For the most part, the 12 disciples were a mess. Jesus never recruited religious rockstars. In fact, he called the religious leaders of his day “hypocrites,” “whitewashed tombs,” and “children of hell.” But, throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples perpetually missed the boat. Prior to the Resurrection, those 12 ordinary guys frequently found ways to botch, blunder and mangle the Gospel. In one of those embarrassingly cringe-worthy occasions, we read about Jesus feeding the 5,000. (Mark 6:30-44)
The 12 had just returned from a short-term mission trip where they had preached repentance, healed the infirm, and even cast out demons! By worldly standards, that sounds like a victory and cause to celebrate, but Jesus knew what was in their hearts. It seems to me those 12 guys came back with swollen egos. In Mark 6:30-31 we read, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” Jesus’ response was, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place…”
They really didn’t have to go anywhere because, as it turns out, the desolate place was inside them. In Mark 6:34, Jesus looked out with compassion and saw a flock of lost sheep without a shepherd. Contrastingly, in verse 36, the 12 said, “Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages…” Where Jesus saw a rich opportunity for ministry, I believe that the 12 saw nothing but tedious work, hopelessness, impossibility and frustration. Indeed, Jesus brought them to a truly desolate place.
The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus never fails to see ordinary people in ordinary circumstances as a tremendous opportunity for ministry. That’s why he came. That’s why he died for us — for you. Often, our expectation is for Jesus to provide for the things that we’ve determined are the most pressing, the most important. Like the 12, we frequently want power and miracles, but we forget and ignore the source. We forget Jesus.
Jesus often brings us to a desolate place where we not only see the selfish desolation of our own hearts, but simultaneously that which is most important to him: people. Then we see the truly miraculous as he turns our depravity, desolation and inability into gracious provision, and our personal deficit into a ridiculous surplus. That’s the kind of ministry and mission Jesus has always been a part of through ordinary, blundering, bungling knuckleheads. He’s not looking for whitewashed religious rockstars. He uses ordinary men and women who have been brought to that desolate place and have come out the other side with a surplus of faith. That’s the humble ministry and glorious mission he’s inviting you into as well.