I enjoy a good movie. But I’m not a fan of Hollywood’s constant attempts at thematic spirituality in film. Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing like good spiritually-based movies—but most of Hollywood’s attempts are nothing like good spiritually-based movies. They are simply poorly-written or poorly-acted, or both. Still, even Hollywood strikes oil every once in a while. Take the Indiana Jones trilogy for example: with Stephen Spielberg and Harrison Ford—how could they go wrong? Add Sean Connery to the mix and voila—magic! In the final scene of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” our hero Indiana Jones42 (played by Harrison Ford) is making his way through three booby-traps in order to secure the Holy Grail—the only device that can save his father (played by Sean Connery) from a gunshot wound. After successfully navigating the first two obstacles, Indiana finds himself beside a stone lion head at the edge of a precipice—a bottomless pit with no foreseeable way around it. The room containing the coveted Grail rests about 50-feet on the other side of the precipice. The only clue he has about conquering this obstacle states: “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” Upon recalling this clue, Indiana knows what is required of him. After mustering all of his strength—including symbolically placing his hand over his heart—he dramatically raises his foot high and slowly steps out over the dark abyss. Just when one thinks he will go tumbling into the darkness, Indiana finds himself on solid ground—a firm pathway extending across the precipice but virtually invisible to the naked eye. What was required of him? Faith? No. Faith alone—mere cognitive belief—would not have conquered the abyss. Rather, Indiana was required to demonstrate his faith in action. That’s what Hollywood did well in this film. Immobilized belief was not sufficient; faith-based action was required. Indiana retrieves the Grail and rescues Sean Connery, who lives to make another film.
Today’s message is not about “believing” as you and I think about it—cognitive faith, sitting in a dark room with our eyes closed. Remember, in Mark’s Gospel actions speak louder than words. Today we are taking about faith in action. And our primary teachers—for better or for worse—are the disciples. We will see the disciples play more and more of a prominent role as Mark’s Gospel unfolds. Many of Jesus’ teachings and miracles will be performed for their benefit alone. The question that today’s text begs is this: What action does your faith in Jesus Christ demand of you today?
We encountered the theme of faith in the previous lesson, “A Follower’s Proof.” It surfaced explicitly in three of the four miracles Jesus performed from Mark 4:35 – 5:43. First, the disciples arouse Jesus to save them from the tumultuous storm on the sea. After calming the waves and hushing the winds Jesus asks them, “Do you still not have faith?” Second, after Jesus heals the hemorrhaging woman He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Finally, messengers approach Jairus to inform him that during his journey to retrieve Jesus his daughter had died: “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” Jesus (“paying no attention to what was said”) then said to Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just believe.” Today we are going to pursue that theme of “faith” and, in particular, faith-based action. Mark will disclose five scenarios, each highlighting a different dimension of faith.
6:1 Now Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 6:2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue. And many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did he get these ideas? And what is this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these miracles that are done through his hands? 6:3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 6:4 Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown, and among his relatives, and in his own house.” 6:5 He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6:6 And he was amazed44 because of their unbelief. Then he went around among the villages and taught.
Once again our passage begins with people trying to identify Jesus. They simply haven’t the categories. This time it is those in His own hometown of Nazareth and His family. Five questions of unbelief are expressed by those who hear Jesus teach. These were astonished by his teaching because He didn’t act like this when He lived there before. They think it is all new stuff and wonder what sort of act He is putting on. Whether Joseph was living or dead, it was still an insult to identify one as the son of his mother. This could also be a subtle reference to Jesus’ alleged illegitimacy.
Imagine, here was the eternal Son of God right before their eyes performing miracles and teaching authoritatively. He wanted to be there; He wanted to teach these friends and family that were so dear to Him; He wanted to perform miracles for His loved ones. Yet because of their unbelief—and perhaps their scoffing—He chooses to go elsewhere with His message and miracles.45 These people who should have welcomed Him with open arms are the very ones who miss the opportunity of a lifetime. How sad.
