Mark 6:14-29 – What Herod heard

Discussion question:

Have you ever wondered how different life would be as a king or queen? OR Do you think Queen Elizabeth watches Neighbours?

Read Mark 6:14-29

Context

This story of the death of John the baptist is included in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). It appears in Mark right in the middle of the mission that the disciples are sent on. Jesus sent his Twelve Disciples off on mission in Mark 6:6-13 and Mark records their return from mission in Mark 6:30. While they are spreading the news about the kingdom of God, calling people to repent and believe, healing and casting out demons, we are given this account of John the Baptist. On the ground, the disciples are spreading the news of the kingdom, but in the earthly kingdom of Herod, we see sin with no repentance and a mishearing of who Jesus is.

Observation

Structure

  • 14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus
  • 17-20 What Herod heard from John
  • 21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus

“King Herod heard about this…” This is referring to the mission that the disciples were on. The commotion in the streets caused by the disciples preaching a message of repentance had reached the ears of Herod. We are brought from the real street-talk of the kingdom of God into the house of an earthly king. See Luke 3:1 for a scope of the rulers of the day. Herod was the tetrarch over Galilee. It lists four men ruling different regions under the higher reign of Tiberius Caesar. One of the four was Herod’s brother Philip.

“Some were saying… John… Elijah… A prophet…” Jesus’ name was not in question but what was his position or identity. His name was well known but what about his calling or importance? Malachie 4:5 will help understand why Elijah is listed and why the disciples repeat this rumour in Chapter 8. Ironically, it is John the Baptist who is the Elijah figure predicted to come as he was one of the prophets like the Old Testament prophets whose primary message was to call Israel to repent and return to the LORD. A prophet like Elijah would come and prepare the way for the LORD. This was John the Baptist (Mark 9:12-13). As readers of this story, we are meant to realise how wrong they all are – that they misunderstood Elijah and rejected his call to repent – how then will they understand who Jesus is?

“But when Herod heard this, he said…” Herod’s conclusion is that Elijah has somehow come back from the dead with even greater powers than he had before.

17-20 What Herod heard from John

“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested…” We are taken back in time to understand Herod’s experience with John. What follows is a story of lust and sexual immorality; of a call to repent and a man who doesn’t disagree but unwilling to repent.

“…Herod feared John… when Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” This is the profile of someone who is unable to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Many people responded to John’s ministry of repentance and repented. Herod revered John as a holy man but what he spoke about puzzled him.

21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

“Finally the opportune time came.” This refers to Herodias’ dilemma in Verse 19. She had a grudge against John. He was a nuisance to whatever her ambitions were. The size of this grudge comes out further when we hear how it is released.

“…the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.” You can imagine alcohol and festivities and the passion of the moment and pride and the want to impress the rulers that have been invited to the party. This is not a PG rated party. Herod is swept up in the moment and promises his niece anything up to half the kingdom. Wow!

“She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Herodias must have had quite the influence over her daughter. The offer has already been suggested: half the kingdom! Why not take that offer?

“The head of John the Baptist.” The grudge is strong. Her hate of John focuses her attention and dismisses all other possibilities. 

“On hearing this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” The story is complete with the outside world hearing what has taken place inside the governor’s house. This earthly ruler behaves so unimpressively. His kingdom offers nothing but selfish ambition. He is more concerned with saving face than with righteousness and justice.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Look up Luke 3:1 to hear who is listed as important in Jesus’ day. A tetrarch is a sub-ruler. By telling us the story about Herod and John, what contrast is Mark giving us to consider?

Q2. What had Herod heard about? What conclusions were being made about Jesus from Herod’s palace? What were they getting right and what were they getting wrong?

Q3. What issues did John the Baptist have with Herod and what does the bible teach about these things?

Q4. Given all we know from this story, how would you describe the kingdom of Herod?

Q5. Why do you think Mark (and Matthew and Luke) includes this story in the gospel?

Meaning

There is a scene change in the gospel of Mark. While the disciples spread the good news of the kingdom of God, we are taken to an earthly ruler who has no backbone or care for righteous living. He hears the talk about Jesus and is filled with fear. We hear the word of what went on inside his home and are filled with disgust. He had the prophet who God sent to point people to Jesus right in his house – imprisoned – but he killed him, letting lust and pride rule. Herod heard about Jesus but did not hear about the kingdom of God. Herod heard from John but did not understand. He heard from his family and submitted to sin.

