When asked about our first fight as a married couple, Aimee and I always recall the same event—the drive home from the airport after our honeymoon. We had spent a week in Florida for our honeymoon, and returned to the Columbus airport in Ohio. We hopped into our car, and for the very first time, we headed to our new apartment together. It was really our first drive home together. Aimee wasn’t headed to her parents’ home, and I wasn’t headed to mine.
I was driving. The problem, however, was that I had not driven in Columbus very much, and I really did not know where I was going. For my younger friends, this was during days prior to smartphones—how I would have dreamed to have had Siri speaking flawless directions into my earbud that day! I was lost in no time, and I was not interested in directions, especially from my new wife; I mean if I couldn’t get us out of Columbus and home, then would I ever be able to lead us in anything?! A fight followed. Long story short, she was right, and my pride was wrong. She knew how to get us home, and I didn’t know which way to go.
That little spat seems so long ago and insignificant now, ten years later. However, there is a set of directions that God wants us to know, which have eternal relevance. God really and truly wants us to know the way of salvation, his way of salvation, without any error or confusion. The problem is that many times when I talk to people about the way of salvation—be it here in rural Illinois, in the south where “everybody is a Christian,” or in the Bronx of New York City—I find that there is more confusion than clarity. Paul’s disciples in Galatia faced confusion about the way of salvation. Some other teachers had followed Paul’s visit to them, and they had spread confusion throughout the church there. Paul wrote a pretty serious warning to them,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (read “let him go to hell!”). As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6–9).
False teachers had slipped into the Galatian congregation, and they were teaching a “Christ plus works gospel,” which really isn’t the gospel. This “gospel” said that in addition to trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation, the people also had to be circumcised to truly be saved and a part of God’s forever family.
Even though Paul is very strong in his letter to the Galatians, many people today who would identify themselves as Christians do not understand the true gospel of grace that the Galatians had first received from Paul. Friend, do you know the way of salvation that God himself has provided for you in Christ and through his faithfulness? Compare the graphics below, and ask yourself which way you view as the way of salvation?
The “works alone” view of salvation often comes up in a conversation like this:
Evangelist: On what basis do you think you are saved and will spend eternity with God?
Person: Well, I think that I have lived a pretty good life—I am a pretty good person. I haven’t cheated on my wife or killed anyone.
The “works alone” person looks at the Ten Commandments and says—I have kept all of these since my youth. God will accept me based upon my good works and keeping of his law. Yet, Paul says in Galatians 2:16 that no one—not even the Jews who first received the law of God—will be justified by works of the law. Paul says in another place—“None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:23). In other words, all of our works are like what Isaiah describes,
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6–7 ESV).
Isaiah says in another place that our sins have caused a separation between us and God. Therefore, the testimony of Scripture seems to indicate that rather than our works healing the divide between us and God, rather our works and deeds have separated us from God. So, this cannot be the way of salvation.
The “Christ + Works” view of salvation is tricky. Oftentimes, people get confused, because they think that surely God requires obedience as a requirement for salvation in addition to Christ’s work. Many times, the person who holds such a view has no assurance that they are saved and has no certainty when it comes to his/her eternity. Those who teach such a view end up heaping all kinds of regulations and rules onto people that have nothing to do with the way of salvation. A person—even if they once considered themselves saved—might even feel that they didn’t keep up their end of their bargain with God and lost what salvation they may have once possessed. Further, this view misunderstands the place of obedience in the way of salvation. It doesn’t fully recognize that salvation is a process that God initiates, sustains, and finishes. Yes, obedience is a part of salvation, but the important question is where should it be found in the process? Christian salvation can be broken down into three parts:
There is much more to salvation than this simple graphic represents, but let’s start here. Justification refers to when God declares a person righteous by faith, like Abraham in Genesis 15:6, “And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and [the Lord] counted it to him [Abraham] as righteousness.” Paul says it this way in Galatians 2:16, “yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” He says the same thing again in Romans 3:21–22,
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed– namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.
