God's Story, Our Story: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Preaching: Janelle Koolhaas
Text: Mark 6:1-29

Last week we heard the stories of how Jesus healed a woman who had suffered with sickness for 12 years. We heard how Jesus healed Jairus’s young daughter. He had shown that his loving kindness and power would break down the usual categories… wealth, poverty, righteous status, ceremonial uncleanliness, social acceptance… and even life and death.  Jesus had been preaching to crowds all over the countryside, ministering healing, declaring the forgiveness of sins, … saying and doing the most amazing things.

There was a hint back in chapter 3, a foreshadowing, that there place, at least, where Jesus identity as teacher and healer was not sitting so well.  Instead of being pleased, the folks back home—namely his mother and siblings, were trying quietly usher him out of the spotlight before he got himself into trouble.   They were so alarmed by Jesus, they worried he had taken leave of his senses.

Today through Mark’s telling of the Gospel we are invited to listen in to 3 insights, if you wish, of when faith does not come easily, and the message of the gospel is resisted.  Let’s listen:

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense[b] at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The Mission of the Twelve

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

The Death of John the Baptist

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’[c] name had become known. Some were[d]saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod[e] had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed;[f] and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias[g] came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s[h] head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

[This is the word of the Lord.]

Peoples Reaction/Response to Jesus

We know that Mark likes to have us sprint from one event/story to the next in quick steps, but he chooses the accounts with intentionality, nothing is coincidental or sloppy. So why did Mark put these 3 windows into frustration, resistance and martyrdom in such close succession?

Mark is making sure we have perspective. Mark is laying out the course of events to lead up to Christ’s crucifixion, for one. But far more than that, far more than sobering foreshadowing of the cross, Mark is making it clear that the gospel—hearing it, telling it, or living it—is no easy, glamorous, or without great cost—as one might be persuaded if we only heard of signs and wonderings and hearts ripe for faith! 

Neither Jesus, nor Mark, wants us to make the mistake that believing the gospel and living it out will be easy or cheap!  Don’t get me wrong, there is so much hope and invitation in the gospel—with real truth and power to make it effective and gripping—but also to make people rebel or take offense, or worse.

Even Jesus was doubted, questioned, and snubbed and had to weigh the value of demonstrating and declaring who he was in his town where no one could imagine him different than themselves.  And even though Jesus power wasn’t contingent on folks’ response, we do see here that he did not feel it wise or worthwhile to demonstrate his power, when it seemed so hard for folks to believe. 

I recall when I was 16, coming back from a mission trip to Argentina, on fire for Christ, and now grappling with the beginnings of a desire to give my life to God for ministry, but afraid to show it to friends who would think I thought I was better than them.  At school, my non Christian friends couldn’t understand the impact my summer of experiencing Christ’s power had had on me—some tried and didn’t get it, and some listened, and then said I was a “holy roller” and acted like I was bizarre.  At church, I feared more of the same; how could even my few Christian peers take seriously what I had witnessed and seen?  I was certain I was changed, and called… but I was terrified of how people might make fun of, or just not take me seriously. I dared to join the worship team, but had to sing with my eyes shut, not because I was so moved by the Spirit, but because I was terrified of making eye contact with other youth group members!

But besides just being so familiar a voice,  what was so striking about Jesus’ teaching? What were listeners reacting to?

 Notice that we don’t hear words that expose any untruth of Jesus teaching as much as we hear incredulity about who is teaching.  We don’t hear them saying his words are foolish o untrue—we hear than unwilling to believe that this hometown boy could be the bearer of such wisdom—and maybe that he would have the nerve to try to teach them something about God, much less about themselves.

They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense[b] at him.

If we listen between their words, we might hear between the insults things that sound familiar too:

  • Contentment
  • Self satisfaction (that their lives and experience do not warrant anyone to call them out)
  • That’s easier to criticize someone else than to be vulnerable to a message, a call, a reproach from Scripture or the Holy Spirit speaking through someone else…that we don’t want to hear.

….If we take a closer look in the original language, Mark says that Jesus family and neighbors in his home town “took offense at him”.   The original word is “scandalizo”, which most literally means, “they stumbled over him”—and over his message. +++  Jesus wasn’t so much “being offensive”, as he was saying things that tripped them up, that couldn’t be swallowed, as we would say. 

That is a pretty apt description of what sometimes happened when , Jesus, the disciples, and John, preached REPENTANCE.  Repentance marks a turning, a rerouting of one’s course away from sin and evil, and towards the Christ and his righteousness/purity.That can be a hard message to hear, “a lot to swallow”, or easily stumble over, and it takes courage to respond.  It forces one to surrender control, and the self assurance that we are alright.

And so I think that is exactly what Jesus wants to dispel as he trains his messengers!   In the next part, we hear that Jesus gave them spiritual authority, and ordered them to go out and minister to the people.  The disciples anointed the sick, cured diseases and cast out spirits. And they were to teach the same message of turning from sin, according to Jesus instructions. They were not allowed to take provisions. They would be about their ministry completely vulnerable and dependant on each other, on God’s Spirit.  If clinging to control and dogged self assurance were stumbling blocks to fully transformed lives… then once again, we see Jesus defying logic by preparing his disciples to ONLY BE ABLE TO RELY ON HIM.

Is there  a lesson that for us?  That in order to challenge others to take steps, even risks to follow Christ and be transformed, we have to demonstrate a corresponding vulnerability?  We are more accustomed to packing lists, agendas, and scout-like preparedness—but Jesus is challenging his disciples to carry the message with as little to rely on besides God’s power and authority as possibleJust like those who repent, they were called to set out on a new path without the ease or distraction of taking parts of their old life with them.

The thing about a repentence message (and even a call to serve God in new ways)  is that it is so easy to get tripped up, offended by, or scared off from the idea of what we’ll have to give up, or get into.  We fear humiliation, we fear it will be too hard to change…we fear theshame or failingbeing dragged into the light for all to see…

But what if a CALL TO REPENTENCE was recognizedas being invited into freedom? What is it about us humans that focus so much on ourselves and what we don’t want to turn from, and fail to see all that to which we are invited once we cast off the things that separate us from God?   Believing and following Christ requires an emptying, to be sure, but also a promise to be filled!

John the Baptist Rebukes the King

We’ve said that a call to repentence puts people on the defensive and calls into question how they think of themselves. It requires us ask questions we don’t want to ask, just as John asked of the reshuffling of wives of the royal family.

In the third part of today’s passage, we learn the horrifying story of how John the Baptist died—the short version is that it was revenge for calling outthe fact that Herod had taken his own living brother’s wife for his own.

Notice, that John was a threat because he called into question the morality, the identity of the king to do whatever he wanted, or marry whoever he desired… John preached turning from sin and the fear of the God of Righteousness.  In fact, he even was intrigue and fascinated by John’s teachings, and Herod secretly revered him. Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed;[f] and yet he liked to listen to him. 

But as I wrestled with what to say about it, these questions came to mind for us:

Why do we resist or run from repentance?  What are you/we offended by that God says to us that causes us to dig in our heels and go no further? To stop listening because it’s uncomfortable , even though we sense that God is speaking?

Conclusion:

Friends, let’s not get caught either trying to hang on to things that keep us from closeness to Christ. Whatever that may be!   And when the Holy Spirit prompts us and shows us what we are clinging to, let us be sure to hear the invitation and not get stuck in fear of changing, or fear of failing! And when God calls us to obey in new and risky ways, let us rely on him and not be held back by worry.   In ALL things, we can TRUST the one who is calling us, changing us, sending us!

Fellowship Church