by Charlie Wingard
6:1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
4 And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household." 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.
6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching. 7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staffno bread, no bag, no money in their belts 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.
10 And he said to them, "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 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."
12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Until now Jesus' ministry has been in Capernaum, a coastal fishing village located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In Mark 6, Jesus heads to the hills and returns to his hometown of Nazareth, 20 miles southwest of Capernaum.
Mark tells us: "[Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him" (Mark 6:1).
Some of us get the warm fuzzies when returning home. Since I've returned to the South, it's been great going to the places I grew up and introducing Lynne to old friends and stomping grounds.
Two years ago we were driving down the country road that leads to my first church, waxing nostalgically about my ministry and flock, and as I rounded the corner there my church of happy memories was burned to the ground. Reality check. Pleasant memories probably more pleasant than they actually were were all that was left.
Jesus returns home and finds far worse than a burned-out church building; he meets pettiness, arrogance, and rejection. And far from being a place of pleasant memories, Mark hints that Jesus was never a favorite son, but someone who lived with the unpleasant cloud of family scandal over his head.
One thing strikes me right off the bat when I read this text popularity is fleeting. Except for the increasing hostility of the Pharisees and Scribes, Jesus' time in Capernaum was one of wide even wild - popularity. The crowds thronged him. He is the great miracle worker who heals the sick, casts out demons, calms storms, and gives life to the dead. To be sure, they have not come to grips with the full implications of his teachings, but his enormous crowd appeal is beyond question.
But that was Capernaum; this is Nazareth. No adoring crowds await him. The popularity he experienced is a thing of the past; none of it carries over into his hometown.
Mark 6:2 tells us he goes to the Nazareth synagogue and teaches just like he did in Capernaum. I'm sure his preaching in Nazareth was no different than it was in Capernaum. Wherever he went, Jesus preached that the kingdom of God has come in his life and ministry, and that one may enter it only by faith and repentance. The door is narrow, the way is straight that leads to eternal life. He preached a lifestyle of holiness and moral discernment. And he did not shrink back from announcing God's judgment on the impenitent and unbelieving.
A faithful preacher does that he preaches the truth regardless of where he is or whom he's with. He doesn't alter his core message to suit the tastes of the crowd. No focus groups to calibrate the public's interest. No advertising firm to pitch the product to the desires of the people. No team of speechwriters to insure that the gospel message contains nothing offensive. He proclaims God's word without hesitation or qualification. If declaring God's word leaves people with profound gratitude for God's grace, then he rejoices. If declaring God's word leaves people angry and resentful, he is saddened, but he does not alter or apologize for his message. His popularity waxes and wanes, but his message remains the same. The time of his ministry may be turbulent, but his declarations of God's truth remain constant.
Think about it for a moment, and you shouldn't want it any other way. Would you spend a fortune on a medical expert, and then reject his advice because you didn't like what he said? Would your business handsomely pay consultants, only to reject their advice and tell them you hoped they'd deliver a more optimistic diagnosis and easier path to success? Would you retain the best lawyer available, and when he tells you where you stand, walk away because, after hearing his message, you think you know the law better than him anyway? No, you want the truth. It may not be pleasant. It may demand change. It may prove costly. But you want the truth. And that's precisely what we should want yes, demand from God's ministers. And it's also the kind of church we should seek to be.
Our church is tasked with the message of preaching Jesus and his kingdom. It must preach that message at those times when it's well received and when it provokes hostility or yawns of indifference. The desire to be popular or liked must not compromise the message. The honor of God and the souls of men and women are at stake.
The crowds in Capernaum and Nazareth were astonished. But their attitudes toward Jesus could not be more different. Remember the awe in Capernaum: "What is this?" they said, "A new teacher with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." (Mark 1:27)
That awe is found nowhere in Nazareth. Arrogance, not awe, marks its reaction. Listen to the questions the Nazarites asked : "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him." (Mark 6:2-3)
The best that can be said about these questions is the town's skepticism: Jesus came up with this teaching on his own? After all, his family is so - let's be frank - ordinary. I can just hear them: "Jesus, his mother Mary and brothers James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, and his sisters we all know them, and there's nothing special about them or him. No matter how remarkable his teaching, he didn't come up with it on his own. A preposterous idea!"
But their questions could have a more sinister motivation. Zero in on the words "son of Mary" in verse 3. According to Jewish customs of the day, it was an insult to refer to a man as the son of his mother. Even if the woman were a widow, people would still refer to a son as the son of his father, or the son of his father and mother. To omit the father's name was tantamount to declaring that the child was conceived out of wedlock. [For a discussion, see William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 202-203.] As I read the New Testament, I find a few indications that Jesus' enemies believed that Joseph was not Jesus' biological father and that Mary conceived her son illicitly while unmarried (John 6:42; 8:41). Bluntly, he was a child of fornication.
Of course, Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but believers know the rest of the story. Matthew and Luke teach us that he was conceived supernaturally in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mark does not record the virgin birth of Christ. This should not trouble us, for he does not record the events surrounding Jesus' birth and starts his account much later in Jesus' life. This does not mean he didn't know about the virgin birth; he most certainly did. None of the gospel writers are under obligation to tell us everything they know about Jesus. They do not write exhaustive histories. Instead, They craft their gospels skillfully to communicate certain truths about Jesus. Like John, Mark chose not to focus on the conception and early years of Jesus. His concerns were elsewhere. So, Mark sums up the attitude of Nazareth toward Jesus: "And they took offense at him."
