As we read of Jesus’ miraculous provision of physical food (John 6:1-21), let’s not miss the real meal. Physical provision lasts a day. Spiritual provision lasts forever. After Jesus’ had miraculously provided for the nourishment of a large crowd, he withdrew to a mountain alone. They wanted to make him a king. They looked to the material world for answers, a physical meal and a worldly king. Yet Jesus was the king of kings, the bread from heaven. Digesting Jesus is hard even for Christians. A materialistic health-wealth gospel is more readily popular than the gospel of Jesus. The outwardly visible icing on a church’s cake is often more popular than the message of the kingdom within. It is easy to get caught up in the music, liturgy, politics, fellowship and pot-luck meals and miss the bread of heaven.
In one church where we attended, some of the people wanted to organize a 500 mile trip to hear a certain evangelist. I was not interested and told them I prefer Jesus and him I find a lot closer to home. We often look to mere human beings to save us. Sometimes we even rely on our own strength to save us. Yet, who is the Jesus here? As we examine the story of Jesus feeding the great crowd of people with just five loaves and a couple of fish and Jesus walking on the rough and windblown waters during the night (John 6:1-21), perhaps it is good to ask, who is the Jesus here? When we need miraculous provision of urgent needs or to walk on water, let's remember who is the Jesus here. It is not us.
Through prayer alone George Müller trusted God to provide. For 64 years he “cared for and educated over 18,000 children; educated over 100,000 more in other schools at the Orphanage's expense; distributed hundreds of thousands of Bibles and tens of millions of religious tracts; supported about 150 missionaries; travelled over 200,000 miles as a missionary himself; and shared the Gospel with over 3 million people around the world.” He prayed and God provided. By the time he died at age 93 God had supplied the equivalent of $150 million in today’s money. Once close to lunchtime there was no food to feed the orphans and a worried assistant came to Müller who replied, “It’s not twelve o’clock yet.” Then a truck filled with needed food arrived unsolicited. God provides in impossible circumstances (John 6:1-21).
Jesus promised the abundant life (John 10:10). As our Great Shepherd he promised to lead us to a spiritual pasture that provides real food to fulfill our most important needs and our deepest longings. In the beatitudes, Jesus promised real happiness in his kingdom, real comfort in a world of joy, a permanent inheritance in the land. He promised we would be filled, receive mercy, that we would see God and be called the children of God (Matthew 5). John 6:1-21 reveals a theology of abundance as God provides food when the cupboard is bare and we need to feed a small army. He provides buoyancy when sinking seems inevitable. Though our physical resources are small, God can multiply them. Though our physical abilities would not normally allow us to walk on water, with God’s help we can.
In this week’s Gospel lesson is an example of how God provides (Mark 6:1-21). Of course we usually think that applies to food, but it also applies to other aspects of our lives. David did not trust God to provide for him sexually and so took a woman who was not his right to have (2 Samuel 11:1-15). Throughout life we will all be tempted just like David was, but the consequences of giving in to that temptation, of not trusting God to provide, are destruction of our own lives. That is why it is so important to be reminded by the Lord’s Prayer to pray constantly not to be led into temptation. God will provide, even what we need in our hearts (Ephesians 3:14-21) “to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”.
Of all the titles that the corporate world has chosen for leaders, I cannot recall anyone using the word pastor or shepherd. Imagine a leading company headed by a corporate shepherd. It just does not seem fashionable. Jesus was pleased to be called the Great Shepherd and was saddened by large crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56). What would corporate life be like if earthly CEO’s behaved more like caring shepherds? Would they rob mom and pop investors of their modest investment portfolios by stealing from them grossly excessive salaries? Would they feed their flocks crumbs while they dined opulently and sacrifice them all just for greed? Or, would they be selfless shepherds like Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd and CEO of the universe, and be willing to suffer so that others may live?
What did we do last week? What do we have to report to Jesus? Did we spread the message? The word apostle was not originally so much a title as a descriptive term of what people did. It meant a person sent out with a message. In that sense, we are all sent out with a message. Could it be that apostolic succession is wrongly defined? Could it be that all Christians are assigned to go out with a message after having met with Christ each week? Could it be that we have gotten church wrong? Could it be that we are here to be debriefed by Jesus (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)? Are we here as a social club to meet with each other or to meet with Jesus and then leave with a message to take to the world?
