A year ago I wrote in my annual report that God had answered our prayer that He “enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out; do not hold back. Lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left” (Isaiah 54:2-3). He had given us a daycare; our bread ministry was expanding in terms of usage; we had a new YMT and we were partnering with Wings of Refuge in a major project.
It was exciting! A year later, however, it seems that the excitement has faded. While we’re making progress with our daycare, it’s a lot harder than we thought it would be. It’s a lot of work and it didn’t turn into a huge overnight success story. Our bread ministry continues to grow in terms of numbers of people using it, but it’s become harder to find committed people to go and get the bread. We have once again had turnover in church staff and it’s been hard to find people willing to help out in the office or with cleaning.
What does all this mean? I was somewhat shocked to discover that some of you, in the questionnaires that you filled out, think that the church is dying. Some of you think that our resources are too limited for us to be able to do mission adequately. Some of you think that our problem is not enough people. And some of you think that you’ve done enough. You want a break—you want someone else to step up and do the work.
The Nominating Committee has struggled to fill the ballot—for the first time in years. Two years ago, I wrote in my annual report that the ballot had been filled more than a month before the report was prepared.
We’ll get back to our journey through the gospel of John next week—today we need to address this issue. What exactly does God expect? Are we a church in decline? Should we be looking ahead to the closing of our doors? What is the church supposed to look like? To act like? Is our purpose, as one of you wrote, “to thank God for His amazing love”? Because that doesn’t sound very hard. All we have to do is show up on Sunday morning to do that. And some of you think that when we’re doing God’s will, everything should just fall into place and it should all be easy?
Is this what Scripture says? Let’s take a look. Open your Bibles to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6. Let’s back up for a moment to chapter 5. A synagogue official named Jairus had come to Jesus and asked Him to come and heal his young daughter, who was very ill. Jesus was delayed when He stopped to talk to a woman who had been healed just by touching Him and by the time He got to Jairus’ house, the little girl was dead.
Too late—right? That’s what they all thought. It looked hopeless—the child was dead. But Jesus went in and raised that little girl right up. Because God is always on time—He’s never late. No matter how much His timing might seem wrong to us, no matter how much we might think that it’s too late, His timing is always perfect.
Then, at the beginning of chapter 6, we find Jesus going home to preach in His hometown of Nazareth—where the people “took offense at him” (Mark 6:3). “Who does He think He is?” The Son of God comes into their midst and they rejected Him. Rejected by His own friends and neighbors—even by His own family.
Does that sound like doing God’s will is always easy?
Then He sends the twelve apostles on a short-term mission trip. And they do great things—they cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach repentance. They come back excited! It reminds me of the short-term mission trips I’ve been on. Amazing things always happen and we always come back excited.
But then Mark tells us that John the Baptist has been thrown into prison for telling King Herod that he needs to repent—and then he gets his head chopped off. Have you ever wondered why this story is placed right between the exciting short-term mission trip of the disciples and the feeding of the 5000? The story where Jesus uses five small loaves of bread and two fish to feed an enormous crowd.
Notice that the story begins, in verse 33, with the words “The people saw them going and many recognized them, and ran there together on foot from all the cities and got there ahead of them.” It doesn’t say, “the people recognized Jesus,” but “recognized them”—recognized the disciples. Recognized them from their mission trip. Recognized them and wanted more time with them. In Mark’s gospel, this is the biggest crowd we’ve seen so far—and they’re not there because of Jesus, but because of His disciples.
Jesus “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and He began to teach them many things”—and then He told His disciples to give them something to eat. 5000 men plus women and children—at least 10,000 people.
And the disciples talk about not having enough money.
Not enough money? They just got through performing all those miracles and now it doesn’t even seem to occur to them to ask God for food. They’re good Jewish men—they know the Scriptures. They know how God provided manna in the wilderness. And here they are—in “a desolate place.” In the wilderness! So what’s going on?
Well… let’s consider John the Baptist. Was he a failure because he lost his head? What exactly is the evidence of success in this upside-down kingdom of God? Matthew 11:11 records Jesus telling His disciples that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” He said this while John was already in prison but before he was beheaded. Is he now less great because his head was served up on a platter?
Doesn’t seem to be. It does, however, seem to be a picture of what might happen to Jesus’ disciples—to us–if we do our job well enough.
And so maybe when Jesus tells the disciples to give all these people something to eat they’re having second thoughts. Because when Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest, He also said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). Maybe they’re wondering what might happen to one who is greater than John? Maybe they’re not sure they want to be that great.
Following Jesus sounded great in the beginning. But it was turning out to be a lot harder than they thought it would be. Can you relate? I can. Did you think it was only in the 21st century that it was hard to follow Him? Harder than we ever imagined it could be? So hard that we start to think it’s time for a break. We even start to think that we deserve a break.
Peter had the same idea 2000 years ago. He’d been on a long-term mission trip—three years with Jesus. But Jesus had died on the cross—He’d risen from the dead and the resurrected Jesus had shown up twice, but He wasn’t there walking around with them every day, telling them what to do. And then of course Peter had denied Jesus—three times. He figured that maybe the best thing to do was go back—back to what he knew, back to where things weren’t so hard, back to where he was comfortable. So he got out the boat and went fishing—some of the other disciples joined him. They went out—but they caught nothing—nothing at all until Jesus showed up. Then they caught more fish than they could handle—“153 large fish.”
Sometimes object lessons work best. Without Jesus—they had nothing. With Jesus—they had more than enough.