The NET Bible does a good job instructing us that we must believe in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to be justified or made right with God. He did the work and finished it; we just need to trust in its necessity and sufficiency. Justification frees us from the penalty of sin. The step of obedience with regard to justification is to simply believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Genuine justifying faith leads to growth in holiness at a pace and through seasons that God determines. Sanctification refers to the process of spiritual growth, or becoming who we already are in Christ. God’s Spirit gradually over time sanctifies us—makes us holy. Sanctification frees us from the power of sin. The step of obedience here is to continue believing the gospel in such a way that we yield our lives to the death and resurrection of Christ—dying to sin and living a new life. The Galatians also misunderstood this. Look at Galatians 3:1–4,
Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?
We both begin and continue the Christian life by faith and by the Spirit. Later in the letter when Paul warns them about “falling from grace,” he means not that true believers would somehow lose their salvation, but rather true believers who seek to grow by a method of law-keeping cut themselves off from the true means of Christian growth—the grace of God in Christ. Such a person then becomes a useless Christian, drowning in immaturity and carnality, inviting the chastisement of his/her heavenly Father, and out of fellowship with God. The sanctifying power of God through his Spirit in the believer opposes our sinful natures and brings us back if we wander. This prevents any kind of license to sin after we’ve been justified (see Rom. 6:1ff). D. L. Moody once said,
Christians should live in the world, but not be filled with it. A ship lives in the water; but if the water gets into the ship, she goes to the bottom. So Christians may live in the world; but if the world gets into them, they sink.
Lastly, glorification frees us fully and finally from the presence of sin. This is what God’s people will experience in the resurrection or at the rapture of the Church. You can read more about the process of Christian salvation in Romans 8:26–30. The step of obedience here is to rest in the assurance that Christ is enough to save us completely. As the apostle John says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
The “Christ Alone” view of salvation is the true way of salvation. This is it. When the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30 asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond in 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. . . .” Christ’s own faithfulness on the cross and in the resurrection saves us. It’s Christ plus nothing. You see, God himself has done the work of salvation for us—this is why there will be no boasting in our works, like it says in Ephesians 2:8–9,
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The only boasting in heaven will be about the faithfulness of Jesus’ work.
So, have you trusted in Christ alone for your salvation? There is no other name under heaven by which people may be saved. If you have never trusted Christ alone as your Savior, won’t you do so today? Listen once more to the Scriptures in Titus 3:3–7,
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
I hope you now feel that you have clear directions to get “home” — home to heaven and life with God forever. No one explained the clear directions to God better than Jesus himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Don’t be like I was with my new bride—prideful and arrogant about my own ability to find the way. Humble yourself before God as a sinner, and admit your need for Christ alone to be your Savior. When you first believe, God will justify you and set you free from the penalty of sin, which is hell. Then, he will gradually grow you each day—sanctifying you by faith in the gospel and by the power of his Spirit in you. Finally one day, God will transform you fully and finally—body and soul—and you’ll spend forever with him. May this good news find you today and set you free.
We seem to be living in a time laced with foreign policy nightmares. Admittedly, I know very little about the practical workings of political foreign policy, and I am really just an average guy sometimes not sure what to make of all the complicated news stories. Recently in The Wall Street Journal and again at Politico.com, I read articles about a new super weapon created by the U.S. military. It’s called an MOP, which stands for Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The “bunker buster” bomb has received a “facelift” as talks with Iran have developed. The MOP is the U.S. Government’s “Plan B” just in case Iran violates what seems to be the inevitable nuclear deal. Our military knows of multiple nuclear facilities in Iran; however, the ones that concern them the most are those that the natural eye cannot see—those hidden underground or beneath mountains. Enter the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which has the ability to burrow 200 feet into the earth and even through 60 feet of concrete before it detonates to destroy whatever surrounds it. To be honest, neither “Plan A” nor “Plan B” sound great to me!
In our own country, the Supreme Court of the Unites States (SCOTUS) has been handing out significant decisions left and right: national healthcare legislation was upheld; state bans on same-sex marriage were deemed unconstitutional, and most recently in today’s (6/30) The Wall Street Journal, the justices rejected the Obama administration’s environmental agenda because they felt the EPA had not been thoughtful and thorough enough about the costly effects such regulations may have on our economy. Whether you look at the Supreme Court justices themselves, our two major political parties, or simply spend a few minutes perusing social media comments from average Americans like you and me, it seems clear that we are nation deeply divided—made up of polar opposite worldviews leading to vastly different ends and decisions.
