STUDY NINE: Mark 6:1-56
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
In Chapter 6 Mark records Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, his hometown, the commissioning of the twelve disciples, the death of John the Baptist, two ‘nature’ miracles, and Jesus’ return to the region where he had healed the man with the legion of demons.
A. THE PEOPLE OF NAZARETH – Mark 6:1-6
Task #1: Read 6:1-6. Answer these questions:
 What was the initial response of those who heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth?
 List the five questions they asked about Jesus.
 Re-read Mark 3:20-22. What similarity is there between this and Mark 6:2-3?
 After thinking about these questions, how did their attitude to Jesus change?
 Suggest the key reason for their rejection of Jesus.
Although they are amazed at the power of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, the men of Nazareth are not happy with him. They cannot understand how this man they have known since he was a child can know all that he knows and do all that he does. He is just the carpenter. Mary’s son. Brother of all these people they can name. He’s just the man from down the road.
Their first question is a good one: where did this man get these things?
Back in Mark 3 his family concluded he was out of his mind, and the teachers of the law concluded he got his power from Satan. Here in Nazareth the people don’t know what to think. They cannot understand how the man who mended their tables and made their chairs can suddenly start giving this amazing teaching and doing these powerful miracles. The fact that they were offended by him is testimony to the fact that he had, prior to this, said and done nothing that made him stand out from the crowd, nothing that indicated he was anything more than an ordinary human being. In their confusion they even give voice to the rumour that he was ‘illegitimate’ – in calling him ‘Mary’s son’ rather than ‘Joseph’s son’.
The proverb Jesus quotes in answer to their questions and their offense pinpoints the response that was actually due to him: the response of ‘honor’. The Greek word refers to value, respect, worth. Jesus recognized that these people were not recognizing him or his real worth. They were blinded by their familiarity with him; they could not see who he really was, and therefore could not treat him with the value, respect and worth due to him.
In John 5:23 Jesus said: ‘… that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.’ Jesus’ townsfolk have not even given him the honor due to a prophet, but the honor due to him is actually the same as the honor that is due to God.
For them, he is just a man.
So his teaching, although it amazes them, does not change them. Except for ‘a few sick people’ they do not come to him or bring others to him for healing. Their failure to believe in him even in a minimal way prevents them from seeking his help. The depth of their unbelief amazes him.
Task #2: What additional information is recorded in Luke 4:16-30?
B. THE DISCIPLES – Mark 6:6b-13
As Jesus set about teaching in the surrounding villages he commissioned his twelve disciples to engage in the same task.
Task #3: Read Mark 6:6b-13. Answer these questions:
 What authority did Jesus give to the twelve disciples?
 List the instructions Jesus gave them.
 Which of these instructions infers that there will face negative response?
 What was the key content of their message?
 In addition to preaching, what did the disciples do?
C. HEROD AND JOHN THE BAPTIST – Mark 6:14-29
Mark reports that ‘Jesus’ name had become well known’.
Task #4: Answer these questions:
 What three suggestions were people making about the identity of Jesus?
 What was Herod’s conclusion?
 Why did Herod come to this conclusion?
Mark includes the whole sordid story of John the Baptist’s murder. In the context of reporting negative reactions to Jesus himself, the inclusion of this extreme and final rejection of the one who was Jesus’ herald gives an ominous warning of what will happen to Jesus himself. If this is how they treated the herald of the King, how will they treat the King himself?
D. FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND – Mark 6:30-44
In the first few verses here Mark gives us insight into real humanness of Jesus and his understanding of his disciples’ humanness. This gives us important perspectives about coping with our own humanness in the context of our commitment to the work of his kingdom.
Task #5: Read Mark 6:30-34. Answer these questions:
 Describe the ‘debriefing’ that took place when the disciples returned from their mission.
 What real human needs are acknowledged in verses 31 and 32?
 What did Jesus do to address these needs?
 What deeper human need is referred to in verse 34?
 What did Jesus do to address this need?
 Suggest why meeting this deeper need of the crowds took priority over and delayed meeting the needs of the disciples?
Now we move on to the miracle itself. Mark tells us how Jesus fed 5000 men (as well as uncounted women and children) with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Mark makes no comment about how this miracle affected either the crowd or the disciples. He simply tells us what happened. He leaves us to make our own conclusions.
To him it is obvious.
To Jesus it was obvious.
As we shall see below, this creative miracle should have taught them that Jesus is God. Just as in the beginning God created the world out of nothing, so here Jesus, the Son of God, creates out of next to nothing more than enough food for thousands of people. Think about it: how many supermarkets and fish shops would we need to go to if we had to feed this crowd? The magnitude of the miracle is stupendous, the action of the almighty creative power of God.
