Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Follow Me"...With the Power of God

Although the gospels provide many different aspects to Jesus life, two stories which are among the most well-known are the Feeding of the 5000 (men), and His walking on water. In this post, Rick looks at how the power of God provided for each of those miracles and the healings which immediately followed.

Part 1 – Power for Ministry

Most of us have heard of the word “ministry” but what does it mean? From the first part of our text today (Mark 6.30-44), we will discover what ministry means from a practical application.

Ministry is work.  Mark 6.30-31.

“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.’”

Why is the ministry work?

We are told in Scripture that the followers of Jesus were so busy with people coming and going to hear the words being told to them that they did not even have time to eat. With so many people coming and going this tells us that some of the people were receptive to the word while others were not. (Whenever you meet this kind of challenge, ministry is hard work.)

Ministry is everywhere.  Mark 6.32-33.

“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.”

Ministry has a way of finding us. A need will recognize the need filler. The people were needy and Jesus was the need filler. Jesus as much as said this himself when he said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Ministry is heart-felt.  Mark 6.34.

“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.”

Ministry is an issue of the heart whether it is ministry unto God or man but how do we get a heart for ministry?  The obvious answer is you pray for a heart for ministry but is this, the correct answer? Is there a calling from God?

Allowing God’s power to take control of our ministry, gives us that heart for ministry. Man alone does not have the heat for ministry, it is by God living in and taking up residence in our heart that gives us a true open heart for God’s work.

Ministry is anytime.  Mark 6.35-36.

“When the disciples thought this had gone on long enough–it was now quite late in the day–they interrupted: ‘We are a long way out in the country, and it is very late. Pronounce a benediction and send these folks off so they can get some supper.’”

As far as the disciples were concerned this ministry was going on far too long. They were tired and I think felt that people were in some ways taking advantage of them. A little later they will say it is also far too expensive. They knew that the people were going to need to eat and they had nothing to offer them.

Ministry is personal.  Mark 6.37-38.

“But he answered, you give them something to eat.”
  • The disciples were sure that the answer to meeting the needs of the multitude was to send them to someone else but Jesus put the responsibility back on the church.
  • There will always be those who will ask how much it is going to cost if they were to get involved but the real question should be who is going to help.
  • If we were honest we would rather talk about our rights as Christians rather than our responsibilities as Christians.

Ministry is giving.  Mark 6.38.

“How many loaves of bread do you have? Take an inventory. That didn’t take long.” “‘Five,’” they said, “‘plus two small fishes.’”
  • We can only give what we have. Jesus said, “take an inventory.” An inventory is a list of what you have, not what you have not.  Jesus wanted his followers to see with their eye exactly what they had. 
  • We don’t have to have a lot. Seeing only with their eyes they determined that they had very little.
  • We are encouraged not to hold anything back. Notice he only asked about the loaves. He said nothing about the fish. Jesus had a plan to show the power of God, because he saw through the open eyes of god not the closed eyes of man.

Ministry is unifying.  Mark 6.39-40.

“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.”

Ministry is about bringing people together. Jesus is about to unite thousands of people, through the power of God.

Ministry is God-Centered.  Mark 6.41.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the bread.”

Many times we are hindered by our lack of resources. Or what we believe is our lack of resources. But we have to look up. God is able. (Through his word we have at our command the resources and power of the kingdom.)

Ministry is satisfying.  Mark 6.42.

“They all ate and were satisfied.”

Jesus did two miracles. There was the miracle of Quantity and there was the miracle of Quality. Not only was there enough bread and fish but surely it was the best bread and fish. What limits can be put on God? Only the limits that we place on him ourselves. (Many times we pray for a protective hedge around us, do we limit God with something so flimsy as a hedge, why not a protective steel wall)

Ministry is growth.  Mark 6.43-44.

“and the disciples picked up twelve pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.”
  • We sit and ask ourselves if our ministry is working or is it fruitful. What does it take for us to see success in our ministry? (A farmer judges his success in crops by the harvest or the fruit that is created.  Should we not also judge our success also by the fruit and harvest?)
  • God is interested in numbers. In some ways numbers are reference points. They tell us how successful something was in relation to something else.

Part 2 – Power over Nature (Mark 6.45-42)

After feeding the masses, Jesus sends off the disciples with plans to join them later. But what they didn’t know was how!

1. Jesus took 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fishes – one little boy’s lunch as we are told in John 6:8 – and fed 5000 men, let alone women and children. Jesus did a great miracle. Jesus sent his disciples on ahead with the boat telling them, he would catch up to them later.

  • First Jesus dismissed the crowds with some final words, and then went to pray. 
  • In the meantime, the disciples head out onto the water. Soon, the disciples were in trouble. A storm had arisen, and they were in the middle of the sea. Note that Jesus did not keep them from the storm; he allowed them to enter into the storm. We all face storms and it is Jesus that calms the storms that we face. Jesus has power over the storm.

2. The disciples had been struggling for hours with the oars; Jesus came out walking on the water. They didn’t know where He had been – they probably figured off doing something else important, or not. But all along, He had been watching from where He was sitting.

3. When Jesus does show up, they don’t even recognize Him. They even think He’s a ghost. The disciples are scared; you would be too if you had just seen a ghost. When we are frightened, overwhelmed by the challenges we face, sometimes feeling like we won’t pull through.

