The Power to Serve
A sermon on Mark 6:7-52 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 10/31/99
In the mid-1980's, Margaret Kimuyu had a good life by East African standards. Born into a reasonably well-off family, married to Peter, a university professor, with a good job herself, Margaret was part of the Kenyan middle-class. And Margaret knew the Lord; she was active in Nairobi Baptist Church, and had three lovely children.
Increasingly severe headaches, however, disturbed this comfortable life. At first she supposed this was from a virus, or other illness. But they continued, and worsened. After months of visiting doctors, a scan revealed the bad news. Margaret had a brain tumor.
The doctor explained the options to her: Without an operation, she would die from the tumor, possibly very soon. But the operation itself was risky: she could die on the table, she could suffer brain damage -- or she might recover and live a normal life.
Margaret and Peter decided that she would undergo the operation. Peter's insurance through the university covered the costs; they flew to London for the procedure.
Praise God, the operation was successful. We were privileged to see her only a few days later; it was hard to believe she had undergone such a severe operation. Even her unbelieving doctor called her recovery miraculous.
There's nothing quite like a brain tumor to get your attention, and God certainly got Margaret's attention through this experience. During this time she became convinced that God was telling her, "I have given you back your life for a purpose. Spread the gospel in Kibera." Kibera is a slum area on the west side of Nairobi. Like most slums, it is dirty, smelly, and potentially dangerous.
By human standards, Margaret was hardly the logical person for this ministry. Her family background had led her to have minimal contact with persons like those in the slums. Furthermore, her Swahili was not very good; English had been her primary language.
Some of you may think, "Oh, but she was a Kenyan witnessing to Kenyans. That must not have been too hard." But imagine yourself going to one of the poorest sections of New York city, knocking on doors, and witnessing. How hard would that be?
From the beginning, this ministry has had three defining characteristics:
So began this ministry to some of the poorest of the poor in Nairobi. Now, more than a decade later, hundreds of persons have come to know the Lord through this ministry, and Margaret has several co-laborers. God has glorified himself in Kibera through Margaret.
In our series on Mark, we have seen in the last few chapters how Jesus calls us to be part of his intimate family, and thus to free us from fear. In the section we examine today, 6:7-52, Mark focuses on the power to minister, emphasizing that Jesus is the source of all power for ministry. There are four stories in this section, which we will entitle:
The central message: Like Margaret, you have a mission, a calling. God will empower you to succeed in accomplishing His purpose for you. Will you step out in faith, and feed those God calls you to feed? Or will you shrink back, fearful of undertaking a task that is impossible according to human power?
The Empowered Apostles
Please turn in your Bibles with me to Mark 6; we'll begin reading with verse 7:
7 ¶ And He *summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs; and He was giving them authority over the unclean spirits; 8 and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt; 9 but to wear sandals; and He added, "Do not put on two tunics." 10 And He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11 "And any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet for a testimony against them." (NASB)
Mark 3:14 says Jesus appointed these men in part to "send them out to preach," and he does that here. But who were the disciples? What kind of a resume did these men have?
The disciples were relatively poor, not highly educated. Did they have a full understanding of Christian theology? Were they living out the Christian life fully and completely? The rest of this chapter shows they still had much to learn, both in terms of their understanding of the person of Jesus, and how to translate doctrinal truths into the way they lived each day. But Jesus sends them out anyway!
What provision does he make for them?
Many of you know that my son Thomas has just returned from a backpacking trip with my father, who loves to hike. He has traversed the entire Appalachian and the Pacific Crest Trails, as well as many shorter routes. One of the most important rules of backpacking that he impresses upon his grandchildren is: Take everything you need, but no more. Every extra ounce makes the trip that much harder; so pare your supplies down to the minimum that you need.
That is what Jesus tells his disciples here: Take what you need, but no more. Specifically, he tells them not to take bread, a bag, money, shoes, or an extra tunic. We could summarize his instructions this way: "Don't make any special preparations for this trip. Go just as you are."
Why does Jesus do this? Isn't he sending out people who are not prepared? Is this a lesson for today's missionaries? "Don't make any plans for support, just go?"
