The Prerogatives of the Servant, Part 1
Topic: Gospels Passage: Mark 4:35–6:29
The key verse to the Gospel of Mark is found in chapter 10 and verse 45, where we read that “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Throughout this book, Mark presents Jesus Christ as the ideal Servant. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the entire New Testament has much to say about the Christian life being one of “servanthood.” After all, no one better modeled the role of “servant” than Jesus.
It has been said that “good servants lead, and good leaders serve.” Certainly both were true of our Lord. As the ultimate Leader who came to serve, Jesus exercised certain prerogatives in His ministry. A “prerogative” is defined as “an exclusive right or privilege by virtue of one’s rank or position.” Because of His unique position as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus was able to exercise divine prerogatives in carrying out His ministry according to the will of the Father and in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
This morning we enter into a portion of Mark’s Gospel that extends covers more than four chapters. Throughout this section, we will be paying attention to Jesus’ prerogatives in ministry. We will be observing specifically what He did, as well as asking why He did it.
Over the next three messages, we will watch as Jesus takes His disciples through a series of practical experiences that will provide for them “seminary-like,” on-the-job training so that they will be able to carry on His ministry after He is taken from them. In short, He is in the process of making disciples. There seems to a logical division of the material found here, not unlike the three-year course of study that many seminarians pursue in our day. This morning we be focusing on the initial phase of the disciples’ training, which begins in chapter 4, verse 35 and extends to chapter 6, verse 29.
By way of review, Jesus has just encountered the unbelief of his own family, leading Him to declare that the members of his “real” family were those who do “the will of God” (cf. Mark 3:21 and 31-35). He has also rebuked the disbelieving religious scribes, coming near to charging them with “the unpardonable sin” because they had attributed His miraculous acts to the power of Satan (c. Mark 3:22-30). And then He had spoken to the multitudes through a series of parables designed to veil truth from those whose hearts were hard, as well as to reveal it to those who had “ears to hear” (cf. Mark 4:1-34).
You will notice that verse 35 of chapter 4 begins, “On that day, when evening had come.” In classic Markan style, the action is non-stop. We appear to still be in what many Bible scholars find to be the busiest recorded day of Jesus’ earthy ministry. And there is yet one more lesson that He needs to teach His disciples before that day is over and a new one dawns. It is the first in a series of three incidents that we will label...
Jesus’ conquest over rival forces (4:35-5:43)
Beginning with verse 35 of chapter 4 and covering all of chapter 5, we see Jesus’ authority on display in the natural, spiritual, and physical realms. The first of these is His victory over danger when he calms a storm on the Sea of Galilee and protects His disciples from certain drowning.
It’s a familiar story. At the end of a long and challenging day, Jesus leaves the crowd and sets sail with His disciples for the other side of the lake. Because of strong winds that would often descend from the surrounding mountains, night was not the typical time to venture out onto the water. Nevertheless, the disciples complied and, sure enough, “a great windstorm arose,” and the boat was filling with water. As panic began to set in, they looked for Jesus and found Him sleeping in the back of the boat on a cushion. You and I are familiar with the story, but imagine how the earliest readers of this account would have reacted to those words. It was probably a lot like the reaction in verse 38 that His disciples had: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Now awake, Jesus is said to “rebuke(s) the wind and said to the sea,” saying, “‘Peace! Be still!’” And instantly “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Then He looked at those whom He had not that long ago hand-picked to be His students, and said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Despite having seen the miracles He had performed and having heard Him speak, they were not yet prepared to carry out the roles that He would assign them. Verse 41 says, “They were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” In short, they hadn’t yet “gotten it.” They had failed this test, but there would be others. “Who then is this...?” As He had just demonstrated, He is the Lord of the natural realm.
Others have noted throughout the history of the Christian Church that regardless of the storms, afflictions, hardships, and challenges that we face, Christ shares the boat with us. Without these times of testing, we—like the disciples—would never be able to adequately serve the greater Servant. As we anticipate those storms yet to come—and they certainly will—let us remember that He is perfectly capable of delivering us with just a word.
As we move into chapter 5, we see Jesus’ authority being demonstrated in a second realm, this time bringing victory over demons.
