October 25, 2009
The people of Nazareth knew Jesus well but still disbelieved who He really was. Because of this, Jesus deprived the people in His hometown of the signs and wonders that He was capable of performing. Alistair Begg reminds us that, like the people of Nazareth, although we may be exposed to godly influences, unbelief will deprive us of salvation.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Our New Testament reading comes from Mark and the sixth chapter. Mark chapter 6. And I invite you to turn there. There are Bibles around you in the pews, if you would like to make use of them. Mark 6:1:
“Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given to him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Father, we pray that as we turn to the Bible now, that you will help us in speaking and in hearing, in listening and in trusting, so that our lives may be transformed by the truth of your Word and that the plans and purposes which you have for this hour may be brought to fruition and to completion. For we remind ourselves that while one can plant and another can water, that only you, the living God, can make things grow. So to this end we seek you. In your Son’s name. Amen.
Well, November is Thanksgiving, as you know, and people are already beginning to ask one another what they’re doing for Thanksgiving. And the question is around, “Are you going home for Thanksgiving?” And many will be answering in the affirmative and already making their plans. This year will be no different from previous years. And there is a tremendous sense of anticipation, a genuine sense of excitement and of joy, that is represented in being able to go to one’s hometown and to one’s roots.
And Mark tells us in this sixth chapter, in the verses that we’ve read, that this was what Jesus had determined to do. His disciples may well have asked him, “Jesus, where are we going next?” And he said to them, “Well, I want to go back to Nazareth. I want to go back to my hometown.” It’s some time since he had called these disciples to be his followers. We read of that in chapter 1. It’s also a little time since he had taken twelve of them up on the mountainside and called them to be with him in order that they might go for him.
And this little scene that is here in these first six verses is set immediately in front of the departure of the Twelve in groups of two to go out into the communities and to the surrounding areas with this good news of the kingdom of God. And Mark tells us that before Jesus dispatches them in this way, he takes them back to his hometown with him, and in his hometown, they are about to learn a lesson which would prove important for them in relationship to the mission to which they had been called.
And that important lesson has to do with rejection. With rejection. Because surprisingly, perhaps, this is a story of rejection—Jesus being rejected by his own community. And that is setting the stage for the rejection which the disciples are going to experience when they go out with the gospel themselves. And if your Bible is open, you will notice that Jesus addresses that in verse 11: “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you”—the inference being “in the same way that they haven’t welcomed me and they haven’t listened to me”—“[then simply] shake the dust off your feet when you[’re] [leaving], as a testimony against them.”
In other words, what he’s making clear—what Mark is making clear for us—is that unbelief is the context in which the Christian mission advances. Unbelief is the context in which the mission advances. And Mark’s initial readers—and sometimes we forget the initial readers of the Gospel, who were the first to receive this record of all that Jesus had done—they would have been helped by this observation. They would have been helped by recognizing this. Because they themselves, in the first century, were living, if you like, at the crossroads between their vibrant faith and the very strident unbelief of the surrounding culture. And it was there at that crossroads that they were living their lives, and so, as they have the record of the Gospel for them, they realize that Jesus was preparing his immediate followers for that kind of encounter and, indeed, that he himself was undergoing and facing the same kind of unbelief.
Now, we do well to pause for just a moment and acknowledge the fact that that kind of insight ought to be helpful to us as well. Because the advance of the gospel in our day, not least of all in our own country, is an advance which takes place within the context of unbelief. And in a recent article in the Wall Street, William McGurn was quoting the previous week’s New York Times, in which one of the journalists had observed that “many scientists view ‘outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.’” “Many scientists view ‘outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.’” In other words, “It cannot possibly be,” says the scientist, “that these people are actually willing and able to affirm these things. After all, we know that in the beginning was science. And just why these people hold on to these ancient and strange beliefs is surely just an indication of the fact that somehow or another they’re out of their heads.”
Now, you don’t have to go to the highest levels of academia to run up against this. You find it just tripping over you as you go through your day. In a shop this week, I turned over a Bible. I found two Bibles on a shelf, strangely, in a shop that had nothing at all to do with Bibles. And so I wondered perhaps the lady who was the proprietor of the store was herself a Christian. And I picked up one of the Bibles and began to leaf through it, and I said, “I’m surprised that you have a Bible here.”
She said, “Oh yes, I love Bibles.” She says, “They have such nice paper.”
I said, “Well, do you ever read the Bible?”
She said, “Oh no, no! No!” Just with a sneeze, she said, “No, don’t be ridiculous.”
