8th Sunday after Pentecost July 31, 2022
9:1,4-5, WS #759, WS #772, 551:1&3
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things, graft into our hearts the love of Your name and nourish us with all goodness that we may love and serve our neighbor; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May true peace and rest, which can be enjoyed only by the true Child of God, may that peace and rest be yours in fullest measure, through Jesus Christ our King and Savior. Amen.
What a powerful and informative image is the Apostle Paul’s description of his life as “a drink offering” poured out in service to his Lord. The image is so appealing, not because we have lived up to that standard—not even close, but because it provides such a concise identification of our goal. With a single picture it communicates a perfect summary of what our lives and aspirations as Christians in a sin-broken world are supposed to look like.
Paul used the term in two of his letters, once to the church in Philippi and again in his Second Epistle to Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy, knowing that he was about to be martyred, he spoke of having already been “poured out.” He had no regrets. Earlier, to the church at Philippi, when his life still seemed to stretch out endlessly before him, he put it this way: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:17-18 ESV)
Paul obviously got it, didn’t he. The Old Testament drink offering was all about dedication and service. Wine was simply poured out for the Lord. It must have seemed like such a waste, but the point was that nothing we do for the Lord is ever wasted, and that life is not about service to self. It is about service to our God. It is about kingdom work, not about fulfilling every earthly longing. If Paul had something like a bucket list, every item on that list would have involved service, especially sharing the message of life through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Yet as fine an example as Paul was, he was obviously nothing compared to our Savior. Our text for this morning provides a window into what being poured out like a drink offering is supposed to look like. Our text is found in the Gospel of Mark, the Sixth Chapter:
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place 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 desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (ESV)
So far the very words of God. We should always approach these words with great fear and reverence, knowing always that here we read the words of God himself. In thanksgiving and great humility, we therefore pray, “Sanctify us by Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
We are pretty much in the middle of the vacation season here in the United States. Church attendance figures seem to give evidence that many are taking advantage of those precious summer days to enjoy some “down time.” Now, there is nothing wrong with an occasional vacation. Jesus took time off. At least he tried to.
When we talk of vacations, however, we are assuming that we are vacationing from something. It’s hard to call something a vacation if you never do any work. A vacation indicates some sort of a break in the routine of work. It indicates a change. We used to think of a vacation as a time for rest and relaxation. Now at the end of our vacations most of us look forward to getting back to work so that we can recuperate. The point here is that when you go on vacation the idea is to "leave it all behind.” Sort of.
The annual migration of college students headed to the beaches on Spring Break tends to be an obvious example of the wrong kind of “leave it all behind.” What no doubt may have started as a great idea (leaving behind the pressures of school and relaxing for a week or so before end-of-the-year final exams) has taken on a much different look. Students now seem to regard Spring Break as the time to leave behind not only the pressures of college life, but also the morals that would otherwise guide their actions.
The message for us here is that when we are contemplating “leaving it all behind,” we need to remember that there are certain things that we never “leave behind.” Our text addresses this. Jesus had, only days before our text, sent out the disciples by two’s into the towns and cities of the Jews—“the lost sheep of Israel” according to Matthew 10. There, day after day, they preached and healed and cast out demons. The people flocked to them wherever they went, and the demons fled from their presence. These were heady days for the disciples. They were thrilled by their newfound powers, but they worked themselves to the point of exhaustion. There were so many people coming and going that the disciples didn’t have time even to eat. We can be fairly certain they weren’t getting enough sleep, let alone time for prayer.
Jesus finally interceded: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” he told them in our text. A good rest is a fitting reward for hard work. No doubt about it. Since these men were fishermen, they no doubt had boats at their disposal. They also knew something of the calming effect of the sea and of the more deserted places that surrounded the Sea of Galilee and off they went for a much-needed break.
But the crowds had already tasted of the Lord’s goodness, and they were hungry for more. Who can blame them? I’d like to think that we would have all been part of that crowd. Whether they were interested in the “bread of life” that Jesus offered or in the healing of the body their friends and neighbors had been telling them about, the crowds saw which way the disciples sailed and followed on foot. Can’t you just imagine how the news spread like a prairie grassfire in high winds? From “all the cities” the people flocked to the Great Teacher and to his newly empowered disciples. The “deserted place,” once they arrived, was anything but—packed with thousands upon thousands, all hungry, all in great need.
