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Our blessed Saviour having in the former chapter wrought two famous miracles, in curing a woman of her bloody issue, and raising Jairus's daughter from death, we find him here in the beginning of this chapter passing into his own country, that is, the city of Nazareth in Galilee, called his own city and country, because he was there conceived, there brought up; there Joseph and Mary, and his kindred dwelt, and Christ with them, duting his private life, which was till he was thirty years of age.
Now our Saviour being come into his own country; observe, 1. What his employment was: he preached in their synagogues, and held communion with the Jewish church, although she had many corruptions in her.
Teaching us, by his example, not to desert and forsake the communion of such a church, in which there is found neither heretical doctrine nor idolatrous worship, although many things be found in her culpable and blame-worthy. The Jewish church was certainly such, and yet our Saviour maintained not occasional only, but constant communion with her.
Observe, 2. The influence and effect which our Saviour's preaching had upon his own countrymen, the people of Nazareth: it did work admiration in them, but not faith; they were astonished, but did not believe. Men may be mightily moved and affected by the word, and yet may never be converted by it: the men of Nazareth wondered, and yet were offended: they did not believe in him, but were offended at him.
Observe, 3. The ground and cause of this their offence, and that was, the meanness of his extraction, and the poverty of his condition: Is not this the carpenter?
From whence the ancient fathers, particularly Justin Martyr, concluded, that our Saviour did work at his father Joseph's trade during his father's life, and thence was called the carpenter's son; and when Joseph was dead, (which was before Christ was thirty years old, when he entered upon his public office,) he was then called the carpenter.
The ancients say, he spent his time in making ploughs and yokes, and that thence it was he drew so many similitudes in his preaching from the yoke and the plough. This we are sure of, that our Lord lived not thirty years before his manifestation idly and unprofitably. It is most probable that he followed his father's calling, and wrought under him it being said, that he was subject to him, Luke 2:15, as a child to a parent and as a servant to his master.
Add to this, that it seems not only true, but requisite, that Christ should be of some trade, because by the Jewish canons all fathers were bound to teach their children some trade: doubtless our Lord, during his private life, did give no example of idleness. Indeed, after he entered upon his prophetic office, he no longer followed Joseph's calling, but applied himself wholly to the work of the ministry: he made no more ploughs, but one to break up hard hearts; no more yokes, but one for the devil's neck. However, in regard to our Savior's low extraction and mean education, his countrymen were offended at him.
Learn hence, That the poverty and meanness of Christ's condition, was that which multitudes stumbled at, and which kept many, yea most, from believing on him. None but a spiritual eye can discern beauty in a humbled and abased Saviour.
Learn, 2. That it is the property and practice of profane men to take occasion, from the outward quality and condition of God's ministers, both to despise their persons, and to reject their doctrine.
Observe, 4. The reason assigned by our Saviour why the men of Nazareth despised him and set him at nought, because he was their countryman and acquaintance: their familiarity bred contempt. Teaching us, That very often the faithful ministers of God are most contemned and dishonoured where they are most familiarly known. Sometimes the remembrance of their mean original and extraction, sometimes the poverty of their parents' condition, sometimes the indecencies of their childhood, sometimes the follies of their youth, are ripped up; all which are occasions of contempt, and gave ground for this proverbial saying, That a prophet is not without honour save in his own country. Which, like other proverbial speeches, holds true in the general, and that for the most part it is so, but it is not universally true in all persons and cases.
However, this good use may be made of our Saviour's observation, to teach his ministers to be wise in conversing with their people, not to make themselves cheap and common in every company, not too familiar with all sorts of persons, nor to be light and vain in any company; for this will certainly breed contempt, both of their persons and ministry.
Our duty is, by strictness and gravity of deportment, to maintain our esteem in the consciences of our people, and to temper gravity with condescending affability. That minister who prostitutes his authority, frustrates the end of his ministry, and is the occasion of his own contempt.
Observe, 5. How this people's contempt of Christ's person, and unbelief of his doctrine, did hinder Christ from working miracles among them: He could do no mighty works there. Not because he was unable, but because they were unwilling. Not as if their infidelity abated his divine power, but they were unprepared to receive any benefit by him; his miracles would have been cast away upon such inconvincible persons. Who will sow upon barren sands, or water dead plants?
