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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Jesus Faces Hometown Hostility
Text:Mark 6:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-01-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 43:3,4                                                                                        

Ps 97:4,5

Reading – 2 Chronicles 36:15-21; Mark 6:1-29

Ps 78:1,2,3

Sermon – Mark 6:1-6

Hy 12:1,2,14

Ps 138:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, the Lord Jesus had only a short career. His earthly ministry was probably just about three years, from the time that it began at his baptism in the Jordan River, to the day it ended with his execution on the cross. Just three years, a brief career—but years that were so full of activity. So much happened during those years that Jesus’ ministry is sometimes divided into three separate phases.

The first year of his ministry is said to be the year of “inauguration,” or beginnings. At this time, Jesus was busy calling and training his inner circle of disciples. He was starting to build up his reputation, and He was laying the groundwork for the future.

The second phase is sometimes called Jesus’ “year of popularity.” By this time, there’s a lot of people who are following him around, wanting to hear his words and witness his miracles. We see Jesus delivering sermons to great crowds, sometimes more than five thousand people at a time. By Mark chapter 6, we’re probably somewhere into that second year.

But then will come the final year of his ministry, which has been called the “year of opposition.” After listening to this new teacher and the bold things he said about himself, seeing how so many people continue to flock to Jesus, the religious leaders in Israel conclude that they need to stop him. And that’s what they do. Three years, and it’s all over.

We might compare the three phases of Jesus’ ministry to what some modern-day politicians go through. They begin their career slowly, in obscurity, as they build up a base of support. Then comes a time of popularity, when they’re at the centre of attention, and it seems they can do no wrong. But then mistakes are made, there’s a scandal, and the leader starts to suffer in the polls. Soon he’s been turfed, and everyone moves on.

This was the general path of Christ’s life, but it needs a bit of colour. For instance, in Mark’s Gospel we can see that there was opposition to the Saviour all along. From Day 1, Jesus brought a message that didn’t sit well with people. Because from the start, He confronted his listeners with the scandal of who He was, and what He came to do. Beloved, it’s the message of Christ that confronts us still, and still calls us to believe it truly. I preach God’s Word on this theme,

Jesus faces hometown hostility to his mission:

  1. He causes offense
  2. He condemns unbelief

 

1) He causes offense: Mark often wants us to notice where Jesus is going. In our reading we might skim over details of location, but they can be important. So when Mark says things like, “And He went up on the mountain” (3:13), or “Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes” (5:1), we should pay attention. So also for this detail: “Then He went out from there and came to his own country” (6:1). For almost his entire ministry so far, Jesus has been in the region of Galilee—in the northern parts of Israel—but his time there is coming to a close. Soon He’ll be starting his journey south, towards Jerusalem. But before He moves on, He comes “to his own country.”

This means that Jesus is going to Nazareth. He was born in Bethlehem of course, but Nazareth is where He grew up, and spent most of his thirty years of life. So it’s a homecoming of sorts. And notice He’s not just a visitor dropping in on his family, but He comes as a teacher, for “his disciples” are with him.

You might even know what it’s like. Maybe you’ve moved away from the place where you grew up—you went off to university, you took a job in another region, even moved to a different country. You’ll know that coming back “home” can put a certain pressure on us, like you’re under extra scrutiny from family and friends: How have we changed? What have we accomplished while we were away? Those who know us best can be the most critical. We can be sure that Jesus wasn’t too worried what the people of Nazareth think about him. But coming home for him still presents a challenge, as we’re going to see.

It’s the Sabbath day, and the synagogue in Nazareth is full. The synagogue was the local assembly of Jews, a place for prayer and worship. There wasn’t an ordained ministry in the synagogues, so the elders could invite any adult male to deliver a sermon if he had the ability. And today is extra special, because the hometown boy is going to take his turn.

