If we’re honest, we all have questions that we’d like to ask God. Mark 12 is such a scene. Jesus is asked many questions by a variety of groups. The chapter starts off with a daunting parable from the Lord—warning all about their present posture toward the “beloved son of the vineyard owner” (Mark 12:1–9). It is a terrifying thing that those in charge of “building” the religious life of the temple in Jerusalem seemed to have rejected the “cornerstone” whom God has sent (12:10–11).
The parable is followed by three groups from among the religious elite—first the Pharisees and Herodians, then the Sadducees, and finally the scribes—who attempt to challenge the teaching authority of Jesus (12:13–17, 18–27, and 28–34). In response to their questions, Jesus emphasizes the ownership of God over all things—ownership over the image of God (i.e., human beings), which is bigger than taxes; ownership over the eternal experience of humans, which is bigger than the earthly institution of marriage; and finally God’s ownership over the law, which belongs to him and reveals him. Next, Jesus takes up the role of examiner in verses 35–37—asking a question that silences his opponents and makes the crowd glad. At the close of the chapter, he warns hearers and readers about the honor-hungry scribes, and he happily witnesses the action of a poor widow woman.
In verses 13–34, it seems to me that these groups approach Jesus with their “best shots” at causing him to stumble in his responses. They bring to him the questions for which they have mastered the answers, or so they thought. They think that they are ready for him; to trap him. Of course, the narrative reveals that Jesus is able to hold his own with authority, as has been the case throughout Mark’s Gospel. Once he’s exhausted their efforts, he delivers a question, which they had yet to master and to which they have no answer to offer because to answer verses 35–37 would be to submit to Jesus’ authority. It would mean to be mastered in the questions, which they were not willing to do.
Then along comes this woman. A poor woman. She has nothing, nothing but two lepta, which totaled approximately 1/64 of a day’s wage for a laborer. This woman lives a life of questions. She gives all she has, Jesus says. Where will she get more money? How will she get food? Who will take care of her? What if . . . ? So many questions. You see, the religious elite came to Jesus with all the questions that they had mastered. This woman came to God with many questions, but willing to be mastered by him in the midst of her questions. She came not to receive honor, for her offering was hardly measurable; she came not to demonstrate her wisdom and knowledge, for she had run out of those, which is exhibited by her lowly estate. No rather, she came to meet with God and to be mastered by God. This is why she gives, and this is why Jesus speaks so highly of the lowly widow.
Did you know Easter is part of a series of Christian holidays called Holy Week?
The week before Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, is known by Catholic and Protestant Christians worldwide as Holy Week. This is a time to remember Jesus’ crucifixion and the events immediately leading up to it.
Biblical accounts of the final week of Jesus’ life are found in all four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books offer a relatively full record of the final words and deeds of Jesus’ life.
The Sunday before Easter is known as Palm Sunday. It marks Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem—what is sometimes called “the triumphal entry.” This day earned its name because the crowds that welcomed Jesus into the city covered his path with palm branches.2
Jesus’ supporters viewed him as a promising messianic candidate, one who could restore military and political power to Israel. The people’s use of palm branches—an ancient symbol—reflected their hope that Jesus would restore Israel to prominence, reminiscent of Israel’s greatest king, David. 3
Jesus was one of thousands who entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover.5 As such, the temple was buzzing with activity, including price gouging for the purchase of sacrificial animals and currency exchange.
Jesus was deeply offended by the greed of these opportunists, who were placing personal gain over the value of a godly ritual. In anger, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and those who sold sacrificial animals.
Jesus had entered the temple not as a religious pilgrim looking to make a sacrifice—he himself would, in only four days, be the ultimate sacrifice—but as one who had divine authority to purify the house of God. The Jewish leaders interpreted Jesus’ actions as an affront to their religious authority—rightly so.
Tuesday and Wednesday6
Though the chronology between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper on Thursday is somewhat blurred, the Gospels report that Jesus spent much of this time within the temple. There he taught and preached to the crowds that gathered.
Feeling threatened by his influence and teachings, the Jewish chief priests and Pharisees confronted Jesus and “laid plans to trap him in his words.”7 They asked him a series of difficult, tricky questions in the hopes that Jesus would blaspheme, contradict himself, or simply have no answer.
