I admit it. I want to be led. But not by anyone (Mark 6:30-56)

I am a pretty modern woman with some old fashioned edges. On one hand I have a full time job, I’m a single parent, I manage a house, I deal with the problems, I keep calm and carry on. On the other hand, I like manners. I like good customer service, I like men to hold doors and are creative with romance, just to please her.

This is of course all superficial stuff. What it boils down to is being comfortable with my personal abilities, at the same time as being comfortable to be lead by another.

But not just anyone. Someone who believes in me. Someone who supports me, even though they lead me. Someone who will never let me down.

Today’s passage shows us Jesus as the man who leads us – and how he does it. Not with inappropriate power or harshness, but with complete gentleness. In Mark 6:30-44, we see the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus as shepherd. In Mark 6:45-56 we see Jesus walking on water. This second story shows Jesus has the power to be as harsh as he wants. And yet in the first story we see he uses his power to love and support with tenderness and compassion.

Jesus, before the death of John the Baptist, had sent out his disciples to preach in his name. Now the apostles return to Jesus and recount everything they’ve done (Mark 6:30). They go to a remote place but people follow them there and Jesus had compassion on them because “they were like sheep without a shepherd”. What does he do in response? He begins to teach them. This is their need, and it’s the need he provides. They may have come for healing miracles, but it does not say this (and it usually specifies that’s why the crowd is there). He expresses his compassion for them through his teaching.

As sheep without a shepherd, it’s not that they are confused. As a popular Old Testament reference, sheep without a shepherd are scattered and vulnerable to attack by wild animals (Ezekiel 34:5). Spiritually, the people are lost and vulnerable. They need a shepherd. And this is what Jesus is. He teaches them. He guides them.

Later in the day, Jesus has compassion on them again, this time in the face of their immediate physical needs. They are hungry. Jesus gets the people to recline in small dining groups as though it were a banquet. Then the five loaves and two fish become enough to feed 5,000 men (and an unknown number of women and children) to a level where all are satisfied and there is enough leftover to fill 12 baskets.

This points us backwards and forwards. It points backwards to God feeding the Israelites in the wilderness. The people are in a remote place, much like the wilderness. In addition, it is God’s miracle and Moses is his hands and feet, just as here it is Jesus’ miracle and the disciples are his hands and feet.

It also points forward to the end of times banquet, when we will be in his presence as foretold in Isaiah: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Is. 25:6-9).

After this, Jesus sends his disciples away in a boat while he goes to pray. The boat is stuck in a storm and Jesus goes to meet them, walking on the water. Despite having seen the feeding of the crowds, the disciples see Jesus and think he’s a ghost. But Jesus doesn’t berate them. He merely says “Have courage. Don’t be afraid. It is I”

Compassion expressed in teaching. Power expressed through gentleness. Jesus is God. He could do anything. He could smite everyone if he wanted. But he doesn’t. He shepherds them. Even when their hearts are hardened, even when the disciples are being dull and thoughtless, he shepherds them with gentle compassion.

Here’s the thing. We are so modern. We like to be independent and powerful. And yet one of our greatest cultural icons is Captain America – someone who has super strength and amazing powers. But he exercises these powers with complete gentleness. Culturally, this is something we seem to be craving.

And here is Jesus, the most powerful person in the universe, the one who could do anything. And he expresses his power through compassion and gentleness.

Yes, this is the one I want to lead me and I am not ashamed to admit it. He is there when I am hungry and lost, he is there when I am dull and hard hearted. He is powerful when I am weak. And always, gentleness and compassion.

He is my leader. He is my shepherd. I know his voice, and I follow him.

This blog is a stand alone piece but is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links to each individual week can be found here, in Bible studies in Mark.

Bible studies in Mark

Each Monday, we have been working out way through the gospel of Mark. You can follow along each week or jump in and out. You can read it like a devotional or work through it with me. You can post any comments you like and ask questions – this study allows us to creat an online community!