I said, “Well, you might want to try it,” and I suggested she read the book of Ruth. I told her it was a great story, and she might enjoy it. She said perhaps she would. But I doubt it.
And what do we know of the family of Jesus, to whom he’s returning? We know that the family of Jesus was not predisposed to trusting Jesus. In fact, back in chapter 3, we had noted the fact that the family had engaged in what we would refer to in contemporary terms as an intervention. They had all gone to him in a group to say to him, “Listen, you better stop this nonsense.” And they had said to one another in 3:21, “Let’s take charge of him, because he has gone off his rocker, because he is out of his mind.”
And it is this family to whom Jesus is returning. This is the context in which he’s going. And he arrives in “his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.” And Mark tells us that “when the Sabbath came,” as was the custom of Jesus, “he began to teach in the synagogue.” Now, some believe that this is the same encounter in Nazareth as is recorded in Luke chapter 6. If so, then we know the subject matter that he addressed. If it is not, as I think probably is the case, then we don’t know what passage Jesus read from, nor do we know what it was he said about the passage. Mark doesn’t record that for us. It just tells us about the impact of Jesus’ teaching on this occasion in the synagogue. And it can be summarized fairly safely under three simple words.
And the first word is the word amazed. Amazed. Now, you ought not to be amazed that I chose the word amazed, because the word amazed is right there in verse 2: “And many who heard him were amazed.” They “were amazed.”
Because in the community, Jesus was recognized as the carpenter’s son. He hadn’t written any books. He didn’t come from a rabbinical background. He didn’t have formal training. He did have a little group of disciples, which would be typical of a rabbi, but the group that he had with him, this funny group that he’d brought into town, they were in themselves an interesting bunch. They wouldn’t immediately have had the kind of credentials that would have made people sit up and say, “Wow, this is quite a group he’s put together! He’s obviously gone to the Ivy League and put them all in place. Very, very impressive.” No—fishermen, tax collectors, a ragtag and bobtail group, and with them he arrives in town. And so, while it is true to say that the majority who listened were amazed, that’s not necessarily to say that they were impressed. Because you can be amazed without being impressed. There are many pieces of art that amaze me, but they don’t impress me.
Now, the astonishment, or the amazement, comes across clearly as Mark records for us the flurry of questions that were buzzing around in the conversation that would have been part and parcel of responding to the teaching of Jesus on this day. So, they asked, “Where did this man get these things?” Where did he come up with this stuff? “[What is] this wisdom that has been given him?” Clearly, he was saying some pretty dramatic things, and it had been given to him.
Now, you will remember that earlier we have seen that the Pharisees said that the power that he had was the power of the devil. So for them to ask the question “Where did he get this wisdom?” is not necessarily them saying, “Oh, this tremendously wonderful wisdom must come from a divine source.” No, it may come from a devilish source. Nevertheless, it is such that it is beyond that which they would have interpreted as being routine, and so it is the occasion of their question.
“And how is it that he does these miracles?” You see, because Jesus was the local boy. There were people who went to school with him, if we might put it in contemporary terms. There were people who played with him. There were boys who would come over to his house and call out and ask his mother Mary, “Is Jesus coming out to play?” And she said, “No, he hasn’t done his homework yet,” or “He’s helping his father, and he won’t be out for a while yet.” He was the local boy. There was nothing about him, nor was there anything about his family, that would have suggested that he was anything other than entirely ordinary. Entirely ordinary. Indeed, their familiarity with Jesus made it harder, not easier, for them to believe him truly.
Now, we need to think this out. We need to think. Because it is quite staggering. And Jesus acknowledges that when in verse 4 he says it’s “only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house,” that a prophet is “without honor.” Because the townsfolk and his family, despite their amazement, are having a hard time seeing through what Cranfield refers to as “the veil of his ordinariness.” “The veil of his ordinariness.” I think that’s a wonderful phrase.
And some of you are here today, and that’s exactly where you are as well. You’re having a real hard time seeing through the veil of the ordinariness of Jesus. Never wrote a book, never led an army—just a Galilean carpenter. Short life, notoriety in his day, staggering statements concerning his death, and claims about his resurrection—but so long ago, so far away. Enough to amaze you?
