The disciples had just returned to Jesus, earlier having been sent ‘out’(Mark 6:7), empowered for an amazing mini-mission, during which they’d ‘preached that people should repent… cast out many demons… anointed many with oil who were sick, and healed them’(Mark 6:12-13). It must have been an exciting time, yet also exhausting! As the disciples reported all they’d ‘done, and… taught’(Mark 6:30), many other people were ‘coming and going’(Mark 6:31), presumably because Jesus was teaching and healing too. The scene became so busy that there wasn’t even time ‘to eat’(Mark 6:31). In addition to that, Matthew records that John the Baptist’s ‘disciples’(Matthew 14:12) arrived with news of his death. So Jesus wisely concluded that they’d best retreat ‘“into a deserted place”’(Mark 6:31) to ‘“rest awhile”’.
The first thing to note is that sometimes simple food, rest and time out is all that we need. Our gracious ‘“God”’(John 20:28) understands such needs, so recommends it here, even for Himself as ‘the man Christ Jesus’(1 Timothy 2:5). We’d be wise to heed this truth too when life seems a bit overloaded, even if full of the right things. In a sense this ‘“come… rest awhile”’(Mark 6:31) is a gentle commandment even, rather like David knew – ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul’(Psalm 23:2-3).
That psalm draws our attention to another type of rest though, which is a feature of the rest in this passage too – time out specifically with the Lord, sometimes appropriately referred to as a ‘quiet time’. Again, even the man Jesus needed this, just like He needed physical food and rest. He often ‘withdrew… and prayed’(Luke 5:16) to God the Father, and taught that we should do the same: ‘“when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret’(Matthew 6:6). It’s often what we need, aside from just basic rest and refreshment. Although we can’t have the physical presence of Jesus with us like the disciples enjoyed here, we can meet with God in Prayer, through ‘“another Counsellor”’(John 14:16), the Holy ‘“Spirit”’(John 14:17; Jude 1:20; Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:26) – God’s presence alongside and within. During such times we can hear God speak, especially though His word, including this very passage, as if listening with the disciples even, and through other scriptures, since they are all ‘God-breathed’(2 Timothy 3:16), ‘living and active’(Hebrews 4:12), alive with the Holy Spirit of God.
However, it’s important to note that the proposed retreat in this passage, for food, rest and time with the Lord, was proceeded by an intense busy period. Moreover, we’re urged elsewhere not to become ‘weary in doing good’(Galatians 6:9) emulating Jesus Himself, who ‘“went about doing good”’(Acts 10:38), ‘“mighty in deed and word”’(Luke 24:19), just like He’d empowered the disciples for earlier here. Paul exemplified this too, living a life of ‘labour and travail’(2 Corinthians 11:27), and teaching that we’re to ‘work heartily, as for the Lord’(Colossians 3:23) in whatever we do. So there’s an appropriate balance to be found between work and time out for rest and recuperation.
There’s another interesting feature to this passage that we can learn from as well – they didn’t actually get to have their planned rest! The crowds interrupted before it had even started, yet rather than react with frustration Jesus ‘had compassion… began to teach’(Mark 6:34) and also ‘healed their sick’(Matthew 14:14). Moreover, the disciples were tasked with feeding this crowd of thousands with ‘five loaves and… two fish’(Mark 6:41)!
Nevertheless, in that task the disciples learnt something else about rest – how to rest in the sovereignty of God, whose ‘“power is made perfect in weakness”’(2 Corinthians 12:9). We’re to obey His instructions and ‘rest’ in His will, entrusting the outcome to Him, since unless ‘Yahweh builds the house, they… labour in vain… It is vain… to rise up early… to stay up late… for He gives sleep’(Psalm 127:1-2), and it’s ‘“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’ says Yahweh”’(Zechariah 4:6).
The path to God’s ultimate ‘rest’(Hebrews 4:1ff.) is similar. Jesus invites us, ‘“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”’(Matthew 11:28-30). If we entrust our brokenness entirely to His strength, putting our lives into/under His gentle hands, we’ll find a ready ploughed furrow to ‘“Paradise”’(Luke 23:43) opened up by His perfect life, death and resurrection ‘power’(Hebrews 7:16).
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