An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory words.
One oxymoron that is far too common and always annoys me is “wicked awesome.”
There are many others such as, a fine mess, accidentally on purpose, awfully pretty, dead livestock, jumbo shrimp and authentic reproduction.
Another combination of words that seems to me could be an oxymoron is rejected servants of God.
We find it difficult to understand why Nate Saint and Jim Elliot, who were missionaries in Ecuador and had given themselves to proclaim the gospel to the Waodani people, were killed by them.
Where was the power of God to save them?
Why were they put to death?
We find it difficult to understand why someone who has just volunteered for 2 months to help people rebuild their houses following a fire should have their house burn down.
It seems incongruous that an entire missionary family should be killed by a drunk driver.
Are the phrases “rejected servant of God” or “suffering servant of God” oxymoron’s or is there some way of understanding what seems to us to be a contradiction?
Mark 6:1-29 contains three stories and in each of them we have some mention of the rejection of a servant of God.
As we read these stories and understand them and examine the rest of Scripture for some explanation I hope we will come to understand that these phrases are not an oxymoron, but a part of what it means to live in the resurrection.
I. The Biblical Stories
Before we think about rejected servants of God, let us think about the stories.
!! A. Jesus Is Rejected
After traveling around the region of Galilee and even across the sea, Jesus returned to his home town and on a Sabbath day, attended the synagogue service with His disciples.
While there he had the opportunity to teach and He did so with an authority and an understanding that they had not heard before.
The people were amazed, but they were also conflicted.
He wasn’t a teacher.
He had not been to the rabbinic schools; he had not studied Scripture or rhetoric.
He was a carpenter.
They had also known Him in his growing up years.
He was Mary’s son.
Perhaps, in saying this, they implied his supposed illegitimate birth.
They certainly had no understanding that He was the Son of God who had been born of a virgin, but they probably knew that he had been conceived before Joseph and Mary were married.
They also knew his siblings and in all of this knowledge they saw nothing remarkable in him.
Jesus’ own family had similar questions as we have already seen in Mark 3:21.
So this was the reason for their conflicted opinions.
On the one hand they heard the amazing teaching he gave and they knew he did miracles; and on the other, he was just an ordinary neighbor.
They saw great power and great wisdom in Him, but didn’t understand the source of it and so rejected him.
Familiarity took the upper hand and we read in Mark 6:3 that “they took offense at him.”
Jesus responded by quoting a saying, which was well known in other settings and we even know it as, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The other reaction was that he had a minimal healing ministry.
Why was the healing ministry limited?
There are different ways of looking at this.
Some have suggested that Jesus power was diminished by lack of faith.
Others have suggested that Jesus refused to heal because their faith was not large enough, but both of these explanations have problems with them when we read the rest of Scripture.
The best explanation is that they didn’t believe in Him so they didn’t go to him.
Jesus also responded with amazement at their lack of faith.
In spite of rejection, Jesus didn’t quit.
He went out to the surrounding villages and continued to teach.
!! B. The Twelve Are Sent Out
In Mark 3:14 we read that he chose the twelve “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.”
He had been with them and now it was time for them to preach.
He instructed them to go out with a minimum of stuff.
They were to rely on the hospitality of those they met and they were to rely on God.
It would be interesting to discuss how this pertains today for servants of God.
Are missionaries still supposed to go out with a minimum of stuff?
Yet Paul indicates that a laborer is worthy of his hire.
Was this an instruction for this specific preaching journey or is it a universal principle.
If so, how do we reconcile it with other Scripture?
How do we apply it today?
Jesus instructed them also on what to do when they were not accepted.
They were not to stay where they were not welcome.
They were not to force the message of God on those who did not want to listen.
Shaking the dust off their feet when they were leaving has implications not only of rejection, but of the judgment of God on those who refuse the message.
We have an example of this in Acts 18:6 where we read, "But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads!
I am clear of my responsibility.
From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’”
Even though Jesus warned them that they might face opposition and rejection, we read in Mark 6:12 that they had a very successful ministry.
They not only preached, but also drove out demons, which Jesus had authorized them to do, and anointed people with oil and healed them.
When they came back, we read in Mark 6:30, "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught."
!! C. John the Baptist is Killed
While they were out preaching, we see that their ministry had an impact on spreading the message of Jesus.
It once more prompted the debate about the identity of Jesus and many weighed in with their opinions.
Some thought He was Elijah and some, one of the prophets.
Another opinion was that He was John the Baptist resurrected.
This was also the opinion of Herod and he may have thought so out of a guilty conscience for it was he who had put John to death
In order to explain how John died, Mark includes a fairly lengthy account of his death.
It is a story, which if it was a movie on television, you probably wouldn’t let your children watch.
John had been functioning according to his calling as a prophet of God.
He had told Herod that his marriage was adulterous.
Herod had married his brother’s wife, Herodias, and John had declared it wrong.
Herod’s wife did not like this and wanted Herod to put John to death.
But Herod wasn’t willing to do that and only arrested him.
But while in custody, he liked listening to John.
The text says he was “puzzled” which I understand to mean that he was conflicted.
On the one hand he liked to hear him and on the other hand he did not want to follow what he said.
I like the way Hamerton-Kelly puts it.
He writes, “Herod loved to be upset by John.”
Finally an opportunity came for Herodias to have her way.
Herod was celebrating his birthday with all the big shots.
During the celebration, possibly as her gift, the daughter of his wife, performed a dance for his guests.
Many commentators suggest that it was a lewd dance, but there is nothing in the text to confirm that.
She did such a good job that everyone liked it and Herod also enjoyed it very much and in a state of enthusiasm likely meant to impress his guests, he offered her a very generous gift.
She went to her mother to ask what she should ask for and her mother was quick to respond and told her to ask for John’s head on a platter.
With great distress, Herod was forced to comply because he had made an oath in front of his guests and this is how John’s life came to an end.
The story ends by telling us that his followers gave him a proper burial.
Lessons about Hardship and Servanthood
We should not see it as coincidental that Mark puts these three stories together.
Each of them speaks of the suffering of one of God’s servants.
Is this an oxymoron?
We make a mistake if we assume that servants of Jesus will always have everything go well.
Resurrection meant victory for Jesus.
Since Jesus has won, we also can live in victory.
However, living in resurrection victory does not mean we will be able to avoid all hardship and persecution.
The text today reminds us of that reality.