We’ve been thinking about the kingdom of God and how the Lord Jesus is God’s Anointed King. And so, when he began his public ministry, he went around preaching; and this was his message:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
The kingdom was near because the King had come; and the way to enter his kingdom — which is an everlasting kingdom — is through repentance and faith: turning from your sins in repentance and turning with faith to the only Saviour, Jesus Christ.
And recently we were looking at those four parables about the kingdom; and those four miracles about the kingdom. There was the parable of the seed and the sower; and the parable of the hidden lamp; and the parable of the seed growing the field; and the parable of the mustard seed. And taken together, they teach us that despite the opposition of the Devil, and the hardness of the human heart, and despite the cares of the world, and the desire for other things, Christ’s kingdom will grow in the world through the preaching of God’s word; and it will keep growing until the time of the harvest arrives when the Lord Jesus comes with his angels to gather his people in to eternal life. The kingdom will grow — we can count on that — despite opposition and unbelief.
And then there were the four miracles: the stilling of the storm; the healing of the demon-possessed man; the healing of the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years; and the raising of Jairus’s twelve-year old daughter who had died. And taken together, these four miracles reveal that Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who belong to him and to deliver his people from death and to give them everlasting life in the new creation when he comes again.
So, Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King and he will continue to extend his kingdom throughout the world until he comes again. But, of course, it’s not straightforward, is it? It doesn’t happen easily, does it? The Lord Jesus has many enemies and there are many who oppose the preaching of his word and who want to stop the extension of his kingdom throughout the world. And that’s what today’s passage is all about. In this passage we have three stories about how people so often oppose the preaching of God’s word and they oppose those who are called to preach it. The Lord Jesus is God’s Anointed King and he’s extending his kingdom throughout the world through the preaching of his word. But those who are called to preach his word will face opposition and unbelief. And therefore those who hear God’s word must be careful how they respond to God’s word so that they do not find themselves opposing the extension of Christ’s kingdom. So, let’s look at these three stories.
The Lord Jesus
And the first story is in verses 1 to 6 and here we read how the Lord Jesus left the place when he had healed Jairus’s daughter and he went to his hometown. We know from elsewhere in the gospels that though he was born in Bethlehem, he was raised in Nazareth. So, he went to Nazareth, his hometown, and his disciples went with him.
And as was his custom, on the Sabbath he went into the synagogue — which was where the Jews met for worship — and he began to teach the people who had assembled there. And we read in verse 2 that many who heard him were amazed. Well, back in chapter 1 we read how the Lord went into the synagogue in Capernaum and began to teach the people. And the people there were also amazed at his teaching and how he preached with authority. Now, that was a good amazement. But the amazement of the people in Nazareth was a bad amazement. It was an unbelieving amazement, because look at the questions they began to ask one another:
Where did this man get these things?
The words ‘this man’ are kind of contemptuous and certainly sceptical. They asked:
What’s this wisdom that has been given to him? He even does miracles!
Instead of admiring him for what he taught and what he did, there’s this contemptuous tone to their words. And then they added:
Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Isn’t he the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? Are his sisters here?
This guy grew up around here and we know his family and look at him now? How did he get like this?
They’re amazed and astounded, but it’s not a good amazement or a good astonishment. Instead Mark tells us that they took offence at him. And the Lord was aware of it, because he quotes a proverb about a prophet being honoured everywhere except in his hometown and among his own people. And though the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to perform miracles in order to reveal his kingdom, nevertheless on this occasion he couldn’t do many miracles there. Why could he not perform many miracles there? Well, it’s not because he no longer possessed the power to do so. No, the reason he could not perform many miracles there was because of their unbelief. He was not going to reveal the kingdom to those who did not believe. And so, when the King came to that town, the people did not believe in him and instead they took offence at home.
And, of course, notice the circumstances of this story. What was the Lord doing when the people took offence at him? Well, he was teaching them in the synagogue, wasn’t he? This story, like the others in this passage, is about how men and women so often oppose the preaching of God’s word and they oppose those who are called to preach it. And on this occasion, the one they were opposing was the King himself.
Let’s turn now to the second story which is in verses 6 to 13. And here we read how the Lord went round teaching from village to village. However he also called the Twelve Disciples to him and sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. So, back in chapter 3 we read how he appointed the Twelve Disciples. Now he’s sending them out to do the work he had called them to do. And he gave them instructions about what to bring with them, or what not to bring with them. So, they could take a staff, but they weren’t to bring bread or a bag or any money. They could wear sandals, but they weren’t to bring an extra tunic. We’re not told why they had to travel so lightly, but it meant they had to trust in their Heavenly Father to provide for them and they had to rely on their generosity of the people they met.
