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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:The scandalous Prophet
Text:Mark 6:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-12-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 136:1-3
Hymn 62:3 (after the law)
Psalm 123:1,2
Augment Hymn 16
Psalm 109:13 (after offertory)
Psalm 113:1-3

Reading:  Jeremiah 38:1-13
Text: Mark 6:1-6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

 

Some time ago in the news, we heard about a high ranking federal cabinet minister whose career was destroyed because it was revealed that his former girlfriend had connections to a Quebec biker gang.  This was big news for weeks on end – a scandal in Canadian politics.  It makes for great news stories because it attracts our attention.  Like moths to a flame, people love bad news stories in which the muck gets drawn up and someone’s reputation is destroyed.  That’s what scandal is all about – moral outrage throws an obstacle in the way of someone’s upward progress.

 

Our English word “scandal” comes from Greek and it’s found throughout the New Testament.  Many times it’s used in connection with the gospel – the gospel is scandalous.  People take offense at what the gospel says about them and their sin.  They stumble over it.  Many times the word “scandal” is also used in connection with the Lord Jesus, not surprising since the scandalous gospel is about him and it’s what he preached.  We find it also here in Mark at the end of verse 3 when we read that people were taking offense at him.  Literally, they were scandalized by Jesus.  A scandal was created on that day.  As he preached in his hometown of Nazareth, he was revealed as the Prophet who gives offense, the scandalous Prophet.  That’s our theme as I preach God’s Word to you.  We’ll consider him in connection with the people of his hometown and we’ll see their amazement at his nerve and his amazement at their unbelief. 

 

The healing of the young girl that concludes chapter five took place in Capernaum, a town along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Now Jesus leaves there and heads southwest towards his hometown of Nazareth.  Nazareth was the place where he grew up and spent all of his youth and early adult life.  As he goes, the twelve disciples follow him.  They will witness first hand the most far-reaching hostility that Christ has encountered from the Jewish people in his ministry so far.  This will mentally prepare them for what they will encounter as Christ sends them out to preach later in chapter 6.

 

The Sabbath comes and the Lord Jesus gathers for worship with God’s people at the synagogue.  As he’s done on previous occasions, he stands up to teach.  He ascended the synagogue pulpit and explained God’s Word.  There are a couple of important things to see. 

 

First of all, we find Christ working as a prophet here.  That doesn’t mean that he was like some kind of fortune-teller, predicting the future.  Rather, a prophet simply taught God’s Word with authority.  In the Old Testament, sometimes that involved saying something about the future, but not always.  In fact, much of the time it simply meant being a teacher of God’s will, a teacher who could say, “Thus says the Lord.”  The Lord Jesus was and is the fulfillment of all prophets that went before him.  He fully revealed in his words, his works, and his person, God’s plan for our salvation.  Today, we too need to continue to sit at the feet of our chief prophet and teacher and have him teach us through his Word. 

 

Second, though the cross seems a long ways off here in Mark 6, every time the Lord Jesus preached in a synagogue he would be reminded of his date with death.  The synagogue pulpit faced towards Jerusalem, the city where he would be arrested, put on trial, and crucified.  The synagogue doorway was also oriented towards Jerusalem – as Jesus left the synagogue he would be facing towards Jerusalem, the place where he would hit rock bottom and face the ultimate humiliation.  The fact that he faces it and that he obediently goes along this path reminds us that we have a Saviour who loves us and who gave himself for us.  Even as he stands behind the synagogue pulpit, we get a glimpse of the gospel.

 

As he stands and teaches we encounter what appears to be at first glance a familiar reaction.  Throughout the first chapters of Mark, people are always amazed or astonished at Jesus.  This is a typical reaction, so we’re not too surprised to read that reaction in verse 2.  But then the wind gets knocked out of our sails, because the amazement here is not a positive one.  They wonder about where he received his ability to teach, his wisdom, and his power to do miracles.  And as they were wondering about these things, they weren’t sincerely trying to get an answer.  Notice that these questions are not addressed to Jesus and they’re not addressed to his disciples.  They’re wondering among themselves and their wondering displays a sort of prejudice, they’ve already pre-judged Jesus. 