A few months ago I attended a conference in Toronto, Ontario. While there, I took the opportunity to visit the CN Tower. Roughly two million people visit the CN Tower each year. At 1,815 feet, it is the world’s tallest building—standing proudly more than four hundred feet taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Twin Towers that once cast shadows over New York City. At 1,122 feet the tower features an observation deck with a glass floor that begs the bravest of heart to walk across. After much hesitation (and some gentle taps with my foot to ensure stability) I mustered up the courage to step out over the city of Toronto with my feet suspended in mid-air46—150 feet higher than the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and 200 feet higher than the tallest building in Dallas, Texas (the Bank of America building). As trite as it may sound, it was faith that enabled me to walk out onto the glass floor: Faith in the engineers who designed the tower, faith in the builders who constructed the tower, faith in the materials used to erect the tower, and (most importantly) faith that larger men than me had walked out over the glass and lived to tell about it. When I asked one of the women working there what percentage of the folks who visit the tower actually walk on the glass floor, she said a very small percentage do so. How sad. Folks come from all around the world to visit the CN Tower, and only some of them have the faith to take advantage of a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Those who were closest to Jesus likewise had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and sadly their lack of faith likewise prevented many of them from experiencing the eternal Son of God in the way He wanted them to. Does God want to do something miraculous in your life, but you lack the faith He requires to do so? Do you suffer from unbelief—a deficiency of faith? You just might be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
6:7 Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 6:8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 6:9 and to put on sandals but not to wear two tunics. 6:10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the area. 6:11 If a place will not welcome you or listen to you, as you go out from there shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6:12 So they went out and preached that all should repent. 6:13 They cast out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Mark 6:12-13 is in direct fulfillment of 3:14-15 (also 1:17), where it is said that the disciples would preach and exorcise demons. These were sent as official representatives, as apostles.47 Jesus prohibits them from packing for their trip, and instead commands them to take only what they currently have (staff and sandals).48 In doing so, Jesus stresses the necessity of utter dependence upon God to supply their every need and to bring about the fruit. Thus faith is required from those sent out, and they are sent out demanding others to respond in faith. Jesus tells them to accept hospitality, and not to seek better accommodations once settled (“Wherever you enter a house, stay there . . .”). He also warns that some will not respond well to the message. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the recent rejection He had received in His own hometown (6:4).
This passage is appropriately used by many churches as a blueprint for evangelism training. The principles here are relevant even for today. First, notice that the disciples had been with Jesus first. They themselves were disciples before they attempt to make their own disciples. Next, notice that Jesus sends them out in pairs. Far too often a church’s evangelism training program involves a 2-hour course on how to witness and nothing more. Evangelism training in the classroom must be followed by on-the-job training in evangelism—pairing up and going!49 Next, notice Jesus’ emphasis on relying on God. Evangelistic efforts in our own strength with ultimately fail. Furthermore, we are not to rely on our own style of evangelism or smooth delivery, but in the power of the message itself. Next, Jesus prepares them for rejection. It is important to remind people that when a door is slammed in their face it is the message of Jesus Christ that is being rejected, not the messenger. Finally—as we will see in 6:30—it is important to regroup after an evangelistic outreach to hear others’ stories about how God worked and to celebrate together.
Are you involved in any such evangelism strategy? Does your church have anything that resembles the duplication of faith described in Mark 6:7-13? Perhaps today your faith in Jesus Christ demands that you tell someone else about Him.
6:14 Now King Herod heard this, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead, and because of this, miraculous powers are at work in him.” 6:15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” Others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets from the past.” 6:16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 6:17 For Herod himself had sent men, arrested John, and bound him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her; 6:18 for John had repeatedly told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 6:19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not 6:20 because Herod stood in awe of John and protected him, since he knew that John was a righteous and holy man. When he heard him, he was thoroughly baffled, and yet he liked to listen to him.
6:21 But a day of opportunity came, when Herod gave a banquet on his birthday for his court officials, military commanders, and leaders of Galilee. 6:22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 6:23 He swore insistently, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” 6:24 So she went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother said, “The head of John the baptizer.” 6:25 Immediately she hurried back to the king and made her request: “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter immediately.” 6:26 Although it grieved the king deeply, he did not want to reject her request because of his oath and his guests. 6:27 So the king sent an executioner at once to bring John’s head, and he went and beheaded John in prison. 6:28 He brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 6:29 When John’s disciples heard this, they came and took his body and placed it in a tomb.