The second word is the word offended. Because we’re told that not only were they amazed, but ultimately, they were offended. “They took offense at him” is the phrase, there in the NIV, that you will find at the end of verse 3. And if they were first focusing on his authority, in terms of the wisdom and the miracles and so on, then in this instance, they are really questioning his identity. And the phraseology that they use is most likely disparaging. “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” is probably a disparaging question, because it was contrary to Jewish usage to describe a man as being the son of his mother. Jewish etiquette described men as being sons of their fathers. “Well,” say some of the commentators, “perhaps Joseph was already dead by this time, and that’s why he is not mentioned. By this time Mary is a widow, perhaps, and so they are simply referring to him as being the son of his mother.” But the fact is that the sense of disparagement is not mitigated in any way by that, because it was true even if the woman was a widow; it was an insult even then.
And, of course, you know that as you read the Gospels, one of the questions that the Pharisees kept coming up with was “You know, we know where this person came from, and we know where that person came from, but Jesus, we don’t know where you came from. Because we know that Joseph is not your father. Everybody knows that.” So they may actually be questioning the very legitimacy of the birth of Jesus. It may be that it is not as significant as that; they’re merely dismissing him—that is, “Mary’s son, you know, the one who lives in the house on the corner.” And that’s the basis for their rejection. But rejection it is.
“Aren’t his sisters here? We know his sisters.” In Scotland, there is a line which just comes to me as I think about it now. If anybody is uppity in Scotland—if, for example, I was to try and present myself in grandiose terms, or I said, “I recently did this,” or “I achieved that,” or “I did the next thing”—one of the great putdowns in Scotland is when the person says, “We knew your father.” “We knew your father.” In other words, “We know where you come from. We know your father.” And that’s essentially what they’re doing here: “You come back into town with this amazing sermon, with these stories of your miraculous power, but we know your sisters. And they don’t even believe you. And we know who your brothers are. We know who you are. You’re the carpenter. You’re Mary’s son.”
Now, think about this. Jesus has come declaring the kingdom of God. Mark has said, “Here’s my Gospel. This is the beginning of the good news of the kingdom.” Jesus stands up and says, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news!” He then proceeds to overturn the work of the devil. He casts out demons. He stills the winds and the waves. He heals the lepers. He cures blindness. He triumphs over death. It’s a pretty dramatic display. And then he comes back to his hometown. And in his hometown, he can’t hardly do anything. He is able to triumph over death and the demons, but he’s unable to triumph over the unbelief of his own sisters and brothers.
That’d be really unsettling if you didn’t have an Old Testament, wouldn’t it? Because remember what we’re told in the Old Testament about he who will come as the prophet of God: he was “despised and rejected [by] men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Or as John puts it in his prologue, “He came to … his own, [and] his own did not receive him.” That is what Mark is chronicling for us here. This is an historic situation where Jesus comes back in; he is confronted by the fact that the people are, first of all, amazed and, secondly, that they are offended. “Who does he think he is, coming into Nazareth, speaking in this way and with such authority?” Who indeed? Who indeed?
That brings us to our third word. And that is the word deprived. Deprived. That may not immediately jump out to you until I explain it. But clearly the news of the miracles of Jesus had reached his hometown. That is the backdrop against which he arrives to speak in the synagogue. But verse 5 is a very interesting verse, isn’t it? Jesus “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” Jesus has been doing these miracles all over the place, dramatic in their impact. He has now come to his hometown, and Mark tells us that apart from a few exceptions, Jesus could “do no mighty work” there at all.
Hence my word deprived. On account of their unbelief, his family and his hometown were deprived of signs and wonders. On account of their unbelief, they were deprived—in the same way that on account of your unbelief, listener, you, too, are deprived. We will come to that.
I speak routinely, Sunday by Sunday, to a congregation of people who admit to being amazed. Some would be honest enough to acknowledge that they are offended. And if they’re really honest, they would have to say that they are deprived of any living, genuine faith in Jesus at all. That’s what’s described for us here.
You see, Mark isn’t drawing attention to the limits of Jesus’ power, as if somehow or another his power force was mitigated simply by the geographical proximity of his home, but rather the privations which were as a result of the people’s unbelief. The hardness of people’s hearts and their rejection of Jesus prevented the healing ministry being showered upon them, prevented them enjoying all the benefits of his kingly rule manifest in their immediate township.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by that, because the same is true concerning forgiveness of sins. The hardness of a person’s heart and the rejection of a person of Jesus’ ministry is such that they do not find forgiveness of their sins. And these people do not enjoy the work of the Holy Spirit in miraculous power, because he does not come to force himself on a hostile and a skeptical audience. He’s not in town to do tricks. He’s not in town to impress people. He’s not in town to do a show. He possesses all of this power—unmitigated power! But he does not work in such a way as to titillate or to intrigue or to encourage a superficial response on the part of those who are hostile to him and who reject him, who will not listen to his words and therefore who will not see the wonder of his works.
