The Offense of Jesus (Mark 6:1-29)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 6:1–29. One of the benefits of preaching through a book of the Bible chapter by chapter and verse by verse is that it forces you to talk about things you would sometimes want to avoid. It forces you to talk about not only the happy parts of the Bible, but also the difficult to hear parts of the Bible. And this morning we have reached one of those passages where we are going to be confronted with something that is probably a little uncomfortable for us to hear. But as Baptists, what we believe about the Bible is that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), and so when we reach passages like this, we don’t skip them, but we trust what God has told us about his Word and try to understand them.

So now, keeping mind what I just said, I am going to say something that is probably not going to feel right to your ears. Something that is a little uncomfortable. But it is something that comes straight from the pages of the Bible. Are you ready?

Jesus is Offensive.

That’s right, Jesus is offensive. He is offensive to the world. One of the ways people react to an encounter with Jesus and to his message is by taking offense. They take offense at Jesus and his message. That is what we will see this morning. And we will also see that it is not only Jesus who people are offended by, but also by those in Jesus’ service—those who are about the business of making disciples.

The truth is that when you serve Jesus, when you answer his call to be a disciple and when you are faithful to that call, the world will often be offended by you. Even religious people, even people who call themselves Christians, will take offense when you speak the message about Jesus to them. As followers of Jesus we will often find ourselves being resisted and rejected by those around us who take offense at Jesus and the Gospel. This may even happen within your own family or among your closest friends.

There are many well known preachers today who cheapen the gospel… they weaken the message of Jesus. You know the ones I am talking about. Those who write books with their faces printed on the cover and have television spots that unfortunately reach thousands of people every week with a half gospel at best and a false gospel at worse. They present the gospel and Jesus as a quick way to be happy, healthy, rich, and trouble-free. They tell us that Jesus wants us to be all these things. And that if we just believe in ourselves and pick ourselves up by the bootstraps (and send them some money of course) we will be as happy, healthy, attractive, rich, and trouble-free as they are. And this message is very alluring to the world. Who doesn’t want to be happy, healthy, rich, and trouble-free? But the fact of the matter is that Jesus never promises these things to us. If anything Jesus says the opposite will be true of those who follow him.

Jesus says that those who follow after him will not have any place to lay their head (Matthew 8:20). Jesus says that those who follow him will often have to leave family and friends and possessions (Matthew 19:29). Jesus says that if people hated him, they will hate us as well (John 15:18–19). Jesus said that if they persecuted him they will persecute us (John 15:20). Jesus said to his disciples very plainly in John 16:33, “In the world you WILL have tribulation.”

And in our passage this morning from Mark 6:1–29, we get a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. In this passage we see Jesus once again being rejected by those closest to him—his family and friends from his hometown of Nazareth. And after this rejection, we see Jesus preparing his disciples to be rejected in a similar way when they go out as his ambassadors carrying the good news of the coming kingdom of God to other parts of Galilee. And we see the most severe example of offense leading to persecution at the end of this passage in the story of the brutal execution of John the Baptist.

So… I am sorry that we can’t have sermons every week that are uplifting and encouraging, but the fact is that there are passages in the Bible that do not lend themselves to that sort of message. And it is my aim here to preach the whole counsel of God and not just those passages that tickle our ears and make us feel good. So with that said, let’s turn now to our passage for this morning from Mark 6:1–29.

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 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.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 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.” 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. (Mark 6:1–29 ESV)

Following Jesus Sometimes Offends our Family and Friends (vv. 1–6)

Let’s look first at verses 1–6 where we learn that the offense of Jesus might even strain our closest relationships. In these verses we see Jesus and his disciples after healing the woman with the issue of blood and after raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, departing from Capernaum to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. And as we have seen before, when the Sabbath arrives Jesus is at the Synagogue where he is invited to preach and teach. At the conclusion of his preaching and teaching the response of the people starts out being very familiar to other responses we have seen. Look with me in verse 2:

And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished (Mark 6:2 ESV).

