“And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.” (Mark 6:27-28)
The disciples of Jesus are getting more hands-on experience, putting into practice the teachings of their Master. As Mark continues his narrative, the reality of what Jesus taught becomes more and more pronounced.
In our last exposition, Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, with his authority, as his representatives. They were to imitate his ministry of preaching the gospel while also healing and casting out demons. The account of this event ends in Mark 6:13, and seems to pick up again in verse 30 when they return and report their trip to Jesus. However, Mark inserts a parenthetical story from verses 14 through 29. As with the rest of the book, this insertion is not inconsequential.
Mark, it seems, wants to show us how with each passing day the disciples are given lessons – in the form of both direct instruction and personal experience – about the consequences of bringing the gospel into the world. Jesus taught them about the results of preaching in his parables on the sower, the seed, and the farmer. Jesus modeled the results as he was both rejected and embraced, with the disciples looking on. And Jesus replicated the results in their lives as he sent them to go and do likewise. Contemporaneous with these lessons, another man was suffering the consequences of confronting the culture with the truth: John the Baptist had been imprisoned and then executed for rebuking King Herod. Mark seemingly inserts this story into the narrative of the disciples’ training to demonstrate that one ultimate price of confronting the culture with the message of Jesus Christ may very well be death. Such is the self-sacrifice the disciples were called to do; rather than death be left to a hypothetical situation, John the Baptist’s demise is a stark wake-up call to its reality.
Confrontation is hardly pleasurable. Few people are naturally confrontational, and those that are typically repel others. For many of us, we shy away from hard conversations, whether with a family member, a fellow believer, or with the world. We sometimes fear the ridicule or the rejection of speaking the truth into error. The story of John the Baptist, which foreshadows the end of the Apostles’ lives on earth, reminds us today that these fears are indeed based in reality. However, our Lord calls us to scatter the seed and leave the results up to God. Some will embrace the truth and their lives will be changed. Others will be indifferent. And others will be so opposed to the gospel they may even seek our lives. Confrontation – that is, proclaiming the truth no matter the cost – is the means by which these results take place. To be silent is to disobey the Lord and betray your allegiance to him.
Thankfully, Christ doesn’t toss us into the sea of hostility without divine aid. His word promises to give us wisdom if we ask for it. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us. He’s given us the church to support us. And he promised to be with us as go in his authority.
Not all of us will suffer the same earthly fate as John the Baptist, but all of us will experience the same heavenly fate, if we believe in Jesus Christ. After hearing of his death, John’s disciples took him and laid his body in the tomb (v29). Nature would take its course and his body would rot away over time. But just as true as the hostility that sometimes results after gospel preaching is the reality that all those who die in Christ will be raised to life! John’s body stayed in the tomb, but Jesus, who suffered the ultimate rejection and humiliation, did not stay in the tomb! Because all who believe in and follow him have his resurrection to look to, we have the courage to bid goodbye to this temporal world, looking forward to the heavenly one, and thus, we can confront the lost with the gospel.