The mighty works of Jesus had made a distinct impression on the mass of the people who heard Him with eagerness. But few of the more cultured and outwardly religious classes were prepared to acknowledge Him as the promised Servant of Jehovah who was to deliver Israel. Instead of assenting to His Messianic claims, they became suspicious of Him as an impostor and arrayed themselves in definite opposition to Him, even going so far as to seek some method whereby they might destroy Him. This attitude is apparent in Mark 6 and becomes increasingly prominent in Mark 7-10.
Jesus found opposition in His own neighborhood. As Mark 6 opens we see Him in the city of Nazareth and the region roundabout, where He had lived as a child and as a young man.
Jesus entered the synagogue where He must often have met with His fellow townsmen in the years gone by. There He taught in such a way that the people were astonished since they knew He was not a product of any of the rabbinical schools, but had lived among them as a carpenter. His family was well known to them. They spoke of Him as the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joses, Juda, and Simon. They also mentioned "his sisters." This seems to prove conclusively that Mary had other children after the birth of Jesus, her firstborn (Matthew 1:25). Romanists deny this and speak of Mary as "ever virgin." They insist that the brothers and sisters here mentioned must have been children of Joseph by a former marriage, or possibly were cousins of Jesus. But this appears to be a mere subterfuge to evade the truth that Mary actually became the wife of Joseph.
Jesus answered His skeptical neighbors by saying, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."
So intense was their incredulity that we are told He could do no mighty work there, although He healed a few sick ones who came to Him in their distress. God works in response to faith. Unbelief ties the hands of omnipotence, except in judgment, and the hour for judgment had not yet come.
Jesus marveled that those who had known Him so well should be so distrustful of Him and even opposed to Him. Luke's account tells us that they actually tried to hurl Him over the cliff on which the city was built. But passing through the midst of them, He went His way, grieved at their hardness of heart.
The twelve whom Jesus had already chosen to be with Him were now commissioned to go through the villages of Galilee to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. The disciples were to call the people to repentance, so that they would be prepared to receive the King when He was revealed to them. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two that they might labor together in fellowship and testimony. He empowered them to heal the sick and cast out demons, thus accrediting them as His representatives.
Because the disciples were going to their own people Israel, and on account of the urgency of their errand, He told them to take nothing for their journey except a pilgrim staff—no scrips, (provision bags), no provisions, no money in their purses. They were to be shod with sandals and not to be encumbered with two cloaks.
When the disciples entered a city or village they were to accept hospitality from whoever offered it, and were to remain in that host's house, if welcome, until they left town. There was to be no ground for the suspicion that they were seeking personal comfort or special recognition. Where the disciples were not received, they were to shake off the dust from beneath their feet as a testimony against those who spurned their message. For such there could be nothing but judgment ahead—a judgment far worse than that which fell on Sodom and Gomorrha.
Following their Master's instructions they went out preaching that men should repent—that is, change their attitude toward God. Repentance involves a new attitude in regard to self and sin. They also cast out demons and healed many who were sick. It is of interest to note that they anointed with oil those who came for healing, as commanded in the Epistle of James. This is the only other instance where this particular method is mentioned in connection with physical healing. Some have thought the oil was used as a remedy. The medicinal use of oil was an acceptable practice as indicated in the story of the good Samaritan who poured oil and wine into the wounds of the one who was left in a dying condition on the Jericho road. But oil is also the accepted symbol of the Holy Spirit, and it seems more likely that the anointing was intended to indicate the Spirit's gracious action of healing in answer to the prayer of faith.
The account of godless Herod's perfidious treatment of John, the forerunner of Jesus, fills one's whole soul with horror, and yet it is but a portrayal of the capability of man's natural heart. When Herod heard of the miracles wrought by Jesus, his guilty conscience was aroused, and he said that John the Baptist had risen from the dead, and that therefore these mighty works were performed by him. Others thought He must be the promised Elijah who, according to Malachi, was to come to call Israel to repentance before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Others said He was a prophet, or possibly one of the older prophets come back to life. But Herod was for the time being convinced that Jesus was none other than John revived. Herod lived over again the scene in which he had been reproved for Herodias' sake. He was haunted by the imprisonment and finally the decapitation of the desert preacher. When Herod thought of the infamous treatment he had meted out to the fearless proclaimer of man's need to repent, he knew he had been guilty of a terrible crime before God and man.
