Mercy for the Defiled

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:24-37 ESV

After His rather lengthy and heated debate with the religious leaders over the topic of ritual cleansing and defilement, Jesus took His disciples on an unexpected journey outside the confines of Israel. The Jewish Messiah, who had come “to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11),  took His message to the Gentiles. In a sense, Jesus was leaving behind the legalistic, self-righteous law-keepers and choosing to align Himself with the unclean and lawless pagans living in the land of Phoenicia.

The scribes and Pharisees had been appalled that Jesus and His disciples did not practice the traditional rite of hand-cleansing before eating bread. What would they think when they heard that Jesus had defiled Himself by traveling outside Galilee and associating with non-Jews?

But that seemed to be the point of Jesus’ excursion outside the land of Israel. God had promised Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 ESV). And the apostle Paul picked up on that theme in his letter to the churches in Galatia. These congregations would have been made up mostly of Gentiles who had become followers of Christ.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” – Galatians 3:7-8 ESV

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

In traveling to the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus was demonstrating the truth of the Father’s promise to Abraham. The “offspring” of Abraham was about to “bless” the nations.

Mark indicates that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden” (Mark 7:24 ESV). This statement was meant to carry a lot of weight. According to Jewish law, by entering the house of a Gentile, Jesus defiled Himself and rendered Himself ceremonially unclean.

The strict Jew would not enter a Gentile’s house, nor sit on the same couch, nor eat or drink out of the same vessel. The very dust of a heathen city was defiling. – Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

A second-century text called The Book of Julilees contains the following warning against any association with Gentiles.

And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable. – Jubilees 22:16

So, Mark’s reference to Jesus entering a Gentile home was meant to shock and surprise his readers. Yet, the rumors concerning Jesus and His miraculous powers had made their way all the way to Phoenicia. And Mark indicates that “immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet” (Mark 7:25 ESV). Matthew refers to her as “a Canaanite woman” (Matthew 15:22 ESV). The term “Canaanite” was an all-inclusive term used to refer to any and all Gentiles who lived in the land that had originally been known as Canaan. This woman was a Gentile and yet she was willing to seek out the Jewish Messiah in the hopes that He could help her with a pressing problem. And it seems clear that Mark wants his readers to grasp the shocking nature of this encounter.

Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. – Mark 7:26 ESV

The woman was a non-Jew, so she was unclean and unholy. And to make matters worse, her daughter was possessed by a demon. Everything about this scenario is meant to stress her defilement and to place Jesus in a potentially compromising position. But in his account of this story, Matthew adds a very interesting and important detail. In begging Jesus to help her daughter, the woman reveals an uncharacteristic understanding of who Jesus really was.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” – Matthew 15:22 ESV

By addressing Jesus as “Son of David,” she acknowledged her belief that He was the Jew’s long-awaited Messiah, the promised descendant of King David. This was not necessarily an expression of saving faith, but a confession that she believed Jesus to be someone of great power and significance. And because she had heard of His many miracles, she begged this powerful man to show her mercy by helping her daughter.

Only Matthew provides any indication as to the reaction of the disciples to all of this. He reveals that these good Jews were appalled at the woman’s unmitigated gall and begged Jesus to get rid of her.

“Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:23 ESV

Everything about this trip must have had them shaking their heads in wonder. Why would Jesus drag them on a 30-mile journey to a place like Tyre. It’s likely that none of these men had ever ventured outside the borders of Israel, so they might have seen this trip as an adventure. But when Jesus began to interface with the local inhabitants, they must have been surprised and confused. And what Jesus says to the woman echoes the disciples’ sentiments.

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Mark 7:27 ESV

Dogs were considered unclean to the Jews. Rarely kept as pets, they were typically used as guard dogs, and the streets of most Israelite towns and villages were filled with strays that scavenged for food and could prove to be a threat to public safety. So, when Jesus referred to this woman as a “dog,” He was expressing the commonly held view of most Jews concerning Gentiles.

According to Matthew, Jesus had told the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 ESV). He had made it clear to her that His original mission had been to His own people. But she was not willing to give up that easily. Her need was great and Jesus was the only hope she had.

Unphased by Jesus’ comments, she simply responded, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV). She didn’t debate His assessment of her social standing. She wasn’t offended by His seeming slight. She acknowledged her unworthiness and humbly begged for a “crumb” of His goodness and mercy. She knew she was undeserving of His mercy and she was willing to take anything He was willing to give her. And Jesus gladly obliged her request.

“For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” – Mark 7:29 ESV

And Matthew reveals that it was not the statement itself that produced her daughter’s miraculous healing, but it was the faith that had motivated it.

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:28 ESV

She had believed in the power and authority of Jesus, and she was rewarded for that belief.

And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. – Mark 7:30 ESV

She went home to find her daughter completely whole and in her right mind. But Jesus and His disciples left Tyre and headed north to the city of Sidon, then back through Galilee and all the way to Decapolis, on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This would have been a long and arduous trip that lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a month. And when they arrived in this predominantly Gentile region, Jesus once again found Himself confronted by a request for healing.

…they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. – Mark 7:32 ESV

Mark doesn’t reveal whether this man was a Jew or a Gentile, but like the Canaanite woman, he had a pressing problem that required the power of Jesus. And Mark’s description of the man’s condition is critical to understanding the meaning behind this miracle. This man suffered from a “speech impediment” and Mark uses a rare Greek word, mogilalos, to describe it. The only other time this word appears is the Greek Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 35:4-6.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute [mogilalos] sing for joy.

This Messianic passage prophecies the coming of the Messiah and portrays the amazing miracles He would perform on His arrival. And here was Jesus being provided with yet another opportunity to reveal His true identity through another supernatural display of His power.

The means by which this miracle was enacted is truly unique. Jesus took the man aside, “put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue” (Mark 7:33 NLT). None of this was necessary. Mark had just described Jesus healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter from a distance and with nothing more than a spoken word. But in this case, Jesus went out of His way to touch the man, and in doing so, He would have become ceremonially defiled. This man’s very condition made him unclean because it was a common belief among the Jews that disease and disabilities were the end result of sin. Yet, Jesus touched the man’s ears and even his tongue, then declared, “Be opened” (Mark 7:35 ESV). And they were. The man’s hearing and speech were immediately and fully restored, and the onlookers “were astonished beyond measure” (Mark 7:37 ESV). They couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.

“Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” – Mark 7:37 NLT

And while Jesus warned them to tell no one what they had seen, they couldn’t help themselves. The news of this miracle spread throughout the region. And these two miracles, the healing of the girl in Tyre and the healing of the man in Decapolis, created an interest in and a hunger for the Messiah among the Gentiles. And this is important, because after His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). And when they arrived in those places like Phoenicia and Decapolis, they would find an audience ready to hear about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Serious Heart Condition

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-23 ESV

A small contingent of scribes and Pharisees had confronted Jesus with an accusation presented in the form of a question. They were demanding that Jesus explain the “shocking” behavior of His disciples.

“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” – Mark 7:5 ESV

What shocked these pious religious leaders was the sight of Jesus’ disciples consuming food without having first cleansed their hands properly.  The word “defiled” is a translation of the Greek word, aniptos which means “unwashed.”  Mark provides a clue as to what was motivating the religious leaders.

