“And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done.” (v10a)
Can you imagine what it must have been like around the campfire on the night they were all back together with Jesus? There would have been belly laughs and knee slaps at stories of healings and newfound faithful friends. We can imagine... One apostle saw a new mother on death’s doorstep brought back to perfect health. Another met a fisherman who had been reduced to begging for bread after his hand was crushed in a work accident -- he was healed and could provide for his family again. Some of the apostles were in a town square at sundown with no food and no place to sleep, when a stranger welcomed them in. Surely there were wonderful stories of victory around that fire.
But it wasn’t all good news. There would have been stories of rejection, too. Maybe one was escorted out of three synagogues; another was roughed-up and pushed out of every marketplace; some were even threatened with stoning. We can assume there were highs and lows on their journey. After all, the Master did not promise success, only that his power and authority would be with them. He gave them clear instructions as to what should be done when they were rejected -- shake the dust from their feet.
To minister in the name of Jesus is the highest privilege and the most costly responsibility. A young intern is asked to write a memo in her boss’ name. The next day her words are front page news. She works for a congressman. She writes in his name, and therefore her words are multiplied in power. The same goes for you and me. When we minister in the mighty name of Jesus, as the apostles did, our words and deeds have far greater power than you or I could ever muster on our own. It is a very high privilege, but it also comes at a very high cost. At times, your words will be rejected. The truth that you speak will be ignored. People will push you out of their lives; they will eject you from the social circles you once called home. When you speak for the Master, you must die to yourself. You must surrender your own agenda. Whether people like you or not is of no concern. The applause of the world often comes at the disappointment of heaven. It must be His words that you speak and His deeds that you do in His name, not your own words and deeds.
“Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.” (v10b)
We presume they were exhausted and needed rest. Worn-out workers are seldom very helpful -- and they usually make more work for others! Every good laborer must be refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated before they can be of great use. Even God took one day off out of seven. That’s a model for you and me -- relax every once in a while. Specifically, relax at least once a week. Take a day and rest. Shabbat yourself - and respect the shabbat of others!
God doesn’t want you to be burnt out - He appreciates the selfless offerings you’re making as you serve others, but you know that He doesn’t need them, don’t you?
Have you retreated to a deserted place lately? A deserted place is a clear place. There is nothing there; no distractions. Have you cleared your schedule, cleared your debts, cleared your distractions away so that you can have some time and space for just you and Jesus? This is why some people still fast today -- not to earn points with God, but to remove all distractions, to establish a deserted place in their hearts. However you do it, if you want to remain strong in the Lord, you must clear a path for Him. Prepare ye the way of the Lord! There can be no clutter if you want to hear His voice whisper to you. No earbuds. No news channel. No guilty pleasure novella or bingeworthy show or social media stream. It must be only you and Him.
I know, you are busy. That is an American sickness, to be so busy that you cannot find yourself or God anymore. May I suggest something: you need to get away from it all. Maybe your only chance to be alone is on the commute to work in the morning. Then turn off that distracting and probably worthless morning radio show and have a talk with God. Maybe your only chance is at bedtime, or really early before the kids wake up. But get alone with Him before you don’t recognize His voice anymore. Make the time to fill your lamp with oil, or you may find that your light is burnt out when you need it the most.
“But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him;” (v11a)
The crowds inconveniently crash the important retreat. Last Sunday Bob, Betty, Tammie and I visited the National Geographic photo gallery in La Jolla. Marvelous -- and free! One photo stood out among the others -- it was a time-lapse of a swarming train station in Mumbai, India. In the center of a sea of blurred humanity sat a solitary woman. Hers was the only face in focus, because she was motionless, still, and quiet in that overwhelming and bustling crowd. I suggested a title to the gallery worker: “Introvert’s Worst Nightmare.” Right next to that photo was another, starkly spartan photo of fishing boat anchored in the early morning mist in Quebec. The entire frame was filled with gray, except for a tiny pop of red -- that very solitary fishing boat off in a corner. I called that one “Extrovert’s Worst Nightmare.”
My introvert heart sinks for the apostles when I read this verse -- they are just trying to get away for a little rest, but the crowds come to them! They are just getting away for a little downtime, but the phone rings off the hook. It isn’t really the apostles that the crowds are after. They want to see Jesus. And that hunger never turns off. There will always be a need. There will always be those who long to follow Him, even when we are drained and at the end of our strength. (This is a very important principle when we come to the next passage about the feeding of the five thousand, but let’s save that for another day.) What is the master’s response when the work creeps into their vacation?
“... and He received them” (v11b)
He receives them. He answers the inconvenient call; He welcomes the interruption; He makes time when there is no time. He receives them. Remarkable - we often talk about receiving Jesus, but do we talk enough about Jesus receiving us? Isn’t that amazing -- that your heavenly Father will clear His schedule to spend time with you? If you seek Him, He will be found. No, it is better than that -- if you seek Him, you will discover that He has also been seeking you! So let me set aside that old, wonderful line we preachers like to use for a moment and ask you: has Jesus Christ received you lately? Have you sought Him? Have you tracked Him down? And have you let yourself be received by your very loving, very personal Savior?
“...and spoke to them about the kingdom of God,” (v 11c)
Once Jesus receives them, Luke says that He speaks to them. He talks to them about the kingdom of God. I imagine there were many there who wanted a little less conversation, and a little more action. They were there to have Jesus fix their broken toes, but Jesu wanted to talk about heaven first. I think Jesus is trying to teach us something about priorities here. Your immediate need is not your most important need. Your need for eternity outweighs your need for temporary relief from daily trouble. We need God more than we need bandages.
“and healed those who had need of healing.” (v 11d)
While I have come to believe that our earthly needs are far less important than our eternal needs, I am so blessed by this thought: that he cares for every one of your daily needs. This is the tenderness of a Father who loves his little children. Our boo-boos may be miniscule in the big picture, but they are important to us, so they are important to Him. God cares about your needs. He teaches us to ask Him -- “give us this day our daily bread.” (I don’t want to get to that part of the story yet! Next time I speak.) Your debts are very small to Him, but because they matter to you, He wants to help you. Your ailments and aches and illnesses are a tiny matter to God. But He loves you, and so he wants you to bring them to Him. There is no promise He will cure you, but He does promise to care for you.
Our heavenly needs is greatest and most urgent. And yet your daily trouble is also of great concern to Him.
Next time we will look at the feeding of the five thousand -- the climax of this scene. But today, won’t you take comfort in knowing that the God who called the twelve to serve in His name also calls you? Will you commit to make a deserted place where you can be with Him on a weekly basis? Will you bring him your needs, both spiritual and physical, heavenly and earthy -- and be refreshed and rejuvenated by the tender voice of your Father who longs to simply be with you?