It was at this time that Jesus spoke many of his famous parables, discussed the signs of the end of the age, and revealed the greatest commandment.8
Within the Christian calendar, this day is known as Maundy Thursday.10
On Thursday evening, Jesus ate a final meal—often called the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper—with his disciples. The meal took on great significance as Jesus communicated to his disciples a divine awareness of his imminent death and knowledge that one of his own disciples, Judas, would be his betrayer.
It is in the Lord’s Supper that Christians find the tradition now known as Holy Communion11: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”12
In this exchange, Jesus worked to explain the significance of his death to his disciples. Just as food is integral as physical nourishment, a relationship with Jesus is essential to spiritual sustenance and growth.
John records that during the meal Jesus also washed the feet of his disciples, an act reserved for the lowest of servants.13 A teacher serving his disciples in such a way was highly unusual and an act of deep humility. Jesus explained, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”14
Following supper, Jesus took three of his disciples with him to a garden to pray. Moving away from them to a more secluded area, Jesus prayed to his Father. The Gospel of John reports that Jesus prayed for himself, for his disciples, and for all believers.15 Matthew, Mark, and Luke show us that though Jesus may have wished there was another way to save humanity, he ultimately yielded to the will of God, committing himself to God’s plan.16
After he prayed, an armed crowd and Judas, the betrayer, appeared.17 Charged with blasphemy and being a revolutionary bent on usurping both Jewish and Roman authority, Jesus was arrested.
After undergoing a series of tribunals and enduring extensive torture and mockery, Jesus was nailed to a cross—crucified—at approximately 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning.
Crucifixion was a deliberately slow and excruciating form of execution in which a condemned person was nailed to a cross and left there until they died. After hanging on the cross for a few hours, the offender would become unable to lift themselves up to breathe. They would eventually perish from slow suffocation.
After six hours of intense suffering, Jesus died at around three in the afternoon.19 His body was taken off the cross and he was buried in the borrowed tomb of a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea.
It is difficult to overstate the significance of the crucifixion within Christian tradition. Christians believe that when Jesus—who had lived a sinless life—died, he took on all of humanity’s sin and the full force of God’s wrath toward it.
Within Christian understanding, Jesus’ death allows each of us to pursue a personal relationship with God. We can ask for forgiveness of our sins, receive it, and be spared the punishment for our iniquities. The apostle Paul explains, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”20
Seven hundred years earlier, the prophet Isaiah foretold the event:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.21
It is no wonder that Christians are deeply moved when they remember Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice—a sacrifice made for each of us.
The following Sunday—known as Easter Sunday—commemorates the event that truly separates Jesus from other martyrs: his resurrection from the dead. The Gospels record that through divine power, Jesus was raised to life and left the tomb, though it was guarded by soldiers and sealed with a large stone.
As with the crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus is of utmost importance to Christians. Christians believe that by rising from death, Jesus overcame sin and death for all of us. In this act, Jesus demonstrated that sin and death do not have ultimate power and offered eternal life to his followers.
Jesus later appeared to his disciples and other believers over a period of time, demonstrating his divinity to them. Finally, he instructed his disciples in what Christians call the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”23 The Bible tells us that, after all this, Jesus was taken up into heaven.
But the resurrection is not quite the end of the story. According to Christian understanding, Jesus will return to the earth at the end of days. At this time, the earth will be restored and “‘there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.”24
Until then, modern believers are not left without Jesus’ presence. Christians believe that God is still actively involved in each person’s life. A few of Jesus’ last words during his final hours on earth remain particularly reassuring and empowering to his followers, even thousands of years later: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”25
Many churches commemorate Palm Sunday by incorporating palm branches into the service, whether in decoration or in a processional of waving the branches and declaring, “Hosanna in the highest!”
Ibid., Matthew 21:18–26:14, Mark 11:20–13:36, Luke 20:1–21:25, John 12:20–50.
Ibid., Matthew 22:15.
Ibid., Matthew 22:37–40: “Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”’ This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
Ibid., Matthew 26:20–46, Mark 14:17–42, Luke 22:14–46, John 13:1–17:26.
The word maundy is derived from the Latin mandatum, which means “command.” The use of maundy refers to Jesus’ words to his disciples on the Thursday of Holy Week: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The Holy Bible, John 13:34.
Also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion is a practice celebrated by Christians worldwide. Though specific denominations may have their own theological particulars regarding Communion, it is considered by all an opportunity to remember Christ’s sacrifice and coming return, as well as the gift of God’s grace.
