My spiritual journey took an unexpected turn during the recent sermon series on the book of Ezekiel, the prophet. At home as I reviewed one of the messages detailing the rebellious sins of God’s chosen people and God’s just judgement, the reality hit me like a horror scene: I was looking at myself! Repentance took on new meaning as I was overcome with grief at the sudden awareness of the pervasiveness of my depravity! Rehearsing the gospel to myself brought a new sweetness to its power and a humble appreciation for Jesus’ nature!
(As an aside – I was again confronted with my sinful self in the passage we are looking at today…)
The fact that I was impacted by Jesus’ nature through the message of an Old Testament prophet is not that odd given the role of a prophet was to serve as God’s mouthpiece to call his people to repentance by announcing judgement and proclaiming His kingdom. Jesus’ nature is what has been on display all throughout the book of Mark as we have been studying this fall.
In our lesson this week, Mark gets us thinking about Jesus in the role of a prophet, and he shows us how Jesus’ nature challenges the expectations held by his hometown community, his own disciples, the Jewish community at large, and even a Gentile ruler. Let’s look closely at what God has inspired in the writing of Mark so that our own expectations may be challenged by Jesus’ nature.
The structure of our passage gives us three clear sections with the last one sandwiched in the middle of the second section to give it emphasis. I have labeled the three parts according to the expectations that Jesus challenged with his divine nature:
- We will be looking at:
1) Jesus’ hometown community and their Expectations of Authority – earthly not divine (Mark 6:1-6)
2) His own disciples & Expectations of Ministry – empowered by Jesus (Mark 6:7-13)
3) The Jewish community at large and the Roman ruler with Expectations of Identity (Mark 6:14-29)
*2) Expectations of Ministry – empowered by Jesus (Mark 6:30)
Let’s begin by looking at the first section in Mark 6:1-6
Expectations of authority – earthly not divine
Earlier in our study of Mark, we noted that Jesus was home in Capernaum (Mark 1:21). To be clear, Jesus had moved his base of operations from Nazareth to Capernaum near the sea of Galilee where he had begun his active ministry. In this passage, Jesus travels 20 miles southeast of Capernaum to the community where he grew up.
It doesn’t appear that Jesus has any special business or need to return home. At this point in his ministry, Jesus has done many miraculous signs around Capernaum: he had demonstrated power over nature, demons, disease and even death! Despite Jesus repeatedly charging witnesses to tell no one, news had spread about the authority of his words and the miracles he performed! It is now that Jesus decides to reveal his true nature directly to the people who knew him so well and whom he knew intimately.
“And on the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue…” As was Jesus’ pattern, he preached from the Scriptures in the place where the people of the community came to orient themselves toward God. It is apparent by the comments noted in the passage that Jesus clearly aligned himself with being divinely commissioned. The people reacted with all manner of reasons to justify their resistance against accepting a change to their expectations of Jesus’ nature. With the opportunity to know God, the people merely marveled at his wisdom and took offence at him!
I have always wondered how the people of Jesus’ hometown, who lived with him every day while he was growing into adulthood, would come to reject him? He was literally the PERFECT child!!! The perfect sibling, the perfect student, the perfect neighbor, etc.! How could they have missed him as being someone special?!! Until, I got to thinking…
Jesus lived in perfect submission to God. His life was lived to consistently bring glory to God, not himself…and those people usually get overlooked. Often, the choices here on Earth that bring glory to God are made quietly and go unnoticed. In fact, when authentic godliness IS noticed it is regularly viewed from our sin-corrupted perspective as awkward, pitiful, weak, even stupid! Like earlier in Capernaum, “…And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
Jesus’ revelation of his nature did not match his relatives’ assumptions and they were unwilling to yield their expectations to the challenge that Jesus was anything other than a ‘home-grown’ commoner playing a game of charades.
Jesus summed up the situation with a proverb (Verse 4, “‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’) This is more common to us as “familiarity breeds contempt”. I want to point out here that Mark gives us an important little clue, as Jesus self-identifies as a prophet. This is an underlying theme that we will see more of and it is an important aspect of Jesus nature.
In the presence of divine authority, the community of Jesus’ hometown choose to cling to their own expectations and blindly looked to themselves as their own “authority”!
How often do we do the very same thing? How often to we, in the face of Jesus’ authentic authority, turn away offended and blindly look to ourselves?
We will always turn away just like Jesus’ hometown folks; our sin nature deceives us so well! But Jesus never turned away from the authority of his heavenly father.
Amid a climate of unbelief, Jesus did no mighty work . . . because the community did not believe Jesus’ authority was authentic, they did not bring their needy to him to be healed. And Jesus marveled at their unbelief! Their response did not hinder his mission. In fact, it is for that very reason that he came to earth to die the death they deserved, in order to provide redemption for all who repent and accept his authority.
Here. in Mark 6:6, Jesus concludes his focused ministry in Galilee in the villages surrounding his hometown. Forward from here, the message of the kingdom spreads out for greater impact.
Jesus’ nature will challenge the expectations of his disciples next as he sends them out on mission!