Jesus drives home the point: "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household." Earlier, his family concluded that Jesus had lost his mind (Mark 3:21). Now his own town rejects him. Ultimately, Israel will reject him, and yet his gospel of the kingdom will spread to the ends of the earth. Like the prophets, Israel should treasure Jesus and his message instead, they despise him.
Perhaps this is a case of "familiarity breeds contempt." Sadly, we often find it difficult to receive the truth from those who are closest to us. The teenager who looks at his parents as cruel oppressors, and not the gift of a loving heavenly Father who would shepherd them away from harm and to the place of spiritual, physical, and moral safety. The husband who cannot bear to hear the truth from his wife who is rightly concerned about his compromised character. The wayward church member who counts the intervention of godly elders as meddlesome. The community, like Nazareth, that is intimidated that one of its own surpasses everyone in achievement, and provokes no small amount of pride and jealousy. "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household." So hostile is Nazareth's opposition that Jesus "marveled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:6)."
This is the only time Mark records that the Son of God marveled. Yet, no other response would fit the situation. Nazareth's very salvation is in their midst; yet they reject him and the door of the kingdom is shut to them forever. One can only shake his head in astonishment.
As far as I know, Jesus never returns to Nazareth. We do well to remember that great privileges bring great responsibility. You must not despise the gifts God gives so that you might know and understand his truth. Those gifts include godly parents, godly spouses, and godly churches. To reject the grace God bestows through them is to place yourself in spiritual peril. To whom much is given much will be required.
Mark reports an interesting fact: "And he could do no mighty work [in Nazareth], except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them" (Mark 6:5). These words do not mean that it was impossible for Jesus' to work miracles there; he certainly could and did on a few occasions. When Mark tells us that he "could do no mighty work" in Nazareth it means that Jesus could not do them in a way that would be consistent with the purpose of his miracles and the mission of his kingdom. Jesus' miracles were not sideshows. He didn't perform miracles in order to show off his power. No, his miracles were either in response to faith or to call forth faith. Faith was not present nor was it forthcoming in Nazareth. They were hardened in their unbelief beyond remedy. Therefore, few miracles were displayed in their presence.
Jesus' rejection at Nazareth sets the stage for the first missionary endeavors of Jesus' disciples. Jesus called them to be fishers of men, and now they will go fishing. We are told: "And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits" (Mark 6:7). With rejection fresh on their minds, they will be under no illusions that warm receptions will meet them as they travel. Their work will always be arduous, and many lonely and painful days are before them. Just as Israel rejected the Old Covenant prophets, and even the Lord Jesus, so they too meet frequent rebuffs. But go they will, and they will go with authority over the powers of darkness because they go in the name of Jesus.
Jesus called and sent them. His authority not their personal strengths or gifts assure them that they will fulfill their mission. For a time, I was a security guard at a high-rise condominium in Nashville. Now I'm not an intimidating person. But when I asked someone to leave the premises, they always left. Why? Because they were afraid of me? I doubt it. They left because of the badge I wore. It represented the authority that backed me up. Jesus sends out his disciples both then and now with the assurance that we go with his authority. By the power of his name, our efforts will accomplish the purposes he intends.
The disciples are sent out two by two. Why? I have heard many missionary organizations use this as a proof-text for missionary teams. Teams might be a good idea for Christian workers personal safety, encouragement, collective wisdom are just a few of the benefits I can think of. But that's not why Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs. The reason is that in the old covenant law two witnesses were required before a murderer was put to death; he could not be executed on the testimony of a single witness (Numbers 30:35; Deuteronomy 17:6). The judgment of God is coming upon Israel, which is nothing less than a matter of life and death. These pairs of witnesses preach that truth and bear witness to each town's response.
Please don't take these verses as an instruction manual for contemporary missions. They're not. This first mission has a very limited purpose to reach quickly the towns of Israel, and to call Israelites to repentance. That is why Jesus "charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staffno bread, no bag, no money in their belts but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics" (Mark 6:8-9). The disciples must travel light and travel quickly; the scope of their mission shapes what they take on the trip.
But back to Jesus' disciples and their mission. They must move quickly, and no extended stays. The disciples are not to lengthen their visits moving around from home to home. The towns must make a decision, and make it quickly. The time of decision has come. Are you for Jesus and his kingdom or against him? Therefore, Jesus admonishes them: "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there" (Mark 6:10). Again this is not the pattern for contemporary missions. Christian missionaries after Pentecost, like Paul, often spent years in a city establishing churches, teaching, and equipping leaders. And so we will support missionaries that relocate to another part of the world, and labor year after year for the gospel.
How should the disciples handle the rejection that will occur in certain towns? Jesus tells them, "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" (Mark 6:11). By shaking the dust off their sandals, the disciples distance themselves from the unbelief of the community and from the judgment that will inevitably come. Forearmed with the authority of Jesus and forewarned of the difficulties they will face, the disciples hit the road. "They went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them" (Mark 6:12-13).
One minister has called the Christian life "a long obedience in the same direction." That should be our attitude as our church bears witness to Christ. Our culture will change, but our message won't. There will be times of extraordinary openness to the gospel; other times will be marked by rejection. We cannot control the conditions of our society or the ways men and women will respond to the gospel. But we can choose faithfulness to Jesus and his message. And by God's grace, we will, and together we will discover the joy of "a long obedience in the same direction."
Popularity comes and goes. Civilizations rise and fall. But to the people of Jesus belongs "a kingdom that can not be shaken."
Let us worship and serve him with "reverence and awe." (Hebrews 12:28).
About the Author:
Charlie Wingard is the Senior Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA), Huntsville, Alabama
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