King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” – Mark 6:14-16
Communication is fast these days. Some of the digital billboards along interstate highways in our city will post tweets from Twitter on current events. Within minutes of the occurrence we are informed of the death of an entertainment idol or the incident of an earthquake on the other side of the planet, even without radio or television. It’s amazing—maddening sometimes—but truly amazing.
Somehow word-of-mouth was able to get news of Jesus’ mighty works to King Herod. First-century Palestine, without newspapers or even one single electronic device, still spread news. Mark indicates that rumors were going around that maybe this man was Elijah. This is not without scriptural support since Elijah didn’t die but rode a chariot of fire directly into heaven, and Malachi 4:5 says that he would return. In other grist for the rumor mill, some were saying that Jesus was like one of the prophets of old. There are probably other suggestions that Mark didn’t record for us.
Herod has his own theory though: John the Baptizer was raised from the dead. I doubt that Herod held a precise doctrine of resurrection, but it was an idea running around in their world at the time. Herod (the Great) was a rather paranoid man, even killing people in his own family when he felt threatened. John was beheaded at the request of an erotic dancer (Mark actually digresses to tell the story after the passage copied above). Perhaps, like father-like son, Herod (the younger’s) paranoia was getting the better of him since he knew John was a righteous man and had been afraid to murder him.
Whatever the case, this is what Herod thought. It shows that Jesus was indeed doing some very mighty works, forcing people to unlikely explanations as well as to taking notice. Interestingly, as we’ve seen in previous examples in Mark, this is a sandwich story. The passage copied above, along with the following story of how John came to be martyred, is sandwiched in the midst of the account of Jesus sending out the Twelve to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. In the previous sandwich stories, we’ve seen how the separate stories relate to each other and expose some things that their “sandwiching” reveals that otherwise would go unnoticed.
Inserting the story of John’s death inside a story on mission reveals something about the disciples’ work. When Jesus sends you on a mission, you might end up like John! Not only that, but this foreshadows Jesus’ death, who is also sent to proclaim the kingdom, but will not do so without suffering even unto martyrdom. Mark has a purpose throughout which is to show that Jesus is the shepherd-warrior-king, the Greater David. In v. 14 above, Mark calls Herod “King Herod.” Herod is the “king of the Jews.” But Jesus is the true king, compassionate about sheep without a shepherd. Herod is a false shepherd who devours the prophets, while Jesus is the true Shepherd-King who feeds His people. And that’s the gospel!
IMPORTANT: SERVICE TIME CHANGE FOR MEMORIAL MARATHON WEEKEND
We will worship this Saturday evening, April 23, due to the OKC Memorial Marathon completely shutting down the streets several blocks out from the church building. Dinner is at 5:00 followed by worship at 6:00. There will be nursery available, but no Sunday school that weekend. All are welcome!
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts– but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. – Mark 6:7-13
Have you ever wondered about why Jesus didn’t even let the Twelve take a small bag and a little money with them on their mission? Would it really have been so indulgent to take a couple of slices of bread? Furthermore, should this be how preachers and missionaries should live today? The answer is that it would not have been indulgent to take supplies and it is not a directive for how the ministers of Christ should necessarily live today. That is because their instructions are symbolic of the urgency of the message, the emergency instructions for a swift and dangerous mission.
While they brought healing to distressed souls by casting out unclean spirits and healing the sick, the central focus of their task was to be kingdom-heralds. People needed to get ready for the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which is to say, the coming destruction of earthly Israel and all the practices of Old Covenant shadows. Getting ready meant repenting, which is not simply admitting guilt and feeling bad about it, but repenting meant changing one’s entire worldview and values. The proclamation Jesus sent with them left no room for compromise and there was no time to waste.
Jesus had called and assembled his privy counselors, prophets who have a place on the Divine Council. If people believed their message and showed them hospitality, then those hearers were blessed greatly for their faith. Of course there were those who did not listen to the proclamation and did not show hospitality and they would have no representation by these young prophets, friends of Jesus, and would receive a testimony against them in a solemn symbolic way: shaking off the dust that was on their feet. This was not an act of anger or being childish; it was an act of showing that there is no time to waste since the Kingdom of God was at hand as well as the destruction of their world. The dust that was the food for the serpent will not stick to those of God’s new world. Woe to those who missed this golden opportunity!
We too have an urgent mission to preach repentance. Just as the Great Moment was coming for those in Israel in Jesus’ days on earth, so the Great Moment of His return is at hand. The Lord does not count slowness like we do. The proclamation is that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again. Repent now and turn to God, show hospitality to strangers, wage liturgical war on the Principalities and Powers, anoint the sick with oil, baptize, and proclaim the Lord’s death in the Supper until He comes. And that’s the gospel!
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “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 and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 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. And he went about among the villages teaching. – Mark 6:1-6
This passage comes as a kind of bridge between the astonishing miracles and the sending out of the Twelve on their first mission. If you remember back in Mark chapter 1, we are told that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14,15) This was right before He called the first four disciples (Simon, Andrew, James, and John), and then went to the shore of the Sea of Galilee in order to call Levi/Matthew. Then Jesus “healed many” and taught from a boat (so he wouldn’t be crushed by the crowd) right before He called the Twelve.