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders… – Mark 7:3 ESV

According to these men, the disciples had violated established protocol. The “tradition of the elders” or oral law, required that all Jews go through a ceremonial cleansing of the hands before eating. Jews were required to wash their hands and say a blessing before eating any meal that included bread. The ritual was known as netilat yadayim, and involved the use of a cup that was used to pour water onto the hands and allowing it to flow down to the elbows. The ritual had nothing to do with personal hygiene but was done for ritualistic purposes.

According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, this was nothing more than a ceremony that had little pragmatic value.

When, therefore, some of the Pharisees remarked that our Lord’s disciples ate with “unwashen hands,” it is not to be understood literally that they did not at all wash their hands, but that they did not wash them ceremonially according to their own practice. And this was expected of them only as the disciples of a religious teacher; for these refinements were not practised by the class of people from which the disciples were chiefly drawn. – Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

And Jesus was well aware of the intentions of His accusers. These men were trying to label He and His disciples as law-breakers. But Jesus took the opportunity to teach His followers a valuable lesson on hygiene and holiness.

While the Pharisees had focused all their attention on the outward practice of hand-washing, Jesus took the conversation deeper. To put it another way, He went to the “heart” of the matter. Gathering the people around Him, Jesus said, “All of you listen…and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:14-15 NLT).

And that was all He said. As usual, Jesus’ reply was short and succinct, but not exactly clear. And Mark indicates that even the 12 disciples had a difficult time understanding the meaning behind Jesus’ abbreviated lesson. When they were able to be alone with Jesus, they asked Him to explain the meaning behind what they understood to be another one of His parables. But this was less a parable than it was a moral object lesson. What had precipitated Jesus’ comment was the emphasis of the scribes and Pharisees on ritualistic cleansing. These men were all about appearances and used their lengthy list of man-made rules as a way to promote and prove their own righteousness. Their behavior became their badge of honor. Rule-keeping became their primary means for measuring righteousness. But Jesus was much more interested in the inside than the outside. On another occasion, He would level a stinging accusation against the Pharisees, exposing the farcical nature of all their religious rule-keeping.

“you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

These attacks on the well-respected religious leaders always left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Weren’t the scribes and Pharisees to be revered for their obvious displays of righteousness? How could Jesus get away with calling them hypocrites and blind guides? Why did He feel the constant need to anger them?

But Jesus was attempting to teach His disciples that the problem mankind faced was not of a physical nature but of a spiritual one. It all had to do with the condition of the heart. And no amount of outward cleansing or ritual purification could result in a holy heart. So, He reiterated His original statement one more time, but with further clarification.

“Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” – Mark 7:18 NLT

Food was little more than fuel, taken into the body as a source of energy, then passed out as human waste. The washing of hands, pots, pans, and the food itself, while beneficial from a personal hygiene perspective, had no value when it came to a person’s spiritual condition. Food may help power the human heart, but it can do nothing to influence the moral state of the human soul, either positively or negatively. Drinking from a ritualistically cleansed cup may make one feel purer, but it was nothing more than a  facade, an exercise in self-deception.

Mark adds another important parenthetical statement intended to provide further clarification for the readers of his gospel.

By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes. – Mark 7:19 NLT

This expanded explanation most likely escaped the disciples. But it would become clearer to them when Jesus had ascended back into heaven after His resurrection. In the days after Jesus departed and the Holy Spirit ascended, the disciples would obey His commission and take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And, before long, there would be Gentiles accepting the free gift of God’s grace made possible through faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. The addition of Gentile converts to the early church would produce an important debate among the disciples about the role of the Mosaic law in the lives of these former pagans. There were those, like Peter, who believed that any Gentiles who came to faith should be required to keep the Jewish religious laws, just as they did. But Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would push back strongly against this unnecessary requirement. In doing so, he was not denigrating God’s law, but simply denying that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone, with no other requirements necessary. Paul would argue vehemently that the law had no place in the lives of these Gentile converts. The Jewish dietary laws no longer applied. And even the Jewish rite of circumcision was to be set aside.

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

It was all about the heart. And that was the very point Jesus was trying to make with His disciples. And knowing that their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:52), making it difficult for them to grasp the meaning behind His teaching, Jesus made it plain and simple.

“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:20-23 NLT

This less-than-flattering list is similar to one found in Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

These ungodly, unholy, and unrighteous actions are not the result of unwashed hands but an unregenerate heart. Man’s heart is wicked and controlled by his sinful nature. It is not the byproduct of poor living conditions, improper hygiene, insufficient education, or the failure to keep a set of religious rules.

James reminds us that “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-16 NLT). The prophet Jeremiah adds, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).

So, Jesus was trying to communicate a deep and abiding truth regarding the nature of man’s sinful state. No amount of ritual cleansing was going to solve the problem. The Pharisees could cleanse the outside of “the cup,” but they would be missing the real problem. Like all men, they were suffering from a serious heart condition that was untreatable by human means. Even their strict adherence to the laws of Moses and their faithful keeping of the traditions of the fathers could do nothing to render their hearts holy and acceptable to God.

And as Paul would later tell the Galatian believers, “it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Galatians 3:11 NLT).

This was news to the disciples and it went against everything they had been taught as young boys receiving training in the local synagogue. Jesus was letting them know that the problem of sin was far greater and more pervasive than they realized. Man’s defilement and condemnation before God was an internal problem, not an external one, and there would be only one solution. And He was standing right in front of them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fakers and Frauds

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. 

2 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 6:53-7:13 ESV

One can only imagine the conversations that took place in the boat as the disciples made their way to the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Just minutes before, they had been fighting the winds and waves of a ferocious storm when suddenly, Jesus had appeared to them, walking on the water. Not recognizing their friend and teacher, they had thought Him to be some kind of ghostly apparition. But Jesus spoke to them, entered the boat with them, and calmed the storm that surrounded them. And the rest of their trip to the region of Gennesaret must have been filled with whispered discussions about what they had just witnessed. These men, desperately trying to take in all that had happened over the last few days, were struggling to reconcile their experiences and expectations. They wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and He had given ample evidence to convince them, but they were still doubtful. Mark indicates that “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in” (Mark 6:52 NLT).

As they arrived in Gennesaret, they disembarked from their boat and were immediately engulfed by the crowds of people attempting to get to Jesus. News of their arrival spread fast and, before long, they found themselves immersed in the circus-like atmosphere that followed Jesus wherever He went.

Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed. – Mark 6:56 NLT

It would appear that the people of Gennesaret had heard the rumors about the woman who was healed simply by touching the edge of Jesus’ robe. This news emboldened people to take matters into their own hands, likely resulting in Jesus being swarmed by those attempting to touch Him so they could be healed. And Jesus graciously allowed them to invade His personal space so that “all who touched him were healed.”

But there were others who wanted to lay their hands on Jesus, not to be healed but so that they might arrest Him. A contingent of Pharisees and scribes had arrived from Jerusalem and they had one purpose for their mission: Find evidence that would convict Jesus of breaking the law and justify His arrest.

