The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Activity

Many wars have involved battles on more than one front. In the spiritual battle in which every servant of God is involved, differing ideologies unite in opposition to truth. Their unity is an illustration of the proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Pharisees and Herodians were not natural collaborators but they united in opposition to the Lord Jesus (Mar 3:6). As the Lord’s disciples invaded the culture of their day with divine truth, these two opponents of the gospel were confronted.

The Conflict: Herod (6:14-56)

The first enemy of truth was Herod. Herod was a political man with a political mind. He was devoted to the gods of self-gratification and personal promotion. This devotion ultimately resulted in his rejection of God’s message and the beheading of God’s messenger.

Herod, while visiting his brother Philip in Rome, stole his brother’s wife. Herodias, a willing conquest, travelled back with Herod to Israel. John the Baptist, the faithful and fearless prophet, reminded Herod of the demands of God’s law: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (v18).[1] Herod had a choice to make, and He chose to silence the public preaching of John the Baptist. His self-gratification was more important than truth.

Herodias was incensed and desired John’s execution, but Herod held him in respect. He didn’t want to kill John. In fact, he was happy to listen to him in private. He knew that John was “a just man and an holy, and observed him … and heard him gladly” (v20). John was everything Herod was not. He was a man of principle and integrity. A man who did not care about the praise of men. He was not a “reed shaken with the wind” (Mat 11:7).

Herod, even though he respected John and showed interest in John’s preaching, would not end well. Herodias knew Herod’s love of sin and his craving after respect. When his birthday arrived, a party was arranged and the guests were the A-class of celebrities in Israel. Herodias slipped into the schedule an event intended to appeal to the basest desires of Herod and his guests. Her daughter Salome, still a teenager, would dance seductively before them. Herod, watching his guests, saw that this pleased them well. He decided to play the great and magnanimous king, “Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee … Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom” (vv22-23).

She asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. And Herod did as he always did. Truth was sacrificed for personal gain, self-gratification and political expediency: “the king was exceeding sorry; yet, for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her” (v26). John the Baptist was executed.

Herod, the man of politics, the man seeking great things for himself, was the enemy of the truth. Why? Because his own gratification and reputation were far more important to him than truth. His foolish oath may have provided the occasion for his action, but his selfish concern for his reputation was the reason for it.

Politically powerful or ambitious people are rarely friends of the truth. This fact should be faced by all who would serve the Lord. Even those who show some kindness toward God’s messengers cannot be depended upon. Herod respected John, knew he was a righteous man, watched him closely, listened to him, acted upon some of what he said, and provided protection for him from Herodias. However, it was Herod who ultimately had John beheaded. We need to recognise we are in hostile territory and cannot place our full confidence in any political figures or movements.

So, who can we turn to? In the remaining verses of this chapter (vv30-56), it is clear that the Lord Himself is the source of comfort, strength and hope for the believer. First, consider:

The Lord’s Pity (6:30-32)

The “apostles” returned from their mission and “gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught” (v30). They knew that the Lord was deeply interested in them and their service. One can imagine them unburdening, recounting to Him in detail their experiences, both positive and negative.

How did the Lord respond? “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (v31). The effect of spiritual battle was emotional, physical and spiritual weariness. The Lord did not view them as machines, but as human beings. This is a wonderful encouragement. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psa 103:13-14).

The call to “come … and rest” is not an excuse to become lazy. Hard work is everywhere commended, even service to the point of exhaustion. However, it is an unwise man who ignores the legitimate need of rest – rest which refreshes and rejuvenates for further service.

Some reluctance to rest can evidence a lack of trust in God. The Psalmist reminds such, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psa 127:2 ESV). We must not forget that, because the Lord “shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa 121:4), we can safely leave matters in His hands when we do so.

Others fail to rest because they view the Lord as a hard master. He is no such thing. We “have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). He who knew weariness in His service is perfectly fitted to sympathise with the weary labourer.

The Lord’s instruction, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (v31), implies four aspects of beneficial rest. First, rest is in the Lord’s presence, not away from Him. Second, rest requires us to leave our work behind. Third, rest should, ideally, involve a change of location or circumstance. Fourth, rest should be time limited. Rest is not an end in itself, but a means to rejuvenate for further service.

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