It is in the midst of all this chaos that I invite you into Psalm 2 for a moment. Take a breath. Set your mind on the Lord and his rule, and receive his peace in a world gone mad.
Psalm 2 is a royal, coronation psalm in which we are given an exposition on the relationship between God the King and his chosen human king who mediates God’s rule for the people of God. The psalm itself does not tell us the author; however, the prayer of the believers in Acts 4:24–31 reveals to us that David spoke these words by the Holy Spirit:
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed”—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Throughout the article, we’ll return to this New Testament interpretation and application of Psalm 2, but for now, let’s get a handle on the Psalm in its original Old Testament setting. The Psalm may be organized in this way: (1) The Calculated Coup of the Nations (vv. 1–3), (2) The Confident Candor of the Lord (vv. 4–6), (3) The Comprehensive Clout of the Lord’s Anointed (vv. 7–9), and (4) The Calculated Consequences toward the Nations (vv. 10–12). As you can see, the Psalm comes full circle—beginning and ending with the activity of the nations—however, the beginning arrogance is stifled by the ending warning, and the rule of the Lord and his Anointed should cause a course correction, or else the nations will experience God’s wrath. Although we know that David is the author of the Psalm, we are less sure about the specific occasion that prompted the writing. It is a coronation psalm, and by measuring the content, we can assess that there must of been some conflict between Israel and its (newly?) coronated king and the surrounding nations. We do know from the end of 1 Samuel and from the beginning of 2 Samuel that Saul’s reign ended and David’s reign began in the midst of warfare. Further, Solomon’s coronation does not seem to have taken place during international conflicts (see the early chapters of 1 Kings). So, could David possibly be commenting on his own coronation? It is possible. One other thought that I have about the setting for David’s writing is that I think it is possible that King David wrote this psalm once he received the covenant from the Lord to forever bless his lineage with a king on the throne of Israel. Perhaps, upon hearing and believing the Lord’s covenant with him, David penned this psalm about all the future royalty that would come from his offspring. I think this may better explain the content. David was always a man of war (1 Chron. 28:3), so he may here in the psalm be speaking generally from his experience about the Israelite king’s conflict with the surrounding nations, anticipating that his offspring will share his experiences. Of course, David throughout his rule experienced the Lord’s faithfulness in the face of international threat (Psalm 2:4–6; cp. 1 Sam. 17:44–54). By the time the Lord makes his covenant with David and his household (2 Sam. 7), David could surely utter the words or Psalm 2:7–12 with experienced confidence in the Lord’s favor toward his anointed king.
The Calculated Coup of the Nations (vv. 1–3)
The first thing we need to realize when it comes to the international rebellion against God and his king is that it is not accidental. It is carefully calculated. We are sometimes far too “nice” when it comes to those who are are obstinate and hateful opposition to the Lord and his rule, even when we know that their behavior is not at all accidental but purposefully calculated and measured. Notice the text. The word “rage” in verse 1 of the ESV Bible refers to an eager, noisy, raging, roaring assembly. They are passionate in their gathering against the Lord. Further, the second half of verse 1 demonstrates that the people are calculating. They plot; they set traps and snares; they devise violence—all against the Lord. Peter Craig argues that the “peoples” is better understood as “warriors” because of the context in which the word is used. So, verse 1 shows us that the international attitude toward the Lord and his rule causes them to assemble their eager warriors to game-plan a strategy of opposition and rebellion. In verse two, the leaders of all the nations are united in their opposition to the Lord and his rule. All of these nations having innumerable conflicts of their own find unity in one thing—their opposition to God and his rule. The kings stand firm in their resistance to the Lord’s rule, and they take counsel with one another across international lines. They corporately scheme against the one they view as a common foe. Notice that their devices are not merely aimed against the Lord, but also against those who affirm and represent his authority and rule. We may ask, “What is the result for which the nations hope?” What exactly do they hope to gain by rebelling against the Lord? Verse three answers this question, which was first posed in verse 1—they want their freedom from God. They want to be rid of him. Charles Spurgeon in The Treasury of David interprets their words,
Let us be free to commit all manner of abominations. Let us be our own gods. Let us rid ourselves of all restraint.