We don't have to look very far ahead in the Bible to find that this is not a normative statement for all missionaries. Near the end of his life, Jesus reminds his disciples of this trip, and states that the situation has changed:
And He said to them, "When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?" And they said, "No, nothing." 36 And He said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. 37 "For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, 'AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS'; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment." (Luke 22:35-37 NASB)
By this time there is considerable opposition to Jesus and his disciples; he instructs them not to depend on hospitality as they travel, but to prepare themselves financially and physically. So surely it is not wrong today to plan for financial support prior to beginning a mission.
But there is a message for us today in Jesus' instructions to his disciples. Look at what they did take. Verse 7 says "He was giving them authority over the unclean spirits." The NASB accurately translates the verb here "was giving," a past, continuous action. (For those of you who like languages, the verb tense is imperfect.) The implication: Jesus gave them authority, and continued to give them authority throughout their journey!
What did these men have? What did they need? They didn't have money, they didn't have extra clothes -- but they had his power. So by sending them out with nothing extra, with no special preparation, Jesus states emphatically, "My power is sufficient. I will supply all your needs. So go, now, just as you are."
What was the result of their stepping out in faith?
12 And they went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. (NASB)
So these poor, uneducated men exercised real power. They preaching the word, and had that preaching validated by their casting out demons and healing of the sick. They had little education, no earthly provisions, and a still elementary understanding of the person of Jesus -- but God used them mightily.
This is the lesson for us to take to heart: God sends us out, just as we are, right now. Increasing our knowledge is important, special training may at times be helpful, but our ministry does not depend on those. God will use us right now. The only question is: Are you willing?
The Impotent King
Mark now provides us with a striking contrast between the disciples and Herod.
The disciples: in the eyes of the world, weak and powerless, yet through God's enabling exercise great power;
Herod, in the eyes of the world the most powerful man in the region, yet who in fact is weak, terrified, and helpless.
Mark begins this section by showing that the news of the disciples' ministry has reached even the royal palace:
14 ¶ King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 Others said, "He is Elijah." And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago." 16 But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!" 17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:14-20 NASB)
There are four different Herods mentioned in the Bible, and it is challenging to keep them all straight. The first is Herod the Great, King at the time of Jesus' birth. That Herod had several sons by different wives; the Herod we meet in Mark 6 is one of those sons, Herod Antipas. A second son, Philip, married his niece, Herod the Great's granddaughter, Herodias. But then Herodias decided that she preferred a different uncle, Antipas; Antipas leaves his first wife to marry her, leading to war with his original father-in-law. In later years, Antipas will lose this war, and end up exiled to Rome.
So even this little bit of history reveals Herod Antipas to be a man enslaved to his passions, who at the behest of his niece takes actions that are not only morally wrong but also ultimately detrimental both to himself and to his kingdom.
Of course, Herod's running off with his brother's wife becomes the talk of the town; it's hard to keep such matters private when they lead to war. John the Baptist pulls no punches in bravely denouncing this action. But Herodias is a woman who, clearly, is not used to being crossed. Verse 19 says she "nursed a grudge against John;" the Greek could be translated literally into an English idiom, "Herodias had it in for John." She looked for a way to kill him.
Interestingly, Herod finds John intriguing. Both fearing him and puzzled by him, Herod visits John and listens to him speak, all the while protecting him from the wrath of Herodias.
In chapter 4, Jesus says, "He who has ears to hear, let them hear." Does Herod hear? The word goes out to him, like the seed falling on the path, but there is no germination. Herod listens, but neither hears nor acts. The birds come and consume the seed. Herod is about to be tested; he fails the test miserably:
21 Finally the opportune time[for Herodias] came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." 23 And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." 24 She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" "The head of John the Baptist," she answered. 25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Herodias' daughter, Salome, dances for the men gathered to celebrate Herod's birthday. This is very unusual. A high-ranking woman would never dance in front of men; normally that would be the task of a slave. Clearly, this is all part of the plan of Herodias to get Herod's attention, anticipating that he will make a rash promise
Herod follows the script to the letter, making his rash promise; Salome requests John's head. Herod knows that John is holy and righteous; he knows John speaks truth. Part of him wants to back away from this promise, to avoid killing John. But he has to make a choice: Will he do what he knows is right, at the cost of losing face before his guests and his wife?
The answer is no. Thus the greatest prophet since Old Testament days dies.
The result: As Mark indicates in verses 14 to 16, Herod is troubled by fears that John has come back to haunt him!