Confusion over the identity of Jesus is far-reaching (is He Elijah, some other prophet, John the Baptist back from the dead?). Herod believes Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead.50 Herod Antipas is the son of Herod the Great who had tried to kill the infant Jesus by slaughtering all children two years old and under. He was not technically a king. He was a proud man (not wanting to embarrass himself before his guests) and fearful of losing face.51 He was officially dismissed from office and exiled in
In the Gospel of Mark, only five verses are given to the ministry of John the Baptist, while fourteen are dedicated to his death. Does that seem backward to you? Not if you understand the message of the Gospel of Mark. In this Gospel, finishing well is just as important as starting well (see Mark 9:9-13). John the Baptist is held up in the Gospel of Mark as an example of one who finished well. In fact, in Mark only two people die for the Gospel—Jesus and John the Baptist. He is heralded as a hero to Mark’s persecuted Roman audience. He harbored no fear of the establishment, and no fear of death. He did not waiver in unbelief when imprisoned, nor did he waffle when the executioner arrived for his head. He remained faithful—and full of faith—until the very end.
Perhaps today your faith in Jesus Christ demands that you vow to finish strong the way John did. He demonstrated a faith that endured. There are many like him today, folks who have walked with Jesus Christ for decades and are still walking strong. Will you be counted among their number one day?
6:30 Then the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. 6:31 He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat). 6:32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to some remote place. 6:33 But many saw them leaving and recognized them, and they hurried on foot from all the towns and arrived there ahead of them. 6:34 As Jesus came ashore he saw the large crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he taught them many things.
6:35 When it became late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place and it is already very late. 6:36 Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 6:37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” 6:38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” When they found out they said, “Five—and two fish.” 6:39 Then he directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 6:40 So they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. 6:41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the bread. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 6:42 They all ate and were satisfied, 6:43 and they picked up the broken pieces and fish left over, twelve baskets full. 6:44 Now there were five thousand men who ate the bread.
There is no indication that the crowd understood that a miracle had occurred. Rather, the text makes it clear that this was done for the disciples’ sake. They are charged with finding food for the crowd, inventorying the food, serving the food, and collecting the leftovers (according to John 6).53 Just as the disciples had just been sent to spiritually feed the people, now they are sent to physically feed the people. Both are instigated by Jesus’ compassion for the people.54
A few years ago, my wife and I attended a conference at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. The 5,000 conferees had prepaid for the conference, and in turn the organization had arranged for everyone to eat at the numerous campus cafeterias. At around 11:20 a.m., about thirty minutes before our lunch break, CSU experienced a campus-wide electrical blackout. It was then that the organization hosting the conference demonstrated their excellence. They knew that the cafeterias would not be able to prepare lunch and that ultimately the host organization was responsible for feeding these 5,000 hungry people. A delegation of about twelve people was sent just off campus in pursuit of telephones from which they could order food. Equipped with a short script describing the urgency of the situation, they began dialing restaurants. Twelve pizza places were called, along with Burger King, Taco Bell, and Macdonald’s. Domino’s was told, “Whatever you can make and deliver in 30 minutes we’ll buy.” When all was said and done, the conference purchased 170 burritos, 170 tacos, 600 Quarter Pounders, 70 large fries, and an entire truckload of Pepsi. 504 pizzas were delivered—140 from Domino’s alone! None of the twelve pizza places delivered less than 20 pizzas. All was delivered and eaten in less than 90 minutes. What was left over? 6 Pizzas and 6 Quarter Pounders—about 12 baskets full.
Jesus performs some miracles because of peoples’ faith; the feeding of the 5,000 was performed in order to cause people to have faith. This miracle was done for the development of the disciples’ faith. Had their hearts not been hardened (see 6:52), they would have realized that a miracle had taken place and acknowledged Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God. Perhaps today your faith in Jesus Christ demands that you trust Him to provide for your needs.