The disciples’ expectations of ministry have been building since Jesus first called them and told them they would someday be fishers of men!
Expectations of ministry – in dependence on/empowered by Jesus
Mark 6:7-13, 30
Now in verses 7-11 we read of Jesus’ interesting parameters for their “live training” session. Besides Jesus’ absence on their mission, he eliminated their packing list! Jesus’ instructions are far from the normal expectations for travel, even in their culture! How do the disciples respond to such limiting requirements and odd directions regarding hospitality? Having been around Jesus and witnessed supernatural events, the disciples are willing to trust Jesus with their expectations for this ministry journey. Sent out by twos, the twelve disciples would not be relying on their own expectations or provisions! In prophet like fashion, like their teacher, they would travel sparsely proclaiming of the kingdom with delegated authority.
The instructions Jesus outlined here are unique to this situation and not Jesus’ last word on mission preparedness! In Luke 22:35-38 Jesus asks the disciples if they lacked anything on their first trip to which they reply, “No!”. For a later trip, Jesus will instruct them to equip themselves with ample supplies including swords!
Jesus also prepared the travelers for opposition, for the message they proclaimed, like the OT prophets before them, would not be welcomed by all. Trusting Jesus’ nature instead of their own expectations, the disciples experienced active authoritative ministry during their separation from him.
The impact of Jesus’ authoritative ministry is spreading. In our next section, Jesus’ nature is challenging the expectations of the Jewish community at large and his identity is being questioned in Mark 6:14-29.
Expectations of identity – his and ours
Jesus’ authority and the news of the disciples’ ministry is provoking questions regarding Jesus’ identity! More people want to know Who is Jesus? Three options to explain Jesus’ identity surface in this text and they are not as random as you may think.
First, John the Baptist (risen from the recent dead) – Herod’s guilty conscience provoked this option, as we will look at in a minute.
Second, Elijah – The renowned prophet who was taken up to heaven from earth by a whirlwind and a chariot of fire. All of Israel is awaiting the great prophet’s return! Is this him?
And third, a prophet, “like one of the prophets of old” – common historical Jewish knowledge
Expectations – proclaim the kingdom and call to repentance
Because John the Baptist is such a significant figure and the last OT prophet, Mark takes the time to catch us up on “the rest of the story” of his life circumstances and death by using a flashback. John’s faithfulness in his mission to live his life surrendered to God’s authority is purposeful in its contrast with Herod. As a prophet, John lived Christlike in his willingness to bear witness to God’s kingdom and yield to God’s sovereignty over the circumstances of his life and death.
Herod Antipas was a powerful ruler over the region of Galilee. (This is one of the sons of Herod the Great and who will later assist Pilate in the trial of Jesus). Herod used his might to secure what he wanted. He fell in love with his brother’s wife, Herodias, (who was also his niece, the daughter of his half-brother). Both divorced their spouses, so they could marry each other. John the Baptist publicly condemned Herod for his actions.
John was brave enough to traverse the strict cultural barriers and boldly speak a message that greatly challenged expectations! Different from the local Jewish leaders who were wrapped up in their religious piety, John’s message was different too: Like Jesus, and the prophets of old, John called sin “sin” and offered the good news of the kingdom of God for those who repent and believe!
Herod wanted to unburden his guilty conscience on his own terms. He imprisoned the outspoken Jewish wilderness prophet. Herod listened to John, feared him and kept him jailed to protect him from spiteful Herodias. But Herod’s pride could not protect John from an evil end.
Jesus’ nature challenges our expectations of our own identity. John’s surrendered life to the call of God, to proclaim the message of “Repent and believe”, and to be the forerunner to the Messiah, led him to the unexpected experience of proclaiming gospel grace inside Herod’s palace!
Discipleship is a radical life that is lived by faith in a savior who completed the mission and is present with his people in whatever circumstances they find themselves in. We are no longer obligated to create a compelling image of ourselves for others to notice or affirm!
Back to Jesus! The Sandwich made by Mark emphasizes the qualities of the surrendered life, lived out by the power and authority of Jesus. The disciples were sent on a mission with Jesus’ delegated authority; John carried out his prophetic ministry by faith under God’s authority. As the last Old Testament prophet, John lived faithfully by God’s leading instead of by his own expectations. He boldly spoke God’s message with his voice and his life. John displayed God’s glory by submitting to the death typical of prophets of old, being rejected for the message of truth he proclaimed.
Jesus did same, but his life didn’t end in death! As the ultimate prophet, Jesus secured eternal life for all who will repent and believe in him!
How is Jesus’ nature challenging your expectations this morning? How will you respond?
Like Jesus’ hometown neighbors who wanted to maintain their ideas of Jesus rather than to accept his divine nature, will you continue to take offence in unbelief?
Like Herod, will you keep coming back to listen but retain the burdens of your soul to work out on your own terms?
Like the disciples, will you trust Jesus even when he sends you on mission beyond your comfort zone?
Like John, will your life bring God glory by abiding in the gospel in whatever circumstance he leads you?