Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Devotional Thoughts Based on Luke 9:10-17

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Serving Even When We Feel Exhausted

by Dr. Jeffrey F. Evans

Scripture: John 6:1-15 / John 6:25-66 / Luke 9:10-17

Today we come to a text we’re all familiar with — The feeding of the 5000. Few of us seated here today, or few kids who have ever attended Sunday School growing up, are unfamiliar with the details of this story! I fall into that same category.

So, when I skimmed the passage a couple of weeks back, in order to get Randy my preaching schedule for the upcoming weeks, I simply glanced over a text I thought I knew well, combined it with a few things I knew from John’s account of the feeding of the 5000, and put together the topic and title I would preach on: “Feeding the Hungry – The Christian’s Duty, the Inherent Dangers and the Inevitable Delinquents.”

But I got that topic and title by focusing more on John’s text than Luke’s text, because in John’s account the emphasis IS more on Jesus feeding hungry people in need; them seeing that in Jesus they have found a leader who can actually multiply food out of very little, have their food supplied and stomach’s filled without doing anything, and thus desire to make Him king.

After all, who wouldn’t want someone as king who could make an abundance of food for His people out of next to nothing, without them having to work under the hot sun to earn the money, or spend the money they earned to buy it? It would be the ultimate welfare state!

Who wouldn’t want as a government leader someone who supplied all the food they needed for free?! Because in their day it wasn’t housing (or one’s mortgage) that took the biggest chunk out of their monthly budget, it was buying food to feed the family.

Thus, John (unlike Luke) records for us that after Jesus miraculously fed them, “they intended to… make Him king by force.” (John 6:15).

And Jesus perceiving their motives goes on to rebuke them 11 verses later where he tells the same people: “I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw a miracle (a sign of the inbreaking of the kingdom, and proof that I am the Messiah) but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

So I intended to preach on the age-old problem that has always gone along with meeting people’s temporal needs — the problem labeled on the mission field as creating “Rice Christians.” People who come for nothing but the handouts, with no interest whatsoever in Jesus, or the salvation of their souls.

People, who by the way, stop following Jesus in this text when He tells them later on in the same chapter what He’s really all about and what He expects from them (John 6:53-66)!

So, as you can see, that’s where the title I originally intended to preach on came from — John’s account of the feeding of the 5000, and not Luke’s! The Christian duty of feeding the hungry, the inherent danger of simply producing an unhealthy dependency, and how it often leads to people who simply walk away as delinquents when they realize what Christ really expects of them. Which is true to the overall message of John’s account.

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The problem, of course, is that I’m not preaching through the Gospel of John! I’m preaching through Luke’s Gospel! And Luke clearly has a different objective (a different slant on the event) that he’s trying to convey when he shares the details of this miracle. Same details, but clearly focusing on a different issue!

Because for Luke the focus isn’t on the crowds, or their off-base political aspirations in response to the miracle! In fact, in Luke the miracle itself seems secondary to an even greater concern in Luke’s mind:

The issue of how Jesus disciples should respond to people when those people invade their quiet space or their needed alone time with God, when they’re tired and exhausted and feel they need to get away from people to recharge their physical and spiritual batteries!

That seems (from the context) to be one of Luke’s main concerns in recording this event! And for that reason I ask you right from the start — “What do you think Jesus would say to us if we were tired and exhausted and on a spiritual retreat, and had our space invaded, or were interrupted by people in need, who ruined our time of being recharged in that personal private time with Jesus?”

“What do you think He would say to us?” And instead of me simply telling you, let’s look at the text, and see what IT has to tell us, since that seems to be one of Luke’s primary concerns as he records the circumstances leading up to this miracle!

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FIRST, we have to remember the background to the text. The disciples have just returned from a whirlwind short-term missions trip to all the local towns and villages where they preached about the kingdom of God / cast out demons / and healed people everywhere!

They’ve been busy, and on the go, and living by faith. They took no provisions with them and did for the very first time all the things Jesus had been doing all along, having been given by Jesus, a share of His divine power and His kingdom authority!

