Sent to an Unbelieving World
Topic: Evangelism Passage: Mark 6:1–6:13
This past Wednesday, Janice, Matthew, and I had the chance to join Jared and Derrick who were working at Kingdom Bound. If you’re not familiar with KB, it’s a Christian festival held at Darien Lake Amusement Park and they have big name Christian singers and speakers there. We had a great day, but being there, especially in the campgrounds, took me back to the first Christian festival I ever went to, a festival called Jesus ’75 (cause it was the summer of 1975). I was 16 years old and Christianity was new to me and it was kind of a magical time to be a Christian. The Jesus People movement was still going on, so there were a lot of long haired Jesus hippy freaks and people were camping out so there was the smell of campfires in the air and everywhere you looked there were people singing on guitars and large groups of people being baptized in a lake there and to an impressionable 16 yr old it just seemed like this was what following Jesus was supposed to be like: simple and down to earth, with the evidence of lives being changed everywhere.To this day, the smell of campfires at night takes me back to when I was 16 years old at Jesus ’75.
I realize that some of what I was feeling was the idealism and excitement of a young 16 yr old Christian at a festival and that, while I don’t think we should ever lose the excitement of a life sold out to Jesus, that life will probably look a little different from Jesus ‘75. But for the first disciples, following Jesus was that simple, down to earth experience and it must have been overwhelmingly exciting to them. As they went from village to village (walking dirt roads – no cars, no buses, no planes) – they saw lives being transformed, not by the dozens but by the thousands! Whole villages came out to hear Jesus, the sick were being miraculously healed, and the demon possessed were being set free. Jesus preached a simple but radical message of the kingdom of God drawing near and the crowds were getting bigger and bigger all the time. In chapter 4 and 5 of Mark the disciples have witnessed Jesus calming a deadly storm with just a word, casting out an army of demons with a word, and the climax of all these miracles, the raising a 12 yr old girl back to life.
For a young band of followers – probably not all that much older than 16 yrs old - this is pretty heady stuff, and now, as we come to chapter 6, they are heading for Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth where the disciples probably expect the biggest welcome and the greatest miracles of all – after all this is where Jesus grew up. Jesus is the small town boy made good. They’ve probably got a banner stretched out across Main Street saying “welcome home, Jesus! Don’t forget where it all began!” But the disciples and even Jesus himself will be surprised by the reception Jesus gets in his little hometown. Let’s read Mark 6:1-6
I. They were offended by Jesus
Verse 3 says that the townspeople of his hometown “took offense at him.” The Greek word is escandalizonto which is where we get the word “scandalous” and scandalize from. It meant to put a stumbling block in the way upon which another might trip and fall or a snare that would catch someone. Jesus was offensive to his hometown – and they stumbled over him. Why? What was it about Jesus that offended them so?
Offending people isn’t really that hard to do. Most of us have probably offended someone at some point in our lives. It may be unintentional – like the time I asked a young woman when she was due…and she informed me she wasn’t pregnant. It might be intentional – we can use words like weapons to injure others. It might be unavoidable – like when you have to tell the truth knowing it will offend someone. And then, let’s face it, some people just get offended easily …those are the people you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around cause they seem to get offended at the drop of a hat. By the way, if I’ve offended you by saying that, please accept my apologies – I didn’t mean anything personal.
Offending individuals isn’t that difficult to do, but offending large numbers of people in one shot– that takes it to a whole new level. I found an ad put out in the 60’s by VW that made me laugh because while it might have been just the thing to sell cars in the 60’s, it would offend half of America today – specifically the female half. Here’s the ad that VW actually ran in the 60’s:
Sooner or later, your wife will drive home one of the best reasons for owning a Volkswagen.
Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things. If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn’t hurt you very much. VW parts are easy to replace. And cheap. A fender comes off without dismantling half the car. A new one goes on with just two bolts. For $24.95 plus labor. And a VW dealer always has the kind of fender you need. Because that’s the one kind he has. Most other VW parts are interchangeable too. Inside and out. Which means your wife isn’t limited to fender smashing. She can jab the hood. Graze the door. Or bump off the bumper. It may make you furious, but it won’t make you poor. So when your wife goes window shopping in a Volkswagen, don’t worry. You can conveniently replace anything she uses to stop the car. Even the brakes.