The Holy Bible, Matthew 26:26–28.
Ibid., John 13:1–17.
Ibid., John 13:15.
Ibid., John 17:1–26.
Ibid., Matthew 26:26–46, Mark 14:32–42, Luke 22:39–46.
Matthew and Luke tell us that Judas agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for payment. Luke explains that Satan had entered Judas when he betrayed Jesus. Matthew states that after realizing what he had done in handing over Jesus to the authorities, Judas killed himself. But all four Gospels identify Judas as Jesus’ betrayer.
Ibid., Matthew 26:57–27:66, Mark 14:53–15:39, Luke 22:55–23:49, John 18:13–19:37.
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that when Jesus died, the curtain of the temple—which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place—was torn in two. Christians believe this signifies the end of God’s separation from humankind. Jesus’ death made it possible for all believers to enter directly into God’s presence.
The Holy Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Ibid., Isaiah 53:4–6
Ibid., Matthew 28:1–10, Mark 16:4–18, Luke 24:2–43, John 20:2–23.
I am convinced that the Gospel of Mark teaches disciples to first see the ugly within before they fix their gaze on Jesus. John the Baptist didn’t come to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:1–8) by causing great geographical shifts — demolition of mountain regions or the filling up of the nearby valleys with earth — no rather, he came to begin a different kind of demolition. His preaching and his baptism sought to demolish the ugly within a person, so that their hearts may see the beloved Son, with whom the Father is pleased (Mark 1:11; 9:7).
Mark employs the majority of Jesus’ Galilee ministry (chapters 1-7) to demonstrate to the reader who is inside and near to Jesus and who is outside and far from Jesus. There are many surprises along the way—like the religious leaders and Jesus’ own family are outside (3:20–35), but the tax collector (2:13–17), the recovering demon-possesed man (5:1–20), and the medically-desperate, unclean woman (5:25–34) are inside.
Chapter seven adds one more surprising round of exclusion and inclusion, just before Jesus takes some intensive time to investigate, instruct, and illuminate the faith of his twelve disciples (chapters 8-9).Controversy once again arises in chapter seven over Jesus’ authority, particularly his authority to establish religious practice and perspective regarding internal, moral cleanliness. In Mark, it is always one’s response to Jesus’ authority that demonstrates whether one is in or out. Here, his authoritative words on what makes a person clean or unclean causes further scandal for the religious leaders (7:1–13). Although the original goal of the traditions of the elders were to prevent law-breaking and therefore the holiness of God’s people, these traditions eventually became a law of their own, at times (like in Jesus’ example) causing the people to actually break God’s law.
Jesus proceeds to speak authoritatively about the origin of uncleanness and evil. We do well to listen carefully. In essence, Jesus instructs that the things outside of us do not make us unclean. Dirty hands do not make me unclean. If I may go further with this, TV doesn’t make me unclean, other men or women do not make me unclean, alcohol doesn’t make me unclean, computers and the existence of filth on the internet doesn’t make me unclean. No. Jesus nails us here. It is what is already in us that makes us unclean. The “want-to” of evil is already within, planted deep within. As he says, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). It’s sin within; it’s the ugly within that we must first see before on the Savior we fix our gaze. James speaks of this,
But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:14–15 NET).
There is a mess in each of us that we must see; and we must be honest about what is there. We must see and confess the ugly within.
Now, verses 24–30 make me smile. Immediately after this confrontation, Mark tells us of a woman who sought Jesus out. I suggest to you that this woman is on the inside. She is on the inside because she sees the ugly within, and reaches for the only cure for it—grace from God. When she asks Jesus to expel a demon from her daughter, Jesus responds in a way that demonstrates his focus on a ministry to Israelites and calls attention to the woman’s uncleanness as a Gentile. And what does she do? She receives the Lord’s verdict about her uncleanness and the aim of his ministry, and then in humility asks for grace,
Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28 ESV).
She is an insider because she agrees with Jesus (“Yes, Lord”) about her uncleanness. She doesn’t resist him or fight him. She knows the ugly within. After agreeing with him, she persists in her quest to experience God’s grace and mercy, and she receives it. Oh, she receives it!
Oh that we would see ourselves as dogs. Just dirty dogs. Yes, Lord; we are dog’s, but give us the crumbs of your grace. Do not pass us by Lord. Thank you for the crumbs.
