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The Tragedy of Unbelief
Familiarity breeds contempt from the gospel of Mark 6:1 to 6
True story–a man buys an extremely sensitive barometer from a respected company, but when it arrives the needle on the device is pointing to the sector marked hurricane. After shaking the device several times (never a good idea with a sensitive mechanism), he was unable to get the needle to move. So in anger, he sat down and wrote a scathing letter to the company about their faulty product. As he drove into work the next morning, he mailed his letter. On returning that evening, not only was his barometer missing, but so was his entire house from a hurricane—September, 1938.
Unbelief has tremendous consequences. Sitting in your lap this morning is the always right, never wrong needle of God’s Word, pointing to the only Truth, Jesus Christ. The question is–will you believe the Bible, will you act on the Word of God, will you truly hear and heed its truths?
For this morning in our continuing verse-by-verse study of the gospel of Mark, we are going to witness the tragedy of unbelief. We will be witnesses of those who should have put their faith in Christ, but they turned away. We will come alongside some people who should embrace Christ, but they reject Him. Open your Bibles to Mark chapter 6, and follow along with the outline in your bulletin.
We’ve been blown away over the last few weeks as Christ has proven his power and authority over the deep, an army of demons, and twelve-year-long disease, even death itself. With the last two miracles, there was a particular emphasis on faith. Jesus assured the woman her real cure came through faith–and Jairus was exhorted by the Lord to keep on believing.
But now as we step into Chapter 6, we see an absence of faith. Unbelief, the very thing that made Eve eat the forbidden fruit, kept Israel out of the Promised Land, caused the Jews to ignore their prophets, and ultimately led them to crucify their Messiah. Unbelief is what blinds us to our selfishness and pride, allowing us to think somehow we will escape eternal judgment. Unbelief causes us to not see Christ as God incarnate who came to provide the only way to be forgiven, make us right with God and get to heaven. And unbelief is what causes an entire town of people to reject their Messiah and treat Him harshly.
Some of you know the difficulty of belonging to a family who rejects your beliefs. Others of you know what it is like to be treated harshly by your own family because of your faith. But imagine belonging to a family who attempts to deprogram you from your Christianity. Imagine friends who sincerely believe you’ve lost your mind because you follow Christ. Picture yourself going home, teaching a Bible study, then having everyone at that study try to throw you off a cliff because of what you taught. Then see yourself returning to this very same place—again. Why would you go back? Because you love them deeply, and want them to know the truth in order to be saved.
Here they are, the closest people to the only light that exists, yet they stubbornly remain in the darkness of unbelief. So instead of avoiding conflict, Jesus returns to the place which has already tried to kill Him. Are you battling with unbelief in your home, with a spouse, child or parent? Are you struggling with belief in your own heart? Do you ask, “Does God care, is He in control, is He all-wise and worthy of trust?” In your RMG or ministry, are there those who never seem to rely on Christ, or believe in His Word? At school or work, are there those who continually seek to mock your beliefs and tear down your faith?
Then you need to walk with Jesus today, as He returns home to Nazareth in Mark 6. Read verse 1, “Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him.” This is amazing to me–in Luke 4 they tried to kill Christ early in His ministry. Now He returns again to his hometown, instead of avoiding this place like a plague–Jesus returns one last time to try to reach them with the Gospel. Yet . . .
#1 Unbelief Strikes Home–familiarity breeds contempt
Verse 1, “Jesus went out from there”–from where? Capernaum–on the heels of calming a storm, casting out an army of demons, curing a woman diseased twelve long years, even raising the dead daughter of a well-known synagogue official, Jesus comes home. Perhaps the Lord is hoping these clear indicators of His deity might soften their previous rejection and they will embrace Him as the only path of salvation.
So He travels to His hometown, “and came into His hometown”–to Nazareth. He was born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth–so the gospel writers considered Nazareth His hometown. You all know Nazareth, in between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea–hilly, rocky, off the main path and despised by people, like Temecula views Hemet. This is where Jesus spent thirty years of His life–where He grew up. Nazareth is where Jesus learned to eat, walk and work, and where He prepared before He began His public ministry.
He now reaches out to those same people who knew Him well. He seeks to witness to them about their need of salvation, and to express dependence upon their God. Sadly, though impressed at first, they will respond with unbelief. Even though Jesus was very careful about His approach to His hometown crowd, we read at the end of verse one, Jesus “came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him.”