The scribes and Pharisees, as experts in the Mosaic Law, were well-equipped for the task they had been given by the high priest. Their extensive knowledge of both the written and oral laws of Israel provided them with a virtual treasure trove of potential rule violations with which to convict Jesus. Surely there was some obscure law He was breaking that they could use as evidence against Him. If nothing else, they hoped to discredit Jesus by portraying Him as ignorant of God’s laws or guilty of willfully ignoring them.

So, it is no surprise that they approached Jesus and demanded that He explain the questionable behavior of His disciples.

“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” – Mark 7:6 ESV

To help his readers understand what is going on, Mark provides a parenthetical explanation of Jewish purification rites.

The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles. – Mark 7:3-4 NLT

These “ancient traditions” were not part of the Mosaic Law but had been created and passed down by men. Essentially, they were add-ons or man-made additions to God’s law. And they had nothing to do with physical cleanliness or hygiene. These rules or rituals were followed in order to demonstrate and declare one’s righteousness. It was all about appearances. Jesus would later say of them:

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show.” – Matthew 23:4-5 NLT

And He would go on to level some serious accusations against these self-ascribed icons of righteousness.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

Their righteousness was nothing more than a facade, a carefully crafted image meant to obscure the true condition of their hearts. And when these men confronted Jesus about the unacceptable habits of His disciples, He responded by quoting Scripture.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8 NLT

Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures against them. Using the writings of one of their revered prophets, Jesus exposed their self-righteous indignation for what it was – nothing more than prideful pretense. They were nothing more than hypocrites and pretenders. In fact, the Greek word, hypokritēs was used to refer to an actor in a play, someone who assumed the character of another.

These men had fooled everyone into believing that they were holy and righteous. But they had made their own man-made rules more important than the commands of God. They were guilty of giving precedence to their “traditions,” even creating loopholes that allowed them to violate God’s laws.

“You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. – Mark 7:9 NLT

And Jesus provides them with specific examples.

“For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’” – Mark 7:10-11 NLT

Jesus was referring to their law of corban. This man-made law allowed someone to dedicate something as an offering to God but did not require them to relinquish possession of it. As Jesus reveals, it was nothing more than a convenient way for someone to tie up their assets so that they wouldn’t have to share them with others. This was in direct violation of God’s law. The Ten Commandments had made it clear that the Jews were to honor their parents, and in a society that lacked any kind of welfare system, this would have included the provision of financial support. But corban provided a convenient loophole. By dedicating their resources to God, a Jew could excuse themselves from assisting their needy parents. And because they were not required to immediately turn over their assets to God, they were free to use them for their own personal benefit. And Jesus exposed corban for what it was: Lawlessness.

“In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.” – Mark 7:12-13 NLT

These men had no right to question Jesus about the behavior of His disciples. They were nothing more than whitewashed tombs. Their sanctimonious self-righteousness was little more than a show, a poorly veiled display of moral pretense and hypocrisy.

In attempting to judge Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees left themselves open to judgment. And Jesus pulled no punches. He wanted His disciples to understand that the laws of God always took precedence over any rules or regulations made by men. And Jesus came to fulfill each and every one of the laws given by His Heavenly Father. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus declared His God-ordained mission to fulfill the law of God – down to the very last detail.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-19 NLT

And because the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of ignoring God’s law by replacing it with their own, they would be least in the Kingdom of Heaven.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Hardened Hearts

45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:45-52 ESV

Three of the four gospels include this story and all three indicate that it happened immediately after the miracle of the bread and the fish. The context is essential to understanding what takes place and helps provide much-needed insight into Mark’s rather condemning conclusion: “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.” (Mark 6:52 NLT).

Mark’s harsh-sounding critique seems to paint the disciples in an unflattering light but, when taken in context, it provides the reader with a fair and honest assessment of their ongoing spiritual transformation. They were works in process. Their comprehension of Jesus’ true identity was in a constant state of flux and it was complicated by their own personal agendas and expectations. Their concepts of the Messiah had been formed by their Hebrew roots and highly influenced by the religious indoctrination they had received as young boys at the local synagogue in their hometowns. Their unique experiences with Jesus were informative and instructive but were also confusing and contradictory to their preconceived notions about the coming Messiah.

Jesus was not operating according to their expectations. His miracles, while powerful and impressive, didn’t seem to be ushering in the Kingdom the disciples, as Jews, had long anticipated. His words, while spoken with authority and filled with interesting stories and fascinating parables, didn’t always make sense. He spoke cryptically and about subjects that seemed out of keeping with someone who had come to be King of Israel.

So, this particular story must be viewed within the immediate context of the surrounding events. Mark indicates that as soon as the disciples had finished gathering the 12 baskets of leftover loaves and fish, Jesus instructed them to head by boat to the village of Bethsaida. Jesus then dismissed the crowd and headed to a secluded spot for some alone time with God the Father. Mark provides no details concerning this divine conversation between Father and Son, but it is safe to assume that it mirrored the other prayers of Jesus recorded in the gospels. These moments of isolation and intimate communion with His Heavenly Father were important to Jesus. It was during these occasions that Jesus shared His heart and received instructions. Perhaps Jesus prayed for the disciples, sharing with God the Father His frustration with their inability to grasp the meaning of His messages and miracles. Jesus knew these men had been given to Him by God, but He also knew that they were having difficulty understanding who He truly was and the real purpose behind His incarnation.

When Jesus had completed His time in prayer, He made His way back to the shoreline, where He spotted the disciples “making headway painfully, for the wind was against them” (Mark 6:48 ESV). John indicates that “they had rowed about three or four miles” (John 6:29 ESV). 

Don’t minimize the circumstances surrounding this scene. It is somewhere around 3:00 a.m. The sky is pitch black, the wind is howling furiously, and the white-capped waves are pounding against the sides of the small fishing boat. The disciples, four of whom were professional fishermen, were struggling to keep the boat afloat and headed to their final destination. And Jesus witnessed all of this from the safety of the shoreline.

But then He did something extraordinary and unexpected. He stepped out into the sea and began to walk on the top of the water. And Mark adds a very important detail to his narrative.

Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them – Mark 6:48 NLT

Jesus walked toward the disciples but was fully intending to walk right past them and on to Bethsaida. He wanted them to see Him and take hope and confidence in Him. If He could walk on the waves in the midst of the storm, they had no reason to fear. Just the sight of Jesus, walking calmly and confidently on the tops of the waves, should have instilled a sense of peace in the hearts of the disciples. But instead, they reacted in fear.

but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him. – Mark 6:49-50 NLT

They had not been looking for Jesus. And when He suddenly appeared. they didn’t recognize Him because they were not expecting Him to show up in that inhospitable context. It’s interesting to note that the disciples had shown no fear until Jesus appeared unexpectedly. There’s no indication that the disciples had feared the storm. They were simply struggling against the wind and waves, attempting to make their way to Bethsaida as Jesus had instructed them. But their demeanor quickly shifted from focused determination to abject fear when they spotted this strange figure walking toward them in the midst of the darkness and violence of the storm.

Sensing their terror, Jesus quickly identified Himself to the frightened men.

“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” – Mark 6:50 ESV

They had not recognized Him because they had not expected Him. No one in the boat had been calling out to Him. In the midst of their difficulty, they had forgotten all about Jesus. They had become so consumed with the task at hand that they had neglected to think about the very one who had sent them on this storm-tossed and ill-fated excursion. Seeing Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm should have been enough to remind them of the power and authority of the one they served. They had just witnessed Him feed more than 10,000 men, women, and children; using nothing more than five small loaves and two fish. They had just recently returned from their own missionary journey where they had cast out demons and performed other miracles of healing. But in the wee hours of the morning and in the middle of a storm-tossed sea, any thoughts of miracles or the Messiah were nowhere to be found.

And in a characteristic act of mercy and grace, Jesus altered His plans and joined the disciples in midst of their struggle. Rather than walk by, He entered into. And as soon as His foot touched the deck of the boat, “the wind ceased” (Mark 6:51 ESV). His presence brought peace. And the disciples “were utterly astounded” (Mark 6:51 ESV). They were blown away. The Greek word Mark used is existēmi and it literally means they were beside themselves. And one has to ask why this particular miracle made such an impact on them. Had they not seen Jesus do other incredible, mind-blowing miracles? What was it about this one that left them beside themselves in wonder?

And Mark provides the answer:  “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51 ESV). They had not connected the dots. It is likely that the bow of the boat contained the 12 baskets full of leftovers they had gathered. But they were not yet able to understand the significance of the miracle that Jesus had performed. By transforming five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed an army, Jesus had clearly demonstrated His divine power and authority over the creation. He had done the impossible. And yet, the disciples did not understand. Oh, they fully grasped the reality of the miracle because they had seen it happen. But they were blind to the message it was intended to send: Jesus was God.

And Mark notes that their hearts were calloused and hardened. In their fallen human state, they were incapable of discerning the message contained within the miracles of Jesus. They were unable to connect all the dots and complete the picture that was being revealed right before their eyes. But step by step, miracle by miracle, Jesus would continue to disclose Himself to these men. He would patiently and persistently display His power and authority so that, eventually, their beliefs about Him would line up with God’s will and not their own.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

From Empty Pockets to Full Baskets

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Mark 6:30-44 ESV

After a brief diversion to inform his readers about the fate of John the Baptist, Mark brings the focus of his narrative back to the 12 disciples. Jesus had sent them in pairs to preach the gospel of the Kingdom and call the people to repentance. And to validate their message, He had given them the power to perform miracles. Mark provides no hints as to the length of this missionary journey, but simply states, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30 ESV). 

This rather anticlimactic description of their return leaves a lot to the imagination. There is no sense of excitement. We are told nothing about their exploits. But we can assume that these men must have had stories to tell and were anxious to regale one another with their exploits. Luke provides an idea of the kinds of reports these men would have given to Jesus upon their return. He recalls another occasion when Jesus sent out 72 additional disciples, providing them with the same instructions He had given the 12.

“Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” – Luke 10:9 ESV

When these disciples returned from their mission, their eagerly shared with Jesus what had happened. And the focus of their report reveals much about their takeaway from their experience:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” – Luke 10:17 ESV

Notice that they mentioned nothing about the message of the Kingdom or the peoples’ to it. They were blown away by their ability to cast out demons – just like Jesus had done. Their focus was on the more sensational aspect of their mission. But, as if to bring their egos back to earth and to refocus their attention on what was truly important, Jesus responded, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20 ESV).

So, when the 12 disciples returned from their missionary journey, it is likely that they shared similar stories about casting out demons and healing the sick and the lame. Recognizing that these men were excited yet worn out from their journey, Jesus led them to a remote place where they might get some much-needed rest. But isolation and alone time were difficult commodities to come by for Jesus and His disciples. Everywhere they went, they found themselves encountering and accosted by large crowds. And this time would be no different.

Mark indicates that they crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat and headed to a desolate area near the town of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). But their every move was under constant observation by the crowds. So, as Jesus and His disciples made their way by boat, the people ran along the shoreline, trying to guess where they were headed. And when the boat made its way to shore, Jesus and the disciples found themselves surrounded yet again. The weary disciples were probably frustrated by this turn of events. They had just returned from a long and arduous trip and were looking forward to some much-need R&R. But it was not to be. And Mark indicates that Jesus saw the crowd and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV).

This statement sets up a subtle contrast between Jesus and His disciples that will become more obvious as the story unfolds. Jesus was moved by the helpless and hopeless state of the people. The very fact that they kept following Him revealed their desperate desire for leadership and direction. There were people in the crowd who were hurting emotionally and physically. Others were poor and needy, lacking the resources to meet the basic necessities of life. Luke indicates that Jesus “taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick” (Luke 9:11 NLT). 

It’s interesting to note that Jesus did for these people exactly what He had commanded the disciples to do on their recent missionary excursion. And yet, there is no mention that the disciples participated in the teaching of the people or in doing any acts of healing. It is almost as if they were taking the day off. They had done their part and now it was time to relax. And one can almost sense their eagerness to bring this long day to a close by what they said to Jesus.

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” – Mark 6:35-36 NLT

There is not much compassion in those words. The disciples were ready for the crowds to disperse so they could finally get the rest they so richly deserved. Their feigned concern for the well-being of the people was nothing more than a way of getting rid of them. Yet Jesus, always aware of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those around Him, simply stated, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37 ESV).

The ludicrous nature of this command is easy to miss because we have no idea how many people Jesus is actually referring to. It is not until later in the story that Mark reveals the actually size of the crowd. But the disciples could see the problem with their own eyes. As they heard Jesus speak those words, the disciples were staring at literally thousands of men, women, and children. And don’t forget that when Jesus had sent these men on their missionary journey, He had told them “to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money” (Mark 6:8 NLT).

They had just returned and would have had no resources with which to fulfill the command of Jesus. And you can sense their confusion and frustration in their somewhat sarcastic response.

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” – Mark 6:37 NLT

They estimate that it would take at least two hundred denarii to buy enough bread to feed a crowd that size. A denarius was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a common laborer. Their quick calculation was meant to emphasize the sheer impossibility of what Jesus was asking them to do. They didn’t have those kinds of resources. In fact, they were broke. And just to expose the true nature of their insufficiency, Jesus has them take an inventory of what food was on hand.

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” – Mark 6:38 NLT

Don’t miss what happened next. Jesus sent the men among the crowd, just as He had sent them into the towns and villages of Galilee. But this time, they came back with a less-than-thrilling report. After they had canvassed the crowd, the disciples could only return with a miserly five loaves of bread and two fish. It was not good news.

But Jesus was nonplused. As the disciples watched, Jesus simply instructed the people to sit down in groups of 100 or less. This would have taken a bit of organizational planning on the part of the disciples. And when their work was complete, Jesus “took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share” (Mark 6:41 NLT).

It seems that the disciples played the roles of waiters, distributing the food to the various groups of people. And as Jesus broke the bread and the fish, the disciples kept returning to find yet more food to hand out. They would bring back an empty basket, only to be handed another one full of bread and fish. And, as if to stress the truly miraculous nature of this scene, Mark holds off the most important detail until the end.

