He saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them…. The disciples said, “Send them away.” —Mark 6:34-36
Immanuel Church is simple. It’s about Jesus, Community, Mission. Jesus gives us himself through the gospel every week. In community we’re walking in the light of honesty with one another. And we’re taking new steps of missionality in 2012 – for example, launching South City Church.
It’s Jesus, Community, Mission in that order. If we put community first, we destroy community. Sooner or later, we’ll start criticizing each other: “Why aren’t you making me happy any more? I came to this church for you to make me happy.” Only Jesus can fill our hearts down deep. So he comes first.
If we put mission first, we’ll collapse in exhaustion. Only Jesus can say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We need him constantly, and first. So it’s Jesus, Community, Mission in that order.
What do we mean by “mission”? Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). He did not say, “The Father sent me, and you’ll be involved too, but at a far lower level.” He said, in effect, “I am sending you the same way the Father sent me, with the same passion and power and humility and sacrifice and beauty.” As Jesus was in this world 2000 years ago, so we are in our world today – on mission. The Bible says, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). What we’re involved in here isn’t our nice idea. It is sacred. It is authoritative. We don’t apologize for being missionaries to our city; we only apologize for not being more Christlike missionaries to our city. The mission started in heaven, it came down in Jesus, and he works through us today. Here’s how simple it is. Without him, we can’t. Without us, he won’t. But with us, he will. And there is resonating deep in the heart of this church a wholehearted Yes to Christ. We’re all in!
So here’s the drill at Immanuel. One, Jesus. Two, community. Three, loop back through Jesus and Community, but this time with more people. That’s the mission. More Jesus, more community, with more people involved. We at Immanuel today are the core group of the next phase of our growing community in Jesus. We today are the core group of the new Immanuel we’re going to plant in 2012. The mission of God continues through us. This week I tweeted, “In our world of hyper-sin, people need gospel, safety and time, to get free. A lot of gospel. A lot of safety. A lot of time.” But in real terms, where is that going to happen? On this Sunday morning, January 15th, where in our city can sinners like us find lots of gospel exposure, and lots of safety to open up about our brokenness, and lots of time and space to grow and thrive? I am guessing that most people, including church people, don’t even believe that kind of environment exists. How can they believe? They’ve only seen the opposite all their lives. But God, for his own glory, is giving us here at Immanuel, in all our weakness, a taste of that gospel + safety + time kind of healing environment. He is giving it to us, to share it with more people. That’s our mission – to open up a community with lots of gospel, lots of safety and lots of time for lots of people, and then plant that in even more churches, and keep going, until our city cannot ignore the heavenly mercy God is sending down, and it starts feeling like revival.
But let’s admit it. The mission is not easy. Some of us might even fear that, if our church grows too much and too many people show up, we’ll lose community. We’ll end up with Jesus, and mission, but we’ll lose community. That’s the fear. What’s the answer? Not a command, but an insight – the surprising way life really works. Whatever we cling to, we lose. Whatever we share, we keep. Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In other words, when the future of our city becomes more important to us than our own church’s future, then and only then do we as a church have a future. The most dangerous thing we can do is hoard the blessing God is giving, and the happiest thing we can do is share it. In the ways of God, life comes through death, power comes through surrender, joy through tears, fullness through generosity. We see it in Jesus himself, who died for others, and then rose in power.
The end of the gospel story is a huge community of diverse people gathered around the Throne (Revelation 7:9-10), all of them shouting out, “Only God could get us here, and he did!” The Triune God is reaching out to draw many more people into the joy of his community. The best community I personally ever saw in a church, prior to Immanuel, was the church I grew up in, with about 4000 people. It was a big spiritual neighborhood. I grew up with lots of spiritual aunts and uncles, who cared about me. Smallness is no guarantee of community, and bigness is no barrier to community. Here is the key to community. Put Jesus first. Love one another. Include more people. Then loop back and do that again, and then again. That’s the mission of God. It has nothing to do with our size. It has everything to do with our heart – the heart of Jesus himself caring for people through us. He isn’t limited. There’s no end to his love. I’m thankful. I can’t think of another explanation for the fact that I’m here.
In Mark 6:30-44 Jesus draws us into his mission. This passage is the voice of Jesus to us at Immanuel this morning, giving us his vision for 2012. Three things. One, the heart of Jesus (verses 30-34). Two, the authority of Jesus (verses 35-38). Three, the power of Jesus (verses 39-44).