Application

Challenge#1 Human government and us

Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 teach us to pray for our governments and have respect for their authority. It does not follow that we are to agree with their conduct or decisions. This can be a complicated area of discussion but isn’t it possible to live as citizens of this world but love the kingdom of God because it is so much better? People in this world will often disappoint us. The greatest people in the kingdom of God are those who live for Christ and give him the highest respect. John the Baptist spoke the truth to the ruler and faced the consequences for it.

Challenge#2 Lust, envy, hate and pride

These things are to be put to death in us. The fruit of the spirit feeds none of these things. Romans 8 teaches us to give energy to the Spirit and not to the desires and passions of the flesh. Sin is destructive and the Spirit gives life. When the outworkings of the flesh appear, turn back to God and repent. 

Challenge#3 The kingdom of God is not in palaces

While we read about the mayhem in the court of Herod, the real kingdom growth was happening in the villages. The news of this world will revolve around what is happening in politics and sport. Very little attention is given to people turning back to God. This emphasis will be turned on its head one day when everyone sees Jesus as King and that everything that we thought was great in this world is nothing compared to him.

Mark 6:1-13 – Home and Away

Discussion question:

Where do you feel most at home? Ie, welcomed and relaxed.

Read Mark 6:1-13

Context

Jesus has been travelling from town to town to preach the word – for that is why he came (1:38). He has crossed over the lake a few times and healed on many occasions. Chapter 5 concluded with the healing of Jairus’ daughter.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-6 At home – the prophet without honour
    • 1-3 The Nazarenes are amazed
    • 4-6 Jesus is amazed
  • 7-13 And away – the disciples are sent
    • 7 Two by two are sent
    • 8-11 Received or rejected
    • 12-13 Preaching and healing

1-6 At home – the prophet without honour

“Jesus left there and went to his hometown…” He grew up in Nazareth (Matt 2:23) but then actually moved to Capernaum (Matt 4:13). Mark alludes to Capernaum as his home in Mark 2:1 but Luke 4:16-23 has a very similar story which is clearly located in Nazareth. The responses from the people in Verse 3 clearly make this Nazareth.

“…many who heard him were amazed.” His teaching is the object of contention in the story. Mark 6:5-6 will conclude that he could not perform miracles in this town because of their lack of faith but notice that the problem is revealed in their response to his teaching.

“…this man… the carpenter… Mary’s son… brother of… and… his sisters…” This crowd kept Jesus linked to his earthly ties and childhood. Despite the incredible teaching that amazed them, they could not separate the prophet from the boy. It takes humility to allow someone to speak into your world – especially if that person was once a snotty little kid.

“And they took offense at him.” Despite their amazement, they were offended. ‘How dare you speak to us like that!’ is the kind of attitude that they had. ‘Don’t you tell me how to read the bible, I’ve been doing this since before you were born!’ Arrogance, pride and unkindness is their spirit.

“A prophet is not without honour…” This part of his sentence means that a prophet can receive credit and respect. They are doing the work of God and a worker deserves his wage etc (1 Tim 5:18). In the next section, Jesus will tell his disciples to accept hospitality and gifts from those who are willing to house you.

“…except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” It is hard to separate the earthly person from the heavenly wisdom that they teach. We see Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, but it was apparently difficult for his hometown to see him any differently. He was just one of them! It’s easy to see this played out in our world. It’s way easier to listen to a teacher and preacher who has been brought in from over seas for a big conference than it is to listen to an elder or preacher in the church. But don’t we share the same Holy Book – the word of God! These Nazarenes were literally staring the Word of God in the face and still were not impressed. But when the truth is spoken, it is our job to hear it and respond in faith.

“He could not do any miracles there…” God is God and can do whatever he wants. But in God’s wisdom, he desires for us to respond to him. This is the relationship we have with God. He wishes for it to be a two way street. The grace of God does not mean that we do nothing. Jesus preached ‘repent’ and so repent is what we do. Jesus taught the Nazarenes from the word and they responded by being offended. His words offended them. They had no faith, no time for him in the long run and Jesus was therefore helpless to help them.

NB: the bible is not teaching us to have great faith in order to see healings. It is rebuking the people for having no faith. They dismissed Jesus.