  • Verse 48 says that he meant to pass them by. Not so that they would fail to see him, but so that they would see him walking on the water, thus giving visible evidence of his deity. Jesus has power over the water. (Compare Exodus 33.18-23 where Moses saw God’s glory as He passed by.)
  • Just as in life Jesus did not pass them by, when he saw they were in need he stopped and got in the boat with them. Jesus helped calm the storm and their fear. Jesus has power over fear.

4. The disciples had been struggling with the waves all night. They had gone through much of the storm. They had been wondering about drowning for hours. They had been wondering where Jesus was. No doubt they had prayed. And Jesus still had not shown up. Jesus did not follow any time table or was held to any time frame. He came in his own time, just in time, when he was most needed. (Where do we fall short in placing Jesus on a time table?)

Well, what’s the connection? What do multiplied loaves and calmed waters have to do with each other? In each case, the miracle simply boiled down to one thing: having our needs met. With the loaves and fishes it was the need to be fed, with the storm it was the need to be safe. In each of the two cases there was a need that needed to be met and through the power of God, and it was Jesus who met those needs. Too often, we are like the disciples – too clueless to this fact. We don’t realize that without Jesus we can do nothing, we have nothing, we are nothing.

Part 3 – Power over Sickness (Mark 6.53-56)

After the two great miracles, many will overlook the healings that are grouped together at the end of Mark 6. Like the previous miracles though, these healings represent Jesus meeting the needs of others.

The gospel records that when Jesus left the boat the people immediately recognized him. What did they recognize in Jesus?  A prophet, a healer, the Messiah, the Son of God? Certainly, the people recognized that Jesus had power from God to heal and to make whole bodies, limbs, minds, and hearts that were beset with disease, affliction, and sin.  What happened when they pressed upon him and touched the fringe of his garment?  They were made well. Jesus is ever ready to meet our needs as well. The approached Him expecting to be healed and they were. Do we come to Jesus expectantly? However, these people barely knew Jesus compared to the disciples. Going back to Part 2 the disciples did not recognize Jesus when they saw him from the boat. Jesus a man they had spent time with and had chosen to follow, yet they did not recognize him. However, the strangers on the shore new Jesus the second they saw him.


The JOURNEY letter for this week is J – Jesus. In each story it is important to note the reaction of those around Him – particularly the disciples. But Jesus is who He is whether people recognize Him or not. And Jesus does what Jesus does whether people understand Him or not. That is His privilege in being God. However, Jesus is not a distant God who flaunts His power. Instead, He is compassionate and loving to use His power to provide for us in order that He may be glorified.

OPPORTUNITY: Follow Jesus in meeting the needs of others with the power of God leading the way.


1. Effective ministry involves everyone, not just for the leader.
2. Effective ministry is meeting a person’s needs at the right time in the right way.
3. Effective ministry means knowing Jesus not just being around Him.
4. Effective ministry requires trusting Jesus to do what only He can do.


Learn: Consider which principle is most important for your focus at this time in your life.  Meditate and dwell on it for a couple of days.
Live: After reflecting on the one principle you chose, consider how you might put that principle into action.
Love: How might that principle become part of your everyday life as you love God and love others?
Lead: How might you help others instill a strong mindset based upon the principle you chose?

"Do You Need Rest?", A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Do you need rest?

Key Scripture: “And the apostles gathered together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” – Mark 6:30-31

Remember back in verse 7 of this chapter, Jesus sent out the twelve. In verses 12-13, they preached, cast out devils, and healed people.

  • “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;” – Mark 6:7
  • “And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” – Mark 6:12-13

Can you imagine how excited these twelve apostles must have been when they came back? Imagine the stories they must have told. They would have been excited to report to Jesus and their fellow disciples, probably comparing notes. They had seen Jesus work these miracles and were amazed. They were probably more amazed that they were doing the same things on their own.

But they weren’t on their own. God’s power was within them. 

Looking at the first part of verse 30, we see that “the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus.” This shows us that in the midst of the business and the busyness, they were still accountable to Jesus alone. As the disciples had greater demands, their need to be alone with Jesus was greater. Even Jesus knew it was important to be alone with His Father.

“And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest awhile: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” – Mark 6:31

Does that last part sound familiar? Remember Mark 3:20? “And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.”

What is interesting here is Jesus calls his disciples to a desert place. Not to a home, not to a motel, not to an oasis, but a desert place. The desert place was probably on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was not a desert; the expression means “a deserted place, a wilderness.”

After the stress and strain of their preaching tour, the disciples needed to rest a while. They should not have expected to rest long, but could only catch their breath before getting back to work.

Like the disciples, we also need rest. Remember, Jesus is always concerned about our physical needs as well as our spiritual needs.

Let’s look at two other interesting verses. 

  • “And straightway 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.” – Mark 6:45
  • “And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore.” – Mark 6:53

Bible scholars are uncertain about the location of Bethsaida and if it is identical with Bethsaida Julias, a city northeast of Capernaum, built by Philip the Tetrarch. Some scholars conjecture the existence of a western Bethsaida as a kind of fishing suburb of Capernaum, distinguishable from Bethsaida Julias. The other area mentioned in these verses is Gennesaret. Also called Gennesar, it is a fertile plain about one mile wide and three miles long on the northwest corner on the Sea of Galilee.

The disciples set out for Bethsaida but arrived at Gennesaret. Mark does not explain why the boat came to Gennesaret rather than Bethsaida. One explanation is that the disciples set out to cross the bay and were blown off course towards the sea. This would take them to the western shore at Gennesaret.

