I remember when in 1959 a local favorite from Brandon, Mississippi, was selected as “Miss America.” Her name was Mary Ann Mobley. When she made a home-town appearance during her reigning year, all the pomp and publicity that a town of 2,200 could generate was set in motion. The high school band played, at least forty times, the recent top ten pop tune “Mary Ann.” A convertible ride around the town square ended with a drive down a curving street that went to a residential area beyond the Methodist church. Mary Ann’s house was on a corner of that drive just before Hiway 49. The street was then named, “Mary Ann Drive.” It is hard for us to conceive of contempt being the dominant response to greatness. When Jesus returned to his hometown, however, after an itinerancy of amazing, God-like teachings and works, his obvious competence set up an occasion for resentment, doubt, and rejection. This would allow him to prepare his disciples for the same kind of response.
I. Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth gave him a lukewarm reception.
A. He taught with astonishing effect. The listeners recognized that they had never heard any other teacher give the kind of clear, insightful authoritative teaching done by Jesus. “Where did this man get these things?”
B. They asked questions that should have led to right conclusions.
- How did he get the wisdom to teach with such authority? They recognized that his word and applications were filled with a wisdom beyond the reach of others (“Given to him”), truly a wisdom “greater than Solomon” (Matthew 12:42).
- From where does the power come to do such miracles? They even saw miracles performed “by his hands,” and knew that that also must be given from an extraordinary source. While they did not conclude that he was in league with Satan and performed his work by Satan’s power as had occurred in chapter 3, still they did not follow through with a fitting answer to a relevant question.
C. They made observations that were unworthy of the profundity of the questions.
Their prejudices about his insignificant background, their familiarity with his history and his family kept them from making a rational observation about what they heard and saw. Having eyes to see, they did not see; having ears to hear, they did not hear (cf. 4:12).
- They knew him as a tradesman whose profession would not afford an opportunity for advanced training or sophisticated scriptural or theological reasoning. He was “the carpenter.”
- They knew his mother Mary, his four brothers, and his sisters. The town probably was aware of the attempt of his family to get him from the limelight of both adulation and opposition (3:21, 31). Not only did they know his family as ordinary persons in a sub-ordinary town (cf. John 1:46), but they knew his family had some degree of embarrassment about his sense of personal importance.
D. Jesus pointed out the effects of unbelief.
- Jesus quoted a common proverb as related to his case. Jesus began his response with the common observation that familiarity breeds contempt. It is generally true that a person who gains widespread appreciation for excellence in some field will be slower to be received as deserving by those who have known the person as a peer and contemporary.
- Their resistance, however, was so strong that they even refused, for the most part, to come to him for healing. Though they had heard of this and even remarked about his power to do the miraculous, they would not consent to the implications of these things. Probably they were aware that coming for such help implied an acceptance of messianic status; they were not willing to concede this and thus, “He could do no miracle there” (6:5).
- Toward such deep resistance to this implication, Jesus exhibited amazement. The hardness of the human heart in recognizing its need for transformation and forgiveness was truly unfathomable. In the face of irrefutable evidence, even hometown acquaintances and family will not come to one who implies their need for a Lord to save them and rule over them.
- Rejected in his own village, Jesus again went to his itinerant ministry in the villages nearby. In Mark’s gospel, this was the last time he went to a synagogue to teach.
II. Jesus sent the message to surrounding villages.
Here Jesus begins what Mark had announced as the reason for the selection of the twelve (3:14, 15)—to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.
A. Jesus sent the twelve to expand the ministry of preaching and manifestation of compassionate power.
His granting of the powers they exhibited was a precursor to Pentecost. On that occasion a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit would bring about thousands of regenerations of former skeptics and opponents (Acts 2:36, 37, 41).
- He gave preparation for opposition
- “Unclean spirits” – Jesus knew that the resistance of Satan to this beginning of an expanded ministry of preaching would be manifested with particular violence. As an auxiliary to their preaching ministry, they would show not only the message of full salvation, but the power of the ultimate demise of Satan.
- Unreceptive villages – As his own village had shown resistance to the words and works of Jesus himself, these villages would in many cases resist the message of such wandering messengers. He gave them specific instructions on dealing with the variety of responses they would encounter.
- They would spread the word as Jesus had presented in the parable of the sower and the soils (4:1–9), the parable of the mystery concerning how seed grows and produces a mature plant (4:26–29), and the parable of the mustard seed (4:30–32). They would sow and would find rocky soil, shallow soil, hungry birds, and some good productive soil.
- They were to travel light and be dependent on positive response to their message.
