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Jesus' Discipleship Model, Part 9
BUSYNESS, FLEXIBILITY, AND THE OPPORTUNE TIME
Mark’s Bigger Story
Following the account of John the Baptist’s unlawful execution, Mark returns to a subject that he broached earlier—the sending out of the twelve to cast out demons and heal people. His return to the prior subject does not show haphazard writing skills. His sandwiching of John’s fate into the larger narrative is deliberate. The transition back to the ministry of the twelve begins in typical fashion, by jumping from one subject to the next with barely a breath.
Mark 6:30-32 (ESV)
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.
31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Mark’s narrative goes back to discuss details that he has left out. For review, here are the three parts in the larger account of Jesus’ work following his rejection by the people in his hometown:
- --Jesus leaves the people of Nazareth to unbelief and assigns the twelve to minister in specially chosen villages around Galilee, (Mark 6:6-12)
- --Herod hears about the ministry of the twelve and concludes that John the Baptist has come back from the dead, (Mark 6:13-29)
- --The apostles return to share their accounts of a successful ministry effort.
- --Meanwhile, Jesus calls them to take some time for rest, only to be interrupted by the crowd who seeks Jesus. This culminates in the feeding of the five thousand, (Mark 6:30-44).
The transition from Herod back to the twelve includes a number of elements that tie all three sections together.
- The men go out as “the twelve” go out (Mark 6:7) and return as “the apostles” (Mark 6:30). Mark’s wording shows that he recognizes the honor that Jesus’ select men have gained in the successful completion of their ministries.
- King Herod hears of it (John 6:14). “It” in this context is the apostles’ work among the villages. We do not know how long the twelve ministered to the people, but their ministry obviously had an impact if the word spread all the way too Herod’s palace.
- The apostles testify to Jesus about “all that they had done and taught” (John 6:30). Obviously, they have worked hard and are excited over their success.
- Jesus calls his men to go to “a desolate place by themselves” (John 6:32). Doubtless, part of the purpose for their rest was to mourn John’s death.
- The combined success of their ministry has driven Jesus and his men to the point that they lack even time to eat (John 6:31). Jesus recognizes this and calls them to abandon the crowds for a time. Renewal is never a selfish desire. No one completes a long-term mission on adrenalin alone.
Dealing with Interruptions
Unfortunately, Jesus’ plans for rest encounter a snag.
Mark 6:33-34 (ESV)
33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
I have to admit that I do not react to situations like this with such grace. Usually, my selfish side rears its head, and I want nothing more than for people to leave me alone. When the phone rings, I yell at it because I know that someone at the other end wants something. Jesus’ perspective is far more balanced than mine. Even when he needs to mourn for John, he finds room to feel compassion for the people because they are like directionless sheep. His life is a remarkable testimony to his ability to know when busyness threatens to smother genuine productivity, when flexibility is necessary, and when the opportune time is important enough to forego personal needs.
Jesus' Discipleship Model, Part 8
THE CHALLENGING AND NOBLE END OF COURAGE
The Character of Characters
When a story’s momentum revolves around a single character, his job is to push the narrative forward. Usually, he finds a worthy goal and pursues it, often against impossible odds. His willingness to face internal and external difficulties generates our love for his story. We cheer for such a man. In Mark’s narrative on Herod, the king is a cheerless and despicable character who generates nothing but our contempt. He is a passive man. During his brief appearance in the Gospel, he neither understands what he wants nor knows how to defend what is right.
Herod experiences the moral equivalent of what aviators often experience when flying through a cloud bank without their instruments. They can become so disoriented that they begin to fly upside down without realizing the fact. Herod is flying upside down in his moral universe. He has taken his brother’s wife, only to find that John the Baptist challenges his unlawful marriage to her. The conflicts pile up like firewood.
Herod has stolen his brother’s wife Herodias and married her, while John dares to call the king out on his marriage.
- Herod throws the prophet into prison because of his challenge.
- Herod fears John because John is a holy man and keeps him safe, while his wife Herodias schemes his execution.
- Herod, though he is “greatly perplexed” by John (Mark 6:21), continues to seek audiences with him.
Three characters—John the Baptist, Herod the king, and Herodias—generate this conflict. John stands for the truth. Herodias fights for John’s elimination. Herod wavers.
The Tragic Irony of “Opportunity”
John’s death scene begins with an ominous introduction. “But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee” (Mark 6:21). “An opportunity came…” Talk about understatement. This opportunity is sinister, and it falls into Herodias’s daughter’s hands. Herod will be powerless against the fireball that is about to consume him.
For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”
Herod’s offer to donate half his kingdom is not just foolish. It is dangerous beyond imagination. Here is a weak king trying to look powerful. In the end, he sets himself up for ensnarement.
In a statement that sounds almost odd, Herodias’s daughter goes out to ask her mother what she should do (Mark 6:24). On the surface, her question resembles the starry-eyed choices that arise out of game shows like The Price is Right. “Should I take the cash or trade it for whatever is behind the curtain?” In reality, it is shrewder than that. With Herod’s vow before the court for all to see, Herodias’s daughter she sees the opportunity to demand something that possesses far higher strategic value than a political favor that settles for land. We get an idea of the level of mother and daughter’s shared calculating natures when Herodias tells her daughter to demand John the Baptist’s execution from Herod. Herodias, in other words, is after vengeance (Mark 6:24). Her daughter leavers mere vengeance at the starting block. Mark shows the level of her contempt with his description of her response. “And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter’” (Mark 6:25 emphasis added). This is a level of vindictiveness that exceeds even her mother’s wickedness. She humiliates the king in public.
A strong king would have executed both Herodias and her daughter on the spot for demanding something so far out of line. Unfortunately, Herod is no such man. He has become trapped in his own vow. The women own him, and they know it. Their demand is designed to wound. It shows their superior position over the king, and everyone can see the fact. Herod may be brutal, but these two women are cunning, and they steal any opportunity for him to think or recant. Mark closes the passage in the same irony that he has built throughout the section.
Mark 6:26-29 (ESV)
26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.
27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison
28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.
29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
The Meaning of Honor
There we have it. Herod the king, Herodias and her daughter acting in tandem, and John’s disciples each take positions that reflect individual relationships to honor. The king was “exceedingly sorry,” but not sorry enough to trade his public image for courage. Given the opportunity to do the honorable thing, he chooses to grovel. Herodias’s daughter, meanwhile, flaunts her coup. She receives John’s head on the platter as she demanded, and then gives it to her mother. The dance at the beginning of the episode closes in a fatal ballet. She who knows only treachery will never understand such a noble concept as honor. Only John’s disciples display a sense of honor when they come and take his body to lay it in a tomb. Honor is the recognition that certain values outweigh ourselves, and it gives momentum to courage. In this narrative, honor flanks dishonor. At the beginning, John dares to speak the truth. At the end, his disciples risk their own safety to give him a proper burial. These are the ones whom Mark remembers as honorable.
WAITING FOR UTOPIA
In the past months, the US Supreme Court—supposedly conservative after the Trump appointments—passed two motions that shocked the evangelical world. The first, Bostock v. Clayton County, occurred on June 15, when the court gave new latitude to gay rights. Their ruling reinterpreted the meaning of employment discrimination “because of …sex.” In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the basis for the ruling, “sex” meant gender. But we are not in Kansas anymore. The court expanded the meaning to cover the contemporary mayhem over sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sex change. The ruling has the potential to eclipse the First Amendment right to freedom of religious practice in hiring situations. The second ruling was June Medical Services LLC v. Russo and came on June 29. The court struck down a Louisiana law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital because concern for patient safety restricted a woman’s right to make unrestricted choice. (Oyez LII Supreme Court Resources, Justia Supreme Court Center, 2019-2020 Term, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2019, accessed July 3, 2020.) From a legal standpoint, the cases stand as testaments to judicial activism. When the court reinterprets its own past decisions and then forces their interpretations on the people without relying on congressional legislation, they overstep their authority.