The Lord brought His devoted entourage with Him, His men–the unmistakable sign of being a rabbi, a respected teacher. They’d heard about the crowds, possibly even calming the storm, and they see Jesus, their hometown boy now as a respected leader since only the most influential rabbis have disciples. The disciples have seen the Lord’s magnificent displays of power, but now they will also witnesses His harsh rejection, preparing them for their own rejection as they go out to minister.
All Christ-followers will be rejected. Students, don’t be shocked if you’re verbally mocked by friends. Employees, don’t gasp when you’re gossiped about for your faith. All true Christians will be persecuted–you will be rejected. Second Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” You’ll be hit, hurt, slandered, passed by, ignored, and mocked.
There is something about familiarity breeding contempt. It is funny, but I used to minister at Grace Community Church in a wide variety of roles. Today I’ve been gone from there for twenty years, yet it seems the longer I’m gone, the more I’m esteemed. People say positive things about the Lord’s work through me there, and honestly, I have no idea what they are talking about. It is almost like the longer I am away, the more impact I had. I don’t remember enjoying any of that honor or esteem when I was actually there on staff–in fact, quite the opposite.
Which is a good reminder to all of us–sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have till it’s gone. A disciple, an RMG leader, a teacher, a parent, a church family–because we know people and are familiar with them, it’s easy for us to take them for granted. But it is more than appreciation of what God has given you. All of us battle with this drift in our relationship with Christ.
Our passionate first love drifts to second or third love
Our zeal for His service begins to cruise into–only when it’s convenient
Our hunger for His Word slows to a “once-a-week” meal
Our intimate relationship transitions to only prayers around food
Our giving first to His church drops to only what I have left over
Have you allowed your familiarity with Christ and His Word to become complacent, indifferent or worse–contemptible? Fire up today. For as Jesus begins to minister in Nazareth, we witness an awesome reaction transition quickly to unbelief.
#2 Unbelief Spurns the Obvious Supernatural
Verse 2, “When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue.” One of two things happened here–either Jesus waited for the Sabbath to publicly minister, doing that which is proper, traditional and conventional so as to give as little offense as possible. Or the hometown crowd did not flock to Him as soon as He arrived, like everywhere else–His was not an excited welcome. But in keeping with the democratic nature of synagogue services, traveling rabbis were given the opportunity to teach when visiting synagogues.
But notice verse 2, “He began to teach in the synagogue.” See the word “began”–it looks back to the beginning of His teaching, the introduction of His sermon. But the word “began” also intimates the reaction of the audience did not encourage Him to continue. This is one of the last times Jesus teaches in a synagogue–it certainly is the last time Mark mentions Jesus teaching in a synagogue. Plus it is His last time being in Nazareth. The synagogue had become a place of rejection. Later on Jesus does most of his formal teaching in houses, courtyards and hillsides.
Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus taught. On His first visit, Luke tells us the book of Isaiah was handed to the Lord, and He found the place that spoke prophetically of Him. What is so cool to me is that the Lord read Isaiah as it described the Messiah at His first coming, but He stopped reading in the middle of a verse, because the rest of the verse describes His second coming–how cool? Jesus then closed the book, sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Then as He concluded, they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Now in the middle of His public minister, on His second trip to His hometown, we don’t know what He taught, but He did make an incredible impression–see it in verse 2, “and the many listeners were astonished.” The Greek word “many” has an article—“the many”, indicating the reaction was by the vast majority. Almost the entire crowd was astonished. Literally, the Greek word astonished is “overwhelmed”. We’d say “blown away, pumped, crackin’, amped or juiced. And not merely a momentary “Wow!”, but an ongoing off da’ hook wired.
Sadly, this jaw-drop response was not excitement and belief, but an astonishment which quickly soured into cynicism and unbelief. As they reflected on what they heard and saw from Jesus, they couldn’t get over that He’d grown up in their midst. They could not get beyond His history with them. They could not look past His humanity. They displayed a mounting agitation as they reflected upon the identity of this profoundly wise teacher and miracle worker. Since Jesus was a hometown boy, they knew He’d not studied under any rabbi of influence. He lacked the proper credentials–He didn’t have a seminary decree, or a university doctorate. Therefore He wasn’t qualified for this ministry.
So they began to rehearse their objections to His ministry and to His person, growing in their rejection, and fueling their unbelief. “I know you’ve done this, I know you have . . . I used to do this . . . .” You’re angry with your spouse or boss or parent, and you begin to argue with them in your mind, building a case against them for the hurt they’ve caused, or wrong they have done. You think through what you’re going to say to them over and over. You rehearse your argument. In most cases, it was a simple misunderstanding–but you’ve spent hours preparing your case.
