The Matthew Series 33. Choosing Rest Which Revives
Have you ever felt tired? As in, completely wiped? Have you ever been hit by a wave of weariness that fills your eyes and lungs? I’m not talking about a ‘one-bad-night’ tired – I’m talking about other-worldly weariness that comes from a years-long period of tension, or a sudden heart-wrenching trauma.
I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about. I’m certain of it, because you all live in the 21st century, in one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world. The world has never known such stress as you and I do. A few weeks ago, I was reading Max Lucado’s book: Anxious for Nothing, and he quotes a psychologist: “The average child today exhibits the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.” Can you believe that? I can. I heard just this last week from parents of a 6-year-old who is on anti-depressant medication. How can this be happening?
Parents are busier than ever before; families are more disconnected; it’s not just children on phones anymore – parents sit in the lounge on their tablets while kids watch Netflix in their rooms. And there’s no safe place from the troubles of the world, because it’s all in your back-pocket. A Time Magazine article quoted a teenage girl saying that having a phone is ‘like the whole school is in your bag, waiting for your answer.’ You do something silly at school and it’ll likely be recorded and put online, and there will be people from Spain sending you hate mail and calling you a loser. I struggle as a pastor with ‘being in a fish-bowl’ feeling like my movements are being watched for failure – now there are 8-year olds who are being cyber-bullied for taking last-season’s backpack to school – being watched and ridiculed for perceived failure.
And it’s no different for parents. You’re never away from work now. Before the internet and cellphones, you could walk away from work and not worry about it till you walked in again on Monday morning. But now it’s always on your phone. When you’re home, you’re not home.
Many years ago, news of a landslide disaster in Philippines would never reach your ears. Years ago, it would reach you in the space of a few hours. Now, seconds after the disaster you’re reading about it and seeing the gruesome images of the dead in high-definition. That’s hyper-connectedness. You can’t disconnect, and you can’t unwind.
Is it any wonder that many people walk around in a fog of tiredness, feeling edgy and out-of-sorts, drained and emotionally spent? Is it any wonder that people lash out on the roads, in their homes, at school, at work?
Jesus was no stranger to stress. In some of the verses we read last week, we saw that He was ‘a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering’ (Is 53:3).
Tonight, we’re going to see some of the things that caused Jesus stress – and, as importantly, we’re going to learn about how He confronted that stress, and how we can too. So please turn with me to Matthew 14.
1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. 6On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. 11His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. 13When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” 16Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. 18“Bring them here to me,” he said. 19And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. 22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
Thank you for your patience in reading that long passage with me. We’ll not often have quite such a long passage. But this long passage enables us to deal with the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in a way that perhaps you haven’t seen it before. So, let’s begin. Firstly, I want you to notice what wore Jesus down.
Two incidents coincided to cause Jesus to want to get away for a bit. The one incident you don’t read about in the Matthew account – or at least not here, it is recorded four chapters before in Matthew 10; but Mark and Luke record that just before this event, perhaps a few days or a few weeks before, Jesus had sent out his twelve disciples in pairs. “He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk 9:1-2).
At about the same time, Herod had a birthday party and he invited all the important people of his domain to attend. At the party, his wife’s daughter had pleased him so much with a dance that he vowed to give her whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom. This is a sermon for another time, but teaches us to be very careful with our words and not to make rash and stupid promises. Many people in the Bible have been caught out disastrously for not guarding their lips when they should have. Be careful what you say.
The girl runs off to mommy and says, ‘We can have anything!’ and what does mommy want for Christmas? Nothing less than the head of John the Baptist. See, she hated John for calling her out on her sins, and she’d planned long ago to have him killed, but Herod had – for some good, and some bad reasons – protected John from harm up till now.
But what can you do when you’ve made a promise in front of powerful people? You can’t back down now and allow yourself to be seen as an untrustworthy person. So, Herod gives in to his wife’s request and has John beheaded.
When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took John’s body away and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
Imagine for a second that you’re Jesus. John’s your cousin – you grew up together. But John’s also a close friend, he has spent his life pursuing God with such a zeal and an eagerness that it joins your souls together like David and Jonathan. And John was a great supporter of Jesus – and we see in other places where Jesus sometimes just needed human comfort and John would give just that. For Jesus - His town rejected him; his family didn’t believe in him; his disciples struggled to understand him and almost hourly needed to be lifted up – but John, John knew who Jesus was and walked by him saying: You got this, Jesus, keep going.
