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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
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Nave's Topical Bible - Beheading; Government; Herod; Homicide; Jesus, the Christ; John; Malice; Martyrdom; Minister, Christian; Politics; Punishment; Women; Thompson Chain Reference - Executioners; Martyrs; Suffering for Righteousness' S; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Martyrdom; Punishments;
64. Death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9)
By this time John the Baptist had been executed. When Herod heard the news of Jesus’ miracles, he feared that Jesus was really John come back to life and that supernatural powers were working in him (Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16). (The Herod referred to here was Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great; see earlier section, ‘The New Testament World’.)
Having mentioned John’s death, the writers go back to record the events that led up to it. Herod had imprisoned John because John had accused him of adultery in marrying Herodias, wife of Herod’s brother, Philip (Mark 6:17-18; cf. Matthew 4:12; Matthew 11:2). Herod both respected and feared John, as he knew that John was a godly man and that his accusations were true. But no amount of discussion with John could persuade Herod to conquer his passions and give up Herodias (Mark 6:19-20).
John’s place of imprisonment was apparently the dungeon of Herod’s palace. Although this gave Herod the opportunity to speak to him often, it also made it easier for Herodias when an opportunity arose for her to get rid of him. She hated John for his interference, and was quick to act when she saw the chance to have him executed (Mark 6:21-29).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Mark 6:27". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/mark-6.html. 2005.
Shall we turn to Mark's gospel, chapter 6.
Jesus had been in the city of Capernaum there on the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. And He has just brought back to life the daughter of Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue there in Capernaum. Now He is leaving Capernaum and with His disciples He is returning back to His hometown of Nazareth. It's probably thirty to thirty-five, well maybe forty miles from Capernaum to Nazareth.
And he went from thence ( Mark 6:1 ),
The thence would be Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee.
and came into his own country ( Mark 6:1 );
That is, His hometown of Nazareth.
and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? ( Mark 6:1-2 )
So, they were astonished, or the word in Greek is scandalon. They were stumbled by Him because they knew Him. And they said, "Where did He get all of this?"
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary ( Mark 6:3 ),
The fact that He is referred to as the son of Mary would indicate that Joseph was already dead. Chances are that Joseph died rather early and that Jesus stayed at home until He was thirty years old in order to provide for the family. At the death of His father, He would have had to have been the family provider. Now, this word carpenter is in the Greek, an artificer. Actually, He was the kind of fellow that, no matter what you needed done, was just a handyman. He could make anything from scratch. So, anything from building a little shed to building a house, He was just one of those men skilled with His hands and was capable of doing just about anything. And He no doubt remained at home until the rest of His younger brothers and sisters were able to be out on their own. And so, they said,
Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him ( Mark 6:3 ).
Scandalized, that would be a transliteration of the Greek word scandalon. He was a stumbling stone. It means a stumbling stone. They were stumbled at Him because they knew Him.
But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house ( Mark 6:4 ).
So there's an implication there that even His own brothers, His own kin did not really honor Him, His own house. But He's not without honor; He goes elsewhere to get honor. But in His own country they don't recognize Him; they refuse to recognize Him because they know Him.
And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching ( Mark 6:5-6 ).
He didn't do many marvelous works there in Nazareth simply because of the unbelief. The unbelief kept them from coming. Had they come, surely they could have been healed. But He just laid His hands upon a few of the sick folk, but there wasn't any marvelous miracles wrought there in Nazareth as there had been around the Sea of Galilee. "And He went around the villages there teaching."
And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; and commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only [only their walking stick]; no scrip [but they were not to take any scrip], no bread, no money in their purse: but [they were to] be shod with sandals; and not put on [but they were not to take] two coats [two outer garments]. And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into a house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence [from there], shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city ( Mark 6:7-11 ).
Notice, the Lord does speak of degrees of judgment that will come upon people. Some people are concerned that all people receive the same punishment. Not so. Jesus said, "If a person knows the will of God and does not according to it and is doing evil, he will be beaten with many stripes. Yet, a person who has done things that really deserve or are worthy of many stripes because he did not know the will of the Father, will be beaten with few stripes. For unto whom much is given, much is required; to whom little is given, little is required."
Now, He is saying that it's going to be more tolerable for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in that day of judgment. Earlier He had said that the men of Sodom will arise with this generation and will condemn it. Or the men of Nineveh, rather, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, "Behold, the greater than Jonah is here!" So, there will be degrees of judgment, punishment meted out by God. And we don't know the final disposition that God will be making of the sinful people. There is not enough given to us in scripture to form hard, fast kind of judgments ourselves. That's in God's hand. I don't know what God will do with that person who has never had the opportunity of knowing Jesus Christ or even hearing about Jesus Christ. I don't know what God will do to them. The Bible isn't specific in that area. I know it will be much easier on him than it will be on you if you have heard the gospel and reject it. So, rather than being so worried about him, you better start worrying about yourself. You see, you're responsible for what you know. And he who knows the will of the Father and yet does not accordingly, that's the fellow that's in big trouble. And so, just what judgment and by what measure God is going to mete out, that's something that He has reserved to Himself. And I'm glad for that.
There's one occupation I would never want, and that is that of a judge. I just could not face that awesome responsibility of determining the sentences that should be meted out to men. You know, to determine whether or not a fellow is innocent or guilty, or the degree of guilty. That's just something I really would never want to have to do. And I thank God I don't have to.
So there will be degrees. More tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that city that rejected the disciples as they went out to witness for Him.
And they went out, and preached that men should repent ( Mark 6:12 ).
The same message that John the Baptist preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Change, turn.
And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them ( Mark 6:13 ).
Now, in the epistle of James, he said, "Is there any sick among you? Let them call for the elders of the church, and let them anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord shall raise them up" ( James 5:14-15 ). Now, there are some Bible expositors who say that this word anoint is literally to massage. I don't know. The Bible scholars say a lot of things I really don't know about. If it were to massage, then it would seem to indicate that there was some kind of a healing process through the massaging with oil. That, I can't believe. I believe that the anointing with oil was purely a symbolic act.
As last week we were sharing with you, the importance of having a point of contact for releasing faith. And how the woman coming through the crowd said, "If I can just but grasp onto His garment, I know that I will be healed." And when she grasped His garment, immediately she felt in her body that she was healed. And Jesus stopped and said, "Who touched Me?" It was a point of contact where she released her faith and was healed. Faith was no longer just a passive thing to her; it became active, it was released. It wasn't, "I know the Lord can, oh, I'm sure He's able," but, "I know He is now." And it's that "now" activating a faith. I believe that the anointing of oil has this very same value. It is a symbolic act; the oil is scripturally symbolic of the Holy Spirit. And so we as a church do practice anointing with oil. Not massaging, just anointing with oil in the name of the Lord; and the oil, being the symbol of the Holy Spirit. So on Saturday night, the elders gather and if there are any sick within the church, and you would like to have prayer by the elders of the church, you can come on Saturday evening to the library room. And there they minister to those that are sick, anointing with oil, praying for them. And the Lord is faithful and God has touched. And there have been many marvelous healings and miracles wrought through prayer there in the Saturday night prayer service. It's not something that we make a big deal over. I don't think God's word makes that big a deal over it. We don't try to glorify any individual through this prayer. We feel that the benefit of having the elders pray for you is that no person is singled out for glory; only the Lord is singled out for glory. So there isn't the developing of some personality cult where "brother so-and-so laid his hands on me." But, we would rather you to know that the Lord wants to lay His hand upon you. And He is so good; He uses such as us as His instruments, that through us He might do His work.
And so the disciples, as they went out, were anointing with oil. This is the first reference to it, and the only reference within the gospel. And the only other reference I know is in James where he just says, "If there's any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church." We'll get to James, maybe, if the Lord tarries. Many that were sick were thus healed.
And King Herod heard of him [Jesus]; (for his name was spread abroad;) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. [But] others said, That it is Elias [Elijah]. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead ( Mark 6:14-16 ).
Herod, no doubt, had a guilty conscience concerning John. This family of Herod had to be one of the most messed up families in history. It is so messed up that I would try and explain to you how messed up it is, but I'd probably get messed up trying to explain it. But this is Herod Antipas. He was the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the one who was the Herod at the time of the birth of Jesus. He was the one to whom the wise men came and inquired of where the Messiah was to be born. He was the one who said, "Go search diligently for the young child. When you've found Him, come and let me know that I may come and worship Him." He was the one that ordered all of the babies in the area of Bethlehem to be killed who were two years old and under. He was paranoid; he was always fearful that someone was going to try and kill him and take the throne.
Part of his paranoia was probably the result of the fact that he was such a little runt. He was about four feet, nine inches tall. And being a little man, he had great ambitions. And whenever he would build something, he would build it out of huge stones. The Western Wall of Jerusalem today is a testimony to the building prowess of this fellow Herod, these huge stones that make up the wall that was the retaining wall for the temple mount. The Herodian, out near Bethlehem and then the Masada, down near the Dead Sea; other tremendous building monuments that were done by Herod known as Herod the Great.
But because he was so paranoid, he married his first wife Doris who had a son, and he killed them both, that is Doris and the son. Then he married another woman named Miriam and she had two sons. Now, one of these two sons had a daughter named Herodias. Then, Herod got paranoid about Miriam and the two sons; he thought they were plotting against him, and so he put her to death and the two sons. And then he missed her after she was dead, and he began to mourn for her. And so, he built a tower and all there in Jerusalem as a monument to Miriam because he missed her so much. At this point, a saying developed, "It's safer to be Herod's pig than to be his son." Because at this point he had wiped out both wives and all of their children. He sort of cooled down from this point onwards. He married another gal by the name of Miriam, had a son by the name of Herod Philip, who moved to Rome and was just a wealthy merchantman. But Herod Philip married his niece, Herodias, who was the daughter of the assassinated brother, who was a half-brother to Herod Philip. So, she was his wife and his niece all at the same time. Now, Herod married another gal and she had a couple of sons, of which one was Herod Antipas. This is the Herod in our story. Herod Antipas was the ruler over a portion of the kingdom that his father Herod the Great had ruled over. Over the area up in the Galilee region.
Now, Herod Antipas went to Rome and visited his half-brother, Herod Philip. Now, Herod Philip and Herodias, his niece, had a daughter that they named Solomane. And Herod Antipas, when he was in Rome visiting his brother, fell in love with Herodias, his brother's wife who was also his niece, and talked her into leaving his brother, her husband, and marry him and return and reign with him in Galilee. Now, John the Baptist was a straight shooter. And John the Baptist spoke out against this unlawful action by Herod Antipas. And so, we read,
For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife ( Mark 6:17-18 ).
Now, Herod, he liked to listen to John; though he didn't obey, he liked to listen to this guy. He was fascinated by John. But Herodias had it in for him. She was a very ambitious woman, scheming. Finally, she talked Herod Antipas to go to Rome and they, both of them, went to Rome together to ask the emperor to give him the title of king. The emperor of Rome, rather than giving him the title of king, banished him to gall. And that's the end of Herod Antipas and the history of him. But, at this point, Herodias was really upset, because John had spoken out against their marriage, saying, "It isn't lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him ( Mark 6:19 );
She was so angry she would have killed him in the quarrel. John was just laying it on straight to her, and they were quarreling. She became angry, and had she been able to, she would have killed him. She was so angry with him.
but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy, and observed him [he listened to him]; and when he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly ( Mark 6:19-20 ).
He liked listening, but it was some sort of a strange thing where a person likes to hear you, but yet, they don't follow it.
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, [and] high captains, and [those] chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee ( Mark 6:21-22 ).
Now, the solo dances by women in those days were very sensual and usually done only by prostitutes. And of course, the whole purpose was the inflaming of the passions. And that Herodias would allow her daughter to perform such a dance before these men show of what low moral character she was. She was a woman without morals, allowing her daughter to go before these men with this sensual dance. Herod, being aroused by the dance, pleased, he said unto her, "Ask me whatever you want and I will give it to you."
And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give thee, unto the half of my kingdom ( Mark 6:23 ).
It must have been quite a dance.
And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway [immediately] with haste unto the king, and [she] asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by [immediately] in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which [of those that] sat with him, he would not reject her ( Mark 6:24-26 ).
He had put himself in a corner, and because of the oath and the fact that it was done in front of these fellows he couldn't back down. Pride wouldn't let him. And so, he did that unlawful murderous thing, adding sin to sin, compounding the situation.
and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when the disciples heard of it, they came and took up the corpse, and laid it in a tomb [buried it] ( Mark 6:27-29 ).
Now, Herod, no doubt, had a guilty conscience over this that lasted. So later on when he heard the fame of Jesus, heard the miracles of Jesus, he heard of Him, "There's a fellow there doing all kinds of miracles." He said, "It's John the Baptist; he's come back from the dead." It was a haunting guilt of his deed. He couldn't get John out of his mind. Perhaps he was even comforted by the thought that it must be John the Baptist come back from the dead, because he knew that what he had done was wrong. And that's the end of that particular segment of the story.
Now we come back. "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
Jesus had sent his apostles out to minister. And now, they come back from this preaching mission.
And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and [they] told him all [of the] things, both what they had done, and what they had taught ( Mark 6:30 ).
They were sharing with Him the marvelous meetings, the conversions, the healings, the power, the glory of their experience of going out in His name and preaching His gospel. Having received their reports,
And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and [let's] rest a while: for there were [so] many [people who were] coming and going, and they had no leisure [time], so much as to eat [not even enough time to sit down and eat] ( Mark 6:31 ).
Now, they have enough time to grab something as you're going by the table, but in those days eating was a big ceremony. You sat down and you really made a big deal out of eating. And they didn't have any time for that. They were being too pressured by the crowd. So, Jesus, seeing the pressure, the weariness, invited them to go over to the other side of the lake where it was more of a deserted area that they might just rest. It probably sounded great to the disciples.
And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him [They knew who it was], and [so they] ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them ( Mark 6:32-33 ),
Now, Capernaum is at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It's only about six miles wide; you can see all the way across the Sea. And so, it was easy for them to watch the direction the little boat was going. And so, they just ran around the upper end of the island. And as they passed through Bethsaida, Koraisan and those cities, people no doubt questioned them where they were going. You know, if you see someone running and you think, "Well, what's going on?" You see a group of people running and you say, "Hey, what's happening?" "Oh, Jesus is going to be landing over here on the other side." "Oh, alright." And so, a big group of people joined them out of each of the cities. Until finally, when Jesus landed with his disciples, there were at least five thousand men beside the women and children that were waiting for the little boat to dock. At this point, I can imagine that the disciples were rather irritated with the inconsiderate nature of the people. "You know, don't you realize that we're needing rest, we want rest, we need to get away? We want to relax." And you're tired, easy to get irritated. And I'm sure that the disciples were irritated with this crowd.
And Jesus . . . was moved with compassion toward them ( Mark 6:34 ),
Rather than being irritated, it touched Him; it touched His heart. "Oh, these blessed people, so hungry for God, a real experience with God." And He was moved with compassion, because He looked at them in an entirely different light. Whereas the disciples were perhaps looking at them as a nuisance, Jesus saw them as poor little sheep without a shepherd. They don't know where they're going; they're lost. They have no defense.
because they were as sheep not having a shepherd [but He saw them as sheep without a shepherd] ( Mark 6:34 ):
And because He had the heart of a shepherd, it touched Him; it moved Him.
and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent [getting evening], his disciples came unto him [with a problem], and said, [Look,] This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed [it's getting late], [Lord: you better] send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, give ye them to eat [Well, give them something to eat]. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? [ What do you mean? You want us to go into town and try and buy five thousand dollars worth of bread, so we can feed these people?] He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see.[Well, how much bread do you have? Go out and check.] And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. [So, they went out and checked and they came back, and they said, "Well, there's a little kid here that has five loaves and two fish. That's all we've got."] And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and fifties. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. ( Mark 6:34-42 ).
That particular Greek word translated filled would be better translated glutted, literally translated glutted. "They all ate and were glutted." I mean, they ate until they couldn't eat any more.
And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men ( Mark 6:43-44 ).
So, the first of the two recorded incidences where Jesus miraculously fed the multitude with just a few loaves of bread. Here, five thousand men beside women and children, probably ten to fifteen thousand people being fed by five little sandwich loaves and two little fish. But then, collecting, that's the interesting thing, collecting twelve baskets full of the fragments after everyone was glutted.
And straightway [immediately] he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray ( Mark 6:45-46 ).
