“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:7-15)
No One Likes a Quitter
No one wants to be called a quitter and I don’t remember anyone writings songs and telling rousing stories about how their military forces turned-tail and ran away. The heroes of our books and movies tend to be men and women of action – who didn’t quit – who wouldn’t let up. I like watching movies with heroes like the Avengers, John McClane from Die Hard, or Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies who can take hit after hit, deal with bad-guy after bad-guy… aliens everywhere, the whole building’s blowing up, and they get threatened, shot, and are bleeding… but they just keep on going. Nothing stops them, and they never backs down.
The basis of the Terminator movies is wrapped up in a quote from the first movie that they milked for at least 4 movies and a tv program. The hero leans over and says in a very serious tone…
“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
A lot of people these days lives as though they are Terminator machines. We’ve even got little phrases we like to use like “Sleep is for the weak” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” We prize people that never stop. It’s a compliment when people say that you’re like the Energizer Bunny… that you keep going, and going, and going, and going. However, if our study in Mark is any indication, I don’t think that God considers it to be much of a compliment.
What Do You DO?
Think about how we talk to each other. When we first meet, what do we say? What’s your name and what do you do? Not, “what are your interests?”, “what’s your favourite book?”, “how have your times with God been?”, “tell me about your family.”… or any other aspect of the person’s life… We want to know what you do. Imagine if we changed that to be “who are your best friends?” or “what book or movie has most impacted your life and why?” I bet we’d get to know each other a lot more.
I looked at a list of questions that Speed Daters are encouraged to use to get to know people in a hurry when they are going around to the various prospects. Question number 1 was “What do you do for work?” but it came with a caveat: “It is an introductory question. It may reveal the professional status of a person but little about his personality. So move on to another question.” In other words, what we do seems to be our first question, but it is a superficial and shallow one.
Sometimes we’ll start conversations with our family with “So what’s your plan today?” What are you going to do? What will you accomplish? I do that with my wife all the time. “So, what are we doing today?” The assumption is that you and I will be busy, and most of the time that assumption is absolutely correct.
It seems that we’ve covered this ground before. We’ve already talked about the importance of the Sabbath, which is a weekly rest, given to us as a gift from God. We’ve talked about Fasting, which is a time that we stop doing something… like eating… and spend time with God instead. We’ve also talked about Jesus leaving Peter’s home early in the morning to spend time alone with God after a busy day. The theme continues today as we look at Jesus escaping the crowds and taking special time away to pray.
Many of us have heard it over and over and over… from our counsellors, our friends, our doctors, various preachers and teachers… it’s not new information. Humans were not designed to go like the Energizer Bunny or the Terminator. We are not machines! We need rest. Daily Rest, Weekly Rest, and Rest during special times. That’s what I want to focus on today.
When we talked about when Jesus’ left Peter’s home early in the morning, the emphasis was on the importance of having a consistent, daily time to rest in and rejoice in God. When we talked about the Sabbath, it was about having a consistent, weekly time to worship God and fellowship with other believers. These are our regular times… they are like our regular meals. If we discipline ourselves to spend time with God every day… set aside one day every week… without fail… we will be able to maintain our spiritual health.
But what we read in our passage today is different. Here, Jesus isn’t stealing away in the middle of the night, nor is He resting on the Sabbath. No here, He’s making what you could call a “Strategic Withdrawal”. I want to look further at what Jesus is doing here, and see if we can learn something from it.
Everyone Wants a Piece of Jesus
Take a look at what’s going on in the passage. In verses 6, 7 and 8 Mark wants the readers to get a real understanding of the kinds of pressure Jesus was under.
“The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
So He’s got that pressure, from the religious leaders and the people who supported Rome. Things in the Synagogue that day were getting dicey and emotional, so Jesus decided that it probably wasn’t best to have the crowd confined to the streets, but instead went down to the open shoreline so people would have more space. Keep reading:
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him.”
Twice, Mark uses the term “great crowd”. And he gives that list of cities to mean that they came from everywhere. They came from Galilee, where He was currently ministering, Judea in the south, Jerusalem – the big city, Idumea — which was outside of Judea and across the Jordan, which refers to Prea and Decapolis which were east of the Jordan river, and around Tyre and Sidon which were pagan cities to the far north on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s a lot of people all crowding on one beach. And every one of them wanted a piece of Jesus.
