AFTER THESE THINGS, leaving the lakeside He went into the district where His early life had been spent. Teaching in the synagogue, His words astonished them. They quite dearly recognized the wisdom of His teachings and the might of His acts, and yet all this wrought no conviction or faith in their hearts. They knew Him, and those related to Him according to the flesh, and this but blinded their eyes as to who He really was. They were not insulting in their expression of unbelief, as were the mourners in the house of Jairus; but it was rank unbelief nevertheless, so great that He marvelled at it.
The view that they had of Jesus was just that of the modern Unitarian. They were altogether convinced of His humanity, for they were so well acquainted with its origins as far as His flesh was concerned. They saw it so clearly that it blinded them to anything beyond, and they were offended in Him. The Unitarian sees His humanity, but nothing beyond. We see His humanity no less clearly than the Unitarian, but beyond it we see His deity. It does not trouble us that we cannot grasp intellectually how both can be found in Him. Knowing that our minds are finite, we do not expect to explain that into which infinity enters. If we could grasp and explain, we should know that what we thus comprehend is not Divine.
As a result of this unbelief, "He could there do no mighty work," save that He healed a few sick folk, who, evidently, did have faith in Him. This emphasizes what we have just noted in connection with verse 43 of Mark 5. As, in the presence of ribald unbelief, the Lord withdrew any testimony to Himself, so, in the presence of His unbelieving fellow-countrymen, He did no mighty works.
Now we might feel inclined to think that His action should have been just the opposite. But it does seem in Scripture that when unbelief rises to the height of mockery, the testimony stops-see, Jeremiah 15: 17; Acts 13: 41; Acts 17: 32-Acts 18: 1. Also it is evident that though "Jesus of Nazareth" was "approved of God . . . by miracles and wonders and signs" (Acts 2: 22), yet the main object was not to convince stubborn unbelief, but to encourage and confirm weak faith. We are shown in John 2: 23-25, that when His miracles did produce intellectual conviction in certain men, He Himself put no trust in the conviction so produced. Hence He did no great works in the Nazareth district. He "could" not do them. He was limited by moral considerations, not by physical ones. Miracles were not suitable to the occasion, according to God's ways: and He was the Servant of God's will.
What was suitable was the faithful rendering of a dear testimony; hence "He went round about the villages, teaching." A great display of miracles might have produced a revulsion of feeling and intellectual conviction, which would not have been worth having. The steady teaching of the Word meant sowing the seed, and there would be some worth-while fruit from that, as we have seen.
This brings us to verse 7 of this chapter, where we read of the twelve being sent forth on their first mission. Their period of training was now over. They had listened to His instructions, as given in Mark 4, and witnessed His power, as displayed in chapter 5. They had also had this striking illustration of the place that miracles should occupy, and of the fact that though there were times when they might be unsuitable, the teaching and preaching of the Word of God was always in season.
Miracles and signs of a genuine sort are not in evidence today; but the Word of God abides. Let us be thankful that the Word is always in season, and let us be diligent in sowing it.
The sending forth of the twelve was the inauguration of an extension of the Lord's ministry and service. Hitherto all had been in His own hands, with the disciples as onlookers; now they are to act on His behalf. He was absolutely sufficient in Himself: they are not sufficient, and hence they are to go forth two and two. There is help and courage in companionship, for just where one is weak another may be strong, and He who sent them knew exactly how to couple them together. Companionship is specially helpful where pioneering work is being done; and so in the Acts we see Paul acting on this instruction of the Lord. Service is an individual matter, it is true, but even today we do well to esteem rightly fellowship in serving. "We are God's fellow-workmen" (1 Cor. 3: 9. N. Tr.).
Before they left, they had power or authority given to them over all the power of Satan. They also had instructions to strip themselves of even the ordinary necessaries, carried by the traveller of those days. Further, they were given their message. As their Master had preached repentance in view of the kingdom (see 1: 15), so were they to preach it.
Those who serve today do not hold their commission from Christ on earth, but Christ in heaven; and this introduces certain modifications. Our message centres in the death, resurrection and glory of Christ, whereas theirs in the very nature of things could not do so. They discarded travelling necessities, inasmuch as they represented the Messiah on earth, who had nothing, but who was well able to sustain them. We are followers of a Christ who has gone on high, and His power is usually exercised in freeing His servants from dependence on props of a spiritual nature rather than from those of a material sort. We may certainly, however, take great comfort from the thought that He does not send His servants forth without giving them power for the service before them. If we are to cast out demons He will give us power to do it. And if our service is not that but something else, then power for the something else will be ours.
They-and we too-are to be marked by utmost simplicity: no running about from house to house in search for something better. They represented Him. He acted by proxy through them; and hence to refuse them was to refuse Him. His saying in verse 11 as to Sodom and Gomorrah is similar to what He said of Himself in Matthew 11: 21-24. Those who serve Him today are not apostles, still in a lesser degree the same thing doubtless holds good. God's message is not the less His message because it comes through feeble lips.