A busy day. You try to escape for rest. You arrive on the shore and there's ten thousand people waiting for you. And so you give of yourself until it's late in the evening, and then you perform the miracle. Now you must really be ready for that rest. He ordered His disciples to get into the ship and to head back over to the other side, passing by Bethsaida to get on over, while He Himself sent away the multitude of people. But then, you need rest. And how did He find His rest? He departed into a mountain to pray. He found strength always through prayer. It was a place of rest and a place of strengthening. Oh, that we would learn the strength of prayer. Again, one of the greatest encouragements to pray or the greatest display of our need for prayer is the fact that Jesus prayed. Now, if He felt prayer was such an essential part of His own life, being who He was, how much more essential is prayer to us? If He felt that He could not get along without it, how in the world do you think you can get by without it? Prayer surely is one of the most neglected spiritual functions in the body of Christ. It's something that you need to seriously consider. I am certain that the world would be much better off today if there were more people praying. Our lives would be much better off if we prayed more. God help us. There's tremendous power that has been made available to each of us, but we must take advantage of it through prayer.
And when even was come [it was now night], the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he [was] alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing ( Mark 6:47-48 );
I told you see the Sea of Galilee is not very wide at that point. It is possible that it was a full moon night. If so, on a full moon you can see across the sea and everything that's on the sea. That full moon is so bright over there you can't believe it. And you could see them as the moon, of course, was reflecting across the water.
for the wind was contrary unto them [a wind had come up and it was against them] ( Mark 6:48 ):
But they were rowing. Now, I like this, because they were in this position because Jesus had commanded them to get in the ship and go. Obeying the command of Christ, they were actually being put in a position of strain. You who think that by following the will of the Lord everything is going to be just so rosy, peaches and cream, you've got another thing coming. Jesus ordered them to go across the sea against the wind, against the storm. He put them in this position of toil and strain, and they were already weary and tired. But I love their dogged obedience.
Now, it would have been a lot easier for them to just turn the boat around and row with the thing on back, you know. "Why try and fight this, you know?" Because you're rowing and you're not going anywhere, you know. Here's the candlelight of Bethsaida off to the right side and, I guess if you're going backwards it'd be off to your left side. But, you know, you're rowing and the lights are still in the same place after an hour. "Oh, no. But Jesus told us to go." And they were in this condition because they were obeying the command of the Lord. I love it.
And the Lord sat there watching them. He saw them toiling in rowing, the wind was contrary. Now,
and about the fourth watch of the night ( Mark 6:48 )
I mean, He really let them go at it for a while, because the fourth watch of the night begins Act 3:00 in the morning. The fourth watch Isa 3:00 in the morning to Mar 6:00 in the morning. So I mean, these guys had really been going at it, and Jesus just sitting there watching them. "Lord, it's not fair."
And about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them [acted like he was just going to walk right past them] ( Mark 6:48 ).
Someone asked me if I thought that Jesus ever laughed. I think He has a tremendous sense of humor. You know, they're toiling, they're rowing and all, and He comes walking across the sea; you know, just like He doesn't see them, like He's walking right past them.
But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out [thought it's got to be a ghost, and they started crying out in fear]: for they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and [they] wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves [feeding of the five thousand with just the five loaves and two fish]; for their heart was hardened ( Mark 6:49-52 ).
It was just, they saw it, but they didn't.
And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew [near] to shore ( Mark 6:53 ).
So, they didn't go to Capernaum, but actually a little south from Capernaum to the area of Gennesaret, which is near the little area of Magdala from which Mary Magdalene came. Now, you that have been to Israel have the advantage of being able to picture all of this in your mind.
And they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him [as soon as they got out of the boat, the people recognized him], and ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought [they begged] him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole ( Mark 6:53-56 ).
So that woman who had first touched the Lord sort of opened up an area where many people then came to the place of releasing their faith by touching Him. "And as many as touched were made whole." "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Mark 6:27". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/mark-6.html. 2014.
And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,
And immediately the king sends an executioner: The word "executioner" is spekoulatora, a Latin word brought over into the Greek. We get our word "speculator" from it. The word itself means "a watcher." It was used to designate a guardsman whose business it was to watch or spy out. It came gradually to denote one of the armed bodyguards of the Roman emperor. Suetonius says that Claudius did not dare to attend banquets unless his speculators with their lances surrounded him. Seneca uses the word in the sense of an executioner. Herod imitates the custom of the Roman emperor and has a company of speculators around him. It is one of these that he sends to behead John (Wuest 131).
and commanded his head be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison: Edersheim offers this picturesque description:
It has been but the contest of a moment. "Straightway" the king gives the order to one of the body-guards. The maiden hath withdrawn to await the result with her mother. The guardsman has left the banqueting-hall. Out into the cold spring night, up that slope, and into the deep dungeon. As its door opens, the noise of the revelry comes with the light of the torch which the man bears. No time for preparation is given, nor needed. A few minutes more, and the gory head of the Baptist is brought to the maiden in a charger, and she gives the ghastly dish to her mother (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III 674).
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 6:27". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/mark-6.html. 1993-2022.
A. The mission of the Twelve 6:6b-30
This is another of Mark’s "sandwich" or chiastic sections. The main event is Jesus’ sending the Twelve on a preaching and healing mission that extended His own ministry. Within this story, between their departing and their returning, the writer inserted the story of John the Baptist’s death. The main feature of that story that interested Mark was Herod Antipas’ perception of who Jesus was. The identity of Jesus, which is the heart of this section, becomes the main subject of the sections that follow (Mark 6:31 to Mark 8:30).
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2. The failure of Antipas to understand Jesus’ identity 6:14-29
The writer of the second Gospel inserted this account into his narrative about the mission of the Twelve. It is similar to the filling in a sandwich (cf. Mark 6:30). The incident probably happened during the mission of the Twelve just announced. It illustrates the mounting opposition to Jesus, and it provides helpful guidance for disciples of Jesus. Mark’s is the fullest of the synoptic records at this point.
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The death of Jesus’ forerunner 6:17-29 (cf. Matthew 14:4-12)
Mark 6:17-29 are a flashback in which Mark explained how John had died. This is the only story in Mark’s Gospel that does not concern Jesus directly. [Note: Taylor, p. 310.] Why did Mark include it? Perhaps he did so because John’s death prefigured Jesus’ violent end. Mark devoted 14 verses to John’s death but only three to his ministry. He really gave two passion narratives, Jesus and John’s. [Note: Lane, p. 215.]
Mark showed particular interest in what "King" Herod Agrippa, and especially Herodias, did to John. [Note: For discussions of the differences between Mark and Josephus’ accounts of John’s death, see Cranfield, pp. 208-9; Taylor, pp. 310-11; or Lane, pp. 215-16.] The main reason Mark included this pericope will emerge later (Mark 9:13).
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The only other time Mark used the Greek word perilupos, translated "very sorry" or "greatly distressed," was in Mark 14:34 where it describes Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. This shows the extent of Antipas’ anxiety over the dilemma Salome’s request created for him. His pride got him in trouble, as Pilate’s did later. Both of these rulers sacrificed a righteous and holy man on the altar of their personal popularity.
The Greek word spekoulatora, translated "executioner," is a Latinism reflecting the Roman influence on Mark’s Gospel. It refers to a bodyguard of Herod’s. The fact that John’s head finally went to Herodias shows that she was the person responsible for his death. However, her husband gave the order to execute him, so he was also culpable. In Jesus’ case, the Jewish religious leaders called for His death, as Herodias had done, and Pilate gave the official permission for execution.
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WITHOUT HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY ( Mark 6:1-6 )
6:1-6 Jesus left there and came into his own native place, and his disciples went with him. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue. Many, as they listened, were amazed. "Where," they said, "did this man get this knowledge? What wisdom is this that has been given to him? And how can such wonderful things keep happening through his hands? Is not this the carpenter, Mary's son, the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? Are his sisters not here with us?" And they took offence at him. So Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honour except in his own native place, and amongst his own kinsmen and in his own family." And he was not able to do any wonderful deeds there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he was amazed by their unwillingness to believe. He made a tour of the villages teaching.
When Jesus came to Nazareth he put himself to a very severe test. He was coming to his home town; and there are no severer critics of any man than those who have known him since his boyhood. It was never meant to be a private visit simply to see his old home and his own people. He came attended by his disciples. That is to say he came as a Rabbi. The Rabbis moved about the country accompanied by their little circle of disciples, and it was as a teacher, with his disciples, that Jesus came.
He went into the synagogue and he taught. His teaching was greeted not with wonder but with a kind of contempt. "They took offence at him." They were scandalised that a man who came from a background like Jesus should say and do things such as he. Familiarity had bred a mistaken contempt.
They refused to listen to what he had to say for two reasons.
(i) They said, "Is not this the carpenter?" The word used for carpenter is tekton ( G5045) . Now tekton ( G5045) does mean a worker in wood, but it means more than merely a joiner. It means a craftsman. In Homer the tekton ( G5045) is said to build ships and houses and temples. In the old days, and still to-day in many places, there could be found in little towns and villages a craftsman who would build you anything from a chicken-coop to a house; the kind of man who could build a wall, mend a roof, repair a gate; the craftsman, the handy-man, who with few or no instruments and with the simplest tools could turn his hand to any job. That is what Jesus was like. But the point is that the people of Nazareth despised Jesus because he was a working-man. He was a man of the people, a layman. a simple man--and therefore they despised him.
One of the leaders of the Labour movement was that great soul Will Crooks. He was born into a home where one of his earliest recollections was seeing his mother crying because she had no idea where the next meal was to come from. He started work in a blacksmith's shop at five shillings a week. He became a fine craftsman and one of the bravest and straightest men who ever lived. He entered municipal politics and became the first Labour Mayor of any London borough. There were people who were offended when Will Crooks became Mayor of Poplar. In a crowd one day a lady said with great disgust, "They've made that common fellow, Crooks, Mayor, and he's no better than a working man." A man in the crowd--Will Crooks himself--turned round and raised his hat. "Quite right, madam," he said. "I am not better than a working man."
The people of Nazareth despised Jesus because he was a working man. To us that is his glory, because it means that God, when he came to earth, claimed no exemptions. He took upon himself the common life with all its common tasks.
The accidents of birth and fortune and pedigree have nothing to do with manhood. As Pope had it,
"Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow;
The rest is all but leather or prunello."
As Burns had it,
"A prince can mak' a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a'that!
But an honest man's aboon his might--
Guid faith, he mauna fa'that!
For a'that, an'a'that,
Their dignities an'a'that,
The pith o' sense an'pride o'worth
Are higher rank than a'that."
We must ever beware of the temptation to evaluate men by externals and incidentals, and not by native worth.
(ii) They said, "Is not this Mary's son? Do we not know his brothers and his sisters?" The fact that they called Jesus Mary's son tells us that Joseph must have been dead. Therein we have the key to one of the enigmas of Jesus' life. Jesus was only thirty-three when he died; and yet he did not leave Nazareth until he was thirty. ( Luke 3:23.) Why this long delay? Why this lingering in Nazareth while a world waited to be saved? The reason was that Joseph died young and Jesus took upon himself the support of his mother and of his brothers and sisters; and only when they were old enough to fend for themselves did he go forth. He was faithful in little, and therefore in the end God gave him much to do.
But the people of Nazareth despised him because they knew his family. Thomas Campbell was a very considerable poet. His father had no sense of poetry at all. When Thomas' first book emerged with his name on it, he sent a copy to his father. The old man took it up and looked at it. It was really the binding and not the contents at all that he was looking at. "Who would have thought," he said in wonder, "that our Tom could have made a book like that?" Sometimes when familiarity should breed a growing respect it breeds an increasing and easy-going familiarity. Sometimes we are too near people to see their greatness.
The result of all this was that Jesus could do no mighty works in Nazareth. The atmosphere was wrong; and there are some things that cannot be done unless the atmosphere is right.
(i) It is still true that no man can be healed if he refuses to be healed. Margot Asquith tells of the death of Neville Chamberlain. Everyone knows how that man's policy turned out in such a way that it broke his heart. Margot Asquith met his doctor, Lord Horder. "You can't be much of a doctor," she said, "as Neville Chamberlain was only a few years older than Winston Churchill, and I should have said he was a strong man. Were you fond of him?" Lord Horder replied, "I was very fond of him. I like all unlovable men. I have seen too many of the other kind. Chamberlain suffered from shyness. He did not want to live; and when a man says that, no doctor can save him." We may call it faith; we may call it the will to live; but without it no man can survive.
(ii) There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. Our churches would be different places if congregations would only remember that they preach far more than half the sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy the poorest effort can catch fire. In an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference, the most Spirit-packed utterance can fall lifeless to the earth.
(iii) There can be no peace-making in the wrong atmosphere. If men have come together to hate, they will hate. If men have come together to refuse to understand, they will misunderstand. If men have come together to see no other point of view but their own, they will see no other. But if men have come together, loving Christ and seeking to love each other, even those who are most widely separated can come together in him.
There is laid on us the tremendous responsibility that we can either help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to him--or we can slam it in his face.
HERALDS OF THE KING ( Mark 6:7-11 )
6:7-11 Jesus called The Twelve to him and he began to send them out in twos. He gave them power over unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for the road except a staff. He ordered them not to take bread, or a wallet, or a copper coin in their belts. He ordered them to wear sandals and, he said, "You must not put on two tunics." He said to them, "Wherever you enter into a house, stay there, until you leave that place; and, if any place refuses to give you hospitality, and, if in any place they will not listen to you, when you leave there, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet, to bear witness to the fact that they were guilty of such conduct."
We will understand all the references in this passage better if we have in our minds a picture of what the Jew in Palestine in the time of Jesus ordinarily wore. He had five articles of dress.
(i) The innermost garment was the chiton ( G5509) , or sindon ( G4616) ; or tunic. It was very simple. It was simply a long piece of cloth folded over and sewn down one side. It was long enough to reach almost to the feet. Holes were cut in the top corners for the arms. Such garments were commonly sold without any hole for the head to go through. That was to prove that the garment was in fact new, and it was to allow the buyer to arrange the neck-line as he or she wished. For instance, the neckline was different for men and women. It had to be lower in the case of women so that a mother could suckle her baby. At its simplest, this inner garment was little more than a sack with holes cut in the corners. In a more developed form it had long close-fitting sleeves; and sometimes it was opened up so that it was made to button down the front like a cassock.
(ii) The outer garment was called the himation ( G2440) . It was used as a cloak by day and as a blanket by night. It was composed of a piece of cloth seven feet from left to right and four and a half feet from top to bottom. One and a half feet at each side was folded in and in the top corner of the folded part holes were cut for the arms to go through. It was therefore almost square. Usually it was made of two strips of cloth, each seven feet by a little more than two feet, sewn together. The seam came down the back. But a specially carefully made himation ( G2440) might be woven of one piece, as Jesus' robe was ( John 19:23). This was the main article of dress.
(iii) There was the girdle. It was worn over the two garments we have already described. The skirts of the tunic could be hitched up under the girdle for work or for running. Sometimes the tunic was hitched above the girdle, and in the hollow place so made above the girdle a parcel or a package could be carried. The girdle was often double for the eighteen inches from each end. The double part formed a pocket in which money was carried.
(iv) There was the head-dress. It was a piece of cotton or linen about a yard square. It could be white, or blue, or black. sometimes it was made of coloured silk. It was folded diagonally and then placed on the head so that it protected the back of the neck, the cheek-bones, and the eyes from the heat and glare of the sun. It was held in place by a circlet of easily stretched, semi-elastic wool round the head.
(v) There were the sandals. They were merely flat soles of leather, wood or matted grass. The soles had thongs at the edges through which a strap passed to hold the sandal on to the foot.
The wallet may be one of two things.
(a) It may be the ordinary travellers' bag. This was made of a kid's skin. Often the animal was skinned whole and the skin retained the original shape of the animal, legs, tail, head and all! It had a strap at each side and was slung over the shoulder. In it the shepherd, or pilgrim, or traveller carried bread and raisins, and olives, and cheese enough to last him for a day or two.
(b) There is a very interesting suggestion. The Greek word is pera ( G4082) ; and it can mean a collecting-bag. Very often the priests and devotees went out with these bags to collect contributions for their temple and their god. They have been described as "pious robbers with their booty growing from village to village." There is an inscription in which a man who calls himself a slave of the Syrian goddess says that he brought in seventy bags full each journey for his lady.
If the first meaning is taken, Jesus meant that his disciples must take no supplies for the road, but must trust God for everything. If the second meaning is taken, it means that they must not be like the rapacious priests. They must go about giving and not getting.
There are two other interesting things here.
(i) It was the Rabbinic law that when a man entered the Temple courts he must put off his staff and shoes and money girdle. All ordinary things were to be set aside on entering the sacred place. It may well be that Jesus was thinking of this, and that he meant his men to see that the humble homes they were to enter were every bit as sacred as the Temple courts.
