Are you willing to go?
Mark chapter six continues to show the reality of discipleship. Jesus does not receive honor from those in his hometown, and they are offended by him. Mark continues to explain the reality of those who follow Jesus. Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, Mark then writes about the death of John the Baptist in Mark 6:14-29. These two pericopes could be viewed as different texts; however, what I hope to show is that Mark deliberately places the story of John the Baptist in the middle of the Disciples been sent out (Mark 6:7) and returning (Mark 6:30). As we noted in the introduction Papias, the bishop of the Church in Hierapolis, recorded what he had heard from an older friend, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord, but not however in order” (emphasis mine). In the gospel of Matthew, after the 12 are sent out expands on Christ’s teaching of persecution, having no fear and warnings of those who do not hear the message proclaimed. However, Mark gives us the story of John the Baptist and the high-cost John paid as a messenger of God.
I. Sent out to proclaim (7-13)
a. Sent out with authority (7)
Christ calls his disciples, who have been with him. He has told them they would be fishers of men (Mark 1:17), he has instructed them with the secrets of the Kingdom (Mark 4:11). He calls them to send them out. The Greek word translated ‘send out’ (ἀποστέλλω, apostello) is where we get the word ‘Apostle.’ They are sent out with authority given to them by Christ. An apostle carries the message of the sender and their authority. They are like an ambassador for a country. They represent the country. They speak for the country and are given authority to carry out specific tasks for the country. When Jesus began his ministry, the crowd was amazed at his teaching that has authority (Mark 1:22, 27). The disciples are sent as ambassadors of Christ, proclaiming the same message and displaying the same power. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The disciples get their mission, ministry, and message from Christ.
Christ, before His ascension, gives the Church her mission, ministry, and message. Matthew 28:18-20,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The disciples only carried the authority that was given to them. Christ sends them out with a particular task. To deviate from that task is to step outside of the task given to them by Christ. The disciples are given the mission to proclaim the same message of Christ (Mark 1:14-15) and to perform the same signs as Christ as a testimony to the message (Mark 1:27). He sends them out two by two as faithful witnesses. The law required that two or more witnesses were needed to attest to crimes that required the death penalty (Deut 17:6, 19:15, Num 35:30). Christ sends them out as two witnesses to attest to the truth of the gospel.
b. Sent out with instructions (8-11)
Christ gives them the authority to go and gives instructions on how to carry out the task. He instructs them what to take, where to stay, and how to leave. Christ gives his disciples a specific packing list for their journey. Some have sought to unpack and understand why Jesus gives instructions to take a staff but no bread or bag. Some have suggested that this resembles the practice of philosophers in that day. However, no evidence backs up this claim around this region. The list accurately reflects the one found in Exodus 12:11, “In this manner, you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste.” This list is given to the Israelites as they eat the Passover. They are to be ready to leave at any moment. Jesus gives the list to show urgency and dependence upon God. Pack light so you are prepared to go and don’t take additional items that you might indicate your lack of dependence upon God to sustain you. Like the Exodus, the Israelites were led by God and sustained by God. The disciples are sent out into the wilderness (figuratively speaking) and should not rely on their strength but sent out dependent upon God to sustain, protect and provide for them.
The second instruction Christ gives to his disciples is where to stay. He tells them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.” Hospitality was an important part of society, and to move to another host house could be seen as insulting. However, I think this commandment speaks to the temporary nature of their stay in each town. The purpose of the mission is to proclaim the gospel and to call people to repentance. The disciples should not be focused on finding the best house that they could sleep in. Most likely, their stay will not be extended but short-lived. To put it simply, don’t seek comfort.
The third instruction is how to leave the town. The sending of the twelve comes right after Jesus’ hometown had rejected Jesus. The disciples should not be surprised if the cities they enter reject him. They are called to preach, not to change hearts. As the parable of the sleeping sower expanded that the sower sows, but God causes the growth. The disciples are to go into a town and proclaim the message of Christ. However, some will see but not perceive and hear but not understand (Mark 4:12). The book of Acts shows us the reality of this teaching (Acts 13:13-52). Paul and Barnabas are sent two by two into the city of Antioch in Pisidia. They proclaimed the gospel, and the gentiles heard the word and believed. However, the Jews stirred up persecution and drove Paul and Barnabas out of the district.
Following this, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet and moved to the next town (Acts 13:51). Later, Paul shakes the dust off his garments and explained, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent” (Acts 18:6). Those who reject the word of God will face severe judgment. Shaking the dust off the feet seeks to separate yourself from them. You do not want to be associated with them. Some translations (KJV and NKJV) include what is found in Matthew 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matt 10:15). You would be better in the day of judgment to have lived in Sodom and Gomorrah than to have rejected the gospel message.
c. Sent out with the message (12-13)
Finally, the disciples carry out the same mission, ministry, and message as Jesus. Jesus preached repentance (Mark 1:14-15), and they preached repentance. Jesus cast out unclean spirits, and the disciples did the same. They are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt 10:16). They are sent out and will be hated just as Jesus is hated (Matt 10:22). They represent Christ. They are sent on a mission by him, proclaiming the same message and performing the same ministry under his authority.
