Cost of Discipleship

SYNOPSIS - To be a disciple means taking up the cross daily and following in his footsteps, even when doing so means death - Mark 6:7-30

Narrow Path - Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash
This next paragraph marks the start of the third major division of the gospel of Mark. In it, Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God throughout the region. At the end of chapter 6, they returned to report all that they had done - (Mark 6:7-13). - [Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash].

Mark places the story of the execution of John the Baptist between this paragraph and its conclusion in verse 30 to prepare the reader for the rejection and persecution that inevitably results from following Jesus - To emulate him is to give offense - The disciple who would follow Christ must first count the cost to have any hope of seeing the decision through to the end.
  • (Mark 6:7-13) - “And he summoned the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and he was giving them authority over the unclean spirits and he charged them that they should take nothing for a journey except a staff only: no bread, no satchel, no copper coins for the belt; but, having put on sandals, ‘and you should not put on two tunics.’ And he was saying to them, ‘Wherever you may enter into a house, there be remaining until you depart from there. And whatever place may not welcome you nor hearken to you, having departed from there, shake off the dust under you feet for a witness to them.’ And having departed they proclaimed in order that [men] should repent, and they were casting out many demons and were anointing many sick with oil and were healing” (The Emphasized Bible. Compare - Matthew 10:1-5, Luke 9:1-6).
Jesus “began to send them forth.” The verb rendered “began” indicates that Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach on more than one occasion. This verse records the first time he did so.  The Greek verb apostellō or “send forth” is related to the noun apostolos from which the noun “apostle” is derived.

Jesus sent the Twelve to preach, to cast out demons, and to pray for the sick. They were given his authority - Their mission was an extension of his. As he was his Father’s representative, so his disciples were his envoys. Sending them “two-by-two” was in accord with the Mosaic Law that required a testimony to be corroborated by two or more witnesses - (Deuteronomy 19:15).

The “tunic” refers to the inner garment worn by a man, not to his mantle or outer cloak. The items Jesus told the disciples to carry - Staff, belt, sandals, tunic - Correspond to the instructions that Moses gave to Israel on the original Passover night in Egypt:
  • In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is Yahweh's Passover” - (Exodus 12:11).
The disciples were sent to announce something to Israel far more important than the original exodus from Egypt. Like the ancient Israelites, the disciples were to be unencumbered with anything that might impede their journey. Just as there was urgency in Israel’s flight from Egypt, so there was urgency in the mission of the Twelve to the villages of Galilee.

Dark Trail - Photo by Sander Mathlener on Unsplash
Photo by Sander Mathlener on Unsplash

Having no supplies for a long journey made the Twelve more reliant on God for provisions and protection. It was common for a Jew traveling through Gentile lands to shake the dust off his feet when he arrived home so no “unclean” pagan soil would pollute the land of Israel.

The command to “shake the dust off their fee” was tantamount to declaring the offending village Gentile territory and ritually unclean. The implications would have been deeply offensive to a first-century Jew. With the coming of the Messiah, there could be no presumption of salvation based on geography or ethnicity. 

Herod and John the Baptist
  • (Mark 6:14-29) - “And King Herod heard for his name became well known, and he was saying that, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and because of this the powers are actively working in him.’ Now others were saying that, ‘It is Elijah.’ Moreover others were saying that, ‘A prophet like one of the prophets!’ Yet, having heard, Herod was saying, ‘The one whom I beheaded, John, the same was raised.’ For Herod himself, having sent seized John and bound him in prison because of Herodias the wife of Philip his brother, because he married her; for John was saying to Herod, ‘It is not permitted to you to have the wife of your brother.’ Now Herodias was resenting him and wishing to kill him and could not, for Herod was afraid of John, knowing him [to be] a man righteous and holy, and he was protecting him, and having heard him he was perplexed and gladly was hearing him. And an opportune day came to pass when Herod made a banquet for his nobles and for the rulers of thousands and for the first men of Galilee on his birthday; and the daughter of this very Herodias, having entered and danced, pleased Herod and those reclining together. The king said to the maiden, ‘Ask me whatever you wish and I will give [it] to you.’ And he swore to her, ‘Whatever you may ask me, I will give [it] to you, up to half of my kingdom.’ And having left she said to her mother, ‘What should I ask?’ And she said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ And having come in immediately with haste to the king she asked, saying, ‘I desire that at once you give to me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ And the king, having become very grieved, because of the oaths and of those who were reclining, he was not willing to refuse her. And the king, having immediately sent a bodyguard, gave orders to bring his head. And, having departed, he beheaded him in the prison and brought his head upon a platter and gave it to the maiden, and the maiden gave it to her mother. And his disciples, having heard, came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb" (cp. Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56).
Mark inserts the story of John’s execution between the sending of the Twelve and their return. His unjust death provided an example of the cost of becoming a faithful disciple of Jesus might require.

The king involved was Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, the king who had the infant males of Bethlehem slaughtered in his attempt to destroy Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18).

Herod Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39 and ruled as the faithful vassal of Rome. Tetrarch means “ruler of a fourth.” Following the death of Herod, his domain was divided between four of his sons. As a ruler appointed by Rome, he had the authority to execute a prisoner.

Herodias divorced the half-brother of Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, in order to marry Antipas. This was in violation of Jewish laws against incest. Though a wife could divorce her husband under the laws of Rome, the Mosaic Law did not allow a wife to initiate divorce - (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21).

In the eyes of John, Herodias was still married to the half-brother of Antipas’, making her an adulteress. In his turn, Herod Antipas divorced his previous wife, the daughter of Aretas, the king of Nabatea, an Arabic kingdom east of the Dead Sea. The daughter of Herodias is unnamed. However, the Jewish historian Josephus identified her as ‘Salome,’ the daughter of Herodias and her first husband.

The execution of John foreshadowed the death of Jesus. Like John, he was executed by a political authority appointed by Rome. Like Herod, Pontius Pilate hesitated to execute a prisoner he knew to be righteous but did so anyway. Like the Temple authorities that demanded the death of Christ, Herodias got her way through her manipulations behind the scenes. The disciples of John came for his body and buried him, just as Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus.

By embedding the execution of John in this story, Mark links the gospel mission with opposition. To become a disciple of Jesus means to follow in his same footsteps.


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