Cost of Discipleship

OVERVIEW - 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 Robert Bye on Unsplash
In the next section, Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God throughout the region. 
Mark then places the execution of John the Baptist between this paragraph and its final verse to prepare the reader for the rejection that results from following Jesus. To follow him, one must first count the cost to have any hope of seeing that decision through to the end - [Narrow Path - Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash].

THE TWELVE SENT TO PREACH. Jesus sent the disciples out to proclaim the arrival of the “kingdom,” cast out demons, and pray for the sick. He gave them his authority. Just as he was the representative of the Father, so the Twelve became his envoys.
  • (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 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 your 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.” (Compare - Matthew 10:1-5, Luke 9:1-6).
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).

Jesus “began to send them forth.” The verb rendered “began” indicates Jesus sent the Twelve to preach on more than one occasion, and 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.

Tunic” refers to the inner garment worn by a man, not to his outer cloak. The items they were to carry - Staff, belt, sandals, tunic - correspond to the instructions Moses gave to Israel on the night of Passover 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 announced something to Israel of far more importance than the original exodus from Egypt. Like the ancient Israelites, they 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

It was common for a Jew traveling through Gentile lands to shake the dust off his feet when he arrived home, so that no “unclean” pagan soil would pollute the land of Israel. For the disciples to do so was tantamount to declaring the offending village 
Gentile territory, and therefore, ritually unclean. With the coming of the Messiah, there could be no presumption of salvation based on geography or ethnicity.

HEROD AND JOHN THE BAPTISTMark inserted 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 what it means to become a disciple of Jesus.
  • (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.”
Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great, and the tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa. He ruled as the faithful vassal of Rome. Tetrarch means the “ruler of a fourth.” Following his death, the domain of Herod the Great was divided between four of his sons. As a ruler appointed by Rome, Herod Antipas had the authority to execute a prisoner.

Herodias had divorced the half-brother of Herod Antipas to marry him, a violation of Jewish laws against incest. And 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 had divorced his previous wife. The daughter of Herodias is unnamed here, but 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.
  • (Mark 6:30) – “And the apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus; and they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught.”
By embedding the execution of John in this story, Mark links gospel mission of the disciples with opposition from religious and political authorities. The story highlights the hard truth that, to become a disciple of Jesus, one must be willing to follow in his footsteps.


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