- In order to cover as much ground as possible, they were not to linger where there was no evidence of a readiness. If soon after entering the city and preaching, they were received into a home, they would stay with room and board provided by their hosts.
- Their journey was to be unencumbered with any weight but only a staff that would be a help in crossing some of the terrain. Perhaps the staff also was reminiscent of the presence of God with Moses. These were the beginning stages of forming a new people for the Lord as Moses had been called to give formation to the Israelites as a nation.
- With no believing response, they were to leave with a symbolic gesture of separating themselves from that group of unbelievers (6:11). Now, only believers were to be considered as their brothers, fellow children of God.
- They were to preach and show compassion on the sick and those oppressed by the demonic.
- They cast out demons in the name of Jesus and also healed many people by anointing them with oil, a symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit in such healings.
- They preached that men should repent (6:12). This is a summary of their content. Surely it included things that Jesus already had taught them and what they had observed in his ministry. The message of repentance would be in the context of the forming of a New Covenant people. Repentance would show the work of the Holy Spirit as active in the life of the hearer (1:8, 10; 3:28, 29) even as he was active in their healing. They would preach that Jesus came to forgive sins (2:5) and that he directly claimed to be the Lord (5:19, 20). They would give testimony to his power over nature, disease, and the demonic and that he is the one who had given them such power as well as the commission to preach.
B. They went to do as he said.
- They preached that men should repent. As from the beginning in the preaching of John the Baptist, this also implied a belief in the Messiah with a dependence on him for forgiveness of sins. This repentance involved, not just a sorrow for sin, but a determination of mind and heart to live justly toward men and with cordial love and worship toward God.
- They manifested the power of the gospel over the forces of Satan (6:13). This was not their native power but was granted them by Christ. It was connected with the preaching of repentance to show that the rescue from the power of darkness was intrinsically connected with the gospel. This anticipates the culmination of Jesus’ victory. The writer of Hebrews declares that in his death Jesus destroyed him that had the power of death—that is, the devil–and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
- They anointed with oil for healing. The power of healing was not in the oil but in their dependence on the healing power of the Holy Spirit. True health and ultimate freedom from the corruption of these fallen bodies come only from redemption through the death of Christ and his resurrection. The believers’ union with him in this victory is effected by the Spirit by whom we “are being transformed into the same image [of Christ] from glory to glory” culminating in the resurrection. This same symbolic presentation of dependence on the Spirit was in the anointing the sick with oil in the order set forth by James (James 5:14).
III. Jesus received his sent-messengers for them to report their experiences (30–32).
Though it would not last long, this was to be a time of rest, reflection on what had happened, and further instruction.
A. The twelve who were sent out in pairs by Jesus with specific instructions from him returned.
They reported on both mandated functions, teaching and performing works of power. Each was done in the power of the Spirit. The message of repentance was given verification as a true call from the fact that they performed acts of goodness in healing and casting out demons. Jesus already had shown in his teaching the utter folly of attributing acts of goodness and routing of demons to perverse powers. If the acts were good, the message must be true.
B. They had been moving, working, and dealing with people for the entire time of their mission.
Even now at their return, being in company with Jesus, the crowds gathered even more insistently. Jesus and these twelve did not even have sufficient leisure to eat a meal without interruption. Given that these were in a period of training with Jesus, they needed not only rest time but transparent debriefing and instruction. Just how many connections their message of “repent” would have after the resurrection, they had little idea. Bit by bit Jesus had to prepare them for the crushing culmination of his earthly ministry and how their call to be his disciples would transform them and the world.
C. They got into a boat with the purpose of going to a secluded place for this time of rest and instruction.
The events that followed did not take the shape of time alone; There was, however, powerful occasion for instruction.
IV. More than 5000 people found the place and met Jesus and his disciples there (33).
A. Jesus showed compassion on the people.
From village to village, word spread as to where Jesus and his disciples were going. When the boat arrived at the supposed secluded spot, thousands had gathered in order to see Jesus. Knowing that their understanding was low of what they were seeking when they sought him, Jesus saw them “as sheep without a shepherd.” Although all of them probably regularly received instruction in the synagogue, Jesus knew that the teaching was vain (7:1–13), settled on human tradition and not on an understanding of the word of God, and absent of any content that would lead a person to expect redemption through his blood (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:45).
B. Jesus challenged his disciples.
Having taught the crowd well into evening (“quite late”), they had not eaten. The setting of the sun was approaching, and the disciples asked Jesus to send them away to find food for themselves. Jesus challenged his disciples to find food for them. They calculated how much money it would take to feed such a crowd. It seems they were implying that their treasury did not have sufficient funds to do it cf. John 6:7).
