“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves” (Mark 6:30-32, ESV).
Before diving into the above verses, I think it is important to supply the context to the passage. Earlier in Mark chapter 6, Jesus had sent out the apostles in pairs to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick in the surrounding villages and towns. The Lord gave the apostles instructions about how to conduct themselves in their gospel-dispensing endeavor. Mark’s text does not provide the reader with insight into how long the apostles’ ministry efforts lasted. Instead Mark supplies the reader with the fact that the apostles accomplished the very same works as Christ: casting out demons and healing the sick (Mark 6:13, ESV).
When the apostles returned to Christ, one can imagine the stories that each man had been itching to share. “Did you see how that woman’s hunched back straightened up?” “What about her neighbor’s leg, which grew to the same length as the other one? Now, he no longer walks with a limp.” These are simply a sampling of what the apostles might have shared with each other and the Lord. Immediately after telling of their experiences, the Lord calls the apostles to seek out restful solitude. Mark wrote that the people kept coming to the apostles to such an extent that they were unable to carve out time to eat (Mark 6:31b, ESV). What did Jesus see on the surface of these circumstances and below them?
For one thing, Jesus himself carved out alone time to rest and be in the Father’s presence. In fact, Mark wrote in the beginning of his gospel account how the Lord remained in desolate places away from the teeming masses (Mark 1:35 & 45). Those two verses illustrated Jesus’s deliberate choice to seek out both a time and a place of solitude. The wisdom of the first, a time for solitude, seems counter-intuitive since the average person is usually sluggish as soon as he wakes up. Why not choose a time later in the morning after waking up? The mind and body would be more alert; therefore, any activity pursued would be that much more meaningful. Despite those seemingly reasonable points, Jesus repeatedly selected the early morning hours as his go to time.
Given the time of day that Jesus selected for prayer, it would make sense that people would be scarce. When I leave my house around 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, the sparse activity is noticeable. Sometimes the general inactivity of the morning hours is more than enough to engage in restful solitude. In Mark 6:30-32, Jesus took the solitude idea even further by not only choosing a desolate time, but he chose a desolate place. Now, that’s what I call double jeopardy. The first thing that comes to mind has to do with the reasonableness of such a decision. How would a desolate place provide rest? Let’s think this through in light of the passage. The apostles had been so busy healing the sick, casting out demons, preaching the gospel, and being bombarded by the crowds that they had no time to eat. Given that reality, how would going to a desolate place make things better? Would not that add to the stress?
When I hear the word desolate, it just does not sound all that exciting. It conjures up images in my mind of a place that either lacks the expected amenities, or those amenities are harder to acquire. If I had been in the apostles’ shoes, I would have advocated going to one of their homes. “We could either kick back in the yard, or even better, zonk out for an hour.” I love afternoon naps. They’re energizing and restorative. Here’s another observation about the text. After spending most of the day in the blazing hot sun, hungry, and spent because of spiritual warfare, I don’t believe the apostles jumped up and down at the thought of going to a desolate place. This begs the question of why did they go at all. The simplest answer is this…Jesus went with them. They knew enough about him to realize that this request of his wasn’t off-the-wall.
If I claim to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, do I know him? Have I spent time with him to know enough about his character and ways, so that I’m not blind-sided by seemingly strange requests? The apostles were not the first and the last ones to experience far out requests from Jesus. If they fielded such things from the Lord, then I better expect similar treatment. After a long day at work, or a long week, do I rejoice over the Lord asking me to join him in a desolate place to rest? Frankly, this really rocks me to the core: my unbelief and my lack of trust. In fact, I’d go one step further and say that it tests the quality of my relationship with the Lord. Take some time to examine how this week, month, and year have played out. Have you been hearing the Lord inviting you to join him in desolate places for rest? Where would those desolate places be in your life?