Follow the Leader!
How many of you have ever been in a situation where you needed to say or do something, but you knew it would get you in big trouble? Something like standing up to the boss when he’s doing something wrong. Today we’re reading a story in the gospel of Mark where someone does this—risks it all—and we’ll see what happens.
Offering and announcements:
Next Sunday is our all-church picnic and party—we’re calling it “the feeding of the 5000”! We’re actually reading that story of Jesus feeding the 5000 and I’m giving a message entitled, “Jesus and the Happy Meal! I’m going to bring a Happy Meal and bless it and try to feed all 5000 of you! What better way to understand this story than to live it?
Next Sunday, we’ll combine all three services into one big party at 10:30 AM at the Spokane Falls Community College track. No service here! Here’s what you need to know.
We’ll start with a worship service at 10:30 AM. Come around 10.
We’ll be sitting on the grass, so bring a blanket or your favorite chair.
We’ll all be together–our kids will be with us (no Adventureland).
After the worship service, we’ll eat; so bring a picnic lunch—just in case I can’t multiply the Happy Meal. (Our youth will be selling hot dogs and drinks–proceeds go to camp scholarships.)
There will be games, music, blow-up toys for the kids, so plan on hanging out for a couple hours!
The weather is supposed to be perfect!
Would you help us spread the word? Let other LC folks know about this. And this will be a good Find, Tell, Bring event…so bring a friend!
On Saturday, July 31, hundreds of us are going to roll up our sleeves and serve our community by doing One Day’s Work (item #1). We’ve got some clean up and beautification projects at North Central High School and along Sprague Avenue. It’s a chance to do something positive for our community, and have some fun doing it together. We’ll board buses here at 8 in the morning and come back for dinner at 5. Please register at the website or Info Center. The event is free but we need an accurate count for transportation and dinner. (Video?)
The SpoKenya Run is this Saturday, July 17 (item #2). Today is the early registration deadline: $10 without a t-shirt and $15 with one. Every penny of that registration goes for more wells in Kenya.
How many of you like a good sandwich? Mark, the author of this gospel, liked a good sandwich too. (First sandwich picture.) Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Mark often sandwiched two stories together, like the ones we’ll read today. Mark starts with the sending of the twelve disciples on a mission tour—that’s the first piece of bread. (Second sandwich picture.) And he ends with the return of the disciples from that mission tour—that’s the second piece of bread. (Third sandwich picture.) So what’s between the bread? In the middle of this story about the disciples’ mission tour, Mark sandwiches the story of the beheading of John the Baptist. (Fourth sandwich slide.) That’s the meat, so to speak. Thinking of John’s head—it kind of wrecks the sandwich, doesn’t it?
Why does Mark do this sandwich deal? He juxtaposes these stories in this unique way to make a point. And the point is…well, we’ll get there in a moment. The story starts with:
1. The sending of the disciples: 6b-13
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil 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 tunic. 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, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Jesus is going around from village to village teaching. Then Jesus decides to multiply Himself by sending His disciples. He does this because there are lots of villages and only one of Him, and because when He is gone, these men will carry on His mission, so it’s time to let them practice. This is their first training run.
Jesus sent them with some unusual instructions. They were to take nothing but the bare essentials; no food, no money, no backpack to carry supplies; just the clothes on their back, sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. Why do you think He sent them out with nothing? I think Jesus wanted them to learn to trust God. Imagine setting off on a couple week journey by foot with nothing—no money, no food, no extra clothes—nothing. Risky! Jesus asks us to do things that force us to trust God.
He told them to stay where they were first welcomed until they left town—He didn’t want them to be looking for better digs and grub. And if they weren’t received, they were to shake the dust off their sandals. When a Jew left Gentile territory, he shook the dust off his sandals so that he wouldn’t bring any Gentile contamination into the holy land. By telling his disciples to do this, Jesus was telling them that if a Jewish village rejected their message, they were to treat them like pagans, shaking the dust off their shoes!
What was their message? “They went out and preached that people should repent. What does it mean to repent? It means you turn from your sin and turn to God. You change your thinking and your ways! To tell someone to repent is to say, “You’re wrong and you need to change. You’re thinking wrong and you’re living wrong and you need to turn to God and change.” Imagine Jesus sending you to your workplace tomorrow with this message: “Repent!” Risky!
But here’s the thing that strikes me: it’s the risk Jesus took. You might question the wisdom of Jesus in sending out these men at this time. So far in the story, they have not been very impressive. In fact, based on their performance, we’d probably say, “You’re not ready to be sent out to preach.” But Jesus says, “Ready or not, here you go!” And He sent them out.
Ready or not, here you go!
Do you feel ready to do your mission—whatever it is Jesus wants you to do?