Has your life ever been blown off course?

Maybe your life was blown off course by a literal storm. Maybe you were traveling and had to take a detour. Maybe you were pursuing a particular job but that door was closed and you ended up with a different job. Or perhaps you wanted to locate to a particular part of the country and ended up living in a different place. Whatever the situation that turned your life in a different direction, you may have found out why, later in life.

Remember that God is in control. Remember that He cares about your physical, mental, emotional, and especially your spiritual needs!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Persevere

In May of 2015, I preached a sermon series on the change in culture that was coming our way. The series was to help us consider where the world was heading and to be prepared to make the necessary choice to live for Jesus no matter what might come. The series titled was Coming Soon.” And the messages were about our need to “Engage the World,” “Confront Christians,” “Persecution,” and our need “Choose This Day” (each of those being the title for the respective message). Fifteen months later, and those messages continue to be true and our need to persevere is greater than ever.

A recent article in The Pathway speaks of:
  • the new law in Russia which prohibits sharing the gospel unless it is at a government-approved site. Doing so anywhere else is considered terrorist activity.
  • a certain province in China, students cannot go to college unless they stop going to church. Parents can also be sued for taking their children to church.
  • any Christian orphanage or boarding school in Nepal that has any Christian booklet in it will be shut down. Note, this is a Christian orphanage or boarding school. And it isn’t multiple – just one book can shut them down.

Your first thought may be that these places just don’t embrace Christians at all. But the truth is that each of these nations have laws in place to protect religious liberty – just like we do in our Constitution. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, a Satanist, or have any other set of beliefs, you are guaranteed the right to assemble and the freedom to choose your religion. Or at least we were guaranteed. What has happened in other countries is now happening in America. Just this week, the governor of Illinois signed a bill that forces Christian doctors to provide counsel for abortions. Being pro-choice is one thing; being pro-abortion is another. In addition, religious liberty is threatened in Iowa by a recent law that will require churches to allow anyone to use any restroom.

Let me remind you that the model prayer says, “Thy Kingdom Come”… not, “Take us to heaven.” What are we doing to make God’s Kingdom come – especially in the face of adversity? Well, the challenge is that people know that Christians are to turn the other cheek, so they can prey upon us…or so they think. The truth is that we are to turn the other cheek, but we are not to turn a blind eye. Sin is sin, and we are to confront it, no matter the cost. And that leads to the passage for this post.

A Story About John

This week’s message is really about three individuals and none of them are Jesus. In fact, this is one of only two places in Mark’s account of the gospel where Jesus is not the focal part of the story. Both of those places are about John – Mark 1.2-8 and Mark 6.14-29. Rick gave some information on two of the main characters earlier,  Herod Antipas and Herodias. (Herodias daughter plays a crucial role in the story, but is not one of the top three characters here.) I am going to focus on the third main character – who does nothing in this story, and yet it is very much about him. The name John. But we know him as John the Baptist, or as I like to call him, because he was not of the Baptist denomination – John the baptizer, for that is what he did. But John did more than baptize. He preached repentance. In fact, that is why he baptized. He baptized people when they repented of their sins. And that is what put John in jail.

An Unpopular Message

Near the beginning of this series, we saw that Jesus was baptized by John. Shortly afterward, John was arrested. The Greek word used there (paradidomi) means to hand over, so it has a sense of betrayal to it, much like Jesus also being handed over in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Why was he handed over? Verse 17 gives us the answer– for the sake of Herod’s wife, Herodias. Herod divorced his wife to take Herodias, who also was married. Notice John’s words in verse 18, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” As a woman, the law said that Herodias could not divorce her husband, so she used her Roman citizenship to do this. But Herod still could not have married her because of God’s command from Leviticus (18.13). An exception was granted to take a brother’s wife, but only after the husband had died! So Herodias held a grudge and wanted John dead, but Herod liked to listen to John and he feared the people (Matthew 14.5).

The statement in Mark 6.20 mentions that Herod “heard him gladly.” We should note the consistency of the parables in Mark 4. Here, Herod is like the soil sown on rocky ground. The word is received with great joy, but because a root does not develop, he falls away due to tribulation or persecution (Herod’s challenge is from his wife!). As we will soon see, Herod knew what it meant to be sorry, but he was not willing to repent.

The Vindictive Scheme

We don’t know how often John had Herod as his audience. Herod obviously knew of John prior to the arrest (v. 17 said he sent to have him seized), and still listened to him some according to verse 20. But we can surmise with some confidence that John’s message did not waver. We saw in the previous section that Herod heard him gladly, but the earlier portion of verse 20 says that Herod was also perplexed by John. Herod was baffled by what John said. Maybe it was the content, or maybe it was the reason. But Herod couldn’t understand.

Meanwhile, Herodias was still plotting.  She wanted John dead, but could not order it (v19). So she waited for an opportunity, and one arose (v. 21). (Let me pause here and share that we need to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us because the enemy is eager to make the most of evil opportunities as well.) The opportunity listed here in Mark 6 is that the top brass in the land was invited to a party – Herod’s birthday party. As a gift, Herodias sent her daughter to dance, and all were pleased. The daughter is likely about 12-14 years of age based on the terminology used and the guests would be all male (women dined separately at parties such as this, hence the daughter left the room to see her mother). So this dance is likely provocative in nature which causes Herod to make a bold promise – one-half of his kingdom. (The promise was not possible to keep because as a tetrarch he had no official kingdom.) The girl ran out, got further instructions from her mother and asked for John’s head. (Incidentally, it is reported that Nero, the Roman emperor, often had the heads of his enemies brought before him. Mark’s audience are Roman believers who would have known this well.)