Their service, whether in preaching, casting out demons or in healing, was so effective that His Name-not theirs-was spread abroad, and even Herod heard His fame. This miserable king had so bad a conscience that he at once assumed that John the Baptist, his victim, had come to life. Others considered Christ to be Elijah, or one of the old prophets. No one knew, for no one thought of God as able to do some new thing.
At this point Mark digresses a little to tell us, in verses 17-28, how John had been murdered at the behest of a vindictive woman. Evil man though he was, Herod possessed a conscience that spoke, and we see the masterly craft by which the devil captured him. The trap was set by means of a young woman with pretty face and form, an older woman attractive and revengeful, and a foolish vanity which made the unhappy king think much more of his oath than of God's law. Thus the vain and lustful man was manouevred into the act of murder, with ultimate damnation for himself. His uneasy conscience only provoked superstitious fears.
In verse 29, Mark merely records that John's disciples gave his mutilated body burial. He does not add as Matthew does that they "went and told Jesus" (Mark 14: 12). He passes on to record the return of the disciples from their journeyings, telling their Master of all that they had done and taught. It was then that the Lord withdrew them into a desert place, that apart from the crowd and the busy service they might spend quiet time in His presence. It is instructive to notice that the passage in Matthew makes it pretty certain that the distressed disciples of John also arrived just at that time.
Let us never forget that a period of rest in the presence of the Lord, apart from men, is necessary after a period of busy service. The disciples of John came from their sad service heavy-hearted and distressed. The twelve came from triumphant encounters with the power of demons and disease, probably flushed with success. Both needed the quiet of the presence of the Lord, which avails equally to lift up the drooping heart and check undue elation of spirit.
However, the period of quiet was but brief, for the people sought after Him in their crowds, and He would not say them nay. The heart of the great Servant comes out most beautifully in verse 34, where we are told He was "moved with compassion." The sight of them, "as sheep not having a shepherd," only induced compassion in Him, not-as so often with us, alas!-feelings of annoyance or contempt. And He was moved by the compassion He felt; that is the wonder of it.
His compassion moved Him in two directions. First, to minister to them as to spiritual things. Second, to minister to them carnal things. Notice the order: the spiritual came first. "He began to teach them many things," though what He said is not recorded; then when the evening was come He relieved their hunger. Let us learn from this how to act. If men have bodily needs it is good that we should meet them according to our ability; but let us always keep the Word of God in the first place. The needs of the body must never take precedence over the needs of the soul, in our service.
In feeding the five thousand, the Lord first of all tested His disciples. How much had they taken in as to His sufficiency? Very little apparently, for in answer to His word, "Give ye them to eat," they only think of human resources and of money. Now any resources of a human sort that were present were by no means ignored. They were very insignificant, but they were appropriated by Jesus that in them His power might be displayed. He might have turned stones into bread, or indeed produced bread from nothing; but His way was to utilize the five loaves and two fishes.
His work has been carried on in just this way throughout the present epoch. His servants possess certain small things, which He is pleased to use. And further, He dispensed His bounty in an orderly manner, the people being seated in hundreds and fifties, and He employed His disciples in the work. The feet and hands that conveyed the food to the people were theirs. Today the feet and hands of His servants are used, their minds and lips are placed at His disposal, so that the bread of life may reach the needy. But the power that produces results is wholly His. The very feebleness of the means used makes this manifest.
As the perfect Servant He was careful to connect all that He did with heaven. Before the miracle took place He looked up to heaven and rendered thanks. Thereby the thoughts of the crowd were directed to God as the Source of all, rather than to Himself the Servant of God on earth. A word to ourselves, containing a similar principle, is found in 1 Peter 4: 11. The servant who ministers spiritual food is to do so as from God, that God may be glorified in it and not himself.
We may also extract encouragement from the fact that when the great crowd was fed, far more remained than the little with which they started. The Divine resources are inexhaustible, and the Servant who relies upon his Master will never run out of supplies. In this respect there is a very happy resemblance between the loaves and fishes placed in the hands of the disciples and the Bible placed in the hands of disciples today.
The feeding of the multitude accomplished, the Lord at once dispatched His disciples to the other side of the lake and gave Himself to prayer. He not only connected all with heaven by thanksgiving in the presence of the people, but He ever maintained touch for Himself as the Servant of the Divine will. From John 6 we learn that at this point the people were enthusiastic and would have made Him a king by force. The disciples might have been entrapped by this, but He was not.
The crossing of the lake furnished the disciples with a fresh demonstration of who their Master was. The contrary wind hindered their progress, and they toiled forward slowly. He again proved Himself supremely above both wind and wave, walking upon the water, and able to pass them by. His word calmed their fears, and His presence in their boat ended the storm. In spite of all this, the real significance of it eluded them. Their hearts were not yet ready to take it in. Nevertheless the people generally had learned to recognize the Lord and His power. Abundance of need was presented to Him, and He met it with abundance of grace.
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