ILL: At the end of Bible college, after four years of studying the Bible and thinking about ministry, many of my classmates did not feel ready to be sent out into pastoral ministry. So they elected to go on for a graduate degree, or they pursued other careers. Very few of them ever ended up as pastors; they never felt ready.
I’m not sure you’ll ever feel ready! I doubt that the disciples felt ready, but ready or not, here you go!
Here’s a Big Idea: Jesus called you to send you. “Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out.” He calls you to Himself, into a relationship with Himself. But it doesn’t end there. He calls us into a relationship with Himself that changes us, and then He sends us into a broken world as His agents. He calls you to send you. Every Christian is sent by Jesus. Every Christian is a missionary—the word “missionary” comes from the Latin word that means “to send”; a missionary is a sent one, and every Christian is sent by Jesus to do His work in the world. John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Ready or not, here you go!
You are God’s agent, sent by Jesus, to do His work in the world, right where you live. In your home and neighborhood, on your job, at your school, where you shop and play—Jesus sends you into all those places as His representative to do His work.
God’s work is primarily done in the world, not in the church. What happens in the church is that we get trained, equipped, inspired, and prepared for the work in the week to come.
ILL: Church is like a gas station. (picture of gas station) We stop at the gas station to fill up our car, but we don’t hang out there all week. Anybody here just hang out at the gas station all day? It would be really weird to fill up your car, but never drive it because you were hanging out at the gas station with other filler-uppers discussing the merits of different grades of gas, or studying reports on fuel economy. The whole point of the gas station is to get the gas so you can drive. You don’t stay there; you just stop there to get filled up so you can go.
Church is like a gas station. You come here to get filled so you can go and do God’s work all week.
It’s easy to get this mixed up and think that God’s work happens primarily in the church. We think of the church programs as “the ministry” or “God’s work”, and so we try to get everyone involved in the church programs. By doing this, churches prepare people to be good church people—we train them how to do church stuff, and we fill their lives with church activities and meetings. We train them to hang out at the gas station!
Jesus and the disciples didn’t hang out at the gas station! They didn’t spend all week in Bible studies at the synagogue, or prayer meetings at the temple. They went to worship every week, and they prayed every day, but they lived their lives in the world, and did God’s work there.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t come to church, or volunteer to help here, or go to a Bible study or prayer meeting, or be part of a Life Group. Those are all good things, valuable things that will fill you up, help you grow, and train you for God’s service. I hope you do them all. But if that’s all you do, if you never put it to work in the world, then you’re just hanging out at the gas station; you’re getting filled but going nowhere. You’re just a church person, but not a missionary. You’re someone who has come to Jesus, but won’t be sent into the world.
We are a sent people. Jesus calls you to send you. You are His agent doing His work wherever you go.
“But I don’t feel ready!” Do any of you feel that way? I’m sure the disciples did too. But Jesus sent them anyway. You only learn to do God’s work by doing it.
ILL: Remember when you learned how to swim? Where did swimming lessons take place? In the pool. You can’t read a book and learn how to swim. You can’t hear a sermon and learn how to swim. You have to get in the pool and get wet! Ready or not, here you go—you get in the water!
ILL: Remember driver’s ed? You sat in a class for weeks reading the driver’s manual. But where did you learn how to drive? In the car. You got behind the wheel with some terrified adult.
You’ve got to get in the water to learn to swim. You’ve got to get in the car to learn to drive. And you’ve got to get into the world and do God’s work to learn to do God’s work! Ready or not, here you go!
Exercise: So what does God’s work look like where you live and work and play? How do you think God wants to use you as His representative where you live? Let’s talk about that with a couple people. Discussion. We can talk together more in our Life Groups this week.
Jesus took a big risk sending these guys to represent Him; He takes the same big risk with us. But what an adventure! I hope you’ll live every day this week on the edge of your seat! “What does God want to do with me and through me in my world today?” Jesus calls you to send you. Ready or not, here you go!
That’s the bread; let’s get to the meat.
2. The beheading of John: 14-29
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.
21 Finally the opportune time 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.
Herod was a piece of work. The story of the Herodian dynasty is like a really dirty soap opera. This guy, Herod Antipas, is one of the sons of Herod the Great, who had ten wives—the Herod who was in power when Jesus was born. Herod the Great was so paranoid that he killed several of his own sons. There was a saying that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. When he died, his kingdom was split among four of his sons—hence they were called tetrarchs (rulers of one fourth). Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea. He divorced his wife, and seduced his brother’s wife, Herodias and married her. Herodias was not only his sister-in-law, but also his niece, the daughter of another brother! Herodias had ambition; she lived with her first husband in Rome on his inheritance, but she was attracted to Herod’s position and power as a tetrarch. So Herodias and her daughter, Salome, left Rome and moved in with Herod.
There was just one problem: this pesky prophet, John. Herod was intrigued by John and invited him to the palace for a private audience, and John had the audacity to tell Herod to repent! He said that Herod and Herodias were living in sin! This irritated Herod, but it infuriated Herodias, because if Herod got it in his head to end their relationship and send her away, all was lost. She had to get rid of John.
