Counting the Cost

Jesus sent his twelve disciples to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom throughout the region. In the Gospel of Mark, this incident is followed by the execution of John the Baptist. His death serves as a warning to the would-be disciple that rejection will inevitably follow his or her decision to follow Jesus of Nazareth no matter where he leads. To walk in his footsteps, one must first COUNT THE COST to have any hope of seeing the journey through to the end.

Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim the arrival of the “Kingdom,” cast out demons, and pray for the sick, and he gave them his authority to do so. Just as he was the representative of the Father, so his twelve disciples became his envoys to the Jewish nation - (Mark 6:7-13).

Calculator - Photo by Ashraf Ali on Unsplash
[Calculator - Photo by Ashraf Ali on Unsplash]

He summoned the twelve and “
began to send them out two by two.” This was in accord with the Mosaic Law that required a man’s testimony to be corroborated by two or more witnesses. These twelve men did more than simply teach religious principles. In effect, they would become witnesses to how the people of Israel responded to their Messiah - (Deuteronomy 19:15).

The passage in Mark states that Jesus “BEGAN to send them forth.” The Greek verb rendered “began” indicates that he sent them to preach on more than one occasion.  The term apostellō or “send forth” is related to the noun apostolos from which the noun “apostle” is derived. The term can also denote one who is an “envoy,” “ambassador,” or other type of representative. It signifies one who is sent.

Jesus commanded the twelve to carry staffs, belts, sandals, and tunics on their journey, items which corresponded to the instructions given 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).

However, his disciples were to announce something of even more importance than the original exodus from Egypt, both then and now. Like the ancient Israelites, the twelve disciples would not be encumbered with anything that might impede their journey. Just as there was urgency in Israel’s flight from Egypt, so there was urgency in their mission to proclaim the Kingdom throughout the villages of Galilee and Judea.

If a village rejected their message, they were to “shake off the dust under their feet for a witness.” It was a common practice for devout and patriotic Jews when traveling through Gentile lands to shake the dust off their feet as they arrived back home so no “unclean” pagan soil would pollute the land of Israel.

By doing this, the disciples would send an especially offensive message to an offending village, declaring graphically that its Jewish residents were no better than ritually unclean Gentiles since they rejected the Messiah of Israel and his message.

With the arrival of the Nazarene, there could no longer be any presumption of salvation or divine blessing based on geography, nationality, or ethnicity. It was how one responded to Jesus and his Gospel that determined whether anyone was included or excluded from the one covenant people of God and His coming Kingdom.

HEROD AND JOHN


The Gospel of Mark inserts the story of John’s execution between the sending of the twelve disciples and their return to Jesus. John’s unjust death provided an example of the cost of becoming a true disciple of the man from Nazareth - (Mark 6:14-29).

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 the ruler appointed by Rome, Herod Antipas had the authority to execute a prisoner convicted of committing a capital crime in his realm.

Herodias divorced the half-brother of Herod Antipas so she could marry him, a violation of the Mosaic regulations regarding incest. Though a wife could divorce her husband under Roman law, the Mosaic Law did not allow for a wife to initiate divorce proceedings - (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21).

In John’s eyes, Herodias was still married to the half-brother of Antipas, making her an adulteress. In his turn, Herod Antipas divorced his previous wife so he could marry Herodias. In the passage, the daughter of Herodias is unnamed. But the Jewish historian Josephus identifies her as ‘Salome,’ the daughter of Herodias and her first husband.

John’s execution foreshadowed the death of Jesus. Like John, he would be executed by the representative of Rome. Like Herod, Pontius Pilate would hesitate to kill him since he knew him to be a righteous man, yet he would do so anyway. Furthermore, like the Temple authorities who demanded Christ’s death and manipulated the crowds to call for it, Herodias got her way by manipulating her husband. The disciples of John came for his body and buried him, just as Joseph of Arimathea would request the body of Jesus from Pilate, prepared it carefully, and then buried it.

  • (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 death of John in his narrative, the Gospel of Mark links the gospel mission of the disciples with the opposition from the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem, both Roman and Jewish. His followers could expect nothing less than vigorous and even dangerous opposition to their mission of proclaiming God’s Kingdom.

This story highlights the hard truth that to become a disciple of Jesus one first must count the cost and then become willing to follow the same path that he did even if doing so leads to rejection, opposition, criticism, persecution, or an unjust death for the sake of the Lord.



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