7-13 And away – the disciples are sent

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” Mark 1:38 all over again.

“Calling the Twelve to him…” This is to literally call them. Two by two so that he chose who would go first and with whom. It was an orchestrated mission. He didn’t just throw them out into the lion’s mouths but directed the mission. The Twelve were listed in Mark 3:13-19. 

“…and gave them authority over impure spirits.” Let’s not think that casting out spirits and healing people is a normal practice in church ministry. Jesus sent them out to be involved in the same type of mission that he was involved in: preaching that people repent and accompanied with miracles.

“Take nothing…” No food or money. Just sandals and what they wore. As people receive their message, they will be provided for – not miraculously but as an outflow of the people’s understanding and acceptance of the gospel.

“…dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” The disciples will not just leave quietly when unwelcomed but will leave a visible display that the town has rejected God as they are rejecting God’s messengers.

“…they…preached…” Again, this is key. Coming to Jesus is not primarily about healing, it is about the gospel. The healing was to testify that Jesus and the disciples came in the power of God. We have the complete scriptures to preach and teach. There is no need for signs. The scriptures are testimony enough for all that God has done and declared.

“They drove out many demons…” The disciples were given the same signs that Jesus used. Demonic activity was clearly a thing during the ministry of Jesus. A spiritual sign that demonstrates how absent from the Word of God Israel had become.

“…and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” A practice that was not always accompanied with healing. Jesus did not do this and many healings recorded in the NT did not include oil. James 5:14 mentions it and seems to be more of an outward sign than anything medicinal or indeed magical! Just as water made no spiritual difference to a baptism.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Discuss what amazed the people from Jesus’ hometown.

Q2. What amazed Jesus about them? What is the central issue here?

Q3. What instructions did Jesus give to the disciples for their mission?

Q4. Who would be at fault if a town did not receive the disciples?

Q5. Bringing it all together, what should we expect will happen when we share our faith?

Meaning

People will embrace the gospel or reject it. Apathy is a kind of rejection. But the response to the gospel will not be dependant on the preacher (assuming the preacher is being faithful to the word). Even Jesus was rejected and had to leave towns without seeing big results. The disciples were warned that they may need to leave a town in disgust but we are told that they actually healed many people as they preached. But preaching the word was what people actually responded positively and negatively to. It is the primary goal of our mission – to preach and call people to repent.

Application

Challenge#1 To be struck by the bible but then not care

How incredible is it that Jesus was in the midst of the Nazarenes and they were amazed at his teaching but then quickly rejected it all. They were too grounded in the things of this world to realise that they had the words of eternal life being offered to them. How do you respond to the word of God?

Challenge#2 Share the gospel to everyone

It’s so easy to predict how people may respond to Jesus and then decide whether to speak or stay silent based on our assumptions. Jesus taught his disciples to put themselves out there and see who would receive them.

Challenge#3 Embrace the gospel worker

We have so many people we can support in mission. Our CMS link missionaries, our CAHSM workers, our ministers. The things of this earth are fleeting but the word of God stands forever. It makes sense to invest in eternal work. How can you be generous for the gospel?

Mark 5:21-43 – If only we could touch his clothes

Discussion question:

Have you ever touched or held something that is rare and precious?

Read Mark 5:21-43

Context

Jesus has become known as a healer. He can heal many with ease. Great crowds are drawn to Jesus mainly due to his healing ability. He healed a man with an impure spirit in a synagogue on the Sabbath (Mk 1:21-29). He healed a man’s shrivelled up hand in a synagogue. He was accused by some teachers of the law from Jerusalem that he drove out demons with the power of a demon. The impression he is leaving with the leaders of Judaism is not a good one. The opening statement of Mark, however, tells us that this book is about the Good News and Jesus’ first words were “the kingdom has come near.” These things will help draw out some points in this passage.

A synagogue is a place of worship not to be confused for the temple which is where the sacrifices are made.

Observation

Structure

  • A desperate father/a Synagogue leader came to Jesus (21-24a)
  • A desperate woman/an unclean woman came to Jesus (24b-29)
  • A desperate healer/Jesus draws the woman out (30-34)
  • A disinterested house/Jesus ignores the apathy (35-40a)
  • A deliberate healing/Jesus changes everything (40b-43)

A desperate father (21-24a)

“…a large crowd gathered around him…” Try and imagine the scene as you read the story. This piece of information will be repeated as we move to the next part of the story. 

