Mark 1:35-39 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
“We have a family of five. It’s hectic. It’s holding the wheels on. We do what we have to do to be parents and be alive.” That’s how the taped conversation with Michael started. It started with a dose of the reality of day to day life. But just underneath that carefully described life was deep, deep yearning. And there was fear – deep, deep fear. It was almost palpable. “Lauren, my daughter, is 10. It feels like she’s going to be 16 tomorrow. I hope she doesn’t think I work too much or I don’t pay enough attention to her.” That’s what a dad named Michael said on a YouTube video that recently went viral.
It’s interesting, but not surprising to notice the metaphor that Michael used to describe his life. He said, “It’s holding the wheels on.” Who can’t relate to that? He doesn’t feel like he’s in the driver’s seat of his life. He doesn’t even feel like he’s in the passenger seat. He feels like he’s the mechanic underneath the car somehow trying to keep the wheels on. And it’s got him feeling deep fear. “I hope she doesn’t think I work too much or I don’t pay enough attention to her.” That’s why Michael’s video went viral because it tapped into a deep vein of angst that many of us feel.
Including Mark. You can just tell as Mark builds his story. With his writing, Mark is registering massive, massive surprise at finding someone in the driver’s seat of his life. And it’s not just Mark. It’s Peter too. You can’t miss that here. In fact, it’s almost certainly Peter’s surprise that informs Mark’s surprise. Most scholars think that Mark is reporting Peter’s eyewitness account with his Gospel. And you can just see that here. Peter’s all amped up because just yesterday he watched Jesus heal his mother-in-law. So up he pops groggy from a short night of sleep, but excited to watch Jesus work more miracles.
But Jesus is already up and out of the house. And Peter is flabbergasted. Again, you can just tell because Mark in his airtight and succinct writing style uses very rare terms to describe Jesus, the red-eye-riser. He says pointedly that Jesus got up, “Very early in the morning.” (v. 35) That’s just one word in Greek, but five in English because it’s a technical term for the time between three and six am. And as if that wasn’t a tight enough description for the timing of this Mark continues to nail down Jesus’ internal alarm clock with even more technical language. He says literally, “It was exceedingly night.” (v. 35) We obviously don’t talk like that ever, but I think we get Mark’s meaning. The sun was nowhere to be seen. It was dark as midnight when Jesus got up.
That’d be remarkable all by itself. It’s even more remarkable because it wasn’t, all by itself I mean. Just a couple verses earlier and a short night’s sleep ago, “The whole town (had) gathered at the door.” (v. 33) It’s understandable why they did. Jesus had preached at their church and driven out a demon. Then before he could take a power nap, he up and healed Peter’s wife’s mom. And the next thing Jesus knew they were banging down his door saying, “Jesus, heal my boy.” “Jesus, heal me too.” Finally, it must’ve ended and you can just picture zonked Jesus crawling into his bed, pulling up his covers, and knocking out. He had exhausted himself literally solving the world’s problems. And then he got up early and went off, “to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (v. 35)
Imagine how flabbergasted Peter must’ve been to find out that Jesus – all bright eyed and bushy tailed – was up and at’em at some incredibly early hour. But that wasn’t just it. No, it was more. This wasn’t a story about how the early bird gets the worm or a joke with the punchline, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Peter was flabbergasted at something else that was also right there in his face. Because lined up outside the door there were people. Real. Live. People. Definitely tens of them. Probably many more. There were people with infections and people with demons. There were people with excruciating pain and people in need of surgery. But there were no surgeons and there were no antibiotics. There was only Jesus.
Except he was gone off doing who knows what. And the pressure was on. People were beating down his door. So Peter organized a hunt. And, yes, I did choose that word specifically. Actually Mark did. Mark very specifically and very intentionally called it a hunt. And why? Because this wasn’t a search party. Not really. This wasn’t a friendly group of people looking lovingly and longingly for a lost person. This was a group of hostile people looking to get someone to perform for them. So Mark describes this not as a friendly search party, but as a hunting expedition.
And when they find him, they take their best shot at forcing themselves on him saying, “Everyone is looking for you!” (v. 37) It’s just such an interesting scene. They walk up and they see him worshipping. They must’ve. And they don’t stand quietly at a distance and allow him his time with the Father. And they don’t say, “Oh, sorry, we didn’t realize you were praying. Pardon our interruption.” Instead, they burst in on him. They intrude and they say, “Jesus, you’re messing up your schedule. You’ve got to get back to work. Everyone is looking for you.”
Now I suppose we could write off all these disciples off as tactless, thoughtless people. I suppose we could say about them, “Didn’t their mothers teach them any manners? Didn’t they understand that maybe he needed to get away and be with his Father for a minute?” I suppose we could explain their behavior that way, but if we did we’d be missing the key to this entire narrative. Because what’s happening here is a repetition of an old, old human story. There is a great tendency inside of us to let the urgent overwhelm the important. And deep down we know what a destructive force that can be in our lives.
That’s why that viral video that featured Michael and his daughter told the story about a girl who said, “Dance is a big part of my life. I took my first dance class when I was four.” And the camera pans in on her dad’s empty seat. And we watch Lauren’s mom text, “Where are you?” No answer. She calls and gets voicemail. We listen to her say to the people sitting around her, “Still no Michael. I called him at least 8 times.” And then as we watch the recital start we hear Lauren say out and over her dad’s empty seat, “I was given a chance to do this special dance today. Mom, Dad, this is for you.”