And in verse 10 we see them return from that trip to report to Jesus what they had done. It’s what we might call a “debriefing session.” A time to share what had happened during their intensive, busy, fully-booked schedule of outreach to the local area, where they were doing it all -- preaching, healing and casting out demons!

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Yet rather than simply listen to their stories right there, what does Jesus do? “He took them with Him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida…” A beautiful little sea-side resort town along the coastline of the Sea of Galilee.

And from what we can discern from the context, this “withdrawing by themselves” is intended to be a mini-vacation, or a weekend getaway or a spiritual retreat for them where they can catch their breath, be physically refreshed, and spiritually rejuvenated. At least that’s how the disciples seem to perceive it if we read their response right in verses 12-13.

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Yet as they head out on their retreat, word slips out of where they are. “The crowds learned about it,” we are told in verse 11, and “they followed Him.”

And much to the dismay of the disciples (I submit to you), when all thousands of people start showing up and interrupting their away time with Jesus, as we are told in verse 11b, “He welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those needing healing.”

So, what started out being a time to get away, and debrief with Jesus, and rest physically and get renewed spiritually ended up being just another busy day of ministering to huge crowds of people!

Making the somewhat abrupt imperative comment of the disciples in verse 12 a bit more understandable, where they say: “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging....”

Not should we send the crowd away, or do you think we should send them away, but very bluntly “Send them away…” (almost as if its said with a slight tone of irritation — though they do try to mask that irritation with an air of apparent concern when they add, “for we are in a remote place.”

And much to their surprise, Jesus responds and says: “YOU give them something to eat.” And you can almost picture their response! “Us?! All we have is five loaves and two fishes!”

Which they quickly interpreted to mean they themselves (with so little food at their immediate disposal) after yet another full day of ministry to huge crowds of people / would have to go to the surrounding villages themselves / buy enormous quantities of food for the crowds / carry it back a great distance (to that remote place) on their own backs and distribute it! (With no Land Rovers or vehicles of any sort!)

Luke even adds in parenthesis that: (“About 5000 men were there.”) And I believe, like most, that it means “There were about 5000 men there, not counting women and children!” (Estimates for the total crowd ranging anywhere from 7-10,000 people!) So we’re talking a lot of food, for a lot of people, carried on the backs of very tired disciples, who were expecting a time to relax and kick back and be alone with Jesus!

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Which brings us to our SECOND point — the whole point of my sermon — that Jesus occasionally calls us to serve even when we are feeling tired and exhausted and in need of being served and waited on ourselves.

And here please hear me well: I know there are times when we do need to get away to be refreshed. I do. I know all to well what its like to be in the throws of burnout and to have to step back and separate myself from people and ministry for the sake of my own health and spiritual well-being.

So please don’t hear me saying we should never seek to get away and rest! That would be contrary to the teaching and example of Jesus Himself and the sermon I preached way back in Luke 5:12-16 about “The Balancing Act – Making Time for Ministry, Taking Time to Pray.” Occasionally we must do it! It’s not a luxury; its a necessity!

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That’s why understanding a passage in its context is so important! Because what we have going on here is not a planned time of ministry, but an unexpected and interrupted time of rest!

There are times (as we see in this text) when we need to plan to get away and be refreshed. This text assures us of that because that’s what they initially start out to do! But it also shows us that sometimes, the most important opportunities to minister arise at the most inopportune of times!

And when that happens, as disciples of the one who came to serve and not be served, and as people empowered by the Holy Spirit, and thus not limited to natural resources alone, we need to push ourselves beyond what we think is possible and serve even in our exhaustion!

Not in a way that never takes time out for personal refreshment, for we are still human despite the empowering of the Holy Spirit, and need to be wise and make sure we don’t get so depleted that we’re no good to anyone!

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Yet one of the obvious messages of this text is that there are also times when we think we have nothing left to give, and cannot muster up the strength to do another thing, and God miraculously supplies what we in our humanness lack.