And then the Lord told them that whenever they enter someone’s house, stay there until they leave. But if any place will not welcome them or listen to them, they were to shake the dust off their feet when they leave. Well, one of the commentators explains that when Jews were coming home to the land of Israel from a foreign place, they had to shake off the dust before entering Israel, because carrying the dust of a heathen nation into the land of Israel meant you had polluted God’s holy land. And so, the point the Lord is making here in Mark 6 is that shaking off the dust from their feet when leaving a Jewish village was a way for the disciples to say to the people of that village who had rejected them that they were a heathen, unbelieving people who were liable to God’s judgment.
Having received the Lord’s instructions about what to bring and what not to bring and about what to do when anyone rejects them, they set off. And we read in verse 12 how they preached that the people should repent. And the Lord was able to delegate to them some of his power and authority, because they too were able to drive out demons and to heal the sick.
But go back to verse 11, because here the Lord was forewarning them that there may be places they go to where the people will reject them. God’s Anointed King had sent them out in his name to preach his word and to declare to those they met they they must repent, because the only way to enter his kingdom — which is an everlasting kingdom — is through repentance and faith. However, they shouldn’t be surprised when some places reject them and their message. They shouldn’t be surprised, because men and women so often oppose the preaching of God’s word and they oppose those who are called to preach it.
John the Baptist
The first section was about the Lord himself. The second section was about his disciples. The third section is about John the Baptist. Mark tells that King Herod had heard what the Lord and his disciples were doing. And he heard what different people were saying about the Lord Jesus, because people were puzzled by him and they were wondering how he was able to teach with such authority and how he was able to drive out demons and heal the sick. Who was he? And we learn that some said he was Elijah, the great prophet from the Old Testament, who — they were saying — had risen from the dead and had returned. Well, in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, the Lord promised to send Elijah once again. So, the people had a reason for thinking that the Lord Jesus might have been Elijah. However, others said he wasn’t Elijah, but he was nevertheless a prophet, sent by God to do mighty miracles. But then others were saying — and Herod believed this too — that the Lord Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead.
When did John the Baptist die? That’s what Mark tells us now and he recounts the story of how Herod had John arrested, because John had been saying to Herod that it was wrong of him to marry Herodias, who was Herod’s brother’s wife. And Mark explains that Herodias held a grudge against John because of what he had been saying and she wanted to kill him. Well, she got her chance — didn’t she? — when her daughter pleased Herod and Herod offered to give her whatever she wanted. And what did she want? Well, her mother got her to ask for John’s head on a platter. And sure enough, Herod gave the order and John was taken away and beheaded in the prison; and his head was presented to Herodias’s daughter who gave it to her mother.
It’s a terrible story, isn’t it? And we’re astonished by this woman’s bitter hatred towards John. But, of course, the reason she hated John like this was because he was a faithful preacher of God’s word. According to verse 18 his message to Herod was about God’s law and how Herod was sinning against the Lord. And while Mark doesn’t say so here, no doubt John also went on to say to Herod that Herod and Herodias needed to repent of their sin and seek God’s forgiveness for what they had done wrong. But do you see? Once again this is a story about how men and women so often oppose the preaching of God’s word and they oppose those who are called to preach it.
Back in chapter 1 we read how John the Baptist was sent by God to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He preached that men and women needed to prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus, God’s Anointed King. John was a preacher sent by God to declare his word. And Herodias hated him for what he preached and wanted to get rid of him.
Three stories. And each one of them is about how men and women will so often oppose the preaching of God’s word and they will oppose those who are called by God to preach it. And we see the same thing today, don’t we? On Wednesday evenings we’ve been praying for Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who has worked in Turkey for a number of years. And a year ago he was arrested and imprisoned, because he was a preacher of God’s word. And last Wednesday we were also hearing how in one part of India ten congregations have been told to stop meeting for worship. Twenty more had been threatened with similar bans. The authorities do not want the Lord’s people to meet together to worship the Lord and to hear his word. And the same thing happens in many other countries around the world.
But we can come closer to home, can’t we? I know of a congregation — which is not in Belfast — who several years ago called a new minister after the previous one retired. The previous minister had been there for over thirty years and he did not believe the Bible was God’s word and he therefore did not preach it faithfully. He didn’t preach that sinners should repent and believe. But then the new minster was installed and he began to preach God’s word faithfully, Sunday by Sunday. He preached about repentance; and he preached about faith; and he preached about Christ crucified, the only Saviour of sinners. And it was wonderful to hear and to see how many of the people who had belonged to that church for decades came at last to a true and living faith in the Saviour, because for the very first time in their lives they heard the preaching of the gospel. They sprang to life. And others were converted and joined the church. It was wonderful. But then letters of complaint about this new minister and his ministry started to come to the Presbytery. You see, while some responded with faith and joy to his ministry, there were others who opposed the preaching of God’s word and they opposed the preacher. And so, these letters of complaint began to arrive, one after another, from people who did not like what he preached and who did not like what was happening in the church.
