Questioning Through Mark: 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”  15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”  16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” 
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married.  18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to,  20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. 
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.  22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”  23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”  24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.  25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.  27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison,  28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 
29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

1. The gospels force us to face the question, Who is Jesus? We cannot remain undecided. Or rather, indecision is itself an answer. In verses 14-16, Mark highlights again the identity confusion surrounding Jesus. Is he Elijah? A prophet? Herod even thinks Jesus might be John raised from the dead. Our biggest evangelistic tool might not be brilliant exegesis or snazzy apologetics, but this one question: Who is Jesus to you? We must help others honestly face this question.

  1. What are your nursing in your heart? Herodias nursed a grudge. She watered the seed of bitterness until its vine strangled life—John’s life, literally, and hers, spiritually. Whatever we water, grows. If we nurse the fruit of the Spirit and feed on God’s Word, his character grows within us. But if we feed the life-strangling passions of jealousy, anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness, our hearts become consumed to the point of death.

Mark 6, 22 23

  1. Whom do you fear? God or man? Herod respected John as a godly man. More so, Herod was moved—convicted—by John’s message. And yet, Herod’s fear of man—what others thought of him—was greater. He was manipulated by Herodias, and made a rash vow. Still, he could have broken that vow. He could have repented and chosen right over wrong. Does this remind you of anyone in the Old Testament, another man whose vow cost him an innocent life? Judges 11 tells the story of Jephthah, the warrior leader of Israel, who was so desperate to defeat the Ammonites that he attempted to bargain with God, saying, “If you give me this victory, I will sacrifice the first thing out of my house when I return home.” After his victory, he returned home. And who came out first? His only child, a daughter. What is so terribly sad is that he felt he needed to follow through with his vow and sacrifice her. He shoved Yahweh into the same category as the Baals of the Ammonites, believing he had no choice but to do as he vowed or else risk the wrath of God. He didn’t truly know that Yahweh, the God of Israel, desired mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), desired the sacrifice of a humble and broken spirit over the sacrifice of flesh and blood. Jephthah could have repented. Herod could have repented. What about us? Do we truly know the heart of God?

Questioning Through Mark: 6:6b-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.  7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.  8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff– no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.  10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”  12 They went out and preached that people should repent.  13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6,8 9

1. Do you remember who sent you or have you lost sight of the One behind your calling?

2. Jesus “gave them authority.” In Jesus’ day, to follow or learn from someone was to be under his authority. When disciples of that day spoke the message of their rabbi, it was with that rabbi’s authority and blessing. This is what we see Jesus doing here. It’s what we see Jesus doing again in The Great Commission. Sending us out in his authority. Do we go about our daily lives with the knowledge of this authority? With the clarity of this simple mission?

3. “Take nothing.” This doesn’t sound like a well-planned mission. As a fifth grader, I attended an outdoor education camp where we learned to pack a survival kit in a film roll canister (remember those?). Our motto: always be prepared. So why were the disciples to take only a staff? Maybe for the freedom of traveling light. Or maybe because everything about following Jesus required trust, even this mission. They’d already left home and career for him, why not leave behind extra clothes and money?

But why a staff? A staff was used as a walking aid, an instrument of discipline, or a tool for herding animals. Kings had staffs. Shepherds had staffs. The nomad and the villager had staffs.

Moses had a staff. When it became a snake, it was a sign of God’s power and authority over other gods. When it parted the Red Sea, it was a sign of God’s miraculous provision. When Moses stood atop a hill and prayed for Joshua’s battle, it was a sign of God’s favor and victory.

4. Are you humble enough to shake the dust off? Leaving is hard to do, especially when we leave feeling like a failure. The disciples weren’t to argue, push harder, manipulate. I see this as God’s way of saying, “I’m in charge of who receives my message.” And I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Second Corinthians 4, “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” There is grace here. You are free to shake the dust off, free to leave. The salvation of others is not in your hands.

5. What is our message? The message of this world is love. Love everyone, everywhere, at all times, in all ways. And what is meant by that is, everything goes and don’t you dare tell me otherwise.

The love we preach is different. It’s a love embedded in repentance. What an unpopular and hated message. Repentance implies wrongdoing, requires humility and life change. Let’s face it, bearers of this message aren’t given a king’s welcome.