Which means there are TWO miracles spoken of here! The miraculous PROVISION OF FOOD for the hungry crowds, and the miraculous SUPPLY OF STRENGTH to the disciples which enabled them to serve others when they thought they had no strength left! And if you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, you’ll probably be able to testify to this type of experience.

For me it happened when I returned form the Dominican Republic. I was burned out and exhausted and going through reverse culture shock (with a little re-entry depression mixed in) when I got a call from an old drinking buddy on the football team I had played on in high school who heard I was home and invited me to a party at his house.

Every bone and muscle and ligament in my body said: “Do not go! Just climb into bed and get some rest.” And then, like a still small voice came the whisper — “Most of the people who’ll be there still don’t know Jesus. This is an opportunity you cannot pass up!”

And thus, tired as I was, and just wanting to hit the sack and get some sleep, I got ready, drove down to his house, and started to talk with my old friends that I hadn’t seen for at least 2-3 years – telling them about my time as a missionary in the Dominican Republic.

I even got to speak to one person (big guy about 6 foot 4 inches tall, and 250-260 pounds) who was getting into yoga and eastern religions and turning against the Christian faith his family had tried to raise him in. We must have talked for an hour and a half, sometimes very intensely, about Jesus being the Son of God, and what that meant, and how the Bible spoke of Him as the only way of salvation.

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And the weirdest thing happened — as I continued to speak with him and others I felt myself being filled with an uncanny strength that came from somewhere other than me! To the point that when I left well after midnight, I was so energized that it took quite a while to get to sleep (which I used to pray for each person I’d spoken to)!

And not only that, when I did wake in the morning, I woke feeling more refreshed than if I’d gone to bed at 7 o’clock the previous night and slept those extra 5-6 hours!

Why? Because I believe God was the one who told me to go there. And when it’s God (as I discovered that night and have rediscovered time and time again) that asks us to do something, He will always supply what is needed to do the thing He calls us to do!

Sometimes He’s woken me out of my sleep, in the middle of the night, with a burden to pray for someone that is so strong that to refuse to do it would be an act of outright disobedience! And I used to complain! “But Lord, I’ve been so busy and I need the sleep!”

Yet once again, as I learned very quickly: Whenever God calls me to miss sleep to pray, He makes the time I do sleep hyper-refreshing, so that I wake energized and feeling like I didn’t miss any sleep at all!

That (I believe) is at least one of the things this text is trying to tell us. It is good to plan times to relax and be refreshed physically and spiritually. But there are other times, when we think we couldn’t do another thing (and if we were limited to our own human resources and nothing more that would be true) that Jesus calls us to get up and watch Him supply.

Because we’re not limited to our own pitifully inadequate human resources! That’s why Jesus can come to us on occasion, even in our exhaustion, and say: “Tired as you are, I want you to give them something to eat.”

“But Lord I don’t have anything to give, except a little piece of bread and some fish.”

“Do it,” He says, “and as you do I’ll miraculously supply what you need—both the food to feed them and the strength to serve it. I’m able to do that you know! It’s a miraculous provision that’s no less miraculous than any other miracle!”

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Which brings us to our THIRD point — sometimes it’s our ministering in our exhaustion that speaks the loudest about our love for others, and our trust in God’s ability to supply what we need. Because, after all, God is our Master, and serving others in His name is our calling.

William Barclay makes a good point when he says: “Far from finding (the intrusion of people upon His time) a nuisance, He was moved with compassion for them. Premanand, the great Christian who was once a high-caste Hindu, says in his autobiography” ‘As in the days of old, so now our message to the non-Christian world has to be the same, that God cares.’ If that be so, we must never be too busy for people, and we must never seem to find them a trouble and a nuisance… We must never deal with people with one eye on the clock, and as if we were anxious to be rid of them as soon as we decently can.”

That’s convicting, is it not? For which of us in our hurry up society has not done so on occasion? Ever been praying, and enjoying the pleasure of quiet, uninterrupted time with God, only to have your child burst into the room all excited about some accomplishment or discovery (and not having any idea you were praying), only to have you verbally chew them out for interrupting your private time with God? Sends the kids a strange message about God, and prayer, doesn’t it?