Why go to church? Statistics prove that those who attend church regularly actually live longer and so do their children. Regular church attendance also reduces our children's risk of involvement in drunkenness, drugs or suicide. They rebound faster from depression, have lower risk of crime, better odds for a happy life, have a nurturing family atmosphere, and better odds of an active church life in their adults years.1 I go to church to be a part of God’s kingdom on earth, to live and learn the Gospel, worship God, to encourage and be encouraged, to pray, feed my soul.2 3 Even in the most boring sermons I hear God’s voice, I learn to forgive and be forgiven, to rest with the disciples of Jesus and touch his cloak so that I may be healed (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56).
What kind of vacation is best? The commercial world entices us to all kinds of exotic and expensive vacations so they can make a living, but is that the kind of vacation that we really need? Is it to experience new cultures and excitement? That is okay and has its place. What is the purpose of a vacation? What kind of vacation do we really need? Most of us occasionally need a rest, time out. In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Jesus introduced the concept of a quiet place to get some rest. Rest for the body and mind are good. But, the author of Hebrews described a place, the promised land and a time, the weekly rest as not that true real rest. Each of them was a mere foretaste of a place of eternal resting with God (Hebrews 3-4).
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 introduces us to the apostles. In the original Greek the word was apostoloi plural of the word apostolos which, when it was written did not have the overblown meaning that we have attached to it today. It simply meant a messenger.1 The apostles were first called such when they were sent out. Should churches call some ministers apostles today or is a humbler word like delegate, missionary, envoy or messenger more appropriate? The twelve had a special place, but the word apostle was used of others even in the Bible. Can we attach too high a meaning to the word letting it become a tool of self-promoting egotism for those who use the word to describe their ministries? It is symptomatic of our human vanity. Importantly, Jesus set us an example of humility (Matthew 11:29).
God’s message of repentance and hope is not always popular with power brokers, both political and religious. John found that out (Mark 6:14-29) and Jesus was crucified for similar reasons. The church has two messages. One is the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23) and Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1) and salvation (Ephesians 1:13) and peace (Ephesians 6:15). It is good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:18; 7:22) but bad news for those who profit from this world’s dog-eat-dog Babylonian system (Revelation 18). Just as then, the church today has a message for the power hungry on both sides of politics, for the greedy merchants of Babylon and those who use religion for personal gain: repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2).
Telling the truth is not always popular. It can even get you killed as John found out (Mark 6:14-29). Does that mean that we become so “tactful” that we avoid the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11)? Jesus said that peacemakers will be blessed (Matthew 5:9) and yet he caused great offense to others at times (Matthew 13:53-58; Luke 5:29-30; John 6:60-70). We are not to cause offense (1 Corinthians 10:32), but the truth will. If it is our tactlessness or faults which cause offense that is one thing, but if it is the truth of the Gospel, we cannot avoid it. Persecution and tribulation cause offense (Matthew 13:21; 24:10), Jesus offends religious leaders (Matthew 15:12; ) and he is a rock of offense (Romans 9:33) because of the truth.
Which Herod murdered John the Baptizer? Here is a brief look at the Herodian dynasty. Herod the Great was a madman who murdered his enemies and even members of his own family. He was client king to Rome over Judea. His son Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee. A tetrarchy is a “government by four persons ruling jointly”.1 It was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great who killed John the Baptist. When Herod Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis to marry his niece Herodias, John the Baptizer condemned it as evil (Mark 6:14-29) and was murdered for his comments. The divorce incited war with Phasaelis’ father the King of Nabatea, which Herod lost and that provoked the bloodthirsty Roman Emperor Caligula to charge him with treason and send him and Herodias into exile in Gaul, where Antipas died.
Murder and hate go hand in hand (1 John 3:15). Murder of a political enemy is a common theme of history. French royalty used the guillotine. British royalty had enemies pulled apart by four horses, drawn and quartered. Our politicians use their tongues to destroy each other. The cause of John the Baptist’s death was the politics of hate (Mark 6:14-29). Herod had him beheaded and presented his head on a platter. Are we any different? Politics manipulates the truth and we believe it. We don’t know all the facts, yet politics has incited us to hatred because the more we hate the more we will vote for the other party. When we allow hatred of one another, hatred of a political party, hatred of even our enemies to enter our hearts, we are no different than Herod.
Human agendas make biblical interpretations suspect. For example, women’s liberation theology claims that Mark 6:14-29 has nothing to do with sexual exploitation of women. Calling historical assumptions into question is fair, but drawing the opposite conclusion here is also without evidence. Was the girl’s dance seductive or not? It is true that the Greek word for girl is also used for the little 12 year old raised by Jesus (Mark 6:22). However, it is also used in the Greek Old Testament for the maiden (Esther 2) when she was brought before King Ahasuerus. Interestingly, the King also promised Esther half of his kingdom (Esther 5:3). The evidence for either conclusion is scant. We read the Bible with the lenses of our own experience. Be careful of interpretations by those with agendas and that is all of us.