It was an act of justice in Christ to deprive the Pharisees of those advantages which they had so long resisted. Christ had a natural ability to do mighty works there, but no moral ability. He could not do it honourably, their unbelief was a moral hinderance; so then this inability proceeded from no deficiency in Christ's power, but from a defect in their faith. he could not, because he would not; and he would not, because it was not fit for him so to do.
Although Christ be omnipotent, and has all power in his hands, yet unbelief binds his hands, and hinders him in the execution of that power. Unbelief is such a sin, as keeps men from being partakers of the benefits of Christ.
Observe, 6. How the incredulity and unbelief of this people was so great, that Christ wondered at it: He marvelled because of their unbelief. Not because he was ignorant of the cause of it, but because he had used such marvellous means for the curing them of their unbelief.
Learn hence, That unbelief is a great sin at all times; but when marvels are wrought for the cure and healing of it, and it remains uncured, it is a marvellous sin, and justly causes admiration and wonder in Christ himself: He marvelled because of their unbelief.
We heard before, chap. 3, of our Saviour's solemn calling his apostles to their work and office; now he sends them forth to execute their office.
Where observe, 1. The person that sends them forth; Christ.
Learn thence, That none ought to take upon them the office of preaching, or any other ministerial function in the church, till thereunto lawfully called by Christ himself, and received the doctrine which they taught immediately from Christ's own mouth. His ministers now are called immediately, they receive their authority from Christ by the hands of the governors of his church.
Observe, 2. The manner of their sending, by two and two in a company: partly to make their message of more authority; partly to testify their mutual consent in the doctrine which they taught; and partly to comfort and encourage, to help and strengthen, to assist and support each other: in imitation of this example, the Jesuits send forth their emissaries by pairs.
Learn hence, That the ministers of the word do stand in great need of the mutual help and comfort, of the united assistance and encouragement of each other, in the weighty duties of their calling and function; like labourers in the harvest-field, they should help one another, the strong endeavouring to strengthen the hands of the weak.
But, Lord, what tears are sufficient to bewail the want of love and unity, yea, the prevalency of that fear and malignity which is found too often amongst the ministers of the gospel! So that instead of going forth by two and two, happy is he that is alone in a place. Well might Melancthon bless God, when he lay a-dying, that he was going to a place where he should be freed from the implacable hatred of divines. This is, and ought to be, for a lamentation.
Observe, 3. The power given by Christ to work miracles for confirming the doctrine of the gospel which his apostles preached; he gave them power over unclean spirits, and they cast out devils, and anointed with oil them that were sick, and healed them. This power to work miracles was necessary for the apostles; partly to procure reverence to their persons, being poor and unlearned men, but principally to gain credit and authority to their doctrine; for the doctrine of faith in the Messiah, as now come, and exhibited in the flesh, being a strange and new doctrine to the Jews, the truth and certainty of it was to be extraordinarily ratified by Christ's and his apostles' miracles, some of which were casting out of devils; and by anointing with oil, to heal and recover sick persons. This gift of healing remained some time in the church, as appeared by St. James, Is any sick? Anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, James 5:14.
Where observe, That the apostles did not use oil as the instrument and means of healing, (for then the cure had not been miraculous,) but only as a symbol of the cure, or as an outward sign and testimony of miraculous healing: which outward sign was for the strengthening of the faith of such as were healed; assuring them, that as certainly as their bodies were anointed, so certainly should their health and strength be restored.
The Papists upon this ground their sacrament of Extreme Unction; but very vainly: for the apostles anointed those that were sick, as a sign of their recovery: but the Papists anoint those that have the pangs of death upon them, that their sins may be blotted out, and the snares of the devil avoided.
Observe, 4. The charge given by Christ to his apostles at the time of their sending out. This is threefold: first, Touching their preparation for their journey, he bids them not take much care, nor spend much time in furnishing themselves with victuals, money, apparel, weapons of defence, and the like; only taking a walking-staff in their hands, because they were to finish their journey speedily, and to return again to Christ.