God has chastised me a few times on that one! And told me that if they were to interrupt such glorious times of prayer in the future, the best thing would be to do what Jesus does in this passage, and welcome them, invite them to pray with me! Invite them into that time! That would say a heck of a lot more than the selfish, irritated response they sometimes got!

Premanand, as Barclay goes on to share, speaks of an incident that he believes could well have changed the whole course of the spread of Christianity in India. He speaks of an incident where the first Metropolitan Bishop of India (for the Church of England) failed to meet with the late Pandit Iswar Chandar Vidyasagar of Bengal because he was too busy.

The Pandit (who was somewhat like a Hindu ambassador) had been sent as a spokesman for the Hindu community in Calcutta, to establish friendly relations with the Bishop and the Church.

Yet Vidyasagar (who was founder of the Hindu college and an author of quite some repute), returned without ever being able to see the Bishop, and as a result formed a strong party of educated and wealthy citizens in Calcutta to oppose the Church, and the Bishop, and guard against the spread of Christianity. The Bishop’s refusal to allow his schedule to be interrupted, says Barclay, “turned a friend into a foe.”

And as Barclay goes on to point out: “What an opportunity for Christ was lost because someone’s privacy could not be invaded... Jesus never found any man a nuisance, even when his whole being was crying out for rest and quiet — and neither must his followers.”

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Then LAST, I need to share that although we do need times or rest and recreation, and private times alone with God and even times to simply kick back and do regular things, we also need to know when to forego them for the sake of our Gospel witness, and what our preferring them to

ministry might say to those earnestly inquiring about Christ. It’s a point I’ll convey simply by sharing one last story — a true story (though I will refrain from using the man’s name since someone who hears this message might know who it is I’m speaking of)!

It was late in the Fall of either my first or second year at seminary. And I went to hear a speaker (a pastor) who had suffered much and been imprisoned for his faith behind the iron curtain during the cold war.

And I must confess that his message and the experiences he shared and the things he said so moved me to tears (and not just me, but 5-10 others in the audience) that after the presentation we all went up to speak more at length of the topic of needing to stand firm in our faith, and suffer whatever might come our way for being faithful to Jesus.

Not because we simply wanted to talk to him, but because our hearts were stirred, and our spirits were convicted, and we needed some things clarified in our souls.

Anyway, he fielded our questions for about 5-10 minutes, when all of a sudden he looked at his watch and said, “Look guys, I really like to get home and watch the football game.” And he turned around and left!

And I remember standing there in absolute shock! Because he’d just shared a stirring, convicting, challenging message on persecution and the need for unconditional commitment to Jesus, and then when we went up to inquire about it more, he considered getting home to see a football game more important than addressing soul concerns!

And you know what? It ruined, at least for me, everything he’d just said! And I know I wasn’t the only one for which that was true.

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Now, was it wrong for him to want to watch a football game? No. I love football and have watched many myself — even using them as opportunities to witness to others.

But here’s the key: When a person is under great conviction by the Holy Spirit / When their soul has been stirred to see the things of Christ in a new way / When they’re contemplating the momentous things of life and dealing with issues that touch on the ultimate realities of God, forgiveness, salvation, and commitment to Christ…. To say to a person dealing with those things that you’d rather be home watching a football game is an affront to Christ and a contradiction of the Gospel!

In fact, if that person were an unbeliever who was under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and their soul is touching the things of eternity, and it felt like nothing on earth could be more important than getting right with God and had a preacher or an evangelist say that to them at that point — it would be to so trivialize the Gospel, and a sin so grievous that it could possibly turn them off to Christianity for good!

Jesus knew that, and we should as well. It’s not wrong to want to relax, but when people are soaking in the Word, and under great conviction by the Holy Spirit, we need to lay EVERYTHING else aside — even things that would be perfectly appropriate and acceptable at other times, and minister to the need at hand.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

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