Turn with me please to Mark's gospel again, to chapter 6. Mark chapter 6, and of course, if you're visiting, you will be unaware that we are travelling through Mark's gospel. We have been 30 or so weeks in it now, and now we reach verse 30 of chapter 6 - the subject, apologies to the Tape Ministry for not giving you this in advance, you'll need to catch this one - I'll go slow! 'The Rhythm Of Rest And Readiness In Service' - now some of you younger ones at the back will be able to catch that for them! It will become clear why I have chosen that title this morning for this passage.
Mark 6 verse 30: "And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things".
Now as we will see, in the will of the Lord, next week: verses 30 to 34 come just before that great miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, a miracle that took place round about the beginning of the third year of the public ministry of our Lord Jesus. Now if you can remember where we've come from immediately in this chapter 6, you will remember that the apostles have just returned to Capernaum from their first preaching mission. If you look back at verse 7, you remember it says that the Lord: 'called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits' - and we see the result in verses 12 and 13, 'And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them'. Now of course our last study considered the execution of John the Baptist in the preceding verses to ours today. It would appear that it was the news of the death, the execution of John the Baptist, that terminated this first trip in ministry of the apostles.
So we read in verse 30: 'The apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught'. Now, when I was meditating upon these verses, I couldn't get any further than verse 30 - because I believe within it there is a great exhortation for us all. This was a time of sorrow for the Lord's disciples and for the Lord Himself. The greatest one that was ever naturally born of woman, that great prophet and forerunner of our Lord Jesus who would prepare the way before Messiah, had been martyred. So at this time of sorrow, verse 30 tells us they went to Jesus. That's what we should do. Not only was it a time of sorrow, it was a time of success - having accomplished all they did, they told Him all things that they had said and done. Now, a word of caution: we shouldn't tell everyone else what we do and what we teach, and yet we see here that the Lord wants to know what we are involved in concerning His service. I thought of that wonderful verse in Song of Solomon, I think, which depicts our Lord Jesus Christ and His church, and He saying to her speaks: 'O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely'. The Lord wants to see us, He wants to hear us, He wants to be with us in times of sorrow and in times of success. It appears here, immediately, that the Lord wanted to discuss with these apostles their ministry for Him, and indeed prepare them for the next mission that they would be engaged in.
Now, imagine how they felt. In one respect they were probably exhilarated by the success of how the Lord had gifted them, had used them - but in another guard, it appears that they were weary and exhausted by the exercise of their gifts in the service of the Lord. I think it's wonderful just to see in our portion today how caring and compassionate the Lord Jesus was toward His exhausted servants. This, of course, is the gospel of the Suffering Servant, you remember; and it shows us how He suffered and how He served. It tells us how we must serve, and how we must suffer - but it's not a sadistic suffering. The Lord Jesus understands, and He knows how exhausting it is to serve at times, and so He recognized their need for rest and quietness, and He took him by boat to a secluded area on the shore of Galilee - a little place, we believe, where the Jordan empties into the Galilee, and it is a solitary, deserted place.
These apostles needed time out. The Lord Jesus perceived that they needed time out, and He led them to that place where they would get it. Now of course, if it ended there that would be very idealistic - but there was a great problem that arose. The overzealous crowd would not leave our Lord alone, nor His apostles. I imagine that when they saw the familiar sail going down Galilee, young and old started to charge north along the edge of the lake. As they journeyed, I imagine the numbers, indeed the multitude, gathered: hundreds of villagers joined them on their pursuit. You can just see them shouting and gesturing to one another: 'Jesus is in that boat, let's follow Him and see where He's going to'. They wanted to see a miracle, they wanted to see a great work, hear great words. Finally, according to Mark 6 and indeed the other gospel records, thousands converged on Bethsaida where the Lord Jesus was intent on going to get some rest for Himself and for His disciples.