“…synagogue leader…named Jairus, came…” What we know of Jairus is here in this story. He was a Jewish leader of a local synagogue, which is a place of worship and teaching. One interesting thing we know, however, is that he is named. Not a mystery person but a recognised man in the community. Any fake account written about Jesus could be easily laughed at if inventing a fake person of credibility or lying about them. 

“My little daughter is dying…” He was a father. Many Jewish leaders had problems with Jesus. It is possible that Jesus had been at the synagogue of Jairus and performed a healing miracle. Jairus is desperate for his daughter to be healed.

“Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Being healed at the touch of Jesus is a key message through this section. The healing of Jairus’ daughter begins here and is interrupted by the story of a woman who just wants to touch Jesus’ clothes to be healed. The point is not the magical touch, but the faith that it is Jesus who can heal. These people clearly have their faith in God, but they are displaying their confidence in the God become flesh.

“So Jesus went with him.” Earlier Jesus had declared that he had come to preach, not to heal. Here he chooses to heal because of his compassion on this situation. This is the first account in Mark describing Jesus’ power over death.

A desperate woman (24b-29)

“A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” Again, imagine the scene. The knowledge that people are pressing around him is important for what happens while on the way to Jairus’ house.

“…a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years…instead of getting better she grew worse.” This account is written about in Luke 8:41-56 also. Luke reports her condition with gentle language. Mark explains how hard she has tried to be healed. Menstrual bleeding, in Jewish law, makes a person unclean for seven days and anyone who touches her becomes unclean (Lev 15:19).  Isaiah 64:6 describes all of us as unclean in our sin with an illusion to women’s uncleanness. Leviticus 15:25-30 describes what happens to a woman whose bleeding never stops. She remains in a state of ceremonial uncleanness. This is our state without being cured by Christ.

“…she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak…” Anybody that she touches is made ceremonially unclean. This means that they are unclean until the evening and must isolate and unable to conduct any type of worship in the Temple. It is a symbol to Israel of sin. The laws are there by God to teach and the point is that God is holy. The woman wanted to be healed but to get to Jesus she had to pass through a thick crowd. She would not want anybody to know what she has done. If only she can touch him in secret, she can be healed and nobody needs to know!

“…she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” She felt the healing. A freedom she had not known for twelve years. She was released, healed and a new woman.

A desperate healer (30-34)

“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” This raises questions about Jesus and his powers. Can Jesus heal whenever he wants? In Luke 5:17 we’re told that on that occasion, “the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” See also Luke 6:9. There has never been or never will be anyone like Jesus and so what can we compare him to? We read in the gospels that Jesus’ healings coincide with the faith of those around him. It seems that it’s neither magical powers that Jesus chooses to yield any time he likes nor is it power in the faith of those being healed, but a combination of the two: Jesus’ willingness to heal when he is approached in faith. In Mark 6:4-6 we read how he could not do any miracles except for a few because of their lack of faith.

“Who touched my clothes?” We begin to speculate about what Jesus did and did not know. He doesn’t know everything (Mk 13:32) and he interacts with this world like a human: growing from childhood, needing to eat and sleep, and he is not everywhere at once knowing all things. On top of that, it seems that he wanted to bring this woman’s secret out into the open. And not everyone in the crowd around him was getting a healing when they pressed against him. This woman had come to Jesus in faith to be healed and Jesus wanted to know what had happened.

“Then the woman…trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.” Jesus had insisted that he know who touched him. She came forward in fear because her condition meant she shouldn’t be touching anyone. She would have feared Jesus’ response but perhaps also the crowd pressing in.

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” This is what Jesus offers. We are all unclean in our sin (Isaiah 64:6). Faith in Jesus can set us free from that and give us peace with God. 

A disinterested house (35-40a)

“…some people came…’Your daughter is dead’…” The word ‘daughter’ is used to connect the two stories here. One daughter has just been released from suffering, the other is announced dead. The former had a condition which provided a metaphor for the trouble of sin. The latter is the end result of sin.