6:45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dispersed the crowd. 6:46 After saying good-bye to them, he went to the mountain to pray. 6:47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea and he was alone on the land. 6:48 He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. As the night was ending,55 he came to them walking on the sea for he wanted to pass by them. 6:49 When they saw him walking on the water they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 6:50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 6:51 Then he went up with them into the boat, and the wind ceased. They were completely astonished, 6:52 because they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
6:53 After they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and anchored there. 6:54 As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized Jesus. 6:55 They ran through that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. 6:56 And wherever he would go—into villages, towns, or countryside—they would place the sick in the marketplaces, and would ask him if they could just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
This miracle is related to the feeding of the 5000 (as indicated in Mark 6:52). The multiplying of the bread was intended to show the disciples once again who Jesus was and that God was working through Him. They didn’t get it. If forced to characterize the disciples’ relationship with Jesus throughout the Gospel of Mark, it would have to be one of non-understanding.
Jesus’ intention was to “pass by them.” Probably this language is meant to evoke epiphany language from the Old Testament, where God “passes by” while revealing His glory. It is doubtful that Jesus merely meant to “walk past” them. Thus Jesus intended to disclose His glory to these men by “passing by.” This is further substantiated by the language Jesus Himself uses when He addresses the frightened disciples in the boat. “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” is literally, “Have courage! I am. Do not be afraid.” Did you hear that? Jesus identifies Himself with the title, “I am,” meant to convey His deity. But because of the hard hearts of the disciples, the plan backfires. They do not understand the epiphany nor the self-disclosing title. If they had, they would surely have redirected their faith and placed it in Jesus.
I am convinced that very few people suffer from a lack of faith. In my experience, most folks have plenty of faith to go around, but their faith is misdirected. God is not pleased with abundance of faith if it is misguided. What is the direction of your faith? In our culture there are many possible answers to that question. Some have faith in plants, animals, crystals, the stars, fate—the list goes on and on. Probably the most common misplacement of faith is in ourselves. What is the direction of your faith? Perhaps today the Lord is asking that you redirect your faith and place it in the great “I am.”
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for chapter six is Mark 6:6.
And he was amazed because of their unbelief. Then he went around among the villages and taught.
42 Perhaps part of my intrigue with the “Indiana Jones” trilogy rests in the fact that I was born and raised in Indiana.
43 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
44 Jesus is “amazed” (used of Jesus only here in Mark) by their unbelief (6:6), presumably because of His own peoples’ high level of rejection.
45 One should not presume that their unbelief rendered Jesus incapable of working miracles. On several other occasions Jesus performs miracles where the text gives no hint of faith (e.g., feeding of the 5,000, feeding of the 4,000). Rather, Jesus chooses not to exercise His supernatural power in the face of such closed-mindedness.
46 I took a great picture from this vantage point of looking straight down—with my feet in the foreground and the ground some 1,122 feet in the background.
47 The designation “apostles” appears only twice in Mark—3:14 and 6:30.
48 Matthew and Luke prohibit even a staff and sandals, though what is probably meant is that the disciples were not to acquire anything additional.
49 Pair an inexperienced evangelist with an experienced one and send them out with the message of the Gospel. Watch how the Holy Spirit ignites a passion for the lost in that inexperienced evangelist.
50 Herod probably thought this because Jesus and John shared a similar message of repentance. Part of the reason for the Messianic Secret was to prevent such widespread confusion over the identity of Jesus.
51 The text means to contrast the fear of Herod and the faith of John. Faith was required for John to stand against the establishment and publicly denounce the marriage.
52 William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 211.
53 The 12 baskets full of leftovers served two purposes: 1) To show that everyone was full and 2) to provide a tangible symbol to each disciple of the miracle Jesus performed. Nevertheless, they still fail to understand (6:52).
54 Mark uses the verb σπλαγχνίζομαι (compassion) three times of Jesus (1:41; 6:34; 8:2; see also 9:22).
55 Jesus came walking on the water sometime between 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.