Before we move on, we need to see how prevalent sin was in this culture – in this family. The sin John confronted may have been about the marriage of Herod and Herodias, but the culture of sin was deep. Consider the actions of Herodias, the mother of this girl. She is scheming to have John killed and is willing to put her own daughter in front of several men as a sex object to gain what she wants.

Like our day, sin was rampant then as well. That is why Jesus came. But God promised in the Old Testament to send one to prepare the way of the Lord. The preparer was John. He laid the foundation for Messiah to enter to the scene. That was a job not anyone could do. It would take someone special. It would take someone who was committed. And it would take someone who was willing to step aside when the time was right.

A Necessary Message

Many people today preach a gospel of prosperity. Such a name it, claim it philosophy fits American culture well. God does want us to ask, and He is a giving God, and I am convinced that often I do not receive because I have not asked. But God is not a genie, and is not concerned with just giving us stuff. The true gospel reveals a reality that being faithful to God is often contrasted with worldly success. I have said countless times, success, as measured in the Bible, is faithfulness. John was faithful and it got Him killed. That is not prosperity gospel…that is true gospel.
The entrance to John's tomb - Samaria
Inside the tomb of John - Samaria

John’s yielding to God is similar to what Paul wrote to the Philippians. Philippians 3.10-11 says, “that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” Again, where is the prosperity in that? The truth is that if any gospel is not true for everyone then it is not true for anyone. Paul wrote elsewhere that if anyone preaches a gospel other than what he preached, the guilty person (or even angel) should be cursed of God (Galatians 1.6-9). In that context he is talking about following the Law instead of Christ, but there is only one true gospel – that of Jesus Christ.

Why does this matter? Well, those, like John, who follow God will be honored by God. However, that often means being despised by man. Proclaiming God’s message is not what most people want to hear. Doing so got John killed. It got Jesus killed. All of the Old Testament prophets were killed for proclaiming God’s message as were the apostles and many others throughout history. So, why do it? Because Jesus commanded that we make disciples and to do so means we begin by sharing His message – as He said, teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded. (He didn’t say teach them all that I have commanded. He said teach them to observe which means we have to be observing as well.)

And ultimately that means that we must take the attitude of John. John was immensely popular, but in the gospel written by John the apostle, a story is told of John the baptizer when he is confronted about Jesus. John begins to exalt Christ and in the middle of his teaching says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3.30). What a great statement of humility. As popular as John was, He recognized that the One who is greater is the one who deserves the attention. At the end of this story John makes the gospel clear. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3.36). These mirror Jesus words very well from just 20 verses earlier in the apostle’s writing (John 3.16-17).

The Victorious Servant

However, just because John knew this truth does not mean that he did not have doubts. While John was in prison, as recorded by Matthew, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he really was Messiah (Matthew 11). Remember, this is the same John who saw Jesus coming to be baptized and told Jesus, “I am not worthy to baptize you, you should baptize me” (Matthew 3.14, paraphrased). Now, at the end of his life, presumably days before the story we have in Mark, John wants to be sure it was all worth it. He had been humble before God. He had sacrificed his position to serve God (remember John’s father was a priest who served in the temple (see Luke 1). But now, the very man chosen by God to “prepare the way of the Lord” was having some doubts and asking, “Was this all worth it?”

Jesus response in Matthew 11 shows us something else about John – he knew the Scriptures well. Jesus responded by speaking of things Messiah would do when He came. Jesus didn’t have to say, “Yes, it’s really me.” In essence, Jesus said, “You have heard what I do, and you know what Messiah will do, so do you believe? Do you have faith?”

As John’s disciples left, Jesus continued talking and told the crowd that John was the greatest of all who have been born among women. What he meant was of those born naturally, for Jesus was birthed by a woman, but He was born of God. But Jesus statement shows honor to John. In other words, God knew John’s importance. Jesus knew John’s importance. And nearly 2000 years later, we know of John’s importance because he followed God’s chosen path for his life (a prophet), prepared the way of the Lord (by calling for repentance), and remained humble before God despite his own popularity. His reward – not so nice clothing, a strange diet, time in jail, and being beheaded. In other words, nothing like the prosperity preached by many today. But if John were to speak to us today, I have no doubts that he would tell you it was all worth it.

The Cost of Following Jesus

The story of John is a precursor of Jesus’ death. Like John, Jesus was betrayed by a friend and arrested. He would stand before this same Herod (and Pilate) neither of whom found reason to kill Him, but ordered the death because of outside pressure. And Jesus’ disciples, like John’s would carry the message forward.

But the story of John is not only a precursor of Jesus’ death, it is a reminder to all who would dare to follow Jesus. In Rick’s post this week, he shares how this story appears as a tangent (and a flashback at that). But its placement is not by accident. This story falls between the sending of the Twelve by Jesus and their return in verse 30 to Jesus. Mark does not give us the details of their journey, but this story about John serves notice that any who go for God will face danger, persecution, and even death. We must count the cost. We must reckon our fate with John just as we reckon our life with Jesus.


The JOURNEY letter for today is: YYou.