I love that last line – just in case on some rare occasion your wife decides to stop the car by using the brakes instead of hitting a fire hydrant or the car in front of her. But we get why it’s offensive – it paints all wives as empty headed drivers ramming into things like they’re on a bumper car ride at KB.
Sometimes a person can do something that seems so right at the moment but ends up offending large numbers of people. Two weeks ago, on the Chick-fil-A appreciation day, a young man wanted to register his disapproval of the owner’s stand on gay marriage so he decided to go through a Chick-fil-A drive through and order a water. As the attendant handed him a free water, he went off on her, ranting about Chick-fil-A and her decision to work there and just saying some insulting and bullying things to the attendant, who remained poised and gracious throughout, and then, when she wished him a nice day, he said it was already a good day – cause he felt really good about himself cause he had done something productive with his day. He drove off with his moral compass telling him he had done something really admirable and with that good feeling about himself he posted his encounter with the attendant on Face book. But in no time he got a very different response from the American public than he expected. His post went viral and people were offended to say the least. Within 24 hours he lost his job. His face and name and what he did was on all the news stations and I heard him called everything from a coward to a bully to the intolerant bigot that he was accusing Dan Cathy of being. I’m guessing it’s a day he would love to have back. It’s ironic that what his moral compass said “he should feel good about himself for” deeply offended millions of people and cast shame on him.
But what was it about Jesus that offended a whole town? They acknowledged that he had amazing wisdom and was doing mighty miracles and wondered where he got all that. What offended them wasn’t that he was doing something wrong or insulting or degrading to others. What offended them was that they knew his humble origins and yet he was doing so much good and gaining such a reputation. The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” was true in this case. They said, “we know his sisters. We know his brothers. We know his family, we watched him grow up – wasn’t he a carpenter?”
In their contempt for Jesus they hit below the belt when they ask, “isn’t this…the son of Mary?” In those days it was common practice to identify a son by his father, not his mother, even if the father was dead, unless there was doubt about who the father was. They had heard rumors of the virgin birth and pour contempt on Jesus by insinuating that he was an illegitimate child.
What is so sad about the Nazarenes taking offense at Jesus is that what stumbled them, what tripped them up, wasn’t something bad or hurtful or lacking integrity about Jesus, but how good his character was, how wise his words were, how miraculous his power was. Yes, they watched him grow up, but that only confirmed the remarkable grace that was on his life. Luke 2:52 describes his Nazareth childhood this way: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” He grew in stature and favor, not only with God, but with man too. Nazareth loved him, admired him, respected him, and favored him.
It’s like the opposite of the Chick-fil-A guy. Jesus’ moral compass clearly pointed to the good and righteous and truth, and the whole city’s moral compass was 180 degrees wrong. What was so good and so God, offended them. If they had posted their response to Jesus on FB, they would spend all eternity being ashamed of what they had felt so proud of. In this case, the One was right and the crowd was wrong. We see that in Jesus’ response to their offense.
II. Jesus was amazed – and limited - by their lack of faith
Vs 6 says he marveled (was amazed) because of their unbelief. There are only two places in the Bible where it says Jesus marveled. Jesus wasn’t easily surprised by people but in two cases people shocked him. One of those places is found in Luke 7 when a Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, but then tells him not to trouble himself by coming to his house. He tells Jesus, just say the word and my servant will be healed. Jesus was amazed at his faith.
And here is the other time when Jesus marveled: Jesus is amazed by his own hometown’s lack of faith. Even his own family think he’s gone mad – there is a shocking level of unbelief in the place where faith should have come easiest. He calmed the storm, cast out legions of demons, and raised the dead in other towns. Here there is such an atmosphere of unbelief, he can do very little except heal a few sick people – and the sense is they weren’t very impressive cases of sickness even.
Now, when it says, he could do no mighty work there… it doesn’t mean that he was incapable of doing a miracle, as if faith is absolutely necessary for God to move. If we believe that, faith becomes more powerful than God. Some have taken verses like this and taught that even God needs to have faith – faith becomes the ultimate power governing the universe and our lives. Our faith can move God, in essence forcing Him to do what we say if we have enough faith.