Verses 1 and 2 tell us that as soon as the boat had arrived on the other side of the lake—and we presume it was the next morning—he was met by a man having “an unclean spirit.” Mark goes into some detail describing this man’s pitiable condition. He lived in a graveyard among the dead and was so strong that no one could subdue or restrain him, even with chains. We are told that he was a self-flagellant and was “always crying out with a loud voice.” When he spotted Jesus from a distance, he ran to Him and with the voice of the demon cried out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
Once again we see that the “unclean spirits” are not unfamiliar with Jesus. Although human beings, including His own disciples, had difficulty perceiving His divine nature, the demons knew Him well. And these demons also knew their fate. When Jesus asks the demonic presence to identify himself, He is told that his “name is Legion.” A Roman military legion was believed to have been made up of three-to-six thousand soldiers, so the name indicates that this man was being severely “demonized,” which is the literal meaning of the word that is translated “demon-possessed” (“δαιμονιζομαι”) in verses 16 and 18. It would seem that the worst possible fate of a demon would not having someone or something to torment. Therefore, they beg Jesus to send them into a herd of swine. Jesus complies and, in a scene that would not soon be forgotten—especially by their owners, the pigs madly rush down a steep hill and into a watery grave. The text says they were “two thousand” in number.
When the townspeople heard what had happened, they rushed to scene and were shocked to see Jesus carrying on a peaceful conversation with the formerly-demonized man. But rather than their amazement leading to faith, verse 17 informs us that “they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.” And as He prepared to leave, the man who had been cleansed “begged him that he might be with him.”
“With him.” Do you remember that phrase? It’s the same one that was used of the twelve disciples that Jesus chose to be “apostles” (cf. Mark 3:14). Was this man, whose actual name we are never told, perhaps asking that Jesus make him the thirteenth apostle? If so, one can possibly understand such a request. After all, it was Tertullian who said that “The glory of God is man fully alive,” and Jesus had just made this man more “fully alive” than he had ever been. Instead, Jesus told him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And that is exactly what he did. This unnamed man became an immediate witness to the One name that truly mattered. And the result was that “everyone marveled.”
This story demonstrates that Jesus is able to deliver us from even the most deplorable of circumstances and conditions if we will but let Him. The only thing that will stop Jesus is to do what the townspeople did, and that is to send Jesus away. Tell him to leave you alone and He will...at least for a season. But tell him that repeatedly—again and again—and there will come a time when it may be too late.
We have observed Jesus’ authority being manifested over natural and spiritual forces, but we also see it in the physical realm. Beginning in verse 21 and extending through the rest of chapter 5, we see his victory over disease and death.
This third incident actually brings two events together into a single story. Jesus’ stay on the east side of the Sea of Galilee was a short one. It is as if he had gone there for the sole purpose of healing that one demon-possessed man. Now he and his disciples have returned to Capernaum and they are immediately greeted by another “great crowd.” Among them is one of the synagogue leaders—a man named Jairus—who pleaded with Jesus to come and heal his twelve-year-old daughter who was “at the point of death.”
As they rushed to Jairus’ home, the crowd followed closely, pressing against Him. Mark informs us that there was an outcast woman who had been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years. She had spent everything she had paying for treatment at the hands of physicians who could do nothing to remedy her situation. Desperate to be cured, we are told that she “came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment,” thinking that even such a small act of faith could bring relief and healing to her afflicted body. So she reached out and touched him, and as verse 29 describes, “Immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”
Mark employs a rather strange descriptive phrase in verse 30 in telling us that Jesus became aware “that power had gone out from him.” Inquiring of His disciples who it was who had touched Him, the woman herself sensing that she had been healed, “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” Notice our Lord’s response in verse 34: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Unlike most of Jesus’ miracles, this one was quite private and personal. Although this woman was only one in a large crowd, at that moment she was the only one whom Jesus dealt with. She reached out a trembling hand of faith and Jesus made her whole.
Our Lord’s hurried trek to Jairus’ house had been interrupted, but as we repeatedly see time is no obstacle to the Lord. Even as his words to the restored woman were being spoken, a messenger arrives with the tragic news that the synagogue ruler’s daughter had died. One cannot almost feel the grief of this father at hearing those dreaded words.
And then Jesus speaks to the man, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Leaving the larger group of disciples behind, he takes with Him Peter, James, and John and at last makes his way to the place where the young girl lay. Already the professional mourners were in place. Upon entering the home, Jesus orders the mourners to desist their faux-cries and insists, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” Hearing that, their bereavement turns to derisive laughter and He puts everyone out of the house except the girl’s parents and His three disciples. Approaching the child, He takes her by the hand and says to her, “‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
Verse 42 tells us that “Immediately (at that very instant) the girl got up and began walking.” “Amazement” filled the room. Surely, all of Capernaum would marvel at hearing such good news. Interestingly, however—unlike His charge to the man who had been cleansed of demons—He orders them to not tell others what had happened.
Really? How on earth do you keep secret the news that one had been raised from the dead? And what was the Lord’s motive for not wanting it to be the lead story on the evening news? Most scholars believe that He sought to keep word of the little girl’s being raised quiet long enough for Him to slip out of the city before the masses would flock to Him as the “healer” and “miracle worker.” That was not His purpose. Teaching His disciples by this “proto-resurrection” that both He and they would one day be raised from death was.