Now the remarkable thing to me in all of this instance is that, in spite of the interruptions to the Lord's plans and the disciples' plans, the Lord welcomed them all. Indeed, it says He taught them and He healed them. Now there are many lessons that we can learn from our four verses today, and we'll try our best. I want to summarise them under two heads. The first is this: these Scriptures teach us that there is a need for a rest, there is a need for rest - particularly the first two verses. We'll look at them in detail in a moment, but let me remind you that rest is a creation principle. Right back at the very beginning of all things, the Lord ordained that one day in seven should observe rest. He rested on that day, we ought to rest on one in seven. Now, that of course was not a rest of exhaustion, it was a rest of completion - the Lord had finished all that He was to do. But we suffer exhaustion, and therefore it is incumbent upon us physically, emotionally, mentally, and - as we shall see - spiritually, to take a day during the week, at least a day, and rest.
Now that principle was enshrined more concretely in the law that was given to the children of Israel in the book of Exodus. The Israelites were encouraged to take a day, the Sabbath day, and that would become a sign between God and His covenant people that they were being faithful to His law. Then when we go on to Leviticus we find that even the land, the earth, was to rest every seventh year. So even beside the legal elements of the law of Moses, we see that there is an overarching principle that transcends every era and epoch, that we as human beings in a great creation have been created to rest - we need it.
Now of course immediately we address such a subject, there are two dangers that are obvious. The first danger is that of constant activity. We need rest because none of us can keep going, working all the time. The second obvious danger is that you can have too much rest - too much withdrawal is not only unnecessary, but undesirable. So what we are speaking of here, as my title suggests, is a rhythm, it is the rhythm of the Christian life to rest, to also meet with God secretly in a secret place, and then it is also to go from that rest into the marketplace to serve the Lord.
Now let's deal with the first danger first of all, of constant activity. Now let me say first of all that 'rest' here can be understood in two ways - this, of course, was physical rest that the Lord Jesus was encouraging the apostles to partake of. But it was also spiritual rest, because they were resting physically, but they were resting in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, you could have physical rest without spiritual rest. You obviously are aware of how that could be? And you can have spiritual rest without physical rest. You can be engaged in a spiritual exercise that does not entail switching your brain off, or lying down, or being on a seat - but nevertheless you are receiving spiritual nourishment and activity and refreshment. You can have these both together - they each can stand alone, physical and spiritual rest, but we see in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ that many a time He went into a desert solitary place, and there He rested, but His rest was engaged in prayer and He received a great rest in solitude and meditation before His Heavenly Father.
Now no one can work without rest, and it is true equally that no one can live the Christian life unless they give themselves times not only of physical rest, but of times with God - because God's work has to be done in God's strength. So there is a rhythm, the rhythm of rest and readiness in the service of the Lord. Now it is my belief that our rhythm is likely to be more service and less rest. I'm not speaking now of physical rest, but I'm speaking concerning our time spent with the Lord. I reckon that is the imbalance that we experience: we are out of rhythm because we're not resting with the Lord enough. Now obviously there is the other extreme, and that affects others, people who are not serving the Lord because they're physically resting too much. It depends which sense in which we look at it, but irrespective of what sense we look at it, we will look at it and see many lessons we get out of it.
The first thing I see about this need for rest was that it was a conscious decision. Please look at this, in verse 31 the Lord Jesus says: 'Come ye yourselves'. Now listen: this rest was not just an absence of work - for some of you that is Saturday or even Sunday, or a Friday afternoon or some other day in the week where you cease employment and therefore rest ensues. This was more than just an absence of work, this was a decision to suspend work. They decided to stop what they were doing and draw aside. Now some people think: 'I'm going to wait for a day when it will be convenient for me to take a rest', or spiritually, 'I'm going to wait for a day when it will be convenient for me to draw close to the Lord'. What happens? It never happens! Waiting for something that is within our own power to do is ridiculous! We ourselves have the choice to, as James said, draw near to God and He will draw near to us.
