Reading: Mark 6:1-13
A prophet without honour
6 Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.
4 Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus sends out the Twelve
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 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.’
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them
Folks, we’re now moving into the summer season where the Sunday readings we use are from the Common Lectionary. And as such, I don’t choose these – they’re already planned, but whatever is scheduled I must be faithful in preaching on it. Today’s reading is not an easy read, and it compels me therefore to talk about the rejection of the gospel in today’s secular society and what we should do with it.
In this past week you may have seen in the news feeds that the Methodist Church of Great Britain passed unanimously a vote on the report entitled ‘God in love unites us’. The report recommended that the Methodist Church in Great Britain approve cohabitation and extends its understanding of marriage to “two people” rather than “a man and a woman”.
I realise that in any group there will be different views on this, but for me it makes me extremely uncomfortable. I read an article this week on the flaws of the motion, in which the writer said this. “There are endless pages of meaningless ‘theological’ waffle [in the report]. It is, in effect, Alice-in-Wonderland, post-modernist theology where words mean “whatever I want them to mean”. There is a lack of reliance on Scripture, which is misused and abused as much in this report as any I have ever read. For example, how can the teaching in Psalm 139 that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” be seen as a justification for same-sex marriage or co-habitation?”.
And so when people stand up and speak against these issues, I feel that there can be an incredible backlash with words banded around like homophobic etc.
In these and many other examples, people in today’s modern society do not like being told what to do, or being preached at. But I do think it shows an incredible diversion and steer of many church leaders who in my view have moved away from the authority of God’s Word. We should reflect on the great words of the Methodist John Wesley who said this, “Try all things by the written word and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of [fanaticism] every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture” (Works, 11:429)
It really comes down to whether we are willing to accept God’s Holy Word and place it higher than the values which today’s society consider as norm. It comes down to how we share God’s Word with our community, but I must caution that it has to be done in love and not the feeling of being preached at. Whatever the case, we are going to find some who will receive it and others who will reject and oppose it.
Today we are specifically going to look at Mark 6 from verses 7 through to 13. And we need to consider today how each one of us goes about sharing the Gospel in a society that may be hostile to it.
Look at verse 7: “Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two.” Here’s some Greek for you which always helps – The Greek word for “send” is ‘Apostello’, or apostle and means, “to be thrust out.” Remember that this was Jesus’ plan all along. In Mark 3:14 he recruits the twelve to spend time with Him and send them out: “that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” You know being sent out, or as the Greek uses the more accurate word ‘thrust’ can feel very scary. Over this past month we have had 2 prayer walks through Ballynure with the other 2 churches, and as we have walked and prayed I’ve been very aware of people watching us and wondering what we are doing. But there is strength in a team. It’s not that I am on my own. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.”
We can’t be people who just sit in our churches. And therefore it is encouraging that as we are thrust out from here, we go in the power of Jesus, not in our own power. We will never succeed in any plan within God’s church if we do this in our own power or ability. We must rely on Jesus.
And so because of that, the next principle we must consider is the aspect of trusting.
That’s what’s behind the restrictions in verses 8-9: “These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.”
Jesus didn’t want them to bring bread or a backpack or a wallet because He wanted to teach them how to trust. They were to place all their trust on the Almighty.
One of the best examples that I’ve seen myself of trusting in God is through a good friend of mine in Coleraine. He was working in a local church with a secure role, with a house and so things were going well. But then he sensed God directing him to commit his entire life and focus to praying over the town night and day. God was calling him to establish a place of prayer that would guard over the walls of Coleraine. And so the conviction was so deep in his heart, he not only gave up his job in the church, but had to walk away from the house. On a practical level he was receiving a salary of £22,000, so that immediately went. And even in the struggles that inevitably came, he and his family trusted God. The amazing thing was God’s faithfulness. The House of Prayer was established in Coleraine and ran night and day for 10 years. And here’s the provision of God – my friend received gifts from people that literally to the penny matched his previous salary of £22,000. I have never seen such obedience and trust to God’s calling as this.
Along the way my friend had many good willed people telling him how mad he was, but his trust was in God. When we face opposition for the gospel, we will give up very quickly if we don’t fully trust and rely in God through it. Don’t give up.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 10, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.’” They weren’t to hop over to a better house with more facilities. The temptation might be to seek comfort and luxury, but God wants us to learn the secret of contentment. In a world that never seems to be content with what it has we have got to learn to be happy with what we have and trust God for everything. 1 Timothy 6:6 says “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
So we go out as disciples facing the opposition that will come, knowing that we go in his presence, as a team, that we go trusting in his provisions. And so finally, we go with the primary goal of faithfully giving testimony about Jesus Christ.
You will know of the quote often attributed to Francis of Assisi, whether it is accurate or not, it says: “Preach the gospel. And if necessary, use words.” While that might be clever, it’s not biblically correct. Yes the Gospel needs to be seen in how we live our lives around people, but we also must not shy away from speaking the words of scripture. I think that’s the danger at times with where the Church is heading. We see so many good things happening as churches reach out, and we do indeed see many people connect with the church through compassion ministries or youth ministries, but Paul says in Romans 1 that we “should never be ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”.
The spoken word of the Gospel will convict people. It will require them to think carefully about how they live, and that will be uncomfortable. Jesus is preparing his teams for rejection in verse 11: “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.” This graphic display has its roots in Jewish culture. When a Jewish person would travel into a pagan land, when they would return they would shake the dust off their clothes as a way to keep the contamination from coming back with them.
So for Jesus to tell his disciples to shake the dust off their feet from their very own Jewish people when they reject the gospel would have been culturally extremely offensive. But don’t miss the point. The disciples were to do this with a broken heart and not with a sense of glee. The act of shaking the dust off was a warning that to persist in rejecting Jesus was to face ultimate judgment. That’s why after this verse it says the disciples went out and the first thing they did was preach that people should repent. That’s never going to be popular, because it’s seen as judging, but remember that we must always give an account for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect. And yet even in our gentleness we will receive opposition and attack, but we must remain faithful to God.
Paul sums it up when he writes in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Back to our passage – before we leave the issue of repentance; I believe repentance is at the heart of some of the reform that must take place in Ireland to ensure that the churches here do not follow the same model that the churches in the rest of Great Britain are doing. Instead of feeling that our theology has to align to what society is now treating as norm, we must stand firm to the teaching of scripture, but we should also ensure that repentance starts in the house of God. We cannot go out into our community and speak the truth of the Gospel if there is an act of repentance to begin in us and in the Church. If we don’t then we are simply being hypocrites. But as people, and as society turns away from values that are contrary to God’s Word it is then that we see true transformation take place.
So here’s a few things I’d like you to take home from today :
1. At 50 I realise that I’m not going to live forever. For everyone of us, recognise that every day you’re getting older. Don’t waste your life. Live with urgency, not complacency. Finish strong. Each one of us are called by God to go. We are being thrust out into our communities – not just the ministers. And maybe where that starts today is in how you speak truth into your family – sometimes that can be the hardest place to start.
2. Tell yourself that everyone you meet has a critical life decision to make – to either accept Christ as their saviour or to reject him. Consider the massive impact on those who reject him, and I believe it will drive you to do something about it.
3. Pray that every time you go out of the house, God will give you an encounter with someone who you can have a conversation about how much Jesus has changed your life. This is definitely going to push you out of your comfort zone.
All of this is tough, and yet Jesus wants us to go and make new followers of his. And each of us will be asked to give an account of what we have done to share the good news with others. Even though the rejection might be painful, I suggest that we don’t miss the opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ faithfully each and every day.