Jesus is God, and as God he is omnipotent and needs no one and nothing to do any miraculous work. The point of this isn’t that Jesus was stripped of power because there wasn’t faith. The point is that the atmosphere was such that it would have been wrong and unhelpful for Jesus to perform great miracles there. Donald English puts it well in his commentary on Mark:
…Jesus does not stand apart from individuals and groups, “throwing miracles at them”. He becomes deeply involved in relationships with them, and the miracle is performed within the context of the relationships, both corporate and individual. Where that relationship is one of near total animosity on the part of the crowd, the setting is not right for healing intended to provide an opportunity for the perception of who he was. The Message of Mark, Donald English
The purpose of miracles, as I can see, is not to overcome unbelief by signs and wonders but to reward faith and, through the miracle, to reveal a little more of who Jesus was. That’s why in Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man, when the rich man begs Father Abraham to allow Lazarus to return from the dead to convince the rich man’s brothers that they are on the wrong path, Jesus says, in the voice of the parable, if they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, then they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. If God’s word isn’t being listened to, miracles won’t – and aren’t meant to – get their attention.
Unbelief is serious. Unbelief in the church robs the church of power. God has chosen to move in proportion to the faith or lack thereof in His people, not because He has to, but because He chooses to. A question we might ask ourselves: do we amaze Jesus? And if so, what about our faith amazes Jesus? That we have so much of it, or that with all that we have seen and received from His hand, that we have so little of it?
Jesus’ return to his hometown might on the face of it seem to be a failure, but really it’s an important springboard to the next phase of his ministry. Let’s continue reading.
III. Jesus prepares and propels his disciples to take the gospel to an unbelieving world
First of all, Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth didn’t slow his ministry down at all. If anything, it accelerated his pace. And he went about among the villages teaching (vs 6b). His response to their rejection was to preach the kingdom in ever-increasing circles throughout the region.
But it also marked the next phase of his ministry, which was expansion by sending out his apostles. Expansion by multiplication. Up until now they have simply been observing and learning but now, after Nazareth, he sends them out two by two into the surrounding villages. He calls them to go with faith – taking nothing but a staff and the clothes on their back. The details of this would change later, but the lesson is clear: trust and depend on God as you go. That wouldn’t change.
And no doubt with Nazareth in mind, he prepares them for rejection, for unbelief. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.
Someone might ask, do we have the same power to heal and cast out demons that they had? I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but my answer to that is no, and yes. The difference is a matter of degrees. The apostles were given a level of authority and power that we do not have and never will have. Their ministry was beyond anything we as individuals will ever see. But we are given authority to cast out demons and we are called to pray for the sick with faith and the greater the level of faith in the church, the more we will be positioned for seeing God’s mighty hand at work. Not so much through one man who’s shadow heals the sick, as through a body of believers who, when they pray, see God answer.
We need to know that the message of Jesus, while it will be accepted by some, will be rejected by many. If you witness for Christ and someone rejects your witness, it’s not necessarily a sign that you did something wrong. It might be a sign that you did something right. We should do everything we can to remove anything that would be personally offensive in us, but we cannot remove the offense of the cross, the scandalon of Christ.
Sometimes when I have witnessed there has been a wonderful receptivity and openness – love it when that happens. But often there is that awkward reception, it’s uncomfortable, they want to change the subject. I feel a little foolish, maybe a little personally rejected. If you’ve shared, you know that feeling. We’re called to take the message of the cross to a lost and dying world and if Jesus offended some, we will too. Be gracious, tactful, respectful, sensitive, and wise. But church, in faith, let’s take the message to the streets and the offices and the marketplace, and if it offends, can we accept the world’s rejection for the sake of Christ? Jesus will give us grace and even joy in that moment.
The gospel cannot – must not – be stopped by the fear of a little rejection. The center of the message is Jesus rejected, hated, beaten, crucified for our sins. It was through the hateful rejection of the religious leaders and Romans that God wrought salvation. Let’s leave here with a fresh commitment to shine the light of Jesus and our testimony to the world – prepared for some to reject that message, prepared for some to respond with total unbelief, but praying for many to come to faith in Jesus.
Propelled and prepared by the example of Jesus and his apostles, let’s go!
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption