The Mountain of Compassion
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
4. THE MOUNTAIN OF COMPASSION
‘And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee', and went up into a mountain, and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’feet;, and he healed them’, Matt. 15. 29-30.
The Galilean ministry of the Lord Jesus was nearing its end. For a short while He took His disciples to the regions of Tyre and Sidon where He healed the daughter of the woman of Canaan, who showed such great faith. Leaving that district, He came to the region of Galilee again and we are told by Mark that it was the district of Decapolis. Decapolis, meaning ‘ten cities’, appears to have been a confederacy of free cities under the general jurisdiction of the Syrian Government. The population was predominantly Gentile, though there were colonies of Jews in the cities, some of them very strict in their religious observances.
In considering the compassion of our Lord on this occasion we shall notice the multitude, their miseries, the miracles of healing, the marvelling of the people, and the meal provided for them.
As has been indicated, Decapolis, though on the borders of Israel, was in fact heathen territory. When we read, therefore, that a great multitude came to Jesus as He sat on the mountainside, we may safely assume that the crowd was predominantly heathen, though because of their close proximity to Israel, well acquainted with Jewish ways and thought. At this period of the Lord’s ministry crowds were constantly dogging His footsteps, but never was there on His part an instant’s irritation. His spirit always bore an unruffled calm and His compassion went out to the people. Jacob just before his death had spoken of the coming of Shiloh. Here He was and unto Him was the gathering of the peoples, Gen. 49. 10. A mixed multitude there was here indeed but they were not the cause of lust, murmuring and sin, as in an earlier day in Israel’s experience, Num. 11. 4. They had come to Israel’s promised Messiah to hear His words, to feel His touch of healing power, and to glorify the God of Israel, saying, ‘He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak’, Mark 7. 37.
‘My Saviour hath done all things well.’
Whether Jew or Gentile, or a mixture of both, this multitude was, like all crowds, representative of mankind in its misery. We look at them and we see that they are bringing sufferers, the lame, the blind, the dumb, the maimed, and many others. Living as we do after nineteen hundred years of Christian teaching which has so deeply affected our thought in relation to human suffering, it is difficult for us to appreciate the abject misery of the afflicted. Can we imagine a society almost wholly without hospitals, doctors, or nurses; without provision for those incapable of work, a society where the afflicted and incapable were usually regarded as useless burdens, and where such lives must have been wretched indeed? How often do we read in the Gospels of the compassion of our Saviour when confronted with such misery. The Spirit of the Lord was indeed upon Him to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, Luke 4. 18-19.
Whilst ever compassionating the sufferers of this world, let us not forget that the spiritual transcends the physical. There are the spiritually lame. Cowper speaks of those who walk on crutches of unequal size,
One leg by truth supported, one by lies,
They sidle to the goal with awkward pace,
Secure of nothing but to lose the race.
There are the spiritually blind, blinded by the god of this world. Alas, too, the blind lead the blind and both fall into the ditch and perish miserably. There are the spiritually dumb (are there not these among the Lord’s own?) and there are those who are maimed, grievously wounded by sin. What shall we do? Shall we pass by on the other side? Shall we say, ‘We knew it not’. If we do, ‘Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it?’, Prov. 24. 12. May the tender compassions of the Saviour abound in us so that we shall seek by His grace and power to rescue men from their spiritual plight by bringing them to Him who sat upon the mountainside and said, ‘I have compassion on the multitude’.
The Miracles of Healing
The multitudes brought the sick and afflicted to Jesus’ feet. There was the place of true blessing and still it is so. Note the simplicity of the statement, ‘and he healed them’. One may compare such a statement with all the advertisement and show that accompanies modern so-called healing missions, or divine healing. Quietly, unobtrusively, He healed them. Human misery cannot exist in His presence.
Hear Him, ye deaf, His praise ye dumb
Your loosened tongues employ:
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
This was the Mountain of Compassion. We can notice one particular instance only, for it is the one singled out for special mention by Mark in writing of these glad days in Decapolis. The story is of the man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. We read of the Saviour, that, ‘looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him . . . ‘Be opened’, 7. 34. In this phrase ‘he sighed’, we learn the deep inner motive of the miracles of healing. He was moved with compassion. He felt the burden, the sorrow, the misery that He relieved. It was said of Him at another time, ‘Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses’. Matt. 8. 17. Blessed compassionate Saviour of men! How we should adore Him and seek grace to follow His steps.
The Marvelling of the People
They marvelled ‘when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel’. Edersheim’s comment here is, ‘It is a new era -Israel conquers the heathen world, not by force, but by love; not by outward means, but by the manifestation of life-power from above. Truly this is the Messianic conquest and reign: ‘and they glorified the God of Israel’. It was in vain to enjoin silence. Wider and wider spread the unbidden fame, till it was caught up in this one hymn of praise, which has remained to all time to express our experience of Christ as the Divine Healer; ‘He hath done all things well: he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak’, Mark 7. 37 R.V.
In concluding we notice briefly the second feeding of a multitude. It has been pointed out that each of the distinctive periods of the Lord’s ministry ended with a supper. His Galilean ministry concluded with the feeding of the five thousand. The Decapolis ministry ended with the feeding of the four thousand. The Judean ministry ended with the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
‘I have compassion on the multitude’. He said, ‘because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way’, Matt. 15. 32. This compassionate Saviour is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Our souls have felt the healing of His touch, our spirits are satisfied with the Bread of Life: we faint not by the way, for He sustains us.