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 many sick people with oil and healed them.
John the Baptist Beheaded
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying,[a] “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, whom 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[b]; 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[c] 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.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.
The Cost of Discipleship by Pastor Erik Kamp
I chose the week’s sermon title based upon the title of the popular book “Cost of Discipleship” written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A book which was listed as the 2nd most important Christian book written in the 20th century. It was a book written early in his scholarly career, and it is a title which not only summarizes much of his teaching, but it eventually came to foreshadow his own life and death.
For Bonhoeffer’s prominence as a Christian thinker and pastor in Germany coincided with Hitler and the Third Reich’s prominence to political power. And Bonhoeffer became very vocal and prominent in his opposition to the hateful ideology which the Nazi’s used to secure power. He chose to oppose when most Christians chose to appease. He chose costliness over comfort. And for those reasons he found himself removed from his pulpit, rejected by the German national church, having his writing banned, and under constant monitoring until he escaped to America just before the war started – and as he watched the Great War begin from across the pond he quickly regretted his decision as he wrote to his American friend Richard Neigburh:
“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.
Bonhoeffer’s willing return to the dangers of Germany was perceived by him as the necessary cost of discipleship. And it was a decision which led to his imprisonment and his eventual execution. For as the war had essentially been lost – as forced closed in on Berlin from both sides – many executions were quickly enacted as final acts of vengeance against any who dared speak truth in opposition.
There may be no better title and life story to draw out the profound message which Mark is trying to communicate by sandwiching these two stories, because it should be quite clear that they do not chronologically belong together. For we start with the first active ministry of the disciples as they are sent by Jesus is suddenly interrupted by Herod Antipas’ concern for Jesus’ fame and his memory of killing John the Baptizer. Only after this walk down memory lane do the Apostles (only time there called that in Mark) return with their reports. And Mark in creating this sandwich intentionally links mission with martyrdom; discipleship with death. This story displays the theme which runs throughout Mark’s gospel and it foreshadows the fate, not only of Jesus, but of many who follow him.
- What distinguished Bonhoeffer, then and now, from many similar Christian thinkers was his willingness to put the meat back into the Markan sandwich – not only in his writings – but in his choices in life. He refused cheap grace; he rejected easy discipleship.
- As he writes “The response of the disciple is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith.”
- Well in this story we will witness 3 frequent objections to obedience which I wish to confront: Insufficiency, Risk, Insignificance
Obedience in Insufficiency
I remember pretty early on in my seminary training (schooling to be a pastor) the somewhat popular saying frequently said there, “Christ doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” Now I remember hearing that simple phrase and was not only impressed by the content but also drew a sense of comfort in the confidence in it. After all it meant that no matter where you go and what you do within in the will of God you are qualified. Comforting words right? Well I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A blessing of my school, which I found is unusual, is that each student had to do one rotation of Clinical Pastoral Education – which is being a chaplain at a hospital. And what seems to be a common teaching method across the programs is “baptism by fire.” I had one introductory meeting with the teacher and group, I was allowed to shadow one evening for emergency response in which 1 witnessed 0 responses. And then I received the beeper and a prayer for a peaceful night. And you know how much those words “you’re qualified” gave me comfort as I stared at that beeper throughout the night – not a lick.
- I was terrified as I responded to the first call, “there’s been a death and the family asking for a chaplain” – I wanted to respond – “good let me see if I can find one for you.”
- Cause I certainly did not feel like one – I certainly did not feel qualified to respond
Our text starts with Jesus gathering the twelve sending them out two by two and giving them authority to preach and over unclean spirits. Now this isn’t a shocking command because we bring to the text a knowledge of the Apostles whole careers, but at this juncture in the story the disciples have done nothing to instill any confidence in their ability. Up to this point the only thing the disciples have done well is drop everything and follow – but since then their following has consisted of misunderstanding or fear. They haven’t grown into these roles, Jesus hasn’t sent them into someone’s home and said “I’m going to be on roof and listen.” Jesus hasn’t sent them up to preach in some small-town as he listens and critiques in preparation. There seems to be none of that – they just watch until one day Jesus calls them together and said time to go and do what I have been doing. They must have been stunned – you want us to do what – we are not ready (expect Peter, he took likely off before Jesus gave him authority or a partner.) Do not worry – I give you authority – what does that mean?