What was Jesus’ reaction? He and the disciples were, after all, at the point of exhaustion and on a well-earned vacation. The disciples had years and years of the Lord’s service ahead of them. Jesus could not afford to have them used up by the masses. Remember, they had been so busy they weren’t even eating well. Seeing the masses, it would have been no difficult thing for all of them to pile back into the boat and to head to another section of deserted shore. The Sea of Galilee has over 44 miles of shoreline. And yet what do we read about Jesus? “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus and the disciples obviously needed a getaway, but what is noteworthy is that they didn’t leave it all behind. They couldn’t leave it all behind, because it was a part of them. Jesus wasn’t only compassionate when on duty; He didn’t love the sinful world only during business hours. He and the disciples were not Godly men only on the Sabbath. In that sense, the Christian is never “on vacation.”
When Jesus saw those thousands who had come on foot for miles and miles to see him and hear him, he did not—could not—shut them out. He loved, so he acted. He continued to pour himself out like a drink offering.
The message for you and me is one of both bitter law and sweetest gospel, as well as a message of constant urgency. First the law thrusts a knife blade into our hearts, for who among us has never taken a vacation from his or her Christianity? Has anyone ever played Peter in the courtyard, effectively denying our Savior with very unchristian words and actions? Have you ever found yourself secretly delighting in the fact that you have a “good excuse” to skip church on a given Sunday, or maybe that you have to work and are therefore able to “get out of” midweek Advent and Lenten services? Or have you ever turned the morality down a notch—a few too many drinks, a few more lustful, greedy, self-serving, or covetous thoughts—all because you were “on vacation?” The sharp stab of the law here is the terror of knowing the incredibly persuasive power of the devil, the world, and especially our own sinful flesh. It is frightening just how easy we find it to turn our Christianity off and on again—the very same Christianity that is supposed to be the inseparable core of who and what we are.
Not so with Jesus. Not once—and that is how our text is also sweetest gospel good news. Jesus was never a part-time Savior. He never deviated from his perfect morality. Never once did he fail either to love or to act on that love. The result of Jesus’ perfect obedience is that we have been declared “not guilty” by our Heavenly Father. This is truly incredible news. The acts of Jesus Christ have erased all of our evil deeds. The good that Jesus did has wiped clean the endless list of our great and wicked sins, for God the Father has laid on his Son, Jesus, the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53)
Note well at this point that which is perhaps the most vital sentence in this entire text. We read that Jesus, seeing the crowd and having compassion on them, “Began to teach them many things.” Don’t miss the significance of that statement. To grasp that significance, stand where Jesus is standing in our text and look out over the crowd that had gathered in that otherwise desolate place to see and hear him. What did Jesus see as he looked out over the crowd? No doubt there were a few wealthy and influential men and women there in the crowd, but the vast majority were the poor, the diseased, the crippled, the oppressed. Many, perhaps most, were among the most needy Israel had to offer. Jesus looked out and saw them as a great flock without a shepherd to care for them. And what did Jesus offer this crowd that needed more or less everything? “He began to teach them many things.”
What a difference between the love of Jesus Christ and the love talked about in most of Christendom today. The Church is not a social organization existing primarily to do good deeds—like feeding and clothing the poor, sheltering the homeless, providing medical care, etc. Jesus certainly did not ignore the physical needs of these people, but by his very actions he here practiced what he preached. He “sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”—for these people. When he looked out over the crowds, he saw souls that could spend an eternity in hell if he did not “teach them many things.” Later, after he had given them the bread of life, he also gave them food for their bodies, an event that later came to be known as “The Feeding of the Five Thousand.”
The bread of life Jesus offered these people—the “many things that he taught them”—was not difficult by any means. And yet the message was not something that the crowd could provide for themselves— no more than they could fill their own stomachs when they had no food. They had to receive the “bread of life” from another. They had to hear it from someone, as the Eunuch of Ethiopia heard Philip’s explanation of the Word of God he was reading. As Paul also said in Romans 10:14, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” The people had to hear the simple message that heaven cannot be earned by doing good or trying to live right. Paradise cannot be reached by many paths and many systems of belief, for “there is one God, and one mediator between God and man. The man, Christ Jesus, who gave his life a ransom for many.” (1 Timothy 2:5) “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 ESV) This the people needed desperately to hear. This also Jesus realized as he looked with tired eyes at the thousands upon thousands. This Jesus gave to those spiritually starving souls. As tired as he and his disciples were, Jesus continued to pour himself out.
God grant each of us this same love, this same determination, this same resolve. No life, poured out in our Lord’s service, is ever wasted. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.