But wait. Did she just receive the crumbs? Verses 29–30 say,
Then he said to her, “Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone (Mark 7:29–30 NET).
She sought crumbs, but she received so much more. She received the power of God and the defeat of evil in her home that day. She and her household experienced a major deliverance by the grace of God. But don’t forget that her experience started with seeing the ugly within.
The setting was Jesus’ homeland on the Sabbath day (6:1–2a).
The reaction of the people to the teaching event was astonishment [ἐκπλήσσω] (6:2b–2f).
The reason for the people’s astonishment was because of their inability to reconcile Jesus’ common/negative origin with what they had heard from/about him (6:3a–b).
The result of the people’s inability to reconcile the reason for their astonishment was that they fell away/took offense [σκανδαλίζω] at Jesus (6:3c).
The explanation of Jesus to the people’s offense was an affirmation of his identity (6:4).
The response of Jesus to the people’s entrenched unbelief was amazement [θαυμάζω] due to an inability [οὐ δύναμαι] to heal [θεραπεύω] as in other places (6:5–6a).
The setting shifted because of the falling away in Jesus’ homeland (6:6b).
Proposition of the Text of Mark 6:1–6:
The reason the people of Jesus’ homeland took offense at him and experienced a limited display of Jesus’ ministry was because they lacked faith that God was present in Jesus’ person and mission.
Outline of the Timeless Theological Truths Learned in Mark 6:1–6:
Jesus is always inviting us to experience the wisdom and power of God’s rule (6:1–3b).
Unbelief always hinders the advancement of God’s rule (6:3c–6a).
Jesus will eventually extend the wisdom and power present in God’s rule to others (6:6b).
Proposition of the Timeless Theology of Mark 6:1–6:
Lack of faith in Jesus can prevent us from experiencing the advancement of God’s rule.
Exposition of Mark 6:1–6:
For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong.
Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle’s death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is some historic disagreement about how this took place or if this took place (some claim it is an apocryphal tale made up by Galileo’s secretary) and about who was in attendance; however, it is at least clear that this was an accurate portrayal of Galileo’s thoughts on the matter—that objects in free-fall (aerodynamics and air resistance aside) regardless of mass fall at the same rate of acceleration caused by the force of gravity. As the story goes, he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right (Bits & Pieces, January 9, 1992, pp. 22-23).
Sometimes we are so blinded to the truth that, even when presented with the evidence, we refuse to believe otherwise. Some cats are sneaky while others aren’t. Some dogs are trustworthy and others not. When Jesus preached to His hometown of Nazareth, they heard His words and saw His miracles. Yet, since they “knew” that carpenters don’t speak like this or do miracles (and Jesus was a carpenter), he could not be the Son of God he claimed to be. Their preconceived notions about Him were enough to blind them to the truth.
As the Church, we seek to do and advance God’s work. Our work and mission is to advance the message and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to people and places. We need the insight and power that accompanies the presence of God to accomplish this work. The BIGGEST road block to the advancing kingdom of God, so to speak, is unbelief, a lack of faith in God.
Today, I’d like to consider how we can avoid being people who treat Jesus as too common because such familiarity will result in unbelief that hinders the advancement of the work of God. Jesus and his gospel sometimes become so common or familiar that we feel that things besides his presence must draw people to God.
Instead, we want to ready ourselves for an experience with God and his kingdom advancement. So, Have Faith, Not Familiarity, in Jesus for the sake of Advancing God’s Rule.
We enter Mark’s narrative at the beginning of chapter six. Previously, there have been remarkable exhibitions of faith (e.g., the woman with the flow of blood; Jairus for the healing of his daughter), and we are beginning to understand what it means to be an insider with Jesus or an outsider opposed to Jesus. What will we find as we journey with Jesus to his homeland in Mark 6:1–6?
Let’s step into the synagogue on the Sabbath day with Jesus in order to hear the reaction of the people of his homeland toward the work of God and the consequence that followed their reaction.
Don’t Let Familiarity with Jesus Result in Unbelief When You Are Confronted with God’s Advancing Rule (6:1–3).
First, Believe That God Is Your Home (6:1).
Jesus is visiting this hometown of Nazareth, which is located about 20 miles from Capernaum. His rejection here is probably a symbol and sign of what would happen later in Jerusalem.
