Hear It As Mark Wrote It
You are probably familiar with this text. It is often heard as if you're the apostles Jesus is speaking to, as if you're the ones being sent. Think about that. For whom is Mark writing? For the apostles? No, they were there. They lived these events. It is not for their sakes that he writes. He writes not for those being sent, but for those to whom the apostles are sent. Another way to put it is that this was not written to spur the hearers to go out and do evangelism, but to rightly value the holy ministry. Let's see if I can convince you of this.
Hear this text as Mark wrote it. He didn't write to apostles or pastors even but to the Church. He is showing them how desperately Christ wanted them to hear the Gospel. The verse right before our text says that Jesus was going around the villages teaching. But that wasn't good enough for Jesus. He wasn't satisfied with the Word of salvation just going out from His mouth. He wanted more to be preaching this wonderful message. So He called the 12 to Him, and sent them out two by two into all of Palestine. There wasn't one single person in all the holy land that the Word of life was not for.
Of course, Mark wasn't writing just for those who would come in contact with the apostles. He is writing to you folks here and now, and he is telling you that Christ so badly wanted you to hear about the forgiveness of sins, the life everlasting, and the resurrection of the dead, that He sends Gospel preachers to you too. They come telling you to repent says the text. But remember when you repent from something you are also repenting to something. Gospel preachers call you to repent not just from your sins, but from you works, your efforts, your wisdom, your "self." Stop looking at what you have done or should do or can do or do think; look at Christ who came into the world to live your life and suffer your sinful death. Look at Christ who has redeemed you from sin, death and the power of the devil.
Mark's hearers, including you, are being told that Jesus wanted you to hear His message of salvation so badly that He sent someone to you to preach the Gospel to you personally. If you hear this as if Mark is trying to get you to go out and do evangelism, this makes the apostles, and later pastors, organizers, motivators, or coaches. As if Jesus commanded His shepherds in John 21 to go out and organize the sheep into work brigades, rather than to tend and feed the sheep. As if Jesus commanded His heralds in Luke 24 to preach evangelism and witnessing to the nations, rather than repentance and forgiveness. As if Jesus sent His pastors into all nations in Matthew 28 to motivate and train, rather than to baptize and to teach. No, Mark shows you Jesus couldn't bear the thought of you not hearing that He has redeemed you for all eternity, so He sent you Gospel preachers.
Hear this text as Mark meant for you to. When you hear how the apostles were not to take a bread, bag, money, or an extra tunic but to be provided for by those they are sent to, you know that Christ expects you to take care of the pastor He sends to you. That's your ministry. I tell you this not because you're doing a poor job of it. You're doing a wonderful job. I'm telling you this because this is probably not how you have heard this before. You have been thinking of yourself as the one sent. No, you are the folks to whom the Gospel preacher comes. Mark is letting you know as pastors come bringing you spiritual gifts you are to share with them your material ones. Paul says the same thing in Galatians 6, "The person who is taught God's Word should share all good things with his teacher." That's what sheep do for their shepherd. They cloth him with their wool, and feed him with their bodies.
Again I tell you all of this not because you are doing this poorly. I tell you this because there are flocks of sheep going through life hanging their heads because they do not go out and preach the Gospel like the apostles did. They leave church perpetually guilty because they are so rotten at doing evangelism. Mark didn't write this to the apostles but to those who would hear the apostles. You are doing your part of the Gospel ministry when you support your pastor not just with money but with the support you show, gifts you share, skills you have and prayers you offer. God has ordained, says St. Paul, that those who preach the Gospel should be provided for from the Gospel. You are showing that the Gospel is alive and well in you by all that you do and give to support your pastor.
Now if you do not welcome a preacher of the Gospel, particularly says Jesus if you not listen to him, that is evidence against you. Satan is a master of guilt, and one of the things he regularly does is cause us to misplace our guilt. Many come away from this text feeling guilty for not going out there and preaching the Gospel, but if you hear it as Mark wrote it, that's the wrong place for guilt. Your guilt comes up if you don't provide and especially if you don't hear the Gospel preachers.
Friends, the problem here is not with the providing for me, it's with the hearing me. You are not listening to me when you don't take comfort in your baptism. When a guilty conscience plagues you, you are not listening to me when I tell you that St. Peter says your Baptism is the answer of a good conscience to God. You're not listening to me when you leave church with your sins weighing you down. You haven't listened to my absolution which actually, really, and totally forgives your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. You're not listening to what I say to you in the Holy Communion, when you go out from here not really certain if Jesus is all on your side. You're not hearing that I have given the whole Jesus, body and blood, to you. He couldn't be more on your side.