Matthew 9.39 records Jesus as saying, “Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Herod sought gain for himself. Herod played some sort of game where he tried to appease everyone in order to gain what he wanted. Instead, he lost a great deal. Herod lost:
  • a political alliance with Aretas, the Nabataean King because he divorced his wife (Aretas’ daughter).
  • a brother and family ties because he stole the brother’s wife (Herodias).
  • favor with the Jews because he chose to kill a beloved prophet (John).
  • his power and rule because he wanted the title of “king” so he was exiled (by the Roman Emperor).
  • his life because though he was sorry, he would not repent.

Specifically on this last point, Matthew 6.26 says that Herod was exceedingly sorry, but sorry does not mean repentance! Sorry is often because we have been caught, not a recognition of a need to change. Consider a driver who is speeding. While speeding a highway patrolman comes over the hill and flashes lights and turns on the siren. The driver who is speeding hits the brakes and is sorry for going to fast. But the patrolman races by and it becomes obvious the real problem is elsewhere. Does the driver speed back up? A person who was sorry, likely does speed up. A person who is repentant does not. Herod was quite sorry, but not enough to make a change.

In contrast, let us quickly review John’s life. John gave up a lot for the sake of God, and thus He has gained more than we can imagine. John gave up:
  • his rights as the son of a priest.
  • the comforts of home (a place to live, clothes to wear, things to eat).
  • his pride to confront others.
  • his head because of the foolishness of others.

But John gained:
  • eternal peace with God.
  • a name that is still recognized around the world.

So, what are we to do with a message about a crazy king who killed a holy man because of his vindictive wife’s scheme? Well, I think the answer is that we might choose to live like John. Now, I know we are to be followers of Christ and thus should live like Him. But I would argue that John did that. In fact, as we look at the Next Steps below, I think the same words could be said of Jesus or John as well as any of the Twelve, or Paul, or countless other people throughout history. Therefore, they should certainly apply to us as well.

OPPORTUNITY: To live like John – with abandon for God. As it becomes increasingly difficult to publicly exercise our faith, living for God will draw the attention of others. Some will want to harm us, but others will be inspired. Let us be a people who inspire others for God.


Learn God’s plan for your life. He has called us all to do something. We need to discover what that something is for us and then do it.

Live what He has called you to do and proclaim His message while doing it. That plan that God has for us brings us into contact with different people in different places. But as we live out God’s purpose for our lives, we can share a similar message to all that we meet.

Love God more than yourself. Some people become popular or prominent in various ways. That was true for John, but remember John 3.30. John knew Jesus was greater and deferred to Him.

Lead others to know God by repenting of their sins and turning to Him in belief. As we saw with Herod above, being sorry is not enough. We need to repent (turn from) and then believe (turn to). As we continue to apply that principle in our lives, we need to help others do so as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Historical Context, Herod Antipas, by Rick Sons

If you have ever been in study groups or Bible studies with me you know that I like the term “Let’s chase this rabbit.”  Sometimes it is very easy to be drawn off topic when the current topic invites investigation or a possible new direction.

Even in doing the research for this teaching moment I was drawn or should I say dragged in many different directions.  At one point when I sent my outline to Pastor Andy he responded, “It looks good but have no idea where you are going with this point.” So I decided to chase a rabbit.

In reading this passage from Mark it seems he has also gone off on a rabbit chase. He leaves Jesus being shunned by his hometown to give a history lesson of John the Baptist.

With the idea of a history lesson in mind, let me give you a brief history of one of the key subjects in Mark’s rabbit chase.

Herod Antipas
Herod Antipater, known by the nickname Antipas, (born around 20 BC – died after 39 AD)

  • 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea who bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”).
  • Herod the Great's son by Malthace (Herod II was his son by Mariamne II).
  • Antipas was son of Herod the Great, king of Judea, and Malthace, from Samaria.
  • Antipas, his brother Archelaus, and his half-brother Philip were educated in Rome.
  • Named to the throne in 4 BC by Caesar Augustus upon the death of his father, Herod the Great, and subsequent political leadership or rule (not king) by his brother, Herod Archelaus.
  • Antipas was not Herod's first choice of heir. That honor fell to Aristobulus and Alexander, Herod's sons by the Hasmonean princess Mariamne.

During his fatal illness in 4 BC, Herod had a change of heart about the succession. According to the final version of his will, Antipas' elder brother Archelaus would become king of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria, and Antipas would rule Galilee and Perea with the lesser title of tetrarch. Philip was to receive Gaulanitis (the Golan Heights), Batanaea (southern Syria), Trachonitis and Auranitis (Hauran).

It was only after they were executed (c. 7 BC) and Herod's oldest son Antipater was convicted of trying to poison his father (5 BC) that the elderly Herod fell back on his youngest son Antipas, revising his will to make him heir.

The Divorce

Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, in favor of Herodias, who had formerly been married to his half-brother Herod II.

John the Baptist's condemnation of this arrangement led Antipas to have him arrested; John was subsequently put to death.

The War

The divorce of Antipas and Phasaelis added a personal grievance to previous disputes with Aretas over territory on the border of Perea and Nabatea.

The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas; a Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius but was abandoned upon the emperor's death in 37 AD.

In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.

Like father like son, Antipas feared Jesus.

Kings are known for being fierce in battle and jealous for territory. When Herod the Great learned of a rival emerging from within his own kingdom, he determined to put down any such ambitions before they materialized.