 

They pre-judged him based on his trade.  He was a carpenter.  That meant that he was the go-to person if something was broken.  Besides working with wood and perhaps building houses and furniture, he was trained by his father to be a fix-it man.  He was a practical person, not the sort of fellow who goes to university and sits on a chair with a book open all day.  He would have been technically skilled and physically strong.  But you wouldn’t expect religious wisdom from a carpenter.  The Greeks and the Romans looked down on the kind of physical, manual labour that Jesus would have done for a living.  In the first centuries after Christ’s ascension, anti-Christian writers sometimes mocked Jesus for having been a carpenter.  Christian writers sometimes responded by downplaying Jesus’ trade or even arguing that he hadn’t really been a carpenter.  Being a carpenter was not an unclean trade, but it was certainly not viewed as being really respectable.  You definitely wouldn’t expect a great religious leader or rabbi to have been a blue-collar worker with calloused hands.   

 

They pre-judged him based not only on his trade, but also on his family.  They said, “Isn’t this Mary’s son?”  Joseph isn’t mentioned here, probably because he was dead at this point, but possibly also because people weren’t sure that he was Jesus’ father – in which case, this could be another knock against Jesus – he’s the bastard child of a promiscuous woman.  At any rate, everyone knew Jesus’ brothers:  James, Joseph, Judas and Simon.  His sisters too, even though their names are not recorded by Mark.  In other words, there’s nothing special about Jesus’ family background.  He didn’t come from a family of religious leaders or a priestly family.  This was just a family of regular Joe Nazarenes. 

 

So, who does Jesus think he is to go up on the pulpit and tell us about God and his kingdom?  What gives a carpenter the right to preach to us?  We all know his family and what sort of people they are.  They’re just regular people like the rest of us, nothing special about them.  So, what is Jesus thinking by coming to us and trying to act like he’s “Mr. Big Shot” now?  Their amazement is at his nerve to break out of his social and family bracket and come to them in an unexpected way, as a Prophet authoritatively bringing God’s Word.

 

The result was that when he taught that day in Nazareth, people found him offensive, impossible to take seriously.  There was a familiarity with him that bred disgust and an inability to hear what he had to say.  Having grown up with Jesus only made it harder for them to actually accept him as a prophet. 

 

God’s Word pricks us here too.  Many of us have grown up in Christian homes.  We’ve gone to a Christian school.  When we were younger, we sat on our father’s lap as he read us Bible stories, many of which were about the Lord Jesus.  The stories are familiar to us, Jesus is very well known.  As we listen to the preaching of God’s Word, we may find ourselves thinking things like, “Well, I’ve heard all this before.  I already know him from the Bible stories I heard when I was a kid.  Tell me something I don’t know.”  Like the Nazarenes, we too may have a familiarity with Jesus that breeds an inability to hear what he still has to say to us.  Let’s call what it is.  We may develop a veiled contempt for God’s Word.

 

Loved ones, the Bible exposes this contempt for what it is:  it’s sin.  To take offense at Jesus and his preaching, or the preaching of him because it’s already familiar to us, to stumble over what we think is already well-known to us, that’s sin.  To have lost our sense of awe at the gospel and our Saviour is iniquity.  When you see it in yourself, call it what it is, name it, confess it, and repent of it.  Ask God’s forgiveness for your contempt.  Your Father promises to forgive you because his Son obediently had his eyes set on Golgotha.  Because Jesus Christ did not treat God’s Word, the old, old story with contempt, but loved it and cherished and taught it and preached it and, most of all, fulfilled it.  He is your Saviour and we need his salvation here too. 