The fact is, Jesus loved John with a deeper love than we can imagine. And though Jesus knew this time would come, finally the day has arrived when John has been horribly murdered. Jesus’ biggest support is gone, and Jesus is also faced with the reality that this had to come before His own death which would now soon come.
What a blow. What a blow. To his soul, to his heart, to his mind.
Now at just about the same time the disciples arrive back from their ministry exposure. They’ve gone throughout Israel and preached, gone town to town without any material means of staying alive but depending on God’s provision through people as they went. Anyone who’s been on a mission’s trip knows how tiring that can be: staying in strange homes, eating strange food, always being on call and always being on watch. At the same time, they’d been powerfully working and battling the forces of darkness and overcome many evils.
They came back to Jesus possibly full of joy but empty of energy. They needed a break. They were worn down. And Jesus was worn down.
Do you feel worn down tonight? Maybe you say, ‘Well my cousin didn’t get killed,’ or ‘I haven’t come from a few weeks on the missions field – this can’t apply to me.’ My friends, you are on a missions field. Any child of God is a missionary – read 2 Corinthians 5. You’re a citizen of the kingdom of light living in the world of darkness – you endure silent friction just breathing in this sinful world, and every godly move you make is wrestling with the devil’s minions.
Maybe your cousin hasn’t been killed, but your neighbour was – in a robbery. Or perhaps you read, as I did, about 3 kids being run over and killed by a taxi on Wednesday morning, and another 3 children shot and killed in their home in the same province on the same day; not to mention the old man fighting for homes for the poor getting shot to death in his home, or the 18-year old girl who was stabbed to death in the street while trying to protect a disabled boy from being bullied.
Hyper-connection. These incidents don’t feel so far away as they once did. They don’t feel so far away as we’d like. We read these stories, and we rightly feel as if our own world was under attack and our own loved ones were in danger.
The same things that wore Jesus down are wearing you and I down every day of our lives. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, we are tired people. And in this tiredness, there’s still a lot of pressure to do more – work harder, make more money, attend sports matches with your friends, go camping with your family, fix your gutters, paint your walls, go golfing with your business partners, join your local CPF, understand politics, make a stand for social causes, dabble in stocks, teach your son to throw a ball…and on and on.
And the Church is no different – pressure to do more: Read more Bible, attend more Church, be a door steward, attend this course, attend that course, volunteer in Sunday School, pray more, go on this camp, attend that retreat, go on this mission trip, read these books…and above all: REST! Do it with a peaceful heart or you’re doing it wrong!
Jesus was worn down by the troubles of life. His disciples were worn down by the challenges of life. And what did Jesus do? Took them away to REST.
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”
This is something that Jesus often did – withdrawing to a solitary place.
· Mark 1:35 Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray. · Luke 5:16 Yet he frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray. · Luke 6:12 In those days, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.
Jesus would often withdraw to a solitary place. And what did He do there? He went to pray – He went to have communion with his heavenly Father. He went to be revived. He went for guidance.
On this occasion, Jesus and His disciples went away to rest – no doubt to rest and to pray.
But we know that that rest was interrupted. People figured out where He was going, and grabbing their neighbours they all rushed to where they thought He’d be and waited for Him to arrive. And when Jesus did arrive, He saw the large crowd. He saw their needs, both spiritual needs and physical needs. Our passage in Matthew says that He healed those who were ill, but the Luke passage says that He taught them about the kingdom of God and healed the sick.
Now, I’m going to do something that’s not often done and brush over the incredible miracle that follows. Seeing later in the day that the people were hungry from their trip and the long day of preaching, He wants to feed them – but altogether they can only find five loaves of bread and two fish. This is no problem for the One who created the world, and He supernaturally multiplies this so that all are fed and there is even leftover.
But what happens after this miracle? Remember why they came here? Jesus had been seeking a place of rest, a solitary place to meet with His heavenly Father. And so, once the day of ministry is done, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” And He remained there all night, meeting with His heavenly Father.
When did you last withdraw to a solitary place to meet with your heavenly Father?
I want to make an assertion. I want to say that this is the solution to your feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and under-energized. This is the solution to when you’re feeling life is getting out-of-control, confused and tumultuous.
What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and under-energized? Where do you go when you’re feeling like life is getting out-of-control, confused and tumultuous?
Your answer to that question will tell me what you love the most, what your god is – your idol.
