Title: A Strange Sequence of Events
Text: Mark 6:14-56
John Has a Bad Day
Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9
The real “meat” in this text is found in verses 14-16, the part most commentators discuss and teach is in 17-29, unfortunately. Thomas Jefferson had a painting of John’s head on the platter hanging in his dining room, and I can attest that it is still there, yet the important part is not in what happened to John, it’s what people were saying about Jesus at this point in His ministry.
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
“King Herod had heard about this” “This?” What was “this?”
In context, this passage in Mark’s gospel follows immediately the passage about Jesus sending out the twelve, it is relating to the Kingdom Tour, and we know that news and accounts of Jesus’ activities had spread like wildfire throughout the region; the Pharisees had already begun to consider how they would kill Jesus, and they were exactly the ones who either knew, or with reasonable diligence they should have known that Jesus was the Messiah. Herod Antipas was another matter. Recall that he was the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem upon hearing of the birth of Jesus. He was the Vassal-king of Judea, serving under the Roman Emperor, a marginal Jew at best in a secular administration, who one day would have his own problems with the Romans.
Who was this guy up in Galilee?
Nobody could figure that out for sure, but there were rumors.
Elijah? A prophet? No, John the Baptist has been raised from the dead!
It’s clear that on some level, John had gotten to Herod. It’s also clear that as a result of a stupid party stunt, Herod has randomly had John murdered. If you are Herod, and you are feeling guilty for what you did at that stupid party because you shot your mouth off… probably after a few drinks, and you think that John the Baptist has come back from the grave with miraculous powers, how do you feel about this new situation?
This guy is a rock star, the people are loving Him… and He has miraculous powers and you think he is the resurrection of the one you had murdered. What do you do now?
You could repent and beg forgiveness, but how would that look in the morning papers on the Emperor’s desk the next day? (so to speak) How will that play on the nightly news? What will your approval numbers do with the people? (Remember, this guy was a politician in a tough spot)
Is there a way you could try to kill him again? But he doesn’t stay dead!
What you really need are powerful allies, and sooner or later He is sure to catch wind of a plot against Him. I have a strong hunch that we might see Herod’s fingerprints later in the story!
Feeding the Crowds
Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14
Mark jumps back to Jesus and the disciples, who have just returned after their journey through Galilee, giving us the impression that Herod’s musings about who Jesus was had gone on during the mission of the twelve disciples. Jesus hears their stories and suggests they withdraw to the other shore of the Sea of Galilee, to a place Luke identifies as Bethsaida. Mark has them heading there later that night, but either way, they’ve crossed the border. It strikes me as interesting that Mark has the story of Herod and John the Baptist inserted here, because as soon as the “away team” returns to Jesus, He leads them out of Herod’s jurisdiction…
Of course, the crowds have anticipated their destination and arrive first. That is also interesting; did Jesus have a staff leak? Maybe I was in politics too long, but I can’t help wonder about that. Mark’s reason for their withdrawal was that the crowd was so big, they couldn’t even get a bite to eat, then the crowd, on foot, gets all the way to the other side of the Sea of Galilee before they can row straight across. Jesus, never letting an opportunity get away from Him, begins to teach. The disciples, seeing that it’s late in the day, ask Jesus to send the crowd off to get food, and what does Jesus do?
He tells the disciples to feed them. Of course the disciples object, citing the cost, and Jesus has them gather up what food they have and there are five loaves of bread and two fishes. You know the story, with five loaves of bread and two fishes they feed five thousand people and have more leftover than they started with.
So, let’s take stock: Jesus teaches the Kingdom, heals the sick and lame, makes the blind see, chases out demons, forgives sins, raises the dead and now provides free meals? If you are a priest, a Pharisee or Herod, your political problems are getting worse!
A Stroll on the Lake
Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:22-36; John 6:15-21
After feeding the five thousand, a murmur went through the crowd: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus knew they were about to seize Him and make Him king by force. (John 6:14-15) This is why the politicians, Herod, the Pharisees and priests, were so concerned about Him. They had two problems, first, they didn’t want to be replaced by Jesus, and they couldn’t have cared less if He was really the Messiah. Second, they had to be concerned about the Romans. Rome did not permit rebellion. They would allow a considerable amount of local autonomy and local rule, which as it turns out, was the secret to their success as an Empire. Rebellion, however, would be crushed with a brutality that had become well-known. Yes, these political types were in a tough spot.
Jesus sent the disciples across the lake in the boat and sent the crowds home; all things considered, that might have been another miracle. Then, He went off to pray alone. That He did so is probably material enough for an entire lesson, for please take note: If Jesus had intended any sort of a Kingdom in this world, He could have had it right then and there.
During the night, another storm comes up out on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus knowing that the boys were struggling against the elements walked out on the Sea in their direction shortly before dawn.
One can hardly be surprised that they mistook Him for a ghost… or something… after all I haven’t seen a guy walking across a lake in the midst of a storm, and if I did, would I think it was Jesus when I first saw him? Well, that might not be the first thought to pop into my mind, and I have heard of this; they hadn’t. They cry out in fear, Jesus identifies Himself. According to John, Jesus calls Peter out to walk on the water, which he does until he thinks about what he is doing, and then begins to sink; Jesus rescues him. Mark, however, didn’t mention this detail, and says Jesus climbed into the boat and the winds were still. Here’s an interesting thought: Mark, who left Peter’s incident out of the story, is thought by most scholars to have written his gospel under Peter’s supervision: Hmmm…
Matthew recounts something interesting when they reached the shore that Mark only hinted at. Mark says that their hearts had been hardened, but Matthew goes on to say that when they arrived at the shore, the disciples worshiped Jesus, saying that surely, He is the Son of God. (Matt. 14:33). This is the first time they realize this, even though they should have understood it when He fed all those people, and from time-to-time, they would seem to forget it in the months ahead.
They reach the shore after sun up, and are immediately recognized, and the people begin to bring their sick and lame for healing, and many were healed as the Kingdom Tour resumes, and the Pharisees are on the attack…