“Why bother the teacher anymore?” Death is final. Nothing can fix that. Jesus can do many amazing things but death? That’s too big even for a man of God. The people of Jairus’ house had no faith in Jesus.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Again, faith and belief is key to this story. Well, it is key to every bible story, but it is about confidence in Christ and the scope of his help. Belief solves our fear. Jesus was determined to show that he can do this despite the lack of faith from the household. It was Jairus who came to Jesus in faith for help and Jesus will heal his daughter. 

“The child is not dead but asleep.” Jesus knew that the child would wake up and the best description for her condition then is sleep. Those who die in Christ will be raised with Christ. Death is not the end but we do need to make peace with Christ before it is too late.

But they laughed at him.” It’s an odd reaction I think. I can imagine that being angry with him when one is mourning would fit the mood better. How dare someone make light of a mournful event. Or could it be that the weeping and wailing was not all genuine? Whatever, their faith was clearly not there since their reaction to Jesus was clearly unbelief.

A deliberate healing (40b-43)

“He took her by the hand…” This was no accidental healing. He reached out and touched the child. Another daughter about to be healed.

“Talitha koum…” Jesus spoke his and her native Aramaic language. It is a tender phrase, as Mark translates it for us. Little girl, I say to you, get up! Imagine that! He speaks to a deceased child like a little lamb and says get up!

“Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around…” She is 100% alive and healthy straight away. Imagine the faces of the mourners who will see the little girl walk out of the room to greet them. She might think that they are all here for a party!

“He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this…”’ Of course, Peter, James and John saw it and could tell the world later.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Describe the scene of Verses 21-24 in your own words – perhaps draw it.

Q2. What do we know about Jarius from Verses 22-23? 

Q3. What do we know about the woman in Verses 25-28? Look up Leviticus 15:25-30 to help understand her.

Q4. Compare Verses 23, 28, 30-31 and 41. What do they share in common? What does this do for the story? What do we know about Jesus that makes this so incredible (hint: incarnation)?

Q5. Apart from touching Jesus, what else do the woman and Jairus have which the mourners and the people from the house do not have (see Verse 35)? 

Q6. What does this passage teach us about Jesus?

Q7. What does this passage teach us about sin and death and fear? Read Isaiah 64:1-9 and consider how God has come down and made us clean from our sin.

Meaning

Many had gathered around Jesus but it was the faith of one woman who touched the clothes of Jesus that made him turn around. Jairus knew Jesus was his only hope to save his daughter. Many outside the girl’s room mocked Jesus and they were not allowed in to see the girl’s life restored. This story is about faith but not general faith. Direct trust in Jesus to be saved. Where all other avenues are hopeless, Jesus saves. While our sins are as red as scarlet, Jesus makes us white as snow. While we are powerless over sin and death, Jesus is able to tenderly say, get up! There is nowhere else for us to go. And the good news is that God has come to us, in the flesh, to take away the sin of the world.

Application

Challenge#1 Jesus strong and kind

Jesus’ divinity and his humanity are both seen in this story. He did not know who had touched him and yet he is able to declare that your faith has healed you. Jesus is the eternal God who has come to us in the flesh. In Christ we see the power of God and the kindness of God. This helps us in our prayers. When we pray, we speak to the One who can do more than we ask and we know that he cares for us more than we know. Come to God in prayer as a child who needs healing.

Challenge#2 Your faith has healed you

It’s not the size of your faith but the direction of it. Jesus is the key to all of these stories. The combination of who Jesus is and what we do with him makes the difference. It’s not that Jesus is only powerful when we give him our faith, but that belief and trust is what Jesus wants from us. It is also what we need more than physical healing! The little girl lived but she would die again one day. Healing from Jesus is greatest when it is our sin and death that is cured. The resurrection and justification are the things we desperately need from Jesus.

Challenge#3 Our ignorance of the problem of sin and death

The woman’s problem was not only medical but it was spiritual. She was an outcast because of her condition. The law did not give her freedom. As Isaiah 64 teaches, we are all outcasts from God because of sin. But the presence of God is what we cannot have and what we desperately need. Jesus is God come to us. Somehow we need to harness the desperation of Jairus and the unclean woman in order to overcome our attitude like the people who said, ‘don’t bother.’ Our apathy must be repaired with our awareness of sin and the problem of death. Jesus comes to us to say, don’t be afraid, just believe.