The idea of sola scriptura implies that the Bible is the sole trustworthy authority for church doctrine. It understates the prominence given to official doctrinal statements, confessions and creeds. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians have popularized direct revelations by God outside of his recorded revelation in the Bible. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox believe that sacred tradition and episcopal authority carry equal authority to the Bible. Mainline Protestants also believe in tradition and church authority but give scripture primacy, prima scriptura. Methodists speak of Outler’s quadrilateral: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. They also teach that scripture is primary but not a sole authority. If the Holy Spirit will lead the church into all truth (John 16:13) that certainly occurs outside the Bible. Are tradition, reason and experience trustworthy or suspect? Would trustworthy revelation contradict the Bible’s primacy? Prima scriptura!
Labels: John 16
What do we do when we face rejection (Mark 6:1-13)? We could pout, get depressed, pray or gossip about how hard done by we were. Jesus gave none of that as advice to the disciples. He told them to shake the dust off their feet. Any door-to-door or cold-calling is a difficult job. Those who are experienced at it know that it is just a numbers game. A “no” is a good thing to those with a positive mental attitude. They know they don’t need to waste anymore time, but just get on to the next place. If a salesperson is involved with a product that they are genuinely proud of and not just chasing a commission check, then they are not ashamed of rejection. Those who preach the Gospel know that there is no better message to spread.
Because Jesus was dishonored in his hometown (Mark 6:1-13) he did not do many powerful things, not many mighty works there. That is the meaning in the original language. Those dynamic deeds would have included healing lives and conquering the evil one. What a shame to miss out because the one through whom we could have experienced a substantial miracle was a close, personal friend or neighbor. We allow the humanity of church leaders to be a stumbling block. So many pastors hide behind titles and collars and robes to try and overcome our weaknesses, but such barriers only last so long. Eventually, we see through the external trappings to the weak humanity of our spiritual leaders. When we do, do we also still see God and allow him to use them mightily? What a shame to miss out!
When Jesus was dishonored in his hometown (Mark 6:1-13), people pointed to their intimate knowledge of his family. Jesus never sinned, but the rest of his family surely did. Some of this was known in the community. Over the years I have heard many stories of local people who became church leaders. We locals love to say that we remember when... What do we remember? We remember when so and so did something stupid, immature or otherwise embarrassing. It is our way of dishonoring the prophet in our midst. Perhaps we do so because we don’t believe that God could use somebody just like us for pastoral ministry. We place pastors on an impossible pedestal but that is not reality. We honor God’s pastors not because they are perfect. They are not. We honor them because we honor God.
Ought we honor a woman pastor? Paul enumerated qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 not as law excluding women, nor to call women leaders sinners. Even conservative theology teaches that we are under grace not law. But, we hypocritically turn historically and culturally bound case-studies into law. Yet, the only law of Christ is love. Even under the Old Testament law, a woman could be a judge and a prophetess. The quote that this was so because “there was no man in Israel” is from the Talmud not the Bible. The New Testament brings freedom not harsher, even more-enslaving law (Galatians 4:5, 25, 5:1-3). If a woman believes that she is called by God to spiritual leadership, let us not be like the people of Jesus’ hometown (Mark 6:1-13). Let us honor and support her.
Why do locals not support a prophet who is one of their own (Mark 6:1-13)? There may be two connected reasons. When Jesus went to his hometown to teach and perform mighty works many were offended at him and Jesus also marveled at their lack of faith. We are no different. Why is it that when a local person is used by God, we lack faith? Perhaps we are offended that God would promote one of us. Perhaps we are offended that God chose someone other than us. Can we overcome this tendency? Jesus did lay hand on a few locals and heal them. Can we be one of the few who believe? We can if we realize ahead of time that God can and does use “one of us” and be prepared to show that person our full support.
Why do we do it? When others are elevated we seek to cut them down to size. Such is also the fate of the prophet in his hometown (Mark 6:1-13). It takes a big man and generous woman to honor a friend who is promoted. Most of us react by belittling them and finding reason why the promotion was not deserved. All the Hollywood schmoozing aside, that’s not life’s reality. The truth is that most people are jealous. We covet their successes and secretly undermine them in conversation. We find honor to be such a rare commodity that we offer it to strangers more readily than neighbors and friends. Perhaps that is why Peter had to encourage churches to honor all (1 Peter 2:17). Honor is in reality not a limited commodity. It can be spread to all.