Do you see the contrast? These poor, uneducated disciples are powerfully proclaiming the truth, and verifying that truth by the miracles they perform while the man who should be the most powerful in the region is enslaved to his passions, enslaved to his wife, enslaved even to his dinner guests
This story presents us with a challenge: Who will you emulate? The disciples who, although having nothing, step out by God's power to accomplish God's purposes? Or Herod who, having all the world offers, becomes enslaved to his passions, and ends up impotent and pitiful, wanting to do what is right but unable to bring himself to lose face.
The Questioning Disciples
So we have examined the Empowered Disciples and the Impotent King. The next story shows that these same disciples still have much to learn:
30 ¶ And the apostles *gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He *said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. 33 And the people saw them going, and many recognized them, and they ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. 34 And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:30-34 NASB)
The disciples return from their journey excited at all God has accomplished through them. Certainly when they answered Jesus' call to follow him, they did not anticipate all that had happened! But here they are, surrounded by crowds, once again unable to eat (see 3:20).
Jesus desires to spend some time alone with them. Why?
As many of us know from personal experience, we are particularly vulnerable to Satan's attacks in the period directly after a mighty work of God in our lives. Our emotions are running high, and Satan can twist those emotions in two very different ways:
Jesus has been teaching them that they are part of his intimate family, that they are dearly loved, that they can depend on him both for protection and empowerment. The disciples need to see that this trip proves the truth of the teaching, and to grow in that truth, rather than to fall into depression or become puffed up with pride. He wants them to reflect on what happened -- and to rest, to calm their emotions, and to strengthen their faith.
So Jesus and the disciples try to get away -- but they don't succeed. Seeing them get into the boat, the crowds run around the edge of the lake, and actually arrive first at the destination.
Jesus finds them on shore, and feels compassion for them, for they are "like sheep without a shepherd." Indeed. Who should have been shepherds for these people? Herod, and the religious leaders who already are trying to kill Jesus. Not very effective shepherds.
The disciples are not happy about this turn of events:
35 And when it was already quite late, His disciples came up to Him and began saying, "The place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." 37 But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat!" (NASB)
Wanting to be alone with Jesus, seeing these people as a nuisance, the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away. But Jesus instead uses this opportunity to teach both the disciples and the people. The disciples want to celebrate and reflect on what God accomplished through them; instead, Jesus says to them, "Continue your ministry! Feed these people! You see the need; respond!"
The disciples are incredulous:
And they *said to Him, "Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?" 38 And He *said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look!" And when they found out, they *said, "Five and two fish." (NASB)
Two hundred denarii would be the equivalent of about $10,000 today. The disciples are saying, "Lord! Even the Subway sub and soda special will cost $10,000 for all these people!" There is no way by man's power that these men can obey Jesus' command.
But they've just been accomplishing what was impossible by man's power! Jesus "was giving them authority;" they need to realize that he keeps on giving, he doesn't stop giving. They may only be able to see five loaves and two fish, but through God's power this tiny provision can feed a multitude.
39 And He commanded them all to recline by groups on the green grass. 40 And they reclined in companies of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 And there were five thousand men who ate the loaves.
Jesus lines them up in organized fashion on the green grass of April (Peter again remembers this lovely detail). Jesus blesses the food, breaks the bread, and then "kept giving" the broken pieces to the disciples. Once again, the verb is in the imperfect tense, past, continuous action; the NASB renders the sense accurately.
Think of how much bread would be needed to feed all these people! They would need a lot more than twelve basketfuls. I think what happened is this: Jesus broke the bread piece by piece, and put the pieces in Peter's basket. Once that was full, John came with his empty basket which Jesus filled. Just so, each of the disciples had his basket filled by Jesus, and distributed the bread. When Peter's basket was empty, he returned to Jesus, who filled it again. This cycle continued until everyone had had enough to eat. And yet each disciple still had a full basket of bread. (Note that in verse 43 the verb translated "picked up" can also mean "took away;" it is the same verb used in verse 29 of John's disciples taking away John's body.)
Question: Did the disciples obey Jesus' command, "You give them something to eat"? Yes! By the power of God, by returning to Jesus to have their baskets filled, they did give the people something to eat, they did supply all the physical needs of these people.
Isn't their position like ours? Aren't we also incredulous when Jesus confronts us and burdens us with the problems around us? Remember: Jesus kept giving bread to the disciples; he kept empowering them for the ministry on their journey. Jesus will keep giving you whatever is necessary to accomplish his purposes through you.
