There aren’t many better gauges of just how much you want to be, and are, like Jesus Christ than your response when people interrupt you. Are you frustrated? Distracted? Eager to deal with the person who has interrupted you and get back to work? If so, I need to warn you. That’s not the way of Christ.
In one of my favorite pairs of verses in the Bible, Jesus disciples all of us in the way of interruption. So much is happening in Matthew 14:13–14. Jesus has just heard that his beloved cousin, John the Baptist, is dead, murdered by Herod for being willing to confront the sexual fornication in the king’s house. Mourning, the text says Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself” (vs. 13).
This passage doesn’t tell us what Jesus does, or wants to do, on the mountain, but we can assume, based on other occasions when Jesus withdraws to a secluded place (see Luke 5:16), he is praying. Certainly a good idea.
In times of great distress, the first place we should go, and stay for a while, is the throne room of God.
He knows our sorrows. He has promised to carry them for us. Jesus does that in this text. He is right where he is supposed to be, doing exactly what he should at this moment in his life and ministry.
That’s what makes the coming interruption such a profound lesson for everyone who desires to be like Jesus. It didn’t happen when Jesus was simply passing from one village to the next, or even having a conversation with his disciples. It happened when He was engaged in the most noble and worthwhile of pursuits: communion with his heavenly father.
The same will be true for all of us, especially those in the pastorate.
Interruptions won’t wait until some insignificant moment in our lives: an evening watching a show, a Saturday morning of exercise. They will disrupt the work God has called us to.
They will even interfere with our communion with God. And when they do, it will be easy to justify pushing them away. “Not now. What I’m doing is too important.” That attitude may seem wise. It may seem necessary if we’re going to be the ultra-productive gurus we often assume God has called us to be. But that attitude couldn’t be more antithetical to Jesus’s response when the crowds interrupt him. The text says “when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd and felt compassion for them and healed their sick” (vs. 13b–14).
What makes Jesus’s compassion even more remarkable is the self-serving nature of the crowd. They chase him down not because he has the words of eternal life, but because he can relieve their physical and momentary discomfort. They come for the works Jesus does, not for Jesus Himself. Jesus knows this. He says so throughout his ministry (see John 2:24–25). Yet, the text says “He has compassion on them.”
Jesus sees their humanity. He sees their physical needs. He sees them as souls in need of a savior. And He cares for them.
This act of love comes at a sacrifice. Jesus is a physical being. A human who needs sleep. Who craves communion with his heavenly father. He, like all of us who share his human nature, needs to take a break from work and rest mind and body. But at times, love trumps rest. There are moments of crisis when the break we need must be sacrificed for the love of others.
This text should call each of us to reconsider those inefficient days where people keep us from tackling our to-do list. You know the kind I’m talking about. You set out to look at next year’s budget, respond to emails, get some work done on that five-year strategic plan, and instead, you end up at lunch with an anxious friend, a coworker comes into your office and wants to talk about everything, from the latest football game to the problems with his marriage. Perhaps that “interruption” is God’s will for your day. Perhaps that conversation that kept you from your work—and you also didn’t think went anywhere important—encouraged the depressed, strengthened the weak, helped the confused, or loved the unloved.
Now that we’ve seen Jesus’s willingness to be interrupted, and what that means for those who follow him, let’s get practical. How do we cultivate an “interruptible spirit?” How exactly do we become more like Christ in this way? There are a lot of potential answers to that question, but one strategy dominates the rest. It’s the commitment to interrupt Jesus regularly and boldly. Only when we do that will we understand his heart for others and be ready to face life’s onslaught of interruptions.
Today, thousands of years after caring for that crowd by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus still shows the same compassion to sinners. He is in heaven, interceding on behalf of his beloved.
He is at the right hand of God the Father, representing us as the perfect God-man. Hebrews 4:14-16 says it this way. Therefore, since we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace for help at the time of our need.
John MacArthur describes this accessibility well. Speaking of his public ministry, MacArthur says “Unlike many religious leaders, Jesus didn’t seclude Himself. His entire ministry was spent in public. He didn’t have an office. He didn’t have a study, didn’t have a home, didn’t have a church. His entire ministry was in the street, in the field, in other people’s homes, in synagogues, on the road, on the sea, with only occasional retreats into isolation to restore His energy, rest His body, and fellowship privately with His disciples and give them the inside scoop on the parables. But He always came back to the crowds. And the first thing I want to tell you about Jesus is His accessibility.”
The Savior’s accessibility will change you. It will make you more accessible, more interruptible. More like him.