Who is this Christ who reigns supreme in the natural, spiritual, and physical realms? He is the all-powerful Lord of creation...every dimension and every inch of it. He made the raging sea instantly become still with a word. He cast out a legion of evil spirits with another word. He healed an outcast woman without a word. And He tenderly raised a little girl from death with a word and a gentle touch. He is the omnipotent God who is fully understanding, lovingly gentle, and compassionately inviting to all who will respond to Him in faith.
If He has been speaking to you, but you fear that your faith is still too small and your heart still too self-centered, then don’t close the door to Him. He knows every heart. Ask Him to give you greater faith, and then reach out to Him with your faltering touch. He will not turn you away. He will make you whole by meeting you at your point of need.
Jesus is able to conquer every rival force in the natural, spiritual, and physical realms. It wasn’t enough for His apostles to have been told that, but they needed to witness His power with their own eyes. It was part of their education before they could be sent out to minister in His name.
And there was something else they needed to realize as well, and that was that not everyone would receive them with open arms. As we move into chapter 6, we find...
Jesus’ caution regarding rejection by others (6:1-29)
Understanding that the Gospel message carries with it the seeds of opposition is an essential part of being a disciple. That’s because its content runs counter to what the world holds most dear and exposes the dark places sin likes to hide. Those who had committed themselves to following Jesus were already aware of the intrinsic cost of doing so. After all, they had left home and business to become a part of His itinerant lot. But little could they have known at this point how hostile the rejection would become. Most of the courses that the Master Teacher taught were in the form of “labs.” No textbook or lecture would be able to prepare them for the real-life experiences they would encounter.
Chapter 6 opens by informing us that Jesus and the apostles had traveled the forty-or-so miles from Capernaum to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. There He encountered the unbelief of friends and neighbors. We have already seen how Jesus’ blood relatives had rejected Him when they came looking for Him, thinking Him “out of his mind” (cf. Mark 3:21). Nevertheless, He wanted to return to the place where He had grown up and reach out to those who had known Him as a boy. When He taught in the synagogue there, “many...were astonished.” But they were also suspicious. Far from welcoming Him with “favored son” status, listen to the questions they asked one another in verses 2 and 3:
“Where did this man get these things?”
“What is the wisdom given to him?”
“How are such mighty works done by his hands?”
“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”
And then we read this statement, “And they took offense at him.” Or more literally, He had become a “stumbling block” (“σκανδαλιζω”) to them. “How could this man be any more than what we know him to be?” “We have heard his claims, but how could he be any better than we are?” Clearly their familiarity with Jesus had bred contempt. And as their contempt for Him grew, He said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives.” And because of their unbelief, we read that “He could do no mighty work there.” Oh, He healed a few sick people, but that was all. And then these chilling words: “And he marveled at their unbelief.”
Let this be a lesson for us. In spite of our familiarity with Jesus and the Scriptures, “unbelief” always robs a church of its power. New programs and activities can be added to a local church’s calendar until there are not enough hours in the day to administer them. But without a believing expectancy in Christ and in His power to move us toward the fulfillment of His greater purposes, nothing will ever come of those things. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith...but as saw in the previous section, He is equally amazed where He finds it.
As His ministry proceeds from Nazareth, the time had come for Jesus to assign some “on-the-job training” to the Twelve. It was necessary for them to have observed the rejection of Jesus in His hometown because they too would soon be facing rejection of their own. They needed to see before being launched out on their own that it was going to be difficult “out there.” To one degree or another, they would encounter the unbelief of strangers.
So beginning in verse 7, Jesus sends them out “two by two...(giving) them authority over the unclean spirits.” The Old Testament required a minimum of two witnesses for authentic testimony to be established (cf. Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15). The presence of another would also provide mutual encouragement. On this specific mission, they were to travel light and accept the hospitality of those willing to receive them. But not everyone would, as verse 11 warns, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Proclaiming the Gospel is never an easy task. Rarely is it comfortable to inform people that they are sinners and that they need to repent and receive the Savior. That kind of message tends to rub people the wrong way. And disciples need to be prepared to face rejection.
As with them, we too should expect the ministry to be difficult. After all, “A servant is not greater than his master” (cf. John 15:20). Nevertheless, Christ will always fight unbelief through those who truly believe. The faithful follower lives in dependence. He travels light, and does seek his own comfort. He “shoots straight” about the message he is given to proclaim, realizing that the lostness of men and women and the glory of God are at stake. Given the summary found in verses 12 and 13, this tour of ministry appears to have been successful.
But not every assignment would be that way. Beginning in verse 14, Mark includes a story that almost appears out of place. It recounts the facts surrounding the beheading of John the Baptist, and it provides the backdrop for discussing the unbelief of enemies.
