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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Counting the Kingdom Cost


"These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt." Mark 6:8-9

Sometimes our Father in heaven comes to us and whispers words of comfort to our souls.

Sometimes he comes and throws his wing over us and protects us from the fiery darts of the evil one. Sometimes he comes and gets his arms under us and lifts us up out of our trouble.

Sometimes he goes out in front of us and says follow me.

And sometimes he gets behind us and gives a gentle push forward.

I think that this first half of chapter 6 would be the gentle hand on our back to move us forward.

What Mark has laid out for us in this 6th chapter is conveyed in three seemingly separate events. But really, he’s designed them to tell us one unified story.

It’s not necessarily a comfortable story but it is a glorious story.

I think that if we’re open minded - ready to receive God’s fatherly hand on the back of our Christian lives - we will be challenged, built up, and spurred on this morning.

The first part of Mark’s account in chapter 6 concerns Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth.

Don’t forget that we left him last time in Capernaum - up on the northern shores of the lake of Galilee - where he encountered the faith of a synagogue leader and the faith of a sick woman.

He performed powerful miracles on behalf of both. He restored the sick woman to full health, and he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Breathtaking displays of miraculous power.


At the beginning of chapter 6, Mark tells us that Jesus left Capernaum and went to his hometown of Nazareth several miles south and west of Capernaum.


Following his visit there, he went from village-to-village Mark says, teaching as he went (v.6).


But then something new happens. He calls the 12 disciples to himself and sends them out to, as Luke puts it, ‘proclaim the kingdom of God’.


The disciples don’t return to Jesus in Mark’s account until verse 30 of the chapter, which we’ll look at next time. But Mark tells us that all that Jesus had been doing - and presumably the fact that he had sent out some of his followers also - reached the ears of the Jewish king, Herod Antipas. He was the son of Herod the Great who had sought to kill Jesus when he was a baby.


Mark uses the fact that Herod was concerned with what Jesus was up to, to give us a flashback report about John the Baptist. And to tell us that Herod had beheaded John, and that John’s disciples had taken his body away and placed it in a tomb (v.29).


So that’s a sketch of Mark’s account in the first half of chapter 6. And I’m saying that the account of John the Baptist; the account of Jesus sending out the disciples; and the account of Jesus’ reception in Nazareth are all linked - and designed to tell us something.

So let me try to show you what I think Mark, and ultimately God, is getting at here in the first half of Mark 6.

Let’s start with Jesus returning to his hometown in verse 1. The town was small. I think that’s obvious because the towns people can identify Jesus and connect him with his profession - a carpenter; and with his mother Mary - by name; and with his 4 brothers and with his sisters (v.3).

It’s not just that he was well known in the area and now that he returns to his hometown his fame in the area identifies him to these people, it seems to be that they knew him as the carpenter, as the son of Mary, and as a brother.

Mark says in verse 1 that the disciples were with him - I think that’s important and we’ll see why later - but his approach just like in other places is to go into the local synagogue and teach the people.

And the people were amazed at his teaching. What he said sounded significantly different to what they were used to hearing.


Amazement was often the response that people had when they heard Jesus teach. And the amazement causes them to ask some questions.

For example, they seem to think that the wisdom Jesus taught with had come from an outside source. In verse 2 they say, ‘what’s this wisdom that has been given him?

Jesus’ wisdom is an other-worldly sort of the wisdom and it amazes them. And they follow that question up with a similar one saying, ‘what are these miracles he’s performing?

In other words, they are like the two on the road to Emmaus when Jesus appeared to them disguising his appearance and they described Jesus toJesus as ‘a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people’. That’s how these people regarded their town carpenter – powerful in word and deed.


But the response that encountering Jesus evoked in their hearts was amazing too. They say, ‘“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 spontaneous, instinctive response to hearing Jesus was amazement. But their considered response shows their true heart towards him. To them Jesus is a carpenter, now beyond his station. To them he’s a small-town nobody with poor family connections at best, overstepping his position.

I think it likely they regarded him as illegitimate which is why they don’t mention Joseph but call him ‘son of Mary’ instead of ‘son of Joseph’ as would have been normal in that culture. Where they should embrace him, they reject him. Mark simply says, ‘they took offence at him’.


And Jesus, no sooner has he encountered their response to him, than he draws a connection with the past. He draws a connection between the way Israel treated their own prophets and the way his hometown is treating him.

Luke 4 records Jesus saying what was on his mind here, ‘Truly I tell you; no prophet is accepted in his hometown [just as Mark records Jesus saying here in verse 4]. I assure you there were many widows in Elijah’stime, when the sky was shut for three and half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon [a gentile region]. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elishathe prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed - only Naaman the Syrian [a gentile]’.

Why? Because Israel rejected their prophets. And so it is in Jesus’ home town, in his own day - they reject him!


And because they reject him, Mark records that ‘he could not do anymiracles there’. What was it about their rejection of him that meant he couldn’t perform miracles for them?