The truth is most of us in this room are far more self-qualified than any of the disciples here. Many have likely read the Bible multiple times, studied Jesus’ life for years, debated the intricacies of his teaching over and over, may even have a theology of mission and discipleship – and yet we still feel unqualified and incompetent to invite our neighbor over for a meal and talk about Jesus. We would rather get them in touch with a qualified person. Well guess what – the only qualified person – is the one Jesus has sent – the real question isn’t “am I ready” – it is “am I sent.” Is he sending us here?
If you are waiting for that moment where you feel prepared; if you wait for the moment in which you feel qualified to share Jesus – well stop waiting – because you never will. That’s the uncomfortable side of “Jesus doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”
Every calling, every mission, every sermon, every stranger, every neighbor to whom we are sent is an act of faith, an act of obedience. Discipleship is an act of obedience in the face of our insufficiency – it’s a willingness to baptize by fire – to go where we may be terrified – but go because we know we go not alone. The disciples must have thought Jesus was crazy – but they still went.
Now, the greatest fear in our insufficiency is the responsibility for failure. We hypothesize that if Herm Oordt was having this conversation he would likely succeed (definitely better). Well listen to Jesus’ instruction to the disciples – “If they reject you – shake the dust off of your feet and move on.” Now there are symbolism in these actions – but principle for the disciples is don’t worry – keep going – remain obedient. Because it is obedience which shape them into the qualified.
- In my chaplain training I messed up multiple times, 1 time horribly to where they asked me to leave, but in obedience to go were the pager sent me I learned and grew into someone who messed up less – and for some I was exactly what was needed – thanks be to God that he used the train-wreck which is Erik Kamp – but it was a risk of being insufficient every time
Obedience in Risk
Well after Jesus commands the disciples go Mark makes his sudden jump to the story of Herod Antipas. And I think Mark is quite intentional in equating Herod knowing about Jesus as soon as the disciples are sent. Now there isn’t just one place which is buzzing about Jesus but there are multiple groups throughout Galilee talking about Jesus and the Kingdom which he is initiating. And Herod’s attention is the first response we receive of the disciple’s activity. Before Mark tells about the apostle’s successes or failures he tells us the King (the power, the sword) is watching and is worried.
Now we live in world that is quite nervous that big brother is watching. We live in a world in which cameras are everywhere, internet searches are recorded, every phone conversations is monitored for key words – there is a profile which is being developed to determine whether or not we are a threat.
- Fortunately, we live in a world where if you are determine to be a threat to the system restrictions are placed upon you. A trial is required to assess guilt and penalty.
- Why – because we don’t have the first word in verse 14 – KING. King Herod. Now Antipas was never a king, but possessed the power of life and death like one.
To have the kings attention is a dangerous proposition. To speak of another kingdom while there is a king is rebellion. And the danger Jesus, and the Apostles, are now in is displayed as we learn of John the Baptizer fate for preaching in opposition to Herod.
Now the disciples almost certainly knew of John’s imprisonment and execution. We know from other gospels that Jesus waited for John’s arrest before he started his ministry, we also know that some of his disciples followed John the Baptizer before Jesus. We know there was interaction between Jesus and john’s followers. But even more dramatically, when Herod the Great (Antipas father) died in 4 BC there was a rebellion in Galilee where Judas claimed to be Messiah (the Christ). And his rebellion ruined the region leading to the destruction of many cities and over 2,000 crucifixions. In Galilee if the king knows your name – that should send chills down the spine.
Obedience came at a huge risk. There was the possibility of the highest cost for the disciples in going forth and preaching the gospel. And yet the disciples are willing to risk their very lives in obedience to Christ command. Discipleship is costly.
Now we are starting to learn this lesson once more in America. We have had the position of honor within our culture for a number of years where it was comfortable to Christian. And a lot of the churches public battle, I believe, centers around the desire to be comfortable Christians – disciples without a cost. We want to share Christ without Herod’s angry eye – no threat, no death. Well Mark warns that might mean – no discipleship.
