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Bible Commentaries
Mark 6

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Verses 1-56

Mark 6:3

In a letter written from Pavia, during his early mission there, Savonarola explains to his mother why he is working in Lombardy instead of nearer home. 'Seeing that He hath chosen me for this sacred office, rest ye content that I fulfil it far from my native place, for I bear better fruit than I could have borne at Ferrara. There it would be with me as it was with Christ, when His countrymen said: Is not this man a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter? But out of my own place this has never been said to me; rather, when I have to depart, men and women shed tears, and hold my words in much esteem.'

References. VI. 3. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 44. C. W. Stubbs, Pro Patria, p. 160; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 129. J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 61. Mark Guy Pearse, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 118. T. Vincent Tymms, ibid. vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 264. J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, p. 34. C. New, The Baptism of the Spirit, p. 231.

Mark 6:4

Mr. Bentham is one of those persons who verify the old adage, that 'a prophet has most honour out of his own country'. His reputation lies at the circumference; and the lights of his understanding are reflected, with increasing lustre, on the other side of the globe. His name is little known in England, better in Europe, best of all in the plains of Chili and the mines of Mexico.

Hazlitt, Spirit of the Age.

The following extract from Horace Walpole touches a similar chord: 'Adieu, retrospect! It is as idle as prophecy, the characteristic of which is never to be believed where alone it could be useful, i.e. in its own country.'

Compare Mrs. Oliphant's account of Edward Irving's reception in Annandale in 1828.

References. VI. 5, 6. R. Scott, Oxford University Sermons, p. 276. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 237.

Abnormal Unbelief

Mark 6:6

I. As Jesus stood face to face with the unbelief of His townsmen, His kinsfolk, and even of the disciples themselves, He found Himself in a world that jarred His Divine instincts and sensibilities. Although it was true of Him here, as in Jerusalem at a later stage, 'He knew what was in man,' He did not look for such a deadening psychic atmosphere. The crisis through which He passed must have been akin to that of the child trained in a refined and gracious home, who goes forth into the world to find a treasured name bandied about by scoffers and treated as though it were of little worth. 'He marvelled because of their unbelief.'

1. Is not the pained surprise flushing his face as eloquent of Divine Sonship as a glint of transfiguration splendour? Our Lord's amazement at this widespread unbelief is a sign of separateness from His infirm and blemished contemporaries. Could He visit again even those who call themselves by His name the same anomaly would recur.

2. This flash of surprise shows that, during His thirty years' sojourn in Nazareth, Jesus had not been subdued to the temper of doubt abroad, but had kept untarnished the fine bloom of His faith.

3. As we see this surprise reflected in the face of Jesus, may we not infer that He came down to His work amongst men from a holy world, where faith was the all-pervading law? That world had put its enduring imprint upon His personality, or rather Hist personality had put its sovereign imprint upon the: world.

II. Our Lord's amazement must have been aggravated as He marked the frivolous causes which fostered this unbelief, and the poor apology His fellow-townsmen made for themselves. Faith is a spiritual principle, demanding for its growth and fruitful development congruous conditions. It is not intellectual in its origin, although some of the perplexities which assail our faith and test its genuineness can only be dispelled by close and clear thinking. It cannot be created by the methods of logic, or finally destroyed by the processes of criticism. If we analyse current phases of unbelief, we find that many causes have entered into it It is, perhaps, not to be wondered at when the great tumultuous passions of the flesh blind the eyes, and men refuse to believe what is holy; but it is strange and curious, when the only excuse men offer for their lack of faith is that the authority which invites it is devoid of pomp and outward trappings. Hands which have held plane and saw can scarcely be Divine. If the townsmen of Nazareth had believed in a man of God because he was a professional scribe, rather than a carpenter, such homage of social rank would have been specious and would have been no better than the unbelief which astonished Jesus. They despised the man who had lived and wrought alongside them, though He was wise in word and holy in deed. In the sacredness of One Who had toiled for His daily bread, and wore homely clothes, they could put no confidence. They had eyes for dress and rank, but none for truth, honour, holiness, transcendent personal force.

Vanity always proves itself a prolific soil for the growth of unbelief.

III. In His dependence upon the co-acting faith of men, Jesus Christ reflects the ways of God in the world Today. We forget how God conditions His work in our midst, and aim inane reproaches against His dealings with us; whilst all the time we know that, apart from our cooperation, He will not do great things for us. This is an established method of His redemptive government.

