Dr. Rachel Coleman
“Repent and believe” is the central invitation that Jesus offers in the Gospels, sometimes formulated as “leave and follow.” As we’ve been tracking this through Mark’s Gospel (see the series here), it is strikingly clear that accepting Jesus’ invitation will leave no corner of our lives unchanged. Mark 6—8 offers us more glimpses into the implications of stepping into this whole-life invitation.
We haven’t seen John the Baptist for a while in Mark’s narrative, but in Mark 6:14–29, he makes his final appearance. John demonstrates here the hard truth that “repent and believe” can sometimes mean losing your head—literally! When Jesus-followers who are shaped by kingdom values and kingdom priorities run up against the desperate honor-seeking and power-grabbing of the dominant empire, it often results in danger and sometimes in death. (See here for stories of places where Jesus’ followers confront this reality on a daily basis.) The good news is that Herod—the representative of “empire” in this situation—is presented as penultimate and peripheral in comparison to the ultimate, central reality of the kingdom of God.
Mark 6 is full of evidence that “repent and believe” plays out in ways that make us supremely uncomfortable, because it strikes continual blows against our self-focused lives. John’s experience tops the chart, but the disciples are also strained by other aspects of following Jesus. When he sends them out on a mission to do his works, they experience resounding success (6:6–13). They report to Jesus with enthusiasm (v. 30), but he seems to recognize that they are about to sink into a post-ministry let-down moment. (Think of your pastor’s need for a Sunday afternoon nap!) So Jesus invites the disciples on a retreat (v. 31)—and then promptly lets his compassion for other people interrupt their rest (v. 34)! “Repent and believe” includes allowing Jesus’ compassion toward lost, hungry people to turn unwelcome interruptions into miraculous opportunities. It means living, as Jesus did, out of the fullness of the Holy Spirit rather than the emptiness or strain of our own human limitations.
Jesus went on to add fuel to the fire of their discomfort. Not only did he allow their cherished retreat time to be interrupted, he handed them a crazy task in the midst of their weariness. Jesus looks at the thousands of people who have crammed into what was supposed to be their get-away space; then he looks at the overwhelmed disciples and says, “Okay, boys, give them a meal” (v. 37). When they make a feeble protest, he asks, “What kind of resources do you have available?” (v. 38). And here’s where we see that the whole accumulated experience of “repent and believe” has radically impacted these frail followers. They look at the problem and identify their meager resources with clear-eyed, hard-headed realism; what goes unstated is the obvious insufficiency of five loaves and two fishes to feed 10,000 people. But there’s something about following Jesus that allows them to set these ludicrously small resources before Jesus and not fall to the ground laughing (or crying!) when he tells them to “set the table” 9v. 39). They stay with Jesus in the massive gap between the need and the resources, and they trust that he will be the bridge to connect the two.
Questions to consider:
- Where might following Jesus lead you into confrontation with the honor-seeking, power-grabbing values of the empire?
- How is Jesus calling you to replace impatience over interruptions with his compassion for the interrupters? What are your biggest barriers to following Jesus at this point?
- Where are you struggling to set meager resources alongside massive need? What might Jesus do if you stay with him in the gap between the two?