(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Mark 6:30-34 – The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Last week our devotion reminded us about a time when Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to proclaim a message of repentance. As the disciples were pointing people towards Jesus as their Savior, they were also performing miracles. This was an exciting time for the disciples. They were getting a taste of ministry. They were proclaiming a message of sin and grace to people who needed to hear it.
King Herod had heard the news about what Jesus and his disciples were doing and teaching. He thought that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Not that long before the events of our text, as described in Mark 6:14-29, King Herod had given orders to have John the Baptist beheaded. King Herod had imprisoned John because John had confronted Herod about his sin. Herod later had John killed because of an oath he had sworn to a girl who danced at his birthday party.
It was under these circumstances that the disciples returned to Jesus. They had just been preaching the gospel message and yet a great minister – John the Baptist – had just recently been killed. When the disciples returned to Jesus, they reported to him everything that they had done and taught. They were excited because of the message that they had shared and the miracles they had done. They declared the triumphs of the gospel and also any struggles that they had faced along the way.
They were tired from their traveling and from the ministry work they had been carrying out. The people who had heard about Jesus and had seen the disciples out preaching were gathering around them and were not even giving the disciples a chance to eat. Jesus knew that this was a good time to take the disciples and give them some much needed rest. He said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they all got into a boat and departed for a solitary place so that they could get some rest. The rest that Jesus had planned for them was for the purpose of renewing them so that they could be strengthened for even more sharing of the gospel.
Jesus knew that the disciples needed rest. They needed rest for their bodies, they needed food to keep their strength up, and they needed mental rest so that they could stay sharp for all the ministry work that was ahead. The need for rest can be seen when we look at athletes. An athlete puts in a lot of time working hard to get ready for whatever event they are going to participate in. They have many practices and many games. Through all those activities they are developing their skills and always striving to get better.
The athlete also needs rest in order to get better. They need rest for their bodies so that their muscles can heal. They need good food to eat so that their body can be as healthy as possible. They need proper amounts of sleep so that they can perform at peak efficiency. If they do not get rest for their bodies, they would eventually burn out. Without the proper amounts of rest they can become prone to injury and they might have to quit their sport because they can’t handle it anymore.
Our Lord Jesus encourages us to come to him for the rest that we need. Just like the disciples came to him and reported everything they had done and taught, we also can come to him and report what we have done and taught. We come to him in prayer. We can come to him with all of our concerns and problems. We can make confession of our sins through prayer. We get the chance to talk to him about our own sharing of his Word. He listens to these prayers. He knows our frustrations and our joys. He encourages us to keep bringing our thoughts to him so that he can give us the rest that we need.
He gives us rest in many ways. He gives us bodily rest. He gives us the blessing of sleep for our bodies so that we can be recharged to face another day. He gives us food to nourish our bodies. He gives time at night to relax with the family. We even have times in our lives when we can take vacations. God gives us time away from the stress of the world. Besides rest for our bodies and minds, he also gives us spiritual rest. It can be exhausting thinking about our own sin and even the sin of the world. We realize that our own sinful hearts are constantly fighting against what God wants. That is why God gives us spiritual rest. He gives us the rest through the power of his Word. There we learn about how Jesus has conquered sin for us. We do not have to be worried about sin ruling over us. We have spiritual rest.
Our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ knows that we need both bodily and spiritual rest. He lived as a human being and he knows the limitations of these bodies. He shows his love for us by providing the rest that we need. He shows his compassion towards us by training us in his Word.
The disciples and Jesus did not get much rest. They got to relax for the amount of time that it took for them to travel across the lake in their boat. The crowds figured out where they were going and followed them. These people were so interested in Jesus and what he had to say that they got to the place where Jesus was traveling to ahead of the boat. Even though Jesus had intended to give his disciples some rest, he realized that these people needed him. Jesus changed his plans because of the needs of the people. He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The crowd of people needed a leader. They had not found anything to place their trust and confidence in. They needed Jesus. He showed compassion to them. He knew their sin and their need for a Savior.
Jesus then “began teaching them many things.” This event takes place right before Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. That was an incredible miracle in which Jesus changed five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed a very large group of people. It is noteworthy that the first thing Jesus does with the crowd is teach them. We had already heard that the disciples were hungry. Jesus decided to teach rather than get food immediately for the twelve. Jesus knew that the crowds needed spiritual training. Their spiritual need was far greater than their physical hunger.
Let’s think again about an athlete. Even though an athlete needs rest, sleep, and food to get better, it is far more important for the athlete to have training in their sport. The athlete needs a high level of self-training. They spend countless hours running to get better. Perhaps this is through sprinting or running for a few miles. They spend time lifting weights to develop the muscles that they need for their sport. They also perform drills to perfect their skills.
The athlete will also spend time training with his team. The team has many practice sessions working on what they need to do to win their next game. They have team meetings and team workouts all in order to perform at the highest level. Even their games are learning experiences. They look back on what they did and try to improve. As Christians, we also need training. We need personal training in God’s Word and we need training together with other Christians. Jesus knows that we need this and he provides.
In the first part of our text Jesus was going to take the disciples aside and give them private instruction. He wants to do the same for us. He trains us individually through our personal devotions. It is important for each of us to spend time in the Word of God. There are many ways for us to do this. There are many devotion books that we can use. We can pick up the Bible and read a section, chapter or book. One of my professors at the Seminary suggested three questions that I use when I read a portion of scripture for my own devotions. The questions are: What is the law or specific sin that this makes me think about? How does Jesus forgive me and show me his grace? And what does this lead me to pray for? This is one way to think about what God is saying through his Word. Personal devotions strengthen our faith in a very special way. We can see that God’s Word applies to our lives.
The plans of Jesus changed when he saw the crowd. He decided to train that large group. Jesus trains us as a group through worship and Bible studies. It is a great joy to be able to gather together and be trained as a group. We have the encouragement of our fellow believers. We hear our fellow Christians confessing the same faith that we have. We hear each other singing the same songs and we are encouraged through the public reading of God’s Word. Bible studies are another way to be trained. It is a chance for us to have our questions answered and we can even learn from the questions of others which we may not have thought of on our own. Both private training in the Word and public training give us strength for our faith. We hear what our loving Savior has done for us.