(ii) Hospitality was a sacred duty in the East. When a stranger entered a village, it was not his duty to search for hospitality; it was the duty of the village to offer it. Jesus told his disciples that if hospitality was refused, and if doors and ears were shut, they must shake off the dust of that place from their feet when they left. The Rabbinic law said that the dust of a Gentile country was defiled, and that when a man entered Palestine from another country he must shake off every particle of dust of the unclean land. It was a pictorial formal denial that a Jew could have any fellowship even with the dust of a heathen land. It is as if Jesus said, "If they refuse to listen to you, the only thing you can do is to treat them as a rigid Jew would treat a Gentile house. There can be no fellowship between them and you."
So we can see that the mark of the Christian disciple was to be utter simplicity, complete trust, and the generosity which is out always to give and never to demand.
THE MESSAGE AND THE MERCY OF THE KING ( Mark 6:12-13 )
6:12-13 So they went out and heralded forth the summons to repentance; and they cast out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Here in brief summary is an account of the work that the Twelve did when Jesus sent them out.
(i) To the people they brought Jesus' message. The word used is literally that used for a heralds proclamation. When the apostles went out to preach to men, they did not create a message; they brought a message. they did not ten people what they believed and what they considered probable; they told people what Jesus had told them. It was not their opinions they brought to men; it was God's truth. The message of the prophets always began, "Thus saith the Lord." The man who would bring an effective message to others must first receive it from God.
(ii) To the people they brought the King's Message; and the King's message was, "Repent!" Clearly that was a disturbing message. To repent means to change one's mind and then to fit one's actions to this change. Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It is bound to hurt, for it involves the bitter realization that the way we were following is wrong. It is bound to disturb, because it means a complete reversal of life.
That is precisely why so few people do repent--for the last thing most people desire is to be disturbed. Lady Asquith, in a vivid phrase, speaks of people who "dawdle towards death." So many people do that. they resent all strenuous activity. Life for them is "a land where it is always afternoon." In some ways the positive, vivid, swashbuckling sinner who is crashing his way to some self-chosen goal is a more attractive person than the negative, nebulous, loiterer who drifts spinelessly and without direction through life.
There is a passage in the novel Quo Vadis? Vinicius, the young Roman, has fallen in love with a girl who is a Christian. Because he is not a Christian she will have nothing to do with him. He follows her to the secret night gathering of the little group of Christians, and there, unknown to anyone, he listens to the service. He hears Peter preach, and, as he listens, something happens to him. "He felt that if he wished to follow that teaching, he would have to place on a burning pile all his thoughts, habits and character, his whole nature up to that moment, burn them into ashes and then fill himself with a life altogether different, and an entirely new soul."
That is repentance. But what if a man has no other desire than to be left alone? The change is not necessarily from robbery, theft, murder, adultery and glaring sins. The change may be from a life that is completely selfish, instinctively demanding, totally inconsiderate, the change from a self-centred to a God-centred life--and a change like that hurts. W. M. Macgregor quotes a saying of the Bishop in Les Miserables. "I always bothered some of them; for through me the outside air came at them; my presence in their company made them feel as if a door had been left open and they were in a draught." Repentance is no sentimental feeling sorry; repentance is a revolutionary thing--that is why so few repent.
(iii) To the people they brought the King's mercy. Not only did they bring this shattering demand upon men; they brought also help and healing. They brought liberation to poor, demon-possessed men and women. From the beginning Christianity has aimed to bring health to body and to soul; it has always aimed not only at soul salvation, but at whole salvation. It brought not only a hand to lift from moral wreckage, but a hand to lift from physical pain and suffering. It is most suggestive that they anointed with oil. In the ancient world oil was regarded as a panacea. Galen, the great Greek doctor, said, "Oil is the best of all instruments for healing diseased bodies." In the hands of the servants of Christ the old cures acquired a new virtue. The strange thing is that they used the things which men's limited knowledge knew at that time; but the spirit of Christ gave the healer a new power and the old cure a new virtue. the power of God became available in common things to the faith of men.
So the Twelve brought to men the message and the mercy of the King, and that remains the church's task today and every day.
THREE VERDICTS ON JESUS ( Mark 6:14-15 )
6:14-15 King Herod heard about Jesus, for his name was known everywhere. He said, "John the Baptizer has risen from the dead. That is why these wonderful powers work through him." Others said, "It is Elijah." Others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the famous prophets."
By this time news of Jesus had penetrated all over the country. The tale had reached the ears of Herod. The reason why he had not up to this time heard of Jesus may well be due to the fact that his official residence in Galilee was in Tiberias. Tiberias was largely a Gentile city, and, as far as we know, Jesus never set foot in it. But the mission of the Twelve had taken Jesus' fame all over Galilee, so that his name was upon every lip. In this passage we have three verdicts upon Jesus.
(i) There is the verdict of a guilty conscience. Herod had been guilty of allowing the execution of John the Baptizer, and now he was haunted by what he had done. Whenever a man does an evil thing, the whole world becomes his enemy. Inwardly, he cannot command his thoughts; and, whenever he allows himself to think, his thoughts return to the wicked thing that he has done. No man can avoid living with himself; and when his inward self is an accusing self, life becomes intolerable. Outwardly, he lives in the fear that he will be found out and that some day the consequences of his evil deed will catch up on him.
Some time ago a convict escaped from a Glasgow prison. After forty-eight hours of liberty he was recaptured, cold and hungry and exhausted. He said that it was not worth it. "I didn't have a minute," he said. "Hunted, hunted all the time. You don't have a chance. You can't stop to eat. You can't stop to sleep."
Hunted--that is the word which so well describes the life of the man who has done some evil thing. When Herod heard of Jesus, the first thing that flashed into his mind was that this was John the Baptizer whom he had killed, come back to reckon with him. Because the sinning life is the haunted life, sin is never worth the cost.
(ii) There is the verdict of the nationalist. Some thought that this Jesus was Elijah come again. The Jews waited for the Messiah. There were many ideas about the Messiah, but the commonest of all was that he would be a conquering king who would first give the Jews back their liberty and who would then lead them on a triumphant campaign throughout the world. It was an essential part of that belief that, before the coming of the Messiah, Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, would come again to be his herald and his forerunner. Even to this day, when the Jews celebrate the Passover Feast, they leave at the table an empty chair called Elijah's chair. They place it there with a glass of wine before it, and at one part of their service they go to the door and fling it wide open that Elijah may come in and bring at last the long-awaited news that the Messiah has come.
This is the verdict of the man who desires to find in Jesus the realization of his own ambitions. He thinks of Jesus, not as someone to whom he must submit and whom he must obey; he thinks of Jesus as someone he can use. Such a man thinks more of his own ambitions than of the will of God.
(iii) There is the verdict of the man who is waiting for the voice of God. There were those who saw in Jesus a prophet. In those days the Jews were pathetically conscious that for three hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent. They had listened to the arguments and the legal disputations of the Rabbis; they had listened to the moral lectures of the synagogue; but it was three long centuries since they had listened to a voice which proclaimed, "Thus saith the Lord." Men in those days were listening for the authentic voice of God--and in Jesus they heard it. It is true that Jesus was more than a prophet. He did not bring only the voice of God. He brought to men the very power and the very life and the very being of God. But those who saw in Jesus a prophet were at least more right than the conscience-stricken Herod and the expectant nationalists. If they had got that length in their thoughts of Jesus, it was not impossible that they might take the further step and see in him the Son of God.
AN EVIL WOMAN'S REVENGE ( Mark 6:16-29 )
6:16-29 But when Herod heard about it, he said, "This is John, whom I beheaded, risen from the dead." For Herod had sent and seized John and had bound him in prison because of the affair of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife--because he had married her. For John had said to Herod, "It is not right for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias set herself against him, and wished to kill him, and she could not succeed in doing so, for Herod was afraid of John, because he well knew that he was a just and holy man, and he kept him safe. When Herod listened to John he did not know what to do, and yet he found a certain pleasure in listening to him. But a day of opportunity came, when, on his birthday, Herod was giving a banquet to his courtiers and to his captains and to the leading men of Galilee. Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced before them, and she pleased Herod and those who were reclining at table with him. The king said to the maiden, "Ask me for anything you like and I will give it to you." He swore to her, "Whatever you ask me for, I will give you, even up to half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What am I to ask for myself?" She said, "John the Baptizer's head." At once she hurried into the king and made her request. "I wish," she said, "that here and now you will give me the head of John the Baptizer on a plate." The king was grief-stricken, but, because of the oath he had taken, and because he had taken it in front of his guests, he did not wish to break his word to her. So immediately the king despatched an executioner with orders to bring his head. The executioner went away and beheaded him in prison, and brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the maiden, and the maiden gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.
This story has all the simplicity of tremendous drama.
First, let us look at the scene. The scene was the castle of Machaerus. Machaerus stood on a lonely ridge, surrounded by terrible ravines, overlooking the east side of the Dead Sea. It was one of the loneliest and grimmest and most unassailable fortresses in the world. To this day the dungeons are there, and the traveller can still see the staples and the iron hooks in the wall to which John must have been bound. It was in that bleak and desolate fortress that the last act of John's life was played out.
Second, let us look at the characters. The marriage tangles of the Herod family are quite incredible, and their inter-relations are so complicated that they become almost impossible to work out. When Jesus was born Herod the Great was king. He was the king who was responsible for the massacre of the children in Bethlehem ( Matthew 2:16-18). Herod the Great was married many times. Towards the end of his life he became almost insanely suspicious, and murdered member after member of his own family, until it became a Jewish saying, "It is safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son."
First, he married Doris, by whom he had a son, Antipater, whom he murdered. Then he married Mariamne, the Hasmonean, by whom he had two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, whom he also murdered. Herodias, the villainess of the present passage, was the daughter of this Aristobulus. Herod the Great then married another Mariamne, called the Boethusian. By her he had a son called Herod Philip. Herod Philip married Herodias, who was the daughter of his half-brother, Aristobulus, and who was therefore his own niece. By Herodias, Herod Philip had a daughter called Salome, who is the girl who danced before Herod of Galilee in our passage. Herod the Great then married Malthake, by whom he had two sons--Archelaus and Herod Antipas who is the Herod of our passage and the ruler of Galilee. The Herod Philip who married Herodias originally, and who was the father of Salome, inherited none of Herod the Great's dominions. He lived as a wealthy private citizen in Rome. Herod Antipas visited him in Rome. There he seduced Herodias and persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him.
Note who Herodias was: (a) she was the daughter of his half-brother, Aristobulus, and therefore his niece; and (b) she was the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip, and therefore his sister-in-law. Previously Herod Antipas had been married to a daughter of the king of the Nabataeans, an Arabian country. She escaped to her father who invaded Herod's territory to avenge his daughter's honour and heavily defeated Herod. To complete this astounding picture Herod the Great finally married Cleopatra of Jerusalem, by whom he had a son called Philip the Tetrarch. This Philip married Salome who was at one and the same time (a) the daughter of Herod Philip, his half brother, and (b) the daughter of Herodias, who herself was the daughter of Aristobulus, another of his half brothers. Salome was therefore at one and the same time his niece and his grand-niece. If we put this in the form of a table it will be easier to follow. See the table below.
Herod The Great
Herod the Great married
| | | | |
Cleopatra Doris Mariamnethe Mariamne Malthake
of Jerusalem | the Hasmonean Boethusian |
| | | | -------------------
| | ------------------ | | |
| | | | | | |
Philip the Antipater, Alexander, Aristobulus, Herod Philip, Herod Antipas Archelaus
Tetrach, murdered by murdered by murdered by who married who married
who married his father his father his father Herodias Herodias
Salome | |
Seldom in history can there have been such a series of matrimonial entanglements as existed in the Herod family. By marrying Herodias, his brother's wife, Herod had broken the Jewish law ( Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:21) and had outraged the laws of decency and of morality.
Because of this adulterous marriage and because of Herod's deliberate seduction of his brother's wife, John had publicly rebuked him. It took courage to rebuke in public an oriental despot who had the power of life and death, and John's courage in rebuking evil wherever he saw it is commemorated in the Prayer-book collect for St. John the Baptist's Day.
"Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant, John the
Baptist, was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy
Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance; Make us so to
follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent
according to his preaching; and after his example constantly
speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the
In spite of John's rebuke Herod still feared and respected him, for John was so obviously a man of sincerity and of goodness; but with Herodias it was different. She was implacably hostile to John and determined to eliminate him. She got her chance at Herod's birthday feast which he was celebrating with his courtiers and his captains. Into that feast her daughter Salome came to dance. Solo dances in those days in such society were disgusting and licentious pantomimes. That a princess of the royal blood should so expose and demean herself is beyond belief because such dances were the art of professional prostitutes. The very fact that she did this is a grim commentary on the character of Salome, and of the mother who allowed and encouraged her to do so. But Herod was pleased; and Herod offered her any reward; and thus Herodias got the chance she had plotted for so long; and John, to gratify her spleen, was executed.
There is something to learn from every character in this story.
(i) Herod stands revealed before us.
(a) He was an odd mixture. At one and the same time he feared John and respected him. At one and the same time he dreaded John's tongue and yet found pleasure in listening to him. There is nothing in this world so queer a mixture as a human being. It is man's characteristic that he is a mixture. Boswell, in his London Diary, tells us how he sat in church enjoying the worship of God and yet at the same time was planning how to pick up a prostitute in the streets of London that same night.
The strange fact about man is that he is haunted both by sin and by goodness. Robert Louis Stevenson speaks about people "clutching the remnants of virtue in the brothel or on the scaffold." Sir Norman Birkett, the great Q.C. and judge, speaks of the criminals he had defended and tried. "They may seek to escape but they cannot; they are condemned to some nobility; all their lives long the desire for good is at their heels, the implacable hunter." Herod could fear John and love him, could hate his message and yet not be able to free himself from its insistent fascination. Herod was simply a human being. Are we so very different?
(b) Herod was a man who acted on impulse. He made his reckless promise to Salome without thinking. It may well be that he made it when he was more than a little drunk and flown with wine. Let a man have a care. Let a man think before he speaks. Let him never by self-indulgence get into a state when he loses his powers of judgment and is liable to do things for which afterwards he will be very sorry.
(c) Herod feared what men might say. He kept his promise to Salome because he had made it in front of his cronies and was unwilling to break it. He feared their jeers, their laughter; he feared that they would think him weak. Many a man has done things he afterwards bitterly regretted because he had not the moral courage to do the right. Many a man has made himself far worse than he is because he feared the laughter of his so-called friends.
(ii) Salome and Herodias stand revealed before us. There is a certain greatness about Herodias. Years after this her Herod sought the title of King. He went to Rome to plead for it; instead of giving him the title the Emperor banished him to Gaul for having the insolence and the insubordination to ask for such a title. Herodias was told that she need not share this exile, that she might go free, and she proudly answered that where her husband went she went too.
Herodias shows us what an embittered woman can do. There is nothing in this world as good as a good woman, and nothing as bad as a bad woman. the Jewish Rabbis had a quaint saying. They said that a good woman might marry a bad man, for by so doing she would end by making him as good as herself. But they said that a good man might never marry a bad woman, for she would inevitably drag him down to her own level. The trouble with Herodias was that she wished to eliminate the one man who had the courage to confront her with her sin. She wished to do as she liked with no one to remind her of the moral law. She murdered John that she might sin in peace. She forgot that while she need no longer meet John, she still had to meet God.
(iii) John the Baptizer stands revealed before us. He stands as the man of courage. He was a child of the desert and of the wide open spaces, and to imprison him in the dark dungeons of Machaerus must have been the last refinement of torture. But John preferred death to falsehood. He lived for the truth and he died for it. The man who brings to men the voice of God acts as a conscience. Many a man would silence his conscience if he could, and therefore the man who speaks for God must always take his life and his fortune in his hands.
THE PATHOS OF THE CROWD ( Mark 6:30-34 )
6:30-34 The apostles came together again to Jesus, and they told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come you by yourselves into a lonely place, and rest for a while." For there were many coming and going and they could not find time even to eat. So they went away in the boat to a lonely place all by themselves. Now many saw them going away and recognized them; and they ran together there on foot from all the towns and went on ahead of them. When Jesus disembarked he saw a great crowd, and he was moved to the depths of his being with pity for them, because they were like sheep who had no shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When the disciples came back from their mission they reported to Jesus all that they had done. The demanding crowds were so insistent that they had no time even to eat; so Jesus told them to come with him to a lonely place on the other side of the lake that they might have peace and rest for a little time.
Here we see what might be called the rhythm of the Christian life. The Christian life is a continuous going into the presence of God from the presence of men and coming out into the presence of men from the presence of God. It is like the rhythm of sleep and work. We cannot work unless we have our time of rest; and sleep will not come unless we have worked until we are tired.