Each blog is a stand alone piece but you can also follow the whole series. If you kiss any, here’s where you can find all the studies to date:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  1. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  2. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  3. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  4. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  5. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  6. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  7. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  8. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  9. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)
  10. Week 11: The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)
  11. Week 12: Misunderstood, disrespected, unloved, written off (Mark 6:1-13)
  12. Week 13: How can something be a tragedy and a triumph (Mark 6:14-29)
  13. Week 14: I admit it, I want to be led, but not by anyone (Mark 6:30-56)
  14. Week 15: In the mess of the world, how can I feel clean (Mark 7:1-23)
  15. Week 16: Ever felt like a nobody? (Mark 7:24-30)

How can something be a tragedy and a triumph? (Mark 6:14-29)

There’s a lot of women in the Bible who we can admire. Strong women. Smart women. Gentle women. Brave women. There are women who triumph when everyone else crumbles. There are women who save the day. There are women who believe when all hope appears to be gone.

There are other women who are the exact opposite. There are of course plenty of men in the Bible who lead the people into idolatry and death. Here though, we meet one of the women who’s inappropriate authority over her husband, leads them all into wickedness and evil.

Today’s passage deals with the death of John the Baptist.

The story is that Salome, the step daughter of Herod, dances for him and he is so enchanted that he says she can have anything she wishes. Salome, in consultation with her mother Herodias (Herod’s wife) asks for the head of John the Baptist.

There’s a mix of history and theology here that turns this Hollywood-style thriller into a tragedy and triumph at the same time.

Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee and Perea as a Roman client state. He was the ruler of the Jews and was also raised as a Jew. He was married to the daughter of the king of Nabatea – and he divorced her to marry Herodias, who had been married to Herod’s half-brother. It’s not clear whether she walked out on the half-brother and married Herod anyway, or divorced him before marrying Herod.

Confused yet? It’s like a plot line from The Bold and the Beautiful isn’t it?

John the Baptist had preached against Herod and Herodias’ marriage, which was against Old Testament law (although it was not against Roman law so they must have snuck it in under that). This is all attested by Jewish historian Josephus who was writing at the time of the events.*

Herod appears to have had a conflicted relationship with John. In Mark 16:19-20, Herodias wants to kill John but can’t because Herod feared him. The original Greek here implies more a reverential fear – which fits with the passage saying “Herod would listen to John” and he would be greatly perplexed but he would like it. Herod knows he is a holy and righteous man and likes listening to him, even though he doesn’t really understand.

Herod had imprisoned John because of what he was saying (6:17). But he also protected him from Herodias who wanted to kill him (6:19).

Josephus says John was imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus where John appears to have been for a while because in the other gospels, John receives visits from his disciples and from Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 11 and Luke 7). It must have been bleak and seeing the fortress reminds us we are dealing with real people and real events.

Source: https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2019/03/jordans-biblical-fortress-of-machaerus.html#OsuYcE2RGpuk130K.97

We are also dealing with a narrative arc of the Bible. Herodias’ murderous hatred of John points us back to Jezebel in the Old Testament and her hatred of Elijah. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal. In 1 Kings 19, Jezebel swears to kill Elijah too and he flees.

This echo of Jezebel is deliberate – not because Herodias is equally as wicked (although she is), but because of the association with Elijah. Since the beginning there has been association of John with Elijah and the prophet who prepares the way for the Messiah.

Herod is a weak fool. Herodias and Salome defeat him with their wits. They manipulate him and he walks right into it. Herod doesn’t want to kill John, he knows he is innocent. He is perplexing and maybe a threat to his authority but he’s done nothing wrong. And here we see a foreshadowing of Jesus with Pilate. Pilate sees Jesus as a possible threat but knows he has broken no laws.

When John is executed, John’s disciples come and take the body and lay it in a tomb – as Jesus’ disciples would soon do. Another foreshadowing.

Until this point, John has been the main landmark on Herod’s horizon. After John’s death, Jesus’ ministry really rises to the fore. When Herod hears about Jesus fears that John has been raised from the dead. Some people are even saying this. This is telling on a few fronts. Firstly, that the association between John and Jesus is evident. While people have yet to clearly distinguish them, it shows that at the time, they were not two distinct movements but seen as one a progression of the other. This is certainly what John himself had understood as he prepared the way for Jesus, and that he must become less and Jesus becomes more.

It also shows Herod’s guilt and shame. His fear almost feels as though he thinks he is being haunted by the ghost of this innocent man he has murdered.

It also points forward again the Jesus – who was raised from the dead. It’s interesting there was a rumour that John was raised from the dead, but it never went anywhere because he wasn’t. He demonstrably wasn’t. He didn’t appear anywhere and nobody saw him. When the rumour erupts of Jesus’ resurrection, he is seen in many places by many people. There’s no denying that that really happened. Here, however, it is just a rumour because of the similarity between John’s preaching of baptism and repentance, and Jesus’ preaching of repentance and faith. John baptised with water, but Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit.