You’ll go immediately wrong if you think that what Mark is saying here is that when he says, “He could not do any miracles,” Mark means in the sense that it was physically impossible—that cannot be—but rather that he could not because it would have been morally and spiritually inconsistent. Totally inconsistent! For where the kingdom of God is rejected, it is inappropriate for the King to bestow upon these unwilling subjects all of the benefits and blessings of his kingly rule. He is more than willing to grant them, but he grants them not to the skeptic.
That’s why, you see, we’ve said routinely through these studies in Mark that you will never come to saving faith in Jesus from the vantage point of detached observation or superficial indifference—an approach which comes to the study of the Bible that says, “Okay, go ahead, impress me,” or “Go ahead, convince me,” or “Go ahead and do something.” You will go Sunday by Sunday by Sunday by Sunday, and it will be like water off a duck’s back, for the King does not manifest himself to the hostile and to the recalcitrant.
Now, it doesn’t end there. It ends not with the fact of Jesus’ marginal display of miraculous power, but it ends in verse 6 with another amazing observation, and that is that Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.” I wonder if you ever thought about what Jesus would be amazed by. It’s a bit like the question “What do you buy for Christmas for a man who has everything?” You know, what is he going to really like? What would amaze Jesus? He’s the creator of the universe.
Well, we don’t have to wonder, because Mark tells us in his Gospel that there were only two times that Jesus was amazed—that he was recorded as being amazed. One is here, at the absence of people’s faith, and one you can do for homework is in Luke chapter 7, in the presence of someone’s faith. That is the faith of the centurion who came, remember, and said to Jesus, “Would you come to my house? My servant is sick.” And things got a little delayed, and the centurion said to him, said, “You know what? You don’t even have to come to my house. You just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” And Jesus says, “This is amazing.” And Luke records, “And Jesus was amazed at this. And he said, ‘I’ve never seen faith like this, not even in the whole of Israel.’” On that occasion, he is amazed at the presence of faith, and on this occasion, he is amazed at the absence of faith.
“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” After all, he’d grown up before them, he’d lived among them, he’d returned to them, and he had preached for them. In other words, they had peculiar benefits that other people didn’t have. They had access. They had insight. They had the opportunities that were attached to the fact of his birthplace, of his upbringing: born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth.
You say, “Well, that’s very interesting, isn’t it?” Well, it’s not just interesting, but I think there is an immediate point of application. Those of us who have enjoyed the privileges of, let’s say, a Christian upbringing; who’ve enjoyed the opportunities that have attached to the freedom of the expressions of religion in our own country; who have responded to the urgings of friends and family members to consider the claims of Jesus, perhaps to read the Bible; who have maybe made it part and parcel of your life to come here Sunday by Sunday; who have been amazed, offended, and yet you are still deprived—would it be wrong for me to say I’m amazed at your unbelief? I’m amazed that you could come and listen and learn and walk away—and do it routinely! That’s the thing that intrigues me. I think if roles were reversed, as soon as I got clear what the chap was on about—as soon as I understood what the package was, if you like—once I decided I was out, I’d be out. Or if I’d be in, I’d be in. But I am amazed at the numbers of people who continue to come to Parkside Church and who, in terms of any believing, saving trust in Jesus, are just not there.
And so I want to end this morning by, as affectionately as I can, imploring you to move off the fence. I noticed reading the newspaper yesterday that someone had cynically said of Gordon Brown, the present prime minister of Great Britain—but probably not for long—they said of Gordon Brown that he had “nailed his colors to the fence,” which was a very disparaging remark. And some of you have done the same: you’ve nailed your colors to the fence, and you sit there uncomfortably week after week.
I think some of you do so because you believe your sin is actually too great. You’ve done something, or you’ve made a hash of your life, and somehow or another, you’ve got the impression that you could be beyond the pale of God’s forgiveness. And I want you to know that your unfitness is your fitness. Your unfitness is your fitness. You don’t go to the doctor when you’re well. You go to the doctor when you’re sick. It is your sickness that provides the basis for your healing.
