I am a married pastor with six kids. Life is busy with vehicles breaking down, house projects never-ending, deadlines needing to be met, and to-do lists filling my time while dreams of leisure fill my mind. I am exhausted. Where is margin and balance in life? Where is there rest in busyness?
In Mark 6:31, Jesus invited his followers to rest. “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Doesn’t Jesus’s invitation sound delightful?
The context tells us that the disciples returned from ministering in pairs. They went out telling people to repent, cast out demons, and anoint the sick with oil. Some people received them, and some people rejected them. What a tiring day of ministry. In verse 30, they came to Jesus, and he instructed them to come away and rest.
What did they do? They got on a boat and set out for a secluded place. I picture a favorite spot in the house, a quiet place, with a book and a cup of coffee. Maybe your resting place is a beach, mountain top, or stream. Come away and rest awhile. Do you long for a vacation from the frenetic pace of life? Do you long for rest?
Jesus’ invitation results in the opposite. Outsiders saw Jesus and his friends. They raced to meet them. Jesus was intoxicating and electrifying. He was a miracle worker. The masses were hoping that he could offer what they wanted. They want a rest in a way too.
I envision the disciples seeing the growing crowd thinking, “Let’s turn around!” or “Let’s get out of here!” It may have been like waking up in the middle of the night, after a back-breaking day of work, hoping your spouse gets up with the sick kid. You pretend to sleep. Your body aches. Someone else can do it. The immediate thing before us sometimes is the least appealing. Where is the desolate and restful place Jesus promised? Must they dock with all those people right there?
Jesus didn’t see it that way. “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). Jesus was human and divine. He embraced the limits of his calling. He tired, hungered, and needed rest. However, he chose compassion.
Why then would Jesus make this invitation to rest before they got in the boat if they were landing to work? Jesus was taking his followers on a journey that was not predictable or easy. Why does he keep teaching instead of start resting? Maybe Jesus had another lesson that didn’t involve words.
Day ended, and night fell. The disciples saw an opportunity to bring Jesus’ conference to a close. They were done. What did they do?
… his disciples came to him [Jesus] and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)
Have you ever gotten to the end of your rope, tired, and hungry looking for an escape? I wager many of you have. I bet the disciples had. It was time for rest. Bodies need it. Rest is biblical. Send them away.
How did Jesus respond? Did he go along with their suggestion? “… he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat’” (Mark 6:37).
What! Jesus commanded the impossible. These spent disciples, with only five loaves and two fish, couldn’t possibly feed everyone. There were 5,000 hungry mouths to feed. What was Jesus thinking? You give them something to eat. He knew they couldn’t. Impossible!
You get up and deal with your sick kid in the middle of the night. You help the person broken down on the side of the road. You stay late at work to fix the broken machine. You do it.
Jesus knew what he was saying. He knew they couldn’t feed them. Why would he say that? Maybe it was this lesson without words.
Jesus was teaching. Times like these show desperation. When we are young and rested and full, we believe we have something and are something. We have the truth. We have power. We have vitality. We have answers. Then, we get to the end of the day, energy, and life, pondering if we have anything at all. In truth, all we have is Jesus. I think that was a central point of Jesus’ ministry.
What happened next is familiar. Jesus didn’t send the crowd away as the disciples suggested or split the paltry food and offer crumbs to the hungry. He took the meager rations and miraculously multiplied them. Everyone had their fill and leftovers to boot in the end. Jesus did what his followers couldn’t.
The night is upon them. Time is up. We get to verse 45, and Jesus finally sends the crowd and disciples away. They are done with this desolate place. The disciples go to the boat to cross the sea, while Jesus stays to pray.
How restful was that next boat ride? It wasn’t. Their progress was painful. The wind buffeted them. Where is the rest that Jesus invited? Mark recounted,
And about the fourth watch of the night [3-6 am] he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. (Mark 6:48-51)
What a man. When Jesus instructs rest, his disciples sought it. Instead, they found work. Night came. They hungered. He issued more work by calling for the feeding of the people. He provided what he demanded. He instructed the disciples again to cross the lake in their boat. The winds rose, disrupting rest. Near morning, quite casually, Jesus walked on water, told the disciples not to worry, and the wind stopped—what a man.
When they get to their next destination, people recognize them and ran from all over for more healing. The cycle recycles.
This brings us back to the beginning invitation. Where is there rest in following Jesus? Where is balance and margin in the Christian life? Certainly, we need to rest. Sabbath is good. At the same time, Jesus invites us to something better than a 40-hour work-week, an eight hour day with breaks, or a vacation. Fatigue, hunger, and brokenness can present opportunities for Jesus to demonstrate his all-sufficiency. Don’t miss the blessings of interruptions, accidents, and late-night disruptions they can drive you to meet the savior. Jesus invites, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we have nothing left, we can rest in him.
Are you spent with busyness? How do you think Jesus felt serving the masses? Are you willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads? Where can God enter and offer to supply your want? What does it look like for you to follow Jesus’s leading today? Rest in him.