Now the word 'rest' here is in the middle voice, now that simply means that as it is used here it means 'to give oneself rest'. There is that slant: that they did this of their own volition, of course guided by the Lord, but they themselves had to make a conscious decision to draw aside and rest physically and spiritually. Now conversely to that the word 'leisure', what they couldn't get at the end of verse 31, leisure enough even to eat, that literally means 'an opportune time'. So the word 'rest' means 'to give oneself rest', to make a conscious decision; but this word 'leisure' means 'an opportune time', an opportunity that would just arise - do you see the difference? They couldn't get an opportunity to arise to eat, to rest, because opportunities to do those things often, when you're serving the Lord the way the apostles did, don't arise - you have to make them.
So it was a conscious decision: they had to make time to rest and to be before the Lord. Can I ask you: do you do that? Oh, I know we're all busy, and maybe some of you with families, you've got responsibilities. Maybe you're looking after elderly relatives or something like that, or maybe your career is taking off and you're very, very busy. All these things, everybody has their own encroachments of time - but, you see, you've got to make time. Whether it is early, early in the morning, or late into the evening, you've got to get alone with God.
Well, there's a second thing I note: it was a conscious decision, but they went into a solitary place. Now the Authorised Version when it says 'a desert place', it's not meaning that it was the wilderness, it literally is the sense 'a deserted place', a place where they would not be disturbed, where it would be tranquil and would be conducive to a physical and spiritual time of solitude. Now, do you have such a place? You need it. I have got my study, maybe you have got your kitchen, maybe you've got the bedroom, maybe you've got the park, maybe it's the car - I don't know where it is, I don't know when it is, but one thing is certain: you need such a place. Not only must you make time, you must create a place to get away from the hustle and bustle. Now, if you don't have such a place, you need to do all in your power to get one. That's what our Lord did and His apostles - not only did they go into a solitary place, but they had an innovative strategy for getting there. Look at the verses: 'They departed into a deserted place by ship privately'. Drastic measures had to be employed for them to accomplish this desired end to get alone! They took a boat and sailed! Sometimes that's the only thing we can do: to privately disappear to be alone with God. Sometimes you need to hide to get this rest!
This rest is a great stress reliever, and that's why the Lord Jesus desired it for His servants. We see that when you look down at the end of verse 31: 'there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat'. Now we've seen this before, almost an identical situation in Mark chapter 3 where the disciples and the Lord didn't have time to eat because of the many people that were coming to them to be served and to be healed and ministered to. I'm asking the question of myself and of all of us: could one of the reasons be why there's so much stress and strain and among Christian people today, the fact that we do not take enough time out of our busy schedules to have both physical and spiritual rest - physical rest and spiritual devotion. I imagine that many of the breakdowns that we suffer, and heart attacks that we experience, might not be as common if we followed the exhortation of our Lord - the busiest of us - and made a conscious decision to regularly seek out a solitary place, even if it needs innovation and strategy to get it, in order that we might be relieved of much of the strain and stress that our ordered lives bring upon us.
It was Vance Havner, of course, who famously said: 'If you don't come apart and rest, you will come apart'. Church life can be extremely busy, and you know that the more you have to give the more people will take from you. In your service for the Lord, perhaps in this assembly or in another capacity, you know that the people who are doing the work are usually the ones that are given more work to do. Therefore you have to have checks and balances in your life, as I have found to my own detriment, where you take rest, physical and spiritual, before God.
'Mary had a little lamb,
T'was given her to keep,
But then it joined the local church
And died for lack of sleep'.
That's a good one, isn't it? How true it can be! Even God's Servant Son, think of it, took time to rest. He made a conscious decision to fellowship with His friends, to find renewal from His Heavenly Father - it didn't just arise, it had to be taken. Please note finally under this heading: it was a conscious decision, it was a solitary place, it was an innovative strategy, it was a stress reliever, but it was a specific period. 'Come ye apart yourselves, and rest a while'. Now that leads us very well into the second danger. The first danger, you remember, was that we are constantly in activity and therefore we need to rest; but the second danger is that we have too much withdrawal, too much rest. Now, of course this is less of a problem if we're talking about devotional rest, spending time before God - that should be encouraged, and I imagine that that's something that we need to do, all of us, more. But even that we cannot do forever. There comes a time, as we will see in the life of our Lord Jesus, and in every servant of God, when we must be occupied with other things, other than prayer and meditation.