So Jesus “began to teach in the synagogue” (v 2). As He delivers his message, consider the great difference that there would’ve been between him and other synagogue teachers. Others would do an OK job, of course, telling people how to obey God’s law, explaining the prophets, comforting and exhorting. But there was something very different about Jesus’ preaching. It’s at another level entirely. He speaks without the constant footnotes of the rabbis, but He explains things on his own authority, just says it how it is! His teaching is also fresh and colourful, for He uses memorable and powerful images—just think of his parables. And He preaches with great conviction, because He knows the kingdom’s coming, here and now, with him!

Now his sermon is done. For a moment everyone in the synagogue just sits there, spellbound. But not for long. Now comes the time for sermon discussion. It’s time to discuss the message that they’ve heard, and—perhaps more to the point—to talk about the person who brought it. Which is always a risky thing to do for sermon-listeners, when we focus on the preacher and what we know about him. It’s dangerous, because then we’ve latched onto something other than the actual message, when it’s really the Word we need to hear.

This is what happens in Nazareth: “Many hearing him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things?’” (v 2). They’re astounded at his knowledge, his ability, his conviction, and they wonder how it’s possible that Jesus can preach like this. They’ve heard the rumours, but they had no idea that He was this good!

And that’s not all they’ve heard. Everyone knows about the miracles He’s performed. He calmed a storm, cast out a legion of demons, healed the hopelessly sick—even this, just the other day: He raised the dead! In Nazareth there is a wondering admiration for all that Jesus has been doing: “What wisdom is this which is given to him, that such mighty works are performed by his hands!” (v 2). They’re impressed, for sure.

But then comes an abrupt change. Their questions don’t find the right answers. Their amazement doesn’t become faith. Instead of seeing that the source of Jesus’ wisdom and power must be God in heaven, they get stuck on where He came from: “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (v 3). They know him as an equal, as one of them, so how could He ever be great? How could He ever be the Messiah?

First, He was a carpenter. We often picture Jesus working with wood, building homes or pieces of furniture, but the Greek word for “carpenter” here is general. It can describe any kind of builder, who makes things out of stone, or wood, or metal. Joseph was a man who worked with his hands, and like any father would do in those days, that’s how he had trained Jesus his son. So the people see Jesus as just an ordinary working man. Sometimes you hear the same attitude towards tradespeople. What if a tradesperson for public office, or became a famous author? Some people might laugh, and wouldn’t take him seriously. That was the reaction in Nazareth: no one has ever left town as a carpenter and come back as a great rabbi! What does a builder know about interpreting the Bible? What credentials does He have? And just who does He think He is?

What’s more, everyone knew his family. This is just the “Son of Mary,” they say. In that culture it’d be very unusual to connect a son to his mother alone, and not to say that Jesus was the “Son of Joseph.” This must mean that Joseph has died already some years ago. Point is, Jesus was a son of Mary, along with all of his brothers: James, Joses, Judas, Simon, plus his sisters. These were all ordinary folks, they all lived around town—so what made Jesus so special? They’d known him for years; some could remember when He was just a kid, barely up to your waist. So wasn’t He just pretending to be someone He wasn’t?

No, his words sounded good—that was undeniable. It was exciting and interesting, listening to his sermon. But curiosity and interest are not the same as repentance and faith. We need to be not only hearers of the Word, but believers and doers of it.

Looking at Jesus and knowing his humble beginnings, the people of Nazareth just can’t accept what He says. And that’s not an uncommon thing, that we find an excuse to ignore the Word of God. It’s the messenger, we said, and what we know about him—that lets us off the hook from having to work with the Word we hear. Or we like the message, but the whole time we can’t help thinking how it really applies to someone else, and that becomes our excuse not to apply it personally. Or the preacher says a minor thing that we take issue with, and that’s all we hear, that’s all we remember. We have our reason not to really grapple with the message.

No, it’s hard to listen well. Preachers are far from perfect, and listeners aren’t perfect. Even the one preacher who was perfect caused great offence. That’s the scathing verdict Mark reaches after the sermon: “So they were offended at him” (v 3).

