TRANSITION EVENTS Mark 6–7
“They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was” (Mark 6:55).Now it was time for ordinary people, kings, and the religious elite all to make up their minds about who Jesus is.
As Jesus’ ministry in Galilee drew to a close, Christ was resented in Nazareth (6:1–6). Though He gave power to His disciples (vv. 7–13), ordinary people still viewed Him as no more than a prophet (vv. 14–15), while Herod decided He was John the Baptist come back from the dead (vv. 16–29). Jesus displayed His power by feeding the 5,000 (vv. 30–44), walking on water (vv. 45–52), and healing (vv. 53–56). Jesus confronted the elite of Israel (7:1–23), and foreshadowed the universal Gospel by healing Gentiles who believed in Him (vv. 24–37).
Understanding the Text
“Isn’t this Mary’s Son and the Brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon?” Mark 6:1–6 What a reminder of the secret nature of Jesus’ present kingdom. Even Jesus went unrecognized and resented by the people in His hometown. They’d known Him all His life, perhaps had furniture He had shaped in their homes. All Galilee might be agog, talking excitedly about Jesus. But the folks at home weren’t impressed. No sir! What’s more, they resented Jesus: thought He was putting on airs, getting above Himself. Don’t be surprised if it’s like this with you sometimes. You talk about your relationship with God in Jesus, and what He’s done for you. And the people who know you best are the most likely to scoff or show resentment. When this happens, what we have to remember is that Christ does rule. Later Jesus’ mother and brothers did come to faith (cf. Acts 1:14). If you live a Christlike life, and continue to share simply when the opportunity arises, the Lord can and will break down this most formidable barrier to belief: familiarity. “He sent them out . . . and gave them authority” Mark 6:7–13. The unbelief of the folks at home did not limit Christ’s power. It merely limited the ability of those who would not believe to experience it! How do we know? Shortly after, Jesus gave His disciples authority over evil spirits, and sent them out to preach. And they successfully exercised that power. We might become sidetracked here by a debate over whether or not believers today can have authority over sickness and demons. But what’s important is that Jesus’ power is so great that it can be expressed through others, as well as in person. You and I can minister to others, not because we have some special strength or ability, or even some special spiritual gift. You and I can minister because Jesus Christ has chosen to work in and through those who believe in Him. The power to serve is His: the feet, hands, and mouth He uses belong to us. If we surrender ourselves to Him, Christ will surely use us today to draw others into the hidden kingdom He rules. “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago” Mark 6:14–15. Christ had ministered for many months, and perhaps even for years, in Galilee. Soon He would take His final journey up to Jerusalem to face crucifixion. It was appropriate at this time to ask what verdict concerning Jesus His fellow countrymen had reached. The answer was disappointing. He was a prophet “like one of the prophets of long ago.” For anyone else this would have been high praise. But not for Jesus, who was and is the Son of God. That verdict in fact constituted rejection both of Christ, and of the secret kingdom He offered. In each Gospel, this verdict marks a turning point. From this point on we see a shift in the emphasis of Jesus’ message, and a growing emphasis on the Cross. “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead” Mark 6:16–29. Herod Agrippa, the tetrarch of Galilee, is a fascinating model of a person whose hesitation pushes him over the edge of unbelief. Earlier Herod had arrested John but, in awe of the prophet, had failed to execute him despite the urging of his wife, Herodias. She hated John, who preached against her marriage on the grounds that Herodias had been married to Herod’s half-brother, and the relationship was thus incestuous. At the time there were also political reasons why Herod wanted to be rid of John. Yet Herod couldn’t bring himself to kill John. He was both fascinated and repelled by John’s teaching, and often heard him speak. What doomed Herod was hesitation. He waited till, trapped by circumstances, he permitted John’s execution. In looking at the story in Matthew’s Gospel, I suggested Herod was a victim of peer pressure. Here I suggest another factor was crucial: hesitation. If Herod had only made up his mind before he was trapped by circumstances. If only he had decided to repent, to divorce Herodias, and to release John. But he waited till it was too late. Living in Jesus’ kingdom calls for us to be decisive about moral issues. We must determine what is right, and do it. The longer a person waits to commit to what he or she knows is right, the greater the likelihood of a wrong choice. “He gave thanks and broke the loaves” Mark 6:30–44. Here the familiar story has a special poignancy. Jesus had been rejected at home, misunderstood by His nation, and become the object of a king’s superstitious dread. Yet Jesus continued to act with compassion, and displayed His power in the feeding of the 5,000. But note. “Looking up to heaven” reminds us that no matter how misunderstood on earth, Jesus maintained a secure relationship with God the Father. No doubts, and no rejection by mere men could affect the channel through which Christ’s power flowed. It’s the same with us. We may be misunderstood. We may be rejected by those