So John’s death was tragic. But it was also a triumph. It pointed us back to Jezebel to re-affirm John as the Elijah figure who prepares the way. It also points forward to what will happen with Jesus – the ultimate triumph.

I find it staggering that God provides these sign posts for us to help us understand and interpret what happened in the past, what is happening at the time and what is to come. Without John, the events around jesus’ ministry and sacrifice would be harder for us to interpret. With these events, God gives us a deeper and profound picture of what is happening and why.

God is gracious in his revelation to us. What he communicates is like a set of keys to unlock scripture. Nothing is in code. It’s not secret knowledge. It’s all there for us to read, understand, think about and look back to him in awe and reverence.

* Josephus Book 18, chapter 5. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  10. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)
  11. Week 11: The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)
  12. Week 12: Misunderstood, disrespected, unloved, written off (Mark 6:1-13)

Why I regret my early sex life

For as long as I can remember, all I could think about was having a boyfriend. My teen and young adult years stretched through the 1980s and 90s. There was Madonna, Rick Astley, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, shoulder pads, shaggy perms, bright make up – it was a great time to be alive.

I grew up atheist and everyone I knew were atheist. So everything I understood about the world came from TV and people I knew at school. When we hit 14 and 15 years old, my friends paired up. They had grown up relationships with older boys. They were cool. They had a hint of swagger. They’d done things. They knew things.

As I grew older, it seemed everyone had boyfriends except me. Everyone was having sex except me. I was missing out. Nobody wanted me. Two terrible truths to grow up with – a yearning to belong and a yearning to be wanted.

Getting a boyfriend was what underpinned everything I did. In the atmosphere I grew up in, that meant having sex. At the time, sex was everywhere. If you didn’t have it, you were a sad lonely single. If you didn’t want to have it, you were frigid. Sex was what you did to have a good time. It was a trophy. Sex was how you got boyfriends. And it’s how you kept boyfriends.

I know what you’re thinking – that’s just not true. I know. That’s why I regret it.

Now, as a Christian, I look back on those years and wonder why I didn’t have more self-respect. This might sound offensive to some – many people in the world think sexual freedom is a way of people expressing themselves. I get that. There may be people reading this who just want to have sex. It’s not an angry thought, it’s not crazy, it’s not a yen to be having sex with everything that moves. It’s just a deep yearning to be like everyone else. To have those doors opened. To see what it’s like. To experience that deep intimate connection.

One of the reasons I regret my early sex life is because it was never like that. I confused sex with romance. I thought it would be like it is in the movies. I thought it would be graceful, beautiful, with soft lighting, everything airbrushed. It’s not. It’s fumbly and clumsy and and there’s embarrassing noises and squelchy bits and it’s just….well…real.

The other reason I regret it is because it wasn’t sex in and of itself that I wanted. It was what it represented. It represented me having joined the world. It represented me being like everyone else. It represented me being wanted and found desirable. Those are all the wrong reasons to pursue sex. It was about my self-esteem. And if that’s what feeds the self-esteem, then you get into a cycle of always seeking someone to show they find you desirable.

Now, as a Christian, I read about what I wish I had been. Proverbs 31:25 describes the woman of noble character as being “clothed with strength and dignity.” That is what I wish I’d known – that my validation came from God, not from someone wanting to have sex with me. I have dignity because I am God’s image bearer and he loves me so much that he did not even spare his own son to bring me to him. That is a staggering truth.

I wish I had known that sooner. But I praise him that I know it now.

But if you are reading this and wanting to belong and are wanting to open that door, please know that I’ve been where you’re going. I know it must seem restrictive – this whole no-sex-outside-of-marriage thing. But having been there, I understand completely why God designed relationships the way he did.

Doing what I did leads to brokenness and regret. It’s a way of lacking self-control. It’s a way of giving in to temptation. Obedience to God doesn’t make us perfect, and it’s not easy, but it clothes us in dignity. Its a quiet confidence that our value comes from him and not what the world can hold so cheaply. I am worth more than that.

There are heaps of good books on Christian perspectives on sex. I recommend you read them. I just want to say I get it. I was there. I was you. And I chose wrong.