The folks from Nazareth do the very same thing—they rehearse their objections in the form of questions, which expose their unbelieving hearts. Their astonishment didn’t turn to respect, but rather to attack. What questions do they ask?
First Where did Jesus get this authority?
Do you see the first question in verse 2 saying, “Where did this man get these things?” Don’t miss the critical tone here–see it? This man—not, “Wow, incredible, where did this rabbi study–who trained Him?” But literally, cynically, “Where did this one get all these abilities?” They’re agitated–they’re upset. They’re having a hard time separating the boy they watched grow up from the supernatural man who is now standing before them. Compelled to admit this authority, they ask themselves, “What is the source of this change?” Sadly, they were unwilling to entertain the truth that Jesus had been divinely commissioned–that more than a man stood before them.
Look at verse 2 for a second, separate question, which seems to be voiced by a different critic—see it? Verse 2, “and what is this wisdom given to Him?”
Second Where did Jesus get this wisdom?
This guy was perplexed by the nature and source of the profound and remarkable wisdom displayed by Christ. The verb “is given” is passive, recognizing that His wisdom is a gift, not as the result of long rabbinic study. But sadly, the question leaves the actual giver of the wisdom undetermined. The questioner was not ready to accept that this wisdom was from God, but he actually raises a cynical doubt–again!
Do you see what he says in verse 2, ‘given to Him,”–that is literally “to this one”, or to this fellow–again, not honoring Christ as teacher or rabbi, but disdainfully saying literally, “What’s the wisdom having been given to this one?” This is an insult—“by whose authority does He speak?” You see, the rabbinic pattern was to gain authority from the rabbis you studied under and quoted–but Jesus didn’t study under a rabbi. Jesus quoted no one but God. Jesus taught the Word of God. Then another asks a third question in verse 2–“and such miracles as these performed by His hands?”
Third Where did Jesus get this power?
Notice this phrase starts with an “and”, in the Greek a kai, which is best taken as another totally separate comment. And the word “miracles” is the word “power”. They are asking, “And such powers coming from His hands, where’d He get that?” When growing up, they had not known Jesus to possess such amazing miraculous powers. They watched Him for thirty years, and had never seen Him or any of His family perform any miracle. So where did He get them? Like the slander of the Pharisees, they may have been implying Jesus was demonically powered.
These amazing actions were to show them that God was at work in Christ, pointing to Him as the One who speaks for God, and points the way to God. But they could not get beyond history. They had heard about Christ’s power over disease, leprosy, a paralytic, a withered hand, the storm, demons, disease, even death. Miracles flowed from Christ. They acknowledged that power, but they failed to acknowledge that His power was from God.
They failed to honor the source of His authority, wisdom and power. And sadly, they didn’t stop there–as they continued to burn with unbelief, they become so angry they grew harsh. They began to attack Christ’s background, His legitimacy, even His family.
Fourth Isn’t Jesus merely a common carpenter?
Verse 3, “Is not this the carpenter?” Is this not the village handy man? Is this not the guy I see at Home Depot? Wasn’t He the local fix-it man? Jesus was a carpenter, a tradesman, a common laborer. He’s not so great–how can He prophecy and interpret? “I don’t think so.” Carpenter means craftsman–someone who makes things out of wood, and in Israel, stone as well. One church father claims Jesus made plows and yokes, but He probably built houses.
One thing is for certain Jesus worked, and in doing so, established the dignity and sanctity of daily labor. But it was this very point which fueled the synagogue attendees’ unbelief–why should we listen to a common manual labor guy? Then they intensified their attack by asking . . .
Fifth Isn’t Jesus illegitimate?
Verse 3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This is a cruel shot aimed right at Jesus, and at Mary. How were sons identified in this Jewish culture? Answer: by their father’s name–a man was called the son of his mother only when his father was unknown. During His former visit a year earlier in Luke 4, the people of Nazareth spoke of Jesus as “Joseph’s son”. But now they’re stamping Jesus as a bastard–an illegitimate child. They’re calling Mary a whore and Jesus illegitimate.
Get this–Jewish custom required that so long as the son of an adulteress lived a life pleasing to God, nothing insulting should be said about his birth. But if he became an apostate, his illegitimate birth should be spoken of publicly and unsparingly. So now the people of Nazareth recalled the rumors concerning the birth of Christ, and openly threw that fact at Him as an insult. The religious leaders did it later in John 8:41–they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” Mark includes this here because He knows of the virgin birth, but these people used these rumors as an excuse to reject Christ and call Him an apostate. And finally they threw down a final insult—
Sixth Isn’t Jesus merely an ordinary man who grew up here?