So it would be reasonable to expect that this new calling of the Twelve for their mission would be immediately preceded by a significant scene of teaching and healing. He goes to Nazareth, His hometown, to do it. Jesus has just performed His greatest miracle yet in raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, yet He goes to Nazareth and is rejected. He utters a famous saying, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” This translation, though technically correct, might be a little clunky. Another translation to help us hear what they did would be, “Prophets have honor everywhere except in their own hometown, their own family, and their own household.”
There is a startling statement in this passage, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Being a preacher myself, I’ve wondered if the faith of the hearers affects the power of the preaching. At one level, it doesn’t seem like it should work that way. The sermon is the sermon, and the Holy Spirit does with it as He pleases. But at another level, there is something about the esteem of the preacher and the faith of the hearers that affects efficacy. If their lacking faith and low esteem of Jesus meant, “He could do no mighty work there, except” just a few smaller things, then how much more should preachers today have a similar experience!
They talked badly about Jesus (“Isn’t he the handyman?”) and consequently missed out on some of God’s blessings. It’s probably worth considering: “How does what I say in front of other people about a preacher affect their ability to receive God’s good gifts through that preacher?” Admittedly, I haven’t thought about this much before, but Mark’s passage here should give us all a cautionary pause.
But the thing that strikes me most is that Mark tells us that Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief.” This has context not to be missed because Jairus and his wife also marveled at the resurrection they had beheld (5:42). Could Jesus be amazed at unbelief? Yes, indeed. And that gives us a hint at what will happen following the second resurrection in Mark’s gospel: unbelief. Let us remember that the faith of the woman with 12 years of bleeding saved her. The faith of Jairus led him to see a 12-year-old dead girl get up and eat with Jesus. And the faith of 12 disciples will raise a new bride, clean and alive, for Jesus. And that’s the gospel!
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:35-43
This is the second part of the sandwich story Mark offers. In the first part, we were introduced to Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, and found out that his young daughter is dying. He desperately implores Jesus to help, and Jesus goes with him to Capernaum amidst the crowds who were all over the place. On the way—and it must have been filled with urgency since the girl was dying—Jesus encounters a woman who has had an issue of blood for 12 years. She too is desperate and ceremonially barred from the presence of God without hope of remedy. She is symbolically a dead woman. Nonetheless, she touches Jesus and is saved. It’s as though she has been resurrected.
It’s a great story that teaches us many things about Jesus, but the problem is that it took some time and we find out that Jairus’ daughter is now dead. The resurrection of a woman has possibly led to the death of another. What will Jesus do? Of all things, He tells Jairus without much of an empathetic response, “Don’t be afraid…just believe.” I mean, who would do that! Someone with the power of resurrection; that’s who. And so Jesus and the closest disciples go to the house and see the commotion of grief. Jesus will have none of it and says that the child is not dead but sleeping. And they laughed at him. People are still laughing at Jesus to this day.
Why does Jesus say that the child is asleep rather than dead? Mark doesn’t want us to forget a few scenes ago in the parable of the growing seed: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how” (4:26-27). And now that’s what will happen to this girl as a further sign that the kingdom of God is breaking in upon Israel in the unlikely form of a young rabbi doing extraordinary things in one little town down by the lake. Of course, it tells us, too, how the story will end. A lot of people are going to marvel at the place where there was a dead body, but which lies there no more! And that’s the gospel!
A great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:24-34
The passage above is another one of Mark’s “sandwich stories” where he begins a story, but interrupts it with another story and returns later to the original. Though completely different stories, what they have in common (especially in symbolic ways) sheds additional meaning on them both. It is fascinating.
In this scene there is a woman who had female bleeding and “who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” It’s not difficult to see that she was hopeless physically and financially. She suffered as much or more from the cures as she did from the disease. This, however terrible, is not her biggest problem. According to Leviticus, she was ceremonially unclean in a special way. Leviticus indicates (chapters 11 & 15) that she could make anything she touched into the ceremonial equivalent of a carcass. She is as good as dead, and death might be an improvement for her.
For twelve years she had been barred from participating in the annual sacramental meals of the Old Covenant: Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Booths. She cannot even think about going to Jerusalem in her unclean condition. If she cannot find healing and cleansing, she is exiled from the presence of God, and that’s death!
She has no business touching anyone, which is why she “came in fear and trembling.” This “great crowd” was there to follow and “thronged” Jesus, and she reaches out and touches Him. She believes He will make her well, apparently even if He doesn’t know it. He does know it, but that was a surprise. It’s inspiring, but is it a little superstitious?
She already knew that Jesus does touch unclean people without becoming unclean Himself. She may have inferred that the principles of uncleanness from Leviticus did not operate the same way with Jesus. Haggai 2 indicates that in the Old Covenant shadows that death spread but life did not. Jesus is the opposite. Death was not a problem for Him; it did not spread to Him. He cleanses and thus spreads life around.
Of course we know that it was Jesus’ power that healed her, though we should not shy away from His unambiguous statement: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Her faith, though itself powerless, is the instrument through which Jesus’ power works. It’s a good lesson for us. When life crowds in with all its anxieties and disappointments, there is still room for us to creep up behind Jesus and “touch” Him by faith. It’s a strange mixture of fear and faith in this life of Christian discipleship, but He is there for those who are hopeless in their own strength to spread life around. That’s the gospel!