Everyone Wants a Piece of You
Have you ever felt like that? That everyone wants a piece of you? I love my job – I love my life! On any given day I’m usually busy in the office, out visiting someone, or having a meeting, or two, or sometimes three, and I could do it all day long – love it! And when I’m done that, I have 4 kids at home who area all constantly vying for the attention of their parents. I can’t imagine what it was like to have thousands calling Jesus name. I get stressed out when I have 4 people yelling for me.
We love our kids and want to help them, but we’re only two people, which mathematically means that someone has to wait! And there are many days when it’s not until they are unconscious that the requests stop. Someone is always hungry, or bored, or needs help with schoolwork, or a project, or wants to play, or be read to, or go somewhere, or something.
There’s are only three rooms in my house where mom and dad can be alone – the bathrooms and the master bedroom – and that’s because I took the lock off of the bathroom and put it onto our bedroom door.
I plan my life so that I will not be too busy or overwhelmed. I’ve told you before that the first fruits of my energy goes to my wife and family, and then to the church… but life is life, and getting busy sometimes just happens. Sometimes because of exterior pressures, but often because of my own poor planning or procrastination. And I know that some of you have it worse. Pressure at work, pressure at home, with your parents, your friends, your clubs and associations, hobbies, and of course, all of the things that you do in and for the church. Many of you are beyond maxed out! And I’ve talked to enough retired people to know that it doesn’t stop after you retire… in fact, for some, it gets busier.
Pressed and Crushed
So what do you do? Let’s look to see what Jesus did. Verse 9:
“And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him…”
That’s an important verse! Notice that Jesus planned ahead because He knew how this would go. The word there for “crush” or “crowding” is the Greek word THLIBO which means to press… and is used to describe what they do to when they stomp grapes to make wine.
Jesus knew what was coming… and not just because He was Omniscient… anyone could see the thousands of people that were around Him. So He gave orders that there would be a rowboat waiting for Him on the shore. He had a plan that if the crowd got to forceful, He would paddle out a little ways from the shoreline as He taught. Which they did!
“…for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”
This was getting out of hand. Sick, hurting people everywhere, and they were losing their cool. The word “pressed around” here is a different word than before. It is the word EPIPIPTO which means to fall on someone, or rush into them. The crowd was so desperate to get close to Jesus that they were turning into a mob. They were stepping on each other, pressing the weaker aside, and pushing towards Jesus… jumping out of the crowd in the hope that they would just touch Him. They didn’t even care what he was saying … they just needed to touch Him. Picture them leaping out of the crowd, stepping over the lame, diving at Jesus. Picture Jesus slowly backing into the water toward the boat… his feet get wet, then his legs… and the people kept pressing forward, pushing him backward.
If He hadn’t planned ahead, He might have had to deliver his message while swimming to avoid being crushed by the crowd. If Jesus hadn’t taken the precaution of setting up a boat then He wouldn’t have had to worry about the Pharisees killing Him, the crowd would have.
The Rhythm of Life
As simple as it sounds, I think this is the first thing we need to learn from Jesus here: we need to plan ahead. Of course, we need to set aside our daily time to read the bible and pray, and we need to block-off one time during the week when we will be with other believers and worship… we’ve already talked about that. But this is something different. This is for the times when we are besset by external pressures beyond our control. This is about planning ahead, recognizing when life is going to be hairy-scary and then build into them times to be able to walk away.
As one of my commentaries puts it, Jesus understood the ebb and flow, the rhythm of life. A time to work, and a time to rest. A time to worship and a time to play. A time to be alone, a time to be with a few people, a time to be with many people.
When Jesus got into the boat, it wasn’t because He was afraid, but because He knew that it was time to go, and that the rhythm of His life needed changing. There is a time to work… to do a high intensity, high concentration, high production time where things get done. But there is also a time for rest, where our energy isn’t spent, but restored so we can work again. A time for work, and a time for rest. We work to produce, and we rest so we can work more.
