If you are a reader of the Bible, have you ever compared the four gospels of Jesus Christ – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and picked one of them as your favorite? Well, for me, I like different aspects of all of them: Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount is majestic…Luke, ever the historian, adds different facts surrounding Christ’s career, such as that there were many women who were His disciples…then there’s John, who brings out the concept of living an “eternal quality” to one’s life in Christ BEFORE you die. And then there’s Mark. Mark doesn’t get much respect, but I like Mark. Why? Well, Mark was the first of the four – I believe and many experts believe – who wrote a gospel. You know, a gospel is not a biography, as we think of biographies…and a gospel is not like a sermon, either. Mark came up with the whole concept of a “gospel” – a melding of Christ’s public career as Messiah combined with an emphasis on what He taught – and the world would never be the same.
Mark sought to convey something important about Christ’s life once He became an itinerant preacher and healer: that He was always on the move. Mark showed that as soon as Jesus healed His first sick person, His life was changed forever. Crowds followed Him wherever He went – even when Christ wanted to be alone to grieve when John the Baptist died, or when He wanted to rest a bit. Every day became totally UNPREDICTABLE, in that sense – which we can relate to, because COVID has added a greater sense of unpredictability to OUR days since March 2020. So, watching Jesus Christ handle unpredictability in His earthly ministry, what can we gain from His example to help us these days?
Let’s look at Mark’s Gospel again. Breathlessly Mark describes that, right after betting baptized by John, “the Spirit” that had just appeared to Christ in the form of a dove “immediately drove Jesus out into the” desert, where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by Satan. Soon after that, Jesus asked four fishermen to be His first disciples, and they “immediately” followed Him. Then the very next Sabbath Jesus preached in the synagogue at Capernaum and healed a man plagued with an unclean spirit. And then, “immediately” after Christ and the disciples left the synagogue, they were in Peter’s house and Christ was called upon immediately to heal Peter’s mother-in-law; that very night “they brought to Jesus all who were sick” and He healed them. Then Mark notes: “In the morning, while it was still dark Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place” to pray, but He was tracked down by Peter and another. They said to Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you,” but Jesus said His mission was not to remain in Capernaum but preach in ALL the towns in Galilee, which is what He did. Phew!
We should not be surprised at all of this. It would be even more chaotic today for Jesus, with bigger crowds, when word would get around, as it did back then, of this great healer. When Jesus returned to His home in Capernaum, he preached and the whole area was filled to the gills with people, and one man was lowered down from the roof for Jesus to heal the man, which – while having to interrupt His message – Jesus immediately did. One time a short time later He had to get into a boat to preach to the crowd, because there was no room for Him on the shore! Not too many days later Christ and the Twelve one evening went in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. After stilling a storm, the moment Christ got out of the boat a man with an unclean spirit met Him and Christ immediately addressed the man’s situation; Christ did NOT say (and Christ never said, even amongst all of this unpredictability) “Come to me later – I’ll schedule you in next Friday.” No, He healed this man who had been possessed by a quite scary demon.
As soon as their boat returned to Galilee, a crowd was again there waiting for Jesus. The leader of the synagogue there desired Jesus heal his very sick girl, which Christ immediately went to do. As Christ walked to the leader’s home, on the way there an older woman touched His cloak; immediately Christ felt His power had gone out to restore this woman’s health, and He told her and everyone about it. Then, when Christ got to the synagogue’s leader’s home, they told Jesus the girl was already dead, but He immediately went in anyway and healed her.
The whole of the Gospel of Mark goes like this – a strange, minute-by-minute adventure – an adventure that, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, spread what Christ called “the Kingdom of God.” Let me now share with you one of these moments, which is our “Boost” for the day. It’s from Mark, chapter six, verses thirty through thirty-nine.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As Jesus went ashore, He saw a great crowd; and He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and Jesus began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, His disciples came to Christ and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to Him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then He ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.”
We know what happens next, don’t we? What we see here is that Jesus takes a difficult situation and meets it headfirst; instead of turning them away as the disciples, His closest friends, suggested, He has compassion on them; Christ realizes that they are “like sheep without a shepherd,” and He somehow feeds five thousand men, plus many women and children. He met their immediate needs in a way no one could have predicted ahead of time.
You know, no one knew this pandemic would hit us; no one predicted ahead of time that we would have to go through all of this and do all of that that in order to get through this crisis in as safe a way – as good a way – as possible. These days no one day is alike; each day is filled with new difficulties that confront us with new decisions and that challenge us to learn how to do new things in new ways. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus showed us how to do it. Jesus never turned away from a need presented to Him. As we read from the end of Mark 6: “And wherever He went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might touch even the fringe of His cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”
Now, two points about all of this, when we look on Christ’s behavior as an example for us. First, some might say, “Well, I am not Jesus; I do not have that miraculous power” and that’s true. But it’s also true that we ARE Jesus – we, together, ARE the Body of Christ on earth. When Jesus was told that He should send the crowd away to get food, He didn’t just magically bring loaves and fishes out, out of thin air – no; He first challenged the disciples: “YOU give them something to eat.” These disciples, you know, had never before been in this situation – and yet they DID respond immediately; they DID give the crowd something to eat – all they had in their possession at the time. And it turned out to be enough. We are called in the same way; we are called to follow precautions and also help people – both by being cautious and by helping – in ways that we have never had to do before. We ought not hide away or tell others to go away; following all the precautions, we still ought to find ways to care for others, anyway, even if it is from a distance.
Secondly, I’d like to point out that we are tempted to completely ignore what’s going on “out there” right now. Making this point, I am reminded of some funny videos on YouTube put there by the Holderness Family. They like to watch Hallmark movies – and also to make fun of them. At the end of one of their funny videos, though, Kim Holderness got serious. She stated, “I think this year specifically I need ‘predictable’…this year I need ‘happy ending.’ [In watching these Hallmark movies] I want to know exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t need suspense or thrill…that’s my daily life. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Though I totally understand what Kim was getting at, I would say to her and to all of you not to let that feeling go too far; don’t be focused on hiding away from life and all the struggles going on, even THIS winter. Be in a position to hear from Jesus something He wants you to do in the world – no matter how unpredictable our world is right now.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a very unpredictable way – in a stable, on a manger. Jesus lived His life amongst the chaos of a nation choked by the Roman Empire; but He healed and taught anyway. The Apostle Paul called upon all Christians to adjust to new circumstances and seek continual transformation in order to be better disciples of Christ – better servants to others – every strange, new day. And there’s a JOY in that challenge to transform – a very LARGE joy. Yes, there are immediate challenges for us, every day – and it looks like there’s no stopping! So let’s turn to our Savior for guidance, through the wise Spirit He has placed in our hearts and minds.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord Jesus, You Yourself, as we read in Mark, lived a life of continual love and service, immediately meeting the challenges of every unpredictable day. May we not be afraid to do take on OUR unpredictable days – taking on new challenges ahead, all the while allowing ourselves to be reshaped and transformed by Your loving hands to do so. You, O Jesus, are the only thing “predictable” in our lives; help us to rely on You. In Your Name we pray, Amen.
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