II. One sent before (14-29)
Mark then inserts the story of John the Baptist. Mark had told us about John as the forerunner to Christ (Mark 1:2-8). After a brief comment about John been arrested (Mark 1:14), we have heard nothing more about John the Baptist. Mark informs us about what happened to John, showing the cost of proclaiming the gospel of repentance.
a. Perplexed by Christ (14-16)
Jesus had become popular (Mark 1:27). The news eventually found its way into Herod’s home (We will come back to who Herod is). Ultimately, the question arises, as it does throughout the Gospel of Mark, who is Jesus? Herod hears about Jesus and his miracles and mighty works and wants to know more about him. People around him said it is Elijah or a prophet. However, Herod’s conscience has continued to eat away at his guilt. Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, and he thought John the Baptist had come back to life.
b. Prison with John (17-20)
Before we look at how and why John was beheaded, we need to understand more about Herod and his family. Throughout the bible and history, there were many men named Herod. This Herod is Herod Antipas, who ruled in the region of Galilee from 4BC to 39AD. Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great. Herod the Great died in about 4 BC and is the Herod we know from the birth narrative found in Matthew (Matt 2:1-19). Herod the Great changed his will before his death and divided his kingdom into quarters (Where we get the word Tetrarch) based on ethnic groups. He places his three sons, Herod Archelaus (Judea and Ideomia cf. Matt 2:22), Herod Antipas (Galilee), and Herod Phillip (East of Jordan) and his daughter Salone I (Cities of Iamnia, Azotus, Phasaelis). Herod Archelaus died in 6 AD and was succeeded by Herod the Great’s grandson Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:20).
The Herodian dynasty plays a predominant part in the region of Christ’s ministry but also in the times of the early Church Felix, Agrippa II, and Bernice are all descendants from Herod the Great (Acts 23 ff). This family has enough exciting stories to look into, but for now, we will focus on the one applicable to Mark chapter 6. Herod Antipas (Herod in Mark 6) was married to Phasaelis, Daughter of Aretas IV, a king from a surrounding region. However, Herod Antipas divorced Phasaelis and married Herodias, who was the wife of Herod Phillip (Herod Antipas’ brother) (and you think your thanksgiving is interesting).
John the Baptist was put in prison by Herod Antipas because John had been calling him to repentance, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” John continually called them to repent (Lev 18:13, 16, 20:21). Herodias and Herod Antipas had different reactions to this call of repentance. Herodias held a grudge against him and wanted John the Baptist to be put to death (Mark 6:19). However, Herod Antipas feared John and knew he was a righteous and holy man. He heard the message and heard John gladly (Mark 6:20). However, he did not repent. He is like the seed in the thorns, “They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). Herod Antipas is worried about his political status and fears man more than he fears God. It is the Herodians, along with the Pharisee’s that seek to destroy Jesus (Mark 3:6). The sad reality is that Herod Antipas probably thought he would have more time. However, he didn’t listen to his conscience.
c. Party to remember (21-29)
However, Herod Antipas did underestimate the grudge that Herodias had against John the Baptist. Herod threw himself a large birthday party. Mark explains that many men in high places, from nobles, military commanders, and leading men in Galilee, celebrated Herod’s birthday. As you could imagine, in this perverse family; Herod the Great executed two of his sons, was married about ten times, ordered the massacre of children under two (Matt 2:16). When the family of Herod throws a birthday party, we should not think of a child’s birthday but a night in Las Vegas that ends with a head on a platter. Herodias’ daughter comes and dances for Herod and his guests. The depravity of this situation is hard to fathom. Herod, probably heavily intoxicated, surrounded by men cheering him on, makes a vow to his half-daughter. Here is the opportunity that Herodias has been waiting to seize. She instructs her daughter what to ask for. In front of men in high places, Herodias’s daughter asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Sadly, Herod thought only of his friends around him, yet again. His contrite heart was quieter than those around him cheering and encouraging. It would have been better for him not to make a promise he is unwilling to keep (Ecc 5:5).
The fear of man was greater in Herod’s life than the fear of God. Luke shares the account of when Herod finally gets to meet Jesus. Herod seeks to see a sign from Jesus as he heard of his miraculous powers (Mark 6:14, Luke 23:8). However, Jesus stood silent; Herod, along with the soldiers, treated him contemptuously and mocked him. Sinclair Ferguson said, “Unless we silence sin, sin will silence conscience. Unless we heed God’s word, the day may come when we despise God’s Son- and then God will have nothing more to say to us.” Herod’s guilt and fear for John the Baptist do not account for anything if you do not heed the words to repent.
Mark then records in Mark 6:30, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.” They are sent out to preach repentance, just as John the Baptist did. Mark is most likely writing to Christians in Rome. Where Christians would have been placed in areas to face lions and other wild animals. Persecuted for sharing the gospel. The cost of discipleship was real, and we see that in this passage. John did exactly what he was called to do, yet he was imprisoned and beheaded. He was sent to proclaim repentance and the hope of eternal life, but it cost him his. Mark writes later in chapter 16 that the women who are told to tell Peter about Christ’ resurrection but then sadly records, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Being sent out by God to proclaim his gospel is costly. Some people lose friends, family, their reputation or occupation, and others lose their lives. It is understood that ten apostles sent out by Christ in Mark 6 all died proclaiming the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ; Judas (hung himself) and John (died naturally). Acts 12:1-3 speaks of a similar story to John the Baptist;
“About that time Herod [Agrippa I] the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the Church. He killed James, the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.”
William Secker said, “Religion is that phoenix which has always flourished in its own ashes. While magistrates defend truth with their sword, martyrs defend it with their blood.” We are sent out into a world that will not listen, others will hold a grudge, but we are sent out that the seed sown in weakness might be raised in glory. Discipleship has a high cost to pay, one that is free on one hand because it is a gift, but on the other costs your life.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.