A few weeks ago, when I did a sermon series with my congregation entitled, “That’s what I like about Jesus,” I asked my staff what they like best about Jesus. They had all sorts of interesting responses to the question:
His teaching methods were so wonderful
He is so faithful
He paid for my sins
He prepared a place for me in heaven
He knows everything about me
He tells me what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear
What I found I like about Jesus is He stretches me. I have discovered that when one gets involved with him, you need never be bored again. He calls us to do things and puts us in places that will really stretch us.
The first disciples who accepted Jesus’ call to follow him would agree with me. They found themselves being continually stretched by their master. Today’s story is just one more example. They had been sent out on a mission earlier by Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God, cast out evil spirits, and heal people. That had to have been a stretch. They came back very excited and unable to relax because people were just coming at them. So Jesus said they needed to get away in order to rest. So they got into a boat and went off to a deserted place.
Jesus and his disciples were somewhat like celebrities in some of the villages now. When the people saw them in the boat, they ran out to meet them. In fact, a huge crowd waited for them when they got out of the boat. The disciples were probably wondering what they were going to do. But Jesus had great compassion on them. He probably said something like, “These poor, lost souls. They are like sheep without a shepherd.” To the disciples’ surprise, He went to the crowds to preach and teach about the Kingdom of God.
At the end of the day, the disciples say to Jesus, “It is late; now send them away.” But Jesus shocked them by saying, “Give them something to eat.” The disciples looked at all the people and said, “Where would we buy all the bread for these people; It would take two hundred days’ worth of wages to feed this group.”
But Jesus pushed a little more when he asked how many loaves of bread they had. The disciples replied, “Five loaves and two fishes.” Then Jesus took the bread and fish, blessed it and broke it, and somehow distributed the food so that everyone was filled! Five thousand men were fed, besides the women and children as well. You can imagine the shocked looks on the disciples’ faces!
I can’t help but imagine a very comical scene. With a lot of worry on the disciples’ faces, they pass the food out. Soon we see those worried looks turn to shocked looks. Then, almost with this look of wonder and awe, dancing around with the people, laughing while they do it.
Jesus was, of course, showing compassion. But he was also displaying the power of the kingdom and the presence of the kingdom in this world. That was his message, and he wanted people to understand it. Jesus was that day stretching the disciples. He was teaching them what being a disciple means Ð to be a learner. First we see him stretching their compassion, the ability to see people and have a heart for them.
Notice that when Jesus gets out of the boat, the disciples pretty much disappear. Where are they? After all, they had just been empowered by Jesus a little earlier to go out and proclaim the kingdom, cast out spirits, and heal people. They had themselves been vessels of the power of the kingdom. But they seemed to be off to the side observing, maybe thinking, I’m too tired for this; I need a break. These people are intruding on my time. They should have made an appointment. Who knows what they were thinking.
But Jesus goes out into the crowds and begins to teach them. He stretched the disciples’ faith. They had what some of us might call analysis paralysis. When the disciples told Jesus to send the people away so they could get something to eat, Jesus said, “You give them something to eat!” The disciples replied, “How’s that going to happen? It would two hundred days worth of wages, and there are no grocery stores out here to even purchase the bread!”
I once heard someone say about this story that those disciples had faith in Jesus, but they did not have the faith of Jesus. They did not have the faith of Jesus in his Father’s ability to bring the power of the kingdom to work in their midst. He took their meager resources and used them to God’s glory so that many people were fed that day and amazed with his message and with the man himself, Jesus Christ. They started to learn a little bit at a time that when something is used for God’s glory, don’t be surprised at what can happen.
People today are still learning this lesson. When we follow Jesus Christ and begin to take him at his word and listen carefully to what he says to us, as he calls us to do things, and we carry that out, we find ourselves sometimes feeling very stretched. With that stretching comes some amazing moments from which come growth and maturity and excitement!
For instance, what if we took seriously Jesus’ statement to go make disciples of all nations? What if we just went out and just began to talk to people about Jesus in our regular conversations, in our network of relationships. My experience is then, that when we do that, it is a stretch.
I remember, when I knew I was called to lead people to Jesus Christ. I found myself getting into some amazing conversations with people. Jesus used those conversations and me in my weakness. Since that time I have had the joy of leading many people across the line of faith to receive Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Life got very exciting after I took him at this word and began to do what he told me to do.
A couple of years ago I was invited to go off to Peru in South America to do overseas missions. I wondered what God could do with somebody like me. But finally, I went. Now I can’t wait to get back, because he used me in my weakness to lead people to the Savior.
Dick and Mary, a couple in our church, felt Christ leading them to do ministry with senior citizens in retirement homes and nursing homes. Although they had no experience leading worship, putting together a service, or even play instruments, they responded to the call of Jesus and went to work. Today they impacting a lot of elderly people for the kingdom of God.
On Saturday mornings in our church, a group of about twenty-five members go into the community to serve people in Christ’s name. Some offer to clean restrooms at gas stations. Others hand out a meal and a gift to a family in our community who has suffered the death of a father. Some go to a local trailer court to give away bread. This group is nervous as they prepare themselves, but they sense the voice of Jesus calling them into the community to touch lives with the good news of God’s love. When they return for report-ins, the air is electric as they tell stories of what they did and the responses they received. That’s what I really like about Jesus Ð if you get involved with him, take him at his word and do what he says, he is anything but boring! He stretches us and he makes us come alive with new situations. The only ability Jesus needs from me is my availability.
Someone shared a story with me years ago Ð a personal testimony that I share with my congregation now and then. “At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I make it to heaven or to hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a President; I recognized his picture when I saw it. I really didn’t know him.
“But later on, when I met Christ, it seemed as life was rather like a bike ride. It was a tandem bike. I noticed that Christ was in the back, helping me pedal. I don’t know when it was, but he suggested we change places, and life has not been the same since.
“When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points. But when Christ took the lead, he knew delightful long cuts up mountains and through rocky places at breakneck speeds. It was all I could do to hang on. Even though it looked like madness, he would say, ÔPedal!’
I worried and was anxious and asked, ÔWhere are you taking me?’ He laughed and didn’t answer. Soon I started to learn to trust him. I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I would say, ÔI am scared!’, he would lean back and touch my hand. He took me to people with gifts that I needed Ð gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy. They gave me gifts to take on my journey, my Lord’s and mine, and we were off again. He would say, ÔGive the gifts away; they are extra baggage. Too much weight.’ So I did give them to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received. And still our burden was light!
“I did not trust him at first, in control of my life. I thought he would wreck it. But Jesus knows bike secrets. He knows how to make it bend and make sharp corners. He knows how to jump over high rocks. He knows how to fly through short and scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places. I am beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ. When I am sure I cannot do anymore, he just smiles and tells me to pedal. Pedal!'”