The Privilege and Price of Discipleship
Main Idea: The call to discipleship is a call to actively participate in Jesus’ kingdom work no matter the personal cost.
I. Discipleship is a Call to Active Participation not Perpetual Instruction (Mark 6:7)
II. Discipleship is a Call to Faithful Representation not Personal Innovation (Mark 6:8–13)
III. Discipleship is often a Path to Increasing Rejection not Personal Protection (Mark 6:14–30)
Have you ever read through your Bible and wondered, “what am I supposed to do with this?” Well, we have one of those passages today, in which, Mark intentionally sandwiches the martyrdom of John the Baptist (16 verses) in between the disciple’s first missionary trip (7 verses) and their subsequent return (1 verse)—the story about John’s death is twice as long as the account of the disciple’s ministry. Yet, as we have already seen in this study, when Mark uses this literary technique he is telling us that these two episodes help us understand his main point in a way that a single story simply cannot do.
See, Mark is not telling us how we should do missions in these two stories this morning, he inserts the brutal execution of John the Baptist in the middle of the sending and return of the disciples from their very first missionary journey because he wants his readers to grasp both the privilege and the price of true discipleship. To put it in contemporary terms, discipleship is not an invitation to a comfortable Christian life filled with religious t-shirts, stadium rocking worship bands, and inspirational messages.
Main Idea:The call to discipleship is a call to actively participate in Jesus’ kingdom workno matter the personal cost.
- In verse 7: Discipleship is a call to Active Participation not Perpetual Instruction
- In verse 8–13: Discipleship is a call to Faithful Representation not Personal Innovation
- In verse 14–30: Discipleship is often a Path to Increasing Rejection not Personal Protection
Let’s just take a moment to put our passage in context this morning. Jesus doesn’t sulk in the corner after his unwelcome homecoming in Mark 6:1–6. Yes, he marvels at their cynical rejection and unwarranted unbelief. But, he not only, continues his gospel mission among the towns and villages of Galilee (Mark 6:6); he also uses this very moment of rejection to expand his kingdom offensive against the kingdom of darkness by sending his disciples out on their first kingdom mission.
Discipleship is a call to Active Participation not Perpetual Instruction (Mark 6:7)
A Divine Commission
Now, if you have been reading along in this study of Mark, you might be wondering, “What on earth is Jesus thinking sending these men to represent him? The disciples are a hot mess, they are in no way ready to minister on their own!” They have hindered Jesus’ mission (1:36–39). They have been wholly exasperated with Jesus’ methods (4:38; 5:31). They have even opposed Jesus to his face (3:21). On the surface it looks like Jesus is asking a bunch of clowns to instantly become elite commandos. When in reality Mark is pointing us to the glorious truth thatdiscipleship is a call to active participation not perpetual instruction.
Jesus has been preparing his disciples for this very mission. He called them with the promise, “I will make you fishers of men” (1:17). He appointed them to be with him and to preach and drive out demons (3:14–15). They have witnessed his miracles and his method of teaching. And he carved out special time to give them individual attention (3:7; 4:10). Now it it’s time for them to be sent out so they can actually use what they have learned.
But, even more, the Jesus is sending these men out as his official representatives. It is not as apparent in our English Bibles but the Greek verb behind our English word “sent” is apostellō—it’s built on the same root word as the noun apostle.
Jesus didn’t send the Twelve to do a new work but to continue and extend his work gospel work (1:34; 3:11–12; 5:8). Their words were his words. Their deed were his deeds. Their successes were by his power and for his glory not theirs.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t send the disciples to cast out demons because they completed their “defense against the dark arts class.” The glorious thing that we see in this “sending” is that disciples do not minister in their own abilities but the divine authorityof the one who sent them.
Instruction is essential to discipleship, but the thing we often overlook or dismiss in our instruction is that true ministry is carried out in the power and authority of Jesus not the individual minister. Jesus often uses even the most flawed instruments to accomplish his sovereign purposes; or to put it another way, Jesus rarely uses “rock stars”
1 Corinthians 2:1–5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Far too many Christians have convinced themselves that they are not ready for active service because they constantly need to “know more.” But, in this we see that a significant part of discipleship is simply sharing the gospel message that we have received and sharing the things we know at this stage of our Christian life. And this is because, gospel success doesn’t depend upon the perfection or merit of the disciple but the authoritative call and equipping of Jesus himself.
