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TEXT: Mark 6:7-30
SUBJECT: Mark #11: A Tale of Two Kings
Here's a word you may not have heard before: sandwiching. It's a literary technique in which you start Story A, interrupt it with Story B, and after Story B is done, you go back to Story A and finish it. Mark does this twelve times in his Gospel, including here, in the middle of chapter 6.
Story A has our Lord sending out the twelve to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Instead of giving us some juicy details on their mission, however, he drops it and goes to Story B, which is the death of John the Baptist. When that's finished, he comes back to Story A and tells us how it ended.
Why would he do this? We know why some preachers do it-their thoughts are not organized. What they do is called rambling or chasing rabbits or going off on tangents.
Mark is doing none of the above. Though he chose his own words and is telling the story his own way, his way of telling it is also God's way of telling it. The process of inspiration cannot be explained, but its product can be: The Gospel of Mark is God's Word. This means God wanted Mark to serve up a sandwich in the middle of chapter 6.
Still, this doesn't explain why sandwiching is an effective way of telling a story. Why does he mix the two stories? For the same reason you mix oil and vinegar for a salad dressing: they go together. They're better together than they are apart.
What Mark is doing in these two stories is comparing kings, or to say it better, contrasting them. One King is Jesus who brings life to the world; the other king is Herod who only brings death. Mark puts the two together so we will see the difference between good and evil, between life and death, and so that, in the words of Moses, we will-
TWELVE AND TWO
Our story begins with Jesus sending the disciples on a short-term mission-
And He called the twelve to Him and sent them out two by two.
Before we get to their assignment, let's think about the numbers: twelve and two. You think the Jews of the First Century noticed them? You bet they did; minor details to us, they were rich with meaning to the people who first heard them.
Twelve is the number of Israel. Jacob had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes that formed the nation. By sending out twelve men, therefore, Jesus was making a religious statement: Israel was in ruins, like an abandoned house, and like sheep without a shepherd, the People of God were scattered, uncared for and in grave danger.
God had let things drift for a long time, but now, He's had enough! In Christ, He will rebuild the broken down House of Israel and re-gather the Flock He had lost. A New Israel will arise from the ashes of the Old, and with it, a New Covenant that will guarantee the forgiveness of our sins, give us a knowledge of God, and make the New Israel what the old one never could be-
A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
The second number to reflect on is two. He could have doubled the coverage if He had sent each man out alone, or provided a stronger presence had He sent them out all together. But He didn't, He sent them out-
Two by two.
Were there practical reasons for pairing the men up? I'm sure there were, but not only practical, or mainly. Two is a number used in a court of law. Under the Mosaic Law, the witness of one man was worthless-no matter how credible he was, if no one supported his testimony, judgment was impossible.
But if two men testified alike, their witness was admitted and acted on. This worked both ways: If two men said, 'I saw Baruch steal his neighbor's cow', Baruch was found guilty and punished for his crime. On the other hand, if they say, 'Baruch did not steal his neighbor's cow because he was out of town with us at the time', Baruch was cleared of all charges and declared righteous vis-à-vis the neighbor who accused him.
With this in mind, we begin to feel the significance of sending out the twelve by twos. For one thing, it meant, their witness is true. The disciples are not teachers, they are eye-witnesses; they're not spouting theories, they're telling what happened. Many years later, two of the men who went on this mission, picked up on the theme-
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but are eyewitnesses of His majesty.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled.we declare to you.
This is part of the two-by-two thing, but there's more. The disciples were not only witnesses for Christ, but also to Him. In other words, they told people about Jesus and told Jesus about people. V.30 says so-
Then the Apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things.
Some of what they told Him was good. Suppose Peter and Andrew came to the village of Magdala, where Miriam and her children welcomed the men into their homes and gave ear to the Gospel they preached. Peter and Andrew went back to the Lord, told Him what Miriam and her family had done, and Jesus ruled in their favor; He justified the family.
Now suppose James and John were not so fortunate. Say they went up to Chorazin, and there, Menahem ran them out of town and threatened to horsewhip them if they ever came back. The brothers returned to Jesus, told Him about Menahem, and a judgment was pronounced against the man and the people who sided with him-
Assuredly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
Ambassadors are not sent out to say whatever comes to mind, and to do whatever they feel like doing. They are men on a mission-the king's mission-and they've got to deliver his message and do his business his way.
The Lord's business is the kingdom of God. He wants to reveal it to the world and invite everyone into it. Consequently, the disciples are told to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach that people should repent.
This is what they're to do, and they've got to do it in a particular way-
Take nothing for the journey except a staff-no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts and no [extra coat].
The rules are pretty strict. No luxury item is named; nothing about gourmet food or fashionable clothes or lots of money. 'Bread, bag, copper coins, and coats' are bare necessities. The second coat to sleep in, if nobody invites them for the night; the money to buy food; the bag to collect alms to fix their shoes or rent a room and so on. Taken together the rules mean: Trust God to provide for your needs. Would a wise king send soldiers into the field without supplies? He wouldn't, and neither will God forget our needs when we are caring for His. In another place, our Lord says-
Put first the kingdom of Heaven and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
But His supplies follow our obedience.
Doing the Lord's work the Lord's way means living by faith. And more than faith, for a second rule is given for the assignment-
In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.