Today we use that word “offended” loosely, because in an age of political correctness people get offended so easily. Every week there’s something else in the news that’s causing outrage. But Mark’s word is very strong; it means to trip a person up, or to snare a person. When this Greek verb is made into a noun, it’s often translated in our Bibles as “a stumbling block.” That’s what is happening, as these people stumble over Jesus. There’s something about him they can’t get past. It’s deadly serious, because it hinders a genuine faith.

If you boiled it down to one thing, it would be over-familiarity. These people in Nazareth are just too familiar with Jesus to accept him. Who was He to challenge them, to command them? Who was He to save them? They just don’t know what they have.

And what happens in Mark 6 is typical for Jesus’ ministry. Whether in the synagogue of Nazareth or the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, Jesus encounters people who aren’t ready to receive his Word. Yes, what happens at the end of his life is essentially the same as what happens here in chapter 6: there is offense, and rejection. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that people are still stumbling over Christ, for the message of the cross is nonsense. A crucified Saviour? An invisible god? Do we really need that much help? Are we that bad?

And let’s transfer ourselves into those synagogue pews for a moment. Don’t we face the same danger when it comes to Christ? Jesus is very familiar to us. He’s the “hometown prophet.” We’ve heard his message for so long, as most of us have been going to church our entire lives. We’re well-acquainted with the events of Jesus’ life, the words of his teaching, the story of his death. So familiar, that we take these riches for granted. Maybe we just listen for the things that we like to hear. Maybe we don’t hear anymore that his words stretch us and challenge us.

Have you noticed how sometimes it’s those people who come to Christ later in life who put us to shame? New believers can be so full of their love for God and the Scriptures, and so dependent on Christ. New Christians are sometimes amazed that we’ve had these treasures in our hands, even for our entire lives—amazed that we don’t do more with it.

So instead of looking down on those in the synagogue of Nazareth, we should examine ourselves in this church. Do we, God’s covenant people, embrace the message of the Saviour with joy? With a living and breathing, faith? Do we make that message of Christ our greatest treasure? During the week do we take delight in this Word, no matter how often we’ve read it? Are we impressed with his glory, and do we fix our thoughts on Jesus? Or is He too familiar?

It’s too easy for us to give a shallow response to the message of Christ. It’s too easy to nod our head while the Word is preached or read, to agree that it all sounds good, but then to carry on without change. To carry on without accepting that there are sins we need to repent from, that we’ve got work to do. But every time we hear it, we receive a serious challenge: to believe in this Christ for your salvation; and to serve him with heart, soul, and mind. Still today, something very serious hangs in the balance whenever the Word is preached. Will the Word save us, or condemn us?

 

2) He condemns unbelief: With his sermon done, Jesus turns to address the skeptics. Just as Jesus shows throughout his ministry, He knows his audience perfectly. He knows exactly what they’re saying, even what they’re thinking.

Jesus replies to their doubting spirit with what was probably a saying from that time, a proverb, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house” (v 4). It was a proverb, because this is how it had so often gone in Israel. They had a long tradition of rejecting the prophets. Those who spoke God’s Word often found themselves chased out of town. For the prophets proclaimed what the LORD said, even when it was unsettling and offensive.

We can read about this in 2 Chronicles 36. There the author reflects on centuries of Israelite history: “The LORD God sent warnings to them by his messengers… But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people” (vv 15-16). They would not listen.

“A prophet is not without honour except in his own country.” Probably every minister can relate to this: preaching to your own family can be difficult. The Word of God can have a very confronting effect, and it’s always hard to separate that Word from the one who brings it. So much more for Jesus. He comes home, and He meets unbelief. They’re not willing to listen. Like John puts it in his Gospel, “He came to his own, and his own did not receive him” (1:11).

In our text the people of Nazareth don’t come right out and say it, but what they really want to see is evidence of his authority. They want to see proof that He’s the promised One. Jesus had already been performing miracles in other places—so how about here? How about right now? Maybe that would help, and then they would believe.

But signs and wonders are never enough to cure unbelief. Healing a few sick people, casting out a demon or two, giving all these people a free lunch—that wasn’t going to be enough. If your faith depends on emotional boosts, or on receiving gifts from God, and seeing miracles, then your faith is on shaky ground indeed. Faith must always be founded on the Word: where we accept what God says, because God said it. That’s faith.