You will never know enough. You will never feel talented enough. You will never feel like you have enough time to spare. You will always have to make sacrifices and trust in God’s sovereign providence. And that is because ministry always pushes us past our inherent giftedness and abilities so that we might experience the presence and power of Jesus Christ, in our mission to pursue God, love all people, and multiply devoted followers of Jesus Christ. (Mark 6:8–13)
Discipleship is about Faithful Representation not Personal Innovation (Mark 6:8–13)
Notice in all of these instructions that Jesus does not encourage his disciples toward entrepreneurial innovation; rather, he emphasizes faithful representation. Jesus bestows authority on believers so that they may participate in and further hisministry not establish their personal ministry brand, platform, or franchise. Faithful disciples reflect their master. And we see this in his two-fold charge: (1) what to take and (2) how to act.
The Two-Fold Charge
First, what to take. The message is clear, Jesus wants the 12 disciples to depend upon God and the hospitality of others NOT their personal resources. And in this he is calling them to trust in him in ways that they have never had to before— no food, no finances, and only the clothes on their back. They are totally dependent upon God for their every need.
Second, Jesus knows that his disciples will face two very different responses, so he tells them how to act as their divine mission will result in both acceptance and rejection.
When they are welcomed into a home, the disciples need stay there until they leave for the next town. This command reflects concern both for the disciple’s motives and the proper honor for their host. The natural human tendency for travelers would be to move up the social ladder, accepting better and better accommodations as their ministry influence expanded. So in this command Jesus is protecting his disciples from sinful favoritism (James 2:1–13) and he is protecting the various communities from unwarranted jealousy.
When the disciples are rejected—just like Jesus was rejected—he wants them to know that they have not failed to do their duty. Rather, they are free to let the people suffer the consequences of their own rejection—that’s what it means to “shake the dust of your feet as a testimony against them” (6:11).
This gesture may seem a little dramatic to us, but it is a prophetic warning that this place will be cut off from the kingdom of God if they fail to respond to the gospel. It’s a warning, Israel needs to repent now!
The message repent and believe the gospel is that God reigns. The disciples do not invite Israel to accept God’s reign if it suits them; they are confronting Israel with wither a yes or no decision, there can be no middle ground. If they reject the message, they will deprive themselves of the opportunity to receive forgiveness and restoration, and instead will face the judgment of God.
If you are not a Christian today, I don’t want you to walk out of this church today in your unbelief. I’m not willing to say, “fine have it your own way!” I want you to know that I am not offended by your current rejection of Jesus because every single one of us was there at some time in our life. And for some it just took a while to sink in, for others it took the help of a friend or pastor. And I am more than happy to spend time with you.
If Jesus is truly the Son of God and Savior of the world, what hope do you have that rejecting or ignoring him will lead to anything but sorrow and pain. All roads do not lead to heaven.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Christian, you need to be convinced in your bones that people are not ultimately rejecting you when they reject the gospel. Sure, they might try to make it about you but in reality they are rejecting God’s infinitely gracious and inexhaustibly glorious gift of salvation. Deep down inside they reject the gospel because:
They think they can manage life on their own merit and abilities… they are doing just fine (like an addict that refuses free help).
They don’t want to consider the truth that are personally responsible to an inexhaustibly sovereign, perfectly just, and infinitely happy God who demands obedience yet freely offers forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
They feel so ashamed of their life they refuse to believe that God would everforgive them or truly delight in them.
And sometimes, people are so blinded by the pleasures of this world, they are oblivious to their need…
For the most part, they are rejecting you because they are rejecting the message itself. But, rejection may turn out to be far more than awkward encounters, strained relationships, and social ostracism. The story of John the Baptist highlights the reality that we may encounter people—especially people in positions of power—that hate the message so much that they oppress, imprison, and even execute the most faithful messengers. (Mark 6:14–20)
Discipleship is often a Path to Greater Rejection not Personal Protection (Mark 6:14–30)
An Ever-Expanding Impact (Mark 6:14–16)
This episode is more than a digression to explain what happened to John after he was imprisoned (Mark 1:14); it highlights the ever-expanding impact of Jesus’ ministry through his disciples AND the true price of discipleship.