The people in Nazareth, like those earlier in Mark’s Gospel, recognize that Jesus is teaching them as one who has authority. They recognize that there is something special about his teaching and they are astonished. But their astonishment does not seem to be related entirely to the teaching. Their astonishment also seems to be related to the fact that Jesus, the guy they know, this guy they have watched grow up, this guy who until a few months ago was nothing more than a carpenter, is saying things and speaking in ways that are very unexpected and inappropriate for someone with his background.

And so at the end of verse 2 and into verse 3 they begin asking questions.

“Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2–3 ESV)

I haven’t lived on Monte Sano for long, but I have lived here long enough to know that everyone here knows the business of everyone else here. It is not that it bothers me, there is really something kind of nice about it, it is just that I cannot figure out how people know so much about everyone else. The fact that people can keep up with what house we are living in this week is really quite impressive.

Most scholars believe that in the time of Jesus the population of Nazareth was only about 500 people. And being a small town it would have been a place very much like the small towns we are used to today. Or very much like Monte Sano. Everybody knows everybody and everyone knows everything about everyone else. If you grew up in a place like Nazareth people watched you grow up and cared about you and knew about your business. And they remained interested in you even when you left. And as we know from experience this can be good and this can be bad. It is nice to grow up in a place that is small enough for you to know everyone. It is nice to have people looking out for you and your children and watching your home when you are not there.

But, small towns are also known to be breeding grounds for gossip. And while the questions in verse 2 start out innocent enough. By the time we get to verse 3, they are not so innocent. Notice that Jesus is called, “The Son of Mary,” here. The fact is that this is a backhanded way of saying, “Who are you to preach to us? You are nothing but an illegitimate child. We don’t even know who your father is.” That is what was going on when they called Jesus the Son of Mary. You can bet that the rumors had swirled about Mary and her mysterious pregnancy years ago and they were still swirling thirty years later in this small town. Or at least when they needed to put Jesus in his place by reminding him where he came from. “Who are you, Jesus? Your just a carpenter like the rest of us and at least we know our fathers.”

Something Jesus said, must have really upset them. And while Mark doesn’t record Jesus’ teaching for us, we can turn to the Gospel of Luke to see what he said. Look with me at Luke 4:16–21:

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16–30 ESV)

This passage from Isaiah 61 is speaking about the promised Jewish Messiah and the fact that the Spirit of the LORD will be upon this person. And that the mission of the Messiah will be to proclaim good news to the poor and liberty to those captive and oppressed and to bring healing to the sick and sight to the blind. And had Jesus stopped there he would have been fine. But he didn’t. After he sat down, with every eye in the room on him, he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In other words, I am the Messiah. I am the one who has come to preach the gospel to the poor. I am the one who has come to heal the sick. I am the one who has come to set the captives free.” Jesus has come to rescue those who are spiritually poor, to set free those who are prisoners to sin, and to give sight to those who are spiritually blind. Jesus has come to help those who admit they are trapped in sin and dead in sin. But the problem is, the people of Israel have a track record of denying this reality when Jesus confronts them with it. And even before Jesus, the people of Israel have a history of rejecting the prophets God sends to call them to repentance. And Jesus knows this is even more true for prophets who come to their own hometown. That’s why he says in verse 4 of Mark chapter 6:

A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household. (Mark 6:4 ESV)

And that is exactly what we see here. In verse 3 of Mark 6, at the very end, Mark tells us that after hearing Jesus preach those from his hometown, “took offense at him.”

“Who do you think you are to preach to us? Where do you get this authority? Why in the world should we listen to you? What credibility do you have, what credentials do you have that we should believe you?”

And their unbelief was so strong, because they were offended by the messenger, that Jesus could only marvel at their unbelief.

We have already seen in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus’ family came to seize him believing him to be crazy. And we have no reason to believe they aren’t among the people in the Synagogue taking offense at him. Brothers and sisters the fact is that Jesus is offensive. His claims to be the Messiah are offensive. His claims and demonstrations that he is God in the flesh are offensive. His claims to be the only way to heaven are offensive. And his expectations of those who say they want to follow after him are offensive to those who are still sitting on the fence with regard to him. And sometimes as Christians who have committed our lives to following Jesus we get caught in the middle. Sometimes this strains our relationships with friends and with family… much like we have seen here in this story.