There are two dangers in life. First, there is the danger of a too constant activity. No man can work without rest; and no man can live the Christian life unless he gives himself times with God. It may well be that the whole trouble in our lives is that we give God no opportunity to speak to us, because we do not know how to be still and to listen; we give God no time to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength, because there is no time when we wait upon him. How can we shoulder life's burdens if we have no contact with him who is the Lord of all good life? How can we do God's work unless in God's strength? And how can we receive that strength unless we seek in quietness and in loneliness the presence of God?
Second, there is the danger of too much withdrawal. Devotion that does not issue in action is not real devotion. Prayer that does not issue in work is not real prayer. We must never seek the fellowship of God in order to avoid the fellowship of men but in order to fit ourselves better for it. The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving men in the market place.
But the rest which Jesus sought for himself and for his disciples was not to be. The crowds saw Jesus and his men going away. At this particular place it was four miles across the lake by boat and ten miles round the top of the lake on foot. On a windless day, or with a contrary wind, a boat might take some time to make the passage, and an energetic person could walk round the top of the lake and be there before the boat arrived. That is exactly what happened; and when Jesus and his men stepped out of the boat the very crowd from which they had sought some little peace was there waiting for them.
Any ordinary man would have been intensely annoyed. The rest Jesus so much desired and which he had so well earned was denied to him. His privacy was invaded. Any ordinary man would have resented it all, but Jesus was moved with pity at the pathos of the crowd. He looked at them; they were so desperately in earnest; they wanted so much what he alone could give them; to him they were like sheep who had no shepherd. What did he mean?
(i) A sheep without the shepherd cannot find the way. Left to ourselves we get lost in life. Principal Cairns spoke of people who feel like "lost children out in the rain." Dante has a line where he says, "I woke up in the middle of the wood, and it was dark, and there was no clear way before me." Life can be so bewildering. We can stand at some cross-roads and not know what way to take. It is only when Jesus leads and we follow that we can find the way.
(ii) A sheep without the shepherd cannot find its pasture and its food. In this life we are bound to seek for sustenance. We need the strength which can keep us going; we need the inspiration which can lift us out of ourselves and above ourselves. When we seek it elsewhere our minds are still unsatisfied, our hearts still restless, our souls still unfed. We can gain strength for life only from him who is the living bread.
(iii) A sheep without the shepherd has no defence against the dangers which threaten it. It can defend itself neither from the robbers nor the wild beasts. If life has taught us one thing it must be that we cannot live it alone. No man can defend himself from the temptations which assail him and from the evil of the world which attacks him. Only in the company of Jesus can we walk in the world and keep our garments unspotted from it. Without him we are defenceless; with him we are safe.
LITTLE IS MUCH IN THE HANDS OF JESUS ( Mark 6:35-44 )
6:35-44 When it was now late the disciples came to Jesus. "The place," they said, "is lonely, and it is now late. Send them away that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." He answered, "You give them something to eat." "Are we," they said to him, "to go away and buy ten pounds worth of loaves and so give them something to eat?" "How many loaves have you?" he said to them. "Go and see!" When they had found out, they said, "Five and two fishes." He ordered them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in sections of hundreds and of fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and he looked up into the heaven and blessed them and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples to serve the people with them. and he divided up the two fishes among them all. And they all ate until they were completely satisfied; and they gathered up the broken pieces of bread and what was left of the fishes--twelve basketsful. And those who ate the loaves amounted to five thousand men.
It is a notable fact that no miracle seems to have made such an impression on the disciples as this, because this is the only miracle of Jesus which is related in all four gospels. We have already seen how Mark's gospel really embodies the preaching material of Peter. To read this story, so simply and yet so dramatically told, is to read something that reads exactly like an eye-witness account. Let us note some of the vivid and realistic details.
They sat down on the green grass. It is as if Peter was seeing the whole thing in his mind's eye again. It so happens that this little descriptive phrase provides us with quite a lot of information. The only time when the grass would be green would be in the late springtime, in mid-April. So it is then that this miracle must have taken place. At that time the sun set at 6 p.m., so this must have happened some time in the late afternoon.
Mark tells us that they sat down in sections of a hundred and of fifty. The word used for sections (prasiai, G4237) is a very pictorial word. It is the normal Greek word for the rows of vegetables in a vegetable garden. When you looked at the little groups, as they sat there in their orderly rows, they looked for all the world like the rows of vegetables in a series of garden plots.
At the end they took up twelve basketsful of fragments. No orthodox Jew travelled without his basket (kophinos, G2894) . The Romans made a jest of the Jew and his basket. There were two reasons for the basket which was a wicker-work affair shaped like a narrow-necked pitcher, broadening out as it went down. First, the very orthodox Jew carried his own food supplies in his basket, so that he would be certain of eating food that was ceremonially clean and pure. Second, many a Jew was an accomplished beggar, and into his basket went the proceeds of his begging. The reason that there were twelve baskets is simply that there were twelve disciples. It was into their own baskets that they frugally gathered up the fragments so that nothing would be lost.
The wonderful thing about this story is that all through it runs an implicit contrast between the attitude of Jesus and the attitude of the disciples.
(i) It shows us two reactions to human need When the disciples saw how late it was, and how tired and hungry the crowd were, they said, "Send them away so that they can find something to eat." In effect they said, "These people are tired and hungry. Get rid of them and let someone else worry about them." Jesus said, "You give them something to eat." In effect Jesus said, "These people are tired and hungry. We must do something about it." There are always the people who are quite aware that others are in difficulty and trouble, but who wish to push the responsibility for doing something about it on to someone else; and there are always the people who when they see someone up against it feet compelled to do something about it themselves. there are those who say, "Let others worry." And there are those who say, "I must worry about my brother's need."
(ii) It shows us two reactions to human resources. When the disciples were asked to give the people something to eat, they insisted that ten pounds, or what the King James Version calls two hundred "pence" was not enough to buy bread for them. The word the King James Version translates penny is denarius. This was a Roman silver coin worth about 3p. It was the standard day's wage of a working man. In effect the disciples were saying, "We could not earn enough in more than six months' work to give this crowd a meal." They really meant "Anything we have got is no use at all."
Jesus said, "What have you got?" They had five loaves. These were not like English loaves: they were more like rolls. John ( John 6:9) tells us they were barley loaves; and barley loaves were the food of the poorest of the poor. Barley bread was the cheapest and the coarsest of all bread. They had two fishes, which would be about the size of sardines. Tarichaea--which means the salt-fish town--was a well known place on the lake from which salt-fish went out to all over the world. The little salt-fishes were eaten as relish with the dry rolls.
It did not seem much. But Jesus took it and worked wonders with it. In the hands of Jesus little is always much. We may think that we have little of talent or substance to give to Jesus. That is no reason for a hopeless pessimism such as the disciples had. The one fatal thing to say is, "For all I could do, it is not worth my while trying to do anything." If we put ourselves into the hands of Jesus Christ, there is no telling what he can do with us and through us.
THE CONQUEST OF THE STORM ( Mark 6:45-52 )
6:45-52 Immediately he made the disciples embark on the boat and go across ahead to Bethsaida while he sent the crowd away. When he had taken leave of them, he went away into a mountain to pray. When it was late the boat was half way across the lake and Jesus was alone upon the land. He saw that they were sore beset as they rowed, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea, and it looked as if he meant to pass them by. When they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and they cried out in terror, for they all saw him and they were distracted with fear. At once he spoke with them. "Courage!" he said. "It is I. Don't be afraid." And he came into the boat with them, and the wind sank to rest. And they were exceedingly astonished within themselves, because they did not understand about the loaves because their minds were obtuse.
After the hunger of the crowd had been satisfied, Jesus immediately sent his disciples away before he dismissed the crowd. Why should he do that? Mark does not tell us but most probably we have the explanation in John's account. John tells us that after the crowd had been fed there was a move to take Jesus and to make him king. That was the last thing Jesus desired. It was that very way of power that once, finally and for all, he had rejected at the time of his temptations. He could see it coming. He did not want his disciples to be infected and caught up in this nationalistic outburst. Galilee was the hotbed of revolution. If this movement was not checked, there might well emerge amongst the excitable people a rebellion which would wreck everything and lead to disaster for all concerned. So Jesus sent away his disciples lest they too should become inflamed by this movement, and then he calmed the crowd and bade them farewell.
When he was alone, he went up into a mountain to pray. Thick and fast the problems were descending upon him. There was the hostility of the orthodox people; there was the frightened suspicion of Herod Antipas; there were the political hotheads who would make him a nationalistic Messiah against his will. At this particular time there was many a problem on Jesus' mind and many a burden on his heart.
For some hours he was alone amidst the hills with God. As we have seen, this must have happened about mid-April, and mid-Aped was the Passover time. Now the Passover was deliberately fixed for the full moon, as Easter still is. The Jewish night ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and it was divided into four watches--6 p.m. to 9 p.m., 9 p.m. to 12 midnight, 12 midnight to 3 a.m., and 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. About three o'clock in the morning Jesus looked from the mountainside out across the lake. The lake was only four miles across at that point, and in the light of the moon it lay stretched out before him. The wind was up and he saw the boat, with his men in it, having a hard struggle to reach the other side.
See what happened. Immediately Jesus saw his friends in trouble his own problems were set aside; the moment for prayer was past; the time for action had come; he forgot himself and went to the help of his friends. That is of the very essence of Jesus. The cry of human need to him surpassed all other claims. His friends needed him; he must go.
What happened we do not know, and will never know. The story is cloaked in mystery which defies explanation. What we do know is that he came to them and their storm became a calm. With him beside them nothing mattered any more.
When Augustine was writing about this incident he said, "He came treading the waves; and so he puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Christians--why afraid?" It is the simple fact of life, a fact which has been proved by countless thousands of men and women in every generation, that when Christ is there the storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes a peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and men pass the breaking point and do not break. To walk with Christ will be for us also the conquest of the storm.
THE DEMANDING CROWDS ( Mark 6:53-56 )
6:53-56 When they had crossed over and reached land they came to Gennesareth, and moored the boat there. When they had disembarked from the boat the people immediately recognized him; and they ran all over that countryside, and, wherever they knew he was, they began to carry to him on pallets those who were ill. And whenever he came into villages or towns or country places, they laid the sick in the open spaces, and they kept begging him to be allowed to touch even the tassel of his robe; and all who touched it were restored to health.
No sooner had Jesus landed on the other side of the lake than once again he was surrounded by crowds. Just sometimes he must have looked on the crowds with a certain wistfulness, because there was hardly a person in them who had not come to get something out of him. They came to get. They came with their insistent demands. They came--to put it bluntly--to use him. What a difference it would have made if, among these crowds, there had been some few who came to give and not to get. In a way it is natural that we should come to Jesus to get things from him, for there are so many things that he alone can give: but it is always shameful to take everything and to give nothing, and yet it is very characteristic of human nature.
(i) There are those who simply make use of their homes. It is specially so with young people. They regard their homes as being there to cater for their comfort and their convenience. It is there they eat and sleep and get things done for them; but surely home is a place to which we ought to contribute, from which we ought not only to be taking all the time.
(ii) There are those who simply make use of their friends. There are some people from whom we never receive a letter unless they want something from us. There are those who regard other people as existing to help them when they need their help, and to be forgotten when they cannot be made of use.
(iii) There are those who simply make use of the church. They desire the church to baptize their children, marry their young people and bury their dead. They are seldom to be seen there unless they wish some service. It is their unconscious attitude that the church exists to serve them, but that they have no duty whatever towards it.
(iv) There are those who seek simply to make use of God They never remember him unless they need him. Their only prayers are requests, or even demands, made of God. Someone has put it this way. In American hotels there is a boy called the "bell-hop." The hotel guest rings the bell and the bell-hop appears; he will fetch anything the guest wishes on demand. Some people regard God as a kind of universal bell-hop, only to be summoned when something is needed.
If we examine ourselves, we are all, to some extent, guilty of these things. It would rejoice the heart of Jesus if more often we came to him to offer our love, our service, our devotion, and less often to demand from him the help we need.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 6:27". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-6.html. 1956-1959.
And immediately the king sent an executioner,....
and commanded his head to be brought; ordered him to cut off his head in prison, and bring it away forthwith in a charger to him:
and he went and beheaded him in the prison; according to his orders.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Mark 6:27". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/mark-6.html. 1999.
|The Death of John the Baptist.|
14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. 15 Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. 17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. 19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. 21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. 24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. 29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
Here is, I. The wild notions that the people had concerning our Lord Jesus, Mark 6:15; Mark 6:15. His own countrymen could believe nothing great concerning him, because they knew his poor kindred; but others that were not under the power of that prejudice against him, were yet willing to believe any thing rather than the truth--that he was the Son of God, and the true Messias: they said, He is Elias, whom they expected; or, He is a prophet, one of the Old-Testament prophets raised to life, and returned to this world; or as one of the prophets, a prophet now newly raised up, equal to those under the Old Testament.
II. The opinion of Herod concerning him. He heard of his name and fame, of what he said and what he did; and he said, "It is certainly John Baptist, Mark 6:14; Mark 6:14. As sure as we are here, It is John, whom I beheaded,Mark 6:16; Mark 6:16. He is risen from the dead; and though while he was with us he did no miracle, yet, having removed for awhile to another world, he is come again with greater power, and now mighty works do show forth themselves in him."
Note, 1. Where there is an idle faith, there is commonly a working fancy. The people said, It is a prophet risen from the dead; Herod said, It is John Baptist risen from the dead. It seems by this, that the rising of a prophet from the dead, to do mighty works, was a thing expected, and was thought neither impossible nor improbable, and it was now readily suspected when it was not true; but afterward, when it was true concerning Christ, and a truth undeniably evidenced, yet then it was obstinately gainsaid and denied. Those who most wilfully disbelieve the truth, are commonly most credulous of errors and fancies.
2. They who fight against the cause of God, will find themselves baffled, even when they think themselves conquerors; they cannot gain their point, for the word of the Lord endures for ever. They who rejoiced when the witnesses were slain, fretted as much, when in three or four days they rose again in their successors, Revelation 11:10; Revelation 11:11. The impenitent unreformed sinner, that escapeth the sword of Jehu, shall Elisha slay.
3. A guilty conscience needs no accuser or tormentor but itself. Herod charges himself with the murder of John, which perhaps no one else dare charge him with; I beheaded him; and the terror of it made him imagine that Christ was John risen. He feared John while he lived, and now, when he thought he had got clear of him, fears him ten times worse when he is dead. One might as well be haunted with ghosts and furies, as with the horrors of an accusing conscience; those therefore who would keep an undisturbed peace, must keep an undefiled conscience, Acts 24:16.
4. There may be the terrors of strong conviction, where there is not the truth of a saving conversion. This Herod, who had this notion concerning Christ, afterward sought to kill him (Luke 13:31), and did set him at nought (Luke 23:11); so that he will not be persuaded, though it be by one risen from the dead; no, not by a John the Baptist risen from the dead.
III. A narrative of Herod's putting John Baptist to death, which is brought in upon this occasion, as it was in Matthew. And here we may observe,
1. The great value and veneration which Herod had some time had for John Baptist, which is related only by this evangelist, Mark 6:20; Mark 6:20. Here we see what a great way a man may go toward grace and glory, and yet come short of both, and perish eternally.
(1.) He feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and a holy. It is possible that a man may have a great reverence for good men, and especially for good ministers, yea, and for that in them that is good, and yet himself be a bad man. Observe, [1.] John was a just man, and a holy; to make a complete good man, both justice and holiness are necessary; holiness toward God, and justice toward men. John was mortified to this world, and so was a good friend both to justice and holiness. [2.] Herod knew this, not only by common fame, but by personal acquaintance with him. Those that have but little justice and holiness themselves, may yet discern it with respect in others. And, [3.] He therefore feared him, he honoured him. Holiness and justice command veneration, and many that are not good themselves, have respect for those that are.
(2.) He observed him; he sheltered him from the malice of his enemies (so some understand it); or, rather, he had a regard to his exemplary conversation, and took notice of that in him that was praiseworthy, and commended it in the hearing of those about him; he made it appear that he observed what John said and did.
(3.) He heard him preach; which was great condescension, considering how mean John's appearance was. To hear Christ himself preach in our streets will be but a poor plea in the great day, Luke 13:26.
(4.) He did many of those things which John in his preaching taught him. He was not only a hearer of the word, but in part a doer of the work. Some sins which John in his preaching reproved, he forsook, and some duties he bound himself to; but it will not suffice to do many things, unless we have respect to all the commandments.
(5.) He heard him gladly. He did not hear him with terror as Felix heard Paul, but heard him with pleasure. There is a flashy joy, which a hypocrite may have in hearing the word; Ezekiel was to his hearers as a lovely song (Ezekiel 33:32); and the stony ground received the word with joy,Luke 8:13.
