No matter how you might want to define “success,” the apostles’ first solo preaching tour was a success (Mark 6:7-13). Two by two, they went with power, Jesus having granted them authority over unclean spirits. They went by faith, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs and the sandals on their feet. They went with the truth, proclaiming the need of repentance for the kingdom had come. They went with boldness, ready to shake off the dust of any place that refused the truth. And, they returned with results.
And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
(Mark 6:13 ESV)
So, it’s little wonder that things got a little out of control after that. People coming out of the woodwork, no matter where Jesus and His disciples went, wanting a piece of the action. A little demon cleansing here, some sickness healing there. Everybody wanted a piece of Jesus & Co. Mark records that things became so crazy that Jesus and the Twelve “had no leisure even to eat” (Mk. 6:31).
So Jesus says it’s time for a break. Some respite. Time to find “a desolate place and rest awhile” (6:30). So they hopped in a boat and headed to a desolate place. But it wasn’t a desolate place for long.
Now many saw [Jesus and His disciples] going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
(Mark 6:33 ESV)
No social distancing here. When Jesus and His disciples arrived at the “desolate place” they saw a “great crowd.” People desperate for some relief. Some needing physical relief. All needing spiritual relief. Most not even knowing what they needed, except that they needed to be near Jesus.
And here’s the verse I’m chewing on this morning:
When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.
(Mark 6:34 ESV)
Of all the things they needed, Jesus knew what they needed the most. The Word.
He looked on the desperate crowd with compassion. Literally, He was “moved to His bowels.” A deep, deep stirring deep, deep within which empathized and sympathized with their needs. A deep stirring because He looked beyond the crowd and peered deep into their faces — seeing their individual needs, their individual struggles, their individual darkness. They were like sheep, sheep without a shepherd. And He had been sent to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14).
And what grabs me, is that with all they needed, all the different ways that Jesus could have ministered to them, “He began to teach them many things.”
He would feed them. He would offer to lead them. But first and foremost, He must seed them. He needed first to implant the word which was able to save their souls (James 1:21).
That was their greatest need. Not the release from a demonizing past. Not the removal of daily affliction. But what they needed most was rescue from slavery to sin. Redemption from bondage to the flesh. Reconciliation to the God whose image they bore.
With all that they needed — and all their needs were real — Jesus seeks first to meet their greatest need. And where does He start? He starts by teaching them. He starts with the Word of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:14, 16-17 ESV)
Another week of stay-at-home uncertainty ahead of us. Another week of seeking to maintain equilibrium in a turned-upside-down world. Each week bringing new needs with few, if any, of last week’s needs being resolved. Where do we go? We run to Jesus. What does He see? Sheep in need of a Shepherd. How does He feel? Moved with compassion. What does He offer? Himself. The living Word. Found in the written word. ‘Cause that’s what we need the most.
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” ~ Jesus
(Matthew 4:4 ESV)
That’s how we’ll keep on keepin’ on.
Word of God speak.
By His grace. For His glory.