Beheadings are in the news today – so as barbaric as this biblical account sounds to our civilized ears … depraved pagan power still operates from the same motivation and looks pretty much the same in the execution of its wicked agenda. Yesterday’s King Herod who served up the head of John the Baptist on a platter is not that much different from today’s Islamic supremacists who use terror and intimidation as tactics to advance their terrorist agenda.
Our passage today is one of those sandwich passages in the Gospel of Mark – two bookends of material that obviously fit together with an inner filling that begs the question: Why have I been inserted here? [Remember previous story of raising of Jairus’daughter from the dead with insertion of interruption of the healing of the woman with the 12 year blood flow issue] Here you have the 12 apostles sent out on their initial trial mission (6:7) and then they return to report back to Jesus (vs. 30). In the middle you have this flashback account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas. What is the connection?
We come this morning to a very short story – but one of the saddest stories in the gospel accounts. In Chap. 5 we saw numerous incidents where Faith (despite its limitations) triumphed. As we open up Chap. 6 we see the tragedy of lack of faith. We are going to see Jesus rejected in His home town Nazareth. Then next week we will see the disciples commissioned for their short term missionary project with the dominant story being the beheading of John the Baptist by the unbelieving Roman ruler Herod Antipas.
General maxim – there certainly are exceptions to the rule
Mark Copeland: You have likely heard the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”, which means…
a. The better we know people, the more likely we are to find fault with them. – The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
b. If you know someone very well or experience something a lot, you stop respecting them. – The Free Dictionary
c. The more you know something or someone, the more you start to find faults and dislike things about it or them. – UsingEnglish.com
Dominion Over Disease and Death —
One of the many perversions of our sin nature is our perverted sense of time. We have our own timetable that dictates our expectations of when God should act and accomplish X or Y. Our faith can limp along for a time . . . but it tends to give out once that internal alarm clock goes off telling us that the time is up; the opportunity for God to act is over; the delay on God’s part as far as we can tell has now transitioned to outright denial of our quest for deliverance;
A young woman longs to see God provide her with a suitable marriage partner. She prays diligently and seeks to order her priorities in accordance with God’s kingdom goals; yet nothing happens. It seems as if her time has passed her by.
A young couple desires to be blessed with the joy of parenthood. Month after month they get their hopes up only to be disappointed time and again. Finally they face the reality that stared Abraham and Sarah in the face back in Genesis 12 – How shall I give birth when I am so old?
A person who has been a Christian for many years understands God’s requirements regarding some life dominating sin issue … but they have been this way for so long . . . they just excuse their behavior and shrug their shoulders and say “That’s just the way that I am” and give up the spiritual fight for victory and deliverance. They sit in the pew every Sunday and listen to the truth of the Word of God … but have very little commitment to seeing God change their lives.
Massive outbreaks of visible demonic activity are very scarce throughout human history. You have the rebellion of 1/3 of the angels at the beginning of time – but no humans were around to witness God consigning them to the pit of imprisonment and torture. You have the possible demonic liaison with humankind that led to the wickedness of men at the time of Noah’s Flood (Gen. 6). Now as the seed of the serpent arrives on the scene to do battle with the serpent and his demonic forces of the kingdom of darkness, you have an outburst of violent, demonic activity.
In our times, despite all of the hype about demons and exorcisms, you really only see probably isolated psychopaths that would be such madmen that we would attribute their perversions to demonic control. You have the famous ones like Charles Manson and Jeffry Dahmer … the larger scale champions of evil like Hitler … but for the most part Satan today likes to disguise his emissaries and make them appear as close to children of the light as possible. In the Day of the Lord, the activity of demonic forces will once again be more widespread and evident.\
We see disobedience to Jesus Christ all around us every day. It is reflected in the language of most people who take His name in vain all of the time without any fear of accountability. It is reflected in the type of coarse humor and jesting that people engage in constantly. It is reflected in the pursuit of the lusts of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It is reflected in their sense of independence as if they are in control of their lives and their destiny instead of the Master of the Universe. People need a deep sense of awe and wonder at the majesty of the one who is sovereign over all things. It is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.
What type of fear of the Lord dictates our response of obedience? What do we say or do that we would like to pull back and change if we had a deeper knowledge of our Sovereign Savior? In our familiar story this morning the disciples of Jesus have their lack of faith exposed in the crisis of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus rebukes them with some stinging words for their cowardice and lack of faith. They have allowed their fears to consume their faith. They have perversely entertained the heresy that it seems as if their God doesn’t care about their welfare.
This is not just a simple story about how Jesus can smooth over the rough trials of your life and calm all of the seas that might be troubling you in terms of your external circumstances. Yes He can heal your diseases; Yes He can restore relationships; Yes He can put you on sound financial footing . . . if He desires. He can also choose to allow that disease to consume you physically or allow your job and finances to bottom out. But more importantly, He wants you to trust Him today for who He truly is – the one that even the wind and the sea Obey. Think how important this message was to the Gentile believers in Rome who were starting to face severe persecution because of their faith. I have gotten into the boat with Jesus and pushed off to head for the other shore – how is this going to end for me? Heroes of the Faith – Heb. 11:32-40
Last week we looked at the first of 4 parables in Mark chapter 4. It was the longest of the four and the most fundamental – our prerequisite course = Parables 101 – the Parable of the Soils. If you want to understand any of the parables of Jesus, you must first understand that one. Today we will look at all 4 parables in this chapter and how they relate to one another – with our emphasis being on the interpretation of the final 3 – a much more challenging task since Jesus does not give us His point-by-point interpretation of these.
