Summary: "There remains a Sabbath rest for the People of God."
No Rest for the Weary
The disciples had just returned from their first mission trip without Jesus. They had gone to many Jewish villages and proclaimed that men should repent and believe the Gospel of the Kingdom. From what we can read from the other gospels, things went pretty well. There does not seem to have been any of the rejection that Jesus had warned the disciples about. Of course Jesus knew this. He made sure their first mission was successful. There would be rejection by first Jew and then Gentile, but this follows the pattern of Jesus’ own ministry where initial acceptance was followed by increasing rejection and then His death on a cross. The disciples would have to walk down the same road that Jesus did, The death of John the Baptist also stood as a reminder. But the disciples were not yet ready for that.
The disciples needed to reflect with their mentor and with each other as they had been separated in groups of two. It seems from what we read from Luke that they got the wrong interpretation of the events. They were amazed at the power they had over demons. Jesus had to gently correct this by sayig that the important thing is hat their names were written in the Book of Life. They were saved. Even when persecution and death would eventually come to them, they were His. And as Jesus would rise from the dead, so would they.
The passage in Mark notes that that Jesus told them to come apart and rest for a while. They had worked hard and were in need of a Sabbath. Jesus certainly had some ideas about the Sabbath that were controversial to the Pharisees. The Sabbath was made for the benefit of man. The disciples were weary and needed rest. So they got in the boat and landed at a deserted place. I have seen maps which show a place called “Eremos Topos” (deserted place) on a map which was not far from Capernaum, but John in his account in John 6 says they sailed across the lake. In favor to the former is that it records that the crowds outran them and were waiting when they landed. Going across the Sea of Galilee was more than ten miles, and going around the lake even more. But there is good evidence that we should understand it as being where John mentions. Mark is probably not naming a particular place, but rather saying that they went to a place that was uninhabited. It was a wilderness place. And when one sees the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 in this context, one should understand the connection to the wilderness experience of the Children of Israel and the giving of the manna there.
Jesus had called the disciples to come and rest. A deserted place would be a good place to do that. But Jesus also knew that their Sabbath would be interrupted as well. He knew that the crowds would be there. I can only imagine the groans of the disciples when they were thronged with people. There is a saying “No Rest for the Weary.” What was Jesus thinking in sending them to this situation when they were dead tired?
We see this in the pattern of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. There are several incidents in the first chapter run together without intervening time markers, a day in the life of Jesus. I am not saying that all these events occurred on the same Sabbath day but that Mark presents them as if it were so. If one were to harmonize this with Matthew, this day would have started with the Sermon on the Mount, then the calling of the disciples, the casting out of a demon in the synagogue, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and then healing all the villagers who came. This would be one long Sabbath day indeed! Even the events starting at the synagogue to the healing of the villagers which seemed to have happened on the same calendar day would be laborious. Some Sabbath!
Jesus took whatever Sabbath he could. He got up very early the next day and went out to a desert place and prayed. This was Jesus’ means of Sabbath. It was good for restoring His spirit, but the body must have been exhausted. It would seem a good night’s sleep was needed for the body, but the body did not get much rest. Another long day was coming up.
Coming back to this passage, the disciples were going to learn the utter weariness of the task before them. They would have to take Sabbath when they could. There would be times of prayer and spiritual refreshment along the way. The Christian ministry is centered in the wilderness. The wilderness is not necessarily a place devoid of people but a crowded world of people and their need to hear the Gospel. The needs press in on us. As Moses was wearied in having to manage the Children of Israel in the Wilderness, ministry is spiritually and physically draining.