But there’s another facet to our message, and it’s seen in the action of the disciples: wholeness of body and soul. The disciples drove our demons, anointed the sick and healed them. They used deeds, not only words, in their outreach. So too, we must reach with our hands, not just with our voices. We must offer what is fundamentally and universally hungered for: healing of brokenness.

Questioning Through Mark: 6:1-6

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.
  1. Are you overwhelmed by who Jesus is? His wisdom, character, and authority should floor us, yank the carpet right out from under us. Those in Nazareth were astounded by Jesus, a man they thought they knew. The NIV translates this verb “amazed,” but the stronger word choice (used in other translations) is “astounded.” The Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon defines this verb as “to be so amazed as to be practically overwhelmed.” Seventeen times in Mark we read of people being astonished or amazed (he uses five different Greek verbs). The take away is this: Jesus stood out radically among the teachers and leaders of that day. He rendered his followers speechless, even his closest friends. We cannot consider ourselves people who know him if we are not likewise dumbstruck by his greatness.Mark 6,3
  2. How do you identify Jesus? This is a huge question in Mark, a question that structures his entire Gospel. “Isn’t this the carpenter?” “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” (In other words, a jab at the unknown nature of Jesus’ father.) Mark is building his Gospel to its first climax in chapter eight where we read Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ. Identifying Jesus as the Christ today immediately places you under the microscope for uncomfortable observation and labeling. Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior comes with a cost, part of which is the astonishment of others.
  3. Do you find Jesus offensive? And if so, what road is that offense leading you down? “They took offense.” That Greek verb occurs twenty-five times in the Gospels, meaning literally to cause someone to give up belief, stumble, fall away. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon suggests several meanings, “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey; to cause to fall away,” and “to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority.” Don’t be one who lets offense take you away from Jesus.
  4. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. The Greek verb here is different than previously when Mark states that the people were amazed. The verb here implies wonder, marvel. Rather than being overwhelmed or astonished, Jesus ponders their lack of faith. It doesn’t shock him. It wounds him.

Questioning Through Mark: 5:21-43

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”
Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.
When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

1. Do I come to Jesus boldly, believing my circumstances are important to him? Jairus, a synagogue ruler–important in society–made public pronunciation of faith by falling at Jesus’ feet and pleading for him to heal his daughter. Am I desperate enough for Jesus that I will fall at his feet publicly?

2. Do you have faith to “tell the whole truth?” The bleeding woman is a strange mixture of faith and fear. In faith, she touches Jesus’ robes because she believes in his power. Yet she does it secretly, quietly, almost as if afraid to draw attention to herself, because unlike Jairus, she is not among the important people of society. She is an outcast, made unclean by her illness. What does she have to lose if she touches his robe and is not healed? But Jesus calls out the person who touched him and gives the woman opportunity to come forward. And she does. She falls at his feet trembling with fear and tells the whole truth. Interesting that both Jairus and the woman fall at his feet . . . one voluntarily and the other called out.

Mark 5, 27

3. How do I handle my disappointment with Jesus? If we are honest, we can all admit to being disappointed with Jesus at some time or another. He didn’t answer a prayer like we expected. He seems silent when we need direction. He takes something precious from us. We aren’t given what we expected.

For the bleeding woman, she’d suffered not only twelve years or illness, but twelve years of disappointment. Twelve years of questioning why. And then, in one moment, in one grab of his robe, she’s healed.

Do I have faith to take my disappointment to Jesus and try again? We get no sense of bitterness from this woman. Perhaps fear and weariness, but not bitterness. Bitterness poisons us from trying again. It locks the door of our heart and keeps hope out. Can I reach, like the woman, despite disappointment?

Mark 5, 41

4. Do I laugh at Jesus? This might seem a silly question, but consider Sarah in Genesis 18. She laughed when God promised Abraham a son. And her laughter wasn’t joy. It was disbelief. Those waiting to see what Jesus would do with Jairus’s daughter laughed. Not in expectancy or joy, but at what they considered a preposterous statement by Jesus. Faith, by nature, reaches beyond reality and clasps the words of Almighty God as truth. If we laugh, let it be with joy.