So Jesus won’t give them what they want. Verse 5 says, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” In a way, that sounds like his power is limited: “He could do no mighty work there.” Of course He could, for the Lord Jesus has great authority—nothing restricts him, ever.

But think of the purpose of his miracles. Jesus does them to reveal something about himself, to solidify a person’s faith in him. There’s a couple examples just before our text, in chapter 5. First, there was the woman with a constant flow of blood who came to Jesus for healing. She was desperate for help, and was willing to risk everything to see Jesus. He heals her. And listen to what Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (5:34).

And then just a couple of verses later, Jesus speaks to the synagogue ruler who had been begging him to heal his daughter, but whose daughter has just died. It looks like the end of hope, but just before He raises her from the dead Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; only believe” (5:36). You can hear what He’s looking for: Faith! He wants these suffering people to trust in him, to rest in his grace and power. And they do. That’s how it has always been, and always will be: the righteous live by faith.

So Jesus won’t perform miracles in Nazareth to shock and amaze people into believing. These people aren’t expecting great things from Christ—they’ve already turned away. So why should He do any mighty works among them?

This is another important lesson for when we listen to the good news about Christ: we need to receive it with expectation, with the conviction and hope that He will do great things: He will have mercy on you, and He will help you, and He will guide you. The atmosphere of preaching, or the atmosphere of our personal devotions, is so important: When the Word of Christ is open, are you ready to listen to it? Are you ready to see what God is doing? Are you yearning to have your faith confirmed? In an atmosphere of critical coldness, even a perfect sermon can fall to the ground lifeless. That’s what happened in Nazareth. Indifference killed his ministry there. But God will bless our faith in Christ. He shows great things to those who have open eyes.

The people of Nazareth have rejected their hometown prophet. They haven’t expected anything, so they won’t receive anything. This is what we read in verse 6 about Jesus: “He marveled because of their unbelief.” Now, it’s not said very often in the Gospels that Jesus marvels about something—just twice, actually. In Luke 7:9 He marvels at the faith of the Gentile centurion. He marvels, because the centurion’s faith is so unexpected. This Gentile didn’t have the Bible. He didn’t have the promises. He wasn’t raised to love the LORD, yet he loves him.

But here in Nazareth too, Jesus marvels—this time for the opposite reason: a lack of faith. For these people had the Scriptures. They knew Christ so well, and they should’ve been the first to love him and recognize who He was. But they don’t.

“He marvelled because of their unbelief…” but He doesn’t give up in discouragement, like we might have. For Jesus’ work wasn’t done. He is a gracious Saviour, and there in Nazareth He still heals the few people who do believe. And the rest of the verse says, “Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching” (v 6). His ministry will continue, no matter the response. And then in the following verses He sends out the twelve for the work of preaching in the surrounding countryside.

But notice how Jesus expects that they too, will get a cold reception in some places, “Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them” (v 11). It won’t be easy for them, these first preachers of the Christian gospel. The human heart is still inclined not to believe.

That leaves us once more with a tough question: What do we do with the good news of Christ? We know it so well. We possess God’s rich promises, and we know our holy obligations. In a very real sense, we have had Christ among us, through his Word, through his Spirit, through his great works. We’re so familiar with the hometown prophet.

So would Jesus marvel at our faith? Would He be amazed at how humbly we receive his Word, and how we try to live it out? Or would He be astonished at our indifference to something we know so well? Would He condemn us for our lack of zeal in prayer, in devotions, in worship and holiness? May God help us to love him more! May God help us to hear his Word more truly, and receive it gladly!

Yes, Jesus our Saviour had a short career. It was a career marked by hatred and rejection from the very beginning, and right to the bitter end. Yet God was pleased to use it for something great. For God transformed the rejection of Christ—even the cross on which He was killed—and God used it as the heart of the gospel. Through his death, now we can live.

This is the message that comes to us, today and every day. So by faith, let us love and receive the gospel of Christ our Saviour!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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