Herod had been interested in John's message at first, and had sent for him in order that he might hear for himself the desert preacher. As long as John dealt with the gospel of the kingdom, his royal but corrupt auditor listened with some measure of attention. But when the Baptist dared to rebuke the crafty and licentious monarch for his incestuous relations with his brother Philip's wife, the king's ire was stirred. He endeavored to silence his reprover by shutting him up in a gloomy prison, probably Machaerus on the cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea. There John was left to languish. (In Matthew 11:2-3 we read that while John was in prison he sent two of his disciples to question whether Jesus could indeed be the promised Messiah. This may have been done to satisfy John's own doubts or to establish the faith of his disciples.)
While John was in prison Herod observed his birthday by inviting guests to a feast. The celebration was turned into a vile oriental orgy of drunkenness and debauchery. The daughter of Herodias was called in to add to the carnal enjoyment of the military and civilian chiefs and other dignitaries who were present. Her undoubtedly voluptuous dance so delighted the spectators that Herod impulsively offered the girl any favor up to half his kingdom as a reward for her performance.
Moved by her wicked mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a charger (a large platter). Herodias fully exemplified the poet's line, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Shocked by her request the king would have refused compliance, but for his oath's sake given before all those present he did not dare refuse lest he lose face and become an object of ridicule to his retainers. After all, it would be only one more murder added to the many of which he was guilty already! So he at once sent an executioner to decapitate the prophet and bring his gory head as requested to the dancer, who in turn gave it to her mother.
One can imagine how Herodias gloated over the gruesome object as she realized those cold lips would never again charge her with adultery or other sins. But she had not seen the last of John the Baptist. In the day of judgment he will rise up to condemn her because of her callous indifference to the call to repentance.
When John's disciples learned what had taken place they came and took the body of their master and gave it decent burial. In Matthew 14:12 we read that they "went and told Jesus," who entered into their great grief in tenderest sympathy.
In this section of Mark we read of the return of the twelve from their preaching tour and the report they gave to Jesus. The apostles, with exuberant spirit, gathered around their Lord and told Him all that they had done and what they had taught as they went about visiting the villages of Galilee. He saw that they were perhaps too much occupied with their own success and that they were somewhat overwrought because of the strain under which they had been. So He invited them to leave the multitudes and retire to a quiet country place and "rest a while." How much His servants need such seasons of quiet in company with Him! So they departed into a desert place—that is, a place in the open country away from any city or town, where they might obtain the physical recuperation and mental quiet that they needed so much. If we all took time for more such occasions, nervous breakdowns and heart attacks would not be so common among the servants of Christ.
Just how long the little company enjoyed the privacy and restfulness of their time of retirement we are not told. But some people who saw the direction the group had taken carried the news to others, and soon a great crowd came together out of all the nearby cities and gathered about Jesus. He could not turn them away nor refuse to minister to them. To Him they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and His great heart was moved with compassion toward them, so that He began at once to teach them many things. With unwearied zeal He instructed them throughout all that day, seeking to make known to them the things concerning the kingdom of God.
The disciples became concerned about the hungry people who had been with the Lord Jesus all day. Many of them were far from their homes. The night was coming on, and it seemed to be both kind and prudent to urge them to return at once to their different homes. If they were to secure proper food before the night fell they should hurry away, for there was no provision made for them in that desert place, so far as the disciples could see.
Our Lord's command to feed the crowd must have astonished His disciples. They had nothing to share with others, and they knew not where or how to obtain food in that secluded place. It was His desire to have the disciples consider the need of the people and their responsibility in regard to it, even as today He would have us be concerned about the spiritual dearth all about us and our responsibility to do our part in meeting its demands. We are all too quick to measure God's ability to meet our needs by that which our eyes can see; instead we should remember that we are dealing with One who created a universe from nothing and sustains it by the word of His power.
"How many loaves have ye?" We know from the other records that Andrew discovered a lad with five of the flat loaves to which the people were accustomed and two small fishes (John 6:8-9). Someone has suggested that it was the boy's own lunch—all of which he gave up that others might be fed. Little as it was, Jesus Christ could use it in a large way. In our emergencies we generally ask "Whence?" and "How?" forgetting that nothing is too hard for the Lord. He who multiplies the seed sown in the ground can take the little we bring and make it sufficient to meet the needs of many.
With authority the Savior ordered that the multitude should sit down in groups on the green grass where all could be properly served. His command was obeyed. They sat down, doubtless wondering what would happen next and questioning why He had hindered their hasty return to their homes. Our Lord's command to make the men sit down was significant. Seated on the ground, all are practically on one common level. Distinctions of stature disappear. It was the "no difference" doctrine acted out.
