 'to be moved in the entrails' - or as I prefer to say it, 'to be moved in the guts'.

Now, if I was going to break the rules and start my sermon off with a Greek word, you'd think that I would have at least had the decency to choose a pretty one. But not today, I'm afraid.

The Bible uses the word splanchnizomai in an important metaphorical sense. It considers - and, I think you'll agree, rightly so - that the seat of our emotions and feelings is in the tummy. (After all, guys; you remember the first time you called your girl and asked her out, don't you? Remember the feeling you felt? It certainly wasn't in your "heart" that you felt it. It was in the pit of your "stomach" - right in your splanchna!) And so, splanchnizomai refers to a strong emotion that someone feels, deep in their insides. And the Bible usually translates this word as "compassion".

* * * * * * * * * *

Let me share another interesting fact about this word splanchnizomai. The only times it's used in the New Testament is with reference to Jesus. It's either used to describe His own attitude toward the needs of others, or else He Himself uses it in one of His parables.

We're told that, when Jesus beheld the needy multitudes that had gathered to Him, "He was moved with compassion for them", and healed (Matthew 14:14) and taught them (Mark 6:34). When He saw that they had not eaten, He told His disciples, "I have compassion on the multitude" (Matthew 15:32; see also Mark 8:2); and then, He fed them. When the blind men cried out to Jesus to be healed by Him, we're told that Jesus "had compassion and touched their eyes" (Matthew 20:34); and then gave them their sight. A leper fell before Him and said, "If you are willing, You can make me clean." Then Jesus, "moved with compassion", stretched out His hand and touched him and healed him (Mark 1:41). When a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus, he pleaded and said, ". . . If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us" (Mark 9:22); and, of course, Jesus did! And when Jesus saw a woman who was following her son's coffin during his funeral, we're told that "He had compassion on her" (Luke 7:13); then He touched the coffin and raised her son!

And this word is also found in Jesus' parables. He told the story of the master of an unforgiving servant; and of how, when the servant pleaded for mercy, "the master of that servant was moved with compassion" for him (Matthew 18:27), and showed him mercy. He told of the good Samaritan who saw a man who was lying on the road beaten and robbed; and Jesus tells us that, ". . . When he saw him, he had compassion" on him (Luke 10:33), and helped him. And He told the beloved story of the father of the prodigal son, who - while his returning son was still a great way off - "had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20).

The word splanchnizomai, then, is found a total of twelve times in the New Testament; and each time, it is only used of Jesus - either in reference to His own response to the needs of people, or as a part of the teaching in His parables. And I wonder if this doesn't suggests to us that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is to serve as our primary example of "compassion".

The apostle Paul suggested that idea in his letters. He used the noun splanchna when he wrote that he longed for his friends in Philippi "with the affection [the splanchna; that is, the "guts" - the seat of the emotions] of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:8). And he encouraged his readers to have the splanchna of Christ toward one another. He encouraged them to follow Christ's example of "compassion": "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection [splanchna] and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likemineded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Phil. 2:1-2). He told them, "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies [splanchna], kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (Colossians 3:12-13).

So, I chose to break the rules this morning, and start our time off by telling you about a rather ugly-sounding Greek word: splanchnizomai. But I hope you can appreciate that it is an ugly word that has a very beautiful meaning: "compassion". And it's a meaning that is exhibited perfectly for us by the greatest example of "compassion" we could ever find: Jesus Himself.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brother or sister in Christ; it is God's will that we be characterized by the compassion that Jesus Himself showed to the people around Him. Our Lord and Savior has set the example for us; and He would have all of us show splanchnizomai to people- because that's what He shows to them. When it comes to the lost and needy people of this world, He would have us to be "moved with compassion" toward them - as He Himself was while He walked this earth in their midst.

That brings us to this morning's passage. In it, I believe our wonderful Savior exemplifies compassion for us. It says,

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:35-38).

Let's look at this passage a little more closely; and as we do, let's allow the Holy Spirit to teach us the ways that Jesus Himself showed compassion to the needy people around Him. Let's allow the Holy Spirit make us more like our Savior - who was a Savior of great compassion toward people.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Seven" always seems like a good "preaching" number to me. And as it just so happens, I see seven ways in this passage that we should follow Jesus' compassionate example toward the lost, hurting and needy people of this world.

To begin, I see that we are to . . .


We're told, "Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages . . ." (v. 35).