This command of our Saviour to his apostles, not to incumber themselves when going forth to preach the gospel, teaches his ministers their duty, to free themselves as much as possibly they can from worldly incumbrances, which may hinder them in the performance of their office and function, No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, 2 Timothy 2:4.
Secondly, Touching their lodging in their journey. Our Saviour advises them not to change it, during their stay in one place; but into whatsoever house they first entered, they should there continue till they departed out of that place; that so they might avoid all show of lightness and inconstancy, and testify all gravity and stayedness in their behaviour, this being a special mean to win authority to their persons and ministry.
Thirdly, Christ gives a charge to his apostles touching their carriage towards such as should refuse to give entertainment to them and their doctrine. They were to denounce the judgments of God against such contemners, by shaking off the dust of their feet for a testimony against them.
Thence learn, That the contempt of God's ministers, and especially of their ministry and doctrine, is an odious and execrable sin, detested by God, and which ought to be abhorred by man: Shake off the dust of your feet. This action was emblematical, signifying that Almighty God would in like manner shake them off as the vilest dust.
Learn, 2. That wherever the word is preached, it is for a testimony; either for or against a people. For if the dust of a minister's feet bear witness against the despisers of the gospel, their sermons much more.
Observe, lastly, The dreadful judgment denounced by our Saviour against the contemners of the apostles' doctrine: Verily it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
Where note, 1. That there shall be a day of judgment.
2. That in the day of judgment some sinners shall fare worse than others.
3. That of all sinners the condition of such will be saddest at the day of judgment who having lived under the gospel, have died after all in impenitency and infidelity: Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.
The history of John the Baptist's death is here recorded by this evangelist, as St. Matthew had done before, Matthew 14:1-Exodus :.
Here we have these particulars further observable; 1. The character and description of a zealous and faithful minister. He is one that deals plainly, and dares tell the greatest persons of their faults. Herod, though a king, is reproved by the Baptist for his incest, in taking his brother's wife. The crown and sceptre of Herod could not daunt the faithful messenger of God. There ought to meet in the ministers of God both courage and impartiality. Courage, in fearing no faces; impariality., in sparing no sins.
Observe, 2. Who it was that commanded the Baptist to be beheaded. It was Herod the king, whom he had reproved. How sad is it when kings, who should be nursing fathers to the church, do prove the bloody butchers of the prophets of God! The severest persecutions which the prophets of God have fallen under, are usually occasioned by their telling great men of their crimes. Men in power are impatient of reproof, and imagine that their authority gives them a license to transgress.
Observe, 3. The time of the Baptist's death; it was upon Herod's birth-day. It was an ancient custom among the eastern kings to celebrate their birth-days: Pharaoh did so, Genesis 40:20 and Herod here, but both with blood; yet these personal sins do not make the practice unlawful, when we solemnize our birth-days with thankfulness to our Creator and Preserver, and recommend ourselves by prayer to his gracious providence and protection for the remainder of our days; this is an act of piety and religion. But Herod's birth-day was kept with revelling, with feasting, with music and dancing: all which were made sinful to him by the circumstances which did attend it. Great men's feasts and frolics are too often the season and occasion of much sin.
Observe, 4. The instigators and promoters of the holy Baptist's death: Herodias and her daughter. Lord, how deadly is the malice of souls debauched with lust! Imprisonment would not satisfy them, they must have his blood. Resolute sinners, who are mad upon their lusts, run furiously upon their opposers, and resolve to bear down all opposition they meet with in the gratification of their unlawful desires.
Observe, 5. With what great reluctance Herod consented to this villany: The king was exceeding sorry. Wicked men oft-times sin with a troubled and disturbed conscience; there is a mighty struggle betwixt their reason and their lusts; but at last they master their consciences, and choose rather to gratify their lusts, than to obey their reason. So did Herod here: for notwithstanding his sorrow, he commands the act; he sent and beheaded John in the prison.
Observe, 6. The motives and inducements which prevailed with Herod to behead this holy man.