It is really hard for some of you out there to stop. Many are busy, busy, busy, busy… and in our arrogance and pride we think that we absolutely must keep going or the whole world is going to fall apart. If I don’t keep going, I’ll lose my job. If I don’t rush, I’ll never get there on time, and if I don’t get there on time… something bad will happen. I have to stay for one more hour to get this done… just one more hour and then I know it’ll be perfect. I can’t just walk away because it’ll fall apart. I can’t trust the people around me to keep going without me. I have to do it myself because I’m the only one that knows how. I know it best, I do it best, I’m important, I’m critical, I’m useful, I’m the grease that keeps the machine moving…
I used to believe that, and I literally worked myself sick. I used to think that the church needed me to function, that ministries couldn’t go on without me, that the teams needed my input, that I had all the good ideas, that only I knew how to do it right… that I was necessary. It took a movement of God and a massive health crisis to make me realize that I’m really not – and that’s ok.
Work is Evil, Play is Work, Rest is Death
We must understand the Rhythm of Life – that there is a time for rest, play and worship. These are important times when we don’t produce things, they are not a means to an end, nothing is recorded, nothing is designed, nothing is fixed, nothing is moved, nothing is maintained – except our spirits, and the work is done by the Holy Spirit.
Rest is not a time to produce. I’ve heard people say “I’m going to rest, but I’ll bring a book, or my computer, or my phone, or my list…”. That’s not rest.
Worship is not a time to produce anything either. When you are worshipping, you’re not meant to accomplish anything other than a renewed connection with God. It’s not about learning a new song, practicing a new instrument, being in the right place, being seen by the right people, going through the right motions. It’s about giving attention to God. It’s about saying to God, “You’ve done it all, you’ve created it all, you maintain it all, you saved me, you restore me, you know me, you live me… it’s not about me, not at all.”
The value of rest, or play or worship in the experience itself.
Let me quote part of a commentary here.
“Modern society has upset the rhythm of life. Work has been devalued and play has been invaded by the purpose of work. With so much leisure and so many options, play has been subjected to a time-clock schedule with its demand for successful production. In many instances, worship has been eliminated from the rhythm of life and rest has become a dreaded experience on a ‘crash pad.’ The result is that work is a necessary evil, play is work, worship is idolatry, and rest is a short course in death.” (The Preacher’s Commentary – Volume 25: Mark)
Does any of that resonate with you?
Do you see work as a blessing, a gift from God, or is it a necessary evil? Even Adam and Eve had work to do. But it’s been so devalued in our life that we no longer see it as good, godly and purposeful. Instead of seeing our work as an act of worship (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:22), and working as though we are working for the Lord, do you see it as just putting in time until you can get to the weekend, or to the holiday? It seems every other song on Country Radio demonizes work and glorifies time off. That’s not a biblical view of work.
Or how about this: Has your play been invaded by work? Do you play just to play? Have fun just to have fun? Or, have you organized games and activities that you are calling play… but it’s not really meant to be fun. You have to compete to get into a better league or win the prize. Go to practice, do the drills, travel to the competition, work hard to win.
It used to be that you did your craft for fun and relaxation, now it’s something you do because you need to produce more for your small business, or gifts for people, or some other reason. Work has invaded your play.
Do you worship regularly? I know you do… it’s just a matter of what you worship. Where do you go to connect back to your source, to gain more wisdom, strength, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, faithfulness and self-control. I don’t mean here this morning. I mean regularly throughout the week? Do you take time to talk to God, or do you take time to get in front of a glowing box, on social media, talk to a human, grab a drink or a substance? Those are all acts of worship. You are going to someone or something – to get a gift that is meant to come from God. That’s called idolatry.
Do you value rest? Do you value sleep? Or is it a necessary evil that you ward off with chemicals for as long as you can until your body can’t take it, and you are forced to close your eyes. Do you consider that sleep as a gift from God, or is a curse?
If any of this rings true with you, then your life is probably out of whack, and so is your relationship with God. And I’ believe that it’s time to put a Jesus Style “Strategic Withdrawal” on your calendar, and make it a regular thing.
What Strategic Withdrawal ISN’T
Maybe you already think you do this, but let me start by saying what “Strategic Withdrawal”… the way Jesus did it… isn’t:
- …a day off where we take care of all the loose ends that have been piling up at home, like the banking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, fixing, etc.
- …a vacation where you go far away to a strange land and do new things.
- …party time where you distract yourself with food and fun.
- … lazy time where you pass out or vegetate in front of the tv or computer.
- …a Sabbatical that you take for weeks or months at a time.
- …a way to run away from responsibility, leaving everyone to pick up your mess after you.
- …an evacuation where you leave and never come back.