This morning's passage brings a section of Matthew's Gospel to a close. It's the section that involves all the stories of the things that Jesus did in chapters 8 and 9. Jesus had just preached the Sermon on The Mount in Galilee; and then, following His sermon, He went down from the mountain into the region around the city of Capernaum, and performed many astonishing miracles there. He healed lepers and sick people. He gave sight to the blind; and voice to the mute. He raised the dead. He commanded the waves and the wind. And He cast out demons. In all of it, He was proving that He was the Son of God in human flesh; and that He had come to His people in fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures.

If you look back to verse 34, you'll see that the Pharisees didn't know what to do with Him. They couldn't deny His miracles; and chose instead to say a horrible thing - that He was a tool of the devil. But He gave the perfect response to that blasphemous accusation by going about all of the cities and villages of Galilee performing even more miracles.

So the "then" that we read about in verse 35 is one that looks back upon all that He had already done in Capernaum - His home town. But here, we're told that He did even more of the same. And the thing that I ask you to notice is that He no longer stayed in Capernaum to do these things. He traveled. He went to wherever people were throughout the region of Galilee.

We're told that He went to the "cities" - that is, to the big, populous, important places. But He also went to the "villages" - that is, to the smaller, humbler, country-towns. The combination of the two - "cities and villages" - is meant to show how thoroughly Jesus went about. Imagine the excitement of the cities as Jesus came and ministered to the people in them. But also, imagine the honor that the people of the smaller towns would have felt as Jesus also came and ministered to them!

* * * * * * * * * *

In all this, Jesus is shown to be a "missionary minister". He went to the various places where people were.

And in doing so, I believe He sets the example for us of the kind of compassion we're to show to the needy and lost people of this world. We aren't to sit around and wait for people to come to us in their misery to hear about the Savior. We're to go to them and tell them about Him.

Dear brother or sister; has the Holy Spirit has been tapping on your shoulder and urging you to call someone in need? Or perhaps to write them a letter? Or perhaps go and visit them personally? Is there someone He is urging you to reach with the love of Christ? Then, to sit around and wait for them to make the move toward you is an incompassionate act! Get up and go to where they are! To do so is to follow the example of our Savior in His compassion to the lost and needy people of this world!

If we would show the compassion that Jesus had for people, then we will go to them as Jesus Himself went!

* * * * * * * * * *

Then, notice what He did when He went. We're told that He "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (v. 35).

Jesus actively met their needs. So; if we're going to show the compassion to needy people that Jesus showed, we must not only go to them as Jesus went, but also . . .


Take a look at the things that Jesus did. First, He taught them. We're told that He was "teaching in their synagogues". What kind of things did He teach? My suspicion is that He taught many of the very same things that He taught in the Sermon on The Mount. He taught them in "their synagogues", which was the place in which the teaching from the scriptures occurred.

Then, we're told that He preached to them. It says that He was "preaching the gospel of the kingdom". The word "gospel" (euanggelion; from which we get the word "evangel") means "good news". And so, Jesus - the King - was preaching the good news of the kingdom. He was telling people that His kingdom has come; and that He was offering it to all who would receive it; and that it was all wrapped up in Him as the promised King! All of this emphasizes the greatness of the theme of Jesus' preaching. He went out to proclaim it to those who needed to hear this good news; and urged them to respond to it!

And finally, we're told that He healed them. He met the physical and spiritual and emotional needs of those He went to. He was "healing every sickness and every disease among the people". In other words, He ministered to the needs of people throughout Galilee in the same way as He ministered to the needs of people within Capernaum.

I see here that Jesus ministered to the whole person; don't you? He ministered to the 'mind' by teaching them, to the 'will' by preaching to them, and to the 'body' by healing them. What a Servant our Savior is to the needs of others!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, you might say to yourself, "Well, all that's great. But of course, I can't go out and do the same things that Jesus did." And of course we can't - not in our own power. But then, who said that we are to go in our own power?

Jesus told His disciples,

"Most assuredly, I say to you, He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:12-14).