The heart of Jesus
He saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (verse 34)
Our English word “compassion” no longer has much impact. It’s like debased coinage. It might say 50 cents, but it will only buy you 30 cents worth of stuff. That’s our English word “compassion.” But this word in verse 34 is a strong word. This Greek word is used in the New Testament only of Jesus, because only he has the uncommon love you and I and everyone in Nashville needs. Another translation says here, “He was deeply moved over them.” I need someone to be deeply moved over me. I need to be loved deeply, not moderately. Don’t you too? Everyone does. And here’s the wonderful thing. At the heart of the universe is a love too great to be limited to what we deserve. That love came down to us in Jesus, and the world has never been the same since.
Picture this big crowd of people. As they hurried from town to town to get around the lake to where Jesus’ boat would land, the crowd grew and grew. You can imagine people suddenly filling a village square along the way, and someone says, “Where are you guys going?” “To meet Jesus. We think his boat is landing just down the road. He’s healing people!” No wonder the crowd grew. So as the boat pulls up to shore, there they are, thousands of them, pushing, shoving, elbowing one another to get to the front, with more coming over the hills from all directions. And looking at them, Jesus loved them, though he and his disciples were tired. Most of the great things that have been done in this world have been done by tired people. But there is One, whose heart always has more to give. He is never depleted. Whatever sin you brought into church today, that is the very point in your existence at which he loves you the most. You may despise yourself and your secret weakness, but he doesn’t despise you. He loves you. And loving you does not exhaust him. It energizes him.
What was it that about these people that wouldn’t let Jesus not care? “They were like sheep without a shepherd.” Nobody was caring for these people or providing for them or defending them. The Pharisees scolded them, but what help is that? Who needs condescending religious nags? They don’t help. The heart of Jesus looked at that great crowd and saw every single one of them in all their sin and need and pain. He saw a man over here enslaved to his lusts, offended by himself, wondering “Why am I like this? I love my wife and kids. I even love God. Why can’t I change?” Jesus looked at him and loved him and had something to offer him. The heart of Jesus saw a woman in that great crowd weighed down with sorrow and regret and shame so deep she couldn’t even talk to her best friend about it, and Jesus was moved for her. He saw a teenager wasting his life with no sense of purpose, no sense of greatness and destiny, he saw a married couple three months away from divorce if somebody doesn’t do something, he saw a widow who cries herself to sleep every night, she’s so lonely. And he saw how unhelped and unserved they all were. He saw us. And his deepest being was moved.
But look at the contrast between the heart of Jesus and the heart of the disciples. The disciples saw the same crowd. What was their response? Verse 36: “Send them away.” Verses 30-31 make that understandable, in a way. They tell us that the disciples had already served to the point of exhaustion. So now they feel overwhelmed. “More people to care for, just when we were going to get a break? Send them away. Let them fend for themselves. But don’t ask more of us.” Here are two opposite perceptions of all that human need: “He had compassion on them” versus “Send them away.”
Where is the disciples’ faith? They are talking to God. He’s standing there in Jesus. And the only thought their weak faith can come up with is “Send them away”? Obviously, the disciples are thinking in terms of what they can do, not in terms of what Christ can do. Let’s repent of all small thoughts of Christ. Our small thoughts of him send people away from him. His heart for them is huge. Doesn’t it stand to reason that he can find a way to make it work?
The authority of Jesus
“You give them something to eat.” (verse 37)
The word “you” is emphatic. Jesus is being direct and demanding. But he is not being ironic. He is not saying, “You give them something to eat, but it’s impossible for you to do that, but I’m telling you to do it anyway so that you’ll discover it can’t be done and you’ll trust me more.” Sometimes Jesus does say things with that kind of irony – when we’re full of ourselves and need to get cut down to size. But he’s not speaking that way here. The disciples know they can’t feed these people. Still, Jesus means it when he says, “You feed them.” They did have something to give. Not that it was enough. But if they’d bring it under his authority, he would surprise them. And he says the same thing to us in Nashville today: “You give them something to eat. I care about the people of this city. I have sent you there, so that I can care for them through you. You give them something of my own, that will help them.” He doesn’t tell us we’re strong when he knows we’re weak. But he does insist that we be willing, because he wants to include us in his miracle. He’s telling his disciples to do the impossible, because they’re just about to do the impossible, under his authority.
