Here is one more thought from the Mark 6 passage that is very important. Mark has written his gospel in a very structured way. Each story is related and often interwoven with another. I remember counting at least six or seven narratives that begin only to be interrupted by a totally different story, and then resumed afterwards (e.g. The healing of Jarius’s seven year old daughter is interrupted by the women who is healed from seven year flow of blood). It’s very clear from Hebraic story telling that this chiastic structure is purposeful and is meant to help interpret the main story.
In Mark 6, Jesus sends the disciples out to minister. While the disciples are out doing these mighty works, Mark recounts how John the Baptist is killed by Herod. Only after going through the whole story of John’s death do we see the disciples return to Jesus from their journey.
So the question is, “What is Mark trying to tell us by placing John’s death in the middle of this short-term missions trip?”
Here is my take:
Jesus is teaching his disciples to lay down their lives for the sake of the sheep. Mark is showing us what it means to lay down our lives by reminding us of the treatment of John the Baptist. When Paul says that he “dies daily,” we are to think of his constant sufferings on behalf of the church, but we also think of his ultimate martyrdom.
John Mark is indicating that the work of the ministry is not only difficult, but that it is also deadly. Those who carry out the ministry of the gospel, which requires the call to repentance (see how both the disciples and John the Baptist had been calling for repentance, “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”), will be rewarded in this life with persecution and death.
As I’ve noted in a prior post, this is the very same John Mark who abandoned the ministry of the Gospel on Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey into Turkey. It’s almost as if John Mark is helping those of us who will be coming later to understand what it means to count the cost of following Jesus. He didn’t the first time around, but thanks be to God, he repented and became useful again to Paul.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
(Luke 14:26 ESV)
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
(Acts 20:24 ESV)
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
(Revelation 12:11 ESV)
Above: Another photo I took while flying over Chicago last summer with my brother Jon.