The book of Mark is all about learning WHO Jesus is, about learning the identity of Jesus. It’s a book written to Gentiles that didn’t grow up with a Jewish foundation to help (or sometimes hinder) their understanding of who the Messiah is. It’s written at a time when Jesus’ followers are under extreme persecution. It’s the stories of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, as told to Mark, a follower of Jesus who traveled with Peter and Paul, sharing who Jesus was with the community.u
We’ve read and talked about the stories of Jesus' ministry, starting with John the Baptizer. He announced the Kingdom of God was near, preached repentance and baptism to the Jewish people, and then baptized Jesus before Jesus began His public ministry in the Galilee region. We’ve seen miracles of people being healed; we’ve seen His authority when He teaches; we’ve seen the religious authorities questioning Him and being cynical of who Jesus is and what His intentions are; and we’ve seen the disciples following Jesus, asking questions, trying to understand Jesus’ parables and the meaning of all that He has done.
And today we’re going to see Jesus trusting the disciples and sending them out without fully understanding who Jesus is. They were unprepared but taught to trust in God.
Today we’re going to start with some fun conversations about being unprepared. We have lots of expressions for feeling unprepared and/or overwhelmed: thrown into the deep end of the pool. drinking from a firehose, having to hit the ground running, experiencing the School of Hard knocks, feeling Imposter Syndrome.
Or maybe you thought you were prepared–and it turns out you weren’t. Maybe a teacher doesn’t quite have their lesson plan figured out. Maybe you’re in a hurry to get to work or school drop-off (or anywhere) and you realize your car is covered in snow or ice. Maybe at church, the person leading worship forgets the lyrics or the melody…
Share a time you felt unprepared. How did being unprepared make you feel?
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:7-13)
We’re just stepping out of Nazareth–where Jesus was from, His family and community. They didn’t really believe in who He said He was, so Jesus left there and went to the other towns and villages teaching and began focusing on empowering the 12 disciples. He sent them out 2 by 2 (never do ministry alone–that’s a lesson I’m always learning!). He gave them authority over impure spirits. He told them to travel light and to stay at the same person’s home–not going from house to house looking for a more comfortable place to stay or being like religious philosophers begging from house to house–they shouldn’t be/look greedy. And if they were rejected, they were to shake the sand off their feet and move on.
Up to this point we haven’t heard much about the disciples in Mark, but we know that the disciples are still discovering the identity of Christ:
“Who is this, that the wind and waves listen to him?” (Mark 4:41)
They know He’s a prophet. Yhey know He’s a teacher. But they don’t know ALL that Jesus is.
This is like a faith immersion school. They don’t know fully who Jesus is, but He still sends them out, giving them authority over unclean spirits and trusting them to share their own stories of who Jesus was.
Share about a time you felt empowered.
The disciples have to go out unprepared. They are asked to have faith, trusting that God is going to provide for them. We can’t build faith without a moment of being unprepared. Faith is trusting that something or someone is going to come through for you.
What helps you build trust in someone or something?
King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)
Again Mark uses this story-within-a-story framework. This time while Jesus is sending out the disciples, a tragedy is starting to unfold. While the disciples are trying to understand who Jesus is, the people in the community are ALSO trying to figure out who Jesus is: is He Elijah? Or another prophet from the Old Testament? Even John the Baptist, the one sent to prepare the way for Jesus, wonders (in Matthew 11:2-6), “Are you the one who was to come? Or should we look for another?”
And then we have King Herod, the leader of this community who also beheaded John the Baptist. He thought Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated.
A few King Herod facts: Herod was not actually a king–he was the leader of that community. He followed Mosaic Law and yet he broke that law by marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias.
John the Baptist told Herod this was wrong, which upset Herod, but it REALLY upset his wife Herodias, and she was looking for a moment to have him killed. Her chance came at Herod’s birthday when his stepdaughter (Herodias’s daughter) came to dance seductively for him, his officials, the military commanders, and the leading men of Galilee. And Herod was so pleased by this dance that he told her, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom!”
Herodias told her daughter to ask for “the head of John the Baptist.” Immediately Herod sent an executioner, who returned with John’s head on a platter and presented it to the daughter, who gave it to Herodias.
And here in this moment, when Jesus had just sent out the disciples, they were just learning of John the Baptist’s death. They had just gone out, doing what John the Baptist had been doing. They had just stepped out in faith, unprepared, and John the Baptist was beheaded–doing what they were JUST doing.
Calling John the Baptist's death a distraction or even just a discouragement feels like it diminishes the reality of this situation. This moment is really a tragedy of losing the person that was preparing the way for Jesus. It’s a tragedy of losing a family member. It’s a tragedy of a brutal murder. It’s a tragedy of losing a leader in their faith.
