Cost of Discipleship

Jesus sent the twelve disciples to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God throughout the region. In the Gospel of Mark, this incident is followed by the execution of John the Baptist. His death prepares the reader for the rejection that inevitably results whenever anyone decides to become a disciple and follow Jesus of Nazareth no matter where it leads. To walk in his footsteps, one must first count the cost to have any hope of seeing the journey through to the end.

Counting Costs - Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
[Counting Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash]

Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim the arrival of the “
Kingdom,” cast out demons, and pray for the sick. He gave them his authority to do so. Just as he was the representative of the Father, so the twelve disciples were his envoys sent to Israel - (Mark 6:7-13).

Jesus summoned the twelve and “began to send them out two by two.” This was in accord with the Mosaic Law that required that a man’s testimony be corroborated by two or more witnesses. These twelve men did more than simply teach religious principles. In effect, they were witnesses to how the Jewish people responded to their Messiah - (Deuteronomy 19:15).

The passage states that Jesus “BEGAN to send them forth.” The Greek verb rendered “began” indicates that he sent them to preach on more than one occasion.  The term apostellō or “send forth” is related to the noun apostolos from which the noun “apostle” is derived.

He commanded the twelve to carry staffs, belts, sandals, and tunics with them, items which corresponded to the instructions given to Israel on the night of Passover in Egypt - “In this manner, you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is Yahweh's Passover” - (Exodus 12:11).

However, they were to announce something of far more importance than the original exodus from Egypt. Like the ancient Israelites, the twelve disciples would not be encumbered with anything that might impede their journey. Just as there was urgency in Israel’s flight from Egypt, so there was urgency in the disciples’ mission to proclaim the Kingdom throughout the villages of Galilee.

If a village rejected their message, they were to “shake off the dust under your feet for a witness.” It was the common practice for devout and patriotic Jews when traveling through Gentile lands to shake the dust off their feet when they arrived home so no “unclean” pagan soil would pollute the land of Israel.

By doing this, the disciples would send an especially offensive message to the offending village, declaring graphically that its Jewish residents were no better than ritually unclean Gentiles.

With the arrival of the Messiah, there could be no presumption of salvation or blessing based on geography, nationality, or ethnicity. From then on, how one responded to Jesus determined inclusion in or exclusion from the covenant people of God and His promised Kingdom.

HEROD AND JOHN


The Gospel of Mark inserts the story of John’s execution between the sending of the twelve disciples and their return. His unjust death provided an example of the cost of becoming a disciple of Jesus - (Mark 6:14-29).

Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great and the tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa. He ruled as the faithful vassal of Rome. “Tetrarch” means the “ruler of a fourth.” Following his death, the domain of Herod the Great was divided between four of his sons. As the ruler appointed by Rome, Herod Antipas had the authority to execute a prisoner convicted of committing a capital crime in his realm.

Herodias divorced the half-brother of Herod Antipas so she could marry him, a violation of the Mosaic regulations regarding incest. Though a wife could divorce her husband under Roman law, the Mosaic Law did not allow for a wife to initiate divorce proceedings - (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21).

In John’s eyes, Herodias was still married to the half-brother of Antipas, making her an adulteress. In his turn, Herod Antipas divorced his previous wife so he could marry Herodias. In the passage, the daughter of Herodias is unnamed. But the Jewish historian Josephus identifies her as ‘Salome,’ the daughter of Herodias and her first husband.

In Mark, John’s execution foreshadows the death of Jesus. Like John, he would be executed by the representative of Rome. Like Herod, Pontius Pilate would hesitate to kill him since he knew him to be a righteous man, yet he would do so anyway. Furthermore, like the Temple authorities who demanded Christ’s death and manipulated the crowds to call for it, Herodias got her way by manipulating her husband. The disciples of John came for his body and buried him, just as Joseph of Arimathea would request the body of Jesus from Pilate, prepared it carefully, and then buried it.

  • (Mark 6:30) – “And the apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus. And they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught.”

By embedding the death of John in his narrative, Mark links the gospel mission of the disciples with the opposition from the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem, both Roman and Jewish.

The story highlights the hard truth that to become a disciple of the Nazarene one must be willing to follow the same path that he did even if doing so leads to the disciple’s inevitable and unjust death.



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