Not that they see it yet. They’re still not thinking by faith. They’re imprisoned within the obvious. They count heads and do the math – they probably formed a committee, a study group – and they bring a report back to Jesus with the bad news. They’ve come to a profound conclusion: It can’t be done. What an insight! I’m sure Jesus needed to be told that. It must not have occurred to him that his disciples were powerless to do what he was commanding them to do: “You guys feed these people. You provide for these people. You shepherd these people. You make the difference for them, in my name.” Here’s the wonderful thing they were about to start learning. Every command of Jesus comes with the power of Jesus, if we’ll receive it by faith.
All he asks of us is everything. Verse 38: “‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’” And Jesus took it all. He had the right to demand it, and he had the power to multiply it. In the hand of Jesus, as he broke off piece after piece of bread and fish, subtraction became multiplication. And this was no big deal to him. The creation – now that was a mega-miracle. But multiplying bread and fish was a mini-miracle. If you believe in God at all, if you believe he created the universe, then you know he just shook this one out of his sleeve. Do you realize that God not only created the universe but that he continues to create it moment by moment? Do you realize that, if he hesitated for one instant, we would vanish? We are living proof constantly of the power and love and glory of God. So let’s never look up to God in self-pity and bitterness and say, “So what have you done for me lately?” He would say, “Do you exist?”
Jesus worked a miracle through his disciples. But he will not force us to be useful in his hands. We have to give him everything. You might think, “But I don’t much to offer – nothing he could use!” That’s a good, humble thought. But could we ever come up with anything that would make him say, “Wow, that’s impressive. That’s really going to help me out”? Everything we are and have is, to him, at best, five Twinkies and two sardines. But still, Jesus commands us, “Give it to me, all of it, and watch what I’ll do through you, for the display of my glory.” Some of you know the name Elisabeth Elliot. She gave Christ all she had, and she suffered, and God used her life powerfully. If you’ve come to church today feeling you have nothing to offer Christ, listen to what Elisabeth says:
If the only thing you have to offer is a broken heart, you offer a broken heart. Realizing that nothing I have, nothing I am, will be refused by Christ, I simply give it to Him as the little boy gave Jesus his five loaves and two small fish – with the same feeling of the disciples when they said, “What is the good of that for such a crowd?” Naturally, in almost anything I offer to Christ, my reaction would be, “What is the good of that?” The point is, the use He makes of it is none of my business; it is His business, it is His blessing.
I’m calling you today to give yourself entirely to Christ, especially if you know that yours is just a five Twinkies and two sardines-life, because it is Jesus who will make the difference in you. You have no right to say No, and you have no reason to say No. Whatever your life is, however pathetic in your own eyes, hand it over to him, and his power will enter into your weakness. Will you give your all to Christ today? Or will you keep saying to him, “Not even you can use me”? The Bible says, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth, that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
The power of Jesus
And he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. (verses 41-42)
Those five little loaves of bread would have fed only five people. But with each loaf broken, and broken again, and again – they fed five thousand. And all those people were satisfied. They were no longer sheep without a shepherd. Jesus fed them well. And not surprisingly, some people’s eyes were bigger than their stomachs. As the food was passed around, they took more than they could eat, and Jesus kept giving it anyway. So there were leftovers. Verse 43 says, twelve baskets full of leftovers – one for each of the disciples who had served. They started out with five loaves and two fish, and they ended up with all those people satisfied, and enough left over for them to take home. That’s the power of Jesus. I love the way my dad put it in a sermon on May 11, 1975:
Jesus wants to express his fullness through you. Always begin your thinking and your planning and your deciding from the standpoint of Jesus’ fullness in your life. Always begin with the plenty of God. Face life with all you have in Christ. Never face life from the standpoint of all the problems and all the needs and all the difficulties. Always begin with your standing in Christ. You have rivers of living water, Christ in you, fullness of grace and truth. That’s what Jesus gives us!
Here’s how the power of Jesus can tell this story again for us – each of us with a basket full of overflow blessing from Jesus. At some time in the future, a few years down the road, I’m going to retire from Immanuel Church. When I do, let’s have a party at some nice hotel downtown. We have a great meal. Ben puts together a killer band and we worship. Somebody creates a fun video. But the best part will be when we sit there together and tell stories, stories of what Christ has done for us and through us, how people have been helped because we gave ourselves to Christ and he used us to bless them. We’ll have lots of laughter and many tears of joy. And at the end of that evening, each of us will surely have a basket full of immensely satisfying overflow blessing. I’m looking forward to that party. I’m looking forward to the banquet in heaven, when we’ll all be together with the Lord, and our baskets will be full forever.
Let’s come to the end, having given our little “all” to Jesus, living on mission for him, watching him do impossibly wonderful things through us.
Will you join me in that sacred purpose?