This may be a concluding section that extends from 3:7–6:6. The first clear rejection was in 3:1–6, and 3:6 points to a later clash. At the beginning and end of this section, there is a rejection of Jesus on the Sabbath in a synogogue (3:1–2; 6:1–2). In the first, the controversy stirred because of healing; in the latter, it was over his hometown identity—from Mark’s point of view, both are “examples of an unwillingness to recognize Jesus” as the heaven-sent envoy of salvation (Larry Hurtado, 88–9).
Mark 3:20–35 instructs us that those who are closest in proximity, or most familiar with Jesus, such as his own family, are actually outside being rightly related to him. He identifies those who do the will of his Father as those who are rightly related to him.
In Mark the recognition evidenced in true faith is not based on proximity to Jesus in time or on kinship but on a moral willingness to consent to God’s revelation, a consent to some degree made possible by God’s action upon the individual” (Larry Hurtado, 89—SIGHT).
Jesus has identified his family as those who do the will of God. Whereas, his relatives, his hometown, and his nation (e.g., the religious leaders) serve as his enemies (Joel Marcus, vol. 1).
In Mark 6:1–3, a similar portrait is painted in Jesus’ return to his hometown. It is clear that the people are very well-acquainted with Jesus, but it is yet to be seen if they are “those who do the Father’s will.” Does their familiarity imply that they are rightly related to Jesus? And to the work of God advancing through him?
Therefore, in verse one, if we have been paying attention as readers of Mark’s Gospel at this point, we should immediately recognize something. When we read the words, “and came to his hometown,” we should think, “Oh no, this isn’t going to be good.” At this point, we shouldn’t even have to read the rest of the paragraph. We have already seen that those whom we might assume are close to Jesus in some physical and earthly way are in fact consistently far off from his kingdom agenda and authority. They don’t see him, “and he came to his hometown.” What is it about “the hometown,” the τὴν πατρίδα, the fatherland, that may cause such a negative response to God advancing his rule. It’s fairly simple I think. The hometown is often the place where we feel the most safe, the most secure; sometimes we think, even if the whole world changes, my hometown will remain that one stable, stronghold. It is predictable; it’s consistent; I can count on it and the people there are trustworthy. I can trust in the businesses, the community, the crime rate and government officials. I can trust my hometown to bring me and my family the security that I need. But what if God wants to break into your hometown? What if he wants to come for a visit? What if he wants to bring his authority and rule with him and change things? Better yet, what if he wants to be to you all that you think your hometown is to you? What if God himself wants to be your “fatherland;” what if God wants to be your stability; what if God wants to be your stronghold; what if God wants his character and his attributes to be what you feel are predictable and consistent; what if God wants you to see him as trustworthy; what if God wants to be your security and refuge? What if God comes to your hometown for a visit and invites you into life with him under his rule?
A bit of a personal story here: This is why Aimee and I have felt that we could truly live anywhere. It’s why two rural kids like us were able to journey down to Dallas and thrive there; and its why we feel we were able to make the decision to come to rural Illinois—because God is our hometown. He is all of these things to us. We can follow him anywhere, and we are at home in him. Genesis 26 tells the story of Isaac getting kicked out of the land of the Philistines and searching for a new settlement to call home. This chapter of Scripture changed my life when we moved to Dallas. I’ve prayed through it numerous times; it is a great text for people who are moving! Look at it with me briefly. [Read through Genesis 26.] This is one of the great themes of Scripture, that God wants to be your home. He wants you to change your address! Make him your home; then you can go anywhere and do anything for him and his kingdom because he is with you and you are with him. Revelation concludes with these words, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). He created us to live in his garden with him; he visited us after our first parents sinned; he visited Abraham; he visited Moses and the people of Israel; he took up residence in the tabernacle and in the temple; God the Son took on flesh and dwelt among us; and he visited his hometown to invite them to make God their home. What will they say? I am confident that God is here today, by the Spirit and through his word, and he is calling to us here at West Lisbon Church, will you make God your home? Will you believe that God is your home?
Second, Believe That Jesus Is the Center of Wisdom and Authority for Your Life (6:2).
In verse two, we discover that Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Historically for the Jews, the synagogue had been a place of blessing because of the word of God; however, in Jesus’ day it had mostly become a setting that gave a platform for the opinions of religious leaders. I say with sorrow that our churches sometimes fall victim to this sort of a thing. The local church is not a platform for anyone’s agenda or preferences other than God’s. We must diligently and prayerfully seek Christ as head of the Church. The synagogue was really the center of life. It was a cultural center; this is why Jesus goes to the synagogues; it is where the people were. It is a shame that he more often than not found more reception on the streets with fisherman and tax collectors than he did with those sitting in the synagogues.