A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. – Mark 6:44 NLT

And even that large number is a bit misleading. It is safe to assume that many of those men were married and their families were made up of at least one or two children. So, it would be safe to assume that the actual number of people fed that day was likely twice what Mark reported. It could have easily been as many as 10,000. And yet, as Mark makes clear, “They all ate as much as they wanted” (Mark 6:42 NLT). No one went hungry. Not a single person went without or failed to receive as much as they wanted. And that includes the disciples.

But the truly amazing fact is that when the crowd had dispersed, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. They had shown up that day with no food, but each man walked away with a basket filled to the brim with bread and fish.

These men, who had lacked compassion for the people, had been given a once-in-a-lifetime lesson on God’s power to provide for the needs of the helpless and hopeless. When Jesus had looked on the crowd, He had seen sheep without a shepherd. But the disciples had simply seen a problem for which they had no solution. And sadly, they lacked any desire to come up with one. In spite of their success at casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, these men had failed to learn the most important lesson of all: That with God, all things are possible. And the man with whom they had linked their lives was God in human flesh and fully capable of meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of mankind. Yes, He could provide bread, but He had come to be the bread of life. He could fill stomachs, but He had come to satisfy mankind’s hunger and thirst for righteousness. And as these men walked away with the baskets brimming with bread and fish, their hearts and minds were still lacking a full assurance of who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Convicted and Conflicted

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:14-29 ESV

Right in the middle of his recounting of Jesus’ commissioning and sending of the 12 disciples on their first official missionary journey, Mark decides to insert the story of the death of John the Baptist. At first glance, his placement of this event at this particular part of his gospel narrative seems rather odd and out of place. But it provides an important insight into the overall atmosphere surrounding Jesus and His ministry.

Jesus had warned His 12 disciples that they would encounter a wide range of reactions as they preached and performed miracles throughout Galilee. Some would gladly receive them, while others would refuse to have anything to do with them. While the reputation of Jesus had spread throughout the region, there was still a great deal of confusion and even conflict over His identity. Some believed Him to be their long-anticipated Messiah. Others concluded that He must be a prophet sent by God, with some declaring that He was actually Elijah. According to the book of 2 Kings, Elijah did not die but was taken up to heaven by God (2 Kings 2:11-12). So, some assumed that Elijah had simply reappeared on earth.

Then there was the rumor that Jesus was actually the resurrected John the Baptist. And this is why Mark chose to insert the story of John’s death at this point in his narrative. In order for the rumor regarding John’s return to make sense, Mark had to explain how John had died. Mark’s last mention of John the Baptist was all the way back in chapter 1.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:4-5 ESV

In that same chapter, Mark recounts how John baptized Jesus, but then he never mentions him again until this point. The apostle John revealed that John the Baptist knew his ministry and mission were short-term in nature. He had been given the divine privilege to announce the coming of the Messiah. But once Jesus appeared on the scene, John the Baptist knew his job was done. He even rejoiced in the diminishing nature of his role.

“I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:29-30 NLT

But John the Baptist didn’t just hang up his camel-hair coat and retire. He was decommissioned by God. And Mark provides the details concerning his fate. In order for Mark to explain why people assumed that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead, he had to reveal how Mark died in the first place. And as the story makes clear, John’s death was tragic and unexpected.

It’s at this point that Mark introduces us to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee and Perea. Herod was the Roman-appointed ruler over these northern regions of Israel. Mark refers to Herod as a king, which was not uncommon in that day. But Herod was not a descendant of David and was not recognized by most Jews as the official king of Israel. He was little more than a puppet king, who served at the discretion of Caesar. And this pseudo-sovereign will end up playing a significant role in the life of Jesus as the story unfolds.

Herod was a particularly wicked man who coveted power and would do anything to solidify and maintain his lofty position. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great, who ruled over Israel when Jesus was born. At the death of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and his brother, Philip, were appointed by the Romans to rule over a portion of their father’s former lands. In a sense, these two brothers became competitors, with each vying for the favor of Caesar and hoping to expand and solidify their power and influence. The Jewish historian, Josephus records how Herod Antipas fell in love with his brother’s wife, Herodias. He ended up divorcing his own wife and convinced Herodias to leave Philip and marry him instead. This kind of behavior by a “king” of Israel was unacceptable and John the Baptist had publicly called out Herod for this and other indiscretions.

John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT

John the Baptist had publicly accused Herod of violating God’s laws concerning divorce and remarriage.

“It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” – Matthew 14:4 NLT

But his outspoken criticism of this powerful man resulted in his imprisonment. Herod had heard enough from John and decided to have him silenced by locking him away.

And we know from Matthew’s gospel, that this turn of events left John confused and questioning the very nature of Jesus’ identity. He began to have second thoughts about whether Jesus was who he had thought Him to be. He even sent some of his disciples for clarification.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” – Matthew 11:2-3 NLT

John had fully believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But his sudden and unexpected imprisonment seems to have caught him off guard. Perhaps John did not think things were supposed to end this way. If Jesus was the  King of Israel, would He not defeat the Romans and remove Herod from power? John was having a difficult time reconciling his imprisonment with his belief that Jesus was the anointed one of God. But all of this was part of God’s sovereign plan. In His wisdom and according to His providential will, God had orchestrated all the events surrounding John’s life. Without realizing it, John was living out his very statement, “I must become less and less.” Little did John know that he would end up sacrificing his own life so there would be no chance of his ministry distracting from that of Jesus. His role had been that of a herald, declaring the news of the Messiah’s arrival. But now that Jesus was here, John’s job was complete and God was going to call him home.

John’s death reveals volumes about the decadence and immoral nature of Herod and his stolen wife. This woman was furious with John over his humiliating comments about her and she longed to see him dead. And when she discovered that her husband had imprisoned John, she began to scheme how she might take advantage of the situation and ensure that John never left the prison alive. Her chance came when Herod threw himself a lavish birthday party to which he invited “his court officials, military commanders, and leaders of Galilee” (Mark 6:21 NLT). Part of the night’s entertainment was a dance performed by his own step-daughter, Salome. It seems likely that this young girl was put up to this by her mother. It was all part of a carefully orchestrated plot to do away with John the Baptist. Pleased by Salome’s dancing, Herod offered her a reward,

“Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” He swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” – Mark 6:22-23 NLT

When Salome asked her mother for advice, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herodias saw her opportunity to seek revenge and took full advantage of it. She knew that Herod would have to keep his word, having made his brash and unwise offer in the hearing of all his guests. And, reluctantly, Herod gave in to Salome’s strange request. He immediately ordered John’s execution and had his head placed on a platter and presented to his stepdaughter as a reward for her dancing. And ultimately, the gruesome gift made its way to Herodias.

And this brings Mark’s little diversion full circle. The death of John the Baptist must have haunted Herod for some time. Because when he heard all the rumors about Jesus, he began to question whether John had returned from the dead.