It is also a discouraging moment. It’s seeing what could be your own future, your own consequences for following Jesus.
The disciples are starting out on this new adventure. They are following in Jesus’ footsteps; they’re doing what they feel called to do. And it’s exciting. They are full of life and energy. They are ready to go! Then BAM out of left field, tragedy strikes. A HUGE slap in the face.
Really a terrifying slap in the face. The religious leaders already hate Jesus; they probably aren’t big fans of the disciples. Now the leader of the area is also killing fellow believers. And they are questioning, “Will we be next?”
John’s death should be a complete derailing of the disciples. Reality hits. Jesus doesn’t just send the disciples out and things go great. Things actually are terrible.
Do you ever feel like you are on the right path and things just go wrong? You feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing and everyone is mad at you or you lose a loved one or everything starts breaking (your car, your appliances, your relationships) or suddenly you have health problems…
Share about a time where it felt like everything was going really well and then the worst happened. What happens to faith when tragedy strikes?
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6:30-44)
So, the disciples have been sent out not fully knowing who Jesus is but telling people that the Kingdom of God has come, like John the Baptist did. Then tragedy struck and they all experienced the loss of John. And here we are now, where the disciples have returned to Jesus. They come and tell Jesus all they had happened after He sent them out.
And they try to retreat and have a time of rest and reflection and mourning after all that has happened, but the crowd sees them and comes from all over to be where they are going, before they even get there. There is no time for rest or time to mourn.
But when Jesus saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He taught them all day, to the point where the disciples thought they should be sent home for dinner, but Jesus had something else in mind. He told the disciples to feed them, but they obviously pushed back: “Come on! That would be a year’s worth of wages, Jesus!” Which is entertaining, because we’ve seen all that Jesus has done: He’s healed people, He’s brought people back to life, and the disciples are thinking, this is too much, we can’t feed all these people!
But Jesus took the little food they had–5 loaves and two fish–and He prayed and blessed God, then divided it up to feed more than 5,000 people.
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:45-50)
The crowd is fed, everyone is happy, and Jesus and the disciples are finally going to have a moment of peace–the time they were looking for before feeding the 5,000–a time to mourn, a time to reflect. Jesus sends the disciples out on the boat ahead of Him while He dismisses the crowd and goes up the mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the disciples are in the boat on the water struggling to row because the wind was against them. Jesus, just before dawn, comes out to them by walking on the water–and the disciples are shocked! They scream; they think it’s a ghost! He tells them not to be afraid and climbs in the boat and the wind calms down. The disciples are amazed–they still don’t understand all that has happened or fully know who He is.
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:53-56)
They finally landed. They had a full night of rest and peace. But the crowds found Him, coming from all over, bringing their sick, begging Him to let them touch His cloak–and all who touched it were healed.
Again, the disciples and Jesus are thrown right back into ministry. There’s not a moment to rest. There’s no time to reflect. I think it’s easy to feel this internal pressure or confusion–Are we supposed to just ignore our pain and just keep going? Are we supposed to imitate Jesus’ response in this moment, just look past our own tragedies and keep moving forward? Where Jesus felt compassion, what would be my response to seeing this crowd on the shore, when I’m trying to get away?
This moment isn’t necessarily a moment for us to figure out how we’re supposed to imitate Jesus. But it’s a moment to see who Jesus is–for us to see Jesus' character and have a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. It’s a moment for us to see how this tragedy impacts the faith of the disciples.
How do individuals find the drive to persevere through tough times?
In summary, Jesus sent the disciples out–not fully prepared and not fully knowing who He was. Jesus sent them out, telling them to trust God for all they needed, building their faith. He showed the disciples that they could trust God to meet their needs when He fed the 5,000. Jesus found a moment for them to have solitude, sending them on the boat and retreating up to the mountain. Jesus showed His power walking on the water. He had compassion in the midst of tragedy, and their faith and trust were put to the test in the midst of tragedy.
He continued to show the disciples and the people who He is: He is fully human. He feels the pain of losing John the Baptist; He longs to go off by Himself to mourn and rest. At the same time, He is fully God. He sees things differently than the rest of us; He has compassion on the people, He continues to do Kingdom of God work.
What do these stories tell us about the character of Jesus?
How can you find personal empowerment through the example of Jesus sending out His disciples?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read Mark 6.
What does faith look like to you?
Have you ever felt like you didn’t have enough or weren’t enough?
How prepared do you feel like you have to be to do new things?
How do you handle tough emotions or circumstances, like grief?
What circumstances have helped you grow in your faith?
What steps can you take to trust in Jesus more and grow in your faith?
How do you feel like God empowers you to do hard things and grow in faith?
Bible Reading Plan
- Matthew 9
- Matthew 10
- Mark 6
- Luke 9
- John 6
- Matthew 14