Sex is great but it can be awful. It needs thoughtfulness and intentionality. It needs to be for the right reasons. I was an atheist. I had no framework for understanding the world through the lens of Jesus Christ so I had no idea that I could carry myself with confidence. I had no idea that I could wait for the one who would connect with my soul as well as with my body. I had no idea I could be different from the world, and that different is good. I was so busy looking at myself through the lens of the world, I didn’t even think there could be another way. And having been where some of you may want to be, I look back and wish I had known.

Don’t be swayed by the world. Know that you are so valuable. You are so loved. You are clothed in strength and dignity. Listen to God. Follow Christ and be different.

Misunderstood, disrespected, unloved, written off (Mark 6:1-13)

We want to be seen – to be really understood. We want to be valued, without conditions, without hesitations. No “ifs” and no “buts”. We don’t want to be left with the idea that people are thinking “I like you but you’re kind of selfish and annoying” or “I would respect you more if you were closer to my idea of godly”. We want to be accepted by the people around us as we are. Sure, we all have rough edges and sinful areas that we need to be working on, but generally we would like people to accept us, love us and walk with us.

At the root of this is a difference in how people see you and how you understand yourself. People seem to understand us based on their understanding of the facts, or their judgement of the truth, or how they would have react in life, or working to a set of expectations that are theirs but not yours.

See the pattern? People are self-centric. They primarily see the world from their own point of view. This is natural and normal. The problem occurs when this is all they can see. It means that you can be misunderstood and then treated without value, without respect, without love and eventually, just written off.

This is a horrible feeling. What averts this is empathy, kindness and humility. We can all do better imagining where the other person is at and treating them with grace instead of judgement.

Now imagine the person who is lacking understanding, respect and love is Jesus – actual God. In Mark 6:1 Jesus and his disciples head to Jesus’ hometown. Remember, they have just come from healing massive amounts of people and even raising them from the dead. He starts to teach in the synagogue and “many who heard him were amazed” (6:2). The Greek word here for “amazed” is exeplēssonto is utter astonishment, even with a little hint of panic. They ask a rapid fire of six questions – the first three and the second three are starkly different:

  • First set of three:
    • Where did this man get these things?
    • What’s this wisdom that has been given him?
    • What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
  • Second set of three:
    • Isn’t this the carpenter?
    • Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? 
    • Aren’t his sisters here with us?

The questions end with “And they took offense at him.” So amazement has turned to offense. What has happened here? “Offense” is eskandalizonto and relates to seeing in someone else something you disapprove of and which stops you from accepting them or what they say – its more than just being offended. These people are self-centric. That initial sense of fear-underpinned amazement turns to attack. Isn’t he a nobody?

Jesus notes that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town” (verse 4). It’s interesting Jesus identifies himself as a prophet – in this gospel he usually self identifies with more Messianic terms. But here, he is saying they are rejecting him and the message he bears. We also know from Old Testament prophets what happens when God’s message is rejected. Judgement comes. This is a strong connection for Jesus to make.

They misunderstand and write off the man but concurrently that means a rejection of the message. The man and the message are the same thing. Rejecting either is a rejection of both – and will lead to judgement.

Is Jesus angry with them? Strangely not. He wonders as their unbelief. In some translations, this is rendered as “amazed” as well but the original Greek is a different word and gives a sense of confusion – a sad scratch your head moment, rather than deep astonishment.

And does Jesus give up? Of course not. He goes on teaching from village to village. And he sends out his disciples in twos (two witnesses are required to substantiate a testimony). And he instructs them: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (vv8-11)

His instructions reveal two things: First, he instructs them to rely on God. They are to take nothing. Second, it instructs them to do what Jesus evidently did in response to the people in his hometown – he left that place. It doesn’t describe his feelings about it. If it was me I can imagine my feelings being rather petty “Screw you guys then….grumble grumble grumble….”

But what we do see here is the humanity of Jesus. He experienced something that we know well. He was written off by people who made assumptions about him. He was disrespected by them. They looked down on him. He was de-valued not because of anything he had done but on the basis of what people assumed about him, his message and his motivations.

Oh yes, we know this. What this means is that Jesus has experienced what we face. It means he understands our struggle, understands our fear, understands our pain.

He knows us. Not only can we learn from him and follow him, our Lord and saviour and treasure, we can have faith in him and his ability to know us down to our very deepest thoughts.

 

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  10. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)
  11. Week 11: The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)