Across the street from the house where I grew up there was a volunteer fire department. As a kid I thought this was great. Not because I liked fire trucks or felt safe living there. I thought living by the fire department was great because they had a pop machine outside their door.
But, this pop machine was picky. No Canadian coins. Dollar bills had to be fed face up. And if your dollar was crinkled or worn in the wrong spot, you just weren’t getting a can of pop.
Some people see God as the “divine pop machine”. If you want something from Him, you better come prepared to give.
But in today’s Gospel reading, Mark describes God in a very different way. Mark describes God as a giver, not a taker.
This Epiphany we’ve been reading from Mark’s Gospel. With each story we’ve seen a new snapshot of Jesus. In addition to seeing Jesus we’ve also tried to see where we fit in each of these photos from Mark.
Today’s snapshot of Jesus comes from…
Mark 6:30-44 (NIV)
30The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42They all ate and were satisfied, 43and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
The disciples were excited to get back to Jesus. He had sent them out in groups of two to teach His message in the villages. Along with His message Jesus had also given them His power. They had been able to exercise demons and heal diseases, something they had never done before.
But when they got back to Capernaum, the crowds around Jesus were just as thick as ever. Sick people wanting to be healed. Students asking for a lesson. Gawkers just waiting see what Jesus would do next.
And in the middle of all this commotion the twelve learned that John the baptizer had been beheaded by King Herod. This came as a hard blow to the disciples. Some of them had been John’s disciples first. They had followed after Jesus because of John’s advice.
With all that was going on, perhaps it would be best just to get a little food and wait for things to cool down around the Master. Ah, but who were they kidding. That wasn’t going to happen here. There were to many people who needed something. Food was postponed. Then put off. Then abandoned altogether.
But Jesus was not blind to the needs of His disciples. He knew their limitations. That they needed rest.
And so He sought to give them rest for their bodies. Time alone to sort things out. Some time with the Master, away from the crowds, where He could speak more intimately. Where they could actually eat when it was time to eat!
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31 NIV).
In many ways, God IS very different than us. He is a spirit not bound by time and space. He is invisible. Because of these differences we may think of God as being far away. Out of touch with us and our daily troubles. But this is far from the truth.
The Bible says that God surrounds us. In Him we live and move and have our being. He knows our physical limitations. Our need for down time. Our spiritual confusion.
In Hebrews 4, verse 15 we are told that Jesus knows exactly what it is like to be human, because He IS human.
“15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV).
Jesus understands when we have to step away for a moment. And He invites us to step away WITH HIM. In silent prayer and quiet reading. In simple communion with the Master, away from the world. He wants to give US rest, just like He tried to give the disciples.
I say “tried” because the disciples didn’t get the rest they were looking forward to. When their boats hit the beach near Bethsaida, they found a huge crowd of people waiting for them. Five thousand men, not to mention all the women and children.
How would you feel if after a twelve hour work-day you stumbled into your home to find your boss and your co-workers, with their work stations arranged throughout your living room and kitchen. “We’ve got a few more things we need to get ready for tomorrow. Is it alright if I sit in this chair? And sorry about the kitchen, we had a little accident with the coffee machine. It’s different than the one at the office.”
How would YOU react to that?
It would be easy to see Jesus rebuke the crowd. Couldn’t we see Him just say, “Hey, people, My disciples need to rest. I’m sorry, but the office is closed. The doctor is out. They need rest, I need rest. You’re just going to have to wait a few days and try again.”
But that’s not the snapshot of Jesus that we see. Instead we see a compassionate giver. One who put the needs of others first, considering them more important than Himself.
Jesus once described His life’s work by saying…
“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NIV).
God is a giver, not a taker.
This concept is hugely important. Manmade religions often see God as a far away entity that must be appeased. A monster who wants something from us in exchange for a good crop or a fruitful business venture.
People coming to Christianity often carry this mistaken idea along with them. They think that it’s all what WE DO FOR GOD. We gotta believe He exists and then do good things. Live good lives. THEN GOD WILL REWARD US.
But this isn’t what Christianity is all about! At its CORE Christianity ISN’T ABOUT WHAT WE DO FOR GOD. At its core, Christianity is all about WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US!
We’ve failed. We’d committed every shade of sin. Our souls are stained with every color of shame. These stains should have disqualified us from ever knowing God or coming anywhere near Him.
But God the Father GAVE His Son to save us. Jesus took the blame for our sin, suffered the wrath of God in our place, and through Jesus’ cross our stains have been washed clean. Bleached whiter than white. Sins forgiven in the eyes of the Almighty.
God is a giver, not a taker.
This concept has another important application. Toward the end of our reading Jesus’ disciples ask Him to send the people away. It was getting late, and these people needed to go get food.
But Jesus told His disciples that THEY should feed the people.
This must have seemed absolutely ridiculous. Even if they had their whole life savings in their back pocket they wouldn’t have been able to do this. Where would they buy this food? How would carry it back? To the disciples Jesus was asking the impossible.
But let me say it again: God is a giver, not a taker.
And because this is true, God DOESN’T ASK US TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE. When it seems like God is asking us to do the impossible, He’s probably just inviting us to be part of HIS MIRACLE.
That’s what He was did with the disciples. Jesus knew they needed rest. He knew they needed time alone. But Jesus knew what they needed most: TO TRUST HIM ABOVE ALL. He asked them to feed the 5,000 so that they would learn to rely on Him.
God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible. He invites us to be part of His miracle.
God told Noah, I’m going drown the evil world. Make a boat big enough to preserve the animals who can’t swim.
God told Abraham that through his son Isaac his family would become huge. Then God told Abraham to sacrifice him on a mountain.
God told Moses, Hey sheep herder, go down to Egypt and take my people away from the King.
God told Joshua, You know that city with the impenetrable walls? Yeah, Jericho. I want to you and the people to walk around it a bunch of times. Then blow your trumpets and yell. That should do the trick.
The Son of God told His disciples, You saw me crucified to death. Now I stand before you alive. Through me your sins have been forgiven. Go take this message to everyone in the world.
God tells us, I have always loved you. I gave my perfect, precious Son to rescue you from Hell. Stop trying to earn my love and forgiveness, in Christ you have it.
You remember that picky pop machine outside the fire department? Well, one summer something inside it got stuck. At first it would spit out two pops for the price of one. Then it just decided change wasn’t necessary at all. Suddenly pop was free.
Well, nothing broke inside God to make Him the way He is. He’s is who He is. A giver. A Savior. Our pocket change isn’t necessary at all. God’s love and forgiveness is free because Jesus bought it for us when He GAVE His life on the cross.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.