If you invite your friends to read the Bible with you or come to your church then there will be many times when people accept your invitation. That’s because God is determined to save people so the Holy Spirit is at work in the world. But we would be lying if we didn’t admit that there are also many times when people will reject that invitation. I read Mark 6 with someone once who had just tried to give a copy of Mark’s Gospel to a friend. They had said, ‘If you give me that filth then I’ll destroy it.’ Actually that’s the polite version of what he said!
I’d like to tell you that if you become a Christian everyone will love you. Your family will welcome your new loyalties. Your friends will celebrate your new priorities. Our culture will admire your new convictions. I’d like to say that, but I can’t because it’s not true.
In Mark 1 we are introduced to the authority of Jesus. In chapters 2-3 we see how many people rejected him – so much so that they plotted kill him. In chapters 4-5 we see the authority of Jesus again. This time the focus is on how we respond. But what happens if we align ourselves with Jesus? Given the attitude of people to Jesus, it is not a surprise to find
- the authority of Jesus (ch. 1) -> the rejection of Jesus (chs. 2-3)
- the call to trust Jesus (ch. 4-5) -> the rejection of those who trust Jesus (ch. 6)
In chapter 6 three stories of rejection.
- The rejection of Jesus (6:1-6)
First, we see the rejection of Jesus. He goes to Nazareth and they take offence at him (6:3). What’s new is that he is being rejected by his own home town. They don’t question his teaching or miracles (6:2). They’re convinced the miracles are real. Verses 2-3 say: ‘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 offence at him.’
They’re offended by the fact that he’s a local boy. Possibly there’s a sense that he’s grown too big for his boots. But it might also be they can’t accept him as God’s King. It’s one thing to think a mysterious figure arriving on the scene out of the blue might be God’s messiah – like Strider in Lord of the Rings. ‘But he was a carpenter and village carpenters don’t become king. And we knew his brothers. His sisters still live round the corner. He’s just a village boy. So he can’t be God’s King.’
As a result verse 5 says: ‘he could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.’ The point is not that Jesus was constrained by their lack of faith as if faith somehow releases God’s power. Remember, they believed in the miracles. Plus Jesus did heal some people. The point is that miracles confirm the faith of those who believe, but they harden the unbelief of those who don’t believe. In 3:6 the religious leaders plot to kill Jesus because they believe he does miracles. So Jesus doesn’t do any miracles in Nazareth because that would harden people in their unbelief.
It’s another indication of their hostility. The story begins with the people being amazed at the teaching of Jesus. It ends with Jesus being amazed at the unbelief of the people. Verse 6 says: ‘And he was amazed at their lack of faith.’
- The rejection of Jesus’ disciples (6:7-13)
In the second story Jesus sends out the twelve to preach, to drive out demons and to heal the sick (6:12-13).
This is a short-term, last-ditch attempt to get Israel to recognise Jesus as her promised King (Matthew 10:5-7). That’s why the disciples take ‘no bread, no bag, no money’ (6:8). They’re not settling in for the long haul so this is not a prescription for all mission. Later Jesus will tell his disciples to take a bag, take money (Luke 22:35-37). Later they will dig in for the long-term as they share the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. They’ll embed themselves in neighbourhood to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel – as Christians till do to this day. But this mission is fast and temporary.
So the focus of these instructions are what they are to do when they’re rejected. Verse 11 says: ‘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.’ Jesus is rejected so the followers of Jesus are also rejected.
- The rejection of Jesus’ prophet (6:14-29)
In verses 14-16 Herod joins the debate about who Jesus is – the question that runs throughout the first half of Mark’s Gospel (4:41). It’s another chance for Mark to pose the question to us: Who is Jesus?
But it also allows Mark to tell the story of the death of John the Baptist. Verse 16 says: ‘But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”’ (Herod is wrong: Jesus is not John the Baptist risen from the dead.) The death of John the Baptist doesn’t happen at this point in the chronology. Herod is looking back. (What happens at this point in the flow of events is Herod’s question about Jesus.) But it allows Mark to tell the story here because he’s interested in the theme of rejection: Jesus is rejected; his disciples will be rejected; his prophet was rejected.
It’s a sordid story. John has denounced Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law. So Herod has imprisoned him. But Herod is also fascinated by John. He likes to listen to his pet prophet. Then Herod throws a party for all the important people of his court. His niece and step-daughter does an erotic dance that delights all these drunken men. So Herod offers her a reward. And she and her mother demand the head of John the Baptist.
It’s a grizzling story. Yet sadly we live in a time when people are being headed and videos of their murder posted on the internet. Recently 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by Islamic State in Libya. This is not a story from another time and another world. This story belongs in our world.
Mark has put these three stories together to highlight the theme of rejection.
Matthew and Luke also tell the story of John’s death, but Mark’s account is the longest (even though his Gospel is the shortest). In verse 4 Jesus says: ‘Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.’ Again, the other Gospel writers include this saying, but in an abbreviated form. Only Mark as the full version. He wants to drive home the message: rejection is a real possibility for those who follow Jesus.
And that means you need to make a decision. Following Christ will have consequences. It will mean rejection. And so you must choose.
We’ll look more at that choice in a future post.