There are a million and one things that we can turn to in order to ‘recover’ when we’re tired. Some of them are outrightly sinful – and we know it: Pornography; drinking to excess; taking drugs; gambling; having sex with a stranger; and on and on.
Many of you turn to one of those things. And I want to say conclusively that those ways of handling our stresses and tiredness are absolutely outside of God’s will for our lives and against His direct commands.
And you know it. We know it. And sometimes, like I have, you fight against those things because you know they are sinful, and you begin to overcome those idols.
Right – where do you turn now?
Last year, as I was feeling overwhelmed with the stresses of life and the burdens of ministry, I began to look for ways to revive myself – to feel energised and rested. What I chose was Netflix, and gaming, and YouTube. And I congratulated myself: Well done! I’m not turning to the things I once did, which was pornography. Well done, Greg!
I blissfully escaped into movies, cartoons, series. And they weren’t outrightly sinful things. Phineas and Ferb, and other mindless children’s channel shows were my series. I watched Christian or educational YouTube channels. The game I was playing was minesweeper!
But I still wasn’t turning to God for my rest.
And it became my trap. It was like a Venus fly-trap which baited me in with the promise of sweetness and trapped me and sucked the life from me.
I found myself getting emptier and emptier through last year. I stopped reading my Bible regularly. I stopped praying fervently. Any spare hour I escaped into empty entertainments.
And I didn’t become an out-and-out unbeliever. Sure, to the world around I might look like I’m doing well! I was doing children’s ministry, school’s ministry, teen’s ministry, young adult’s ministry, training ministries, discipling ministries, I was preaching, I was teaching, I was encouraging.
But it was from an empty barrel that I was trying desperately to feed others. I had no delight for God, and no energy for people. I wasn’t moved by compassion to help anyone – I was duty-bound and empty-hearted.
My young adult group can tell you, perhaps, if they’d been less forgiving, how many times they would come to our house for Bible study and I’d be sat on the couch with a scowl on my face, not even getting up to greet them as they arrived. I was exhausted. I had nothing else to give. As I led them, I took illustrations and examples from 5 years ago because I wasn’t seeing God work in the here and now.
As I spoke, sometimes my heart would be stirred into flame for a few minutes, but the embers would quickly die down again at the end of a ministry time. I was soul-starved, I was cold-hearted, and I felt hopeless for change.
Why? Because, my friends, THE DELIGHTS OF THIS WORLD CAN’T FEED YOUR HUNGRY SOUL. They are ESCAPES. They are there to CALL YOUR HEART AND MIND AWAY FROM GOD. They are DECEPTIVE in that they PROMISE LIFE but they DELIVER DEATH; they OFFER FOOD but they DELIVER AIR; and those who feed off of them will appear healthy and alive, but will be inwardly starving and desperately malnourished of soul, like a person on a steady diet of Styrofoam.
Haven’t you found this to be true? Haven’t you spent a lonely afternoon watching pornography and felt lonelier afterwards? Haven’t you tried to lift heavy spirits with secular music and felt heavier afterwards? Haven’t you spent a sleepy Saturday watching TV and felt exhausted afterwards? Haven’t you tried to drown out anxieties with alcohol and felt imprisoned afterwards? Haven’t you tried to shake off sadness with buying new toys or clothes and felt wretched afterwards?
GOD ALONE OFFERS AND DELIVERS THE LIFE THAT YOU CRAVE. Jesus knew that when He was tired and worn out, and when His followers would get tired and worn out, there was ONE PLACE to which they could escape – ONE PLACE that was safe – ONE PLACE that was a green pasture and still waters: And that was the PRESENCE OF GOD.
That’s why the Psalmist cries out: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple…How lovely is your dwelling-place, LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 27, 84)
Our souls know that, but they are easily deceived. We find ourselves running to the TV after work, even brushing off our spouses so that we can worship at this altar of entertainment. We put more money towards cigarettes than kingdom work, because that’s what we rest ourselves on. We ignore our children for a few extra minutes on Netflix. We miss Church to watch a sports match.
I had a friend who wrestled with this. He says in desperation: ‘Greg, I wake up so excited to read the Word. I sit down with my Bible and soak it in like water on dry ground. I commune with God in prayer like He’s right here next to me. I get up and watch one TV program and come back to my Bible and it’s like the heavens have become iron and the Word has become empty. Why do I keep going to TV when I know where life is?!’