I have to be honest. When I watched that, I had a huge lump in my throat. Because I could feel the phantom buzz of a text in my pocket and I could hear the ding of an e-mail coming in. And I can remember frittering away my attention from the greater and higher calling known as my wife and daughter. And, no, Silicon Valley isn’t to blame. Neither is Apple or Facebook. I am. Ever since our parents prioritized that fruit over God, prioritizing our lives has become our living nightmare. Ice cream over exercise. TV over relationship. Texts over hugs. Work over life. Frantic busyness over quiet worship. Ourselves over God. And every so often we wake up to that sin with a massive lump in our throats and aching disappointment in our hearts.
And that’s why when Jesus looked up from his early morning worship and his red-eye prayers to see Peter and the gang with their prey cornered, Jesus refused to be cornered. Because Jesus didn’t come to perpetuate the vicious cycle of misplaced priorities. He came to end the cycle of misplaced priorities. And Jesus didn’t come to make victims more comfortable with their overscheduled lives. He came to end the victimization altogether. So he looks up from his prayers and he doesn’t even entertain their implicit question. He briskly replies, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also.” (v. 38) And that’s exactly what he did.
That’s the story that Peter told Mark decades later in the faraway city of Rome. And it’s the story that Mark is telling us today. So we could see Jesus the way he really was for us. He was a Jesus who at times burned the candle at both ends because he loved people and at other times got up and away before the mice were even stirring for time with his Father. He was a Jesus who gave in to the demands of the crowd on one night and on the very next morning confidently moved on. That’s the divinity that Peter spotted so clearly in Jesus that day.
And it awed him. And it stunned him. And it surprised him in the best of ways. Peter remembered it and he told Mark all about it decades later in remarkable detail. Forever would this day be etched into Peter’s heart. Because on this day Peter saw Jesus for who he really was: the first and only human being to truly live free. His schedule was never a mess. His priorities were always on point. Never was there a wasted moment for work or a frittered away opportunity for rest. Because he knew the times to say, “yes,” and the times to say, “no.” And inside of him was only a great tendency to let the important always overwhelm the urgent. And he knew the difference between could and ought.
And better yet, he didn’t just know the difference, he lived the difference. Not even the inertia of what was clearly a powerful movement in Capernaum could keep him tied down. He lived his mission. Did you catch what it was? To preach. He said, “That is why I have come.” (v. 38) What’s interesting for our purposes today is that neither Peter nor Mark thought it important to tell us the content of those those sermons. What’s interesting for our purposes today is that both Peter and Mark thought that the best sermon we could hear today is not an ancient spoken one, but an ancient lived one – the one we see right here.
You know why they thought that way? Because what we see here is so saving. And please don’t misunderstand me. Mark isn’t writing a saving, moral lesson here. This isn’t Peter and Mark coming to us and preaching, “Look at Jesus. Set your priorities like him.” Like Jesus here is primarily a model for early morning rising, prayer, and for focus on the Word and preaching. Don’t get me wrong. There are morals here, but this isn’t a moral lesson. This is a Gospel lesson. In other words, this sermon wasn’t captured for us to show us that now with the right teaching it can be flawlessly done.
It was captured for us here to show us that now it has been flawlessly done. It was captured to show us that Jesus marvelously kept all the morals embedded here. What we’re seeing here is Jesus coming and living free for us. This lived sermon is a gospel embodiment and it is screaming, “Your Christ in one twenty-four-hour period said, ‘yes,’ and, ‘no,’ right on cue and right on mission over and over and over again. And your Christ took that perfectly prioritized life, laid it down for you, and paid the debt of our frantic and sometimes harebrained life.”
Why do I talk this way? Because we will only live free if we believe we are. That’s how it works. If we’re unsure of our salvation, we’ll fritter away our time afraid of the judgment. If we feel guilt, a call for help may tug too powerfully and we may end up enabling. If we feel shame, we may overcompensate for absent parenting by absenting ourselves too much from work. We only live free when we believe that we really are. It’s only when I know I’m forgiven for checking out on Elliana and checking into my iPhone that I am free to do better. It’s only when I know God has spoken his, “yes,” to me in Christ that I want to speak a more powerful, “yes,” to his mission. It’s only when we believe we’re free that we’ll live free.
Free enough to choose the higher and the better. Free enough to take one important phone call, but leave an email of lesser importance alone. Free enough to say, “no,” to TV and, “yes,” to a meaningful conversation. Free enough to say, “no,” to another lazy hour in bed and, “yes,” to some time with the Word and with the Father. Free enough to choose a much needed workout over a lesser needed nap. Free enough revel in God’s gifts by riding your horse or walking your dog or playing a round of golf. Free enough to occasionally let the world pass right on by. Only believing that Jesus has freed us will free us to live the life where we’re BUSY?! speaking a, “no,” to life’s lesser priorities and a joyful, “yes,” to life’s higher ones.
In the YouTube video, Lauren walks out on that stage and she says, “I was given a chance to do this special dance today. Mom, Dad, this is for you.” Then she starts to dance as she looks out and over her dad’s empty seat. And then it happens. He doesn’t come frantically running in the back. He doesn’t slide awkwardly into his seat. He comes out onto the stage and he dances with her. And her face glows. Jesus and his lived sermon makes more moments like that. They take us out from underneath the car trying to keep the wheels on and put us firmly in life’s driver’s seat. Amen.