Hear this text as Mark actually wrote it. He's not writing to apostles and pastors but to those who hear them. Jesus tells you that His Gospel preachers leave evidence against you by their presence. Here Jesus is being highly scientific. We now know that you can tell who has been where just by the dust particles they leave behind. A hair, a fiber, a speck of dust, can be introduced into a court of law to prove that a particular person has been in a certain place. Jesus says His Gospel preachers leave evidence of where they have been too. Those who do not listen to them will have no excuse come Judgement Day. They will not be able to say, "Your Gospel messengers were not among us." Now friends, if just the dust of my shoes could be introduced as evidence into the courts of God on the Last Day, how much more will the sermons I've preached and mailed to people be used? Of course, some will try to say, "I didn't listen to them; I didn't read them when they were mailed to me." But this will simply prove the point. The Gospel preacher was there.
Rather then be burdened by the fact that you do not go as the 12 apostles did, hear it as Mark wrote it. Your concern is not to be with the going as it is to be with the hearing. And those of you who are hearing, get a load of what you are really hearing. There is more than eternal salvation in the Words of the preachers of the Gospel. Yes, that is what a hearer of Mark would have to conclude. These messengers from Jesus bring more than everlasting life, as if that was not enough. They bring gifts for the here and now too.
Mark lets his hearers know that Jesus gave His Gospel preachers not just authority over sins, but authority over evil spirits. Yes, people of God their are evil spirits; they are cunning, powerful, and sneaky. There are spirits of guilt, deception, despair, pride, greed, and every evil you can think of from alcoholism to Zoroastrianism. Modern people tend to attribute the evil spirit's work to physical things themselves. This is where the expression "demon rum" comes from. Rum is not the demon and neither is the demon of guilt in a particular sin, the demon of despair in a particular event, or the demon of greed in certain money. Demons get a hold of people and they turn ordinary things and events into the demonic. When we separate people from alcohol or money or try to make them come to terms with particular events, we're only offering them symptomatic relief which certainly has it place. But the demon aspect itself as has to be addressed, and this can only be done by the Gospel which has authority over evil spirits.
Jesus wants you know His Gospel preachers have such authority. Historically when babies were baptized in the ancient church and even in the early Lutheran Church, the pastor would blow into their eyes saying "Depart thou unclean spirit and give room for the Holy Spirit." And he would touch the right ear saying "be opened," and the nose and left ear saying, "But thou, devil, flee; for God's judgement cometh speedily." These weren't pious superstitions. They were physical acts to show the spiritual reality that Baptism, which is a putting on of Christ, drives out evil spirits.
But it is not just in Baptism that the demons are driven out. What happened when Christ arrived on the scene? The demons bent their knees and begged Him not to torment them. Do you think the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Communion has any less effect? Do you think that when we gather here around the presence of Christ along with angels and arch angels and all the company of heaven that the devils aren't likewise submissive and tormented?
Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed that sins are forgiven freely because of what Christ did on the cross, the demons must run. They cannot stand to hear that the Seed of the Woman has succeeded in crushing their master's head. They cannot stand to hear that Christ has come and destroyed the works of the devil as Hebrews said He did. O yes, we are plagued by these mighty beasts day in and day out. That is why we come here each week. It is a refuge, a sanctuary, a safe haven for us. As St. James says the demons believe, and they tremble. So when they hear Christ proclaimed there is no doubt in their minds that Christ has defeated them; that their power over sinners is broken for Christ's sake, and their defeat is imminent. They can't stand to be reminded of this.
But Mark's hearers are told more than their Gospel preachers have authority over demons. They're told that they heal people too. Bodies are healed by the Gospel ministry. The apostles did what we do. They used the medical remedy of the day, oil, and they healed. You go to doctors and hospitals as you should, but you also receive God's medicine from my hand. You receive the Holy Communion which the ancient Church called the Medicine of Immortality. Luther too says in the Large Catechism that Communion is "pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both body and soul." Who is healed when we leave to the Lord, but He sends us the medicine in the hands of Gospel preachers to use.
The absolution they bring also heals. Read in the Psalms how David is literally sick with guilt. Guilt of the soul does affect the body. David describes his bones being dismayed and his being weary with sighing. He says his strength fails him and his body wastes away because of his sins. Having your sins forgiven, sent away from you for Christ's sake, gives new life and strength to the body.
Friends, Mark records what he does so you might see the grace and power of Christ in the Gospel ministry, and that seeing you might use it. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VIII (8-6-00), Mark 6: 7-13