Receiving the food from the hands of Andrew or of the expectant lad, the Lord Jesus gave thanks and began to break the bread and divide the fishes, handing supplies to the disciples. They in turn passed them out to the hungry folk who looked on wonderingly. When the Lord Jesus broke the bread and gave to His disciples that they might pass it on to the multitude, no one would be excused if he went away hungry. So today, as we offer the living bread to hungry souls, none need go without eternal blessing.
There proved to be an abundant supply for all. None was disappointed. No one ever need go hungry from the table that the Lord Jesus Christ spreads. Not only were all satisfied, but when the meal was over there were as many basketsful left as there were disciples. And the twelve had wondered where food could be procured for so many!
"They that did eat... were about five thousand men."Matthew 14:21 adds, "Beside women and children." So actually the number was even more than five thousand, though doubtless not many women and children would be out in the desert to hear the great teacher that day.
Long centuries before He came into the world, it was written of the promised Messiah, "I will satisfy her poor with bread" (Psalm 132:15) and "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd" (Isaiah 40:11). The feeding of the multitudes on two separate occasions must have recalled these prophecies to the minds of the people and caused them to wonder whether Jesus Christ might not be the One whose coming had been so long foretold.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt He spread for them a table in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19). The Lord Jesus gave the hungry crowds, who had followed and listened to Him all day long, an example of the same omnipotent power. It is pitiable to note how unbelieving critics attempt to discredit these testimonies of our Lord's creatorial glory. They insinuate that it was just a case of each one sharing his lunch with neighbors who had forgotten to bring any—so that as all ate together it seemed to them as though the food had been multiplied in a marvelous manner! Scripture tells us that "at the mouth of two... or... three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15). Strikingly enough, the first of these miracles is one of the few given by each of the four evangelists. These men, whose integrity cannot be questioned, were either present on the occasion depicted or had been accurately informed by others. All four Gospel writers described the feeding as a supernatural occurrence. Christ, who multiplies the corn on a thousand hillsides and the fishes in all the seas, did in a few moments what is ordinarily accomplished through His divine power and wisdom in weeks or months of time.
By meeting the needs of the body, Christ taught the multitudes the compassion of God and His ability to meet every need of the soul. We shall find as we seek to serve our blessed Lord that the more we pass on to others, the more we have left for ourselves.
It never was loving that emptied a heart,
Nor giving that emptied a purse.
We have next a very striking dispensational picture of what the disciples of Christ would have to endure on the stormy sea of time while the Lord is interceding for them above.
After the feeding of the multitude Jesus directed His disciples to cross the lake. He did not go with them; but when they had left He went up into a mountain in order to be alone with His Father, to commune with Him in prayer.
"The ship was in the midst of the sea." But it was under His eye, and His heart was concerned about His disciples who were laboring hard, toiling in rowing. The wind was contrary to them as they sought to reach their intended destination. Another has pointed out that the word here rendered "toiling" (Mark 6:48, kjv) is the same as that translated "vexed" in 2 Peter 2:8, kjv. The word implies more than tense muscular activity. The disciples were in real mental distress and anxiety. They feared their boat might be swamped and they themselves drowned in the raging seas that threatened to engulf them. Possibly they were also vexed with one another and inclined to blame each other for the precarious condition in which they found themselves. What a picture this is of the state in which believers are found so often in their conflicts with circumstances during the physical absence of the Lord Jesus from this world!
How little the disciples realized as they struggled against wind and wave that all the time the eye of their Lord was on them and that His heart was concerned about them. And how easily we forget as we "wrestle on toward heaven" (as Rutherford put it), that our great high priest is ever looking down on us and making continual intercession for us!
As the earliest streaks of dawn were seen across the horizon "about the fourth watch of the night," which was what we would call from 3:00-6:00 a.m., Jesus came down from the mount and walked on the sea toward the disciples. Apparently He was about to pass them by when the frightened disciples, terrified because they thought Him to be a ghost, cried out in alarm. He revealed Himself to them saying, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid."
Astonished beyond measure they received Him into the ship and immediately the wind ceased. Details are given elsewhere that are omitted purposely here so that our attention may be focused on the fact that His coming to them brought an end to the storm. So will it be when He returns for His own.
The disciples were amazed at what had taken place. How quickly they forgot the evidence of His creatorial power in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. They wondered in themselves concerning the mystery of our Lord's personality.