Now take the rest for the body first of all. Resting the body is only for the purpose of bettering our work for the Lord, that's why we're given it. Richard Baxter, when he was writing to some ministers, said these amazing words - and let me substitute the word 'minister' for 'Christian' so that it can apply to everyone here - 'Recreation to the Christian must be as whetting is with the mower', now 'whetting' is an old word for 'sharpening', so 'Recreation to the Christian must be as sharpening to the lawnmower, that is, to be used only so far as is necessary for his work'. He goes on, 'May a physician in plague-time take any more relaxation or recreation than is necessary for his life, when so many are expecting his help in a case of life and death? Will you stand by and see sinners gasping under the pangs of death and say: 'God does not require me to make myself a drudge to save them?'. Is this the voice of Christian compassion or rather of sensual laziness and diabolical cruelty?'. Our physical rest is meant to better our service for the Lord, but if we think about resting in the presence of the Lord in a devotional sense, of course that is much more important - but we still ought not to make the mistake of the monks and the mystics, thinking that that alone will do us. Oh, God knows that we need more pray-ers, and we need more meditators and people who are in communion with God - and that is a great lack in this day and age - but that is not all that there is to do. The Lord said: 'I must work the works of Him that has sent me while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work'.
Well, there is a principle that we have found here that our Lord Jesus enshrines for us, and it is this: there is a need for rest, but now we're just about to see that there is another principle that regulates that first principle. There is a need for rest, but there is something that overrules the need for rest, and that is the need for help. The Lord was interrupted in His rest because of the need. Look down at it, verse 34, the Lord Jesus saw a people, those who had followed and gathered around Him like sheep without a shepherd. Now let us pause for a moment, because this is amazing to me - many a time I have resented interruptions of my time, invasions in my space, but we never find the Lord Jesus with such an attitude! Indeed, in John 4 and verse 6 the Lord Jesus was weary on a journey, and He sat down at the well at Sycar at the sixth hour, and He took that as an opportunity to witness to the woman, the woman at the well. In His weariness, stopping to rest, He didn't ignore the need for help.
It's the same, you remember, if you recall in our recent studies in chapter 4 of this gospel, you remember the storm in the Lake. In verses 38 and 39 we read: 'The Lord was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and the disciples awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm'. The storm could not awaken the Lord Jesus, but the cry of His faithless disciples aroused Him! There was a need for rest, but there was a need for help - and when the need for help arose, the need for rest was demoted.
Of course, the Lord desired to rest here in Mark 6, it was His suggestion. He desired to rest in the hinder of the boat, He desired to rest at the well of Sycar, and He earned it - He was ministering morning, noon and night! But when it was interrupted, He didn't resent it! We're not like that, at least I know I'm not - why are we not like that? Well, very simply: because we do not see the crowd as sheep having no shepherd. We do not see the need. The hymn writer said:
'Let me look at the crowd, as my Saviour did,
Till my eyes with tears grow dim.
Let me look and see the wandering sheep,
And love them for love of Him!'.
Now please note here, because I don't want to put a guilt trip on people that is unhelpful - those of you who are hammering yourselves into the ground serving the Lord, you need to remember: you are not the Lord. I know that's obvious, but it's something we often forget. We're so zealous to become more like the Lord, that we forget that in this life, in these bodies, with these dispositions, we will never ever attain the perfectness and the likeness of Him in fullness. So we need to rest more than He needed to rest! If we don't, we will become irritable. Also, there is so much need that it's not possible to meet all of it, even if we never ate or slept - as the disciples experienced at this moment. I recall what W.P. Nicholson was accosted with at the door when he announced that he was going on his vacation of a couple of weeks holiday. A woman at the door said: 'Mr Nicholson, the devil never takes a holiday', and he said, 'I would be like the devil if I didn't take it!' - that's exactly right, isn't it? We are not the Lord, we want to get to be like the Lord, but we've got to be realistic as well concerning the frames that we have, the dispositions that we been given by God, and the work of sanctification that's still needed to be done in us - but even though I say that, and rest is of the greatest importance, the need for help must always be allowed to interrupt our rest. In other words, others needs must be above our own rest, or others needs must be above our own needs. Is that the way we live?