Jesus speaks about this in several other places. Let me give you one example from Matthew 10:34–35:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matthew 10:34–35 ESV)

This is reality. It happens. My own family has experienced it. When we let go of this world and committed our lives totally to Jesus things started to change. The way we looked at the world changed. The things in life that were important to us started to change. Our goals in life started to change. And these were viewpoints and priorities and goals that we had formerly shared with friends and family. And many of these friends and family thought we had gone crazy. They thought we were making a bad decision. They even thought we were not being good parents because we were choosing to make things more difficult on ourselves and Mary Tanner than they had to be. We were ruining the hopes they had for us. Hopes for us to make lots of money and live a nice comfortable life. A life that would make them proud. All of this put us at odds with some friends and family. And some of them still think we are crazy.

The fact is that if we are going to sell out for Jesus. If we are going to make him truly the Lord of our life, then there will be people who will not understand it. Even people who sit in churches every week will not understand it. And that is because they have been doing what I said we would not do at the beginning of this sermon. They have been ignoring passages like this. They have been ignoring passages that make difficult demands upon their lives. They have ignored passages that give us a full picture of what it means to follow Jesus.

Those Who Share the Gospel Will Face Rejection (vv. 7–13)

And Jesus gives us a fuller picture of what it means to follow him in the next part of our passage for today. Beginning in verse 7 a major change takes place in the ministry of Jesus. Up to this point, he has been the one doing all the preaching and teaching and casting out demons. Now, after some period of training, he appoints the Twelve to a special mission. He sends them out two by two to proclaim the message he has been proclaiming and to do the miraculous work he has been doing.

And in verses 8–11 he gives his new emissaries some specific instructions. First he tells them to travel lightly—no bread, no bag, no money, and only one tunic. They were allowed only sandals and a walking stick. His instructions forced them to rely on the hospitality of others which would be provided to them by God as they needed it. This would be an important lesson for them and an important lesson for every person called by Jesus for a special mission.

Now that does not mean that everyone who is called to mission work or ministry work must go about it in this way with regard to preparations and provisions. This was not intended by Jesus to be the model for all mission work. These particular instructions were for this particular mission and we should not read any more into them or prescribe them as the standard for this type of work today.

But nonetheless, on this particular occasion, the disciples were to rely on the hospitality of others and the help of God. They were to go into an area and stay with hospitable families that God would provide. But Jesus also prepares them for the reality we all must face when we follow the call to share the gospel with others. In verse 11, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples regarding what to do WHEN they are not received and not listened to. The fact that they will be rejected is not in doubt. He says “when” not “if.” And he tells them that when they are rejected to leave from that area and on the way out to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Now what does he mean by that?

Well this would be a scathing indictment to the Jews who rejected the disciples and refused them hospitality because of their message. During this time it was standard procedure for a Jew who had traveled into Gentile territory to shake the dust off his feet before returning to Israel. And this symbolic act by Jesus’ disciples was meant to communicate to those who would not tolerate the message of Jesus brought by the disciples that their rejection of the message and the disciples was a rejection of the one who sent them. And rejection of Jesus was a rejection of God himself and thus alienated them from the true people of God. The purpose of this symbolic act was to make the people think and hopefully bring them to repentance. It was to help them see that their rejection placed them outside of those who make up true Israel.

And so we see in verses 12 and 13, with these instructions in hand, the disciples “went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” Clearly they were not on a new mission or a unique mission. They were simply carrying on Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the gospel, calling people to repentance, casting out demons, and healing the sick. They are simply carrying on the mission we have seen Jesus carrying out so far in Mark’s Gospel. But in the same way that Jesus was rejected, the disciples must be prepared for rejection too. And the same is true for us today. Whether you are planning to take the gospel to China or Chattanooga, you can expect people to be offended by the message you are carrying. And you can expect to face rejection because of your faith.

The Cost of Discipleship is High (vv. 14–29)

Well something that happened during this special mission by the Twelve made some serious waves. Because we see in verse 14, that King Herod heard of it. Jesus was becoming more than just an itinerant Jewish preacher from a nowhere town. Jesus name had become known by Herod. His name had hit the equivalent of a government watch list.