We would do greater works as a result of His going to the Father, because He was going to send the Holy Spirit - who will live in His people and empower them to live the life, and to do the works, that Jesus wants from them. He said to them,

". . . I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [that is, the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (John 16:7).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; who are we to say what the Holy Spirit can or cannot do through us? And could we possibly show greater compassion for people than to go to them and be the ministering hands and feet of Jesus to them in His name under the power of His Holy Spirit? So then, let's stop making excuses! Let's go to people out of the compassion of Christ when He calls us to do so. And in His compassion, let's minister to their needs in the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. If we will do so faithfully, it is Jesus Himself who will do the work through us - and not us ourselves.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, those are things that involve our direct and active involvement with the hurting and needy people of this world. But there are also some things that our Lord would wish to see happening within us. And so, I next see that being captivated by the compassion of Jesus requires that we . . .


Just think of all the multitudes of people that gathered around Jesus as He went to them - teaching them and preaching to them and healing them of their sicknesses and diseases. There would have been an enormous number of hurting individuals before Him! And Matthew tells us that "He saw the multitudes . . ."

It's no small thing, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that Jesus "saw" them. This reminds us that Jesus wasn't in too great of a hurry. He wasn't so busy that He didn't look at the needs before Him. We're told that He took the time to see the people and the needs they had. In fact, the way that the words of this passage are structured indicates that it was this careful "seeing" that led to Him "feeling" the things that He felt!

Let me be frank. Sometimes we don't like taking the time to look at the needs of others - and the reason we don't is because we know that, if we DO take the time to look, we will feel more deeply about what we see than we want to feel. We may even feel more obliged to do something about it than we wish. We'd just rather not go there; so we close up our hearts instead, and refuse to let ourselves take a look. And yet, we cannot really share in the compassion of Jesus as He wishes us to, if we will not take the time to see what He sees.

I wonder, do you dare to pray a prayer like this? "Lord; let me see what You see. Open my eyes that I may have a good, long, hard look at the full spectrum of the deep needs of the people around me. Give me Your eyes, that I might see what You see." That's a dangerous prayer to pray; because, as you know, He will answer it!

* * * * * * * * * *

May God give us the courage to open our eyes and "see" what Jesus sees in the lives of the lost and needy people around us! That's the necessary step toward the next way Jesus would have us share in His compassion; that is, to . . .


Here, we once again find that word I introduced you to at the beginning of my sermon: splanchnizomai. We're told that when Jesus saw the multitudes, "He was moved with compassion for them . . ." He felt deeply about them. If I may say so without being irreverent, He felt down into the depths of His guts over them! He felt so much for them that it hurt; and His spirit was not at rest because of what He saw.

Before we move on; just let that sink in! This is the Son of God - the King of heavenly glory! And yet, He condescended to feel inward pain in His own being over the deep need of the people who were gathered before Him. He certainly didn't 'need' to experience this feeling. But He did. He did so willingly; and He felt it often. And personally, I have no doubt that even now - even in His glorified state at the right hand of His Father - He still feels it.

What do you think He felt? I'm sure that He felt distressed for people's needs. He felt uneasy within Himself so long as those needs remained unmet. I believe He often took the time to listen to them as they told Him about the grief and pain and loss and sorrow they felt; and in listening to them, He felt their pain along with them. And what's more, I believe He even felt more than they themselves knew. I believe He felt - and still feels - grief and sorrow over the spiritual death and eternal loss of those who have not heard about Him, or who will not turn from their sins and trust Him!

Now you and I, of course, cannot experience the compassion of Jesus to the degree that He Himself does. But please hear me in this, dear brother or sister: Neither can you or I enter fully into the fellowship of His service if we keep insulating ourselves from feeling the pain of others!

May God help us to not only see what Jesus sees; but also to feel about it as He feels!

* * * * * * * * * *

As Jesus saw the needs of others, and as He allowed Himself to feel the pain they felt, He came to a conclusion about it all. And this leads us to another thing we must do. We must . . .


Matthew tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion for the poor, needy people around Him, "because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd."

That phrase is one that is found often in the Old Testament scriptures. I believe that Matthew chose to use it because his Jewish readers would readily recognize it. Moses once prayed that God would appoint a successor to his own ministry - someone who would lead the people of Israel, "that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd" (Numbers 27:17). The prophet Micaiah warned the people of Israel, when they were about act in great disobedience to God, that it would result in the defeat of their army and the loss of their king; saying, "I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd" (1 Kings 22:17). The prophet Zeharaiah described the dismal spiritual condition of Israel when he wrote, "For the idols speak delusions; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd" (Zechariah 10:2). It's surprising how often this image is used in the Old Testament scriptures, isn't it?

