"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" (Mark 6:34).See It
At this particular moment, Jesus had every reason to be a bit irritated. His apostles had just returned excitedly from their two-by-two mission with much to report. Crowds of people were coming and going. It had been such a busy day that He and His disciples hadn't had time to eat. So, Jesus suggested they all slip away for some rest. Similar to celebrities ducking out the backdoor, they floated away in a boat to a solitary place.
However, the paparazzi got wind of the move, and a large crowd beat them to the now not-so-solitary place.
Jesus was looking for quiet. What He found was a crowd—a great crowd, in fact.
He could have been irked; instead, He was touched. Not only was He touched, but He was moved with compassion
. The Greek word used here is the strongest word Mark could have used—it was compassion that reached all the way to the deep seat of emotions, the bowels. (Yes. I know. I'll let you insert your own joke here, and you now have your next middle school devotional thought.)Think About It
Jesus' heartfelt reaction begs a question: What did He see in these "sheep without a shepherd" that caused His heart to break?
My guess is Jesus saw the same things you and I see when we look across a crowd of teens today: scars from decisions made without solid spiritual moorings, identity and acceptance being sought through destructive sources, questions of the faith being asked without a solid foundation.
There are two vital moments we can pull from this scene in Mark and inject them straight into our youth ministries. The first is Jesus' reaction to the plight of the crowd. Whatever knee-jerk emotions He may have experienced, such as disappointment in their growth or frustration with the interruption of solitude, were swallowed by heartbreak. Spiritual growth in teens is full of spurts and lapses; youth ministry is ripe for disappointment and frustration. As did Jesus, if we focus on the deeper matters of the heart—the deep-seated issues that drive the daily challenges—we will tap into the heartbreak that got us into youth ministry in the first place. Our actions will be driven by mercy.
The second moment is how Jesus chose to minister to the crowd. Out of compassion He taught them many things. In other instances in the gospels when Jesus was moved with compassion, it was usually the plights of sickness or grief that broke His heart. In those cases, Jesus' compassion led Him to heal people—and sometimes resurrect them. In Mark 6
, He taught people, showing that teaching is the solution to more of our deepest needs than we might think. This scene is a poignant reminder that there is no substitute for the impact of deep, steady teaching.Apply It
So, here is how you can infuse your youth ministry with Mark 6:34. Kindle your heartbreak for your students. Push through the layers of frustration and disappointment to find the spot that moves you to compassion for their issues and dilemmas. Then explore how persistent and meaningful teaching (the kind Jesus served) can help them navigate their issues and dilemmas. Also, rather than grabbing a book off the shelf, grab a book out of the Bible.
By combining deep-seated compassion with meaningful teaching, you will have a Christ-like combination that will leave your teens wanting more.Barry Shafer has been in youth ministry for more than 20 years. As director of InWord Resources, Barry has written numerous small-group Bible studies and teen devos, and is author of Unleashing God's Word in Youth Ministry
(Youth Specialties/Zondervan). He lives in Middletown, Ohio, with his wife, Jessica.