It was that their rejection of him was a testimony to their unbelief. Verse 6 says, ‘He was amazed at their lack of faith’.

Jesus was only ever amazed at one other thing in the gospel records and that was the faith of the centurion. And he was a gentile! Here he’s amazed at his town folk’s lack of faith!

Check out the power of unbelief on display here.

In the face of amazing displays of word and power, unbelief disregards Jesus.

In the face of good teaching and good deeds, unbelief rejects the goodness of Jesus.

In the face of a marked impression made, unbelief scoffs at Jesus.

In the face of inexplicable differences between the humble beginnings of Jesus and his powerful wisdom, unbelief takes offence at Jesus as it feels an attack on its ego.

In short unbelief is irrational; it’s nonsensical; and it’s super powerful. It literally hinders billions from coming to Jesus.

Jesus could not do any miracles there. And God will not perform the miracle of salvation unless people lay down their egos; unless they embrace Jesus’ goodness, and trust wholeheartedly in him.

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him’ - Hebrews 11:6.

There’s no room for rejecting Jesus! Marvel at him, like the Nazarenes did, and then embrace him quickly. Don’t allow yourself to be offended by him!

So, Jesus took his disciples along to Nazareth and they witnessed first-hand this rejection of him.

But now, instead of following on with Mark’s account, lets skip over the next bit - we’ll come back to it - but let’s examine Mark’s flashback about John the Baptist first, because I think that order of things will be instructive.

Remember that Mark already introduced us to John the Baptist back at the very beginning of his gospel account.

If you remember, John was out in the wilderness beyond the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness. People were coming to him confessing their sins and being baptised by John in the river Jordan.


And though John’s dress and diet were pretty shabby - camels hair, a leather belt, locusts, wild honey - yet his message was commanding: ‘after me comes one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I’m not worthy to stoop down and untie’.


It was John who baptised Jesus, and who heard the voice from heaven saying, ‘You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased’.

John heard all that. But that’s the last we hear of John, in Mark’s account, until this flashback. Where we learn that he’s dead. Verse 16, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead’ is Herod’s conclusion.


So, what had happened? How had Herod wound up beheading John?

At the heart of the matter is that John had been telling the king that his marriage was unlawful - you can see that in verse 18. Herod had taken his own sister-in-law - his brother Philip’s wife – for himself.

According to historians, on a visit to his brother in Rome, Herod fell in love with Philip’s wife, and they agreed to marry after Herod had divorced his own wife.

And John, being a devout and God-fearing Jew challenged Herod about Herodias, pointing to Leviticus 20:21 no doubt and saying it was unlawful.


That got him thrown in prison and it elicited responses from both Herod and Herodias. Herod feared John knowing him to be a righteous and holy man (v.20) and so he protected him.

But Herodias, in true Jezebel fashion, held a grudge and looked for an opportunity to kill John (v.19).


I say, ‘Jezebel fashion’, because according to Jesus, John was the ‘Elijah’ who Malachi foretold would come - he said, ‘If you are willing to accept it, he [that is John] is the Elijah who was to come’. And it was the blood thirsty, hateful, Jezebel who, along with the spineless Ahab pursued Elijah with intent to kill him in 1 Kings 19.

Anyway, at last the moment came that Herodias had been waiting for: when the daughter of Herodias pleased Herod at his party, and he promised her anything she wanted, her mother wasted no time is telling her to ask for John’s head on a silver platter.


So, just like the Nazarenes, Herod liked to listen to John speak, puzzled or curious about what he said (v.20). But when the young girl asked for John’s head, like the Nazarenes, eager to save face, ego got the upper hand and Herod had John beheaded.

And so, just like we saw with the Nazarenes, unbelief devoured the curiosity of Herod too. And his unbelief then devoured John’s life.

John paid the ultimate price for defending holiness; for upholding the righteousness of God. I guess he must have known that telling the king that he couldn’t have the woman of his choice was likely to wind him up in a whole heap of bother. And yet he was committed to God; committed to his kingdom; and willing to pay the price.


And I wonder if we think that John made the right decision. He could have kept his mouth shut and kept his life. Was it worth it to speak up and pay the price with his life?


I think Jesus would have said ‘yes’. Listen to what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, right after calling the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemaker ‘blessed’ - divinely happy - he said, ‘blessed are you when people insultyou, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’.

Jesus would have said, ‘John didn’t waste it, he invested it! And he will reap a great dividend in the age to come.’


Luke records additional words in his account of the sermon on the mount. A quadruple warning follows the blessings: ‘But woe to you who are richfor you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets’.

Can you see how Jesus pushes back on the impulse that favours comfort in this life over the consequences of kingdom commitment?

Jesus got rejected by his own people for the kingdom. John lost his life for the kingdom at the hands of Herod. And we might say that John prepared the way for Jesus both in life and death, because we know that Jesus will go exactly where John went - losing his life for the joy that was set before him.