The “King Herod” mentioned in this section is Herod Antipas, who although an enemy of the Gospel was strangely drawn to the preaching of John the Baptist. Despite being on the receiving end of John’s rebuke for having lusted after and taken his brother’s wife as his own, we are told in verse 20 that “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and (even after imprisoning him) kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.”
It was Herodias, Herod’s unlawful wife who hated John and sought to silence him. The opportunity to do so at last came when Herod threw a birthday party for himself and invited many guests. The food was plenteous and the wine flowed like water. Just when Herod’s defenses were at their weakest, Herodias seized the moment to take out her vengeance on John. Having coached her, she sent her daughter Salome to perform a lewd dance before the king and his dinner guests. With his lust burning, he promised to give the young girl anything she asked for. After a moment’s consultation with her mother, she rushed back into the king’s presence and said, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Despite being shaken in his drunken state, Herod reluctantly agreed. This in spite of the fact that verse 26 tells us, “The king was exceedingly sorry.”
In his commentary on Mark, Kent Hughes does a masterful job tracking the hardening of Herod’s conscience toward the Lord’s message and His messenger. His conscience was at first stirred, but when it was not acted upon in faith it was violated. Refusing to be moved through many appeals, Herod’s conscience at last died. Such is the path of perpetual unbelief. Hughes summarizes the king’s plight with these words of warning, “In...Herod we see the death of a conscience and ultimately the death of a soul.”
To understand why this story is included in this context we need to consider how it is introduced, beginning in verse 14. From there we learn that John had been beheaded some time earlier. Now, with Jesus’ fame was beginning to spread throughout the region, he superstitiously believed that John may have been “raised from the dead” and had somehow been reincarnated in the person of Christ. Perpetual unbelief results in strange theology.
But there is something else to bear in mind. Both Matthew (11:11) and Luke (7:28) record a eulogy that Jesus spoke on behalf of John in which He said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” And yet John lost his life...beheaded for the sake of the Gospel that he proclaimed. The disciples needed to understand (as must we) that if one so great would be treated so cruelly, should any of Christ’s followers expect to be treated any differently?
Jesus is in the process of making disciples, and it is helpful for us to observe just how He does this. It was the prerogative of the ideal Servant to train His followers by means of instruction, observation, and hands-on experience. The pattern we have seen in our text might be likened to the first year of a “seminary” education. There was yet more training that awaited these men, just as there remains more training for us as well. It is Jesus Himself who enrolls us in His discipleship course. It is He who has written the curriculum. And lest we forget, our “graduation day” awaits His return.
The elders have been recently discussing how our church might become more effective in developing a “culture of discipleship.” That is, after all, the mission that Jesus has called us to. But it will not happen as we set our gauges on “auto-pilot.” It requires intentionality on the part of us all. It will not take place through more programs and activities, but rather through looking out for and caring for one another...by giving our brothers and sisters in this body permission to speak into our lives and we into theirs. In the end, disciples are made and not born.
In a meeting of this sort, there can generally be found three types of people. The first group might be called “disciples in training.” Those are the ones who have been enrolled in Jesus’ course of study, and are well into the process of learning that He possesses authority in every area of life, including the natural, spiritual, and physical realms. They are discovering that there is nothing too hard for our Lord (cf. Genesis 18:14). And even as they learn, they are becoming more and more committed to following Him. Along the way, Jesus reminds them that the path of faithful obedience is hard. As His disciples, they have been called to bear the Good News wherever they are...especially in those difficult places where they encounter misunderstanding, mischaracterization, and outright rejection. Nevertheless, their Lord calls them to persevere in the task because He and His Gospel are worth everything.
The second group are those still counting the cost of following Jesus (cf. Luke 14:25-34). They have not yet enrolled in His discipleship course, and are at this point merely “auditing” the class, content to pick up a few Bible lessons here and there without much of an investment. Perhaps they are asking, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?” As they consider Him, they have been made aware that the curriculum will not get any easier, and they may not yet consider Jesus to be “worth it.” As with the first disciples, the lessons will become more and more challenging as Jesus advances toward the cross that awaits Him. The true test of true discipleship will be in how far along that same journey one is willing to go with Him. Nevertheless, He continues to call “auditors” to enroll as “full-time students” and to “follow” Him (cf. Mark 1:17, 2:14).
But there is also a third category of people among us who we need to mention. Those are the “drop outs.” They are the ones of whom it is said that Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief.” You see, it is entirely possible that you can be so close to Jesus and hear Him speaking through His Word week after week and yet remain outside the family of faith. I remind you that Herod enjoyed hearing God’s message and God’s messenger, but he chose instead to follow his own lustful cravings at the expense of his eternal soul. In which group are you? The most important question you will ever ask yourself is who this Jesus is to you?