Her chance came at Herod’s birthday party. When Herod was a little sauced, she sent her daughter, Salome in to dance, and it must have been one seductive dance, because Herod promised her anything she wanted. Herodias was ready, and coached Salome to ask for John’s head on a platter right now. Herod was trapped—he didn’t want to kill John, but he didn’t want to lose face in front of all his guests on his birthday. So he caved in and killed John.
You’ve got to admire John’s courage. Imagine standing before the king, the guy who can literally take off your head, and telling him that he was living in sin and had to repent. That takes guts…and faith. “I’m going to speak the truth, trust God and let the chips fall where they may.” This kind of courage is the stuff that spiritual champions are made of. The great heroes of the faith in the Bible and all through history had this same kind of courage.
ILL: Think of Daniel when he heard that the king had outlawed all prayer, except to himself. What did he do? He did what he always did: three times a day, he opened his window toward Jerusalem and prayed to God. He knew that he would be thrown to the lions—he did it anyway.
Or think of Daniel’s three friends, who refused to bow down to the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They knew they would be thrown into the furnace and burned alive—they refused to bow down anyway.
Or think of Esther, when her uncle Mordecai asked her to go to the king and intercede for the Jews who were slated for destruction. Esther pointed out that the king hadn’t called for her in over a month, and to approach the king uninvited was certain death. Mordecai said, “Perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this.” And Esther agreed to go, saying, “I will go to the king; and if I die, I die.” And she did it anyway.
Speaking of Esther, I love this prayer, by W.E.B. DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP. “Give us grace, O God, to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us… But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we say, “I will go unto the King, and if I perish, I perish.” Amen.”
Or think of Jesus when He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, knowing what awaited Him there. Think of Him praying in the garden, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” He knew that the cross was waiting, and He went on anyway.
Or think of Martin Luther in 1521 standing before the leaders of both church and state who had asked him to recant his teaching. With his life on the line, he said, “I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” It could have cost him his life, but he refused to recant anyway.
Or think of Hugh Latimer in 1532 preaching to Henry VIII and offending him. The following Sunday, he was commanded by King Henry to preach again and make an apology. Latimer began his sermon by saying, “Hugh Latimer, do you know before whom you are this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away your life if you offend; therefore, take heed that you speak not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh, do you not know from where you come, and with whose message you are sent? Even by the great and mighty God who is all-present, and who beholds all your ways, and who is able to cast your soul into hell! Therefore, take care that you deliver your message faithfully.”
He then gave King Henry the same sermon he had preached the week before—only with more energy! You gotta love it!
But it cost Latimer his life. A few years later, in 1555, he was burned at the stake with Nicolas Ridley. As they were dying, he said, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
Courage to do or say whatever God asks—mighty causes are calling us—this is the stuff of spiritual heroes. Who will be the spiritual champions of our day? Who will do whatever God asks, and even if it costs you everything, you do it anyway? How many of you would like to be a spiritual champion? It takes courage…and it will cost you. And this is Mark’s meaning in the sandwich.
It’s not safe to follow Jesus!
Mark tells the story of Jesus sending the disciples to tell people to repent. And in the middle of the story, he says, “Speaking of telling people to repent…did I tell you about John the Baptist who told Herod to repent? Did you hear what happened? He lost his head.” Doing what God asks you to do is risky business. We’re taking on a world that is locked in the grip of sin and evil. We’re taking on “the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.” It’s a war, and in war some people die. So are you going to play it safe or risk it all?
Mark 8:34–35 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Jesus said that playing it safe is the way to lose your life. But risking everything for Jesus is the way to save it. The only safe way is to risk it all. John lost his head; Herod lost his soul. In the long run, who was the loser?
I’m challenging us—you and me—to take up our crosses, to live courageously, to do or say whatever God asks, whatever it costs. I hope you’ll talk about this in your Life Groups, or with your family. What does it look like for you, right where you are, to live courageously for God, to risk it for Jesus?
3. The return of the disciples: 30-32
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
I love verse 31. Following Jesus is an adventure, and a risk, and sometimes it can wear you out. And Jesus knows that and says to exhausted disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Ahhhh… We have to learn to:
Live with rhythm.
The passage started in verse 7 with Jesus calling them to Himself and then sending them out. It ends with Jesus calling them to Himself again. “Come with me.” This is the rhythm of life with Jesus. It’s the rhythm of engagement and disengagement; the rhythm of work and rest; the rhythm of risk and safety. It’s the rhythm of life with Jesus. He calls us first and last to Himself. He calls us into relationship, because it’s there we hear what He calls us to do and say, and it’s there we gain the strength and courage to do it. “Come with me.”
We always come back to Jesus.