2. John's faithfulness to Herod, in telling him of his faults. Herod had married his brother Philip's wife, Mark 6:17; Mark 6:17. All the country, no doubt, cried shame on him for it, and reproached him for it; but John reproved him, told him plainly, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. This was Herod's own iniquity, which he could not leave, when he did many things that John taught him; and therefore John tells him of this particularly. Though he were a king, he would not spare him, any more than Elijah did Ahab, when he said, Hast thou killed and also taken possession? Though John had an interest in him, and he might fear this plain-dealing would destroy his interest, yet he reproved him; for faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6); and though there are some swine that will turn again, and rend those that cast pearls before them, yet, ordinarily, he that rebuketh a man (if the person reproved has any thing of the understanding of a man), afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with his tongue,Proverbs 28:23. Though it was dangerous to offend Herod, and much more to offend Herodias, yet John would run the hazard rather than be wanting in his duty. Note, Those ministers that would be found faithful in the work of God, must not be afraid of the face of man. If we seek to please men, further than is for their spiritual good, we are not the servants of Christ.
3. The malice which Herodias bore to John for this (Mark 6:19; Mark 6:19); She had a quarrel with him, and would have killed him; but when she could not obtain that, she got him committed to prison, Mark 6:17; Mark 6:17. Herod respected him, till he touched him in his Herodias. Many that pretend to honour prophesying, are for smooth things only, and love good preaching, if it keep far enough from their beloved sin; but if that be touched, they cannot bear it. No marvel if the world hate those who testify of it that its works are evil. But it is better that sinners persecute ministers now for their faithfulness, than curse them eternally for their unfaithfulness.
4. The plot laid to take off John's head. I am apt to think that Herod was himself in the plot, notwithstanding his pretences to be displeased and surprised, and that the thing was concerted between him and Herodias; for it is said to be when a convenient day was come (Mark 6:21; Mark 6:21), fit for such a purpose. (1.) There must be a ball at court, upon the king's birth-day, and a supper prepared for his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee. (2.) To grace the solemnity, the daughter of Herodias must dance publicly, and Herod must take on him to be wonderfully charmed with her dancing; and if he be, they that sit with him cannot but, in compliment to him, be so too. (3.) The king hereupon must make her an extravagant promise, to give her whatever she would ask, even to the half of the kingdom; and yet, that, if rightly understood, would not have reached the end designed, for John Baptist's head was worth more than his whole kingdom. This promise is bound with an oath, that no room might be left to fly off from it; He sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask, I will give. I can scarcely think he would have made such an unlimited promise, but that he knew what she would ask. (4.) She, being instructed by Herodias her mother, asked the head of John Baptist; and she must have it brought her in a charger, as a pretty thing for her to play with (Mark 6:24; Mark 6:25); and there must be no delay, no time lost, she must have it by and by. (5.) Herod granted it, and the execution was done immediately while the company were together, which we can scarcely think the king would have done, if he had not determined the matter before. But he takes on him, [1.] To be very backward to it, and that he would not for all the world have done it, if he had not been surprised into such a promise; The king was exceeding sorry, that is, he seemed to be so, he said he was so, he looked as if he had been so; but it was all sham and grimace, he was really pleased that he had found a pretence to get John out of the way. Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare--The man who cannot dissemble, knows not how to reign. And yet he was not without sorrow for it; he could not do it but with great regret and reluctancy; natural conscience will not suffer men to sin easily; the very commission of it is vexatious; what then will the reflection upon it be? [2.] He takes on him to be very sensible of the obligation of his oath; whereas if the damsel had asked but a fourth part of his kingdom, I doubt not but he would have found out a way to evade his oath. The promise was rashly made, and could not bind him to do an unrighteous thing. Sinful oaths must be repented of, and therefore not performed; for repentance is the undoing of what we have done amiss, as far as is in our power. When Theodosius the emperor was urged by a suitor with a promise, he answered, I said it, but did not promise it if it be unjust. If we may suppose that Herod knew nothing of the design when he made that rash promise, it is probable that he was hurried into the doing of it by those about him, only to carry on the humour; for he did it for their sakes who sat with him, whose company he was proud of, and therefore would do any thing to gratify them. Thus do princes make themselves slave to those whose respect they covet, and both value and secure themselves by. None of Herod's subjects stood in more awe of him than he did of his lords, high captains, and chief estates. The king sent an executioner, a soldier of his guard. Bloody tyrants have executioners ready to obey their most cruel and unrighteous decrees. Thus Saul has a Doeg at hand, to fall upon the priests of the Lord, when his own footmen declined it.
5. The effect of this is, (1.) That Herod's wicked court is all in triumph, because this prophet tormented them; the head is made a present of to the damsel, and by her to her mother,Mark 6:28; Mark 6:28. (2.) That John Baptist's sacred college is all in tears; the disciples of John little thought of this; but, when they heard of it, they came, and took up the neglected corpse, and laid it in a tomb; where Herod, if he had pleased, might have found it, when he frightened himself with the fancy that John Baptist was risen from the dead.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Mark 6:27". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/mark-6.html. 1706.
It is remarkable how tradition has contrived to injure the truth in touching the question of the method of the gospel we now enter on; for the current view which comes down to us from the ancients, stamped too with the name of one who lived not long after the apostles, lays down that Mark's is that gospel which arranges the facts of our Lord's life, not in, but out of the order of their occurrence. Now, that order is precisely what he most observes. And this mistake, if it be one, which notoriously had wrought from the earliest days, and naturally, therefore, to a large extent since, of course vitiated the right understanding of the book. I am persuaded that the Spirit of God intended that we should have among the gospels one that adheres to the simple order of the facts in giving our Lord's history. Otherwise, we must be plunged in uncertainty, not merely as to one particular gospel, but as lacking the means of rightly judging departures from historic order in all the others; for it is plain, that if there be no such thing as a regular order in any one gospel, we are necessarily deprived of all power of determining in any case when the events did really occur which stand differently connected in the rest of the gospels. It is not in any way that one would seek what is commonly called a "harmony," which is really to obscure the perception of the special objects of the gospels. At the same time, nothing can be more certain than that the real author of the gospels, even God Himself, knew all perfectly. Nor, even to take the lowest ground, on the part of the different writers, is ignorance of the order in which the facts occurred a reasonable key to the peculiarities of the gospels. The Holy Ghost deliberately displaced many events and discourses, but this could not be through carelessness, still less through caprice, but only for ends worthy of God. The most obvious order would be to give them just as they occurred. Partly, then, as it seems to me, that we might be able to judge with accuracy and with certainty of the departures from the order of occurrence, the Spirit of God has given us in one of these gospels that order as the rule. In which of them is it found, do you ask? I have no doubt that the answer is, spite of tradition, In the gospel of Mark. And the fact exactly agrees with the spiritual character of his gospel, because this also ought to have great weight in confirming the answer, if not in deciding the question.
Any person who looks at, Mark, not merely piecemeal, though it is evident in any part, but, much more satisfactorily, as a whole, will rise from the consideration of the gospel with the fullest conviction that what the Holy Ghost has undertaken to give us in this history of Christ is His ministry. It is now so much a matter of common knowledge, that there is no need to dwell long upon a fact that is generally confessed. I shall endeavour to show how the whole account hangs together, and bears out this well-known and most simple truth how it accounts for the peculiarities in Mark, for what is given us, and for what is left out; and of course, therefore, for his differences from the others. All this, I think, will be made clear and certain to any who may not have thoroughly examined it before. Here I would only observe, how entirely this goes along with the fact that Mark adheres to the order of history, because, if he is giving us the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and particularly His service in the word, as well as in the miraculous signs which illustrated that service, and which were its external vouchers, it is plain that the order in which the facts occurred is precisely that which is the most calculated of all to give us a true and adequate view of His ministry; whereas it is not so, if we look at the object of either Matthew or Luke.
In the former the Holy Ghost is showing us the rejection of Jesus, and that rejection proved from the very first. Now, in order to give us the right understanding of His rejection, the Holy Ghost groups facts together, and groups them often, as we have had occasion to notice, entirely regardless of the time at which they occurred. What was wanted was a bright vivid view of the shameless rejection of the Messiah by His own people. It was needed, thereupon, to make plain what God would undertake in consequence of that rejection, that is to say, the vast economic change that would follow. It was necessarily the weightiest thing that had ever been or that could be in this world, the rejection of a divine Person who was at the same time "the great King," the promised expected Messiah of Israel. For that very reason, the mere order of the facts would be entirely insufficient to give proper weight to the object of the Holy Ghost in Matthew. Therefore the Spirit of God does what even man has wit enough to do, where he has any analogous object before him. There is a bringing together, from different places, persons, and times in the history, the great salient facts which make evident the total rejection of the Messiah, and the glorious change which God was able to introduce for the Gentiles in consequence of that rejection. Such is the object in Matthew; and accordingly this accounts for the departure from mere sequence of events.
In Luke, again, there is another reason that we shall find, when we come to details, abundantly confirmed. For therein the Holy Ghost undertakes to show us Christ as the One who brought to light all the moral springs of the heart of man, and at the same time the perfect grace of God in dealing with man as he is; therein, too, the divine wisdom in Christ which made its way through this world, the lovely grace, too, which attracted man when utterly confounded and broken down enough to cast himself upon what God is. Hence, throughout the gospel of Luke, we have, in some respects, a disregard of the mere order of time equal to that which characterized Matthew. If we suppose two facts, mutually illustrating each other, but occurring at totally different times, in such a case these two facts might be brought together. For instance, supposing the Spirit of God desired in our Lord's history to show the value of the word of God and of prayer, He might clearly bring together two remarkable occasions, in one of which our Lord revealed the mind of God about prayer in the other, His judgment of the value of the word. The question whether the two events took place at the same time is here entirely immaterial. No matter when they occurred, they are here seen together; if put out of their occurrence, in fact, it is to form the justest order for illustrating the truth that the Holy Ghost meant us to receive.
This general observation is made here, because I think it is particularly in place in introducing the gospel of Mark.
But God has taken care to meet another point by the way. Man might take advantage of this departure from the historical order in some gospels, and the maintenance of it in others, in order to decry the writers or their writings. Of course, he is hasty enough to impute "discrepancy." There is no real ground for the charge. God has taken a very wise method to contradict and rebuke the credulous incredulity of man. As there are four evangelists, so He has arranged it that, of these four, two should adhere to historical order, and two should forsake it where it Was required. Further, of these two, one was, and one was not an apostle in each case. Of the two evangelists, Mark and John, who generally maintain historical order, the most remarkable thread of events was not given by an apostle. Nevertheless, John, who was an apostle, adheres to the historical order in the fragmentary series of facts, here and there, in the life of Christ, that he gives us. At the same time that the gospel of John does not undertake to present a sketch of the entire course of Christ, Mark describes the whole career of His ministry with more particularity than any other. Hence it is that John practically acts as a kind of supplement, not to Mark only, but to all the evangelists; and we have, ever and anon, a cluster of the richest events, yet keeping to historical order. Not to speak of its wondrous preface, there is an introduction that precedes the account given in the other gospels, filling up a certain space after His baptism, but before His public ministry. And then, again, we have a number of discourses which our Lord gave more particularly to His disciples after His public relations were over. These are all given, as it appears to me, in the exact order of their delivery, without any departure from it, save only that we find a parenthesis once or twice in John, which, if not seen there to be a parenthesis, wears an appearance of a departure from the succession of time; but of course a parenthesis does not come under the ordinary structure of a regular sentence or series of things.
This explanation, I trust, will help to a general understanding of the relative place of the gospels. We have Matthew and Luke, one of them an apostle, and the other not, both of whom are wont to depart from historical order very largely. We have Mark and John, one of them an apostle, and the other not, both of whom likewise, as a rule, adhere to historical order. God has thus cut off all just reason on men's part for saying that it is a question of knowing or not knowing the facts as they occurred, some being eyewitnesses, and others learning the events, etc., otherwise. Of those that keep the order of history, one was, the other was not, an eye-witness; to those that adopt a different arrangement precisely the same remark applies. Thus it is that God has confuted all attempts of His enemies to cast the smallest discredit upon the instruments He has used. It is thus made apparent that (so far from the structure of the gospels being attributable in any way to ignorance on one side, or, on the other, to a competent knowledge of the facts), on the contrary, he was no eye-witness who has given us the fullest, minutest, most vivid, and graphic sketch of the Lord's service here below; and this in small particulars, which, as every one knows, is always the great test of truth. Persons who do not commonly speak the truth can nevertheless be careful enough sometimes about great matters; but it is in little words and ways where the heart betrays its own treachery, or the eye its lack of observation. And it is precisely in this that Mark triumphs so completely rather, let me say, the Spirit of God in His employment of Mark. Nor was it that Mark had earlier been a worthy servant himself. Far from it. Who does not know that, when he began his work, he was not always fervent in serving the Lord? We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that he deserted the great apostle of the Gentiles when he accompanied him and his cousin Barnabas; for such was the relationship, rather than that of uncle. He left them, returning home to his mother and Jerusalem. His associations were with nature and the great seat of religious tradition, which for a while, of course, ruined him, as it tends to ruin every servant of God who is similarly ensnared. Nevertheless, God's grace overcomes all difficulties. So it was in the personal ministry of Mark, as we gather from the glorious work Mark was afterwards given to do, both in other ministry (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11), and in the extraordinary honour of writing one of the inspired accounts of his Master. Mark had not possessed the advantage of that personal acquaintance with the facts which some of the other writers had enjoyed; yet is he the one through whom the Holy Ghost condescended to impart the minutest, and at the same time the most suggestive touches, if I may so say, that are found in any view vouchsafed us of the actual living ministry of our Lord Jesus. Indeed, such was the current of his own history, as forming him for the work he subsequently had to do; for while at first there was certainly that which looked uncommonly like a false start, afterwards, on the contrary, he is acknowledged by Paul most cordially, spite of early disappointment and rebuke; for his company had been absolutely refused, even at the cost of losing Barnabas, to whom the apostle had special grounds of personal attachment. Barnabas was the man who had first gone after Saul of Tarsus; for assuredly he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and thus the more willing to accredit the great grace of God in Saul of Tarsus, when the new convert was regarded with suspicion, and might have been left alone for a season. Thus Saul had known literally in his own history how little the grace of God commands confidence in a sinful world. After all this, then, it was that Mark, who had fallen under the censure of Paul, and had been the occasion of separating Barnabas from that apostle that very Mark afterwards completely retrieved his lost character, and the apostle Paul takes more pains by far to reinstate him in the confidence of the saints, than he had done personally to refuse association with him in the service of the Lord.
Who, then, so fit to give us the Lord Jesus as the true servant? Choose whom you like. Go over the whole range of the New Testament; find out one whose own personal career so adapted him to delight in, and to become the suited vessel for the Holy Ghost to show us, the perfect Servant of God. It was the man that had been the faulty servant; it was the man whom grace had restored and made to be a faithful servant, who had proved how ensnaring is the flesh, and how dangerous the associations of human tradition and of home; but who thus, unprofitable at first for the ministry, became afterwards so profitable, as Paul himself took care to declare publicly and for ever in the imperishable word of God. This was the instrument whom God employed by the Holy Ghost to give us the grand lineaments of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely, as Levi the publican, the apostle Matthew was providentially formed for his task; and grace, condescending to look at all circumstances, uever deigns to be controlled by them, but always, while working in them, nevertheless retains its own supremacy above them. Even so in Mark's case there was just as great an appropriateness for the task God had assigned him, as there was in the call of the earlier evangelist from the receipt of custom, and the choice of one so despised of Israel to show the fatal course of that nation, when the Lord turned at the great epoch of dispensational change to call in Gentiles and the despised of Israel themselves. But if there was this manifest fitness in Matthew for his work, it would be strange if there were not as much in Mark for his. And this is what we find in his gospel. There is no parade of circumstance; there is no pomp of introduction even for the Lord Jesus Christ in this gospel, not even that style which is most rightly found elsewhere. It could not be that the Messiah of Israel was to enter among His chosen people, and be found in Israel's land, without due witness and clear tokens preceding His approach; and the God who had given promises, and who had established the kingdom, would surely make it manifest; for the Jews did require a sign, and God gave them signs in abundance before the coining of the greatest sign of all.
Thus it is that in the gospel of Matthew we have seen the amplest credentials from angels and among men of the Messiah, who then and there was born the King of the Jews, in Immanuel's land. But in Mark all this is with equal beauty absent; and suddenly, without any other preparation than John preaching and baptizing the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" at once, after this, the Lord Jesus is found, not born, not the subject of homage, but preaching, taking up the work which John not long after laid down, as it were, on going to prison. That setting aside of the Baptist (ver. 14) becomes the signal for the public service of the Lord; and, accordingly, the service of Christ is thenceforward pursued throughout our gospel; and first of all His Galilean service, which continues down to the end of chapter 10 I do not purpose tonight to look even at the whole of this Galilean ministry, but to divide the subject matter as my time requires, and therefore I do not now limit myself to the natural divisions of the gospel, but simply follow it according to chapters, as the occasion may require. We shall take it in two portions.
