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Two Lessons

Mark 6:30-44
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 

The first lesson we see in this passage is about the rhythm of the Christian life.
Jesus’ disciples have just returned from their first mission trip out on their own. They have experienced ministry opportunities in preaching, healing, and exorcism for the first time. They were excited about all they had said and done and no doubt reported to Jesus about their activities with enthusiasm.

However, Jesus knew something they did not know. Jesus knew already how much ministry can take out of a person. Remember the woman with the issue of blood who snuck up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his garment? Jesus felt power go out of him when that happened. Every time we minister to others in the name of Jesus, power goes out from us. If we are going to continue to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit then we need to have our spiritual energy tanks re-filled after every ministry opportunity.

Jesus knew this. That is why he said to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

As we have seen already in Mark’s Gospel, wherever Jesus is present there is a hum, a buzz of activity. That is true in this text as well. “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to get our spiritual batteries recharged when we are surrounded by a lot of people and a lot of activity. That is why Jesus took the disciples in the boat with him and they set off for a deserted place by themselves. The rhythm of the Christian life needs to be one of give and take, of work followed by rest.

We need to be like the Sea of Galilee instead of the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee receives water into it and it gives water out into the Jordan River. That is what the Christian life should be like. We need to constantly be receiving spiritual water, the water of eternal life, from the Lord through the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we should also be giving that water of eternal life away to others.

One alternative to this is to be like the Dead Sea. It receives water in from the Jordan but does not give water out. It is so filled with resources that it is essentially dead because of all the mineral deposits in it. My son James and I have both been in the Dead Sea. You cannot really swim in the Dead Sea because of all the minerals in the water. You can really only float on top of it.

When Christians are constantly taking in the resources of the Holy Spirit but not giving away anything that they learn, they become like the Dead Sea.

On the other hand, if we are constantly ministering and giving away spiritual resources without taking in fresh spiritual energy, the water of eternal life, then we would be like the Sea of Galilee pouring out into the Jordan but with the source of life-giving water dammed up. If the Sea of Galilee had all of its sources of water blocked off, then eventually it would run dry. That is what happens to the Christian who is constantly active in ministry but does not take time to rest and take spiritual resources from the Holy Spirit. Eventually that Christian will dry up and be completely empty.

Therefore, the Christian life is designed to have a rhythm to it. We need to have a rhythm of work followed by rest, time for ministry followed by time for meditation.

However, sometimes the best-laid plans go awry and you just can’t get away from people. That is what happened in this situation. Jesus and his disciples got into the boat to go across the Sea of Galilee to a deserted place, but the crowds who wanted to be near Jesus all the time, they followed on foot and got there ahead of the boat.

Now, if I had been in Jesus’ sandals, I would have been annoyed. It would have been like going on vacation and having my congregation follow me. Thankfully, Jesus has a better attitude than I do. He was not annoyed by the crowd following him. Instead, we read that “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

This statement presents us with the second lesson of this passage. It is a lesson about sheep without a shepherd.

What did Jesus mean by this statement? I believe Jesus was probably thinking about the fact that these people who were clamoring after him did not have spiritual teachers who were properly feeding them and taking care of them. That is why they were coming to Jesus; they knew Jesus would provide them with a good spiritual meal.

It is like Ruth Graham used to say about churches. How do you find a good church? You find a good church the same way you find a good restaurant. At a good church and a good restaurant you will find in both places a lot of cars parked outside because the people inside know they can find a good meal there.

Getting back to the image that Jesus uses, what are sheep like without a shepherd? Some of you may have sheep and therefore you may be able to answer this question better than me, but let me take a stab at an answer.

First, sheep without a shepherd cannot find the way. Left to ourselves, we get lost in life.

When Becky and I first got married, we moved together to Charlotte, North Carolina where I was to work with evangelist Leighton Ford. Now, I had visited Charlotte before, so when we arrived late at night, driving our U-Haul truck filled with one car and all our belongings, and towing another car behind, I thought I knew where I was going. I kept driving down this one darkened road and I was not finding any place to stay for the night. Becky said, “Why don’t you stop and ask for directions?” Of course, that is something that most men simply do not do, and this was long before the days of GPS. Finally, I decided to turn around and we headed back to a motel we had seen a few miles back near the Interstate. We had a miserable first night together in Charlotte, North Carolina, partly because I was not willing to ask for directions.

The same is true in the spiritual life. We need directions. Better yet, we need a shepherd to lead us to where we need to go. That is precisely what we have in Jesus—a good shepherd.

Secondly, sheep without a shepherd cannot find pasture and food. Sheep need a shepherd to show them where the good pastureland is and provide good food for them. Sheep are not like other animals who can survive well on their own in the wild.

Human beings are like sheep in this way. We do not survive well on our own in the wild. We need a good shepherd to show us where the good pastureland is, and to feed us healthy food.

To use another analogy that Scripture sometimes uses: we are like spiritual babies.

Becky and I have three sons. What do you think would have happened to our three sons if, when we were bringing each of them home from the hospital, we decided to just leave them by the side of the road somewhere? Do you think they would have found their way to our house? Do you think they would have found good food to sustain them? No. They needed parents who would not only show them the way home, but bring them safely there. They needed parents who would feed them appropriate food that would adequately nourish them. They could not have done these things on their own.

We too are like spiritual babies who need a parent to care for us, feed us, and bring us home. We are like sheep that need a good shepherd. Thankfully, in Jesus, we have such a good parent and a good shepherd.

Thirdly, sheep without a shepherd have no defense against danger. A sheep cannot defend itself from a thief or from a wild animal. A sheep needs a shepherd to do that for it.

William Barclay writes,
If life has taught us one thing it must be that we cannot live it alone. No man can defend himself from the temptations which assail him and from the evil of the world which attacks him. Only in the company of Jesus can we walk in the world and keep our garments unspotted from it. Without him we are defenceless; with him we are safe.


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