Rejection in Nazareth
We concluded chapter five looking at the capstone miracle of Jesus thus far in the Gospel of Mark. He’s been healing, restoring, forgiving sins, teaching, preaching, and casting out demons, thus displaying the power he has over sickness, sin and the forces of darkness. But then at the end of chapter 5 Jesus delivers a little girl from the jaws of death itself by raising Jairus’ daughter. It is immediately after this that we open chapter 6 with Jesus going to his hometown. But here, among his own people, he is rejected. Whereas Jairus and his wife are “completely astounded” it is Jesus who now “marvels at their unbelief”. This foreshadows what will happen after THE resurrection at the end of Mark’s gospel. It too will be followed by unbelief.
Commissioning the Disciples
Chapter 6 continues with Jesus commissioning his disciples. This fulfills the promise made at the original calling of the disciples in chapter 3,
“And he appointed twelve that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve.” (Mk. 3:14-16)
Then this is the commissioning of the disciples here three chapters later in chapter 6 fulfilling that original calling:
“And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs; and He was giving them authority over the unclean spirits… and they went out and preached that men should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.” (Mk. 6:7, 12-13)
So here the original purpose of their calling, to preach and cast out demons, is not only realized but is also expanded.
There are a couple of interesting things to note in this little section on the instruction Jesus gives to the disciples. First, is the relationship of the ministry of the gospel and how it is to be supported. What I believe we see here is the origins of the role of pastor/teacher in the church. In the parallel passage of Matthew we see the statement, “the worker is worthy of his nourishment” and also in Luke we see that Jesus also sent out 70, not just his twelve. Luke also makes a similar statement to Matthew, saying “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” The reason I believe that these were not simply temporary instructions for a temporary apostleship is that Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:3-15 alludes to what Jesus says here, quotes Deuteronomy 25 and also uses common sense to argue the same point about the fact that he and Barnabas’ gospel work should be supported by those who are benefiting from it.
“Do we not have a right to eat and drink?... Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? [then in case you thought these were just Paul’s own arguments he continues] I am not speaking these things according to human judgement, am I? Or does not the law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” [Deut. 25:4]… So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel [which is alluding to our passage here from Mark].”
Then again he uses this same argumentation in 1 Timothy 5 when speaking very specifically about the pastor/elder (1 Timothy 5:17-18). So the twelve and the seventy with them are not being commissioned to some temporary apostleship, but are the beginnings of the pastor/elder in the new covenant church.
The other interesting thing in this commission that is an addition from the original calling is the instruction to anoint with oil those who are sick. For many modern evangelicals this is a strange and foreign practice but is actually a very biblical and explicitly New Testament practice. What’s interesting is that we often assume that this is some strange practice from a bygone Old Testament era but there is not one mention in the Old Testament of the anointing with oil someone that is sick. The Old Testament practice of anointing was for the purpose of installing a person into an office; an ordination, like David’s anointing from Samuel or the anointing of the priests. So, apparently Jesus was teaching his disciples a new practice and we should think about why.
We’ve already seen that Jesus, as the King, as the Son of Man, has the power to heal and cast out demons and that He is able to share those royal prerogatives with his followers. Now, by anointing with oil, the disciples are extending the calling of THE anointed one to others. The name Christ and the word “anointed” are the same root word. When church elders anoint the sick and they are not healed this does not mean that the anointing has not worked. Remember, the usual purpose of anointing with oil is an ordination or a calling to a task. So we anoint our sick in order to formally call them to the task of suffering and rising with Christ who himself suffered and died and rose to new life. If God does not raise them up in health on this side of the grave we can be sure he will raise them up on the last day. Anointing is an ordination to show forth the gospel in sickness and in health, in life and in death.
Ahab and Jezebel
So from the commissioning we move to the martyrdom of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. We’ve already seen the significance that Mark places on feasting in Jesus’ ministry and will see it again before this chapter concludes. But here we see Satan’s counterfeit feast, where the saints are not invited guests but are actually on the menu.
It’s interesting that here in this section, Jesus is thought to possibly be another Elijah. If Jesus is Elijah, then we could easily see Herod and Herodias as Ahab and Jezebel. Like Ahab, if you squint your eyes just right you could almost see Herod as a pretty decent guy, as his first desire is to protect John. And like Jezebel, it is really Herodias that is out to kill John. If only Herod had heard and listened to the teaching of Jesus to repudiate natural family in favor of a spiritual one he may not have made their opinion of him more important than God’s, but we know that did not happen.
Then after this little pause in the narrative of Jesus that deals with the death of John, chapter 6 ends with 2 very familiar miracles. The feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water.
In the first scene, Jesus is portrayed as the good shepherd. This is interesting since Mark makes a point to tell us that the grass which the people sat on was green and the next event is the calming of stormy waters. This should immediately remind us of the Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”
Here again we see the theme of feasting in Mark. We saw feasting after Jesus raised Peter’s mother-in-law, at the home of Levi and after the calling of the twelve. But here we see that a natural feast will not do and Jesus will not be served but this time will be the gracious host. The disciples are overwhelmed by the crowds, but Jesus, by the power of the spirit, can meet the needs of even this great host. Mark makes a point to tell us that this takes place in a remote place, literally a wilderness. He says it three times. And the way that he describes the people being sat down in fifties and in hundreds alludes to the way that Moses organized the people while in the wilderness in Exodus 18. And deep down in the cultural memory of the Israelites was the mana, the “bread from heaven” which God fed them with in the wilderness. Jesus shows himself to be the true bread from heaven, the “Bread of Life” as we learn in the gospel of John.
We are told also that Jesus, “breaks the bread”, just as he will do at the last Supper. So by the time we get to chapter 14, Jesus is not doing something “out of the blue” at the Last Supper. Mark is building up to it throughout the entire gospel through this theme of calling and feasting.
Next we get to Jesus’ miraculous walking on water. As Jesus goes out on the water, his intention, we are told, is to “pass by them”. Then when he speaks, he says literally, “Don’t be afraid, for I AM”: The same name that God gave Moses at the burning bush. And when Moses later asked God to see his face, God says, “No, but stand here and I will let my glory pass by.” As in the earlier calming of the storm we see that the disciples are afraid. The first time they are afraid of the power Jesus displays, this time they are afraid of His very presence. Just as with Moses, human beings are always afraid when faced with the presence of God. But by calming the storm Jesus shows that he has ultimate power and the reason that he often sends you into them is to reveal to you who he really is and through that, ultimately comfort you.
Chapter 6 concludes by continuing another theme we see throughout the book. Jesus has come as a new Moses, leading his people out of the wilderness through a new exodus. We see it again here at the end of the chapter when Mark tells us what Jesus does immediately after crossing the stormy sea. In chapter 5 when they miraculously cross the sea, there is a connection between it and the red sea crossing as Jesus uses the water as both the instrument of salvation for his people, as he calms the storm and brings them safely across, and also as the instrument of destruction for his enemies as he drives the legion possessed pigs into the same water. Just as the Red Sea is both the instrument of salvation for Israel and of destruction for Pharaoh and Egypt. Both of which ultimately point to the cross which is the final instrument of both salvation for God’s people and judgement Satan and his demons.
Here we see another allusion to the Red sea Crossing. Let me read the last 3 verses of Mark 6 which recount what happens immediately after their water crossing and then compare them to exodus 15:22-26 which recount what happens to Israel immediately after the Red Sea crossing.
And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
And now Exodus 15
Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur.... There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”
Jesus was their healer in the wilderness. He was their healer here in Mark. He is our healer now.