This was the setting of Matthew’s account: “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ (Matthew 2:7-8)

Some research suggests that Herod the Great and Antipas suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. This is a subtype of schizophrenia in which the patient has delusions (false beliefs) that a person or some individuals are plotting against them or members of their family.

Some research says that Antipas had so much guilt from the death of John the Baptist that he was troubled by dreams and could hear John speaking to him.

Herod Antipas met Jesus some thirty years later when Pontius Pilate transferred him as a legal relegation.

Like his father, Antipas wanted to keep what was his. When he heard of all that Jesus had been doing he thought Jesus was John the Baptist, the man he would fear most of coming back to life. Though this may seem unreasonable in retrospect, Antipas’ guilt and superstition led him to this fear.

Antipas is like many people today. They fear the opinion of people before fearing God. The only thing that kept Herod from even greater wickedness was the fear of man.

The Fox

According to Luke, Jesus referred to Antipas as the Fox.

Luke 13:31-33 “At that very hour, some Pharisees came to Jesus and told Him, ‘Leave this place and get away, because Herod wants to kill You.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Go tell that fox, ‘Look, I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach My goal.’ Nevertheless, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day, for it is not admissible for a prophet to perish outside of Jerusalem.’

When Jesus calls him “that fox,” he is not saying that he is as sly as a fox, although he might well have been. No, Jesus is actually insulting him, for a fox is an unclean animal in the Israelite belief system.

Though Antipas often tried to appear a pious Jewish leader, he had more than a few problems maintaining the loyalty of his Jewish subjects. His first problem was his authority. He had been put in power by Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, in 4 BC. Then, in 17 AD, to honor his Roman overlords, he built a grand new capital city named Tiberius, after the current emperor, only to discover that it was built on top of an old Jewish cemetery. No pious Jew ever entered it, and it was inhabited almost exclusively by Greeks and Romans.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Choose Jesus

Recently, our church has experienced God moving in some ways. We have seen an increase in baptisms and people coming to join the church. And I believe as we continue to seek what God is doing those numbers will increase. Now, I am not caught up in numbers, but when we realize that each number represents a person and each person has a soul, then the numbers do mean something.

However, a large number of souls will not seek to be a part of any congregation. Why? Because congregations are made up of people we know and people who know us. Or, at least, everyone considers that to be true. Of course, no church is perfect, but some who are not willing to enter a church building for any number of reasons, might be more willing to enter a home, even though some of the same people will be there.

Before I continue with that line of thought, let me ask the following question. How big do you think the world’s biggest church is? As of 2015, The Yoido Full Gospel Church of Korea had 480,000 members. That is down from their high mark of 830,000 members less than a decade ago. The philosophy of the pastor is to engage people in groups of ten and multiply that engagement throughout the region. Thus, at its peak, that meant approximately 83,000 small groups meeting in homes. This is a prime example of leveraging relationships and making connections with people – some of whom like us and others who are skeptical of us. No doubt that in a church of that size, most people do not know one another, but some will. More specifically, some will likely know something about others that might lead them to question a sincerity of faith. But when you take time to get to know others, you can begin to learn the truth about them (including who they are now instead of who they were then), rather than dealing with suppositions.
The likely home of Mary in Nazareth (notice steps in cave)

Such was the case in Nazareth.  This small town, with a maximum population of about 500 people in Jesus’ day, was the childhood home of Mary, and then of Jesus. According to Luke 1, it was in Nazareth that Mary was visited by the angel, 
Gabriel, who announced that she would have a child conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.26, 31, 35).
"Mary's Well" in Nazareth, where Mary would have drawn water

Principle: Even at our best, some will find the worst. (Mark 6.1-3)

Mark 6.1 says Jesus traveled to Nazareth. This visit is most likely not just a family visit, but an official one because of the mention of his disciples. Keep in mind that Jesus was travelling from Capernaum to Nazareth, which is about forty miles. I mention this because it was in Capernaum, his base for ministry, that Jesus was able to do a great deal of ministry, including miraculous healings like we saw last week. In Capernaum, everyone except the religious leaders seemed to embrace Jesus, even if only because of the miracles. So, now, after a most successful day of healing two people, He sets out for his boyhood home. Along the way, we might imagine the stories that the disciples were telling and the anticipation of meeting many of the people that would have known Jesus from an early age. But what the disciples probably didn’t know is that Jesus wasn’t the one chosen by His peers as most likely to succeed.

On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue where He would speak because He had been asked. (Due to the synagogue being closed on the day our group was there, I was unable to get any good pictures.) This obviously meant that someone knew of His abilities. The people were astonished, but not in a good way. Really, it was more of a bewilderment. “Where did this guy learn this? Isn’t He just a carpenter?” But remember, these people “knew Jesus” and His mother. The conversation probably began to be something like. “Oh yeah. That guy. The boy of Mary. You know, the one who said that God made her pregnant.”

Despite having 2000 years between then and now, some matters of the Bible can only be accepted by faith. A great deal of research and archaeology confirms the Bible, but something like the virgin birth must be understood by faith alone. Yet, even for those who embrace this truth, we must realize that Mary’s claim is preposterous in human terms. Let’s put this situation into our world today. What if a young, teenage girl came and said God made her pregnant? What, if about 30 years later, her son came and started speaking powerfully about God? Do you think some doubts might linger in people’s minds about the man’s legitimacy? Do you think that people will cast slurs on the man and the family? I know what words many might use in our day, and I am sure it was true in Jesus’ day as well.

