The call for endurance in the Bible is clear. What is not so clear is how Jesus taught his disciples to endure in the ministry of the gospel. In Mark 6:7-56 we see a most ironic twist in the school of discipleship which I believe was to teach the disciples endurance.
In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and to anoint and heal the sick. We don’t know exactly how long this short-term missions trip was, but it’s safe to infer that it was at least several weeks long. They need time to go from village to village and stay in people’s homes (6:10-11).
We know that the journey was exhausting from two statements; first, when they get back Jesus says, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (v. 31). Mark also states that the reason the disciples needed rest was because “Many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (v. 31)! These men are exhausted and need some rest and relaxation so Jesus and his disciples climb in a boat a make their way to a desolate place.
However, before they reach the other side of the lake, the people recognize Jesus and run ahead to meet them when they arrive. Immediately Jesus has compassion on the people and begins a long day of teaching. As the day draws to a close the disciples tell Jesus to send the people away so that “they can buy food to eat.” Instead Jesus creates enough food to feed the 5000 and requires that the disciples serve the food (so much for rest and relaxation, how’d you like the job of serving 5000 plus hungry people!).
But the day was not over. In the evening when it was time to send the people away, Jesus does not allow the disciples to bed down for the night. Instead, he makes (Greek: compels or forces; often against one’s will) the disciples get in the boat again to go back to the other side.
Unfortunately for the disciples, this night will not go easy, they are forced to row against a hard wind all night long. Sometime just before 6:00am Jesus comes out to the disciples walking on water (showing that he is not hindered by the wind and waves which they are agonizing against) and calms the storm. So, they began this day exhausted and needing rest. Instead they end up serving dinner to 5000 men and then are forced to “make headway painfully” (6:48) all night long. So now they not only have no “leisure to eat,” but now we see they have no leisure to even sleep.
But it gets worse, as soon as they “got out of the boat, they people recognized” Jesus again and began bringing their sick to him. They were already tired and needing rest, but now, without even the benefit of a night of sleep (as required by Jesus and for no apparent reason, since Jesus could have come to their rescue earlier) they begin another day of ministry. Then Mark notes for emphasis, “wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside” the people came to be ministered to.
So why did Jesus do this to his disciples? They needed to learn what it means to endure in the ministry. He was not promising leisure and recreation in this life; the reward comes later. He was teaching them how difficult the work of the ministry would be.
But remember the promise:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:10-11 ESV)When developing a biblical theology of labor and recreation, we must always remember that this is the time when the harvest is ready. During harvest time farmers get very little sleep (time is critical). Our rest will come in heaven. Even so, Jesus has promised that his yoke is easy and that his burden is light. I recall Paul’s statements about going without food and without sleep. Yet he calls all his trials “light and momentary affliction.” This is not abnormal for the disciples of Jesus. It is the normal way we glorify God, and every mother with a new born baby knows it.
Above: A little R&R on the shores of Lake Michigan. Thank you to grandpa and grandma for providing a place of refuge for the weary.