Now we don’t have time to dig deep into the details of this story. But let me point out a few things. First of all, the primary reason Herod was concerned about Jesus is because he was superstitious and really believed Jesus might be a resurrected John the Baptist. Notice at the end of verse 14 that some people were saying about Jesus that “John the Baptist had been raised from the dead.” This would be particularly concerning to Herod since as we see, later in this story, he was the one responsible for putting John to death. And superstitious or not, it only makes sense to be concerned if you believe that someone you killed has been raised from the dead. And this is exactly what Herod thought. We see that in verse 16.

Now why does Mark break off here and tell the story about John the Baptist. This is one of the few places in the Gospel of Mark where Mark is not talking specifically about Jesus. Why is he doing this? He is doing it because he wants us to see how high the cost of discipleship can be.

Now I don’t intend this to be disrespectful, but we Americans live in Christian Disneyland. The idea of having our heads removed from our shoulders for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel message is not something that ever even crosses our minds. But, brothers and sisters, we are an anomaly in history. This type of persecution has been taking place around the world for two thousand years now.

I was talking with someone just the other day about this. And I remarked how silly it feels sometimes to have to take instances of persecution in the Bible and in church history and use modern day illustrations about someone being mean to us at work or someone cutting us off in traffic to help us relate to what these people were going through. Again I am not trying to be disrespectful, I am just trying to point out how different our experience is from the experience of most Christians throughout history. Let us all thank God we live in a place with such protection and freedom from persecution. What a blessing it is!

But what I wonder brothers and sisters is how many people in this country would stand up and claim to be a Christian if that meant they might be executed for it. I wonder how the TV preachers who are promising happiness and health and wealth would advise their followers to handle that situation? I think we would learn a lot about those who are truly followers of Christ and those who only identify themselves as a Christian for some other reason.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who did indeed die for his faith in a concentration camp at the end of World War II, wrote in his modern classic, The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” Does that mean you will physically die because of your faith? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is that when you decide to follow Jesus Christ, you are making a statement that your life is no longer your own. You are taking up your cross, an instrument of death, and following Jesus prepared to die yourself if that is what he requires of you. And you are doing this because you believe the words of the Apostle Paul who said: “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, have you made that sort of commitment to Jesus Christ? That is the type of commitment he requires of you. If you have, be comforted this morning, because the Bible promises us that no matter what sacrifices you make on this earth for the sake of Jesus, it will be worth it.

You might lose friends, family, and property for the sake of following Jesus, but Jesus promises in Matthew 19:29 that:

Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29 ESV)

And though you might face rejection and though you might be ignored and become frustrated and saddened when people will not listen to you. Regardless of how many times you are asked to leave and no matter how many times you are rejected because of the name of Jesus Christ, Jesus promises you in Luke 10:16:

The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10:16 ESV)

And Romans 8:18 tells us that any suffering we endure in these rejections are not worth comparing with the glory that will one day be revealed to us.

And even if your path of obedience to your Lord and Savior requires you to pay the ultimate price for your faith. Jesus has made the following promise:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35 ESV)

Brothers and sisters, the truth is that there is a high price to pay if you want to follow Jesus. That is why Jesus tells us in Luke 14:28 to count up the cost before we commit our lives to him. There is a price to pay. There is a sacrifice to make. We must be willing to lay down our lives, our desires, our dreams, and our plans. Jesus says to us in Luke 14:33: “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has CANNOT be my disciple.”

Friends that is a high price. A price difficult for me to consider as well. Everything within me screams against it! How foolish! What are you thinking?!?! It’s not worth it! But brothers and sisters I am here to tell you with all the authority of God’s word it is worth it! Release the death grip you have on the things of this world! They will destroy you! Renounce it all and take up your cross and follow Jesus. It is a high price to pay… your friends may leave you… your family will think you have gone crazy… your accountant will question your decisions… But all heaven will rejoice!

The demons have obeyed him. Sickness and disease have obeyed him. The wind and the sea have obeyed him. All that is left is for you to obey him. The costs are high. The rewards are infinite. Take up your cross and follow him. You will never regret it in the end.