- Now you may not have to pay up. I’m not saying those who have been fortunate to live through favored times are not Christians. But what I am saying is we shouldn’t fear the costs. If being a faithful Christian excludes you from certain segments of society, if it opens you up to lawsuits, if means being mocked and degraded – we should not fear it. We should not complain of the cost. (you can oppose but never act as if it is too much) For if it ultimately means our lives – we should gladly pay it.
As MLK Jr said – “There are some things so precious, some things eternally true, that they are worth dying for. If a man has not discovered something he will die for, he is not fit to live.”
- The mark of discipleship is the one who discovers Jesus is that precious truth
Obedience in Insignificance
As many of you by now know I am a movie person. I really enjoy going to the movie theater and in my free time I enjoy sitting down and watching a good movie – to the point I will purchase most movies I enjoy so that I might watch them over and over. And over the years I have come to identify the types of story I usually enjoy – (one in particular that has brought me a little concern of my future.)
Now, my 2 favorite movie moments of all time – scenes when first watched I almost could not just sit and watch – scene demanded response. First, was the end of Braveheart in which William Wallace over and over is commanded to confess while being publicly tortured only at the end to scream out “freedommmmmmmmm” with his final breath. (Wow) Or first valentine with Jacque I took her to see Return of the King and 2/3rds in Ride of the Rohirim at Pellenor Fields– as King Theodin looks upon an undefeatable evil force sieging Gondor – and his response is he gives his battle order – finished with the line “forth and fear no darkness.” And then to his troops, “Arise riders of Theodin, Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered. A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises.” That is his final speech as he charges to his death.
- Now what was it that made both these moments so significant – to the point where you not only want to watch but you want to live the moment. It is significance in death. The life and the death which displays meaning.
- I think we all seek meaning and significance to our lives – and our deaths
And what may have horrified me more than anything this week as I studied this passage was the realization that there is almost no significance to John the Baptizers death. He is imprisoned for truth; but he dies through the collective efforts of a girl seductively dancing for her step dad at a birthday party, and a wife who holds a vengeful grudge for being told divorcing a man to marry his brother is not lawful.
John the baptizer doesn’t get his moment in front of the crowds where he makes his last speech in defiance of those he opposes. He doesn’t get that moment where crowds can cheer “Yes, to his life and cause.” Instead he sits silently in his cell as he becomes the victim of drunkenness, scheming, and politics – the final line, his disciples took the body and laid him in the tomb. (that’s it – nothing has changed)
I believe perhaps the greatest challenge to obedience is the fear of insignificance, or that the cost of discipleship buy us nothing. I believe most people weigh the costs and the consequences of their decisions. We seek a value, we search for a significance in something before we are willing to pay. And if we cannot find it – we shall not pay it. We will obey Christ – if it is worth it. If there is no significance –no value – no definable change for the better – eh.
- I am reminded of the story told by R.C. Sproul (prominent reformed theologian today). And he shares the story of the professor asking future pastors – if predestination is true (so if the fate of everyone has been chosen by God) – if that’s reality why share Christ – doesn’t change anything. Interestingly, as they go through the room no one had an answer. Why sacrifice your life if it changes no one’s fate. “Why scream freedom in death if none will find it, why charge into the battle already lost.”
- Well it came to the young Sproul – and he answer timidly – Cause Jesus commanded us.
- Oh, you think that creator, sustainer, redeem, and Lord of the cosmos – you think the fact that he commanded you do something this is enough reason to do it.
Obedience is what is significant. Following Christ is the meaningful life. Because those are the things which brings us to the only significant and meaningful death in history – Christ on the Cross.
That is the wonder of the gospel that in Christ all of us participate in the most significant and meaningful moment in history. That when we read through gospel accounts of the cross we are not just reading Jesus’ history, we are reading the churches history, we are reading our history.
- John the Baptizer’s obedience which leads to a seemingly insignificant end as his head is placed on a platter as a party favor – well that obedience is what makes him part of Christ story here. The chase for significance outside of obedience is the never ending rabbit hole of wonderland.
It is obedience which allow you to shout out “fredommmmmm” – from the search for meaning
It is obedience which will allow you to charge sure death while sing of the certainty – ere the sun rises.
And it is in the face of the objections that the disciples return and tell Jesus of all they had done.