This passage gives us a simple picture to understand the Church: sent out by Jesus, the disciples now return and gather around him once more to rest and have fellowship. As Jesus sees the crowds and is moved with compassion for them he sends the disciples out to serve once more. Like a heartbeat, this repeated gathering and going shows us that the church exists for the twin purpose of communion and mission. Behind this heartbeat is Jesus own compassion as the Good Shepherd: Jesus’ complacent love is expressed in one way to his disciples and in another way to the crowds: behind the heartbeat of the church – communion and mission – lies the heartbeat of Christ, who delights to have communion with His Church and is moved with love to seek and save the lost.
1. This helps us to understand the purpose of the Church. It’s common to hear it said that the Church’s purpose is mission, but this is a bit like saying that the purpose of marriage is children. Here we see that in fact mission to the world flows out of communion with Christ. Trends such as the seeker-sensitive movement, mission-centred church or radically inclusive models of church are in danger of confusing these two aspects of the Church. Like a hole in the heart, they cause the church to become less effective in both its purposes, communion and mission. In practical terms this means that Christians should not be afraid to emphasise church fellowship, membership, baptism or excluding non-Christians from the Lord’s Table. Nor should we be afraid to teach boldy on distinctive Christian morality, nor practices such as prayer, worship and fasting that mark us out as different to the world. When we uphold these things we actually enjoy deeper communion with God and with one another. This in turn moves us and equips us for mission.
Inasmuch as it depends on you, are you delighting in the Church? Likewise, are you committed to helping the Church be “the joy of the whole Earth”, (Ps 48:2) through prayer and commitment to fellowship?
2. We see God’s compassion for the lost. We are tempted to think of God’s love for those outside the church as a dispassionate, or beneficent, love. But in v.34 we see Jesus moved with a gut-wrenching compassion (esplanchnisthē) for the crowds of people. God’s love for those who don’t know him is one that flows from his heart. He is angry at the injustices inflicted upon them, distraught at the hurt they have experienced, distressed at how they are misled. He longs to gather them, protect them and lead them by his word. To know them and be known by them. What is your heart for those who don’t know Christ?
3. He Loves You Passionately. Sometimes our struggles in the christian life stem from a perception that while God does good to us, he may not actually enjoy having us has his people! But, God’s love for believers is also gut-wrenching! We might look at his actions towards the disciples and imagine that he is simply being pragmatic. But Jesus delighted in them as friends. Likewise he delights in those who believe in him. He delights in us because we are made in his image and able to display his glory, because we release his glory in the world around us, because we enjoy him as sons and daughters, because we are being changed into the likeness of Christ. Because God he loved us first, we are now lovely in his eyes. What doubt is there about God’s delight in you? Where does that stem from? Ask God to open your eyes to his delight in you once more.