The Forgetful Students
All the crowd is now fed and happy. We read in John's account that the people now want to make Jesus king. Given the king they had, this is not too surprising. But they misunderstand Jesus' mission and purpose; so He sends the disciples across the lake in the boat, and separates himself from the crowd, in order that he might be alone and pray.
45 ¶ And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away. 46 And after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray. 47 And when it was evening, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48 And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night, He *came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. 49 But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were frightened. But immediately He spoke with them and *said to them, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." 51 And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were greatly astonished, 52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
The disciples face a very stiff wind, right in their face, and they make almost no headway. They must have left the shore in what we would call late afternoon; Jesus does not come out to them until 3 to 4 AM. So they have been straining at their oars, trying with all their might, but getting nowhere -- for 11 to 12 hours.
What should they have done? What lesson had Jesus been trying to teach them through the missionary journey and the feeding of the 5000?
Complete dependence! Once again, they are trying to depend on man's power. If man's power would accomplish anything, Herod would have been the most accomplished of all those mentioned in this chapter. But Herod is completely powerless. And these disciples here, so forgetful of Jesus' lessons, are powerless too on their own.
This chapter consists of a series of object lessons on the paired verses of John 15:5 and Philippians 4:13:
Jesus says, "Apart from me you can do nothing."
Paul writes, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Note that when the source of their strength comes -- without their asking -- the disciples respond in fear! Yet as soon as Jesus joins them, the wind calms. And the disciples once again are astonished.
Question: Did Jesus ever have that private time with his disciples? Did he give them the teaching he wanted?
No to 1, but Yes to 2. He was going to teach them on their own; instead he taught them through the lessons of the day: through the feeding of the multitude, and through their reaction to the windstorm.
We have considered:
Which one of these are you most like?
God calls you to be the first: An empowered apostle. If you have received Jesus as Savior and Lord -- and anyone can do so; the offer is open to all -- if you have received Jesus as Savior and Lord, you are called to the ministry! You are sent out by God into this hurting world! You are called to complete God's love in this world.
Practically, what does this passage tell us about how to begin serving the role God intends for us?
We do not begin by undergoing special training. Just as in the case of the man who had the legion of demons, Jesus sends his disciples out to spread the good news just as they are, even though they had much more to learn. Special training classes are undoubtedly valuable at times, but are not a prerequisite for ministry.
Second, we do not begin by using the methods of the world. We do not go forward through the use of worldly wisdom or worldly techniques. The disciples' efforts in the boat and Herod's trappings of power were both equally futile.
Instead, our service needs to share the defining characteristics of Margaret Kimuyu's ministry:
Paul writes in Colossians 4:2, "Devote yourselves to prayer." It is the disciples' connection with Jesus that leads to their receiving His power; it is our conscious dependence on God through times spent in prayer to Him that we receive His enabling. Lloyd Ogilvie, chaplain to the US Senate, said this in his sermon on this passage:
Often we have so little to offer God because we have accepted so little of what he has offered us in quiet communion.
What has God called you to do? What is the burden of your heart? What annoys you when you see it done haphazardly, or poorly?
Don't say: "Someone needs to do such-and-such." Like Margaret Kimuyu, step out and do it! You have the burden! You have the empowerment! Satan will try to frighten you, to make you think it is impractical or impossible, but devote yourself to prayer, take what He offers you, gain a deep conviction concerning the ministry to which God calls you -- then step out in faith, trusting God for the power to go forward.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You give them something to eat!"
Jesus says the same to you. What is the bread Jesus is breaking for you to hand out to others?
What trials face you, what storms of life, what fears, what winds limit your ability to proceed? The disciples made no headway by rowing against the wind, but Jesus calmed the storm.
Know that God will use you just as you are, and He will cause you to grow as you step forward in faith, trusting him to accomplish his will through you.
So take that step, despite your fears, despite the opposition, despite your lack of knowledge or strength, despite your lack of control. He is giving you the power; trust Him. Tap into that power, for Jesus says to you:
"You give them something to eat!"
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 10/31/99.Ray Stedman's sermon on this passage was particularly helpful. For more information about or to offer support for Margaret Kimuyu's ministry in Kibera, contact Peter Kimuyu via email.
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