E. WALKING ON WATER – Mark 6:45-52
Mark goes on immediately to report a third ‘nature’ miracle [Mark 6:45-52]: Jesus walked on the water.
So unexpected and impossible is this that the disciples don't even believe it is really him. They think it's a ghost or a spirit. Real people don't walk on water. Real people can't walk on water. But it is Jesus, and he is walking on the water. Not only that, but as soon as he gets in the boat the wind stops.
Let us look carefully at Mark's comment about what followed.
‘They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; for their hearts were hardened.’ (6:51b,52).
They were completely amazed. English translations fail to convey the impact of the Greek. They were beside themselves with amazement to an immeasurable degree. Totally agitated. Totally overwhelmed with the incredibility and implications of what they have seen.
Why? Why were they so surprised that Jesus could do this?
Because, says Mark, they had not understood about the loaves. Or, as the Good News Bible puts it: ‘because they had not understood the real meaning of the feeding of the five thousand.’ Had they understood the real meaning of Jesus' feeding the five thousand they would not have been surprised that he now walks on the water. Had they believed then that he was God, this walking on the water would not have been so amazing, so surprising. But it was totally unexpected, totally dumbfounding, because they hadn't understood from the loaves that Jesus is God.
Why hadn't they understood this? Because, says Mark, their hearts were hardened. Petrified. Impenetrable. Unresponsive. Insensitive to the truth that had been blazed before their eyes as Jesus performed miracle after impactive miracle. They couldn't grasp the truth. By now they ought to have understood, but they didn't. They had not yet recognised that this man with whom they walk and talk, with whom they laugh, with whom they sleep and eat, is God.
Task #6: Personal reflection
To what extent are you so familiar with hearing about the miraculous actions of Jesus Christ that these actions fail to impact you with their undeniable demonstration of his deity? Are you as immune to their real significance as the disciples were? Do you really recognize that these miracles are the actions of God – not God working in and through this human, but Jesus, God the Son, the eternal Creator of all that is, doing his normal ‘God-work’?
F. THE GERASENES – Mark 6:53-56
When they crossed over to the other side of the lake Jesus came to the place where previously he had healed the man with a legion of demons [Mark 5:1-20]. When that man had begged Jesus to let him go with him [5:18] Jesus had told him to ‘go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you’ [5:19].
Now Jesus returns to that place. The people had previously been so overwhelmed with and so terrified by what he had done to the man and the demons and their pigs that they had pleaded with Jesus to leave their region [5:17]. But the man has been obedient to the command of Jesus. He has spread the amazing news of what Jesus did for him – not just to his family, but to the whole area. The people now recognize Jesus and run throughout the region gathering up the sick and bringing them to Jesus. So great is their faith in the power and authority of Jesus over sickness that wherever he goes the people have brought all their sick to the market-places. So great is their faith in his power and authority that they beg him to let them touch him, and all who touched him were healed.
We see in these people a complete turn around. Where there had been fear and rejection now there is faith and eager acceptance. What was it that brought about this obvious repentance, this observable change of mind? The testimony of the man.
Where Jesus could have rightly expected acceptance and faith – from his family, from his townspeople, from the teachers of the Law, from the religious Jews on the western side of the lake – he found only rejection. As we have just seen in 6:51-51, even his twelve disciples had not yet grasped the deep significance of his miracles. Yet here on the eastern side of the lake, here where the Jews are so far removed from their religious heritage that they owned pigs, here he finds repentance, faith and acceptance. They have completely changed their minds about Jesus.
Let us note another aspect of their faith: it is not a presumptuous faith. It is strong, it is bold and courageous, but it does not presume, it does not expect anything as its right. The proper humility of their faith is evident in this simple statement: ‘they begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak’ [6:56]. In the crowded marketplaces it would have been so very easy to touch his clothes without his permission. But they didn’t do that. ‘They begged him to let them’. In this they acknowledge that they are at his mercy and that he is the Lord, the one who has the authority to dispense or withhold the healing they desire.
Task #7: Discussion points:
 Discuss the contrast between the humility of their faith and that presumptuous ‘faith’ that is expressed in some elements of contemporary Christianity where physical health is viewed as the right of every believer, and healing is demanded, ‘declared’, or ‘confessed’ with no deference expressed to God and his will in the matter.
 Discuss the total absence of any reference to personal sin as an impediment to healing, and of any requirement that personal sins be confessed before healing can occur.