Living in Each Dimension
Mark 6:30-34 30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 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. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 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.
Following the storm we had a week or so ago, I realized that my car was low on fuel. So I began driving around to find a gas station with power. I also surveyed some of the damage that the storm had done to our area. I saw a lot of trees that were hurt. Some limbs were down. Some trees were completely uprooted. But the saddest of all were what I would call the "half-trees." We had one here on our own church property. The tree was literally broken in half. In other cases the trees were split in half. Half of the tree looked just fine. But with the other half torn away, there was no chance for survival.
Today our Gospel lesson presents us with an important teaching of the Bible. Iím going to call it living in two dimensions. By "dimension" I am referring to the physical and the spiritual aspects of life. Jesus was always concerned about both. But He was especially concerned about that the spiritual dimension be attended to first. Sadly, today many people are like spiritually "broken trees." Half of their life is growing just fine. But in many cases there is no spiritual life.
The Situation in Jesusí Time
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus and His disciples were tired. They needed to get away for some rest. But as they were leaving by boat, people saw them and ran ahead of them. When Jesus saw the large crowd, He said they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Now notice that these people were in pretty good physical shape. They actually "ran" to see Jesus. Itís quite obvious that Jesus is primarily concerned with their spiritual life. Unfortunately they had a lot against them. There wasnít much to help them in the faith. The dominant spiritual leaders were the Scribes and Pharisees. About them Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in" (Matthew 23.13). Their political leaders were even worse. You can see here in Mark chapter six that King Herod had put John the Baptist to death. John was a prophet. He was one of the best hopes they had for good spiritual guidance. But it wasnít only the fault of the leaders. At the beginning of this chapter, notice that Jesus was rejected by His own home town of Nazareth. They were interested in His miracles, but not in His teaching.
The situation is simply this: There was nothing in this natural world that would help the people of Galilee live their lives fully in both dimensions. There was no encouragement for faith, and that is what concerned Jesus.
What is our situation? Jesus challenges us in many places to live the two dimensional life and to give priority to the spiritual dimension. He taught the two great commandments: "Love the Lord Your God with all Your heart, mind and soulÖ and your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22.37-39). In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matthew 6.33). We can be quite certain about the priorities that Jesus emphasized.
Now Iím not saying that we should consider ourselves "lost sheep." We have faith in Jesus, and we want to live life in both dimensions. But we are not exempt from the same temptations as the people of Galilee. We may not be lost, but I know that we are often distracted and drawn away from the spiritual life. We may not be a "half tree," but that doesnít mean we arenít drifting in that direction.
Ken Klaus, Speaker of the Lutheran Hour, told and interesting story in one of his sermons last January. It was about an imaginary meeting held by Satan and his top devils as they laid out plans to keep people out of Godís kingdom. As the meeting began a young, impetuous devil proposed that the begin teaching the idea that there is no God, no Satan, no heaven, and no hell. Satan was not too impressed. He didnít think it would work. Another, wiser, devil arose to speak. He suggested that they not worry about whether people believe there is a God, Satan, heaven or hell. Rather, he suggested that they add the idea that it really doesnít matter what a person believes as long as they are sincere about what they believe. Satan liked this idea. But then a third devil, the wisest of them all made the following proposal: He said that they should teach that the Bible is true, that God is real as well as Satan and heaven and hell. But, he said, "We must convince them that there is plenty of time to be concerned about that. They need not worry about it right now." Satan especially liked this approach, and considered it one of the most effective ways to keep people out of Godís kingdom.
Let me reaffirm the basic problem for the Galileans as well as for us today. The natural world can convince us that there is a God, and that He is very powerful. But there is nothing in this world or inside of us that will help us live fully in the spiritual dimension of faith. We truly need a shepherd.
If I stopped this sermon here, there would be no reason why this sermon could not be preached in any house of worship and in any other name of God. Most people are aware of the spiritual dimension and its importance. Jesus, however, makes all the difference. Mark tells us that He had compassion on these people and He taught them many things. While the world may not be supportive of the spiritual life, God certainly is.
I mentioned the two great commandments above. I pointed to the Sermon on the Mount. In these references we see the priority Jesus gives to the spiritual life. But allow me to share another passage that goes even further. In John 6.27 we read: "Do not labor for the food which perishes (physical life), but for the food which endures to everlasting life (spiritual life)Ö" Now also pay close attention to these words as Jesus continues: "Ö which the Son of Man will give youÖ" The thing that makes the Christian faith stand out is that God not only directs us to the spiritual life, He gives it. Paul wrote to Timothy: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." Jesus came not just to show the way, but to provide the way.
Ravi Zacharias, in his book, Jesus Among Other Gods, tells the story of a little girl who was lost in a jungle. All day she cried out for her parents, and her parents and others desperately looked for her. As night descended the search was called off. Early the next morning the father began to search. Soon he saw his daughter sleeping on a rock. He called her name. As she awoke she was still gripped in the fear of the previous day. She ran to her father and threw her arms around him. She said over and over, "Daddy, Daddy, I found you!" In reality her daddy had found her. Jesus comes to find those who are lost and to save them when there is nothing else that can help.
St. Mark said that Jesus had "compassion." This is an important word in the Bible. In the Greek language it is the word splagnizo, and it refers to the deepest feelings we have. We have a similar way of saying this. We call it "gut feelings," or something that really "tugs at your heart." Jesus had compassion for the spiritual well-being of these people.
A mother sent her little girl on an errand. When she took a long time to return, her mother questioned her about what she was doing. The little girl said she met another little girl whose doll was broken and who was crying. "Oh," said her mother, "I suppose you stopped to help fix the doll?" "No," the little girl said, "I stopped to help her cry."
Turn with me to Philippians chapter two. In verse one Paul says, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathyÖ" There is no encouragement in this world for our spiritual life. But there is plenty with God. It begins with His compassion. Toward the end of the verse Paul refers to "affection." This is the same word as "compassion" in Mark 6.34. If you have a King James Bible, youíll see that the word is actually translated "bowels." In Christ we have all these wonderful things. As you read on in verses six to eight we see the fullness of the compassion of Christ:
Ö Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Jesus came into the broken spiritual dimension of this world. He became broken for us. Even as God restored Him through the resurrection, so also he restores our broken spiritual dimension. We live a new life in Jesus. As Jesus looked compassionately at that crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He was also looking ahead to the ultimate conclusion of His compassion Ė to suffer and die for us sinners and lost sheep; to suffer and die for us who get distracted and drift in our spiritual life. We may move away from Him, but He is always moving toward us to rescue and deliver. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 6, 2006
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2006
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