C. Jesus fed the multitude.
John records (John 6:8) that Andrew discovered the boy with the lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish.
- Jesus instructed all of them to sit in groups of hundreds or of fifties. The scene of the orderly arrangement of so many people, reclining on green grass with Jesus standing and distributing bread and fish would give a visible image of sheep dependent on their shepherd.
- This distribution involved the multiplication of bread and fish by way of creation. As God created man from the dust of the ground, fashioning it into a man made into his image by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 1:27; 2:7), so he took bread and flesh and fashioned it into more bread and flesh (”broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples”) for the sustaining of life. It was not a sparse meal for “they all ate and were satisfied” (42). When Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11) he meant us to perceive that we are as immediately dependent on his provision for us as this crowd was on his divine power and compassion for that evening meal.
- It seems that each of the twelve had a basket for distribution and when the meal was over, their baskets had been filled for the final time but needed to distribute no more.
V. Jesus gave a lesson of deliverance (45–52).
A. According to John 6:15, the people wanted to take Jesus and make him king.
That explains the urgency of Mark 6:45 with which Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and leave, leaving Jesus to deal with the possible coup on hand and dismiss the crowd. A. T. Robertson says, “Mark with the present indicative apoluei pictures Jesus as personally engaged in persuading the crowds to go away now.” The disciples were not beyond being persuaded by this rise in fervor for a political Messiah, so Jesus got them away quickly. Jesus then could have a quick exit to the mountain in order to pray. This temporary emergency placed again before his mind that visible rulership over the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords must await his death. In prayer Jesus sought the Father’s face, strengthened his own human soul, and found deep satisfaction in knowing that the coming suffering (perhaps about a year away from this occasion) would honor the Father, save a people given him by the Father, defeat Satan, overcome death, and bring a reconciliation not only for men but for all things to the glory and eternal purpose of the triune God (Colossians 1:15–20).
B. In his private knowledge of his disciples, Jesus saw their struggle with a difficult wind as he was on land and they were fighting the elements in the “middle of the sea.”
- Apparently, their journey to the other side of the lake had been halted by their inability to go against an opposing wind, for this was between 3 and 6 AM. They could not know that he knew their plight and that they were desperate. They felt alone, but Jesus knew what was occurring. Now he would demonstrate not only his perfect knowledge of their situation but his ability to save. Matthew Henry comments, “If Christ’s visits to his people be deferred long, yet at length he will come; and their extremity is his opportunity to appear for them so much the more seasonably.”
- Mark mentions that “He intended to pass by them.’ Jesus gave them an opportunity to recognize him in this work of power over nature and follow him to shore. Instead of comfort, they felt such terror that they concluded that a spirit had taken form from the grave and was there to aid in their destruction (50a).
- Seeing their terror, Jesus identified himself, sought to quell their fear, and, instead of walking ahead of them, got into the boat with them. Mark omits the incident of Peter’s aborted attempt to come to Jesus on the water. Mark apparently is based largely on Peter’s recollection of events. To omit this incident could not be Peter’s attempt to save face, for he gives to Mark the brutal facts of Jesus’ rebuke of him at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-33). The wind stopped and the weary, fearful disciples were “astonished.” They missed this remarkable opportunity to show a trustful and spiritually mature understanding of who Jesus was and rest in his care for them. Nevertheless, those in the boat “worshiped Him, saying ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matthews 14:33).
C. Mark explained their fear and astonishment in terms of failure to draw the right conclusions from his feeding of the 5000.
This person was in control of nature, they should have known. His compassion moves him to use his power for the benefit of his people. The evidence was sufficient already, but they had not absorbed it into their consciences so that the truth about Jesus formed their outlook on all of life.
Two by two the men of Christ returned from their assignment.
Demons fled and sickness failed; preachers called crowds to repent.
Multitudes would seek them out, even when they went to rest.
Jesus loved the lonely crowd, taught them truth and sought their best.
Into evening they all stayed, full of truth and warm in heart.
“Send them home.” “No, get them food. Feed them before they depart.”
“Food enough! Where can it be, food to feed two-fifty score?”
The Creator of the world will provide it all, and more.
After food, back to the sea; destructive winds brought strong alarm.
The Creator walked the sea, rescued his dear friends from harm.
Amazed! Aghast! A man on water filled their minds with dread.
Slow of mind and dull of heart, would they learn the sign of bread?
A fallen world makes life a challenge to be walked with care.
To honor God and shrink from evil, this should be our prayer.
In each part of every life, peaceful meals and raging winds,
The Creator who sustains, gave Himself to save from sins.