closest to us. But as long as we maintain an intimate relationship with God, we have a source of unfailing strength. Christ’s kingdom may be invisible. But it is very real. The power of the King still flows to and through His disciples today. “Their hearts were hardened” Mark 6:45–56. The next miracle was witnessed only by Jesus’ disciples. Their response showed that even those closest to Christ did not fully grasp who He is, or His power. Jesus walked on the water, stilled the storm, and the next day went on healing all those in need. In these acts He not only showed Himself to be the Son of God, but also revealed how deeply God cares for man. If you and I are to experience the fullness of life in Jesus’ present, invisible kingdom, we need to remember: Jesus can; and Jesus cares. If we let our hearts become hardened through unbelief, we will miss the wonders that God has for us to experience here and now. “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the Law” Mark 7:1–23. The religious leaders of the Jews gathered, and again we sense how insensitive they were to the things that concerned Jesus. They wanted to talk about ritual hand-washing. Jesus is dedicated to a heart relationship with the Lord (vv. 3–7). They were concerned with externals; Jesus was committed to cleansing the inner man (vv. 8–23). Inward and outward religion comes into conflict whenever we place more stress on behavior than motive, and on symbolic actions than interpersonal relationships. Sunday go-to-meeting faces and well-pressed clothes have never been an adequate measure of participation in Christ’s secret kingdom. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia” Mark 7:24–30. Up to this point Jesus’ ministry has been concentrated in Jewish areas around Galilee. Chapters 6 and 7 report the failure of God’s people to acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son. His neighbors resented Him (6:1–8), the crowds saw Him only as a prophet (vv. 14–15), and Herod superstitiously thought Him John the Baptist back from the dead (v. 16). Even His disciples were hardened, failing to grasp the full extent of His power (vv. 51–52), while the Pharisees could think only of their rules and traditions. So here Mark introduced a story about a Gentile woman who foreshadowed the future. God’s Old Testament people had not welcomed the Son of God? Then the Gentiles will! God’s covenant people must be approached first, but there is plenty on the table of His grace for all. “He has done everything well” Mark 7:31–37. Mark’s note on location places this event also in Gentile territory, without identifying the deaf and dumb man’s nationality. This too may be foreshadowing, for in the church founded on Christ’s deity, Jew and Gentile would both find a place, and assume a new identity: Christian. The last verse sums up not only this healing but all of Jesus’ ministry to date. “He has done everything well.” If some do not believe, it is because they, not Christ, are flawed.
What’s Wrong with Tradition? (Mark 7:1–23)
We all have our traditions. My wife puts up the Christmas tree December 1. It comes down on January 1. This is a simple, harmless tradition she has no intention of imposing on anyone else. But other kinds of traditions aren’t quite so harmless. Sue felt distinctly put down when told at a potluck by the pastor-emeritus of the church we attend, “We go around the table this way, not that!” It bothered him terribly that she didn’t do what had been done there for years. And it bothered her that she was expected to be like everyone else! Traditions often are experienced like this. They’re not only the comfortable “way we do things,” but are also a demand that others do it our way too. And in religion, tradition is especially unhealthy. Why? The passage suggests four reasons. Our traditions can become a test of acceptability (vv. 1–5). Whenever we find ourselves measuring others by certain behaviors, rather than taking time to know them as persons, we’ve fallen victim to this danger. Traditions can become a measure of spirituality if we’re not careful (vv. 6–7). Whenever we’re more concerned with fitting in with others’ expectations than with pleasing God, we’ve fallen victim to a second danger. Traditions can be used to set aside the commands of God (vv. 8–13). Whenever our group’s interpretation of the Bible is more important to us than Scripture itself, we’ve fallen victim to this danger. Tradition can shift our emphasis from personal piety and holiness to externals. Whenever we are more concerned with looking righteous than with being righteous, we have fallen victim to perhaps the most serious danger of tradition. What does Jesus call for in place of tradition? He expects a radical reorientation of our perspective, from a concern with how things look, to a concern for what they really are. If your heart for God, and my heart for God, are more important to us than either of our traditions, then and only then will we be free.
Let nothing distract your focus from your own heart, and the heart of others.
“The Spirit of God is always the spirit of liberty; the spirit that is not of God is the spirit of bondage, the spirit of oppression and depression. The Spirit of God convicts vividly and tensely, but He is always the Spirit of liberty. God who made the birds never made birdcages; it is men who make birdcages, and after a while we become cramped and can do nothing but chirp and stand on one leg. When we get out into God’s great free life, we discover that that is the way God means us to live ’the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ “—Oswald Chambers