Separation

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:5-6).

Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:51-52).

These two stories are tied together by two words translated as “stubborn” (or hardened) “hearts.”

In the first, Jesus did what his opponents thought he shouldn’t do, and for that transgression of orthodoxy, they were willing to kill him.

In the second, Jesus refused to do what his disciples thought he ought to do.  They were equally “put out” with Jesus – though perhaps not enough to kill him.

In both, hardheartedness — a determination to have one’s own way — separates from Christ. Of all the gospel writers, Mark is hardest on the disciples.  Were I one of the twelve, reading Mark would have been embarrassing.  I surely would think: “If only I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have behaved that way!”  And I think that was Mark’s goal: to tell us now what we will come to learn later so that we won’t be embarrassed when we finally see it on our own.  God’s way is best.  Better I should seek His will now rather than my own and content myself with His leading.  Wherever He is taking me, it will be better than anywhere I can go without Him.

Frustration

He was about to pass by them . . .  (Mark 6:48).

The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 had to be the best known story of the early church.  The only miracle story told in all four gospels it goes like this:

The disciples, sent out to preach the Kingdom of God returned from their mission with a following fiercely determined to get to Jesus – so determined that Jesus could not escape them. So determined that they came without provisions.  Though hungry and tired himself, Jesus taught them, and fed them – and they responded by attempting to make Jesus a king by force.

Utterly chagrined, Jesus dismissed the disciples (first) and the crowds and, perhaps in frustration, sought time alone with his Father in prayer.

The extent of Jesus’ frustration is seen in our verse.  The disciples were working hard rowing to their destination and Jesus, unhindered by wind and waves, was determined to get there without them.  Jesus wasn’t “about” to pass them by.  He had decided to pass them by.  Intent is the meaning of the word. They were as upset with Jesus as he was with them and the Lord decided to let them stew in their difficulties for a while.

But he didn’t.  He couldn’t – any more than he could let the crowd go hungry.  They too were frustrated, and they were afraid.  And Jesus made a detour to help them.

When you are frustrated with others, remember they may well be frustrated with you.  Perhaps their frustration is a result of their own feelings, actions or prejudices.  What they might need is not alienation, but a reassuring fellowship that while things might not yet be alright, they will be.

Jesus Surprised

“He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:6).

I doubt much surprised Jesus – but it did happen.

He had gone to his hometown and taught in the synagogue. If he taught what he usually did, it was “get ready for the Kingdom of God” – and one got ready by repentance and entrusting one’s life to Jesus.

This Nazareth story comes just after four vignettes about death. First, the disciples thought they were going to die in a storm on the Galilee. Second was the story of a demon possessed gentile who lived among the dead. Third was the woman who has been dying for twelve years with a bleeding problem. Finally, there was the little dead girl Jesus raised.

Sharyn Dowd remarks: “There is a progression through the four stories of the seriousness from which Jesus rescues people. . . Mark makes the point that through Jesus, God’s power overcomes every threat to life and wholeness, even the ultimate threat of death. Moreover, Jesus extends this wholeness to men and women, Jews and gentiles, the pure and the polluted. No place or condition is beyond the reach of God’s saving power.”

Those stories lead to this one. After all Jesus had done, his kinsmen refused to take advantage. Mark gives two reasons: First, they couldn’t imagine one of their own being so successful. Second was Jesus’ teaching: The benefits of the power of God are not up for grabs to any and all. They require submitting to the way of Jesus – a notion the home folks just couldn’t abide.

Given all Jesus had to offer, their rejection was surprising.

When we reject him, I imagine it still is.

Monday, November 18. Mark 5 – 7

Virtually everything in Mark 6 is found in the other gospel accounts, but Mark gives significantly more attention to the death of John the baptist.

The Herod of this story is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (who killed the little babies when Jesus was born). Antipas is the Herod of Judea during the story of Jesus. He had a half-brother, Aristobulus, and and two other half-brothers, both named Philip. One was Herod Philip, the governor of Iturea, the other was not a ruler, but simply known as “Philip.” Herodias was Aristobulus’s daughter. She married her uncle, Philip (the one who was not a ruler). The two of them had a child, Salome.

On a trip to Rome, Herod Antipas, already married for over twenty years to the daughter of the king of Nabatea, visited with Philip, met Herodias, his niece, and fell in love with her. He asked her to marry him, and she agreed, provided he leave his present wife. He agreed. The Old Testament forbade marrying your brother’s wife (Leviticus 20:21). On this basis, John condemned Herod Antipas. His preaching didn’t bother Herod much, but it did bother Herodias. At a gathering of some important dignitaries, Herodias’ daughter danced and so impassioned her step-father that he offered her half his kingdom. At the suggestion of Herodias, she asked for the head of John the baptist. It’s a repulsive story.

The chapter is full of hard-hearted people. There are those in Jesus’ home town who, knowing his reputation as a miracle-worker would none-the-less not bring their sick to him. Out of spite they would snub the home town boy made good. There is Antipas, whose passion caused him to murder a prophet. There is Herodias, whose quest for power caused her to disobey the law.

And then, at the end of the chapter, there are the disciples. Though Jesus can still a storm with a rebuke, they cannot believe who he is because, their hearts were hard.

Hard-heartedness blinds us to the truth, draws us away from the will of God, enslaves us to sin, and keeps us from enjoying the blessings God intended for His people.