“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!” – Mark 6:26 NLT

This statement is filled with fear and foreboding. Herod must have had nightmares about what he had done to John. He had ordered the execution of a man who had simply spoken the truth. Herod had been a convert to Judaism and knew that his marriage to Herodias was unlawful. All that John had said had been true. And yet, due to his own pride and arrogance, Herod had made a rash vow and unintentionally sealed the fate of this innocent man. Now, he was having to live with the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Men on Mission

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 ESV

In the closing half of verse 6, Mark reveals that Jesus “went about among the villages teaching.” At this point in His ministry, Jesus is concentrating His energies and efforts on the region of Galilee. Having been rejected by the citizens of His own hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has moved on, taking His message of the Kingdom to other towns and villages where He will find a more receptive audience.

In this section, Jesus, as Master and Teacher, begins to prepare His disciples for the role they will play when the time comes for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greater contribution to the Kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.

For some time now, they have been witnesses to the witnesses of Jesus. They have seen Him cast out demons, heal the sick, minister to the needy, display His power over the elements of nature, and confound the people with His preaching and parables. But now, they were going to become participants rather than spectators. These men were going to be given an opportunity to practice what Jesus has preached. Instead of standing in the background safely observing the ministry of Jesus, they will find themselves on the frontlines of the effort to declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And to validate their message, they will be given unprecedented power to perform miracles, just like their Lord and Master.

Jesus chooses to send them out in pairs, most likely in keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning witnesses. Since these men would be declaring the news regarding the kingdom’s arrival and the reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a second witness would serve to validate that message. And Jesus knew that these men would need the strength and encouragement that comes with companionship.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

This entire enterprise was intended for the benefit of the disciples. While the nature of their message and ministry was vital, Jesus was giving them this assignment to prepare them. As He has been doing all along, Jesus is attempting to strengthen their faith. Despite their constant exposure to His teaching and their front-row seats to His amazing displays of power, they still struggled to comprehend His true identity. Even after witnessing Him calm the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they had expressed their shock and displayed their uncertainty.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:41 ESV

Jesus knew that His disciples remained unconvinced as to who He was. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah of Israel, but so much of what He said and did seemed to contradict their expectations and aspirations. They couldn’t deny His power and it was clear, from the crowds that followed Him wherever He went, that Jesus was growing in popularity. But His ongoing disputes with the religious leaders confused the disciples. How did He expect to unite the people and lead them in victory over the Romans if He continued to alienate the most powerful men in the nation?

But the disciples had much to learn about the Kingdom and the reign of the Messiah. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus did not do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.

So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:8 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. – Mark 6:9 NLT

Matthew reveals that Jesus provided strict instructions regarding the destination of the disciples. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 9:5-8 ESV

Their message was clear. They were to declare the same news that John the Baptist had preached in the wilderness of Judea. It was the same message of the kingdom that Jesus had been spreading throughout Galilee. And to validate their message, they were given the power to perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did. These signs and wonders would provide proof that their message was from God and that its content should be heard and heeded.

And, Jesus warns, if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples are to walk away. They are not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructs them to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.

All of this is in keeping with the words of John found in the opening chapter of his gospel.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Sadly, all those Jews who believed themselves to be the children of God but who refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God would find themselves rejected by God.

Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee. They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Amazed At Their Disbelief

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:1-6 ESV

After healing the woman with the discharge of blood and raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Nazareth. But there is one last thing we need to look at before leaving these two amazing miracles behind. In recording the events associated with these miracles, Mark provides two different pieces of information that, at first glance, appear to be unimportant. First, when describing the medical condition of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe, Mark states that she “had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (Mark 5:25 ESV). It would be logical to assume that he included this detail simply to emphasize the long-term and hopeless nature of the woman’s condition.

But then, just a few verses later, in describing the healing of Jairus’ young daughter, Mark adds another interesting detail.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age) – Mark 5:42 ESV

Once again, why did Mark feel the need to provide the girl’s age? Perhaps it was his way of explaining her ability to walk when commanded to do so. But why did he think it was so important to share her exact age? Even a toddler could have responded when Jesus called out “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41 ESV).

Could it be that Mark was attempting to use these two references to years as a way to connect these two miracles? Consider the fact that the very year the woman’s debilitating medical condition began would have been the very same year the young girl had been born. And while this woman spent the next 12 years visiting physicians and spending all her financial resources seeking a cure, the young daughter of Jairus would have been living a rather protected and privileged life. After all, her father was a well-respected leader in the local synagogue. For 12 years, the woman’s life would have been marked by pain and suffering, while the young girl most likely experienced a happy and carefree existence. But to the surprise of her family and friends, her young life would end suddenly and tragically in death. No one saw it coming. And while her anxious father had sought out the miracle worker named Jesus, his efforts would prove futile. It was too little, too late.

It would be natural to expect the older woman, who suffered from an incurable medical condition, to be the first to die. But she was spared because she placed her faith in Jesus. The one who knew her condition was fatal and was standing with one foot in the grave was delivered from death’s door. But the young girl, whose best years had been ahead of her, ended up dead, surrounded by mourners who grieved over her loss. But because of the faith of her father, Jesus raised the girl back to life. Upon hearing the devastating news that his daughter had died, Jairus was told by Jesus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). Jesus didn’t tell Jairus why or what he should believe. But the distraught father followed Jesus and, along with his wife and three of the disciples, watched as his 12-year-old daughter was miraculously restored to life.

Two women – one old and one young. One sick and the other whole. One anticipating death and the other completely surprised by it. And yet, both women were delivered from death by the same man. The one who was near death was prevented from having to experience it. The one who experienced death was brought back from it. And all through the power and authority of Jesus. This reminds us once again of the words He spoke to Martha, just before He raises her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

When we read the words, “…though he die, yet shall he live,” we should think of the 12-year-old girl. When we read the words, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” we should think of the woman who had been sick for 12 long years. These two women provide us with living proof of Jesus’ statement. Yes, both would end up dying at some later date. But, in healing them and delivering them from death when He did, Jesus was demonstrating for His disciples that He had power over death and the grave. And, one day, He would prove it with His own death and resurrection.

But back to today’s passage. Jesus and HIs disciples made their way to Nazareth, the town where He had grown up. This is where Mary and Joseph had settled and raised their family. After the birth of Jesus, they had gone on to have additional children, and, unlike Jesus, they had all chosen to remain in Nazareth.

But on the next Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue where Jesus was honored as a visiting Rabbi or teacher. He was given the opportunity to address the congregation, and what He had to say that day made a huge impression on those in the room. But it seems that His words received mixed reviews.

“Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” – Mark 6:2-3 NLT

Some were blown away by Jesus’ eloquence and His ability to perform such incredible miracles. Likely, the news about His most recent demonstrations of power had already made its way to Capernaum. But there were others in the crowd that day who were unimpressed because they viewed Jesus as nothing more than a carpenter. They knew His family and were probably aware that even His own brothers thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Even His own family refused to believe Him to be the Messiah of Israel (John 7:5). It seems likely that Jesus’ siblings had shared their own opinions regarding their famous brother. And all of this negative publicity appears to have jaded the minds of those who had known Jesus since He had been a little boy. Mark reveals that the opinion of the naysayers prevailed that day.

