Jesus ignited a compassionate revolution of word and wonder—the torch of which He empowers His disciples to carry forward towards the consummation of the kingdom of God.
In Mark 6:34, upon the seeing a great crowd, Jesus “had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Then, when evening came, Jesus performed a miracle in which he multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish in order to feed well over 5,000 hungry people. Both word and wonder characterized the compassionate ministry of Christ.
Earlier, Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to execute a similar ministry of word and wonder in service of God’s kingdom. “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mk. 6:12-13). Prior to the feeding of the 5,000, “the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught” (Mk. 6:30)–word and wonder.
In our discipleship today, we sometimes place a wedge between word and wonder. This is due, in part, to the fact that we do not readily recognize the ministry of the word as an expression of compassion. According to Jesus, the ministry of the word is not simply an expression but a necessary expression of compassion. Christ-honoring compassion cannot exist apart from the declaration of what Christ accomplished to establish His redemptive reign and rule over our lives and the world he created. Apart from declaring the hope we have in Christ’s return and the future consummation of God’s kingdom, we are not exercising the type of compassion warranted by the gospel.
When Satan tempted Jesus to break his fast prematurely by turning stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt. 4:4). Human beings are not merely physical creatures. Having been created in the image of God—the full manifestation of which is showcased in the person of Jesus—we are wired with irrepressible, spiritual longings. As St. Augustine classically stated, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” Such longings are only satisfied in relationship with God through Christ by the Spirit. Hence, Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35).
As surely as God designed our bodies to depend upon physical nourishment, He designed our souls to depend upon spiritual nourishment—a need He satisfies primarily by availing Himself to us through the Holy Scriptures. Food and drink are often used as metaphors for Scripture (i.e. Dt. 8:3; 1 Pt. 1:22-2:3) and the nourishment for the soul available therein.
Yet, many read the Scriptures and remain dissatisfied or malnourished. Their souls do not seem to be increasing with life. Instead, they seem to be shriveling up. It is possible to read the Bible every day and still starve spiritually. A reason for this is found in Jesus’s assessment of His religious contemporaries. To whom He says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn. 39-40).
The Bible should be read in such a way that leads our souls to feast on Christ. Any other approach to reading the Bible ruptures the Holy Spirit’s inspired intent for the Bible. Rather than nurturing a disciple’s new covenant heart of flesh, alternative approaches to Bible reading may simply serve to solidify a heart of stone.
The writer of Hebrews offers the following real-time warning, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day (notice the ministry of the word), as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’”
Hence Paul encouraged Timothy: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from who you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-16).
Together, the Old and New Testament scriptures profit us by enabling our souls to feast on Christ through faith. Like momma always said—“You are what you eat.” If our souls feast on Christ, then the character of Christ will be steadily forged therein. Disciples of Jesus should not read or teach the Bible as an end in and of itself. The Bible serves as the primary means to the eschatological end of having the image of God restored in us (Jn. 17:17: Rm. 8:29). Declaring the gospel of God’s kingdom centering on the character of Christ as revealed in and through the Bible re-humanizes people, which is the crux of compassion. The ministry of the word, then, is the most humanizing ministry in the world.
And with that comes wonder…
If we give ourselves to the ministry of the word, that is, to the proclamation of the gospel of God’s kingdom centering on the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Christ as canonized in Holy Scripture—then the ministry of the word will produce correlating compassionate works of wonder. The fusion of word and wonder that characterized the compassionate ministry of Christ will characterize ours as well–for the character of Christ will be formed in us.
Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God’s kingdom while performing wonders revealing the nature of God’s kingdom. By feeding a multitude of people with a first-century lunchable, Jesus granted a glimpse of what life in His consummated kingdom would be like. He served an appetizer designed to whet our appetites with faith, hope, and love as we eagerly anticipate the feast that is to come when all is said and done.
In a sense, all of Jesus’s wonders ushered the future into the present, assuring observers and benefactors that a day is coming when people will no longer be in need. A new world order will be established and every hint of sin, sickness, disease, demonic activity, and death will be eradicated entirely from the plane of our existence.
As the character of Christ is formed in us through the ministry of the word, the activity of Christ will be manifested through wonderful acts of compassion that bring the future into the present in such a way that not only alleviates immediate sufferings but whets appetites for the future eradication of all sufferings. A compassionate revolution of word and wonder nurtures faith, hope, and love.