Let us see to it that we have a faith which satisfies the Lord upon Whom it takes hold and helps on His redemptive acts.

T. G. Selby, The Strenuous Gospel, p. 245.

References. VI. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 935. VI. 7, 12, 13. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii p. 391. VI. 7; VII. 23. W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 84. VI. 16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 247. E. B. Speirs, A Present Advent, p. 149. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 89. VI. 16, 20. S. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 115. VI. 17-28. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 256.

Mark 6:18

Speaking of Fénelon's 'Télémaque,' in his Lectures on the Ancien Régime, Kingsley protests: 'It is something to have spoken to a prince, in such an age, without servility and without etiquette, of the frailties and dangers which beset rulers; to have told him that royalty, "when assumed to content oneself, is a monstrous tyranny: when assumed to fulfil its duties, and to conduct an innumerable people, as a father conducts his children, a crushing slavery, which demands an heroic courage and patience". Let us honour the courtier who dared to speak such truths.'

If the canker of the age can be traced to any single source, it is to the Princess herself. Its sycophancy had its apotheosis in every word said or written to, or said or written of, and meant to be seen by, the sovereign. An abject form of so-called loyalty vitiates and mars almost all the loftiest prose and verse of the time.... A margin of servility remains, either explanation of which is alike distasteful; for, honest or dishonest, it showed an otherwise incredible weakness of judgment or character. Bacon's treatment of Essex was nowise treacherous, but it was not noble; his relation to James was ignoble.

Prof. Nichol's Bacon, I. 24, 67.

Mark 6:20

When George Fox arrived in Edinburgh in 1657, he was summoned by the magistrates, examined, and then ordered to leave Scotland in a week's time. 'I desired them to hear what I had to say to them, but they said they would not hear me. I told them Pharaoh heard Moses and Aaron, and yet he was a heathen and no Christian, and Herod heard John the Baptist; and they should not be worse than these. But they cried, Withdraw, withdraw!'

References. VI. 20. W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Times, vol. xxxii. 1894, p. 219. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 347; vol. xxvi. No. 1548. VI. 26-29. G. Salmon, Non-Miraculous Christianity, p. 155. VI. 30-44. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 268. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 262. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 74.

A Desert Place

Mark 6:31

Few sentences in the New Testament are more pathetic than this: 'There were many coming and going, and the Apostles of Jesus had no leisure so much as to eat'. Jesus had sent them away to do their beneficent work upon the bodies and the minds of men. They had done it; and now they had come back and gathered about Him to tell Him of all that had befallen them. Jesus listened with an interest mingled with joy and pity. He knew that for the happy prosecution of the work of life men need not only enthusiasm but strength. And so when their tale is told, He simply says, 'Come by yourselves apart into a desert place, and take a little rest'. And in words of simple pathos, the Evangelist adds, 'For crowds were coming and going, and they had not even a chance to eat'. So, at the Master's bidding, they entered a boat and went away to a desert place apart.

This is indeed very touching; but the sequel is more touching still. For the kind wish of Jesus was defeated by the importunity of the crowd; and when they crossed to their desert place where they had hoped to be by themselves apart, they found the place crowded with a waiting throng that had hurried round the lake on foot. The work had to be begun again, and the repose seemed further off than ever. In the attitude of Jesus to this new and unexpected obligation, we get a glimpse into the depths of His great heart. An ordinary man would have resented the appearance of a crowd which so effectively dispelled all hope of repose and deprived Him and His of the rest they so sorely needed. But not so Jesus. 'When He landed and saw the great crowds, He had pity upon them and began to teach them many things.' Those who had come to Him in such a way He could in no wise cast out. The seeming annoyance He accepted as a Divine opportunity, and tired and disappointed as He and His disciples were, He gladly and uncomplainingly began again the great work which His Father had given Him to do.

I. It is worth pondering that Jesus deliberately sought for Himself and His disciples to escape from the crowd. It is also worth pondering that that escape proved impossible. In such a world as ours we are sometimes compelled by circumstances, or by regard for some high moral law, or for the sake of a needy brother, to act against our better knowledge. We know very well that we must spare ourselves, or our strength and to that extent, our efficiency will be impaired. Yet the circumstances of our life so arrange themselves that to spare ourselves is impossible; and so long as we have strength to stand upon our feet, we must go on with our work. These exacting demands, which seem at times so cruel, have no doubt their high compensations both here and hereafter; but while we must learn the stern obligation of service from the willingness of Jesus to do what He could for the crowd at the very time that He so yearned to be alone with His disciples, we have also to learn from His desire that they should go apart and perhaps many of us need this lesson still more how indispensable is rest and loneliness to all continued and effective work.

II. It is not without interest that the words for 'come' and 'rest' which Jesus used in His invitation to the disciples are the same as those in which He gave to all that laboured and were heavy laden that other invitation which has rung as an evangel throughout the centuries: 'Come unto Me and I will give you rest'. Perhaps here, too, in the suggestion that they go to a desert place there is a similar undertone. Not merely in the desert place will the inspiration be; for Jesus is to be there too. Nor is it only through going apart by themselves that they will renew their strength; for they are to go apart with Him. But all the same, the passage sounds an immortal warning to men who are consumed by zeal for the work to which they are giving their lives. The strongest and the most zealous need to go apart into a desert place and rest awhile. They need it for their own sake; they need it for their work's sake. Much of the work has to be done 'in the midst of the street'; and we can only possess our souls there in patience and peace if we have rested for awhile apart in the desert place.

III. It was to satisfy two needs that Jesus urged upon His disciples this escape from the crowd the need of aloofness and the need of rest. First, 'Come by yourselves apart'. The disciples had no doubt enjoyed some measure of success in their mission, and they may have been a little elated by their temporary popularity. At any rate, it was now time for them to go apart by themselves, away from the disturbing illusions of the crowd, to a desert place where they could view themselves and their work in truer perspective. A crowd is a terrible thing and a good man may well fear it He will fear its false standards of success. He will fear lest he come to measure his worth by the size of his crowd. He will fear lest he come to care more for their applause than to tell them the truth. Yes, the crowd is a menace to a man's true estimate of himself; and as he loves his soul, he will once in a while leave it all for the desert place where there is little to turn his head or distort his vision of the eternal things. 'For my part,' said Stevenson, 'I should try to secure some part of every day for meditation, above all, in the early morning and the open air.' Apart from men, and, above all, in the healthful presence of the primeval things, the sky, the mountains, the sea, we can look ourselves more honestly in the face, lift up our hearts to God, and give our panting lives a chance.

When Père Didon had been banished to Corsica, Pasteur wrote to him: 'You will come back with your soul still loftier, your thought more firm, more disengaged from earthly things'. Most of the world's best work has been done by men who prepared for it in some desert place. Jesus began His own ministry with a season in the wilderness, and often afterwards he sought the loneliness of the mountain-side. Paul had his Arabia, and John Bunyan his prison. The street has its place in the religious life, but so also has the desert. He will work best for the crowd who has rested in the wilderness. And not less needful than when first it was spoken is this healing word of Jesus to the crowded and distracted lives of men Today: 'Come by yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest yourselves awhile'.

J. E. McFadyen, The City With Foundations, p. 227.

Rest the Basis of Character

Mark 6:31

There are two ways of looking at life, and there are two ways of living. The one attracts but does not; satisfy. The other satisfies while it attracts. The former, which is the natural, is broad and shallow. The latter, which is the spiritual, is not less wide, but it is deep. In the one case the man begins with observation and ends in criticism, spending himself in busy activity till there is nothing left but self-disgust In the other an ever-growing sympathy expands into the life and love of God.

I. The life of prayer the only real and true life is one that springs from a profound sympathy with the universe, which sees in the great order of which we form a part not only the length and the breadth, but also, and much more vividly, the depth.

The man of prayer is he whose work in the world is the stronger because it manifests the sense of God's nearness; who, always busy, is yet ever at rest; about whom the casual stranger feels that there is a background, a hidden life, a fountain of living water from wells of salvation that our father Jacob gave us not.

II. And the men of prayer teach their brethren that which is the hardest, while it is the truest lesson of life, how to die.

Why is it that we are so slow to learn the secret: of Jesus? When He has bidden us watch and pray; when He has begged that for His sake we will give Him one last hour; He comes and finds us sleeping, for our eyes are heavy and the flesh is weak.

And yet it is just for these supreme moments that Christ came into the world. He came, that out of the deep of our human character He might cry to the Father in that perfectness of unbroken communion, wherein prayer gathers itself up into words that are the expression of a life 'Thy will be done'. Not once nor twice in that career of tireless activity did He go away and pray, 'saying again the same words'. For Jesus' life meant not to do but to be, not to live but to die. Jesus Christ did most for the world when He was doing nothing. The finished work of Christ is not the bustle of a great activity, but the peace of a surrendered life.

J. G. Simpson, Christian Ideals, p. 183.

Mark 6:31

We must know how to put occupation aside, which does not mean that we must be idle. In an inaction which is meditative and attentive, the wrinkles of the soul are smoothed away. The soul itself spreads, unfolds, and springs afresh, and, like the trodden grass of the roadside or the bruised leaf of a plant, repairs its injuries, becomes new, spontaneous, true, and original.


'A man,' said Carlyle once, 'must not only be able to work, but to give over working.'

References. VI. 31. S. Baring-Gould, Plain Sermons on Sunday Observance, p. 33. W. Pierce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 93. C. F. Aked, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 85. A. B. Boyd Carpenter, ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 180. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 47. T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 53. C. J. Vaughan, Last Words in the Parish Church of Doncaster, p. 259. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 246. G. S. Reaney, Religion in Common Life, p. 24.

Mark 6:34-35

See P. G. Hamerton's Intellectual Life, pp. 350 f.

References. VI. 34. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 91. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 211. VI. 34-43. Mark Guy Pearse, Jesus Christ and the People, p. 23. VI. 35-44. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 217. VI. 36, 37. J. C. Edghill, Church Times, vol. xxxvii. 1897, p. 641.

Mark 6:37

Once, when asked by the rector of his church to subscribe to a fund for erecting ten new churches in Manchester, Cobden replied: 'The first and most pressing need of the poor is for food; all other wants are secondary to this. It is in vain to try and elevate the moral and religious character of a people whose physical condition is degraded by the privation of the first necessaries of life; and hence we are taught to pray for our daily bread before spiritual grace.... Until this object [i.e. the repeal of the Corn Laws] be attained, I shall be compelled to deny myself the satisfaction of contributing to other public undertakings of great importance in themselves, and secondary only to the first of all duties the feeding of the hungry. It is for this reason that I am reluctantly obliged to decline to contribute to the fund for building ten new churches. My course is, I submit, in strict harmony with the example afforded me by the Divine Author of Christianity, who preached upon the mountain and in the desert, beneath no other roof than the canopy of heaven, and who yet, we are told, was careful to feed the multitude that flocked around him.

References. VI. 37. G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 289. Archdeacon Colley, ibid. vol. xliii. 1893, p. 253. J. D. Jones, ibid. vol. lix. 1901, p. 144. VI. 45-51. Eugene Bersier, Twelve Sermons, p. 177. VI. 45-52. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 228. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 87. VI. 45-53. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 282. VI. 48. C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 152. J. S. Wood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 310.

The Misunderstood Christ

Mark 6:49

I. The Misunderstood Christ. Why was it the disciples 'cried out'? Why was it that when they saw Him they were troubled? This is the answer. They took Jesus for other than He was.

Multitudes are troubled by Christ, hate the very name and thought of Christ, because they cleave to their sins and have said to evil be thou my good. But while admitting all that, I do not believe it wholly meets the case or accounts for the prevailing indifference or hostility to Christ.

Men are indifferent to Christ, not to say hostile to Him, because of the false ideas they have of Him, because of the distorted representations given to them of Him. They imagine, somehow, that He will empty and impoverish life for them. They do not realize that wherever He goes He carries joy and brightness with Him, and always transmutes life's water into wine. And so it comes to pass that multitudes reject their Best Friend, and face life's temptations and trials without Christ's succour; and try to bear life's sorrows without Christ's comfort, and go down into the valley of the shadow of death without His presence to strengthen them.

II. The Welcome Given to the Real Christ The disciples were troubled by the phantom Christ they thought they saw, but when He spoke to them, and they realized it was Jesus Himself, they received Him willingly, gladly, eagerly into the ship.

When men see the real Christ their hearts are drawn to Him. This Christ without fleck or fault Himself, but identifying Himself in His love and pity with our sinful race compassionating men, helping men, hoping for men with an indomitable hope, and dying for them in the might of His sacrificial love men have no fault to find with this Christ. The Christ of the schools may not attract them very much; the Christ they see in the average Christian may even repel them; but the real Christ always wins admiration, worship, love.

J. D. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 257.

References. VI. 50. W. Gilbert, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 68. A. Maclaren, Creed and Conduct, p. 15. VI. 52. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1218. VI. 54, 55, 56. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 193. VI. 56. A. MacKenzie, ibid. vol. lii. 1897, p. 166. VII. 8. Charles Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 145. VII. 9-13. J. H. Bernard, From Faith to Faith, p. 181. VII. 12. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 216.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Mark 6". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/mark-6.html. 1910.
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