A typical order of service in the synagogue looked like this: (1) Thanksgiving, (2) Prayer & Response, (3) Reading from the Pentateuch, (4) Reading from the Prophets, (5) Sermon or Word of Exhortation, and (6) Benediction by Priest.
“They did not have a full-time pastor. They did not have a full-time rabbi. They did not have a full-time teacher, as such. In fact, in a local town there would be perhaps a number of men in the town who could teach and do the preaching and the sermon and they would take turns doing that. And should a local teacher of some qualification or suitability or note come through town, he would always be invited to be the guest teacher. The people would welcome that. This was known as what’s called in history ‘the freedom of the synagogue.’ It was a policy that developed early in synagogue life to allow for various teachers, and the ruler had the responsibility to determine who that teacher would be. Now this becomes another thing that God in His wonderful providence has brought about so that when Jesus begins to teach, all the synagogues that He would go to were operating on the basis of quote/unquote the freedom of the synagogue and they gave over their sermon to any visiting rabbi which was perfect because no matter where Jesus went, He was a well-known teacher and rabbi and it gave Him immense opportunities to teach. Everywhere there were ready-made venues for Him to teach and preach the gospel, to announce the good news that came from His lips” (John MacArthur, commenting on Lk. 4:16–21 at http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-53).
The speaker and the exit of the synagogue faced the holy city Jerusalem, so overtime Jesus read and preached the gospel in the synagogues he looked toward the city and place of this impending crucifixion.
Astonishment does not mean insight and faith, but something far less (6:2). Mark does not give us the content of Jesus’ reading and exhortation, but Luke does give it to us in detail in chapter four of his gospel. Mark instead focuses solely on the reaction of the people. [Read Luke 4:16–30.]
“Wisdom” in the Jewish background meant more than simple “horse sense.”
[It] connoted knowledge of God and his purposes, and so had to do specifically with religious teaching, though this religious teaching might address almost any question of human life (Hurtado, 89–90).
Therefore, he is viewed as one who has been given revelation from God. However the people are unable to reconcile his wisdom with his humble origins. Wisdom and power of this nature could have its source in God. This is why these familiar folks struggle to accept Jesus. How could the work of God be ascribed to one whom they knew so well?
Wisdom and power of this nature could also have had its source in the evil one. Earlier in Mark 3:20–35, some go so far as to attribute the power of Jesus to Satan.
We must be careful not to become so familiar with Jesus (to make him something common) that we begin to have blurry vision and become perplexed about the work of God. The word familiar is defined as “well known from long or close association” and “often encountered or experienced”; thus making common. If we go looking for things that suggest that they are bigger and better than Jesus and the gospel to fulfill us and to help us with the work, Jesus can become such a common figure in our lives that we become deceived about what the work of God really is. In our scene in Mark 6, the work of God is advancing through Jesus by works of wisdom and power. Are works of God’s authority and wisdom flowing out of our congregation, out of our lives, or has the work of God become less explosive because Jesus has become common to us? You see the people of Nazareth treated Jesus just like he was another, common, familiar piece of home, but he wasn’t that. He was more than that, and they were missing it! Oh they were missing it! He came to rule, and that we may find out home in him. He came to change our lives, to set us free from the oppression of the slavery of the devil by means of death and sin. He came to plunder the devil’s house; so that sin and death could keep us in bondage no longer. We can be set free to live life in Christ with God now. And in that new home, we find a gospel-kind of wisdom for our families; for our jobs and vocations; for our sufferings. We find real authority that rules into eternity. Sin and death do not have final say; the risen Jesus does. Believe that Jesus is the center of wisdom and authority for your life. Jesus as our wisdom is biblically faithful and powerfully relevant to the spiritual life today. Jesus’ authority means that we should proclaim the gospel boldly, repent and confess our sins to the one who has all authority and gives mercy to the sinner, reconcile and seek peace and unity with our brothers and sister in the church, and wait eagerly for answered prayer.
Third, Don’t Make Jesus’ Visit Scandalous (6:3).
