Mark chapter six stands out because of two very familiar stories – Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then walking on water. And, there’s another significant story in that chapter most of us never heard in Sunday School, namely, the beheading of John the Baptist. I imagine the take-home crafts and drawings for that tragic story would not make for great Sunday lunch show-and-tell. However, those are not the only narratives in chapter six.
After Jesus feeds the massive crowds and then walks to his disciples on the water, he ends up with them in Gennesaret, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee that was located just a couple miles southwest of Capernaum – where Jesus was living at that time. The text says that when they landed and got out of the boat “the people immediately recognized” Jesus, and “ran about the whole region and began to bring the people on their beds to wherever they heard he was.” The passage goes on to discuss how people would lay out the sick in the villages, cities and countryside (in other words, everywhere) wherever Jesus was and beg that they might just touch the edge of Jesus’ garment. Because of their faith-filled actions, “as many as touched it were made well.”
This is the picture of evangelism – going and spreading the news of Jesus to others. The first lesson here is to “come and see, go and tell” (I stole that term from our pastor’s sermon this past week). These people had apparently either been healed themselves, or had seen Jesus heal others, and their belief that Jesus would heal more people motivated them to go about “the whole region” and bring others to Jesus, even going so far as to carry them on their beds to wherever he was.
The second lesson we can learn about evangelism is that we need to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading and listening for His voice – and then obey … and then keep listening and obeying. There are two sub-points I want to touch on here. The first has to do with being able to hear and discern the Lord’s voice. Many of us fret about not knowing if we would know God’s voice if we heard it. You will know it when you hear it (Jesus said His sheep know His voice). But, let’s be honest here. Most of us don’t hear from God because we’re so distracted with other things that we’re not tuned in. I think of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Philip was listening, heard from God and obeyed the prompting to sit along a hot, dusty road in the middle of the desert. If that were me, I’d probably sit there thinking how cool it was that I heard and obeyed the Lord, and then I’d pull out my smartphone and start playing Scrabble since, after all, I’m now sitting in a desolate place and have nothing else to do. I hate to think that, knowing myself, I’d not have heard the second message, like Philip did, to go evangelize the person off in the distance. The second sub-point is that we have to be willing to change our plans to synch up with God’s. I don’t know about you, but I have missed out on missional opportunities not because I was deaf to the Lord’s voice, but rather because I had an agenda I didn’t want to have altered. I made excuses. I was selfish. And then, the chance was missed and the Good News of a savior in Jesus Christ was not shared that day.
Jesus had been preaching and healing in the region of Galilee for a few months, which was long enough to gain a reputation and accompanying recognition so that he had a hard time being alone. Even the thousands of people he fed the day before sought and found Jesus in a desolate place when he was trying to get away and be alone to rest (and even get a chance to eat!) with his disciples. Verses 33 and 34 say, “Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, Jesus was willing to forego his initial plans to rest and be alone and instead served people in need.
This seeing and recognizing of Jesus, followed by going and telling others, is a theme we find throughout the Scriptures, and John 1:29-51 is no exception. John the Baptist sees Jesus and proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and then Andrew tells Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip finds Nathanael and informs him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” They were willing to risk their message being rejected (which it was in part by Nathanael initially), but were so sure of the truth and importance of what they were proclaiming that they spoke anyway.
Here is the third and final lesson – the fear of rejection should not prevent us from evangelizing. Why? Because the truth of the Gospel is God’s word of salvation to humankind; and if the message is rejected, it’s God’s message that’s being rejected, not us, the messengers. Therefore, it should not be difficult for us to shout from the rooftops that we have “found the Messiah” and that others should come and see him and believe as well. Their acceptance of the Gospel message is not within our ability to ensure. Only God through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit can change hearts and draw people to himself. Our job is simply to sow the seeds and water, but it’s the Lord who causes seeds to sprout and fruit to grow. These passages make one thing clear – our need to run to Jesus for salvation, and then to run from Jesus to go and tell others what we have found.