Sermon, September 25, 2005
College Baptist Church
Rev. Don Westblade
Mission Means Opposition
There is an astonishing turn in this morningÕs text of the Gospel of Mark. It comes as a kind of wake-up call in the midst of these opening chapters weÕve been studying, and we do well to listen carefully to its alarm, so that we are not as astonished by it as the disciples in the text are.
If you remember back to the insert that was in the bulletin 3 weeks ago, youÕll recall that Jesus began the Gospel calling his disciples. Three times he called them. And in between each of the three callings we found an entry into a house that told us Jesus came on a mission to enter the houses where a strong man held power and he came to overcome that power.
That strong man, it turned out was our will and our pride that has to be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We learned in all of those episodes that Jesus has the authority to carry this ministry out. Authority over people to call them to follow him. Authority over demons and diseases to cast them out of the people they control. And authority even over sin to forgive it, as he did for the paralytic, so that he could rise again and walk.
Then Jesus began to teach beside the sea in ch. 4, and we not only heard his authority to teach but began also to see him exercise his miraculous power. Power over hurricane-force wind and rain out on the sea. Power over a legion of demons that had taken possession of a man. Power over life and death itself in the raising of JairusÕs daughter.
The parables remind us that his real power is not as visible as weÕd like in the present. ItÕs often here in the shape of the tiniest seeds, like the mustard-seed, but it is at work nonetheless, just like those seeds under the earth that will eventually put forth the blade and then the ear and then the vast, abundant harvest.
We can learn from the three callings of disciples and the three series of three house-entries and the three parables of small things working mighty results and the three miraculous displays of JesusÕ divine power that we should not fear. That we should only believe. Only trust him.
But we might also conclude from those displays of power and authority that Mark has been piling up for us in his narrative that all this power at our disposal in Jesus Christ means that we should never expect to suffer, that we ought not to have to face opposition and pain. If we draw that conclusion from all of these demonstrations of JesusÕ astonishing authority and his miraculous displays of power, then we have forgotten already that we did not find the leaders of the Jews in JesusÕ time welcoming Jesus as the message of Good News from their God that he was.
2:16 says the scribes questioned just about everything Jesus did. 2:24 says the Pharisees did the very same thing. Then the Pharisees accuse him in 3:2. They take counsel with the bureaucrats of Herod to destroy him in 3:6. Over and over again in this Gospel and the other 3 in the New Testament, the Jewish leaders are found opposing this man, Jesus, who came, he said, to bring them every good thing their Bible had promised God was going to do for them, and even came demonstrating the power to accomplish it all.
So just in case these passages about the power and authority that are available to JesusÕ disciples lull us into thinking that the power of God is an automatic protection against the persecution of the world, Mark takes a sudden turn in his Gospel at the beginning of ch. 6 to remind us that the Gospel is an offense, a Ōscandal,Ķ to the world and when we take up its mission we can expect to face opposition from the world just like Jesus did; just like Jesus warned his disciples that they would; just like John the Baptist already had.
Look briefly with me at the way Mark has organized this section of his book from the end of last weekÕs three miracles to the point in 6:30/34 where he begins to teach again. And then I want to mention five brief conclusions we can take from this turn in the text.
Here in 6:1-30, there are three episodes again, and another one of those sandwich structures that are becoming familiar to us in his writing.
First, Jesus teaches at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, and the hometown crowd reacts with some astonishment (v.3). ŌIsnÕt this he carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?Ķ
We know that later on his brothers James and Jude are going to become believers and followers of Jesus, even writing books of their own that will be added to the New Testament. But for now, we still read in 3:21 that his family thinks he is out of his mind and that his familyÕs acquaintances take offense at his teaching (in 6:3) because they canÕt believe that anyone from this carpenterÕs family should speak with such wisdom and might.
It leads to JesusÕ almost proverbial observation that a prophet is honorable everywhere except at home. And he circles in very pointedly there in v.4 from hometown to relatives to his own household at the very heart of the offense taking.
Their astonishment is not the admiring kind, we can conclude. ItÕs the offended, tongue-clucking kind. TheyÕre not proud that the local boy makes good. TheyÕre jealous and indignant as if he doesnÕt know his place in the local order.
But their astonishment is nothing compared to JesusÕ astonishment at the unbelief of his hometown people and family. Because he sees it for what it is: a lack of faith. Think of it. Our unwillingness to accept Jesus for who he is, our hardness of heart in wanting a Hollywood hero or a dignitary of major importance to come and save us, because then weÕd seem more important, is amazing even to God the Son. That weÕd let our puny little pride stop us from reaching out after the massive benefit of an eternal lifeline is truly a stunning thing. And it keeps the mighty work of the eternal rescue from happening. ŌHe could do no mighty work there,Ķ (v.5 says) except to heal a few sick people who were desperate enough to humble themselves to say Ōhelp!Ķ
So, in the first episode, Jesus met opposition at the present stage of his ministry from his very own family and hometown.
The second and third episodes are sandwiched, one inside the other. Jesus sends his disciples out in 6:7 and gives them the same authority he had himself to cast out unclean spirits and to spread the word of the Gospel. In 6:30 they come back and tell him all about what they had done and taught on their mission.