Verse 3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” The tense of the verb “are not” tells us His half-brothers and half-sisters are still living in Nazareth at this very moment. We know James, the oldest and most famous of the four brothers–later he came to believe Christ was God incarnate, and turned to Him in saving faith, becoming a key leader in the Early Church and the human author of the New Testament letter James.
We also know Judas, who was the human author of the little New Testament letter named after him, Jude. We don’t know half-brothers Joses, nor Simon. And sadly, we don’t even know the names of Jesus’ half-sisters. We don’t know whether Joses, Simon or the sisters turned to Christ. We do know Mary did not remain a virgin, but had other children. We do know they were currently living in Nazareth. We do know James, Jude and Mary all come to Christ by faith.
Those who lived with Christ, knew He was sinless. Those who were closest to Him eventually saw His authority, wisdom and power proving Him to be God in the flesh. God invaded their dead hearts and gave them a heart to believe. But the citizens of Nazareth refused to believe the clearest explanation as to who Christ is. Pride caused them to rule out the most plausible answer–that Jesus is God.
To them–no, that could not be. Jesus was just an ordinary guy. Friends, if Jesus’ own family didn’t understand Him, do you think your family will understand you? He couldn’t convince His own family of His true identity because of unbelief–how will you convince yours? You won’t. You have to pray for God to open their hearts. Acts 13:48, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Acts 16:14, “A woman named Lydia . . . was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”
Jesus just displayed His power over the Deep/Demons/Disease/even Death itself–so how do they respond? Unbelief! But it’s no different today! Your children see the Lord transform you, but they reject Christ. Family members see radical salvation, yet still don’t believe. Close friends even turn away–oh the tragedy of unbelief. How did the people of Nazareth respond?
#3 Unbelief Stumbles over Christ as Savior
The end of verse 3 says, “And they took offense at Him.” Offense is a strong Greek word. It is used to describe someone you trip over, to cause you to stumble, to no longer believe, to reject faith, to cause to fall, to anger, to shock, to cause to sin. They were caught in a trap they set for themselves. Stumbling implies this–their evaluation of Christ killed them spiritually.
They’re not going to see Jesus as anything other than human, and they’re going to hold this view as an ongoing evaluation. And as a result, they are rejecting the only path God has provided for people to be reunited with Him, forgiven and brought home to heaven. Christ could only be, as C.S. Lewis stated, “Lord, liar or lunatic,” and the people of Nazareth decided liar and lunatic, not Lord.
There are people in this room who are still stumbling over Christ. First Corinthians 1:23, “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block.” First Peter 2:8, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,” for they stumble because they are disobedient to the Word. His hometown friends rejected His authority, wisdom and power.
So in verse 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” Look at how the field of unbelief narrows, from hometown, to relatives, to the people of His own household. To cause no further offense, Jesus calls Himself a prophet here, and doesn’t continue to assert His previous claim of being the Messiah.
It is sad and funny–the expert at a conference is usually the one who’s come from the farthest away and is the least known. It is difficult for people, who have watched a child grow up to become a prominent leader, to extend him honor and respect. Yet it is even more difficult to accept a man who grew up in your midst to be the God-man–the Son of God. Yet Jesus had all the credentials–the right lineage, fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies, manifesting power over creation, over the entire demonic world, over disease and even over death. But they refused to see it, and rejected the only way of salvation.
Those who heard Jesus didn’t reject Him for lack of evidence, but in spite of overwhelming evidence. They did not reject Him because they lacked the truth, but because they rejected the truth. They refused forgiveness because they wanted to keep their sins. They denied the light because they preferred the darkness. The reason for rejecting the Lord has always been that people prefer their own way to God’s way, period. The person who’s heard the Gospel many times but continually asks for more evidence of its truth is merely revealing the obstinacy of his unbelief. The person who does not accept the light God has already given will not believe, no matter how much more light he’s given.
The apostle John said of Christ in John 1:10 and 11, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” The actor Cary Grant once told how he was walking along a street and met a man whose eyes locked onto him with excitement. The man said, “Wait a minute, you’re … you’re—I know who you are; don’t tell me—uh, Rock Hud— no, you’re …” Grant thought he’d help him, so he finished the man’s sentence: “Cary Grant.” The fellow said, “No, that’s not it–you’re …” Grant was identifying himself with his own name, but the guy had someone else in mind.
John MacArthur says, “It is tragic that small issues can be used as great excuses for not believing. The people of Nazareth were like people throughout the history of the Church who can find every foolish reason to justify their rejection of the Gospel. They don’t like the attitude of the one who witnesses to them; they think most church people are hypocrites; they think the preacher is too loud or too soft, too stuffy or too overbearing; and the services are too formal or too informal. They are offended at the slightest things Christians do, and construe the insignificant as being all important. They put up one smokescreen after another to excuse their unwillingness to believe the clear and demanding claims and promises of Christ.” And as a result, their . . .