 

Embracing Christ, fixing our eyes on him, means that we’ll grow as devoted listeners to our chief prophet and teacher.  We’ll say, “I know where he got these things.  Jesus is the Messiah, sent by God.  He is God incarnate.  This wisdom that’s been given him – that wisdom comes from on high, it’s the wisdom that I need.  Jesus Christ is my wisdom.  And this power to do miracles that I read about?  That too has come from on high.  I see a picture there of the redemption he came to bring me and all of God’s people.  Yes, he is Mary’s Son.  Yes, he was born of a woman, humbling himself and taking on our human flesh.  Yes, he is a true man and a brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon.  He is a real human being and shares genetic material with his sisters.  I take no offense at him, but I rejoice that he’s my Saviour, I’m thankful that he did all this for me and others.  He’s my prophet, my teacher, and I want to always listen to him and learn from him.” 

 

Brothers and sisters, that would be a response of faith and belief to what we read here.  But that’s not the response that Jesus found in Nazareth.  He turned to them and quoted a well-known saying that was often applied to philosophers in the Greek and Roman world.  “Only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house is a prophet without honour.”  Here the Lord Jesus comes right out and says that he is indeed a prophet. 

 

In our reading, Jeremiah the prophet received a prophet’s treatment.  He proclaimed the truth about what would happen to the city of Jerusalem, that it would be overthrown.  Rather than listening to Jeremiah and thinking about the way in which this disaster might be averted, the king and his officials threw Jeremiah in prison and then made matters worse for him by throwing him into a cistern, a big hole in the ground for holding water.  There he sunk down into the mud.  This was typical of the way that the people of Israel and Judah treated their prophets.  The more familiar they were with their prophets, the more they heard from those prophets, the worse they treated them, the more they ignored them, the deeper they sunk.

 

The Lord Jesus fell right in line with the true prophets of old.  His message and his person were offensive.  He was not regarded as being worthy of any honour or respect in Nazareth.  His family is mentioned here in this passage too and we know from Mark 3, that his family didn’t have the highest regard for him either.  In fact, they thought he was out of his mind.  All around him, people are beginning to question his ministry.  They’re okay with him healing people (we need more of that!), but as soon as he would begin teaching, the focus of his ministry, then there was offense and scandal. 

 

It was the message of the gospel that continued to be offensive after he ascended into heaven and the apostles went out to the ends of the earth.  It was offensive because of the cross.  If Jesus Christ had not hung on a cross, he could have retained a little bit of respectability among Jews and Gentiles alike.  There’s a reason why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  Literally, it says that Christ crucified is a scandal to Jews.  It’s the same word as in Mark 6:3.  They find Christ crucified to be offensive and scandalous.  They were okay with a Messiah who was a virtual emergency room, but a Messiah who was crucified was too much.  His preaching about the kingdom of God, which would have foreshadowed his crucifixion and contained the gospel message, it was too much. 

 

Someone once said that in America, God is not worshipped but used.  It’s true of Canada too, I think.  With an eye to our text, we could adapt that: Christ is not listened to on his own terms, but used.  Instead of an emergency room, he is transformed today into a life coach with principles for positive living.  He is made over into someone who just wants to give you your best life now and help you become a better you.  Loved ones, I plead with you:  don’t fall for that.  That message plays well, it tickles ears, but it’s not the gospel.  In fact, it’s far removed from the gospel.  In the gospel, a message is proclaimed which is still offensive today, which still causes scandal and turns people off.  Books that faithfully teach the Biblical gospel are never going to be best-sellers.  Christ continues to be a prophet with a scandalous message:  all we like sheep have gone astray and we have nothing by which we can save ourselves.  We need Christ as he is revealed in the Bible.  We need Christ and his perfect obedience and his suffering.  We need Christ crucified.  We need Christ first, and we need Christ last.  We need Christ and him alone.  Recognizing this most central of all our needs, constantly looking to him in faith, we will give the honour to the prophet that he deserves.  Believing the scandalous gospel message as often as we hear it, we’ll want to make much of him and glorify him with everything about us.