Sandwiched in between is a retrospective recounting of the death of John the Baptist that had taken place much earlier in JesusÕ career. Mark takes the story out of chronological order and puts the telling of it here. Once again we have to conclude that Mark wants us to understand something about the sending of Jesus disciples from this account of the beheading of John the Baptist at the treacherous hands of Herod. In this case the connection and the lesson isnÕt too hard to recognize.
The disciples who are about to be sent out on JesusÕ mission need to understand that people are going to oppose them, just like Jesus himself was opposed, even by his own family and hometown friends. In fact, MarkÕs flashback to John the Baptist reminds us, that opposition from the world might even eventually cost these disciples their heads.
Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias deserve to be marvelled at at least as much as JesusÕ friends in Nazareth. Herodias wasnÕt just HerodÕs wife. She was also his niece, son of his half-brother Aristobulus, who had been killed by their common father, Herod the Great. And she wasnÕt just his wife and niece. She had also been his sister-in-law, married earlier to another half-brother, Herod Philip. Antipas had had to divorce his own first wife to marry Herodias, not to mention convince her to divorce his brother so she could marry him. And dumping his first wife came at the cost of a war with the king who was that wifeÕs father. So this is a family full of treachery and breaches of faith that were amazing to everyone for their brazen hard-heartedness. And John the Baptist, who Herod actually respected, paid with his life and his head on a platter because Herod was so reckless as to gamble it away on a cheap parlor trick to Herodias and Salome.
They hated his integrity. It offended them mightily because it exposed their own hollow honor and immoral behavior with the light of truth and challenge that they could not stand. They opposed him so ferociously that they finally plotted his death.
What does that tell us about the disciples? TheyÕre about to go out into the world two-by-two, taking little more than the clothes on their back, relying on the hospitality of the houses and towns where they would travel. And some of those houses and towns and people could be counted on not to receive them (v.11), not even to listen to them.
With his sandwiched episode, Mark is adding for his Christian readers, probably in Rome, the foreboding warning that not only would they not be received and listened to; they might even be killed like John.
Because the heart of the world is opposed to the Gospel. The heart of the world wants to live like Herodias. The eyes of the world do not like to look too far down the road past the next attractive pleasure to see what the long-term consequences of it might be even from a worldly perspective.
(A few short years after JesusÕs death and resurrection, the emperor Caligula, himself no angel, brought the corrupt little reign of Herod and Herodias to the ground and sent the both of them packing, off into exile in Gaul.)
The sandwiched story of John the Baptist tells us then that following Jesus in the future as a disciple is likely to invite the same zealous opposition that it always has from a hostile world that foolishly doesnÕt want to give up its little pleasures of pride and lust to experience monumental pleasures of eternal life and the satisfying presence of God himself.
Then, if we look down to 6:34 (just a few verses beyond where we read during the praise choruses), weÕll see that thereÕs actually a double sandwich here, because the sending of the disciples that is sandwiching the death of John the Baptist is sandwiched itself between JesusÕ beginning to teach in 6:2 and beginning to teach again in 6:34.
The future that the disciples have to face in their mission on behalf of the Gospel of Christ is not only going to be like the experience of John the Baptist in his integrity before Herod but is going to be like Jesus in his opposition from family and friends, even like Jesus in being headed in the direction of a cross.
The earliest readers of MarkÕs Gospel are likely to have been disciples in the church at Rome in the middle of the first century when we know that Christians were coming to the attention of Claudius and Nero and the emperors who followed them, and they were finding that attention was hostile and opposed to their message. Christians were facing death for their faith, and Mark was writing this book to say that that outcome shouldnÕt be surprising. It had happened to John the Baptist. It was about to happen to Jesus. And it was part of what Jesus was preparing his disciples to face when he sent them out two-by-two in ch.6.
But the message of Mark, and the message of Jesus in Mark is that death is not a final obstacle to be feared. The cross comes on Friday, but the resurrection follows on Sunday.
John the Baptist didnÕt face up to Herod like a fool who was just itching to die. He faced him with the confidence that trusting God is the pathway to living in the presence of God.
Jesus didnÕt face up to the opposition of his family and the prospect of the cross like a fool who was itching to die. He despised the shame and endured the pain because he had a higher joy set before him: the joy of bringing many disciples into the presence of God, clothed in his perfect act of righteousness, by faith giving all the glory to God, because the presence of God was worth every sacrifice it might take to reach it.
1. Having power is no guarantee that people wonÕt oppose you or even kill you. Sometimes it even invites opposition, because the power you enjoy threatens those who oppose your mission.
2. Home is not a defense against opposition to the gospel. Sometimes it increases the offense. ŌExposure to Jesus and the gospel is no guarantee of faith; indeed, apart from faith, exposure to the gospel inoculates as often as it enlivens.Ķ
3. Missions means opposition because the gospel represents an offense (skandalon) to the world
4. Opposition arises out of an amazing unwillingness to trust God. It even amazes Jesus. Because it comes from the heart it can only be overcome by the softening work of the Holy Spirit. ŌThis kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.Ķ
5. Opposition to the mission of the gospel is painful and involves us in sacrifice. But the sacrifice is never ultimate. It will always be worth it.