Jesus Wants Us To Want Him
Open two apps on your smart phone, and I’ll show you what your priorities are. Those two apps are your calendar and your banking app, which is basically an automatically balanced, real-time look at the state of your financial accounts. Show me how you spend your time, and how you spend your money, and I’ll show you what your priorities are. Most of us don’t really think all that much about our priorities or reassess them – whether it be our priority for the day or our lifetime priorities.
What usually happens is we get stuck in an autopilot mode of living … with all of our habits and our routines. Often, we’re very impacted by social contagion; so, you know, someone else gets a promotion, we want to get a promotion. Someone else wants to drive a particular car, we want that kind of car, or one better – that whole experience of “living up to the Joneses” … [And with] all the things that we’ve got to do, we just don’t have the opportunity to actually be with ourselves, to be with our difficult emotions and to use those emotions to help us assess and reassess our priorities. We just keep doing what we’ve always done.
Remarkably, the Covid pandemic changed all of that. While we were all arguing about whether or not to wear masks, get shots, and open businesses, our lives were quietly changing. With businesses asking employees to work from home and restaurants serving only to-go meals, and schools temporarily moving to on-line education, many of us suddenly had more time on our hands than we were used to having. And especially early on in the pandemic, we had a LOT more time on our hands than we were used to having. We weren’t commuting to work because we were working from home. We weren’t going out with friends because there was nowhere to go. And our spending habits changed.
Market researcher Alex Quicho believes the pandemic will cause many to not be so mesmerized by luxury goods. In a survey on post-pandemic spending: “Sixty-one per cent of survey respondents said they cancelled or cut back on luxury spending during the pandemic because their time in self-isolation reconfigured their relationship to things like luxury.” A surprising 21% said they would continue to do this well after the pandemic is over. How do you spend your time? How do you spend your money? What are your priorities?
What about those of us who follow Jesus? What are our priorities? What does Jesus have to say about how and where we invest our time, our talent, and our treasure?
Right now we’re walking together through the Gospel of Mark, the story of Jesus’ life written by Mark, sometimes called John Mark, who was a ministry companion of St. Paul and later, after Paul was martyred, of St. Peter. This Gospel is the result of what Mark learned about the life of Jesus from the first person accounts of Peter, who was one of Jesus’ first followers and closest friends. And as you’re going to see, if you look closely, much of what Mark writes is from Peter’s perspective. Turn with me to Mark 1:35-39.
To really get the full picture of what’s happening here, let’s go back a few verses to V. 32. It was the sabbath, the day of rest, and sabbath ended at sundown. It went from sundown on what we would call Friday evening until sundown on Saturday evening. That was the Jewish sabbath. And the Jews had lots of rules and regulations about what you could and could not do on the sabbath to make sure that no one “worked” on the sabbath. There were limits on what you could do and how far you could travel.
Jesus hasn’t been called out for it yet, but he has just healed someone and delivered someone from demonic oppression on the sabbath, against sabbath rules. That would eventually be something the religious leaders would use as evidence against him. But now, at sundown, after sabbath is over, the whole city of Capernaum shows up at the door of Peter’s house with their friends and family members who are sick or oppressed. That doesn’t even start until sundown, and the “whole city” came. This was a late night for Jesus.
And then, Mark tells us, after a busy sabbath and an exhausting, late night, Jesus gets up early. Really early. Like “While it was still dark” early. The language suggests sometime between 4 and 6 am. I call that “stupid early.” As in “You’ve got to be stupid to get up that early.” And he goes out of the city, finds a quiet, secluded spot, and spends some time in prayer.
Jesus had spent the previous day teaching, and then healing and delivering LOTS of people. Both in the synagogue and later, at Peter’s house. But after this incredible display of power and insight, he retreats for a time of prayer. And so that others don’t follow him or find him there and disturb his time of prayer, he gets up early, after an exhausting day and a late night, and goes off to pray. His first priority is his relationship with his loving heavenly Father.
He knows that his connection to the Father is absolutely VITAL to his ability to accomplish his life’s mission here on earth. Funny, isn’t it, that Jesus, the eternal Son, God in the flesh, wanted and needed to spend time alone with God in prayer. Because if there was ever someone who we would think wouldn’t NEED to pray, it would be Jesus, and yet here he is, at the very beginning of his first real period of ministry, the very first day of ministry recorded by Mark, and he’s withdrawing to pray.
Jesus wasn’t moving through life with all of his Godlike characteristics, things like “he doesn’t grow tired and weary,” intact. He was moving through life as a man, connected to God in faith and trust. And before he went to the cross in our place to forgive our sins, he showed us how to live as citizens of God’s kingdom here on earth. In John 5:19, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” And over in John 14:10, he says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Even though he was fully divine – God in the flesh, the one by whom and for whom all things were created (Col. 1:16), the one in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9) – even though that is exactly who Jesus is, he is still completely and totally dependent on God. He knows that his connection to God in prayer is the source of his strength and his guidance. And both Matthew and Luke tell us that it was the custom of Jesus to go out and pray like this.
In a sermon titled “Quiet Talks on Prayer,” S.D. Gordon says, “How much prayer meant to Jesus! It was not only his regular habit, but his resort in every emergency, however slight or serious. When perplexed he prayed. When hard pressed by work he prayed. When hungry for fellowship he found it in prayer. He chose his associates and received his messages upon his knees. If tempted, he prayed. If criticized, he prayed. If fatigued in body or wearied in spirit, he had recourse to his one unfailing habit of prayer. Prayer brought him unmeasured power at the beginning, and kept the flow unbroken and undiminished. There was no emergency, no difficulty, no necessity, no temptation that would not yield to prayer.”