What Strategic Withdrawal IS
Here’s what Strategic Withdrawal Jesus Style looks like:
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (vs 13-15)
So how did He do it?
1. He planned ahead. Jesus got the boat ready ahead of time, knew who would be in the boat, and talked to them before he needed to use it. This isn’t something you can do on a whim. It’s not meant to be an escape route. To do this properly, and to be able to do it un such a way that you are truly connecting to God in it, it’s important to make a plan. Where will you be going? What you’ll bring? What you’ll eat? Where you’ll sleep? How long you’ll be gone? This is a planned event. Having a plan like this gets rid of some of the guilt of leaving, and minimizes the stressful part of going away.
2. He left work behind. Jesus was staring at a crowd of people who wanted Him to work, but He left anyway. He could have kept working and working and working, but He didn’t. He got in the boat and left work behind. So many of us have a hard time doing this. We think, “I’ll just get this done, then I’ll go.” And in the middle of it, we get something else to do, remember something, or find out that whatever we are doing is going to take longer than we thought.
It is a remarkable act of faith to say to God, “Lord, I’m walking away with this undone. It’s hard for me, but I believe that my time with you is more important. I know that you hold the world in your hands, and are the writer of history… therefore I’m not worried that my world will fall apart if I leave right now… I trust you.”
This all goes back to the Gospel. What is your understanding of your worth, your need, your ability to save yourself? If Jesus loves you no matter what you’ve done or what you will ever do – then you don’t have to put your pride and self-image at risk every time you leave work. If what you really need, and what will last for eternity, is an intimate connection to God and the people around you, then you will put your work at its proper priority level. If you know that your work doesn’t save you, and that you life, your destiny, your purpose and your future isn’t in your hands, and that your entire existence is based on the grace and power of God, then you can walk away from work trusting God to take care of things.
3. He went away, but not too far away. Jesus got in a boat, went for a ride, and sat on a hillside. He didn’t get on a plane and go to Tahiti. He went somewhere he could meet God and did it close enough to work and home that it wasn’t hard to get there. It was planned, but it didn’t need hundreds of dollars and a week off to do it. A Strategic Withdrawal can be free, or cost a few bucks. It’s not meant to take a long time… just one or two or three days. I’ve read in more than a few places that experts say that a proper time away takes no less than two days because it takes the whole first day to wind down before a person can say they’ve even started to withdraw.
However, if you’re already in the habit of doing this, and you start putting your heart in order early, before you get there, getting your mind set on your time away, I can see a person only needing a day.
4. He took some chosen people with Him. When He was at Peter’s house, He went alone and talked to God alone. That’s important of course, but in this case, He chose a few people that he wanted to be with – He “called to him those whom he desired”. That’s a good thing to do. I’m guessing that during this Strategic Withdrawal there were times when Jesus was alone to pray, and times where he hung out with his friends. Not to teach, just to be with them.
This isn’t meant to be a time where we bring along the new guy, call someone we want to get to know, or be around people we don’t know. The idea is to take time to be around friends who we can be open, honest, raw, and real with. Alone with God is good and necessary… but sometimes we need some trusted, Godly people to help us, encourage us, talk through things with, and pray for us when we are trying to get our heads and hearts straightened out.
5. He came away with a plan. During or after His time away it says in verse 14:
“…he appointed twelve… so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
After some rest, after being with His Father, after being with some good friends, He had a plan. He got quiet, removed distraction, and listened to God, and did something different.
He would choose 12 guys and spread out His work. Instead of only Him knowing the plan, He’d let them in on it, and let them see the inner workings of the Kingdom. Instead of Him doing all the preaching, He’d send them out and get them to do some. Instead of Him being the only one with the power to cast out demons, He’d give them the power to do so as well. He came away with a different vision of how He would do His work.
Getting away and being with God has that effect on us. New clarity, new plan, a better understanding of what needs to be done. Pounding your head against a problem will only work for so long until you get tunnel vision, lose your focus, and run out of ideas. God built us to benefit from Strategic Withdrawal. We are designed for Sabbath. We are amazing creatures who can do a lot of things… but we are designed to do it in cooperation with God and others.
Let me encourage you to make a plan to do this. If you’ve never done it before, let me help you out in the planning stages. I have a few resources I can give you, or point you to so you can have an enjoyable experience, and grow closer to God.