1. The conscience of his oath: Nevertheless, for his oath's sake. See his hypocrisy; he made scruple of a rash oath, who made no scruple of real murder. See here not only the folly, but great impiety of rash vows; especially in ignorant persons, who think themselves obliged by them, whereas it is their duty, first to repent of them, and then to break them as fast as they can. St. Chrysostom says, Herod might have spared the Baptist's head, and yet have kept his oath to Herodias; for he swore to give her only half of his kingdom, and his head was worth more than his whole kingdom.
2. Respect to his reputation, not only for his oath's sake, but for them that sat with him. They heard him promise, and will be witness of his inconstancy if he do not perform. Insisting upon punctilios of honour has hazarded the loss of millions of souls.
3. His great unwillingness to discontent Herodias and her daughter. O vain and foolish hypocrite, who dreaded the displeasing of a wanton mistress more than the offending of God and conscience!
Observe, 7. These bloody women do not only require the Baptist to be beheaded, but that his head be brought in a charger to them. What a dish was here to be served up at a prince's table on his birth-day! a dead man's head swimming in blood. How prodigiously insatiable is cruelty and revenge! Herodias did not think herself safe till John was dead; she would not think him dead till his head was off, and would not believe his head was off till she had it in her hand. Revenge never thinks it has made sure enough. O how cruel is a wicked heart, that could take pleasure in a spectacle of so much horror! Methinks I see how that holy head was tossed upon Herod's table by impure and filthy hands. That true and faithful tongue, those sacred lips, those chaste eyes, those mortified cheeks, are now insultingly handled by a lewd and incestuous harlot, and made a scorn to Herod's drunken guests.
Observe, 8. That neither the holiest of the prophets, nor the best of men, are more secure from violence than from natural death. The holy Baptist, who was sanctified in the womb, conceived and born with so much miracle, lived with so much reverence and observation, is now at midnight obscurely murdered in a close prison.
Observe, 9. That it is as true a martyrdom to suffer for duty as for faith. He dies as truly a martyr that dies for doing his duty, as he that dies for professing his faith, and bearing witness then to the truth.
Observe, 10. How far men may go in religion, and yet be far enough from saving grace: they then may reverence God's minister's, believe them to be holy and just men, hear them with delight and pleasure, protect and defend them from their opposers; they may reform, and do many things; and yet be far from the kingdom of God. Herod did all this; he knew John to be a holy and just man, reverenced and respected him, guarded and kept him safe from Herodias's malice. For though he was imprisoned before, yet Herod suffered none to hurt him, but heard him often with pleasure and delight.
Wicked and unregenerate men may be so affected with the word of God as to become protectors and defenders of those that dispense it, and yet receive no saving advantage by it. The plain and powerful preaching of the word may win upon and prevail with an unregenerate man to perform many good duties and to forsake many known sins; and yet may he, after all, remain under the power of hypocrisy.
Nay, from Herod's example we may learn, That a wicked man may take some pleasure and delight in hearing the word preached; either the generality of the truths asserted, or the novelty of the notions delivered, or the wit and fancy, the graceful elocution and delivery, of the preacher, may create a present delight; but it is neither a spiritual delight, nor an abiding delight. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb. When his disciples heard of it; that is, the disciples of John hearing that their holy master was thus barbarously murdered, they took up his dead body, and decently interred it.
Learn hence, That the faithful servants of God are not ashamed of the sufferings of the saints, but will testify their respect unto them, both living, dying, and dead. The disciples of John gave their master an honourable and respectful burial, fearing neither Herod's power nor Herodias's malice.
Observe here, 1. How the report of John's death being brought to Christ, he presently withdraws, and his disciples with him, from that place into the desert. Christ will not long continue his presence in those places where any of his servants are slain, and others of them are in danger.
Observe, 2. How our Saviour, upon the notice of John's death, flies into the desert for his own preservation; his hour was not yet come, and therefore he keeps out of Herod's way. It is no cowardice to fly from the rage of persecutors. Christ himself both practised it, and directed his disciples to it, saying, When they persecute you in one city flee to another. We must not expose our lives to hazard, but when the laying down our lives will do God and religion more service than we can do by living.