#4 Unbelief Stifles God’s Blessing
Read verse 5, “And He could do no miracle there.” Jesus is simply saying He felt it morally impossible to exercise his compassionate power on their behalf in the face of their unbelief. The Lord didn’t do any miracle because He did not want to! “He could do no miracle” refers to the scope of His ministry, and not His capacity, since it tells us He did heal a few. The Lord was not inclined to exercise His power in such an adversarial environment.
John MacArthur says this—“Some of Jesus’ miracles were done in direct response to personal faith, but many others, perhaps most of them, were done regardless of any specific expression of an individual’s faith. All of the miracles were done to strengthen the faith of those who believed in Him, but although God can perform miracles where there is no belief, He chose not to perform them where there was hard and willful unbelief. Unbelief, then, became a barrier to divine blessing, and because of the unbelief of the people in Nazareth, Jesus did not do many miracles there.”
In the parallel account, the gospel of Matthew says it directly in Matthew 13:58, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” Unbelief freezes the exercise of God’s power. Yet I love His compassion, even in a hostile, hateful place. Verse 5, “except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.”
He only had a few opportunities to exercise His healing power. These feeble, sick ones must have been inconspicuous folks who did not share in the prevailing attitude of the community. So Christ, even in a hostile, hateful, hurtful place shows His compassion by healing them directly, by laying His hands on them. And yet, Christ has been strongly impacted by this event.
#5 Unbelief Stirs God’s Heart
Read verse 6, “And He wondered at their unbelief.” Christ was amazed, awestruck, literally astonished at their unbelief–not at the fact of their unbelief, but the cause of their unbelief. Simply because, they thought they knew Him, but they really didn’t. When you get to know me personally, you’ll discover all my faults, warts, bents, issues, sins and loads of weaknesses. But when you get to know Christ, you find Him perfect, compassionate, truth, loving, gracious, merciful, just, right, holy, awesome in every way. They thought they knew Christ, but didn’t–but still they rejected Him. And the Lord was blown away by their unbelief. It was a heavy reaction.
Think about it–even when an entire community asked Him to leave, after He cast out Legion, the Lord did not react this strongly. In verse 6, Christ wondered–He’s astonished. The gospels tell us Christ reacted this way only twice–once when a Roman centurion asked the Lord to heal his servant in Matthew 8. The Lord said He’d come, but the centurion told the Lord He was unworthy for the Lord to come under His roof, and all the Lord had to do was say the word and he’d be healed.
When Jesus heard this, He [same word] wondered–Jesus marveled. The Lord was astonished at this great faith. But here the Lord wondered about their lack of faith—unbelief. The centurion had total confidence and dependence in His person, but His hometown had no confidence and no dependence in Him. And this hurtful and hateful unbelief stirred the heart of Christ.
But Christ did not give up. In fact verse 6 adds, “And He was going around the villages teaching.” What the Lord does next is shocking! They had failed to see who Christ really was, and as a result would reject the only way to be forgiven, transformed, made right, and restored with God now and forever–the only way! Christ is John 14:6, “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Him.”
This is serious, friends–have you forgotten what Jesus said in John 3:18 to 20? “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
What’s sickening with this event is the wind, water, a demonic army, disease and death itself all yielded to Christ’s authority, but here the human heart, reacted stiff-necked in unbelief. One writer says it this way: “Throughout eternity, the lost soul will be testifying to this truth: ‘God is holy; I was a sinner; I rejected His salvation, I turned my back upon His Gospel, I despised His Son, I hated God Himself, I lived in my sins, I loved my sins, I died in my sins, and now I am lost to all eternity! And God is righteous in my condemnation! All unbelief is a matter of the will. Unbelief is a choice you make.’”
They all denied the overwhelming evidence that Christ is God. They rejected their Savior who would die for their sins on a cross. They turned away from the only one who conquered death and showed us He could give us life now and eternal life forever. They thought they knew Jesus, but missed seeing God in the flesh. They chose not to believe. Please do not make their mistake.
You can trust Christ. Believe in Him, like the diseased woman did–like Jairus did. I beg you this morning, yield to the Savior. Surrender your heart to Him. Give Him your life, do things His way. Ask Him to open your eyes to see, to transform you and forgive you. Romans 9:31 to 33 says it like this, “But Israel… did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Let’s pray.