Some of you actually believe that you’re excluded—that you’re an excluded case. I hear this every so often. People say, “Well, I don’t think I’m supposed to be in it. I don’t think I’m in the group.” I wonder where you get that nonsense from. You certainly don’t get it from your Bible. Because if you’ve listened carefully to the Bible, you know that Jesus says again and again that whoever comes to him he will never cast away. And someone says, “Well, I don’t have any goodness.” You don’t have to have any goodness. Jesus has all the goodness that you need. All you need to do is come as you are. All you need to do is rely upon him. All you need to do is trust in his mercy. And if you do, then you will discover the wonder of his redeeming love.
Let me end by quoting from a sermon that is 139 years old. Because this is better than what I can do. This is Spurgeon preaching in London on the twelfth of June in the year of—we can work it out—1870. And this is how he ends:
There are some of you who know that Christ is God, you know he is able to save from sin, you know he is able to save you, and yet you are unsaved; and I marvel at your unbelief because you confess that it leaves you in a state of ruin, and will land you in a state of everlasting confusion. You know you[’re] filthy, and that the fountain is open: why, then, [don’t you] wash? You know Christ will save you if you trust him; you know he[’s] worthy of your trust. O … why [will] you not trust him? In the name of everything that is reasonable, why not trust him?
I mean, get the urgency in his tone. “In the name of everything that is reasonable, why wouldn’t you trust Christ?” he says.
Your [belief] is the more [amazing] because the cause from which it arises is so inexcusable. With some of you your unbelief is the effect of inconsiderateness; you do[n’t] think about it; you believe but believe superficially; you do not weigh and judge. Oh, is it so? Will you ruin your own souls for want of thought? You look, [he says,] as I gaze upon you, to be men and women of intelligence, and can you with intelligence and education trifle with your souls [in light of eternity]? You know its meaning, and yet can you trifle with it? You are immortal, no flame shall ever devour your soul; you shall outlast the sun, and when the moon has waned for the last time, you still shall live; and will you dare to tempt God’s anger so as to live for ever beneath his frown? When a simple trust in Jesus will secure for you a happy immortality, shall you through carelessness suffer your soul to drift down the stream to the dark ocean of despair? …
My dear friends, some of you who have been sitting here for years, and yet do not believe, you are marvels to me. Count you that little? You[’re] marvels to many in your family, who long … expected to see you on the Lord’s side. You[’re] a wonder to devils, even they [can’t] make it out, the power of their spells has amazed even them. You are a wonder to the damned in hell—with what welcome alacrity would they avail themselves of an opportunity to escape from misery, and yet you trifle with such opportunities! You are a marvel to the angels who would[’ve] rejoiced over you if you had returned to your Father, and who wonder that you stand at the cross’s foot from Sunday to Sunday, and yet doubt the power of him who bled on it. You are marvels to the Lord himself. One of these days, unless you repent, you will be a wonder to yourselves, for this text will come true to you if God prevent it not. “Behold, [you who despise me,] wonder, and perish.” But I hope better things of you, even things which accompany salvation, though I thus speak. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and [you] shall be saved. Before the Redeemer was taken up and ascended to his throne, he left this message to us his disciples, “Go … into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believe[s] and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Believe and be baptized, and God grant you his salvation for Jesus’ sake.
“He came to his own town, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the power to become the sons and the daughters of God.” And he will give that power to you today if you will turn to him in humble, believing, repenting faith.
Gracious God, for your Word we give you thanks. And we pray that you will seal it to our lives, bringing us out of the amazing middle territory that halts between opinions, believes enough to stabilize us for another week but refuses to bow down and acknowledge that we are deeply and desperately in need of your redeeming grace. Grant, then, that today might be a day of salvation. For we remind ourselves that Jesus is never recorded as having returned again to Nazareth—that this was the one occasion. And this may be for some of us the one occasion. And that’s why your Word tells us that “now is the accepted time” and that today is always “the day of salvation.”
So may your grace and your mercy and your peace, from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rest upon and remain with all who believe, now and forevermore. Amen.
 See 1 Corinthians 3:7.
 See Mark 1:16–20.
 See Mark 3:13–19.
 Mark 6:11 (NIV 1984).
 William McGurn, “God vs. Science Isn’t the Issue,” Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2009, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704429304574467320574576460.
 Mark 3:21 (paraphrased).
 See Mark 3:22.
 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, ed. C. F. D. Moule (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 193.
 Mark 1:1 (paraphrased).
 Mark 1:15 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 53:3 (KJV).
 John 1:11 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 6:5 (KJV).
 Luke 7:9 (paraphrased).
 See John 6:37.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sad Wonder,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 16, no. 935, 334–36.
 John 1:11–12 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 6:2 (KJV).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.