Of course, the question began about Jesus being a carpenter. Being a carpenter was a fact, and for the Jewish community, the job was commendable because Jews viewed manual labor favorably. However, the Romans, to whom Mark was writing, considered manual labor as menial. As for the job of a carpenter, the idea would be similar today, but a carpenter in Jesus’ day represents someone who might work with all kinds of material. In fact, it should not be odd to consider Jesus as one who worked with stones (a stonemason) in addition to wood. Having been to Israel, and seeing the amount of rocks and large stones that we everywhere, and the relative lack of wood in most areas (except where olive trees were plentiful), I can believe it. In fact, some even suggest that Jesus and maybe Joseph as well, would have helped build Sepphoris – which was a town about four miles northwest of Nazareth and was the capital of Galilee for many years.

But for a carpenter to know what Jesus knew was unthinkable. Jesus had not trained by a rabbi. It was unimaginable for others to consider that Jesus could not only know so much, but to be able to communicate it as well. This simply shows the truth of our principle above. Jesus teachings were right, and His intentions were pure, but some people will choose to find fault because they are unwilling to see the truth.

Principle: Faith make the impossible possible. A lack of faith makes the possible impossible. (Mark 6.4-6)

Verse 5 is one of those verses that is quite troubling for us. Jesus COULD DO NO. That is, Jesus could not do any miracles. It seems He was powerless. Now, perhaps, it is that He chose not to do any miracles, but the reality is that most of the miracles He had already done were not based upon faith. Again, consider the demon possessed man in the first part of Mark 5. That man didn’t have faith before He was healed. Yet, Jesus had plenty of power because, as we saw last week, Jesus had enough power to heal the woman even though it was done subconsciously. But here He could not.

As I considered this idea, I was reminded of the movie Elf where Santa’s sleigh will not fly because people have become skeptical of the idea of Santa. However, when one person is bold enough to begin to sing a song, it raises people’s belief, which in turn allows the sleigh to fly. Although the person of Jesus and the idea of Santa are quite different, I think a parallel exists in that sometimes all it takes to encourage others to have a little faith, and then great things can happen.

Notice Jesus statement in verse 4, however. He begins by saying His hometown doesn’t honor Him, but then He narrows the focus to His relatives, and finally, to His own household. In verse 3, His mother and four brothers are named. Likewise His sisters are mentioned. (It is likely they are unnamed because of being married.) So, it isn’t that Jesus is rejected by those who only know the family from the outside, but from those who know Him best. You may recall the story of Joseph in the Old Testament who was sold by His own brothers into slavery. Joseph was a tattle-tale, had a bit of arrogance and was favored by dad, so maybe we can understand a little of the brother’s reasoning. But Joseph, like Jesus, would later be in a position to save His family, His people, and His nation from pending doom. In the case of Jesus, His sacrificial death would pay for the sins of those in His hometown as well, but only if they would learn to believe. And according to verse 6, their lack of belief would have to change a great deal to allow that to happen.

Principle: When we go for God, we can trust that He will provide our needs. (Mark 6.7-13)

The story now transitions to the disciples being prepared to begin active ministry. I am sure they had questions, and probably were concerned about a few matters, including some practical needs. The truth is that we all have needs. And we all have wants. Oftentimes we allow our wants to override our needs. Sadly, all of us at times allow our wants to override God’s commands. We make all kinds of excuses in order to avoid dealing with God. We even see this concept played out amongst our friends and family, sometimes before the question is asked. For instance, someone might approach you by saying, “I need to talk.” Before the person is able to get the next word out, the brain is actively preparing responses.
  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “I know I can’t do what they are asking.” 
  • “I hope they don’t ask for any money.”

I could spend an entire series on those thoughts and someday I might. But for now, imagine the disciples being sent by Jesus in Mark 6.7-13. Jesus made the time for them. He told them not to take along any money – they were to be completely dependent on God. As for knowing what they were doing…this group has only observed Jesus at work. We have no record in Mark of them doing anything other than being with Jesus and being fearful. Now, Jesus asked these men to go and minister in His name and authority.

I am sure many of them might have wanted to respond with something like, “I don’t…” But, they had just experienced the result of that kind of thought in Nazareth, where people said, “I don’t believe.” Again, such a lack of faith is making the possible, impossible.

What Jesus did for them was to show that God could be trusted. He told them which items to take and what not to take. Now, there are explicit differences on these items from the parallel texts in Matthew and Luke. The reality is that the situation cannot be completely reconciled with what we know today, but we can reconcile most of the differences with careful analysis. (Such analysis is beyond the scope of this post). According to Mark, the items Jesus instructs the Twelve to take are a staff, a belt, sandals, and one tunic (which was the main article of clothing). These items are the same items that God commanded for the Israelites to take when they were preparing to leave Egypt after Passover (see Exodus 12.11). Thus, just as God called the Israelites to trust Him completely, Jesus was preparing the Twelve to do the same.

The disciples were to travel in pairs (the Bible says that truth can be establish on the testimony of two or three witnesses) and instructed to stay at the first house that agreed to host them. Moving to different houses could leave an impression that they were seeking what the highest bidder could offer. The hospitality in Galilee in the 1st Century was legendary. But many people might stay a night with a poor person until they received a better offer. Jesus was instructing His disciples to stay in whatever place they first settled until their business in that town was done.