Now how does that apply to devotion, because you might think it sounds like I'm saying that, you know, if there is a work to be done, forget about your prayer time - don't think that's what I'm saying at all! We must protect our times of devotion with the Lord, and like the Lord Jesus - if it means getting up during the night, or a great while before day - we must make sure that we have it. But even in the midst of those experiences, if the need arises, we don't say: 'Go away! I'm praying!', we meet it. This is balanced Christianity. We will become imbalanced if we overemphasise work at the expense of rest, or if we emphasise rest at the expense of work. We see this holy equilibrium in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ: devotion that does not result in action is not real devotion; prayer that does not result in work is not real prayer. So, as someone has said well, 'We must never seek the fellowship of God to avoid the fellowship of men, but fit ourselves better for it'. We are with God that we might be with God and go to men.
So here we see the rhythm of the Christian life, it's like the natural life. You cannot work well unless you have rested well. Equally, you cannot rest well unless you have worked well, till you're tired. The Christian rhythm is a continuous going into the presence of God, and moving from the presence of God into the presence of men, and then coming from the presence of those men into the presence of God again. What principles the Lord Jesus lays down for us: the need for rest, but overruling that principle is the need for help. If you have a compassionate heart, one thing is sure: you'll never have an idle hand, for you'll see the need. Whilst you are realistic to know that you can't meet every need that there is, you will do your best to make a difference. The more you care, the busier you will become; the more effective your gift is and your ministry is to others, the more people will come to be ministered to by you and be served from you. How important it is that we get this rhythm of rest and readiness in service, that we strike the balance!
Along with the great danger of being engaged in much service but little time of devotion before the Lord, I think the greater danger, perhaps, today, is being engaged in much physical rest and no work for the Master. I'm going to make a controversial statement - surprise, surprise - your retirement is not a time for you to indulge your senses and your flesh. It is a God-given opportunity for you to serve the Lord in ways that you have never served Him before. If you want to lynch me for that afterwards, that's OK. We're here for Him: 'Ye are not your own'. Your time is not your own, your money is not your own, your gifts are not your own, your home is not your own - you are bought with a price.
How is the rhythm in your life? Only those who serve, like the apostles served here, are warranted - truly warranted - to accept the invitation of the Master: 'Come ye yourselves apart, and rest a while'. I'm finished, but there are wonderful words that I want us to sing as our closing hymn, and they encapsulate everything I've just said, everything that this passage of Scripture is all about. Listen to the words before you look them up, listen to them:
'Come ye yourselves apart and rest awhile,
Weary, I know it, of the press and throng;
Wipe from your brow the sweat and dust of toil,
And in My quiet strength again be strong.
Come ye aside from all the world holds dear,
For converse which the world has never known;
Alone with Me and with My Father here,
With Me and with My Father not alone.
Come tell me all that ye have said and done,
Your victories and failures, hopes and fears;
I know how hardly souls are wooed and won,
My choicest wreathes are always wet with tears.
Come ye and rest, the journey is too great,
And ye will faint beside the way and sink;
The bread of life is here for you to eat,
And here for you the wine of love to drink.
Then, fresh from converse with your Lord, return,
And work till daylight softens into even;
The brief hours are not lost in which ye learn
More of your Master and His rest in heaven'.
'With that deep hush subduing all,
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!'
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirty-second recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Rhythm Of Rest And Readiness In Service" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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