You see, we don’t need to go to Turkey or India to see the truth of what God is telling us here in Mark’s Gospel. It can happen here too. And look: in the first story, when the people took offence at the Lord Jesus, where did this happen? Well, it happened in the synagogue, didn’t it? It happened in church. The people had gone to church that Sabbath Day to worship the Lord. And when they heard God’s word, they took offence. So, it’s not just those outside the church who take offence at God’s word. Even those who are inside the church can take offence at it.
How can this happen? Well, the Lord has already warned us about it — hasn’t he? — in the parable of the seed and the sower. He’s warned us about the opposition of the Devil and the hardness of our hearts and all the other things which can keep us from receiving God’s word.
You see, there’s the Devil who will always try to lead us away from the truth of God’s word. Do you remember how the Apostle Paul warned Timothy about those who would oppose him. And he said that Timothy should gently instruct them in the hope that God would grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the Devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. Do you see? The Devil wants to come along and lead us away from a knowledge of the truth; and he wants to trap us so that we do his will. We need to watch out, because the Devil is always at work to keep us from receiving God’s word.
And then the Lord warned us about our own hard hearts. Or the Apostle Paul wrote about our sinful flesh and sin living inside us. Yes, we’re believers who love the Lord and we have his Spirit to help us to obey him. But we’re still sinners and there’s sin living inside us which hates God and which wants to keep us from receiving God’s word.
And then the Lord warned us about the cares and the desires of this world. He was warning us about the unbelieving world around us and the ways it distract us and tries to draw us away from the Lord and from the truth of his word. It tries to distract us by appealing to our sinful desires. Or it tries to distract us by filling our thoughts with all kinds of worries and concerns. Whichever method it uses, it’s aiming at the same thing which is to keep us from receiving God’s word.
The Lord warned us in the parable of the sower of the opposition of the Devil and of the hardness of our hearts and of the desires and cares of the world. And sure enough, when the Lord went to preach in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people took offence and would not listen. When the Lord sent the disciples to preach, he warned them that there would be those who would not welcome them or listen to them. And when John the Baptist declared God’s word to Herod and Herodias, Herordias hated him for what he preached and wanted to kill him. So often men and women will oppose the preaching of God’s word and they will oppose those who have been called by God to preach it. And so, you who gather in church on Sundays need to take heed to the Lord’s warning and make sure that you listen to God’s word with humble and believing hearts. You need to ensure that you watch out for the wicked schemes of the Devil who will try to do whatever he can to lead you astray from the truth of God’s word. You need to search your own heart to watch out for signs that your own heart has hardened so that God’s word cannot enter in. And you need to be alert to the ways of the world which will distract you by appealing to your sinful desires and which will choke your faith with worries and cares. You need to take heed to God’s warning which he had given us in Mark’s Gospel and you need to make sure that you remain humble and faithful and obedient servants in Christ’s kingdom. And if you’ve let the Devil get the better of you, or if you’ve let your heart grow hard, or if you’ve been distracted by the ways of the world, then you need to repent of your sins and believe again the good news of the gospel that for the sake of Christ who died for sinners there is forgiveness and there is peace and there is available to us the Holy Spirit to help us.
But before I finish, let me briefly refer to Herod who is an example of what has sometimes been called ‘the almost persuaded’. He’s ‘the almost persuaded’ because, according to verse 20, he liked to listen to John. He liked to listen to John. But instead of believing what John said and instead of being persuaded to repent and to believe, instead he listened to his wife and he was persuaded to have John killed. Herod is an example of someone who was almost persuaded to repent and to believe, but who in the end was not persuaded and so did not repent and did not believe and who therefore was shut out of Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
I wonder, is there someone like that here today? You’ve been coming to church, perhaps because you like to listen to the preaching of God’s word; but you’ve not yet been persuaded to repent and believe. Is there someone like that today? Well, do not make the mistake which Herod made, who was only almost persuaded, but never fully persuaded. Now’s the time to repent and now’s the time to believe: to turn to God in prayer to confess your sins to him; and to give thanks for the Saviour who died for sinners; and to ask God to forgive you and to accept you into his kingdom. Now’s the time to do it, because whoever repents and believes receives the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life in God’s everlasting kingdom.