Friends, you are the light of the world, and the devil knows it. You have the potential to change the direction of nations through prayer; the potential to influence generations through evangelism; the potential to uplift the moral standards of communities through your example – and so the devil will do whatever he can to take you away from the source of your strength: Jesus Christ, and you will need to fight with all your might to stay in communion with Him. Know that the devil is fighting with all his might to keep you from communion with Him.
Jesus said in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Oh, my friends, why would you disconnect yourself from the vine unless you’ve been deceived about the benefits of it? Why would you turn your face from Jesus unless you’ve been trapped by sin? Why would you leave the source of living water unless you’ve been tricked by darkness?
Entertainments promise escape from the troubles, a relief from the burdens – but those troubles and burdens are still there when you awake from your dozing.
Are you tired? Are you burdened? “Come to Me,” Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Where are you turning to for rest? Where are you turning to for recovery? Is it the Lord?
I know this is not easy. Years ago, I had a very bad working life. I had no Sabbath and in my second year of college I had an anxiety attack. Barry will remember it because I had to go sleep at his house after the attack – I was a complete emotional wreck. After that all I could do for a week was sleep and lie on a couch watching DVDs. So, I learnt to see DVDs as my rest. Every off day I’d watch a DVD, and every holiday I’d spend watching movies when I could.
I remember one day my best friend asking me how I rested and I told him it was by watching movies; and with what I felt was holier-than-thou snobbishness, he said, ‘What, not God?’
I knew in principle that turning to God for rest was right, but in practice I found Bible study burdensome work; not rest.
So, I say with understanding that this might not be something which comes naturally to your heart, and your ties to entertainments might be seemingly unbreakable at the moment. But, Saints of God, I call you to something greater: “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”; throw off empty entertainments; throw off deceptive snares of escape; throw off the dead idols of TV and social media. If you need help, as God for strength, ask Him for freedom.
Are you tired? Rest in the Father. Are you thirsty? Drink in the Spirit. Are you hungry? Feed on the Word. The enemy in this world comes to steal, kill and destroy. But whether you live as if this is true or not; whether you feel this is true or not: Jesus HAS COME that you might have LIFE, and have it TO THE FULL. Why turn anywhere else? Why turn anywhere else?
Stand with me.
God has called you to be heirs of His kingdom: Royalty. But you’ve been tricked into finding rest in the gutters.
God has called you to be warriors. But you’ve become weak and powerless on a diet of waste.
God has called you to disciple the nations. But you’ve been distracted by empty entertainments.
God has called you to abundant life. But you’ve settled for worthless trinkets.
What is your response to this charge? Am I wrong?
What is to be done?
There are two appropriate responses: To confess our sins and failures to God, and to turn from them.
I want to invite those of you feel that this is not your struggle – you walk generally in the strength of the Lord and enjoy joyful communion with Him – I want to invite you to sit down as a symbol of your rest in God. Don’t feel like you’re sitting in arrogance, or with a holier-than-thou attitude, just sit down as a symbol of your rest in God.
Then those who are standing, you’re saying that there are things you turn to for rest, for revival, for recovery, for energy – things that are not God. You find yourself resting in the gutters; often spiritually powerless in the battle; often distracted from God’s call by empty entertainments; often settling for worthless trinkets instead of seeking God’s abundant life in Christ.
I want to lead you in a prayer of confession, and I want to call you to a changed life. If this is what you want, I invite you to pray this prayer with me:
Lord Jesus, I come before you convicted of a sinful heart. You’ve called me Your child – a royal priest – but I’ve dirtied my robes in the gutters. You’ve called me to spiritual warfare, but I’ve become weak on a diet of waste. I have fed on the delights of sin in place of the bread of Life. You’ve called me to disciple the nations and to make Your glory known to the ends of the earth, but I’ve allowed myself to become distracted by empty entertainments. You’ve called me to abundant life, but I’ve settled for worthless trinkets.
Heavenly Father, in this place I find myself worn out. I’m tired, empty, and weak.
Heavenly Father, tonight I choose to turn away from the idols I’ve trusted in. I choose to turn away from hours of TV, hours of computer and cellphone entertainments, I choose to turn away from whatever has been my hope of rest or recovery that wasn’t you. I lay this down and ask for Your strength to leave it there.
I ask, Heavenly Father, that in place of these worthless trinkets, that You would call me into the delights of Your house. I ask that You would call me into the abundant life of Your Spirit. I ask that You would invite me into joyful communion with You, that I would taste and see Your goodness and be satisfied in nothing less.
I ask all this in the name of Your Son Jesus who died to give me this awesome gift. Amen.