The miracles and parables of Jesus were recorded by Mark in this gospel to show who Jesus is and what kind of heart and what kind of faith a person needs to be a follower of him. We noticed in Mark 5 that we cannot come to God with our self-righteousness or goodness. We come to Jesus in the desperation of our sins and Jesus will receive us.
But now the Gospel of Mark shifts back to its overall theme which we have considered as the King’s Cross. Mark is going to highlight in this gospel what discipleship looks like. What does it mean to follow Jesus? What is expected of Jesus’ disciples? What is the cost of discipleship? We are going to see three scenes which may seem to be unrelated yet have a common thread to reveal to us what it means to follow Jesus. So let us look at these three pictures and consider the message of discipleship from Mark 6:1-29.
Rejected At Home (6:1-6)
Jesus comes to his hometown which would be the town of Nazareth and he begins teaching the synagogue. As Jesus is teaching there is a response from the people. “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” The people are astonished by the teaching of Jesus but notice that their amazement does not lead to faith. Rather, verse 3 says that they took offense at him. The text is pointing out that these are faithless questions. These are doubting questions. They are asking how Jesus could have gained this learning. Notice that the people do not dispute that Jesus has wisdom or that he performs mighty works. They are just dumbfounded that these things come from a hometown boy like Jesus. The problem is more than familiarity breeding contempt. The ancients’ mentality was that geography and heredity origins determine who a person is and what his capacities will always be. In essence, who your parents are and where you are from puts a cap on what you are. The people are astounded but not in a good way. They stumble because they know his home and they know his parents. Jesus has come to his own but his own are not receiving him. Thus, Jesus says a prophet has honor everywhere except in his hometown and except from his own family. The ending to this scene is staggering.
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5–6 ESV)
What a striking point! A lack of faith blocks what Jesus can do. We need to hear this point. A lack of faith blocks what Jesus can do. Jesus is even amazed at the people’s unbelief. The point is not that Jesus cannot perform miracles without faith because we will read of Jesus performing miracles for people who do not have any demonstration of faith. But what did we see in the last chapter of this gospel? People who have faith come to Jesus. Our lack of faith blocks what Jesus can do because we refuse to come to him. This is the problem in Nazareth. Jesus is not performing miracles because the people are not coming to Jesus for healing. His own home is rejecting him. There is no reason to do miracles in Nazareth because the people do not see Jesus as the one who has come to rescue and heal. When we forget who Jesus is and what he has promised to do in our lives, we can do the same, failing to enjoy the healing and transformation that he came to give to those who will come to him in faith. Would Jesus be amazed at our unbelief? After all that he has done, would Jesus marvel about our lack of faith?
Rejected In The Cities (6:7-13)
So Jesus is rejected by his hometown. Now he goes among the villages preaching. Jesus commissions the twelve, sending them out in twos with the authority over unclean spirits. They are sent out needing to trust in the Lord to provide for them. They are not to take anything on their journey except a staff, shoes, and clothes. Nothing extra was to be taken trusting in God to provide. They will trust in God through the hospitality of others. But there is an ominous charge in Jesus’ instructions. Jesus does not tell his disciples that all will go well. There are going to be homes and people who will not listen to you (6:11). They are going to experience rejection, even though they have been called by Jesus and given authority over unclean spirits. There would be towns where no hospitality would be offered and where their teaching would not be tolerated. Thus, shaking off the dust from your feet was a cultural custom that provided a warning of fulfilling their responsibility and those who reject will have to answer to God. What was the message that the twelve were to proclaim? We see that they proclaimed the very same message that John the Baptizer proclaimed (1:4) and Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of the gospel (1:15): repentance. People are going to reject the message of repentance. Do not be surprised when this happens, my disciples. Travel light, trust in the Lord, and know that there will be people, homes, and towns that will not receive this message.
Are we surprised by this? Jesus is rejected and his disciples are rejected. It did not matter that they could perform miracles to confirm their message of repentance. People will reject the message of repentance and we must not be surprised by this. We are not doing anything wrong if people reject Jesus’ message of repentance. Repentance is a hard message because it tells people to stop doing what they want to do and live their lives doing what God wants you to do.
Rejected By Authorities (6:14-29)
This leads to our final scene which opens with people trying to figure out who Jesus is and what to do with him (6:14-16). Some said Jesus was John the Baptizer who had been raised from the dead. Others said he is Elijah and others said he is a prophet like those of old. Herod believed that Jesus was John the Baptizer raised from the dead because he had him killed.
ut notice that Mark wants to tell us about what happened to John. Notice that John was doing the same thing as Jesus and the disciples. John is preaching repentance. Herod arrested John because John kept telling Herod that his marriage was unlawful. Can I please make a quick point right here? Please consider that there is such a thing as unlawful marriages. Just because the law of the land allows marriages does not mean that they are lawful marriages to God. John keeps telling Herod that his marriage is unlawful. This obviously led to opposition. Herod arrests him and his wife has a grudge against John and wants to put him to death. The only reason she could not is because Herod feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man (6:19-20). Mark goes on to tell us about John’s death in verses 21-29.
We noted at the beginning our study of the book of Mark that John is the forerunner of Jesus. But John is not merely a forerunner in preparing the way for Jesus but also the forerunner in experiencing what Jesus will experience. Jesus, like John, will be executed by civil authorities. Pilate, like Herod, will hesitate in executing Jesus but then eventually does. The chief priests, like Herodias, will finally get their way through scheming and pressure. The disciples of Jesus come and bury Jesus like the disciples of John come and bury him. This death sequence for John serves as an ominous warning about the fate of Jesus. The cross looms in the background from this point in this gospel. Jesus, like John, is rejected by authorities.
Illustrating True Discipleship
What the gospel shows us is that a true follower of Jesus is ready to suffer, willing to die, and will continue to preach repentance in the face of opposition. The work goes on even when rejected. John dies but the work goes on. Jesus is rejected and the work goes on. The disciples will be rejected in the towns they visit but the work goes on. The mission is a never-ending task. For us, even if we face opposition from our culture for proclaiming a message of repentance, the work must go on. The model is simple: what happened to John, happened to Jesus, and can happen to each of his disciples.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:12–13 ESV)
Being a disciple means proclaiming repentance, even when that brings rejection and even if it were to bring us death. John could have decided to stop telling Herod to repent but if he had he would no longer have been faithful to Jesus and the mission. We have been entrusted with a rescue mission to the world. The rescue requires repentance. People must stop doing what they want to do and seek the Lord and his ways to have life (cf. Isaiah 55).
So what will we do with Jesus? Will we marvel but do nothing? Will we be amazed by him but not be transformed? Will we believe in Jesus but be unwilling to proclaim the need for repentance? Will we see Jesus but not repent in our own lives? We face a decision: do we desire Jesus or do we desire self-preservation and reputation? Do we desire God’s approval or people’s approval? How we answer these questions determines if we are truly a disciple of Jesus. Do not shrink back and do not give up.