This means: be content with what you have. Suppose a poor man invites you to share his meager dinner, and it's good enough for tonight, but tomorrow his well-off neighbor offers his hospitality. Most men would jump at the chance, but the disciples have got to say, 'No thanks' to the rich man. Contentment and humility are characteristic of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if the Twelve are doing His business, they must be like Him.
A generation ago, Francis Schaeffer became deeply concerned with how Christians were relating to non-Christians. Many of them preached the Gospel to the unsaved-and Schaeffer was glad of that-but the Gospel was being overlaid with pride and bitterness and ugliness of spirit. He called us on it, in a book whose title explains the message-
Doing God's Work God's Way.
And this, interestingly enough, was published long before the rise of the militant gay community and the hateful way so many Christians have responded to it.
The Twelve-and we-are not our own men; we're servants of Christ and Ambassadors of God's Kingdom. Without compromise, we must offer this Kingdom to the world, but offer it the way Jesus wants us to, the way He did it, and that is firmly, bravely-yes-but always with humility and love.
In obedience to their King, the twelve went on their mission, and enjoyed real success-
They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.
This makes our Lord a New Solomon, the wise king whose servants spread his fame worldwide and brought him tribute wherever they went. Not because they were such outstanding diplomats, but because Solomon was such an outstanding king. And, remember what our Lord said about him-
Behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
HEROD THE TETRARCH
The second king in our story is named Herod-King Herod Mark calls him in v.14, and I think ironically. His father, was given the title by Caesar, but when he died, Rome withheld it from his son. He was, in fact, Herod the Tetrarch, which my dictionary defines as-
A dependent prince or petty sovereign of a minor principality owing allegiance to Rome.
Herod crows about his royalty while everyone snickers behind his back. Here's an empty suit if there ever was one-an empty toga! King Herod-what a joke!
Herodias is Herod's queen, but she is not his wife. She claims to be, but she isn't because their marriage is illegal. Everyone knew this, and many of them didn't like it, but only one of them had the guts to call him on it-John the Baptist-
It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.
For the crime of saying the king is accountable to God, John is arrested and put in Herod's dungeon. There he stays for some time, and he is not treated too badly. The king dabbles in religion and has some respect for his critic-
Herod feared John, knowing he was a just and holy man, and protected him.
He was protecting John from Herodias, who hated him with a passion, and wanted nothing more than to kill the great prophet.
If John the Baptist is the new Elijah, then Herod and his queen are the new Ahab and Jezebel. Herod, like Ahab, is a man ruled by his wife, and the his wife's cruelty has no bounds. She nags and plots and pouts to have the prophet killed, but for once in his life, Herod stands up to her.
Till she remembers his weakness. The thing Herod cares for most in the world is his image. She's got to put him in a situation where his image will be hurt unless John is killed.
It's not long till she hits on a plan. At his birthday party, she lets the king and his friends drink themselves foolish, and then she comes the entertainment: Salome, her own daughter, does a lewd dance-a strip-tease you might say-and the king is so taken with her performance, he blurts out a promise-
Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom!
The words are taken straight out of the Bible. The first man to say them was Ahasuerus, Lord of the Persian Empire, that stretched from India in the East to Ethiopia in the West, 127 provinces. Herod, of course, is a two-bit ruler of a one-bit Galilee, but he puts on the airs of an Emperor.
The girl consults her mother and comes back with what she wants-
The head of John the Baptist!
The little king is distraught by her request, but-because he cared more for his image than his integrity-he gave into it. Orders were sent downstairs, and in a few minutes a servant came into the party with the king's gift to the dancer: John's head on a platter!
Herodias is so pleased with herself, she takes the head as a trophy, and leaves the body where it fell. But John's disciples love their master, and knowing his body will be raised at the Resurrection, they give him a decent burial.
We have two kings in today's story, and I wonder if any two men could be more different than they? Jesus, the humble and strong and true king gives life to the world, while Herod, the conceited and cowardly false king can only deal death.
This presented Mark's first readers with a challenge: to whom would they give their unreserved loyalty? To the Herod family? To the Caesars in Rome? To the Ruling Council in Jerusalem? To the zealots calling for revolt and promising a kingdom of their own making?
Or to King Jesus?
If they knew their Bibles, they knew to whom their loyalty belonged-
It is better to trust in the Lord
than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes.
The Herod family is dead and gone-and good riddance! The Caesars fell long ago; the Sanhedren is no more; the zealot rebellion was crushed in 70 AD, and again about sixty years later. These are not the powers pulling us their way, seducing us with promises or prodding us with threats.
But the spiritual powers behind them are still with us, only now taking other forms. Think of the movies showing us how to live our lives, complete with lovers we're not married to. Think of advertising telling us to put our wishes-and our purchases-before the needs of the poor, the church, and missions.
In church, it's easy to vote for Christ. But what about when you're away from church? When tempted to look at things you shouldn't look at, to buy things you shouldn't buy, to believe things you shouldn't believe, or to fit in where you ought to stand out? Where will your loyalty be then?
Will you side with life or death, good or evil, Christ or Herod? You know the right answer. Plead for God's Spirit, seek the help of His People, look for wisdom in His Word, and, God help us all, to-
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is the whole duty of man.
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