He goes on,
However mad the resolution to revolt from God, it is one in which man has persevered ever since his [fall in Adam], and he continues in it to this very day. The glorious reign of Jesus in the latter day will not be consummated until a terrible struggle has convulsed the nations. To a graceless neck, the yoke of Christ is intolerable, but to the saved sinner it is easy and light. We may judge ourselves by this: Do we love that yoke, or do we wish to cast it from us?
Among the nations and at the core of their raging against the Lord Jesus is a sore rebellion bent on being free from his yoke. Consider for yourself today, are you seeking to free yourself from God and his rule in your life? Or are you finding life and peace under his lordship and rule? Are you willing to be the Lord’s slave and servant? Or do you long to be free of the Lord and want to “cast away his ropes”? Have you cast your lot with the Lord and his King or with the raging, scheming assembly of the nations?
As mentioned earlier in Acts 4, we see this international raging fulfilled in the united execution of the Lord Jesus. Herod, Pilate, the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees—all united, putting “lesser” conflicts aside in order to free themselves from God’s rule and God’s King.
The Confident Candor of the Lord (vv. 4–6)
What is the Lord’s response to the nations’ ranting and raging? Verse 4 is offensively comical toward the nations. First, notice that the Lord doesn’t even get out of his seat. He doesn’t stand; he is described as the one who sits. He sits as if there is no battle strong enough to spur him to action. The nations have assembled and schemed, but the Lord takes no military action. He sits. He also sits in the heavens. The place of his sitting is the first thing that reminds us that the nations may have “gotten in over their head” here. He sits above the earth, which ruler among the nations can claim such a throne? From his throne, the psalmist gives us the first verb of action—the Lord laughs. This is an unconcerned laugh. It’s that moment when opposing sides are matched up, and it is clear that the only appropriate reaction from the stronger opponent is mockery. There is no underdog story that will develop here. The Lord laughs. Now, understand that he is not laughing at the weak, the humble, the broken. He is laughing at the arrogant, at those who are calculating in their rebellion against him. The word picture of verse five is important. The words “wrath” and “fury” refer to the redness of God’s nose. The story of Scripture characterizes God as the “Long-nosed One”; that is, he is a God who is slow to anger. It takes a long time for the tip of his nose to turn red, a long time before his burning anger shoots from his nostrils. However, here in Psalm 2:5, God’s anger has reached the tip of his nose—there is nowhere for the nations to hide from his wrath and fury. He will decree judgment upon them with the words of his mouth, and he will hasten to terrify them with his burning anger. And what exactly will the Lord do? Verse six explains to us, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Despite all of the nations’ ranting and raging, the Lord will establish his rule among his people. Nothing can stop him. Spurgeon comments again here,
. . . despite your malice, despite your tumultuous gatherings, despite the wisdom of your counsels, and despite the craft of your lawgivers . . . He has already done that which the enemy seeks to prevent. While they are proposing, He has disposed the matter. Jehovah’s will is done, and man’s will frets and raves in vain.
Turning again back to Acts 4:24–31, consider how many thought that the crucifixion and death of Jesus would be the end of him. The nations “raged” against God and his Son with their calculating and cunning, but remember that they were really only doing “whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). God would transform their evil raging into the atonement for the sins of the world, and he would do more—conquering both sin and death through the resurrection so that he could establish his Son as the eternal King, the Son of David forevermore, whose kingdom will never perish (Daniel 7:13–14).