His final words to them in this instance was to shake the dust off their feet if the message was not received. This action was common of certain people (especially rabbis) who were leaving a “dirty” place such as a town/region occupied by Gentiles. It was a symbolic gesture of judgment (notice verse 12 where the disciples proclaimed the people should repent). The gesture of kicking off the dust was understood by the Jews in these towns as a pronouncement of the judgement to come if they did not heed the message to repent.

Remember the principle here is that God would provide their needs if they did His business. This sending of the Twelve is a test run for what would come later. The disciples could have made many excuses including using Jesus own words, as recorded in Mark 4.40, “Have you still no faith?” But Jesus was preparing them for a more dangerous mission in the future. Now, they had Jesus with them. Then, Jesus would be gone. Would these men be prepared to carry on the mission of Jesus after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension? They needed to know the answer for themselves. Thus, Jesus sends them on the first of their major assignments so they could gain some experience.

A Matter of Perspective

Let me return to the earlier mention of the Yoido Full Gospel Church. The church has many services on Sunday translated into multiple languages, but the core of the church are groups that meet in homes. As I mentioned earlier, each group has about ten individuals. As I mentioned earlier, the church once had over 800,000 members, and more recently had around 450,000. Using 450,000 for a calculation, if an equal number met each night that would be about 65,000 people meeting every day of the week in approximately 6,500 different homes.

But the drop of over 300,000 people is a huge drop. A part of this drop be that their pastor embezzled millions of dollars from the church. I mention that in order for you to gauge your reaction, which is likely along the lines of one of two perspectives.
  1. That figures. It is so typical of the hypocrites in church – especially pastors and leaders.
  2. What a shame! Why does this always seem to happen?

Before I deal with those two perspective, I want to focus on a third aspect that might not be as apparent at first glance. The 450,000 people who are together are so because of two things.
  • Someone took the gospel to Korea. These people in Seoul would not know Jesus unless someone left their comforts and went there to tell people about Jesus.
  • The 450,000 are in relation to one another. The pastor had a vision and the people helped to make it happen, but the vision included people being with people, not merely following the pastor. 

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11.1 – “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” In one sense Paul is saying, follow Me as I follow Christ. In another, He is saying if I am obedient to Christ, follow my example. If not, you must still follow Christ. Christ gave the command to “Follow Me.” We are not to follow Paul or Andy, we are to follow Jesus. The turmoil caused by a pastor falling into sin is great, and certainly some of the 300,000 people are not longer at the church in Korea because they were following the pastor. I have witnessed this issue elsewhere, and when the pastor left so did the people. Certainly, sometimes personalities do not mesh, which causes people to leave, but in any case our worship is to be reserved for Jesus, not on anyone else in the church.

Taking the gospel to others and being in relation to one another are both a part of what Jesus did when He sent out the disciples. Jesus had not lost any authority, but the Twelve had just experienced Jesus being dishonored in His hometown. That had to rattle them a bit. It is in this context that He sends them forth to do His work – not because He couldn’t, but because He needed them to know they could. These men went and proclaimed a message that would eventually make it to Korea nearly two thousand of years later. The Twelve went into houses to establish relationships with the people rather than simply meeting in a synagogue, just like the people of Korea do today. But these ideas and others are not just from 2000 years ago, nor are they isolated to one location of today’s map. People have been meeting together and going together in the name of Jesus from the time He first sent out these Twelve as written here in Mark 6. And Jesus wants us to meet together and go together as well.

That is the point of today’s message – we must make a choice about Jesus. The people of Nazareth could not overcome their bias and prejudice to see Jesus for who He was rather than who they thought He should be. But the disciples, despite their continual failure to fully understand, believed enough in the possibility of who Jesus was to follow Him and then be sent by Him.


The JOURNEY letter for today is: N – Nurture.

The two responses I mentioned above regarding the pastor who embezzled the money reflect both how we have been nurtured and how we may feel about nurturing others. Someone who has been beaten while down is likely to be skeptical when others try to help him/her. Someone who has received mercy is better equipped to show mercy to others.

However, the Bible is clear regarding how we should respond. Galatians 6.1-2 commands us to bear the burden of others, rather than beating them down. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, his instruction is to be compassionate, patient, loving, and forgiving because that is what God is toward us. (Colossians 3.12-15). While our background influences our desire and natural tendency to nurture, we are to follow the example of Jesus in actually doing so. Of course, Jesus responded in both truth and love, but He also provided opportunity and example to His followers in order for each one to grow in faith. Consider three practical examples Jesus provides us from the passage today (Mark 6.1-13):
  • Giving/Serving however possible in a hostile environment.
  • Building a team-based environment where trust in each other and in God is paramount.
  • Inviting others to serve even if they still have much to learn.

Combined with the principles above, we have much to do if we are to live for Jesus. But first we must choose Him. And then we must choose to nurture others.


Opportunity: We have a choice to serve Jesus. Just as Jesus commissioned the Twelve in His day, He commissions us for service today.

Focusing on His example this week, what will you do to nurture someone this week?

  • Learn: Consider which example best fits what you need to do to nurture someone this week. Meditate on the idea for a couple of days.
  • Live: After reflecting on the example you chose, consider how you might put that example into action.
  • Love: How might that action become part of your everyday life as you love God and love others?
  • Lead: How might you help others instill a strong mindset based upon the need to nurture you chose?