Looking for Utopia
For we who believe in a biblical understanding of the meaning of life, gender, marriage, and family, the decisions mark a radical departure from of the most fundamental truths in Scripture. When we step back, we must realize that both the political right and the left harbor utopian visions, and each side is desperate to hammer its vision into the cultural reality. Many political conservatives, including myself, held great hope for Mr. Trump’s court appointees to right the injustices that have become incased in our legal system. These two decisions shattered our utopian hope.
Not the First Time
I want to look at the biblical perspective, however. We are not the first nation to wonder what the future might bring. If we look in Isaiah 8, The Assyrian Empire, which has grown into the first military superpower in biblical history, threatens to advance on Judah. They are a terrorist nation. Isaiah the prophet affirms the danger. Like a flooded river, Assyria “will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8). God’s people are about to feel like they are drowning in terror.
A Personal Message for Isaiah
Amid the alarm, the LORD breaks through to Isaiah with a personal message. Isaiah summarizes his experience this way. “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people …” (Isaiah 8:11). This is not the typical Old Testament “Thus says the LORD” message that Isaiah is to take to the people. It is a message for Isaiah himself. Notice how he describes his experience. “The LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me…”
Looking beyond the Immediate to See the Eternal
What exactly did God tell Isaiah? His message is a two-part call to see the situation differently than the rest of the people. He is to look beyond the immediate and see the eternal. The message unfolds in four sections that stand symmetrically against each other.
Isaiah 8:11-15 (ESV)
12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
A Call and a Warning
The use of words in this message is masterful. Verses 12-13 call Isaiah to think about the situation from a whole new perspective. Where the people cowered in fear and dread of conspiracy (verse 12) Isaiah must direct his fear and dread toward the LORD (verse 13). This deliberate reversal of thinking is the only way that he or anyone else will survive being consumed by conspiracy theories. Verses 14-15 record a second reversal, this one more ironic. Mixed results are certain to occur among Isaiah’s people. On the one hand, the LORD will become a sanctuary to those who fear him. Unfortunately, these will be few. For the majority, the LORD will become a stone of offense, a rock of stumbling, a trap, and a snare (verse 14). In verse 15, the destructive terminology piles up like a multiple car crash on an interstate. Many will stumble, fall, be broken, be snared, and be taken.
What This Mean for Us
The moral to this story is simple. We are engaged in cultural warfare. We need to think, to vote, and to educate as many as we can on our nation’s history and the direction it is heading. We need to pray that God will raise up Christians who have the wisdom to confront evil in high places. We also need to realize that human agency alone is unable to save us. If we look for that, we will be disappointed. From God’s eternal perspective, humanity falls into the conspiracy category. Salvation will not come by any president, legislative body, or judicial branch. Finally, we need to temper our expectations. Regardless of whether we fear God or the conspiracy, crises will continue to occur. Kingdoms will topple. Our favorite human saviors will disappoint.
Only the Lord, whose understanding is infinite, rules over human history. For that reason, we need to discipline our thinking. When we fear the Lord first, the latest human conspiratorial promises lose their power to mesmerize us. We do not have to grieve when utopia fails to appear.
For additional studies click on the links below:
May 2017 - Exodus 6:1-13 - Defeat, Not Failure
June 2017 - John 9:1-7 - True Discipleship
October 2017 - Ephesians 1:9-10 - God and the Work Ethic
October 2017 - Psalm 11 - Righteousness and Evil in the Las Vegas Shooting
November 2017 - Ephesians 6:5-9 - Practicing Value in Undervalued Labor
December 2017 - Psalm 77:19 and Psalm 131- Waiting on the Lord
February 2018 - Nehemiah 8:5-8 - Thinking Man's Warfare
March 2018 - Isaiah 1:18-20 - Authority and Reason
April 2018 - Deuteronomy 17:14-20 - The Life of David, Part 1
November 2018 - February 2019 - Genesis 37, 38 - Judah's Journey To Manhood
October 2019 - Intimacy with God
December 2019 - March 2020 - Men of the Book of Judges
November 2020- Jesus' Discipleship Model