The Comprehensive Clout of the Lord’s Anointed (vv. 7–9)
David is no doubt thinking of God’s faithfulness in his own experience as Israel’s anointed king. Further, if we assume that David is writing the psalm after God made his covenant with him, then David may be thinking about more than just himself. He may also be thinking about the line of kings from his house. Further still, we know that Scripture progressively reveals to us the final Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. So, when we read in verse 7, “You are my Son,” we may see the personal connection to David, the covenant connection to the Davidic house, and the ultimate connection to the Davidic Messiah. Peter Craigie writes,
At the heart of the covenant is the concept of sonship; the human partner in the covenant is son of the covenant God, who is father. This covenant principle of sonship is a part of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel. The covenant God cares for Israel as a father cares for his son (Deut. 1:31) and God disciplines Israel as a father disciplines a son (Deut. 8:5). The focus of the Sinai covenant is the relationship between God and nation; in the covenant with the house of David, the focus is narrowed to a relationship between God and the king, but the concept of sonship is still integral to this covenant. Thus God, through the words spoken by Nathan, declared of David: “I will be his father and he shall be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14); David, in return, could say to God: “You are my father” (Ps. 89:26).
The word “begotten” at the end of verse 7 carries the idea of “being brought forth,” not merely “birthed,” and not the idea of “created out of nothing.” The idea is that the Davidic king is established and coronated by a divine initiative to bring him forth. Craigie also comments how each coronation served as a renewal of God’s promise, where he would remind the descendent of David that he was God’s son. Therefore, the Davidic king has comprehensive clout because of the one who brought him forth and gave him kingship. He also has clout because of the access given him by God. In verse 8, the Lord says to the king—“Ask of me, and I will make. . . .” The son has the ear of the father. Notice what is to be granted to the king, “the nations” and “the ends of the earth.” If you consider the history of the Israelite kings, there are always two ways in which they go about expanding their rule and influence—(1) they throw their lot in with the nations, or (2) they remain loyal and trusting toward God. Remember the Lord Jesus was tempted in a similar way, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me’” (Matt. 4:8–9). The Lord Jesus had the opportunity to inherit the kingdoms of the earth apart from the road of suffering; all he had to do was throw in his lot with the enemy of God. Instead he replies, “Be gone Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matt. 4:10). The very ones that rage against the Lord and his anointed will be turned over to God’s King by a simple prayer request. We know that this will ultimately be fulfilled at the second coming of King Jesus, but even David in his day experienced answers to this request as he loyally followed the Lord. In order to possess the ends of the earth, the Davidic king is given authority and power to overcome the nations. God’s king will be provided strength to pulverize the raging nations and bring them under subjection to God’s rule.
Considering the way the early believers in Acts thought of their place in God’s story, notice their prayer, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” These believers understood God would “give them the earth” as they continued to proclaim the gospel and do the works of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. The warfare has shifted as God moves his rule to the unseen, spiritual realm, transforming people in to new creations from the inside out through the gospel and by the Spirit. One day at his coming, his rule will be comprehensive—over heaven and earth, over the seen and the unseen. He will have one not only a geographical kingdom, but a spiritually loyal people as well.
The Calculated Consequences toward the Nations (vv. 10–12)
Finally, the Psalmist returns to the nations in order to warn them. The confident candor of the Lord and the comprehensive clout of his anointed should stir wisdom and caution in the hearts of the rulers of the earth. They should change their ways by turning from their ranging and turning toward the Lord in service and reverence; they should rejoice at the thought of the Lord’s rule; they should be humble toward the Lord’s rule; they should do homage and kiss the Son—the Lord’s anointed one. This is the “or else” of the psalm. If the nations remain rebellious toward the Lord’s king and rule, then they will face the wrath of the Lord’s anointed. Instead, they should be wise, be warned, serve, rejoice with humility, and worship the Son. All who make this turn from among the nations will not be disappointed—“Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). Spurgeon comments,
The more thou troublest thyself, or art troubled by others for Christ, the more peace thou hast in Christ . . . To make peace with the Father, kiss the Son.
Notice how God responded to the early Christians in Acts as they prayed, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” They were serving; they were rejoicing with humility; they had “kissed” the Son. God became their refuge. He demonstrated his matchless power to them. He equipped them to take the nations with the gospel by filling them with his Spirit and by providing them boldness to speak the gospel message. We live in days when the nations, and even our own nation, is raging against God. It is not an accidental rebellion, rather it is strategic and calculated. Remember the confidence of God in such a scenario. Remember the clout of his Son. Preach the gospel to the nations because we have been shown mercy and grace, and weep over the potential consequences that will fall upon a people should they not turn and “kiss the Son.”
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.