I want you to imagine something pretty outlandish this morning. I want you to imagine that you are a doctor, but not just any doctor. You are a doctor who makes house calls. I know, I know... that's a stretch but work with me. You are a doctor and someone has called you to their home to tend to someone who is sick in their home.
If you can place yourself in that scenario, you can understand a bit what Jesus was going through in Capernaum. Remember that Mark had said that Jesus' mission was to preach about the kingdom. Mark 1:15 records that Jesus' message was, "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" That is why Jesus came. And like you as that doctor, people were wanting him to do things that he could do but those things were not his primary mission. His mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God and what we read today is how Jesus made sure that this remained the main focus. What Jesus does to remind himself of this is something we can learn from as well as we ask ourselves what it is that we want Jesus to do for us. Let's read Mark 1:35-39.
I. Let's look first at Jesus as he prays in verse 35.
Evidently Jesus was staying with Peter’s family and at some point well before dawn, he woke up and then went out to pray in solitary place. The words that Mark uses for the “solitary place” are literally "wilderness place." The problem with calling it a wilderness is that the land around Capernaum was pretty much all cultivated during this time. Thus the solitary place is not literally wilderness but a lonely or quiet place that in some sense recalls the wilderness. Mark uses this phrase “wilderness place” two other times, in Mark 1:45 and 6:31-33. In both of these cases, Jesus engages in a time of public teaching and displays great and miraculous power. Jesus then withdraws from the crowds that are seeking him and his gifts. Here as well, Jesus goes off to be alone after all healing he had just done.
Now in order to understand what is going on here in these scenes we have to go back to Mark's theme of wilderness, judgment and temptation. After healing all those people, Jesus deliberately withdraws from the people to return to a place that has the character of the desert, the place where Jesus encountered Satan and faced his temptations. The temptation that Jesus is facing in Capernaum while teaching and healing is listening to the clamor of the crowds. They want Jesus to be a miracle worker who meets their needs. And it would be tempting for Jesus to be what they wanted him to be. And so Jesus turns from the people's acclaim and goes back to a solitary place to be strengthened in his resolve to fulfill the mission for which he came.
It’s easy to let the acclaim of people sway what you should be doing. This city is packed with people who were told they should go to Music City and become a music star! Your mail carrier, grocery store clerk may well have come here to follow their dream which others eagerly told them they should pursue. They listened to people telling them to be a star when they perhaps should have done something else. Jesus goes to a solitary place to remind himself that he did not come to the world to be a miracle worker but to be the Savior of the world!
The second thing to notice is that Jesus went to this solitary place so he could pray. In Mark's gospel, Jesus is seen praying only 3 times. Here, which is at the beginning when his ministry is being defined. Then in the middle of Mark’s account, when Jesus feeds the 5,000 in Mark 6:46. And finally near the conclusion when Jesus is in Gethsemane in Mark 14:32-42. Each of these three occasions reflects a critical moment in Jesus' life and ministry. The setting for Jesus in each instance is being alone in the night and in solitude. Even in Gethsemane he is quite alone in spite of his disciples being there. Again this situation recalls the desert when Jesus confronted the temptation of Satan and was sustained by help from God when he was praying. Jesus' strength is in prayer and that is how he affirms his desire to fulfill God's will. And don’t forget that submission means his submission to the judgment of God. We have here Jesus going to a solitary place to regain his bearings on his mission and to be strengthened in prayer.
There is an important lesson for us here. It’s easy for us to lose track of what our purpose is in our lives. We get so busy doing stuff, and -- let’s be honest -- much of the stuff we are so busy with tends to be things for us and for our own needs. We focus on what we want or need in our lives and lose track of the mission that God has sent us on: to be ambassadors for him. We need to take the time to be quiet so that we can remember why we are here and what we are to be doing: living in service to God out of gratitude to him. Jesus did this and so what makes us think that we don’t need to do this!?
II. Let's look at the disciples' search and the resulting shift in ministry in verses 36-37.
The timing of this is quite interesting. We get the impression that Peter notices that Jesus is missing early in the morning. But it is only when the clamoring crowds come looking for Jesus that the four new disciples seem to go looking for Jesus. And then when they find him, they explain the urgency of the situation: "Everyone is looking for you!" Clearly these new disciples understood what was at stake here. The new teacher is gathering a huge following and so Jesus must respond and feed the hungry masses and give them what they are seeking. There is a need and the teacher must meet the need.
Peter's words to Jesus reflect a quiet rebuke of Jesus for neglecting his new ministry. But it also reflects his misunderstanding of why Jesus came. He saw that Jesus was gaining political momentum and so thought that they should seize the opportunity. Or perhaps, more nobly, Peter thought that there are so many needs to be met and so Jesus should be there to meet those needs.
But Jesus gives clarity to their thinking by saying, "Let us go somewhere else -- to the nearby villages -- so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." Notice that Jesus doesn't say anything about healing as he describes what he wants to do next. The people wanted a miracle worker but Jesus knows that he has a much larger goal: the good news of salvation and release for those who are oppressed. His purpose was to preach the good news of God’s grace. That is why Jesus interrupts the miracles to go elsewhere else to proclaim that good news. His purpose was not to heal as many as possible in order to show the power of the kingdom of God. His purpose was to confront men with the demand for decision in the perspective of God=s absolute claim on their lives.
And as we see in verse 39, Jesus is acting on that purpose. He needed to preach to show God’s claim on his people. He needed to drive out demons to show that Satan’s power was about to be defeated. So Jesus went throughout Galilee confronting the people with the absolute claim of God.
Why do we want Jesus in our lives? What do we want Jesus to do for us? We tend to be selfish in what we want Jesus to do for us. Larry Kreider, the author of "Bottom Line Faith, "once made reference to the television show "The Simpsons." The utterly self-centered husband Homer Simpson perches in his comfortable chair and tells his wife, Marge, "Beer me." That is the signal for Marge to turn to the refrigerator and obediently get a beer for Homer. Larry Kreider writes, "We laugh at Homer's audacity to be so self-centered, yet in some ways, he models the actions of the world around us. How do we keep from acting like a Christian version of Homer Simpson?" We want financial security and we want good health. We want our children to grow up knowing the Lord and following him. Those are all good things; please don’t misunderstand me. But it’s bigger than that, much bigger! Jesus came to bring his chosen to the Father. He came to bring life and healing eternally.
And as we do this, let's follow the example of Jesus as well as we think about our walk with him to get away and find some solitude to prayerfully reflect on why Jesus came. In my prayer time this week, I read Psalm 46: "Be still and know that I am God." Be still; stop what we're doing and realize who God is and what he desires for us. Go to a solitary place as much as you can to regroup and prayerfully refocus on what God wants you to be and to do. Be still and know that God is God; then live in that grace that Jesus came to bring.