First Mennonite Church
January 28, 2018
The Gospel: A Message of Hope, Hard to be Silenced
Text: Mark 6:1-29
The Gospel according to Mark is in various ways far different than the three other gospels. Mark’s gospel has a fast-paced narrative; therefore Jesus’ ministry seems to be of a shorter time-span. Mark’s gospel is shorter than the other three. Mark’s gospel hits the ground running from the very beginning. Mark does not delay in telling us what he is writing about. This is how Mark one, verse one reads: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: . . . .
Mark forthrightly identifies the type of material he is writing. He calls it “gospel,” and for him being the first writer about the ministry of Jesus, it is rightful to believe that Mark is the one who gave this name to this genre, which the other three gospel writers followed.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek word “gospel” is the great news of God’s salvation. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation . . . ,” says Isaiah (52: 4). Thus what Mark had embarked on writing is the good news of God’s salvation brought in the person of Jesus, his Anointed One (Messiah/Christ), his only begotten Son. The good news of God’s salvation in Jesus was not a mystery or something that came as a surprise. It had been announced centuries ago by Isaiah, declares Mark. Yet, in his gospel Mark proves time and time again how God’s people not only failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but openly rejected him. And the passage for today is one example of that.
The Gospel is Rejected
In chapter six, Jesus came back to his hometown after a successful tour of preaching, teaching and healing in the neighboring towns and villages. Jesus had called a few of his disciples. He had healed many needy people, including a demon-possessed man. He had calmed the stormy sea and he had been teaching with authority. The people everywhere he had been were amazed at his healing power and his teaching with authority. But when Jesus came to his hometown, amazement over him soon turned into outright rejection. His townspeople could not overcome their view about Jesus. The people of Nazareth could not break away from their limited perception of one of their own. They began to question: “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
There is the story of a fisherman who kept his catch of crabs in a barrel half-full of water, so he’d have them fresh to deliver to the market. But one day, one of the crabs decided he would try to escape and he told the others about his plan. They laughed and ridiculed him. “A crab in a barrel is a crab on the table,” the crabs chanted as the other one tried to climb out of the barrel. At his every attempt to climb up out the barrel, the others would pull him down with their big pincers. Finally, the crabs were all delivered to the market, but at least one of them imagined the possibility of a different end.
That is what was happening to Jesus when he came to Nazareth. His townspeople could not imagine something different about one of their own. Jesus was not expected to perform more than his father did. Jesus was supposed to make tables and benches but not extraordinary miracles. Jesus could not be any different than the rest of his siblings. To the people of Nazareth, being a normal kid was to be like James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and the sisters of Jesus. Jesus had turned abnormal. He had broken the mold; he had gone beyond the limits. How could it be that Jesus would speak with such wisdom? Jesus was not expected to be any better, wiser, nor different than his folks or the leaders of his town. Yet, every word he spoke and every deed he performed defied their preconceived notion of how one of their own should be. However, the people in the surrounding towns and villages were loud witnesses of his power, authority, and wisdom and they all rejoiced. But the people of Nazareth took offense at him. The people of Nazareth were like the crabs in the barrel. They could not fathom the thought of breaking away from the mold and anyone who dared to was ridiculed and dragged back into the barrel.
The lesson from this encounter between Jesus and his townspeople can be applied at various levels. For us who are parents of young children there is a lesson we can learn. Let us allow our children to dream the dreams God gives them. Our children do not have to conform to our patterns or to follow in our footsteps in terms of our careers, professions, or for that matter be bound to our limitations. For us as a congregation this applies as well. The power of the gospel availed to us by the Spirit of God cannot be imprisoned or defined by our numbers or lack of it, or by our limited resources. And that is exactly what is in the following passage for today.
The Gospel of Simplicity
Jesus sent his disciples on tour of ministry as he had done. His instructions were simple and clear:
o Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.
o Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.
o Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
o And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
The disciples were to strictly follow the instructions of their Master. They were to depend on the grace of those who welcomed them. They were to stay only where they were accepted. That meant they could not wander anywhere simply because, say, the family that hosted them is poor and therefore the disciple might want to choose a wealthier family. The disciples were to waste no time with those who would not welcome them. There are more places than missionaries could cover. They were to shake the dust off their feet wherever they were rejected. By doing so they were calling God’s judgment upon these towns and people.