So now, with all that as backdrop, lets zero in on verses 6 to 13 because all that context informs what Jesus is about to tell the disciples to do.


We don’t know if the disciples knew what had happened to John the Baptist - I suspect they did. John’s disciples were in contact with Jesus, we know that from Matthew and Luke’s accounts.

We definitely know that the disciples had seen Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth because he had taken them along with him. And now verse 6, we see Jesus going from village-to-village teaching.


But in an intensification of Jesus’ mission, we see Jesus in verse 7 calling the disciples to himself and sending them out in pairs with authority over impure spirits.


And his instructions to them are specific - even odd in a way. Normal preparation for a journey involves a bag with provisions. No one sets out without taking essentials with them, otherwise they’re likely to get caught short.

But Jesus, instructs the disciples to do precisely that. He tells them not to take bread – begging the question what will they eat?

He tells them not to take a bag - so what will they carry their things in? The answer to that is they won’t need to carry anything because Jesus also instructs them not to take an extra shirt and not to take any money!


If they need to eat, they’re going to find themselves without food and without the means to get it.

If they need an extra layer to keep warm, they’re going to find themselves without an extra shirt and without the means to get one.


So, you might ask, well how does Jesus expect them to survive? And the answer is, they may not - survive. But if they do, it will be because God has sovereignly provided for them, in the places they are preaching, a favourable house.

A family who will look after their needs; keep them watered, fed, and housed until they leave that place. And Jesus says to them, if any place doesn’t receive you in that way or if they won’t listen (v.11) then shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them and move on to the next town.


So, I imagine that this must have been pretty anxiety inducing for the disciples. It sounds like these journeys will be, at the least, uncomfortable for them. But that they can also expect opposition, persecution perhaps. Responses like Jesus got in Nazareth. Perhaps even like John got at the hands of Herodias.

So, what is Jesus doing? I see 4 things.

Number 1, I think he’s showing us - and this does apply to us even though we’re not part of the 12, because Jesus will send out 72 normal followers shortly after this to do the same thing, and we are definitely like them.

Number 1, he seems to be showing us that his disciples (you and I) will be the ones who will herald the good news of the kingdom of God.


What does that look like? Well verse 12 says ‘they went out and preached that people should repent’. And verse 13 says, ‘they drove out demons, anointed the sick and healed them’. So, I take that to mean that in word and deed - like Jesus - we are to spread the good news about salvation in Jesus into all the spheres of life that we occupy - home, work, neighbourhood, Sunday club, YPs, the classroom, toddler group…you fill in the blank.


And notice, our testimony is a savor of life to some and a savor of deathto others. Shaking the dust of their feet, according to Matthew’s account, means they’re done with that town - other towns need to hear - and that’s going to be judgment on them.

It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town’ Jesus says. In other words, it’s not our job to imagine who might reject or who might listen. Our job is to faithfully proclaim.

Second, I think he’s telling us that we must proclaim in faith. It’s not done in our own strength. It’s done in the power of faithful reliance on God through prayer and promise. Standing on the promises of God and leaning on him in prayer - even in the moment of testimony.


Take nothing for the journey’ means take nothing to rely on but learn to rely on God.

Later, at the last supper, Jesus will ask them if they lacked anythingwhen he sent them out without purse, or bag, or sandals. To which they will reply, ‘nothing’!

Neither will we lack anything we need, to herald the good news of Jesus, if we depend on God - not courage, not opportunity, not words, not blessing – nothing!

Third, he wants us to know that this will carry cost and that the cost will mainly be to our comfort.

Going hungry and cold is not comfortable. But Jesus said if you choose comfort now, you’ll forfeit it in heaven, so I think that’s incentivising.


He wants us to be ready to carry the cost of discomfort with a future great reward spurring us on. He’s encouraging us to spurn the temptation to get comfortable early.

Comfort comes down the line, but cost is for now - the cost of your time, the cost of your energy, the cost of your money, the cost of your commitment, the cost of your perseverance – he seems to be saying ‘don’t grow weary in doing good folks’!

Fourth, he wants us to remember that this faithful and costly testimony is sweetened and deepened in community. Jesus sent them out in pairs.

Probably because the Jewish law demanded that everything be established by two witnesses, but surely also because of the way in which pairs allow for community.


You can pick up your stumbling brother or sister when you’re in this together. You can spur one another on in love and good deeds if you regularly come together and share your burdens and triumphs. And even better, when you endeavour to proclaim the good news together.


So, to sum up: John proclaimed, and it cost him his life. Jesus proclaimed to his own people, and they took offence at him. And then later they put him to death also.


But John did not lose out. And Jesus did not lose out. We’re called to walk in the footsteps of our Saviour Jesus along with the 12. It will be uncomfortable – but only for a lifetime – and then our reward will be great for eternity!


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