Jesus became a scandal to them. He caused them to stumble. The verb here means, to scandalize, or to take offense, and therefore to stumble over and fall away. It’s a terrible word when it is employed to describe someone or a group of people in the Bible. They could not reconcile what they had already formed in their thinking about him after many years of proximity with what they were now experiencing or at least hearing regarding the power and wisdom flowing from him.
In Mark’s Gospel, there are many who take offense at Jesus, whether stated specifically or implied. Beginning in the parable of the sower in 4:17, there are those who are like rocky soil, who hear the word but they do not develop a root so that when tribulation or persecution arises, they fall away.
As Jesus’ miracles grow in grandeur (see chapter 5), so does the hard-heartedness of the people to whom he came (Marcus, vol. 1).
Here in Mark 6:3, the people of Jesus’ hometown are not responding due to persecution or tribulation, but rather their offense has its source in their perspective that Jesus is simply common, and they refused to believe that the work of God is flowing through him.
Further, they insult him. They do this in two ways. First, they think him only as the town’s carpenter. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a carpenter. In fact, notice the people do not call him, “the son of the carpenter,” but rather “the carpenter.” Many commentators note that Joseph is not mentioned because he is most likely not alive at this point. Therefore, it is proposed that Jesus himself most likely took over the family business after Joseph’s death making not merely the son-apprentice of a carpenter, but THE carpenter. But the people of Nazareth are limited to only thinking of Jesus as a piece of their town, just like the baker and candlestick maker. Have you insulted Jesus by minimizing the scope of his rule? He doesn’t want just a piece of you; he wants all of you (Mark 12:13–17). Second, if you’ll allow me to say this with as much force as the biblical writer implies, the people of Nazareth call him a bastard son, which also makes clear implications about their thoughts about his mother. They do this by calling him “the son of Mary.” Typically, a man would not be identified as the son of his mother, unless insult is the intention and scandalizing is the motive. Commentators are widely united in thinking that this is the motive of the people here. They cannot reconcile Jesus the King with Jesus the hometown boy. They will not welcome change into town; they will not welcome God’s rule where they rule; and they resort to casting insults at Jesus. Their unbelief is complete.
The unbelief of these hometown folks reminds me of a story…
A number of years ago there appeared in the New Yorker magazine an account of a Long Island resident who ordered an extremely sensitive barometer from a respected company, Abercrombie & Fitch. When the instrument arrived at his home he was disappointed to discover that the indicating needle appeared to be stuck pointing to the sector marked “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer vigorously several times—never a good idea with a sensitive mechanism—and never getting the point to move, the new owner wrote a scathing letter to the store, and, on the following morning, on the way to his office in New York City, mailed it. That evening he returned to Long Island to find not only the barometer missing but his house as well! The needle of the instrument had been pointed correctly. The month was September, the year was 1938, the day of the terrible hurricane that almost leveled Long Island [Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 593].
The Long Islander’s poor discernment and lack of confidence in the accuracy and function of the barometer led to catastrophic consequences.
Our Unbelief Causes Us to Miss Out on God’s Advancing Work (6:4–6).
Therefore, Believe in the Revealed Identity of God’s Son (6:4).
Even after such a visceral, surprising rejection, I propose to you that Jesus is gracious here in speaking revelation to them by quoting a common proverb of his day and culture (Marcus comments on page 376 about the Graeco Roman connection). He is telling them that he is indeed a prophet, and further, he is warning them that this is the typical reaction of those too familiar with God. This is not a direct quote from Scripture. We do find a comparable statement in Jeremiah 11:21.
The proverb in verse 4 affirms Jesus’ identity in light of the unbelief of the familiar faces. The reality and nature of Jesus’ identity is not wrapped up or dependent upon our belief. Jesus is who he is. According to the proverb, the rejection of Jesus by his hometown and his family serves to confirm his identity and the work of God in and through him.
While Jesus’ true identity remains unscathed by the unbelief he encounters, those who do not have faith hinder the advancement of God’s work. Their familiarity and offense at him would not allow them to experience the power and wisdom of God through Jesus that had been displayed elsewhere. This reminds of something N. T. Wright mentioned in his little volume Mark For Everyone. He asks the preacher to remember the first time he preached in front of his parents.
In the case of Jesus the Prophet, opposition further confirms his identity and mission. We can find fellowship with Jesus here. He knows rejection. He knows painful, close, relational rejection. Indeed, remember that Mark is doing something with what he is writing. He is not just telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but he is telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that it will further disciple believing readers and hearers. Disciples are often surprisingly rejected, but they have fellowship with Jesus.