So what do we as Jesus’ followers do? We pray before we eat and when we’re desperate. Jesus got away and prayed regularly. We pray sporadically, when we’re desperate. When we or someone we love is in danger or injured or dying. When there’s a crisis and we’ve already done everything we can think of to solve it in our own strength, THEN we pray. Prayer was as much a part of Jesus’ life as sleep and nourishment, and yes, there were times when prayer took the place of one of those, as it takes the place of sleeping in after a long night here. It isn’t an add on for him. It’s his lifeline, and he knows it. His time with God, not just speaking but also listening, and just being in God’s presence – in other words, his relationship with his heavenly Father – is his top priority. Everything else he would say or do came after and out of that relationship.
What are you doing to cultivate your relationship with God? When do you withdraw from the noise and the busyness and all of the doing things to just be with God? To talk and to listen. To be renewed and strengthened. Every Thursday, after I load the sermon onto this iPad, I plug it in to the charger? Why? So I don’t have to make up stuff when I get up here to preach on Sunday! A couple of years ago I was doing an outside wedding on a very hot summer Saturday afternoon. And about halfway through the service, I looked down at the screen of this iPad for my cue as to what was next in the ceremony. And all I could see were the words “iPad in overheat protection mode. Please allow to cool down before continuing.” Unfortunately, there is no allowance for cooling off an overheated iPad in the middle of a wedding ceremony. But my iPad was pooped out. Fortunately, I’ve done enough weddings that I knew more or less where things were going and we got through it. Every one of us is like a spiritual battery. Without a regular connection to the power source, we run down.
Prayer is our connection to the power source. Ever wonder why the church in the western world is dying while churches in Central and South America and Asia are growing by leaps and bounds? It is the priority of prayer. Ever wonder why we don’t see God do truly amazing things in our midst, or why so many of us are living defeated lives as followers of Jesus? It is the priority of prayer. Or the lack of it.
Now, look at Vv. 36-37. Simon was Peter’s name before Jesus changed it to Peter. And Peter and the others wake up and find Jesus’ bed empty. And they’re like, “Great, we’ve lost the messiah. We had one job …” No. But they went out looking for him and found him. The words Mark uses are actually that they “hunted him down.” And they tell Jesus that “everyone is looking for him.” It’s happening! Crowds are coming. People are responding. Word is spreading. They WANT what Jesus has to offer. The insinuation is that Jesus needs to get back into town, back to the REAL work of being popular and powerful and growing his following even more. Of doing things that can be seen and experienced and measured for success. And boy have things been successful. What an incredible launch to his ministry! Which makes Jesus’ response to their urging all the more startling. Look at Vv. 38-39. “We aren’t staying here. We need to move on. There are others in other towns and villages that need to hear, to experience, and to see.”
Jesus rejected the temptation to power and fame. He could have set up shop right there in Capernaum, and people would have come long distances to bask in his glow, to be healed and delivered, to hear his teaching. But he rejected the temptation to instant success and unbounded popularity.
The decision to follow Jesus has to be the result of repentance, not just attraction. Yes, in Jesus we find hope, and healing, and purpose. But we also find the call to discipleship, to following him, picking up our own crosses daily to follow him. And he knew he needed to model that over and over and over again, in town after town, going to the people where they were, serving and loving them there. He knew that he came to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth, and then, in going to the cross, to open the door for all who would like to enter.
Today we want a cross-less Christianity, and an easy and convenient discipleship. We want blessing and peace and security and healing. We just don’t want to have all of that tested as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We want to wear the cross necklace without actually taking up a real cross, giving up our security, and taking the risk of following Jesus.
You know, you can pay extra these days to buy jeans with ready-made holes that make them look old. You can buy spray-on mud so that your 4×4 looks as if it’s been off-road (yes, I’m serious). You can buy a brand new hat that looks like it’s been to hell and back with you. Easy to purchase shortcuts. But there are no easy shortcuts to following Jesus.
Rory Gallagher was an Irish Blues guitarist who played a battered old Fender Guitar. The paint was stripped off most of it, and it went well with the gritty blues it was used to play. Johnny Marr, of the Smiths, admired Gallagher’s guitar so much that he took his own guitar to the woodwork room at school, trained a blowtorch on it, set the guitar on fire and nearly burned down the school. But to get its battered blues look Gallagher’s guitar travelled a long road of Irish pubs and clubs over many years.
We want the sheen of maturity and spirituality without the real scars and weathered skin that come from following Jesus along the roads of this life, over mountains and through valleys, facing real dangers and yes, experience real peace along the way.
But Jesus refuses to fit into our boxes, just like he refused to meet the expectations of Peter and the others. They aren’t following Jesus here. They’re trying to lead him. To make him go the way they think he should go. But he isn’t having it. He doesn’t chide them. He simply gets up, packs his bag, and moves on to the next town. His priority is the Kingdom of God, not personal fame and security and power. He knows his purpose, and he stays focused on that.
Jesus’ priorities are clear – the priority of the relationship and the priority of God’s kingdom. Not security. Not fame. Not popularity and thousands of adoring fans. What are your priorities? Are they in line with his? Or are they still your own? Jesus wants us to want him, and to pursue him, and him alone. Let us pray.