In the opening section or preface (of verses 1-13), then, we have here no genealogy whatever, but very simply the announcement of John the Baptist. We have our Lord then ushered into His public ministry, and, first of all, His Galilean labours. As He walks by the sea, He sees Simon, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea. These He calls to follow Him. It was not the first acquaintance of the Lord Jesus with these two apostles. At first sight it might seem strange that a word, even though it were the word of the Lord, should call these two men away from their father or their occupation; yet no one can call it unprecedented, as the call of Levi, already referred to, makes plain. Nevertheless, so it is that in the case of Andrew and Simon, as well as the sons of Zebedee, called about the same time, there was certainly previous acquaintance with the Saviour. Two disciples of the Baptist, one of them Andrew, preceded his brother Simon, as we know from John 1:1-51. But here it is not at all the same time or facts that are described in that gospel. In the call to the work, I have no hesitation in saying that Andrew and Simon were called before John and James; but in the personal acquaintance with the Saviour, which we find in the gospel of John, it is evident to me, that an .unnamed disciple (as I think, John himself) was before Simon. Both are perfectly true. There is not even the appearance of contradiction when the Scripture is rightly understood. Each of these is exactly in its proper place, for we have in our gospel Christ's ministry. That is not the theme of the gospel of John, but a far deeper and more personal subject; it is the revelation of the Father in the Son to man upon the earth. It is eternal life found by souls, and of course in the Son of God. This accordingly is the first point of contact which the Holy Ghost loves to trace in John's gospel. Why is all that entirely left out of Mark? Evidently because his province is not a soul acquainted for the first time with Jesus, the display of the wonderful truth of eternal life in Him. Another subject is in hand. We have the Saviour's grace, of course, in all the gospels; but the great theme of Mark is His ministry. Hence it is, that not the personal so much as the ministerial call is the one referred to here. In John, on the contrary, where it was the Son made known to man by faith of the Holy Ghost's operation, it is not the ministerial call, but the previous one the personal call of grace unto the knowledge of the Son, and eternal life in Him.
This may serve to show that weighty lessons lie under that which a careless eye might count a comparatively trivial difference in these gospels. Well we know that in God's word there is nothing trivial; but what might at first sight seem so is pregnant with truth, and also in immediate relation to God's aim in each particular book where these facts are found.
All things, then, they now forsake at the call of the Lord. It was not a question simply of eternal life. The principle, no doubt, is always true; but we do not in fact find all things thus forsaken in ordinary cases. Eternal life is brought to souls in the Christ who attracts them; but they are enabled to glorify God where they are. Here it is all abandoned in order to follow Christ. The next scene is the synagogue of Capernaum. And there our Lord shows the objects of His mission here in two particulars. First there is teaching "He taught them," as it is said, "as one that had authority, and not as the scribes." It was not tradition, it was not reason, not imagination, or the persuasible words of man's wisdom. It was the power of God. It was that, therefore, which was equally simple and sure. This necessarily gives authority to the tone of him who, in a world of uncertainty and deceit, utters with assurance the mind of God. It is a dishonour to God and His word to pronounce with hesitation the truth of God, if indeed we know it for our own souls. It is unbelief to say "I think," if I am sure; nay, revealed truth is not only what I know, but what God has made known to me. It is to cloud and weaken the truth, it is to injure souls, it is to lower God Himself, if we do not speak with authority where we have no doubt of His word. But then it is plain that we must be taught of God before we are at liberty to speak thus confidently.
But it is here to be noted, that this is the first quality mentioned in our Lord's teaching. This, I need not say, has a voice to us. Where we cannot speak with authority, we had better not speak at all. It is a simple rule, and abundantly short. At the same time it is clear that it would lead to great deal of searching of heart; but, I am no less persuaded, it would be with immense profit to ourselves and to our hearers.
The second thing was not authority in teaching, but power in action; and our Lord deals with the root of the mischief in man the power of Satan, now so little believed in the power of Satan over human spirits or bodies, or both. There was then in the synagogue the very place of meeting, where Jesus was a man with an unclean spirit. The demoniac cried out; for it was impossible that the power of God in the person of Jesus could be there without detecting him that was under the power of Satan. The bruiser of the serpent was there, the deliverer of the enthralled sons of Adam. The mask is thrown off; the man, the unclean spirit, cannot rest in the presence of Jesus. "He cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?" In the most singular way he blends together the action of the evil spirit with his own "What have we to do with thee? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God." Jesus rebukes him. The unclean spirit tore him; for it was right that there should be the manifestation of the effects of the evil power, restricted as it was before Him who had defeated the tempter. It was a profitable lesson, that man should know what the working of Satan really is. We have on the one side, then, the malignant effect of Satan's power, and on the other the blessed benignant might of the Lord Jesus Christ, who compels the spirit to come out, amazing all that saw and heard, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him." There was, we thus see, both the authority of truth, and also the power that wrought in outward signs accompanying.
The next scene proves that it was not merely displayed in such acts as these: there was the misery and the maladies of man apart from the direct possession of the enemy. But virtue goes out of Jesus wherever there was an appeal of need. Peter's wife's mother is the first who is presented after he leaves the synagogue; and the marvellous grace and power blended in His healing of Peter's mother-in-law attracts crowds of sick with every evil; so that we know all the city was come together at the door. "And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him."
Thus, then, the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is fully come. It is thus that he enters upon it in Mark. It is clearly the manifestation of the truth of God with authority. Divine power is vested in man over the devil, as well as over disease. Such was the form of the ministry of Jesus. There was a fulness in it naturally, one need scarce say, which was suitable to Him who was the head of ministry as well as its great pattern here below, no less than, as He is now, its source from His place of glory in heaven. But there is another notable feature in it, too, as contributing to fill this instructive introductory picture of our Lord's ministry in its actual exercise. Our Lord "suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him." He refused a testimony that was not of God. It might be true, but He would not accept the testimony of the enemy.
But positive strength is also requisite in dependence on God. Hence we are told, "In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." There, just as there is the rejection of the enemy's testimony, so there is the fullest leaning upon God's power. No personal glory, no title to power that attached to Him, was the smallest reason for relaxing in entire subjection to His Father, or for neglecting to seek His guidance day by day. Thus He waited on God after the enemy was vanquished in the wilderness, after He had proved the value of that victory in healing those oppressed of the devil. Thus engaged it is that Simon and others follow and find Him. "And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee."
But this public attraction to the Lord Jesus was a sufficient ground for not returning. He did not seek the applause of man, but that which comes from God. Directly it came to be published, so to speak, the Lord Jesus retires from the scene. If all men sought Him, He must go where it was a question of need, not of honour. Accordingly He says, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there; for therefore came I forth." He ever abides the perfect, lowly, dependent servant of God here below. No sketch can be more admirable, nowhere else can we see the perfect ideal of ministry completely realized.
Are we, then, to assume that all this was set down at random? How are we to account without a definite purpose for these various particulars and no others swelling the picture of ministry? Very simply. It was what God inspired Mark for. It was the Spirit's object by him. It is owing to a different design that we find other topics introduced elsewhere. No other gospel presents even the same facts after such a sort, because no other is thus occupied with the Lord's ministry. Thus the reason is most plain. It is Mark, and he alone, who was led of God to put the facts together that bear upon Christ's ministry, adhering to the simple natural order of the facts related, omitting of course what did not illustrate the point, but among those which did, keeping the events as they followed one another. Christ is thus seen as the perfect servant. He was Himself showing what service of God is at the beginning of His ministry. He was forming others. He had called Peter, and James, and Andrew, and John. He was making them fishers of men-servants, too. And so it is that the Lord presents before their eyes, before their hearts, before their consciences, these perfect ways of grace in His own path here below. He was forming them after His own heart.
Then, at the close of the chapter, the leper comes and, at the beginning of the next chapter, the paralytic man is brought (Mark 2:1-28). These we have had in Matthew, and we shall find the same in Luke. But here you will observe that the two cases are closer together. It is not so in Matthew, but in Luke. Matthew, as we saw, gave us the leper at the beginning of Matthew 8:1-34, and the paralytic man at the beginning ofMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38. Mark, who simply relates facts as they occur, introduced nothing between these two cases. They were, as I conceive, not long apart. The one followed soon after the other. and they are so introduced to us here. In the one, sin is viewed as the great type of defilement; in the other, sin is viewed as guilt accompanied by utter weakness. Man, utterly unfit for the presence of God, needs to be cleansed from his loathsome impurity. Such is the representation in leprosy. Man, utterly powerless for walk here below, needs to be forgiven as well as strengthened. Such is the great truth set forth in the paralytic case. Here too, with singular fulness, we have the picture of the crowds that were gathered round the door of the house, and the Lord, as usual, preaching to them. We have then a graphic picture of the palsied man brought in, borne by four. All the particulars are brought before our eyes. More than that: as they could not come nigh to Jesus for the press, the roof was uncovered, and the man is let down before the Lord's eyes. Jesus, seeing their faith, addresses the man, meets the unbelieving blasphemous thoughts of the scribes that were there, and brings out His own personal glory as Son of man, rather than as God. This latter was the great point in curing the leper; for it was an axiom that God alone could cure a leper. Such was the acknowledgment of Israel's king at a remarkable point in their history; such would have been the common confession of any Jew "Am I God?" This was the point there. God must act directly or by a prophet, as every Jew would allow, in order to cure leprosy; but, in the case of the palsied man, our Lord asserted another thing altogether, namely, that "the Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins." Then He proved His power over the most hopeless bodily weakness as a witness of His authority here below to forgive. It was the Son of man on earth that had power. Thus the one proved God had come down from heaven, and had really, in the person of that blessed Saviour, become a man without ceasing to be God. Such is the truth apparent in the cleansing of the leper; but in the paralytic healed, it is a different side of the Lord's glory. The servant of God and man in every case, here He was the Son of man that had power on earth to forgive the guilty, and prove its reality by imparted strength to walk before all.
Then follows the call of the publican. "As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him." Next, the Lord is seen at a feast in the house of him who was thus called by grace, which excites hatred in the slaves of religious routine. "When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples" not to Him; they 'had not honesty enough for that "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." It gave the Lord an opportunity to explain the true character and suited objects of His ministry. To sinners, as such, went forth the call of God. It was not the government of a people now, but the invitation of sinners. God had delivered His people once; He had called them His son too, and called His son out of Egypt; but now it was a question of calling sinners, even if the words "to repentance" be given up as an interpolation derived from the corresponding passage in Luke, where its propriety is evident. The Lord gloried in the grace which He was ministering here below.
As the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast, this is the next scene, raising the question of the character of those whom Jesus was sent to call. The narrative presents all this in a very orderly manner, but still adhering simply to the facts. Then comes the question of mingling the new principles with the old. This the Lord pronounces quite impossible. He shows that it was inconsistent to expect fasting when the Bridegroom was there. It would argue an entire unbelief in His glory, a total want of right feeling in those who owned His glory. It was all very well for people who did not believe in Him; but if the disciples recognised Him as the Bridegroom, it were utterly incongruous to fast in His presence.
Hence, our Lord takes the opportunity of pursuing the subject more deeply in the observation that "no man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment, else the new piece that filleth it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse." The forms, the outward manifestation of that which Christ was introducing, will not suit, and cannot mingle with the old elements of Judaism, still less will their inner principles consent. This He enters on next: "And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." Christianity demands an outward expression, agreeable to its own intrinsic and distinctive life.*
* Here is found one of the few exceptional dislocations, if not the only one, in Mark; for it would appear fromMatthew 9:18; Matthew 9:18, that while the Lord was speaking of the wine and the bottles the jailor Jairus came about his daughter. This is only given (in Mark 5:1-43) by Mark.
Mark 3:1-35. This theme is followed up by the two sabbaths, the first of these sabbath days bringing clearly out to view that God no longer owned Israel, and this because that Jesus was as much despised in this day as David had been of old. Such is the point referred to here. The disciples of Christ were starving. What a position! No doubt David and his men suffered lack in that day. What was the effect then as to the system which God had sanctioned? God would not maintain His own ordinances in presence of the moral wrong to His anointed, and those that clave unto Him. His own honour was at stake. His ordinances, however important in their place, give way before the sovereign dispositions of His purpose. The application was evident. The Lord Jesus Christ was a greater than David; and were not the followers of Jesus quite as precious as those of Jesse's son? If the bread of priests became common, when they of old were hungry, would God now hold to His sabbath when the disciples of Jesus lacked ordinary food? Besides, He adds, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the sabbath." Thus He asserts the superiority of His own person, and this as the rejected man; and therefore the title, "Son of Man," is especially brought in here.
But, then, there is more which comes out on the second sabbath day. There was the presence of bitter helplessness among men. It was not merely, that the disciples of Jesus were in want, the witness of His own rejection, but in the synagogue He enters next was a man with a withered hand. How came this to pass? What was the feeling that could plead the law of the sabbath to keep from healing a miserable human sufferer? Had Jesus no heart, because their eyes were only open to find in His love an occasion to accuse Him who felt for every sorrow of man upon the earth? He was there with adequate power to banish all sorrow with its source. And therefore it is that our Lord Jesus, in this case, instead of merely pleading the case of the guiltless, goes boldly forward; and in the midst of a full synagogue as He sees them watching that they might accuse Him, He answers the wicked thought of their heart. He gives them the opportunity they desired. "And he said to the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth." There was no concealment for a moment. "He saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?" Was He not the perfect servant of God, that knows so well the times? Here, then, instead of merely defending disciples, He challenges their wicked and evil thoughts in open congregation, and bore His witness that God's delight is not in holding to rules, when it would be for the hindrance of the displays of His goodness. Contrariwise, His act declares that no rules can bind God not to do good: His nature is goodness; let man pretend ever such zeal for His own law to keep man wretched and hinder the flow of grace. God's laws were never intended to bar His love. They were intended, no doubt, to put a restriction upon man's evil, never to forbid God from doing His own good will. Alas! they had no faith that God was there.
And it is remarkable, though not noticed at the beginning ofMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, that Mark does not enter upon the service of our Lord Jesus before presenting Him in verse 1 as the Son of God, followed by the application of the prophetic oracle, that He was really Jehovah. The only true servant was truly divine. What an illustrious testimony to His glory! At the start this was well, and rightly ordered, and in place most suitable; the more so as it is an unusual thought in Mark. And here let me make the remark in passing, that we have hardly any quotation of Scripture by the evangelist himself I am not aware that any positive case can be adduced, except in these prefatory verses of the gospel; forMark 15:28; Mark 15:28 rests on too precarious authority to be fairly regarded as an exception. There are some not infrequent quotations either by our Lord or to our Lord; but the application of Scripture about our Lord by the evangelist himself, so frequent in the gospel of Matthew, is almost, if not entirely, unknown to the gospel of Mark. And the reason, I think, is very plain. What he had in hand was not the accomplishment of Scriptural marks or hopes, but the fulfilment of the Lord's ministry. What he therefore dwells on was not what others had said of old, but what the Lord Himself did. Hence it is that application of Scripture, and accomplishments of prophecy, naturally disappear where such is the theme of the gospel.
However, again returning to the conclusion of the second sabbath day. Our Lord looks round about on these Sabbatarians with anger, being distressed, as it is said, at the hardness of their hearts. and then bids the man stretch forth his hand, which was no sooner done than 'it was restored. This goodness of God, so publicly and fearlessly witnessed by Him who thus served man, at once goads on to madness the murderous feeling of the religious leaders. It is the first point where, according to Mark's account, the Pharisees, taking counsel with the Herodians, conceived the design of killing Jesus. It was not fit that One so good should live in their midst. The Lord withdraws to the sea with His disciples; and subsequent to this it is that, while He heals many, and casts out unclean spirits, He also goes up into a mountain, where He takes a new step. It is one point of change in Mark's gospel, a step in advance of all He had hitherto done. Following upon the design of the Pharisees with the Herodians to destroy Jesus, the new measure He adopts is the sovereign call and appointment of the twelve, that He might in due time send them forth. Thus, He not merely calls them to be with Him, but He appoints them in a formal manner to the great mission on which they were to be sent out. The Lord now takes the conspiracy of two great enemies in Israel, the Pharisees and the Herodians, as an opportunity to provide for His work. He sees well in their hatred what was before Him; indeed, He knew it from the first, it need hardly be said. Still, the manifestation of their murderous hatred becomes the signal for this fresh step, the appointment of those that were to continue the work when the Lord should be no longer here in bodily presence Himself to carry it on. And so we have the twelve; He ordains them, "that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach," etc. Ministry in the word has always the highest place in Mark not miracles, but preaching. The healing of sickness and the casting out of the devils were signs accompanying the preached word. Nothing could be more complete. There is not only evidence that we see the servant depicted here, but that the servant was the Lord Himself, even as we saw in the beginning of this gospel.
