The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Activity

Recent articles have emphasised the importance of faith. In the second cycle of the Lord’s activity (Mar 3:7-6:6), confidence in Him, His Word and His works is shown to be the secret to enjoying communion with Him in service. Sadly, as was true of the first cycle of activity (1:14-3:6), this one ended in disappointment. The Lord, visiting the place of His upbringing, “marvelled because of their unbelief” (6:6).[1] The first cycle concluded with the hostility of the leaders, and the second with the unbelief of the common people among whom the Lord was brought up. The service of the Perfect Servant was not valued. We should never judge the quality of our service simply by people’s reaction to it.

We now move into the third cycle of activity (6:6b-8:21). Once again it begins with a brief summary of the Lord’s ongoing ministry (6:6b), followed by an important interaction with His disciples (6:7-12). The Lord’s calls to His disciples have been foundational to the structure of Mark’s Gospel to this point. He first called the disciples to “come after him” (1:16-20). Then He called the disciples to “be with him” (3:13-19). Now He calls the disciples to “send them forth” (6:7-13). We see here three important aspects of service for God. First, Christ must be before us. He is the example to pattern service upon. Second, Christ must be beside us. Communion with Him is essential for effective service. Third, Christ must be behind us. The commission is from Him, and this grants legitimacy to service.

How important it is to emphasise this. Our service is not modelled after the ideas of men, even of great men. We may receive good instruction from all, but we must imitate Christ. It is not sufficient simply to remain in fellowship with other believers; we must commune with Christ Himself. And our commissioning is from the Lord; we must recognise His supreme authority and our accountability to Him.

Our present section of Mark begins with a Commission (6:7-13) and ends with a Caution (8:14-21). The commission involved the disciples being sent into their culture to call upon men to “repent” (6:12). The caution warned the disciples against being influenced by the prevailing attitudes and thought-forms of their culture. They were to “take heed” and “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod” (8:15). They were to go into the world, but they were not to allow the world to get into them. This is foundational to service. The main body of the section is taken up with Conflict (6:14-8:13). The lesson is that, as we carry God’s Word into the world, we are entering a battlefield; this is a truth war. We must ensure that there is no compromise with the prevailing spirit of the age.

The Commission (6:7-13)

The Lord’s instructions and warnings reinforce the sense of warfare. The disciples were on an Assignment (vv7-9). The Lord did not send them forth alone but “began to send them forth by two and two” (v7). This would make them more effective witnesses to the truth; it would also provide many benefits (cf. Ecc 4:9-12). They were given authority to deal with demonic opposition. The Lord “charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics” (vv8-9 ESV). They were to travel light and not be selective in their lodgings: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there” (v10 ESV). They were to rely on the Lord for food, money, shelter and protection, and they were to be prepared to endure hardship along the way.

Adversity and animosity were to be expected. Sent into enemy territory, they were reminded, “If any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (v11 ESV).

Their Ammunition was not fleshly. They “preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (vv12-13). Their work was an extension of the work of the Perfect Servant: they spread the Word, engaged in spiritual warfare, and occupied themselves in good works.

Their efforts reached the ears of Herod (6:14) and drew the ire of the Pharisees and scribes (7:1-2). They simply served as the Lord had served and, in doing so, entered into the conflict of the ages. The battle would be fought on at least two fronts. As they propagated and exhibited truth, Satan’s enmity took the form of two apparently contradictory ideologies which were united in opposition to God’s Word (cf. 3:6; 8:15). The first was that of Herod (6:14-56), and the second was that of the Pharisees (7:1-8:13). We’ll consider these in more detail in later articles.

Our commission comes later in Mark, but we are taught here how to serve the Lord in any culture. We are to go forth unitedly, “striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Php 1:27). We are to go forth confidently, having authority from the Lord to face the opposition of the devil. We are to go forth dependently, because we live in a supernatural universe and can trust the Lord with our needs. We are to go forth humbly, not despising assistance, but willing to “endure hardness” as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2Ti 2:3). We are to go forth spiritually, “for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2Co 10:4). And we are to go forth compassionately, with genuine care for the people we encounter and the lives we touch.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.