Peter still didn’t get it. He was elated at Jesus’ appearance and clearly he recognized that Jesus was responsible for the huge catch of fish. But it was only when Jesus asked him three times if he loved Him that Peter began to understand.
“Do you love me more than these?” What’s these? We don’t know. Maybe it’s the fish, maybe it’s the other disciples, maybe it’s his old life, maybe it’s everything that’s not Jesus.
How about you? Do you love Jesus more than these? More than your hobbies or your job or your home or your money or your reputation? More than your family? More than your life?
Two more times, Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?”
And Jesus says, “If you love me, care for my sheep.” “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” Then he says, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry where you do not want to do.” “Follow me, Peter, look after my sheep—it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be really hard, and then you’ll die a painful martyr’s death. But if you love me, you know that I’m worth it.” That’s what Jesus is really saying when He says, “Follow me!”
And Peter does—because, for him, Jesus is worth it.
What is Jesus worth to you? Is He that pearl of great value that Jesus talks about, that pearl for which you’re willing to give up everything else?
Jesus says, “Count the cost.” Have you counted it and decided that He’s not worth it?
Matthew 10:37, Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
People say that they can’t give it all to Jesus because they need to focus on their children or their grandchildren. People ask me, “How can you bear to be so far away from your grandchildren?”
And I have to admit that when God called me here, I wondered about that. I wondered if it was worth it. But God said, “Feed my sheep.” And I thought, “Really? Me? Almighty God is inviting me to be one of His disciples? To follow Him? To serve Him? To draw close to Him?”
And I realized that nothing is more important. Not my children. Not my grandchildren. I also realized that putting God first in my life—and letting them know that He’s first–is the best thing I can do for them. God reminded me that I will have all eternity with my children and grandchildren. When I gave my life to Jesus, He gave my children great spouses who would be great parents to my grandchildren. And even now, He always works things out so that I can be there when I need to.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, serving Jesus is what matters—it’s what has eternal value. Jesus doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need me. Jesus can run this church without any of us if that’s what He wants to do. He doesn’t need a church council, He doesn’t need our offering—He already owns everything. How can anyone even begin to think that we’re lacking the resources we need to go and make disciples when we have Jesus?
Peter and the others caught nothing without Jesus—with Jesus, they caught so many fish that they couldn’t even haul them all in.
Jesus doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need me. But He invites us to be a part of His kingdom work here on earth. He offers us the great privilege of being a part of the greatest story ever told. Of knowing the joy of serving Him, of being a part of His people.
Serving Jesus can be exhausting—it can be physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. It can be really hard. It can be dangerous. But it’s also the most rewarding thing you can ever do.
But some of us are so busy living in the here and now that we miss this entirely. We can only see what’s right in front of us—when God calls us to fix our eyes on Him.
Some of us think that we can follow Jesus just fine without the church—we can just do our own thing and He’s fine with that. We’re so confused about what it means to follow Him.
When Jesus was here living among us, it was easy to know whether you were following Him. Because to follow Him was to remain in close proximity to His physical body. It was to literally be with Jesus, to follow Him around and be in relationship with Him. After He ascended into heaven, this didn’t change—even though somehow we seem to think it did. To follow Jesus is still to remain in close proximity to His body—but now His body is the Church.
As we saw last week, when Jesus introduced that new wine into the wedding celebration, the only people who got to taste it were those who were a part of the community—those who were part of the family. Those who were connected.
That hasn’t changed.
Some of us think that Jesus wants us to be doing something in the church—and that if we decide that our contribution is to put an offering in the plate every Sunday, He’s fine with that. Or if we decide on a job that seems comfortable to us, He’s fine with that, too. Some of us even think that He’s fine with us choosing one or the other—I’ll give my money or I’ll give my time.
Some of you think that if God wants you to hold an office or be more involved in the mission of this church, He’ll tell you that in an unmistakable way. He already has. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50).
Matthew 16:24-27 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of His Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
Some of us think that God shouldn’t expect more of us than He expects of someone else. Matthew 25:14-15 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”
To those whom God gave greater ability, God expects more.
Peter, when Jesus told Him to follow Him, looked at John and asked, “What about him?” And Jesus said, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
“Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. You do what I want you to do!”
“The tree is known by its fruit.” Matthew 12:33
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Christianity isn’t about being good or comfortable. It’s about being in or out. In the family or out of the family. If we’re really in, our fruit will be good—we’ll hear and obey.
“But I prayed and God didn’t say ‘yes’.”
Did He say, “No”? Because He’s already called us to be at work in His kingdom—and so unless He says, “no, this isn’t what I have in mind for you,” He’s already said yes. And if this isn’t what He has in mind for you, He’ll let you know what He does have in mind.
Because Scripture is clear that doing nothing isn’t anything that anyone in the kingdom of God is going to be about.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we decide to look to our own interests first, when we decide that it’s time for someone else to step up and do something, we’re only hurting ourselves. When we think that something or someone is more important that Jesus, we’re deceiving ourselves.
God has given us this great opportunity. He’s invited us to be a part of His family, to taste the good wine. Another object lesson: the Jesus who can turn water into wine can surely turn people into disciples. Can surely grow us into men and women who love Him above all else, who long to serve Him above all else. Are you willing to answer His call, to receive the great gift He offers? Will you finish the race with the same assurance of the apostle Paul? Will you come to the end of your life certain that when you meet Jesus, you’ll hear His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
Has anyone ever shown us a better way than the crucified carpenter? Than the One alone who gives hope?
Let’s join Him right now today—with all our mind and all our heart and all our soul and all our strength. What could possibly be better?