Next, Beware the Powerlessness of Unfaith (6:5).
Joel Marcus comments here,
Mark shows how the powerful Son of God who calms storms, expels demons, banishes diseases and raises the dead, is finally checkmated by entrenched unbelief in his hometown (Marcus 380, vol. 1).
I feel that Marcus is a bit too strong here, but his point should cause us pause.
Now, a question naturally arises here, “Is not Jesus not able to overcome unbelief? I mean doesn’t he do that to some degree in all of us?” Fair question. Let me ask you to remember the two sources to which such power was generally attributed in Jesus’ day—to God or to the evil one. So, there is a possibility that there unbelief is very deep once they reject that he is from God.
Dr. Dan Wallace helps us here when he writes,
Should we think that Jesus was incapable of doing such miracles, that somehow his healing powers were unavailable to him because of their unbelief? Or is it rather that Jesus always followed the leading of the Spirit and the Spirit did not permit him to do many miracles because of the lack of faith? Some [students of Scripture] suggest that Jesus could not do miracles ‘in accordance with the purpose of his ministry,’ which essentially means the same thing: he did not act apart from the prompting of the Spirit (Exegesis of the Gospel of Mark Class Notes).
I tend to think this is correct. Remember Luke’s description of Jesus taught there in the synagogue—how it was the Spirit that anointed Christ to free people from oppression. Just as the Spirit drove Jesus out to the desert earlier, I believe it is the Spirit prompting Jesus away from the faithless community in Nazareth.
Finally, Be Warned That Jesus Will Take the Advance of God’s Rule Elsewhere (6:6).
Jesus marvels and takes the work of God elsewhere. Remember Revelation 3:20? This is a warning to every local church that the business we may be doing is that of our own working; we must check to see if the Lord Jesus is among us.
Have Faith, Not Familiarity, in Jesus for the sake of Advancing God’s Work. How might we put our selves in a position to do this? In the recent past of our former church in Dallas, TX, we became a people who were merely familiar with Jesus. That is to say, Jesus became common to us. We gradually stopped experiencing his wonderful insight into our spiritual life, and we stopped experiencing his power at work among us. We were not experiencing the results of his presence among us, which is necessary for the work of the gospel to advance. We began to look for other things to fill this void, just like many other American churches, we turned to entertainment and consumerism in an attempt to make up for the absence of the presence of God. But now, I am happy to say that significant steps have been taken to turn the hearts of the people back to the presence of God. What are steps we can take to make sure we are exercising faith that fosters the work of God rather than an unbelief that hinders it?
First, have you been a believer for such a long time that you feel that Jesus and Christianity have become somewhat common to you? Take some steps to revitalize your faith. Make a deeper commitment to your local church with which you are connected, so that you can be active and serve; devote yourself to moments of prayer and fasting with God and his word on this particular matter. Ask God to increase your faith and welcome his rule into your life. Be a missionary who seeks to extend the rule of God into the lives of those around you—family, co-workers, friends, neighbors.
Second, consider what powerful and wise things God is or isn’t doing in your life. The work of God is indeed accompanied with power and wisdom; we should be experiencing this. However, the experience of these things oftentimes calls for us to put ourselves in risky places of service to others.
Reflections While on the Road of Discipleship with Jesus Christ
Eutheiai Triboi or in Greek Ευθειαι Τριβοι means “level paths” or “straight paths.” I borrowed the expression from both Isaiah 40:3 and Mark 1:3. Isaiah speaks of valleys that must be elevated and mountains that must be leveled so that all the earth may see the glory of the Lord when he comes. Mark quotes Isaiah concerning John the Baptist as “the one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’” I believe that Mark illustrates the purpose of John’s ministry as eliminating the “valleys and mountains” in people’s lives by calling for repentant hearts so that they could truly “see” the Lord Jesus when he arrived on the scene. Throughout Mark’s gospel, those who should see Jesus do not see him, but those whom we wouldn’t expect to see him, are actually the ones who do. I hope that this blog, Level Paths, will bring clarity to certain theological, biblical, church and life issues so that “valleys and mountains” are eliminated, and together, we are able to see God more clearly. I hope that this clarity will happen both as a result of my writing and as a result of our dialogue in the comment section(s) of the blog. Thanks for reading and commenting. May God’s favor shine on you today.