Thus there was the appointment of those He pleased to call for the due execution of His mighty work on the earth. At this juncture it is that we find His relatives so greatly moved when they heard of all the crowds no time to eat, etc. It is a remarkable and characteristic fact mentioned by Mark only. "When his friends heard it, they went out to lay hold of him: for they said, He is beside himself." It was mainly, I suppose, because of an entire devotedness which they could not appreciate; for just before we are told, that "the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread." To His friends it was mere infatuation. They thought He must be out of His mind. It must be so, more particularly to one's relatives, where the powerful grace of God calls out and abstracts its objects from all natural claims. Such it always is in this world, and the Lord Jesus Himself, as we find, had no immunity from the injurious charge on the part of His friends. But there is more; we have His enemies now, even the scribes that came from Jerusalem. "He hath Beelzebub," say they, "and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils." The Lord condescends to reason with them "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand."
But thereon our Lord most solemnly pronounces their doom, and shows that they were guilty not of sin, as men say, but of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. There is no such phrase as sin against Him in this sense. People often speak thus, Scripture never. What the Lord denounces is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Keeping that distinctly in view would save many souls a great deal of needless trouble. How many have groaned in terror through fear of being guilty of sin against the Holy Ghost! That phrase admits of vague notions and general reasoning about its nature. But our Lord spoke definitely of blasphemous unforgivable sin against Him. All sin, I presume, is sin against the Holy Ghost, who has taken His place in Christendom, and, consequently, gives all sin this character. Thus, lying in the Church is not mere falsehood toward man, but unto God, because of the great truth that the Holy Ghost is there. Here, on the contrary, the Lord speaks of unforgivable sin (not that vague sense of evil which troubled souls dread as "sin against the Holy Ghost," but blasphemy against Him). What is this evil never to be forgiven? It is attributing the power that wrought in Jesus to the devil. How many troubled souls would be instantly relieved, if they laid hold of that simple truth! It would dissipate what really is a delusion of the devil, who strives hard to plunge them into anxiety, and drive them into despair, if possible. The truth is, that as any sin of a Christian may be said to be sin against the Holy Ghost, what is especially the sin against the Holy Ghost, if there be anything that is so, is that which directly hinders the free action of the Holy Ghost in the work of God, or in His Church. Such might be said to be the sin, if you speak of it with precision. But what our Lord referred to was neither a sin nor the sin, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. It was that which the Jewish nation was then rapidly falling into, and for which they were neither forgiven then, nor will ever be forgiven. There will be a new stock, so to speak; another generation will be raised up, who will receive the Christ whom their fathers blasphemed; but as far as that generation was concerned, they were guilty of this sin, and they could not be forgiven. They began it in the lifetime of Jesus. They consummated it when the Holy Ghost was sent down and despised. They still carried it on persistently, and it is always the case when men enter upon a bad course, unless sovereign grace deliver. The more that God brings out of love, grace, truth, wisdom, the more determinedly and blindly they rush on to their own perdition. So it was with Israel. So it ever is with man left to himself, and despising the grace of God. "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness." It is the final stage of rebellion against God. Even then they were blaspheming the Son of Man, the Lord Himself; even then they attributed the power of the Spirit in His service to the enemy, as afterwards still more evidently when the Holy Ghost wrought in His servants; then the blasphemy became complete.
And this is, I suppose, what is referred to in principle inHebrews 6:1-20; Hebrews 6:1-20. Hebrews 10:1-39 seems to be different. Then it is the case of a person who had professed the name of the Lord utterly abandoning Him, and giving loose rein to sin. This is another form of sin and destruction.
In the case before us in the gospel of Mark, the enemies had shown their uncontrollable fury and hatred after the fullest evidence, and cast the worst imputation on the power they could not deny, but endeavoured to discredit to others by attributing it to Satan. It was clear that any, all other testimony after this was utterly vain. Hence, our Lord then turns to introduce the moral ground for a new call and testimony. The real object of God, the ulterior object in the service of Jesus, comes out. There was a testimony, and righteously, to that people in the midst of whom the Lord had appeared, where His ministry had displayed the mighty power of God in grace here below. Now our Lord intimates that it must be no longer a question of nature, but of grace, and this because of His mother and His brethren, who had been pointed out by some. "Behold," said they, "thy mother and thy brethren without seek thee. He answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them that sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." In short, He owns no one henceforth because of any connection with Himself after the flesh. The only ground of relationship is the supernatural tie in new creation. Doing the will of God is the point. For this only grace avails: "the flesh profiteth nothing."
Therefore, in the next chapter, we are given a sketch of His ministry from that time down to the very end. Such is the bearing of this chapter. It is the Lord's ministry in its great principles under that aspect, and viewed not only as a fact going on (as we have had ministry in general before this), but now in its connection with this special work of God. "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth." Hence we see Him forming a people, founded upon submission to the will of God, and therefore by the preached word of God; and this pursued to the very close of all, with a view of the difficulties of those engaged in that work, or in the midst of the trials from this world which always attend such a ministry. Such is the Mark 4:1-41. Accordingly the first parable (for He speaks in parables to the multitude) is of a sower. This we have very fully given us with its explanation. Then follow some moral words of our Lord. "Is a candle," He says in the twenty-first verse, "brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?" It is not only that there is a word that acts upon the heart of man, but there is a light given (that is, a testimony in the midst of darkness). The point here is not merely the effect on man, but the manifestation of the light of God. This therefore should not be put under a bed to be concealed. God does not in ministry merely consider the effect upon the heart of man; there is much besides done for His own glory. There is the need not only of life, but of light; and this is what we have first of all light that germinates far and wide, and seed producing fruit. Part of the scattered seed was picked up by the enemy, or in some other way less openly hostile it comes to nothing. But after the necessity of life is shown in order to fruit-bearing, we have then the value of light; and this not only for God's glory though the first consideration, but also for man's guidance in this dark world. "Take heed what ye hear." Not only is there thus the word of God sown everywhere, but "take heed what ye hear." There is a mingling of what is dark and what is light, a mingling of a false testimony with a true, more particularly to be remembered when the question is raised whether there is a light from God. These Christians in particular have need to take care what they hear. They only have discerning power, and this therefore is brought in most appropriately after the first foundation is settled.
In the next place comes a parable peculiar to Mark. There is no part of his gospel which more thoroughly illustrates it than this: "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." It is the Lord manifesting Himself at the beginning of the work of God in the earth, and then coming at the end of it, all the intermediate state where others appear being left out. It is the perfect servant inaugurating and consummating the work. It is the Lord Jesus at His first advent and at His second, in connection with ministry. He commences and crowns the work that had to be done. Where is anything like this to be found in other gospels? Turn to Matthew, for instance, and what a difference! There we have, no doubt, the Lord represented as sowing (Matthew 13:1-58); but when in the next parable the harvest at the end of the age is brought before us, He says to the reapers, etc. It is not Himself who is said to do this work, but in that gospel the design requires us to hear of the authority of the Son of man. He commands His angels. They are all under His orders. He gives them the word, and they reap the harvest. Of course, this is perfectly true, as well as in keeping with God's aim in Matthew; but in the gospel of Mark the point is rather His ministry, and not authority over angels or others. The Lord is viewed as coming, and He does come; so that the one is just as certain as the other. Supposing, then, you take this parable out of Mark and put it into Matthew, what confusion! And suppose you transplant what is in Matthew into Mark, evidently there would not only be the rent of the one, but also the introduction of that which never would amalgamate with the other. The fact is, that all, as God has written it, is perfect; but the moment these portions are confounded, you lose the special bearing and appropriateness of each.
After this we hear of the grain of mustard seed, which was merely to show the great change from a little beginning into a vast system. That intimation was all-important for the guidance of the servants. They were thereby taught that material magnitude would be the result, instead of the work of the Lord retaining its primitive simplicity and small extent, spiritual power being the real greatness and the only true greatness in this world. The moment anything, no matter what it may be, in the Lord's work becomes naturally striking before men's eyes, you may rely on it that false principles have somehow got a footing within. There is more or less that which savours of the world. And therefore was it of great importance that, if their worldly greatness was to come, there should be a sketch of the great changes to follow; and this you find given in such an orderly manner in Matthew. This was not Mark's object, but just enough for the guidance of the servants, that they should know that the Lord would surely accomplish His work, and do it perfectly; as He began it well, so would He end it well. But at the same time there would be no small change effected here below, when the little sowing of the Lord should grow into an aspiring object before men, as man loves to make it. "And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it." This, therefore, is the only parable that is added here; but the Spirit of God lets us know that the Lord on the same occasion spoke a great many more. Others we have in Matthew, where full dispensational light was specially called for. It was sufficient for the object of our gospel to give what we have seen here. Not even the leaven follows, as in Luke.
But then, in the end of the chapter, we have another instructive appendix. It is no new thing for man's work to mar, as far as can be, the Lord's work to turn service into a means of lordship here below, and make great that which at the present time has its worth in refusing to part from the scorn and reproach of Christ. For the flock is not great, but little: till He return, it is a despised work of a despised Master. We have the dangers to which those engaged in His work would be exposed. This, I think, is the reason why the record is here given of the tempest-tossed vessel in which the Lord was, and the disciples, full of anxiety, trembled at the winds and the waves around them, thinking of themselves much more than of their Master. Indeed, they reproachfully turn to Him, and say, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Such, alas! are the servants apt to be heedless of His honour, abundantly careful for themselves. "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" It was little faith; but was it not little love too? It was an utter forgetfulness of the glory of Him who was in the vessel. It did, however, bring out the secret of their hearts they at least cared for themselves: a dangerous thing in the servants of the Lord. Oh, to be self-sacrificing! to care for nothing but Him! At any rate the comfort is this He does care for us. The Lord accordingly rises at that call, selfish as it might be, of glaring unbelief; yet His ear heard it as the call of believers, and He pitied them. "He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still." The wind ceased, and there was a great calm; so that even the shipmen feared exceedingly in the presence of such power; and said one to another, "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
The next chapter (Mark 5:1-43) opens with a highly important incident connected with ministry. Here it is a single case of a demoniac, which makes the details all the more striking. In point of fact, we know from elsewhere that there were two. The gospel of Matthew, not in this only, but in various other cases, speaks of two persons; as, I suppose, because this fact fell in with his object. It was a recognized principle in the law, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established; and he among the evangelists on whom, so to speak, the mantle of the circumcision fell, he it was who, speaking in view of the circumcision, gives the required testimony for the guidance of those in Israel that had ears to hear. Nothing of the kind was before Mark. He wrote not with any special aim of meeting Jewish saints and Jewish difficulties; but, in truth, rather for others that were not so circumscribed, and might rather need to have their peculiarities explained from time to time. He evidently had humanity before him as wide as the world, and therefore singles out, as we may fairly gather, the more remarkable of the two demoniacs. There is again no thought here of delineating the destinies of Israel in the last days, without denying an. allusion typically here to that which is fully drawn out there. But I apprehend the special object of this chapter is to trace the moral effects of Christ's ministry, where it is brought home in power to the soul. We have, therefore, the most desperate case possible. It is neither a leper nor a paralytic; nor is it simply a man with an unclean spirit. Here is the minute specification of a case more appalling than any we can find elsewhere in the gospels, and none describes it with such power and intense naturalness, or so circumstantially, as our evangelist.
"When he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains." All human appliances but proved the superior might of the enemy. "Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him." What a picture of dreary wretchedness, the companion of desolation and of death! "And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones." Utter degradation, too, weighed him down, the cruelty of degradation such as Satan loves to inflict upon man that he hates. "But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many." Again the same trait, one may just remark, appears here as before a most singular identifying of the evil spirit with the man. Sometimes it would seem as if it was but one, sometimes a kind of manifold personality. "He besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country." And the Lord accordingly casts the unclean spirits into the swine, which were destroyed.
However, it is not only deliverance, as we saw in Matthew, but there is the moral result on the soul. The people of the country come for now it is the testimony of the effects of ministry; they come to Jesus, and seeing him that was possessed of the devil and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind, they were afraid; and they that saw it told them how it befell him that was possessed of the devil, and also concerning the swine. Mark their unbelief! Man showed that he cared less for Jesus than for Satan or the swine. "When he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him" the natural impulse of a renewed heart, true of every saint of God. There is no believer, I care not how feeble he may be, who does not know this desire, unless he lose the sweet simplicity of truth, or, it may be, stifled by bad doctrine, such as putting him under law, which always produces fear and anxiety. But when a man is not poisoned by misuse of law, or other corrupt teaching, the first simple impulse of him who knows the love of Jesus is to be with Him. This is one reason why all Christians are spoken of as loving His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:1-22) Nor is it only a desire to be with Him, but that His glory should be made good everywhere. The soul right well knows that He who is so precious to the heart only needs to be known to others, only needs to be manifested before the world, to bring in the only power of blessing that can avail for such a world as this.
In the case before us, however, our Lord suffers him not. He shows that, no matter how true and right and becoming might be this sentiment of grace in the heart of the delivered man, still there is a work to be done. Those that are delivered are themselves to be deliverers. Such is the beneficent character and aim of the ministry of Jesus. If Jesus does His work, if He breaks the power of Satan that none else can touch, it is not merely that the delivered one should have his heart with Him, and forthwith desire to go and be with Him. In itself, indeed, it is due to his love, and it could not but be that he who has been taught of God what Jesus is, should long to be where He is. But as Jesus pleased not Himself, coming to serve God here below, so his sphere of service is in the place where he could tell others the great things which had been done for him. Accordingly the Saviour meets him with the words, "Go home to thy friends."
Mark it well, dear brethren; we are apt to forget the injunction. It is not merely, Go to the world, or, Go to every creature; but, "Go home to thy friends." How comes it that there is such difficulty, often, in speaking to our friends? Why is it that persons who are bold enough with strangers, are so timid before their household, relatives, connections? It often tells a tale which it is well to bear in mind. We shrink from the comparison which our friends are so apt and sure to make; who test our words -however clear, and good, and sweet by that which they have such abundant means of ascertaining in our daily ways. An inconsistent walk makes a coward, at least, before "our friends." It would be well if it really had the effect of humbling us before all. Were there genuine lowliness with fidelity before God, there would be courage, not only before strangers, but before "our friends." Here, however, the point simply amounts to this: The Lord would spread the message of grace, would send him to make it known to his friends; for it was clearly they who had best known in his case the awful and degrading power of Satan. They would, of course, be most interested in the men who were his familiars; and therefore there were special reasons, I doubt not, for it. For us, too, it is a good thing to bear it in mind. Not that a saved soul should only go to his friends; but it remains ever true and good that the secret of grace in the heart should send us to our friends, to make it known to those who have known our folly and sins, that they may hear of the mighty Saviour we have found. "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him."
How sweet this identification of "Jesus" with "the Lord." "How great things the Lord hath done for him." The Saviour put it forth in the most general way, I believe, in uttering these words without special allusion to Himself. The man, on the other hand, I cannot doubt, was perfectly right. How often, when it may appear that there is a want of literal exactitude, in interpreting "the Lord" of "Jesus," there is in truth a better carrying out of the mind of God. Mere literalism would have held slavishly to the letter of the Lord's language. But oh how much deeper, and, withal, more glorifying to God it was, when the man saw underneath that great mystery of godliness the Lord in the servant's garb. He who was pleased to take the form of a servant was none the less the Lord. "He went and told how great things Jesus had done for him."