They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Mark 6:3 NLT

Mark goes on to note that Jesus was amazed at the level of disbelief among those who knew Him best. It is clear that they had heard the rumors concerning His miracles. They had just heard Him speak and expressed their amazement at His wisdom. But they just couldn’t get past the fact that this was the same man whom they had seen running and playing in the streets of Nazareth as a boy. He was the son of a carpenter. How could He be the long-awaited Messiah? The old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt,” comes to mind. They knew too much, and their knowledge blinded them to the truth.

And sensing their disbelief and outright rejection of His message and ministry, Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family” (Mark 6:4 NLT). Even the prophets of old found it difficult to get those who knew them best to listen to their words. Their claims to spokesmen for God went unheeded, and their calls to repentance fell on deaf ears. And Jesus includes Himself among the rejected and disrespected prophets of God. He was in good company and experiencing the same bad outcome.

And the refusal of the citizens of Nazareth to accept Jesus as the Son of God prevented them from experiencing the power of God in their midst. The miracles of Jesus would continue to be nothing more than rumors. The healings they had heard about would not take place in their community. The sick would find no relief. The demon-possessed would experience no release. The blind would remain sightless and doomed to walk in darkness. And the citizens of Nazareth would allow the Light of the world to walk away, leaving them wandering in the darkness of their own sin.

Mark paints a rather pathetic and pitiable picture of the scene that took place as Jesus prepared to leave His hometown.

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. – Mark 6:5 NLT

There was an absence of faith in Nazareth. Despite everything they had heard and seen, they couldn’t get past the fact that this was Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He was just a man. He was no better than they were. So, why should they honor Him? Why should they believe Him? Sadly, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, had grown up among them, but their stubborn pride and sin would prevent them from recognizing Him. And while Jesus would mercifully heal a few, the rest would be left to die in their sins. Their refusal to believe would have dire and deadly consequences, just as Jesus would later tell Martha.

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

New Life

35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:35-43 ESV

It is easy to get caught up in reading Mark’s narrative about the woman’s miraculous healing and forget all about Jairus. This poor man had been forced to bide his time and wait for Jesus to finish His conversation with the woman. And while what he had witnessed must have bolstered his faith in Jesus, it must have been difficult for him to hide his frustration at the unexpected delay. From his fatherly perspective, he would have seen his daughter’s circumstance as more pressing and immediate. The woman had lived with her chronic condition for 12 years and she could have waited a bit longer. After all, his daughter was dying.

But the chronology of these two events is critical. The woman’s decision to touch Jesus’ garment had caused what appeared to be an unexpected delay, that appears to have compromised Jesus’ plans and placed Him in a difficult situation. While He had been dealing with the woman, the young girl had died. And Mark records that the news of her death came abruptly and bluntly.

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” – Mark 5:35 ESV

The delay had been costly. Yes, the woman had received healing from her debilitating medical condition, but it had been at the expense of the young girl’s life. And it seems that Mark wanted his readers to wrestle with the conflicting emotions this sad scene would stir up. Immediately, one is forced to question what would have happened had the woman not touched the edge of Jesus’ garment. What if she had not been able to force her way through the crowd and make contact with Jesus? There would have been no delay and the young girl might still be alive. What kind of thoughts must have going through the mind of Jairus as he was forced to process this devasting news? Was he angry with Jesus? Did he blame the woman?

Mark provides us with no answers to any of these questions. He simply mentions that Jesus overheard the messengers delivering the fateful news to Jairus. But rather than expressing His sorrow over Jairus’ loss or apologizing for the untimely delay, Jesus tells the grieving father, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Let the weight of this statement sink in. Jairus has just been told that his 12-year-old daughter has died. And the one man who he believed could have healed her is telling him not to fear. In a sense, Jesus is encouraging Jairus not to allow this news to frighten or upset him. Instead, he is to replace his fear with faith. He is to believe.

But Jairus had believed. He had come to Jesus, kneeled at His feet, and begged Him to help his dying daughter.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

He had believed that Jesus could do something about her condition. But now, it was too late. She was dead. And Jairus must have struggled to control his frustration and anger at this callous-sounding comment from Jesus. The time for believing was gone.

This whole scene is similar to one recorded by John in his gospel. He tells of another delay that resulted in death. Jesus had been called to the home of His dear friend Lazarus. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent Jesus a message informing Him that Lazarus was ill. But upon hearing this news, Jesus delayed His departure for two days, then informed His disciples, “Lazarus has died,  and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, He was informed that the body of Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. And Martha, the sister of Lazarus, expressed her disappointment and frustration with Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

And Mary would echo her feelings.

 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32 ESV

But go back and look at what Jesus had told His disciples.

“…for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” – John 11:15 ESV

Jesus had delayed His departure on purpose. The two days had been more than enough time for Lazarus to die and to be buried. Jesus had purposefully created what appeared to be a completely hopeless scenario that even His disciples would have seen as beyond His power to remedy. But Jesus had allowed it so that they might believe. He wasn’t surprised by the news of Lazarus’ death. He wasn’t even concerned that, after four days, the body of Lazarus would have already begun to decay. He stepped up the tomb, commanded the stone to be rolled away, and confidently shouted, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43 ESV). And John records, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44 ESV). And the words that Jesus spoke to Martha just before this incredible event took place must have been ringing in her ears.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” – John 11:40 ESV

So, when Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe,” He meant it. Because Jesus knew what He was about to do. And if Jairus would only continue to believe, he too would see the glory of God.

Jesus accompanied the grieving father to his home and invited Peter, James, and John to join them. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a scene of great sorrow with “people weeping and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38 ESV). The mourning process had already begun. The funeral preparations were already well underway. But Jesus interrupted the proceedings with a question and a comment:

“Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” – Mark 5:39 ESV

His words must have come across as either painfully callous and insensitive or simply misinformed. In either case, the people respond with derisive laughter. But Jesus, ignoring their reaction, has them removed from the scene. Then, accompanied by the deceased girl’s parents and His three disciples, Jesus entered her room. As Jairus and his wife wept and the disciples looked on in disbelief, Jesus took the little girl by the hand and spoke to her.

“Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” – Mark 5:41 ESV

And according to Mark’s account, the transformation was instantaneous.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. – Mark 5:42 ESV

She went from being fully dead to being fully alive in an instant. And her amazing transformation was almost as though she had simply been awakened from asleep. And, for Jesus, restoring the dead girl to life had been no more difficult than waking up someone from sleep. It’s no coincidence that Jesus used the waking-sleeping analogy in both of these death-to-life scenarios. Even when Jesus had known that Lazarus had died, He had told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV).

For Jesus, death was no obstacle. As John put it in his gospel account, “ In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And Jesus would later refer to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). As the Son of God, Jesus was the author of all life. He was the giver of life. And He would soon prove Himself to be the conqueror of death. These two events were meant to encourage His disciples to believe that He was who He claimed to be. As impressed as they had been with His calming of the storm and His exorcism of the demons, this miracle must have left the disciples in complete shock. Mark simply says they were overcome with amazement.

They couldn’t believe their eyes. They had just witnessed Jesus do the impossible. And Peter, James, and John must have been chomping at the bit to rush and tell their companions what they had just seen. But before they could rush out the door and spread the news of this amazing miracle, Jesus throws cold water on their enthusiasm. He commands them to tell no one what they have seen. And this prohibition applied to the parents as well.