Observe, 3. With what condolency and sympathizing pity our blessed Saviour exercised acts of mercy and compassion, when the objects of compassion were before him. Jesus seeing the multitude, was moved with compassion toward them. Christ, when here on earth, did bear a tender and compassionate heart towards poor creatures in distress and misery: and to our comfort he retains the same compassionate nature and disposition now in heaven which he had here on earth.
Observe, 4. The ground or cause of this compassion in our Saviour, because they were as sheep having no shepherd.
Learn thence, That the case of such people is very sad, and their condition to be much lamented and pitied, who are destitute of able, faithful, and conscientious pastors and teachers, to feed them with the spiritual good of the word and sacraments. Where provision fails, the people perish. But was the Jewish church now without pastors, as sheep without a shepherd? Had they not the Pharisees, the scribes, and the doctors, to teach and instruct them? Yes, no doubt; but they were no pastors in Christ's account, because unfaithful pastors.
Thence learn, That idle, negligent, and unfaithful pastors, are no pastors in the sight of God, and in the account of Christ: Jesus had compassion on the multitude, because they were as sheep having no shepherd.
This miracle of our Saviour's feeding five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fishes, is recorded by all the four evangelists, and in the history of it these following particulars are observable.
Note, 1. The disciples' pity towards the multitude, who had long fasted and wanted now the ordinary comforts and supports of life. It well becomes the ministers of Christ to respect the bodily necessities, as well as regard the spiritual wants of persons.
Observe, 2. The motion which the disciples make to Christ on behalf of the multitude; Send them away that they may buy victuals. Here was a strong charity, in desiring the people's relief; but a weak faith, in supposing that they could not otherwise be relieved but by sending them away; forgetting that Christ, who had healed the multitude miraculously, could also feed them miraculously if he pleased; all things being equally easy to an almighty power.
Observe, 3. Our Saviour's strange reply to the disciples' request; They need not depart; give ye them to eat. Need not depart! Why, the people must either feed or famish. Victuals they must have, and a dry desert will afford none. Yes, says Christ to his disciples, Give ye them to eat. Alas, poor disciples! they had nothing for themselves to eat, how then should they give the multitude to eat?
When Christ requires of us what we are unable to perform, it is to show us our impotency and weakness, and to provoke us to look upon him, and depend by faith on his almighty power.
Observe, 4. What a poor and slender provision the Lord of the earth has for his household and family; five barley loaves and two small fishes. Teaching us, That these bodies of ours must be fed, but not pampered; our belly must not be our master, much less our god. The end of food is to sustain nature, we must not stifle it with a gluttonous variety.
And as the quality of the victuals was plain, so the quantity of it was small; five loaves and two fishes. Well might the disciples say, What are these amongst so many? The eye of sense and reason sees an utter impossibility of those effects which faith can easily apprehend, and divine power more easily produce.
Observe, 5. How Christ, the great Master of the feast, doth marshal his guests: He commands them all to sit down in ranks by hundreds and by fifties. None of them reply, "Sit down, but to what? Here are the mouths, but where is the meat? We may soon be set, but when or whence shall we be served?" Not a word like this, but they obey and expect.
Lord, how easy it is to trust to thy providence, and rely upon thy power, when there is corn in the barn, bread in the cupboard, or money in the purse: but when our stores are all empty, and we have nothing in hand, then to depend upon an invisible bounty, is a true and noble act of faith.
Observe, 6. The actions performed by our blessed Saviour: He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and they to the multitude.
1. He blessed them, teaching us by his example, never to use or receive the good creatures of God for our nourishment without prayer and praise; never to sit down to our food as a beast to his forage.
2. He brake the loaves. He could have multiplied them whole, why then would he rather do it in the breaking? Perhaps to teach us, that we may rather expect his blessing in the distribution of his bounty, than in the reservation of it. Scattering is the way to increasing: liberality is the way to riches.
3. Christ gave the bread thus broken to his disciples, that they might distribute it to the multitude. But why did our Lord distribute the loaves by his disciples' hands? Doubtless to gain respect to his disciples from the people. And the same course doth our Lord take in spiritual distributions. He that could feed the world by his own immediate hand, chooses rather by the hand of his ministers to divide the bread of life among his people.
Observe, 7. The certainty and the greatness of the miracle: They did all eat, and were filled. They did all eat, not a crumb or a bit, but to satiety and fulness. All that were hungry did eat, and all that did eat were satisified, and yet twelve baskets full of fragments remain. More is left than was at first set on. It is hard to say which was the greatest miracle, the miraculous eating, or the miraculous leaving. If we consider what they eat, we may wonder that they left any thing.
Observe, 8. These fragments, though of barley loaves and fish-bones, must not be lost, but, at our Saviour's command, gathered up. The liberal Housekeeper of the world will not allow the loss of his orts. O how tremendous will their account be, who having large and plentiful estates, spend them upon their lusts, being worse than lost in God's account.
This paragraph acquaints us with another miracle which our Saviour wrought, in walking upon the sea to his disciples; and herein we have observable, 1. His sending his disciples to sea: He constrained them to go into a ship; not compelling them against their wills, but commanding them to take ship and go before him. No doubt the disciples were loath to do this, unwilling to leave him, and to go without him; for they that have once tasted the sweetness of Christ's company and acquaintance, are hardly and difficultly drawn away from him.
Observe, 2. Christ having dismissed his disciples and the company retires into a mountain to pray; to teach us, that when we address ourselves to God in duty, we take all helps, furtherances, and advantages, for the doing of our duty. We must dismiss the multitude, before we address to God in prayer; we must send away the multitude of worldly cares, worldly thoughts, worldly concerns and business, when we would wait upon God in duty.
Observe, 3. The great danger the disciples were in, and the difficulties they were to encounter with: They were in the midst of the sea, tossed with the waves, and the winds were contrary; and, which was saddest of all, Christ was absent. The wisdom of God sometimes suffers his children and people not only to be distressed, but greatly distressed with a variety of distresses.
Observe, 4. The seasonable succour and relief which Christ afforded his disciples: In the fourth watch he came out unto them, walking upon the waters. It was not a stormy and tempestuous sea that could separate betwixt him and them; he that waded through a sea of blood, and a sea of wrath, to save his people, will walk upon a sea of waters to succour and relieve them. And the time was the fourth watch; about four in the morning, when they had been many hours conflicting with the waves, and in great danger of their lives.
To teach us, That Christ sometimes lengthens out the trials of his children before he delivers them; but when they come to an extremity, that is the season of his succour.
Observe, 5. How the disciples took their Deliverer for their destroyer: When they saw Christ they cried out. Their fears were highest when their Deliverer and deliverance were nearest; God may be coming with salvation and deliverance to his people, when they for the present cannot discern it.
Observe, 6. When the disciples were in the saddest condition, one word from Christ revives them, it is sufficient support in all our afflictions to hear Christ's voice speaking to us, and to enjoy his favourable presence with us.
Say but, O Saviour, It is I, and let evils do their worst: that one word, It is I, is sufficient to allay all storms, and to calm a thousand tempests.
Observe lastly, What influence and effect this miracle had upon the disciples; They were sore amazed and beyond measure astonished; they wonder at the ceasing of the winds, and calming of the seas; but they had forgotten the miracle of the loaves; which was a great stupidity and dulness in them, and argued hardness of heart, and want of consideration in them.
Learn thence, That there is much stupidity of mind, and hardness of heart, remaining unmortified in the best of saints, whilst here in an imperfect state: the work of grace and sanctification is but imperfect in the best.
Here observe, 1. The unwearied diligence and industry of our Saviour in going about to do good: he no sooner landeth, but he goeth to Gennesaret, and healeth their sick. It was the great business and constant employment of our Saviour's life to travel from place to place, that he might be useful and beneficial to mankind: he went to those that would not come to him.
Observe, 2. The people of Gennesaret's charity to their sick neighbours; they sent abroad to let all the country know, that Christ the great Physician was come amongst them. There is a duty of love and mercy which we owe unto those that are in affliction and misery; namely, to afford them the best help, relief, and succour, we are able, both in their inward and outward afflictions.
Observe, 3. The suddenness and certainty of the cure; they touched him, and were made whole. The healing virtue lay not in their fingers, but in their faith; or rather in Christ, whom their faith apprehended.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Mark 6". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18