One of the most moving uses of this image is found in Ezekiel 34. It was a word of terrible rebuke to the spiritual leaders of Israel who had not properly cared for the people. As you listen to what the Lord says, you can't help but feel His deep pain and anger over the condition of His people! Ezekiel wrote,

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who are sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them" (Ezekiel 34:1-6).

And as Jesus looked out upon the people that were before Him, that's what He knew to be true of them! They were like poor sheep. They were "weary" or "harassed"; and they were "scattered". And no one cared for them. No one led them. No one healed them. No one fed them. No one led them into safe pastures. They were uncared for, and broken, and lost, and desperately needy.

Think of that the next time you see all the people in the shopping mall. Think of that the next time you see all the people hurrying along on the freeway. Think of them in terms of how Jesus sees them. He sees them as sheep who need desperately to be led, and loved, and cared for. He sees when they are spiritually lost. They may not even think of themselves in those terms; but that's what Jesus knows to be true of them. He grieves for them when He sees that they wander through life aimlessly - confused and fearful and misled.

And I suggest to you that we cannot fully enter into His compassion if we don't know what He knows about the desperate spiritual condition of the people around us.

* * * * * * * * * *

Then, notice that we must . . .


He said to His disciples, "The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few."

Here, the metaphor changes. It shifts from a lost and wandering flock of sheep, to a field of ripe grain - ready to be harvested. It is so ripe, in fact, that it is "white unto harvest". It's so ripe that the laborers must move quickly to harvest it. And yet, the laborers are too few. And what Jesus wants for these poor, lost, needy people is laborers who will go out and labor in the field!

There's two things that this suggests to us. First of all, this suggests that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is never losing its potential for growth or for spreading. Even in a day such as ours - a day of secularism, that seeks to push Jesus' kingdom agenda off onto the sidelines as "irrelevant" - even then, the potential for the cause of Jesus' kingdom is great. We should be encouraged and enthusiastic; because the work of Jesus' kingdom is always the busiest and most promising work in the universe. As Jesus says elsewhere,

Do you not say, "There are still four months and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are are already white for harvest" (John 4:34).

But because the fields are already white unto harvest, this suggests a second thing to us: that this is no time to be idle. If we love Jesus and His kingdom's cause, we should all be gripped with a sense of the urgency of the work that lies before us. The problem is never that the work ceases to be a relevant work. The problem is always that the workers are too few!

If we would have Jesus' compassion for the lost and needy people around us, then we would want what He wants for them - laborers!

* * * * * * * * * *

This leads to a final thing that this passage teaches us; that we should . . .


And this is one of the great surprises of this passage, dear brothers and sisters. You would have thought that Jesus would say, "So then; get out there into the field and start harvesting!" But that is not what He says. Instead, He calls us to pray. He says, "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

In the original language, Jesus calls us to pray that laborers will be "cast out" or "thrown out" into the harvest. And this suggests to us a sense of urgency of the work. I believe that it is Jesus' will that we all be involved in the work of His kingdom. The Great Commission call is a call that is issued to all who are His.

But it would be a great temptation for us to be so caught up with the sense of urgency, that we run right out to labor in the Lord's harvest in a way that He hasn't called us individually to labor, or in a way in which we have not yet been prepared. And so, His command to us is to stop first, wait on Him, and pray to His Father. That takes humility and patience, doesn't it? We must stop and ask that the Father - the Lord of the Harvest - send out His own laborers, of His choosing and preparation, into His harvest field that He Himself has prepared and appointed for them.

And so, the Lord's call to us is to pray with faith and trust in Him - to pray that workers will be sent out into the harvest. But then, you probably know what will happen if you begin to faithfully pray that the Lord would send workers out into His harvest. It might not be too long before your commitment to pray that prayer has changed you - and has even prepared you for the harvest-work that God has uniquely called you to! You too might soon hear His call to go!

* * * * * * * * * *

And so, dear brothers and sisters; I pray that, as we study our Savior's life and ministry through the Gospel of Matthew, and as we see together the works that He has done, that we will grow to be "compassionate" like Him - to be characterized by the very splanchnizomai of Jesus Himself.

As we look upon the lost and needy people of this world, may we go to them as Jesus went, serve them as Jesus served, see them as Jesus saw, feel toward them as Jesus felt, know about them what Jesus knew, want for them what Jesus wanted, and then pray for them as Jesus commanded.

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