How to Be Courageous
Explore the Bible Series
January 3. 2010
Background Passage: Mark 6:6-56
Lesson Passage: Mark 6:35-52
It seems difficult to identify a unifying theme for Mark Six. At first glance, the stories seem unrelated and jumbled together in a haphazard manner. At this point in the text it appears that Mark followed a chronological account of the ministry of Jesus, and this may lead to the seeming lack of a centralized theme. As always, Mark focused on the actions of the Lord. The narrative, however, does indicate some significant development in Jesus’ ministry.
1. The beginning of the practical training of the Twelve: To this point, the disciples were observers, learning from Jesus: witnessing his miracles, hearing his teaching, learning to pray. However, this lesson highlights the Lord’s early efforts to include the disciples in the work of announcing the Kingdom. Many years ago I purchased a wonderful book entitled, The Training of the Twelve, by a Nineteenth-Century Scottish pastor, A.B. Bruce. His masterful treatment of the Lord’s work, as it related to the equipping of the disciples, has helped me immeasurably. If still in print, I encourage Bible teachers to find a copy of this valuable work.
2. The end of John’s ministry: This sad story highlights the centrality of Jesus to the coming of the Kingdom. John, though a great man, was not the Promised One, and, at the appropriate time, he passed from the scene. Frankly, God’s providence with John seems cruel—dying violently at the hands of an adulterous, weak governor, and I won’t try to soft-pedal the tragedy and mystery of this episode; however, we often find that God’s ways seem mysterious. However we deal with the difficulties of this story, there can be little doubt that John’s death marked an important turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
We do, however, observe some important points of continuity in our lesson passage.
1. Jesus’ continued his miraculous works: The continued healing of the sick, exorcism of demons, the feeding of the five thousand, and the calming of the tempest all witness to the remarkable power and authority of the Messiah.
2. Jesus’ compassion for hurting people: Mark and Luke focus much of their writings on the healing ministry of Jesus. The Lord, however, was not merely a travelling wonder-worker. He deeply cared for and identified with the people he encountered, and this passage makes that absolutely clear. The Messianic identity of the Lord Jesus, therefore, is demonstrated in his power and authority, but also in his matchless compassion for poor, broken, unworthy sinners.
I. An Early Assignment for the Twelve (vv. 6-13; Luke 9:1-6): After the rejection of Nazareth, Jesus turned his attention to other villages in Galilee, and he extended his work by sending his disciples on a temporary mission. He gave the Twelve specific principles to guide their work.
A. “began to send them out two by two” (v. 7): The Mosaic Law affirmed the truth of legal testimony by requiring two or more witnesses (See Deuteronomy 17:6 and Numbers 35:30), and, since these men bore witness to the work of Jesus, it was important that they have a valid, reliable testimony.
B. “he charged them to take nothing” (vv. 8-10): This temporary mission called for an austere commitment to trust God for their needs: money, food, clothing, and shelter. He instructed the men to receive graciously the hospitality of the villagers.
C. “he gave them power over unclean spirits…they went and preached that the people should repent” (vv. 7b and 12-13). Their ministry was to reflect that of the Master, and they could expect the same demonic opposition that Jesus encountered. Furthermore, like John and Jesus, the disciples’ message centered on repentance.
D. “depart from there” (v. 11): If the villagers would not receive their message, Jesus commanded the men to leave the area and shake the dust from their sandals. The dusting of the sandals symbolized the impending abandonment and judgment of God.
II. The Execution of John the Baptist (vv. 14-29; Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9)
A. Herod’s fear of Jesus (vv. 14-16): Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace, and he governed Judea from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. His near total disregard for Jewish sensitivities made his very unpopular, and he flaunted the marriage regulations of the Law of Moses. Herodias, daughter of Aristobulus and Bernice, “married” Antipas. The New Testament reveals that she previously married the half-brother of her father, Herod Philip; then, no doubt driven by lust for wealth and power, she cohabitated with Antipas. This wicked ruler and his adulterous wife hated John the Baptist, and, having executed the prophet, they feared that Jesus was the John, resurrected from the dead.
B. The martyrdom of John (vv. 19-28): Antipas imprisoned John for criticizing the ruler’s illicit relationship with Herodias. In time, the king’s birthday arrived, and the daughter of Herodias, Salome (the ancient historian Josephus identifies the girl’s name), danced for an entourage gathered at the feast. The dancing titillated the king, and he foolishly promised the seductive girl any gift she asked. After consulting with her mother, Salome requested the beheading of John, the imprudent monarch reluctantly executed the prophet.
C. The burial of John (v. 29): John’s disciples entombed the prophet’s body.
III. The Feeding of the Five Thousand (vv. 30-44; Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13): All four Gospels recount this miraculous story.
A. The return of the Twelve (vv. 30-32): Upon their return, the disciples reported to Jesus concerning their activities. The Lord encouraged the little band to take some time for rest and recuperation, but the press of the crowds made solitude impossible.
B. The compassion of the Lord (vv. 33-34): Jesus, despite his fatigue, had compassion on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. This reference reminds of Ezekiel 34:5-16 where the Old Testament prophet compared Israel to shepherdless sheep, and he promised the rise of a divine shepherd.
C. The miraculous provision of food (vv. 35-44): Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, the Lord miraculously provided food for his people. The hour grew late, and the concerned disciples encouraged Jesus to dismiss the multitudes so they could find food, but Jesus insisted that the Twelve provide sustenance for the thousands. In mild rebuke, the disciples told Jesus it would take more than two-hundred denarii (more than a year’s wages for a common laborer). From other Gospel accounts we know that a little boy provided the loaves and fishes, and Jesus blessed, broke, and multiplied the meager meal. Five thousand men (plus women and children) ate their fill, and the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers.
IV. Jesus Walked on the Water (vv. 45-56; Matthew 14:22-33; John 6:15-21)
A. The calming of the sea (vv. 45-52): After feeding the crowds, Jesus sent the Twelve, by sea, to Bethsaida, on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. Intending to join the men later, he went into the mountains to pray. The Lord’s abrupt departure from the people reflects a crisis unmentioned in Mark. John 6:14-16 reveals that the crowds, moved by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, recognized the identity of Jesus, as the Messiah and they considered taking him, by force, to name him king. He withdrew from their hasty response and sent the disciples away. A terrible storm struck Galilee, and the Lord could see his struggling followers from the shore. The text says that Jesus, walking on the water, approached the boat and stilled the tempest. The disciples, of course, marveled at the Lord’s power, but they failed to understand the implications of Jesus’ actions of feeding the multitudes and calming the sea.
B. Continued ministry to the people (vv. 53-56): Gennesaret denotes a fertile plain to the northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The citizens of the region recognized Jesus, and they mobbed the Master much like the people of Galilee. News spread quickly of Jesus’ presence, and large numbers brought the sick to be healed.