Then follows the account of the Jewish ruler of the synagogue, who fell at the feet of Jesus, and besought Him greatly to heal his dying daughter. Having dwelt on the scene elsewhere, I need say the less here. The Lord goes with him, intimating His specified ministry in Israel a work which goes down to the reality of death, under which they would be shown really to lie. But the Shepherd of Israel could raise from the dead. This seems to be the bearing of the case before us, and not a mere general inroad upon Satan's power, which became the occasion and justification, if one may so speak, of carrying victoriously the glad tidings of God's kingdom and goodness to man. This was true of the Lord's ministry even while on the earth, the place where Satan reigns. His temptation in the wilderness proved Him stronger than the strong man, and therefore He spoils his goods, delivering the poor victims of Satan, and making them to be the captors of him whose captives they were. But here we find that his heart, far from being turned away from Israel, yearned over their need, deep as it was. The call of Jairus is no sooner made than He goes to answer it. He alone could wake out of death's sleep the daughter of Zion; yet, ineffable grace! while on the road He is open to everybody. In the throng through which He had to pass was a woman having an issue of blood. It was a desperate case; for she had suffered much, and tried many physicians in vain. Such is the hapless lot of man away from God; human aid avails not. Where is the man who has had to do with what is in the world, and would not at once acknowledge the justice of the picture, the powerlessness of man in the presence of the deepest wants? But this was just the opportunity for One who, even as man ministering here below, wielded the power of God in His love. Jesus was the true and unfailing servant of God; and the woman, instead of seeking good from man as he is, and thus suffering more and more by the very efforts made to benefit her, unseen in the press behind, touches the garment of Jesus. "For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she wad healed of that plague." To have banished her ailment would have been too little for Jesus; for He is a perfect Saviour, and therefore is a Saviour not only for the body that had suffered so long, but for the soul's affections and peace. She got a better blessing than she sought. He not only staunched the issue of blood, but filled her trembling heart with confidence instead of the fear that had possessed her before. Nothing would have been morally right had she gone away with the reflection that she had stolen some virtue from Jesus. Emphatically banishing, then, all dread from her spirit, He says to her, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague." That is, He seals to her with His mouth the blessing which, as it were, her hand would else have seemed to have taken surreptitiously from Him.
Then, in the end of the chapter, the Lord is in the presence of death; but He will not allow death to abide His presence. "The damsel," said He, (and how true it was!) "is not dead, but sleepeth." Just so the Spirit says believers are asleep; as, "Those that sleep in Jesus God brings with him." Here typically Israel is viewed according to the mind of God. Unbelief may weep, and wail, and create all sorts of tumult, and with little feeling after all; for it can equally even then laugh Jesus to scorn. But as for Him, He suffers none to enter but chosen ones Peter, and James, and John, alone, with the parents. "And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn." So the Lord takes the damsel by the hand, after He had turned the others out, and straightway at His word she arises, and walks. "And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat." Why in this gospel more than any other does the Lord Jesus thus enjoin silence? I conceive it is because Mark's is the gospel of service. The truth is, brethren, service is not a thing to be trumpeted by those engaged in it, or their friends. Whatever is from God, and is done toward God, may be safely left to tell its own tale. It is what God gives and does, not what man says, that is the real point of holy service. Observe here, too, how the Lord, at least, perfect in every thing, not only does the work, but besides tenderly cares for her. There is the considerate goodness of the Lord to be remarked, that "something should be given her to eat." In every matter, even in what might seem the smallest, Jesus took an interest. Thus He bore in mind that the maiden had been in this state of trance, and was exhausted. Whatever be the occasion that calls it forth, is it not the greatest of all things for our hearts to know how Jesus cares for us?
In Mark 6:1-56 we have our Lord again now thoroughly despised. Here He is "the carpenter." It was true; but was this all? Was it "the truth?" Such was man's estimate of the Lord of glory; not merely the carpenter's son, but here, and here only, He is Himself the carpenter, "the son of Mary, and the brother of James, and Joses, and Judah, and Simon. Are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." Beautifully, too, you may remark that, where there was this unbelief, our Lord would not remove it by dazzling feats of power, because there would have been no moral worth in a result so produced. He had given already abundant signs to unbelief; but men had not profited by them, neither was the word that He spake mixed with faith in them that heard it. The consequence is, that "He could there do no mighty work;" as here only it is recorded yes, of the man before whom no power of Satan, no disease of man, nothing above, or below, or beneath, could prove the very smallest difficulty. But God's glory, God's will governed all; and the display of perfect power was in perfect lowliness of obedience. Therefore this blessed One could there do no mighty work. It is needless to say that it was no question of power as to Himself. It was not in any wise that His saving arm was shortened; not that there was no virtue in Him longer, but there was the lovely blending of the moral glorifying of God with all that was wrought for man. In other words, we have not here the mere setting forth of the power of Jesus, but the gospel of His ministry. Therefore it is a weighty part of this, that because of unbelief He could do no mighty work there. He was really serving God; and if man only was seen, not God, no wonder that He could do no mighty work there. Thus, that which at first sight seems strange, the moment you take it in connection with the object of God in what He is revealing, all becomes striking, plain, and instructive.
And now He proceeds to act upon that appointment of the twelve, whom we saw, in Mark 3:1-35, He had ordained. "He called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth." It was in presence of the thorough contempt which had just shown itself that He gives them their mission. It was only when the extremest scorn fell on Him, so that He could do no mighty work there. He replies, as it were, in the most gracious and also conclusive manner, that it was from no lack of virtue, because He sends them two and two on their new and mighty errand. He that could communicate power, then, to a number of men the twelve to go forth and do any mighty work, certainly did not Himself want intrinsic energy, nor was it from any want of power to draw upon in God. Jesus invests them with His own power, as it were, and sends them out in all directions as witnesses, but witnesses of the ministry of Jesus. They were servants called after His own fashion; and so He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; they were to go forth in the faith of His resources. Therefore, anything of human means would have been contrary to the very intention. In a word, we must remember that this was a special form of service suitable to that moment, and, in point of fact, rescinded by our Lord afterwards in very important particulars. In the gospel of Luke, we have carefully given us the change that takes place when the Lord's hour was come. It was not only that it was an hour come for Him, but it was a crisis for them, too. They had thenceforward to encounter a great change, because of the character of utter rejection, and, indeed, of suffering, on which the Lord was entering. He therefore cast them upon the ordinary resources of faith, using such things as they had; but as yet it was not so. On the contrary, the witnesses of Jesus to Israel were then going forth. It was in the face of unbelief against Himself, but unbelief answered by the fresh outflow of grace on His part, sending out messengers with extraordinary powers from Himself all over the land. And so He told them where to go, and "what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent" a very important feature here added. John preached repentance; Jesus preached repentance, as did these apostles. And be assured, beloved friends, that repentance is an eternal truth of God for this time as much as for any other. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that the change of dispensation weakens (I will not say merely the place of repentance for every soul that is brought to God, but) the duty of preaching repentance. We are not to leave it after a perfunctory sort, contenting ourselves with the assurance, that if a person believes, he is sure to repent; we ought to preach repentance, as well as to look for repentance in those who profess to have received the gospel. At any rate, it is equally clear that the Lord preached it, and that the apostles were to do and did the same. "They preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them."
Then we have Herod appearing upon the scene; and Herod, I take it, represents in Israel the power of the world its usurping power, if you please. However this be, there he was in point of fact, the holder of the world's power in the land, and ever, though not without qualms and struggles in the end, thoroughly opposed to the testimony of God. He was really hostile to it, not merely in its fullest forms, but at bottom also, in its first appearance and most elementary presentation. He had no love for the truth; he might like the man who preached it well enough, and at first hear him gladly; he might have many anxieties about his soul before God, and know perfectly well that he was doing wrong in his ordinary life; but, still, the devil managed to play the game so well, that although there was personal affection, or respect, at least, for the servant of God, the disastrous end comes, as it always will, when there is a fair trial in this world. No respect, no kindly feeling for any one or anything that is of God, will ever stand when Satan is allowed to work, and is thus free to accomplish his own deadly plan of ruining or thwarting the testimony of God. This is what those engaged in the ministry of Christ must expect to see attempted, and will do well to resist. If this be the point, as I apprehend, the reason of its introduction here is not obscure. The Lord was sending out these chosen vessels. In the presence of this new action of His in the work, we learn how the world feels about it; not merely the ignorant world, nor the religious parties with their chiefs, but the highly cultivated profane world. And this is the way in which they treat it. They have the outward power which Satan finds means to make them use. They kill the witness of God. It may be only a wicked woman who stirs them up to do the deed; but be not deceived. It was not a question of Herodias merely. She was but the tool by which the devil brought it about: he has his own particular way; and in this case we have not only the circumstances, solemn as they are, but the spring of all in the opposition of Satan to God's testimony. The issue of it is, that if wicked men have power to kill, even if reluctant, he whose they are somehow compels them to use their power, when the opportunity arises. Fear of man, and notions of honour, are strong where God is unheeded: what may not follow where there is no conscience? That old serpent can manage to entrap the most prudent, just as Herod here fell into the trap. For his word to a wicked woman, passed in presence of his lords, John's head was struck off, and produced in a charger.
The apostles come to our Lord after their mission, and tell Him the result of their mission; or as it is said here, "told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught." It was not very safe ground: it were better to have spoken of what He had taught, and what He was doing. As, however, the Lord corrects all most graciously, He takes them away into a desert place, and there He is found unwearied in His love. A hungry multitude was there. These disciples, only a little while before so full of what they had taught, and what they had done was it not a worthy emergency for their labours now? Could they not help in the present distress? They seem not so much as to have thought of it. Alone, at any rate, in this scene, our Lord Jesus brings out in the plainest possible manner their utter failure. Mark the lesson well. It is especially, when there was somewhat of boastfulness, after they had been occupied with their own doings and teachings. Then it is that we find them thus powerless. They were at their wits' ends. They did not know what to do. Strange to say, they never thought of the Lord; but the Lord thought of the poor multitudes, and in His richest grace not only spread a table and fed the people, but makes the feeble disciples themselves to be the dispensers of His bounty, as afterwards they must gather up what remained.
After this, again, we find them exposed to a storm, and the Lord, joining them in their troubles, brings them safely, and at once, to the desired haven. Therein follows the scene of joy where Jesus is recognized, and the abundant blessing that attended His every footstep where He moved. As surely as Jesus thus blessed the poor world then, such and far more will He prove Himself at His return after the world will have done its worst. I do not doubt that this carries us to the end, when the Lord Jesus will rejoin His people after their manifold and sore troubles, after all their proved weakness, as well as exposure to outward storms. As He was in the place He had visited, so He will be in the universal diffusion of power and blessing, when the tempest-tossed disciples shall have come safe to land.
Mark 7:1-37. But then there is another view necessary also in connection with ministry; we need to learn the prevalent feeling of the religious powers. Accordingly we have the traditionist in collision with Christ, as we had in the last chapter Herod with John the Baptist. Here it is the accredited leaders from Jerusalem, the scribes, before whom our Lord brings the most convincing evidence, that the principle and practice of their cherished traditions demoralise man and dishonour the word of God. The reason of the evil is manifest it is from man. This is enough; for man is a sinner. There is nothing really good but what is from God. Show me anything from fallen man which is not evil. Tradition, as being man's supplement, is always and necessarily evil. The Lord puts it together with what He afterwards brings out the condemnation of man's heart in all its depravity. There it is not only the mind of man, but the working of his corrupt feelings. This is not the time to dwell on this well known chapter, and the contrast it furnishes of Christ's display of God's all-perfect grace toward the greatest possible need the woman who came to Him on account of her demoniac daughter. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by nation, who besought Him to cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But the Lord, trying her faith in order to give her a richer blessing, not only accomplishes what she desires, but puts the seal of His approval in the most striking manner upon her personal faith. "And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."
Next we come to another tale, finishing the chapter, and strikingly characteristic of our gospel the case of one deaf and dumb, whom Jesus met as He departed from these quarters into Galilee. "And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him." Here again the Lord shows us a beautiful sample of considerateness and tender goodness in the manner of His cure. It is not only the cure, but the manner of it, that we have so strikingly brought out here. Our Lord takes the man aside from the multitude. Who could intermeddle with that scene between the perfect servant of God and the needy one? "He puts his fingers into his ears." What would He not do to prove His interest? "And he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed." As He weighed the distressing results of sin, what a burden was upon His heart! It is a particular instance of the great truth we saw in Matthew the other night. With Jesus it was never bare power relieving man, but always His spirit entering into the case, feeling its character in God's sight, and its sad consequences for man too. The whole was borne upon His heart, and so, as here, He sighs, and bids the ears be opened. "And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well." Such might be the motto of Mark. The utterance of the multitude, of those that saw the fact, is just what is illustrated throughout the entire gospel. "He hath done all things well." It was not only that there was the power fully adequate to accomplish all He undertook, but "He hath done all things well." He is the perfect servant everywhere, and under all circumstances, whatever may be the need. "He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."
The next (Mark 8:1-38) must be our last chapter now, on which I will just say a word or two before closing. We have once more a great multitude fed; not the same, of course, as before. Here, not five thousand were fed, but four thousand; not twelve baskets of fragments remained over, but seven. There were outwardly less limits, and a less residue; but observe that seven, the normal number of perfection spiritually, is here. I consider, therefore, that contrariwise, and viewed as a figure, this was still more important than the other. There is no greater mistake in Scripture and, indeed, it is true in moral questions than to judge of things by their mere appearances. The moral bearing of anything you please is always of more importance than its physical aspect. In this second miracle the number fed was less, while the original supply was greater, yet the remainder gathered up was less. Apparently, therefore, the balance was greatly in favour of the former miracle. The truth is really this, that in the former case the intervention of men was prominent; here, though He may employ men, the great point is the perfectness of His own love, sympathy, and provision for His people, no matter what the need. It appears, therefore, that the seven has a deeper completeness than the twelve, both being significant in their place.
After this our Lord rebukes the disciples for unbelief, which comes out strongly now. The greater His love and compassion, the more perfect His care, the more painfully, alas! unbelief betrays itself even in the disciples, and yet more in others. But our Lord performs another cure, the record of which is peculiar to Mark. At Bethsaida, a blind man was brought. The Lord, for the express purpose, it seems to me, of showing the patience of ministry according to His mind, first touches his eyes, when partial sight follows. The man confesses in reply, that "he saw men like trees walking;" and the Lord applies His hand a second time. The work is done perfectly. Thus, not only did He heal the blind, but He did it well a further illustration of what has been already before. us. If He puts His hand to accomplish, He does not take it away until all is complete, according to His own love. The man then saw with perfect distinctness. Thus all is in season. The double action proved the good Physician; as His acting so effective, whether by word or hand, whether by one application or by two, proved the great Physician.
The close of the chapter begins to open the faith of Peter in contrast with the unbelief of men, and even with what had been working among the disciples before. Now, things were hurrying on rapidly to the worst. Peter's confession was therefore the more seasonable. The account differs very strikingly from what is found in Matthew. Peter is represented by Mark as saying simply, "Thou art the Christ;" while in Matthew the words are, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" "Hence you have no such thing in Mark as, "Upon this rock I will build my church." The Church is built not exactly on the Christ or Messiah as such, but on the confession of "the Son of the living God." Hence we may see how beautifully the omissions of Scripture hang together. The Holy Ghost inspired Mark to notice no more than a part of the confession of Peter, and thus there is only a part of the blessing mentioned by our Lord. The highest homage to our Lord in Peter's confession being omitted, the great change then at hand, which displays itself in the building of the Church, is consequently quite left out of Mark. There our Lord simply charges them that they were not to tell any man of Him,. the Christ. What an end of the testimony of His presence! The reason, too, is most affecting: "The Son of man must suffer many things," etc. Such is the portion of Him, the true servant. He is the Christ, but it is no use to tell the people so any more; they have heard often, and will not believe it. Now He is going to enter upon another work: He is going to suffer. It is His portion. "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
After this point, He begins, in view of the transfiguration, to announce His approaching death. He gives it most circumstantially. He would guard His servants from supposing that He was in any wise taken by surprise by His death. It was an expected thing. It was what He knew, perfectly and circumstantially, before the elders and scribes did. The very people that were going to cause it knew nothing about it. They planned rather the reverse of the actual circumstances of His death. Still less did they know anything about His resurrection; they did not believe it when it came to pass; the Jews covered it up by a lie. But Jesus knew all about both, and now first breaks the tidings to His disciples, intimating that their path must lie through the same pathway of suffering. Christ's suffering is here viewed as the fruit of the sin of man, which accounts for the fact, that there is not a word said about atonement here. There never was a greater misconception in looking at Scripture than to limit our Lord's sufferings to atonement: I mean upon the cross, and in death. Certainly, atonement was the deepest point in the sufferings of Christ, and one can understand how even Christians are apt to overlook all else in atonement. The reason why believers make atonement everything is because they make themselves everything. But if they were not unbelieving believers, they would see that there is a great deal more in the cross than the atonement; and surely they would not think less of Jesus if they were to see more the extent of His grace, and the profundity of His sufferings. Our Lord does not speak of His death here as. expiating sins. In Matthew, where He speaks of giving His life a ransom for many, of course there is atonement substantially. Christ expiates their sins, and this I call atonement. But here, where He speaks of being killed by men, is that atonement? It is painful that Christians should be so shut up and confused. Were not God dealing in judgment with the Saviour of sinners, there would have been no atonement. His rejection by men, though taken from God, is not the same thing. And, beloved friends, this is a more important and more practical question than many might be apt to think; but I must defer further remarks for the present. We have before us a new subject the glory which our Lord immediately after speaks of in connection with His rejection and sufferings.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Mark 6:27". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/mark-6.html. 1860-1890.
the Fifth Week after Epiphany