If we follow the narrative, Herod’s question in verse 14 and fearful conclusion in verse 16 are the direct result of the disciple’s Galilean ministry in verses 12–13. In fact, it is quite possible that the disciples traveled as far as Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is where Herod had built his capital and named it after the ruling Roman Emperor, Tiberias. See, Herod hears about Jesus because the 12 disciples are expanding his ministry and furthering his reputation through their authoritative and faith-filled discipleship.
An Intentional Link
There are only two passages in the Gospel of Mark that are not about Jesus. And both are about John the Baptist, and both foreshadow Jesus (see 9:11–13). In chapter 1 John is the forerunner preparing the way for Jesus. He is preaching so that people would be ready for Jesus.
Mark 1:7–8 After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
What is he saying? He is saying, “my ministry isn’t about me, but the one who sent me.”
In chapter 6, our passage today, John is the forerunner of Jesus’ death. The parallelism is clearly intentional. Both John and Jesus are initially protected by political tyrants who know that they are righteous men from God. Herod protects John in prison and listens to him gladly even though he did not understand everything he was saying (6:20). Pilot attempts to protect Jesus because he realized Jesus was innocent and that the chief priests were envious of Jesus (15:10). Yet, both of these rulers eventually cave in and knowingly sentence righteous men to death in order to protect their position of power.
- Herod executes John the Baptist because he does not want to lose face in front of his nobles, military commanders, and the ruling leaders of Galilee. And all of this happens because Herodias hates John’s uncompromising message.
- Pilot executes Jesus because he wants to satisfy the roaring mob at Passover. Jesus’ death wasn’t about justice, it was about prideful men preserving their positions of power in the community.
So how does this account help us understand the call to discipleship?
John in the paradigm (or model) of faithful discipleship. He ministers in virtual poverty. He doesn’t try to build a personal platform, rather he pours all of his energy into pointing people to Jesus. In everything he tells the truth despite the personal cost. He even continues to preach repentance to Herod while he is in prison! And it cost him his life. The privilege and supernatural empowerment of discipleship will not shield you from the very real cost of true discipleship.
Main Idea: The call to discipleship is a call to actively participate in Jesus’ kingdom workno matter the personal cost.
Please do not misunderstand this point. Christians are not called to be masochists who delight in and pursue pain and prison. No. Christians are called to be people that treasure Jesus more than they treasure their possessions, who treasure Jesus more than they treasure their comfort, who treasure Jesus more than they treasure their reputation, and who treasure Jesus more than they treasure life itself.
This is why the church father Tertullian can say, “the blood of Christians is the seed of the church.” Biologically speaking, Christian blood is just the same as non-Christian blood. But, in persecution or martyrdom Christian blood becomes the visible, living testimony that a believers’ faith and hope and joy is inextricably anchored in an infinite treasure that this world can never touch.
There is a massive difference between the way a criminal and a faithful Christian go to the gallows, the firing squad, the gas chamber, or the chopping block.
- Some criminals are dragged to their death kicking and screaming, some follow their guards in a resigned daze, and others seethe with unrepentant arrogance.
- But if church history tells us anything, it is that thousands of Christians have humbly submitted to their execution with a joy and peace that surpasses all understanding.
And that is because they are wholly convinced that persecution and execution do not mean that God is wholly-impotent but that Christ is supremely valuable!
In the end, every true believer will find that death is the painful doorway into everlasting joy.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 178–79.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 251.
Strauss, Mark, 252–53.
“The phrase ‘as a testimony to/against them’ (εἰςμαρτύριοναὐτοῖς) could be viewed positively or negatively, either (1) as a witness tothem, or (2) as a judicial pronouncement againstthem;”
David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 242.
Walter W. Wessel and Mark L. Strauss, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark, Revised Edition., ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 783.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 183.