Sunday July 23rd
A man was driving through a small town in the South, when he got pulled over by a redneck deputy. The deputy approached the window of the man’s car and asked,
“Do you know how fast y’all were going?”
The man responded, “I actually don’t have a clue and I really don’t care!”
The deputy looked the man in the eyes and said “What the heck did you just say to me?”
The man quickly apologized, saying “I’m sorry officer, but you see it’s Lent and I’ve been fasting all week. It’s a part of my religion and all this fasting has me on edge.”
The deputy wrote the man a ticket and looked down at him, saying “The first thing is, your religion don’t give you the right to disregard the law, and number two, around here it ain’t called fastin. It’s called speedin.”
I don’t know if you realize this or not, but Jesus was from a little hick town called Nazareth. Nazareth was so backwoods that when Phillip told Nathanael that they had met the Messiah and he was from Nazareth, “Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Here in Mark chapter 6 Jesus returns to Nazareth:
Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” 5 And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He wondered at their unbelief.
So welcome home Jesus! The people of Nazareth had a hard time seeing Jesus as anything other than a local carpenter who grew up in their small town. They can’t comprehend how Jesus could be teaching such “wisdom” and working miracles if he is only a common construction worker without any religious training or credentials.
This group of skeptics actually included people from Jesus’ own family. We saw this in Mark 3:21 “And He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”
That’s another way of saying “he’s out of his mind” or “he has lost his marbles”!
In verse 4 Jesus sums up the situation with this phrase: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”
Some of you might have experienced a similar thing, where people in your family or friends from your past can’t acknowledge the “born again” person that you are, because they knew the “old” you. At least you can take comfort in the fact that they did the same thing to Jesus!
When verse 5 says that “He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” this is not necessarily an indication that Jesus’ power was somehow weakened by their unbelief.
It may simply reveal that these unbelieving neighbors didn’t even bother to ask Jesus to heal them.
After having such limited success in Nazareth, Jesus and his disciples went back out onto the road starting in the second part of verse 6:
And He was going around the villages teaching.
7 And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; 8 and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt— 9 but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” 10 And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11 Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.
So the Twelve disciples are about to become the twelve apostles. Why do I say that? Because when it says that Jesus began to “send them out”, that verb “send” has the same root word as the noun apostle, which means “ones who are sent”. Disciples are followers, but apostles are followers who get sent out to do the master’s work.
We might also notice that Jesus specifically sent them out “two by two”. There is a biblical principle that any true testimony must be established by at least two witnesses and this principle was also applied to missionary activity. The early church continued to follow this principle in the ministry pairs of Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, and Paul and Timothy – always two by two.
In verse 8 Jesus tells them to take no bread and no money, which was his way of making them completely dependent on God for their provision and for their power.
Jesus knew that godly people would receive these apostles into their homes and feed them, but that if some of the people rejected them, they should just “shake off the dust” of that rejection. This was a practice that these disciples would have been familiar with, because Jewish people always shook the dust off their feet after traveling through pagan areas, so that the ungodly pagan influence would not affect them or stick with them.
We don’t have to follow that practice literally, but we can still “shake the dust off” of our hearts when we face rejection from unbelievers for trying to spread the gospel.
And speaking of how to handle unbelieving pagans, Israel’s supposed king was nothing more than a pagan puppet-ruler who had been put in place to rule over them by their Roman conquerors.
His name was King Herod, and we meet him in verse 14:
14 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!”
Apparently there was a lot of talk among the people about who Jesus really was. In Mark 8:27-28 we see this:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
So Herod was hearing these same rumors, but one rumor in particular had him very freaked out – the one about Jesus possibly being John the Baptist raised from the dead. Why did this idea in particular cause Herod to worry? Because he was the one who had John the Baptist killed!
This is how it all happened, starting in verse 17:
17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.
This King Herod’s name was Herod Antipas.
He was the son of Herod the Great, the one who killed all of the baby boys in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. In these verses we will find out how sinful Herod the son really was.
This was a case of –“like father, like son”! The dad killed the babies – the son killed John the Baptist.
A key player in this soap opera is Herodias, who was actually Herod’s brother Philip’s wife. Herodias was also Philip’s niece, in case you thought this family couldn’t get any weirder! After she married her Uncle Philip, Herodias left him to start an adulterous relationship with Philip’s brother, her uncle Herod Antipas. This was exactly the kind of immoral living that John the Baptist was preaching against, and John didn’t really care that Herod was the king. He still declared that what Herod and Herodias were doing was wrong in God’s eyes.
Herod didn’t seem to pay much attention to John, but Herodias was ticked! She forced Herod to arrest John.
But even after John was arrested, Herod didn’t plan to do John any harm. In fact, verse 20 says that “Herod was afraid of John…but he used to enjoy listening to him.”
Herodias, on the other hand, found nothing about John that she liked. Her anger wouldn’t be satisfied until John was dead. So she hatched an evil plan with the help of her equally wicked daughter:
21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.”
I think we can safely assume that this banquet had plenty of wine flowing and that Herod, the birthday boy, was probably already pretty drunk by the time Salome, Herodias’ daughter, performed her dance. While the guests were clapping, Herod, wanting some of that attention for himself, makes this bold promise to give Salome whatever she wants as a reward for such a wonderful performance. He says that he will give her up to half of what he owns. It’s now up to her to tell him what she wants. But it’s not what Herod was expecting:
24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.
How’s that for a gruesome way to spoil a birthday party? The moral of the story from Herod’s perspective is this – don’t make foolish promises – you may end up having to keep them!
Around this same time, the disciples returned from their first evangelistic mission:
30 The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
When the 12 apostles returned, Jesus had them take some time to rest. Perhaps he was more aware than they were that most of them would eventually be martyred for their faith, like what had just happened to John the Baptist. Perhaps he also needed to remind them that what they just experienced was a result of God’s power, not theirs.
We get a more complete picture of the importance of this lesson when we compare the sending out of the original twelve with the sending out of the 70 in Luke chapter 10:
Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. 2 And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. 8 Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; 9 and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’10 But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’
We can see how similar those instructions were to the ones Jesus gave to the twelve when he sent them out – go two by two, take nothing for the journey. Let God provide for you, stay with nice people, and shake off the dust off of your feet when unbelieving people reject you.
Now let’s look at the conversation that happens when this group of 70 returns. This is from Luke 10:17-20
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
Just like the first twelve, these 70 “sent ones” are blown away by the power that they have experienced by using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and heal the sick.
Jesus tells them “Oh yeah, I watched Satan come crashing down while you were out there proclaiming the Kingdom of God! In fact, I’ve given you more power than you are even aware of yet – over ALL the power of the enemy!”
But notice what Jesus says next – “Don’t rejoice so much about the power that you’ve been given – rejoice over the fact that you have this power because your names are written in heaven’s Book of Life!”
The Message version puts verse 20 like this:
“The great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”
Let’s remember to rejoice this morning over the fact that God is doing a great work both In us and Through us!