We are hard-wired only to accept an expert if he or she is from somewhere distant, has a mysterious history, and is slightly aloof. If he comes from our hometown, his family is well known, we remember his childhood ‘scrapes’ and he openly shares his life with us – then he has no gravitas, authority or expert credibility, does he? It is a strange mentality, since the best person in the world at any particular thing has to live somewhere! But Jesus suffered the same prejudice: “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (Mark 6:4).
And familiarity bred contempt for his ministry; as a result of their unbelief, even Jesus could not do any miracles of great significance there… beyond the normal healing of a few sick people! We see that Jesus looked for faith in any nearby person, in order to do the miraculous; the other side of the coin is that cynical unbelief has a lock-down effect on the miraculous. It is up to us to deal with this in ourselves and in others if we want to see an open heaven and powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our streets.
Mark 6 also has the longest account of the death of John the Baptist. This came about through a cocktail of Herod’s lust, his unlawful wife’s jealousy, his stepdaughter’s debauchery, oaths recklessly publicly made, jeering dinner guests craving sensationalist entertainment, and an executioner’s axe. It was also the will of God and an expectation – at some point – of John himself: “He (Jesus) must increase, and I must decrease” was a kind of death sentence by the prophet. And so, the Elijah who was to come, came, and departed this life from a Roman dungeon – less spectacular than via a chariot of fire in the sky! But what really matters is not where you have come from, but where you are going!
The end of John’s life and ministry had the effect of shifting Jesus’ ministry up a gear. Jesus was constantly being pursued by crowds who were begging for healing for their loved ones and excitedly looking for miracles. In return, they listened wide-eyed whilst he told them secrets of the Kingdom. Catering services in the area had not yet geared up to the demand and there were probably ten thousand tired, hungry, and grumpy people caught in two minds between a trip to the local takeaway and staying on to hear more of the wisdom flowing from this man’s lips.
Knowing that the gospel is best heard on a full stomach, Jesus did quickly what his Father does more slowly every day: turning a small amount of grain into a much larger amount (see John 12:24). And that is really what a miracle is – God doing something in an unusual and spectacular way, to draw attention to himself and to open mankind’s minds. Mark’s gospel also emphasises that this was done out of compassion and concern for them. “You give them something to eat”, he said to his disciples; and they did (well, after he had prayed over someone’s lunch and turned it into a feast).
The best ‘Walking on Water’ story is not by Mark (who was a close disciple and biographer of Peter) but by Matthew, who clearly enjoys describing how Peter first copies Jesus’ miracle of walking on the sea and then copies every other human by sinking! The key? Faith in the Word of Christ, but unfortunately followed by fear caused by transferring his gaze from Christ to the circumstances; nothing erodes faith more than taking a naturalistic view of the world. Those who do so have wet feet! Peter evidently redacted all efforts that Mark made to include Peter’s embarrassment in his account.
As an encore, Jesus sorted out the high winds and the giant waves to produce a calm sea again. Whilst the disciples were amazed and worshiped him, their hearts were still hardened, and they hadn’t understood the previous miracles either. Not until after the Resurrection were they genuinely able to read the scriptures and believe the evidence of their eyes.
EXODUS 29 and 30
In chapter 29, there is a bewildering array of different sacrifices described, specific to particular individuals and even to their particular holiness needs. Again, God is very specific about our shortcomings and never vague; if you are experiencing a feeling of vague displeasure, it is probably an attack from the ‘other side’ (i.e. condemnation by Satan), whereas the Holy Spirit will always point to precise things that we need to repent of and put right.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament explains much of what we need to know about these sacrifices – and you can read entire commentaries on these matters if you wish too – but suffice it to say that everything had to be purified completely if it was to be acceptable to The Lord. If the remedy seems complicated and obscure, then that is because sin complicates and makes things obscure; it also shows us that the blood and bulls and lambs is not able to remove our sins nor our sinfulness. Ultimately, that task can only be performed effectively by the Blood of Christ – and he can only be your atoning sacrifice if you are HIS disciple and he is your Lord.
Let’s not forget the whole purpose of all this, as described in the last few verses of chapter 29:
 Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.  They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.