 

Verse 5 tells us that he could not do any miracles there, although he did lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  Why couldn’t he do any miracles there?  What prevented him?  We have to keep going back to the central purpose of his three years of ministry on earth.  In Mark 1:38 he said that he had come to preach.  Preaching was the main focus of his ministry and the healing, the exorcisms, the miracles were designed to support that.  They were pictures of what Christ had really come to do, namely to bring restoration and reconciliation between God and humanity.  If his preaching and teaching were not well-received and people’s ears were shut up to it, what’s the point of doing miracles in that place?  The exceptions were a show of his gracious compassion.  Despite the response he met, he still showed mercy for the helpless.  Here again, we see the compassionate side of our Saviour.  By rights, he could have done nothing and just walked away, but yet he did have mercy on some and thereby demonstrated his grace. 

 

Our passage concludes with the Lord Jesus being amazed at the unbelief in Nazareth.  Up to this point in Mark’s gospel, everyone has been amazed at Jesus.  But here the tables are turned, and it’s our Saviour who is amazed, amazed because of a lack of faith.  Why would he be amazed?  Well, consider the synagogue library.  In those days, people didn’t have personal copies of the Bible or its individual books unless they were very wealthy.  For most people, they would have parts of the Bible memorized and they would go to the synagogue where there would be Biblical scrolls in the library.  The synagogue library consisted of the books of the Old Testament.  The people in Nazareth had access to the riches of the promises made by God to his people in ages past, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.  They could hear the Bible being read every Sabbath at the synagogue – they would have heard that God promised to crush the head of the serpent through the seed of the woman.  But yet, when the fulfillment of all those promises is in their midst, on their pulpit, before their very eyes, he’s met with unbelief and their being scandalized by him.  It is amazing. 

 

Now the question this verse puts to us is this:  would the Lord Jesus be amazed for the same reason at our church?  We don’t have to go to the church library to find a copy of the Bible.  Our homes have numerous copies.  We have multiple translations that we can use, many of us have Study Bibles with helpful notes.  You can go on the Internet and find a variety of online Bibles.  In less than 10 seconds you could look up every instance of any word or phrase in the Bible.  Many of us have a small collection of commentaries to help us understand the difficult passages.  We are so much more richly blessed than the synagogue-goers in Nazareth.  But what happens with all these riches?  Do we use these riches so that our faith grows, so that also the fruit of our faith is getting attention?  Or would the Lord Jesus come to us and stand in amazement that though we are so rich, yet we are so poor?  Here you can think of the question the Lord asked in Luke 18:8, “…when the Son of man comes will he find faith on the earth?”  Loved ones, please consider that question carefully, consider carefully the picture of our Lord Jesus here in Mark 6:6.  It’s a matter of eternal life and death.  There is nothing more important than being certain that we are resting and trusting in Christ alone for our well-being here and now and for eternity.  As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5, I implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.  God is again making his appeal to you through his Word.   

 

In conclusion, notice how the issue of identity comes up here again.  The gospel of Mark wants to answer the question:  who is Jesus?  In this text, we’ve seen that some regard him as the uneducated carpenter, the blue collar worker, the hometown boy, the son of Mary.  But a prophet?  No way.  And the way they regard him and his identity has everything to do with belief and unbelief.  Chapter 5 is sometimes regarded as the chapter of belief in Mark.  Chapter 6 is then regarded as the chapter of unbelief, how Jesus responds to growing unbelief in his ministry.  The question from Jesus comes later, in Mark 8:28, but we can ask it now too, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”  Indeed, who do you say he is? 

 

Let us pray:

 

Father in heaven,

 

Your Word has again brought us good news and for this we are thankful.  We adore you for the perfect obedience and suffering of Christ our Saviour.  We confess him to be the Christ, our only Saviour, our chief prophet and teacher.  Father, please help us with your Spirit to be constantly looking to him alone for our well-being.  Help us to fix our eyes on him and his work as the basis for our reconciliation with you.  Lord God, we pray that none of us would have an evil heart of unbelief, but that we would all be joined in the same faith, never taking offense at our Saviour, never being scandalized by him.  We pray in his Name, AMEN.


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

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