It was clear then as it is now that the gospel will sometimes be rejected even when it is presented in the most culturally sensitive way. The words of Jesus to his disciples are valid even today that there will be those who will want to hear and receive his message. But just as Jesus was, his disciples must also be the conscience of those who oppose the message. And that is what the following passage is about.
The Gospel: A Conscience Some Try to Silence
When Herod heard the news about Jesus, his work of wonders and the wisdom of his teaching, he believed John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Herod was terrified at that possibility because he was the one who ordered John’s death. You see, John the Baptist was a powerful voice of conscience to Herod. John had called out Herod for taking away the wife of his brother and marrying her. John had said, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herod both liked and hated John. Herod recognized God’s working through John. But as John himself claimed to be “the voice crying out in the wilderness,” he would not remain silent at the immorality of Herod. And so, Herod arrested John and put him in jail. Herod threatened to silence the voice of his conscience. What Herod did not know was that his attempt at silencing the voice of conscience was not over. On the day of his birthday, Herod under oath offered to give anything to his stepdaughter for entertaining his guests with her dancing. And that gave Herodias opportunity to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. And John, the conscience of Herod, was put to death. Therefore the appearance of Jesus, who Herod believed was John returned from the dead was a terrifying idea. Herod was filled with terror.
Dear friend, the gospel message is the good news of God’s salvation to everyone who would receive it. To those who receive this message, God bestows upon them his peace, his grace, his salvation. But the gospel message is also a message that faces rejection. And in the worst of cases, the message of the gospel is an unnerving voice, the conscience to those who fail to acknowledge the love, righteousness, and judgment of God. So therefore, here is God’s pressing reminder to you and me who not only have received the message of the good news, but are also the messengers of it. We have been called to continue the work Jesus started and which his disciples continued after his death. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, says the apostle Paul. But the gospel is also God’s power to make the messengers break the limitations imposed by others. The gospel should empower us to go and achieve the work of God despite the limitations the natural world would like to impose on us. Let me restate this again: we might not be many, rich, sophisticated, nor geniuses, but let me tell you that God’s power is more than enough for us to carry out his work of service here in Paso Robles. Proclamation of the gospel needs not extravagance or opulence to be carried out. It only needs faithful, convinced, and dedicated agents.
Again, the gospel message is the conscience of the world and particularly for those who openly reject the righteousness of God. We who are agents of this message should in the likeness of John the Baptist call sin for what it is. And John was silenced, although only through death. Unfortunately today, some conservative evangelicals have been silenced, but not because they have been imprisoned or have died for being a nagging conscience to the Herods of our day, but because they have chosen to align themselves with the Herods. They have chosen to justify the sins of the Herods or turned a blind eye to the injustices, abuse, and immoralities of Herod. Isaiah had extremely hard words for such. When speaking about those who should watch for the good of the people but preferred to stay silent, Isaiah called them “blind, greedy, mute dogs” (Isaiah 56:10). Jesus said that if the salt loses its saltiness, for what is it good? Similarly, if we who should be the conscience of those who reject the righteousness of God remain silent, we make mock the gospel and render it ineffective. Please take note that even when Herod silenced the voice of his conscience, the message and fear of John the Baptist continued to speak louder. He was convinced Jesus was John resurrected. It is very much the story of Martin Luther King. Although he was killed for his message, his message continues to be true and a threat to those who persist in following the path of racism.
Today, we have been reminded that the gospel is the good news of God’s saving grace. The gospel empowers its agents even to the point of unsettling the norms. The gospel is a message not everyone is willing to accept. The message of the gospel and its messengers will face rejection and sometimes even death for being the conscience of those who are in sin. May the Lord open our hearts to receive the fullness of his good news and to be faithful agents of it. Amen!