…he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:43 ESV

Jesus was on a divine timeline. His mission was on a tightly-orchestrated schedule that was all part of God’s preordained plan. Jesus was a student of human nature. He knew that if news of this particular miracle got out, the people would attempt to make Him their king. Anyone with that kind of power would have no problem overcoming the Romans. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come. He had more ministry to accomplish and much more training to complete with His disciples.

And this incredible miracle was meant to provide His disciples with undeniable proof of His power and authority, but also clarify for them the nature of His mission. He had not come to be their King. At least, not yet. He had not come to destroy the Romans and restore the political fortunes of Israel. No, He came to restore the spiritually dead to new life. And that was the message He had communicated to Martha just before He restored her brother to life.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

The young girl and Lazarus would both end up dying – again. Their new lives were temporary, not permanent. And they would both need to experience the new birth that Jesus described to Nicodemus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [from above]  he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

The real resurrection from death to life is yet to come. And it provides not only new life but life eternal – a never-ending, uninterrupted existence with God the Father and His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Touch of Faith

21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:21-34 ESV

The disciples sailed back to the opposite shore with their minds filled with the images of the herd of demon-possessed swine plummeting over the cliff into the sea and the former demoniac sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. It had been a whirlwind 24 hours. They had witnessed Jesus calm a violent storm and restore a demon-possessed man to sanity. In addition, they had heard those demons refer to their master as the “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7 ESV). In a sense, with the testimony of the demons still ringing in their ears, they had unknowingly received the answer they had posed earlier. When they had witnessed the miracle of Jesus calming the storm, they had asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

They should have had their answer. But Jesus was not done revealing the true nature of His identity. There would be more God-ordained encounters in the days ahead that would provide further proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be and who the demons confessed Him to be.

Having returned from their brief but eventful trip to the region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples found themselves immediately surrounded by a large crowd. Mark gives the impression that, before Jesus could even disembark from the boat, the masses of people had been lined the shoreline. And Luke supports that idea by adding,, “they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40 ESV).

Still standing by the sea and surrounded by a mass of people, Jesus was approached by a man named Jairus, who was a ruler in the local synagogue. This man was not a professional priest, but a layman who was responsible for conducting Sabbath services and for the ongoing care of the synagogue. His role would have made him a recognized and well-respected member of the local community. And his high-visibility position most likely resulted in some familiarity with the Pharisees and other religious rulers of Israel. So, when he kneeled at the feet of Jesus, in front of a large gathering of his own neighbors and friends, he was taking a great risk – not only personally but professionally.

We know from John’s gospel that the religious leaders of Israel were intensifying their efforts to discredit Jesus and to pressure the people from following Him. John records an occasion when Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. When the Pharisees interrogated the man’s parents, attempting to discern whether he had truly been born blind, they were racked with fear. And John tells us why.

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. – John 9:22 ESV

Yet, here was Jairus, a ruler in the local synagogue, kneeling before Jesus and begging Him to heal His daughter.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

Mark tries to convey the intensity of the man’s desperation when he writes, “he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly” (Mark 5:22-23 ESV). Mark uses the same Greek word, parakaleō, that he used to describe how the demons begged Jesus not to torment them, but to cast them into the swine. And it was the same word he used to describe the fearful townspeople begging Jesus to leave their community.

This man was emotionally distraught and willing to do anything to save the life of his dying daughter. She meant far more to him than his career or reputation. And if expressing faith in Jesus could preserve her life, the loss of his job was a price he was willing to pay. And much to his relief, Jesus agreed to go with him. But they didn’t go alone. Mark reports that “a great crowd followed him and thronged about him” (Mark 5:24 ESV). The crowd moved en masse, pressing in on Jesus and the anxious father as they made their way to the man’s home. But before they could reach their destination, something else took place.

There was another individual in the crowd that day. But, unlike the ruler of the synagogue, this person held no high position in the community. It was an obscure, unnamed woman who had made her way to the seashore that day with the desperate hope of receiving healing from this man named Jesus. But she was just one among many, struggling to fight her way through the crowd in an effort to get close enough to touch the hem of His garment.

This woman had what appears to be an incurable medical condition that Mark describes as “a discharge of blood” (Mark 5:25 ESV). And she had suffered with it for 12 long years. Not only that, she had exhausted all her resources seeking a cure through traditional medical treatments. But nothing had worked. In fact, her condition had grown worse, leaving her in a state of desperation. But unlike Jairus, the crowds were not going to part and allow her access to Jesus. She was going to have to fight and claw her way through the bustling crowd just to get close enough to see Jesus.

But what stands out is the woman’s faith. She fully believed that if she could only touch Jesus’ robe, she would be healed.

If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” – Mark 5:28 ESV

Jairus was convinced that if Jesus would only touch his daughter, she would be made well. This woman believed that if she could just touch Jesus, she would be healed. Both believed that Jesus was the solution to their particular problem.

Somehow, this frail and physically weakened woman forced her way through the crowd and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. And Mark describes that “immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:29 ESV). Her healing was immediate, and she knew it. But no one else in the crowd was even aware of her presence., and they had no idea that a miracle had even taken place. Yet, Jesus did.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” – Mark 5:30 NLT

Luke reports that Jesus informed His disciples, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s identity. He could have said nothing and simply allowed the woman to walk away unnoticed and rejoicing in her renewed health. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know what had happened. And He was willing to postpone his trip to Jairus’ house in order to reveal the miracle that had just taken place.

Suddenly exposed and unable to extricate herself from the crowd, the woman timidly and guiltily stepped forward. She “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33 ESV). Once again, her confession was not for Jesus’ benefit. He already knew what had happened. But this woman’s remarkable testimony was meant to encourage the disciples and provide them with further proof of who Jesus was. It was also meant to illustrate the kind of faith they were supposed to have. Notice what Jesus said to the woman.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:34 ESV

Jesus had not spoken her healing into existence. He had not even touched her.  And yet, she stood before Him completely whole. It was her faith in Jesus that had brought about her remarkable transformation. He wants to correct a dangerous misconception in the woman’s thinking. She had reasoned that there must be some kind of power emanating from Jesus, and this power must be transferable. But Jesus insists that her healing was a result of faith, not superstition or some kind of supernatural force field.

As incredible as it may sound, at the moment the woman touched the edge of His robe, Jesus was aware of the woman’s presence, the purpose of her action, and He willingly released His power to heal her. This was not some kind of automatic outflow of energy that was outside of Jesus’ control or volition. There were countless people who touched Him that day, many of whom longed to receive healing. But it was only this woman who received that for which she had hoped. And Jesus describes her action as an example of faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). This woman hoped to be healed, and was fully assured it would happen if she could only manage to get close enough to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to talk to Him. She believed His power was so great that a simple touch of His garment could do what countless physicians had been unable to do. And her faith was rewarded.

And when Jesus said, “be healed of your disease,” He was confirming the veracity of her testimony and the source of her healing. It had been Him.

But before the crowds could take in all that had just happened or the disciples could ask any questions, the mood of the moment was about to take a dramatically dark turn. The focus was going to shift from healing to death, from joy to sorrow, and from hope to despair. But Jesus was far from done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson