Learning to Shepherd From the Good Shepherd

Christ is the Good Shepherd. As the Good Shepherd, He is first and foremost our sacrificial Savior (John 10:11). But Christ is also an example to follow in learning how to care for God’s people. It is not surprising that pastors are commanded to “shepherd” God’s people, who are also liken to a “flock” of sheep (1 Peter 5:3). Jesus’ interaction with the crowds is very instructive for learning how to care for God’s people.

Mark 8:1-13

[1] About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, [2] “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. [3] If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”

[4] His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”

[5[ Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

“Seven loaves,” they replied.

[6] So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. [7] A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.

[8[ They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. [9] There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. [10] Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha.

Three things stand out to me in Jesus’ dealings with the people in the crowd in this story.

Jesus had compassion upon them (8:2)

Jesus says straight up: “I feel sorry for these people.” He has compassion upon them. He sees them in their hunger and cares for them. How much more, does Jesus have compassion upon us when He sees us in our broken and sinful mess? Jesus came to seek and save the lost. That’s us. I hope that I can have the same heart of compassion toward other people. May God work that into me more and more as I walk with Him. At its core, pastoral ministry is all about love. Love for God and love for other people. That is the motivation for doing the work of ministry.

Jesus knew their weaknesses/needs (8:2-3)

I love Jesus’ logic here because it is so practical: “They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. [3] If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.” He recognizes that the crowd has been with Him for such a long time that when the people in the crowd leave, they may faint because they’re so hungry! He knows that they face a very practical problem: they don’t have any food. Again, knowing their needs flows from His love. You can spend all the time in the world with people, but if you don’t truly love them, you can become blind to their needs—even if they are right before your eyes. You can see them, but not truly “see” them. So being a faithful pastor means spending time with people so you know them. And also, actually paying attention to them so I know their needs!

Jesus gave them bread (8:4-10)

The rest of the story is Jesus feeding them with bread. This story doesn’t just show Jesus’ sheer compassion but also has overtones of Jesus as the God of the Exodus, providing bread for the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16). He is the Great Provider for His people. But also, reading the Gospels “thickly,” I also can’t help but see Jesus here as the true “bread of life.” So, as a pastor, I am to give “bread” to the people I minister to. But not literal, or physical, bread, but most importantly, I am to give them the gospel—the good news of Jesus as the bread of life. All who believe in Him will receive eternal life.

Aligning Ourselves With God’s Mission (Mark 3:7-19)

Although Mark 3:7-19 may be easy to glide over because it contains healing stories which are prevalent in Mark’s gospel as well as a list of names, it is loaded with richness and applicability for the church today.

Mark 3:7-19

[7] Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, [8] and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. [9] And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; [10] for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. [11] Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” [12] And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. [13] And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. [14] And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, [15] and to have authority to cast out the demons. [16] And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), [17] and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); [18] and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; [19] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

The passage shows us Jesus’ continue mission as God’s kingdom invades the kingdom of darkness. And I think that one of the ways the text speaks today is by challenging us to align ourselves with God’s mission. But how?

First, we need to understand who Jesus really is (3:7-12). It’s significant that the only voice we hear in the passage is that of demons declaring that Jesus is “the Son of God” (3:11). The demons rightly discern Jesus’ identity, but have no love for Him. The crowds, on the other hand, believe that Jesus is some kind of miracle worker and come to Him to be healed (3:7-8). Of course, Jesus does heal the crowds, but His mission is more than healing. His mission is the gospel, the “good news”: to bring about freedom from Satan, sin, and death through His death and resurrection (1:1, 10:45). So we must understand that Jesus is both the Suffering Servant who dies for His sins of His people (Mark 10:45), and the Glorious King (by virtue of His resurrection) who turns back the forces of Satan and sin.

Second, we need to become a disciple of Jesus (3:13-19). Notice that Jesus calls His disciples to Himself: “And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him” (3:13). Although it may be the case that Jesus is merely saying, “Hey guys, come up to the mountain with me,” I think the verse is saying more. There is a contrast between the crowds and Jesus’ disciples. Jesus does not call all the crowds to follow Him up to the mountain, but He does call His disciples. I think the text gives rise to the question, “Have I been summoned by Jesus? Have I been called as a disciple?” Our response in becoming a disciple is to believe and trust in Jesus.

Jesus also commissions His disciples with the task of preaching and exorcism (3:14-15). The disciples function as a “proto-church” in the Gospels for the Holy Spirit has not yet come down in Pentecost to begin the church in its fullness (Acts 2). But the same general commission still remains for the church: the church is tasked to preach the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). But what about exorcism? I think that exorcisms were more prevalent in the Gospels because Jesus as the King was ushering in God’s kingdom to the earth. There was a very real clash between kingdoms. Today, the church also advances the kingdom of God through the preaching of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, not necessarily through exorcisms (though I don’t rule out the possibility of them being necessary from time to time).

Aligning ourselves with God’s mission, then, requires we rightly understand who Jesus is and also follow His way by becoming commissioned disciples as part of His church.