Remember what is happening at this point in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. He has demonstrated His authority as the Son of God – to teach with authority; to heal all types of physical diseases; to cast out demons and demonstrate His dominion over the kingdom of Satan; soon we are going to see that even the forces of nature – the wind and the sea obey Him. Yet while He is experiencing rapid growth in popularity among the people and multitudes are attracted to Him (some in faith but most in superficial curiosity), opposition is growing among the religious leaders. The unbelieving Jews could not understand how the OT promises regarding a coming King and Kingdom could be fulfilled by this humble son of a carpenter. His preaching regarding the kingdom did not connect with their expectations of an immediate physical kingdom with all of its pomp and impressive glory.
So we saw in 3:23 that Jesus began to teach them in parables – a method that was ideally suited for both revealing divine truth to those with spiritual insight and concealing truth from the blinded multitudes. I view our privilege today as similar to excited children coming downstairs on Christmas morning to open up the surprises contained in the variety of gift packages under the tree. We can pick up the packages and shake them and guess at their contents. But what joy there is as we open them up and have the full revelation of their contents. Sometimes you open a gift and you still can’t identify what it is – that can be a bit disconcerting …
Interesting paradox in the Galilean ministry of Jesus Christ – huge crowds were attracted to Jesus and His amazing healing miracles … but very few became committed disciples who understood and followed His message. How could this be? What if we commissioned fruit inspectors to look into the hearts of all the professing Christians throughout the many church services in our country this morning? What would they find regarding the genuineness and health of the fruit? Is there really spiritual life present? No root . . . No fruit; No fruit … No life
We live in the age of paparazzi … where the rich and famous cannot leave the sanctuary of their residence without being bombarded by the intrusive presence of people pressing upon them and taking snapshots of their every movement. We know very little of the pressures and the pitfalls that such attention and popularity create. Nobody was outside my home snapping my picture as I drove over this morning to preach.
When we study the short earthly ministry of Jesus, His rapid rise to popularity and fame is striking. Jesus had a mission that was targeted to reaching the masses; and yet that very mission created unique difficulties and challenges. Because the gospel message of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ is a very personal message; it must be received personally; the new birth experience is not a widespread people movement but a one-on-one relationship with the living God. The pathway to discipleship involves an intimate fellowship and closeness with Jesus – it has nothing in common with a mob of people pressing to get close enough to Jesus for some type of isolated one-time magical touch that would solve their immediate needs.
Today we will study two incidents that are tied together by the common theme of Sabbath controversies. For us in the church age, the controversy surrounding the Fourth of the Ten Commandments is whether or not the OT regulations still apply. Are we still under obligation to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy? Many Christians would substitute the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, for Saturday and view themselves under a similar obligation as the Jews. Certainly the establishment of the Sabbath as a day of rest traces its roots back to Creation when the Lord rested on the seventh day. So the general principle of there being value in working for six days but taking one day for refreshment and rejuvenation seems beneficial for mankind. But Moses made specific application of the rules surrounding Sabbath day observance to their relevance to the Jewish nation – Ex. 31:12-17.
Without getting into a long discussion on the subject, it would seem that Christ has been the fulfillment of the law. Our worship does not focus around the temple and the sacrificial system. The veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. The church is not an extension of Israel. The only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the NT as part of God’s abiding moral law would be the Fourth Commandment. Col. 2:16-17 speaks explicitly about maintaining our freedom in worshiping Christ as opposed to falling into legalistic practices of spiritual pride where we judge one another on the basis of external rules and regulations regarding worship practices. Now that the reality of Christ has arrived … don’t embrace the shadows and the types of OT times. The message of Hebrews would be along the same lines. (cf. Rom. 7:4; 10:4; 14:5; Gal. 4:10-11)
But having said all of that, I still see value in emphasizing worship and the gathering together of the saints on one special day each week just like the first century Christians did and just as we are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the regular assembling together – I just don’t view our Christian practices as obedience to the Sabbath regulations.
As we celebrate our nation’s hard fought freedom on this Fourth of July, I am reminded of the great freedom we have in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I took time this morning to review the message of the book of Galatians. Born Free . . . Live Free . . . Stay Free! Never surrender the liberty of our new life in Christ to the bondage of religious legalism. It was a good reminder of how we need to continue stand strong in the freedom we have in Christ and not allow any works-oriented false teachers to pervert the gospel of grace. We were brought into this precious relationship of sonship and heirship by the Holy Spirit and we must continue to live by the Spirit as well. Check your life out today and see whether it is characterized by the deeds of the flesh or the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to work through the expositional outline of the Book of Galatians. You can also listen to the Born Free song on You Tube.