We’re working through the One Year Bible in 2020. This message comes from Mark chapter 6.
You know that feeling when you are standing on the edge of a diving board? You get to the edge of that board and for a moment you have a decision to make. For some of us that moment is longer than others.
There are moments in our faith that are like that edge-of-the-board experience. What we do in those moments will, to a large extent, determine our experience of the power and presence of God in our lives.
We are going to enter into one of those moments in Mark 6:1-6. Let’s read.
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.
We will see three principles relevant to us in Mark 6.
It is very possible to be impressed by the wisdom and the works of Jesus and never experience their saving power.
Though God’s work is not dependent on human faith, God often requires our faith in carrying out his purposes.
Though the message of Christ is mind-blowing, it will often be received with indifference.
1. It is very possible to be impressed by the wisdom and the works of Jesus and never experience their saving power.
Familiarity brings contempt. There is a dangerous unbelief born from familiarity. Mark 6 takes us to the home town of Jesus. Nazareth, where Jesus was raised, was a small town. At the time of Jesus it had a population of about 4-500 people.
Last year I had the privilege of being in a wedding in Haviland, Kansas. Has anyone ever been to Haviland? It’s a small town West of Wichita, the population is about 700 people. It’s one of those towns you can stand in the middle of and see the end in every direction.
In a town that size, everyone knows you. And they know everything about you. There is a lot of familiarity in Nazareth. Jesus comes to town and enters the synagogue. As he reads from the Old Testament text and proclaims the arrival of the kingdom of God, the men there have two reactions. First they are amazed, literally they received a blow. Here is a man with mind-blowing power and wisdom.
In that moment of amazement, the Nazarenes stood on the edge of a great diving board. They had the opportunity to recognize that though they had been in proximity to Jesus for many years they had never truly understood who and what he was. They had the opportunity to open their eyes and see great and wonderful things they could not have imagined in and from Jesus.
So what did they do? They took offense. They backed away from the edge, climbed down the ladder and walked away.
Isn’t this the carpenter? Aren’t his hands calloused with years of manual labor? Isn’t he the son of Mary (an insulting way to refer to a man in his culture)? Aren’t those his brothers over there? Who does he think he is?
They held onto their preconceptions. They held on to their perception of Jesus as absolute reality. They held Jesus in the contempt of familiarity.
Instead of saying, “who is this extraordinary person who all along we had thought was a regular man?” They said “who is this regular man acting as if he were extraordinary?”
The word took offense is literally ‘scandalized’. They were scandalized by the humble and familiar origins of Jesus.
It really is remarkable isn’t it?
“Born in that humble home, reared in that secluded village, shut out from the world’s culture, buried, as it were, among an exclusive and abhorred people, how came He to tower above all teachers, and to sway the world? ‘With whom took He counsel? and who instructed Him, and taught Him?’ The character and work of Christ, compared with the circumstances of His origin and environment, are an insoluble riddle, except on one supposition-that He was the word and power of God.”
Not everyone sees the origins of Christianity as a plus. The Nazarenes were not the first who were scandalized by the humility of it all. Paul described this response in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Familiarity bred contempt and contempt bred unbelief. Because of that unbelief, Mark tells us, Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth. Does that mean God is dependent on human faith? No, but there is something important here.
2. Though God’s work is not dependent on human faith, God often requires our faith in carrying out his purposes.
God is not dependent on humanity. Romans 5:8 does not tells us that while we were reaching out for him with great faith and eagerness, Christ died for us. While we were unbelieving sinners, Christ died for us. He accomplished the greatest of works because we did not have faith.
In Matthew, we see an example of God working apart from human faith.
He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
God is not dependent on human faith or effort, but he has chosen to work through human faith and effort.
You do not have, because you do not ask.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Because you have so little faith.
There is something massively important in this: your experience of the power of Christ will to a large extent be determined by the active exercise of your faith. It will depend on what you do on the edge of the diving board.
What if my faith is small? Am I destined to a life not knowing the power of God?
Little faith now does not mean little faith forever. Faith is like a muscle. Like our muscles, it requires resistance to grow. God provides that resistance, he gives us opportunities to exercise our faith.
One of the best ways to grow your faith is to walk with others who have a faith trained by experience. I learned faith as a new believer reading the autobiography of George Mueller. His life of prayer and provision shaped how I expected to experience God and pushed me towards the edge of the diving board. If your faith is struggling, why not read a biography of a man or woman of faith?
One more thing about small faith. It’s not the size of your faith, it’s the size of the object of your faith that matters. I love the story of faith in Mark 9. A man in need of a miracle is told that anything is possible for him who believes. Do you remember what he said in response? “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Jesus is merciful and strong to help us in our unbelief.
3. Though the message of Christ is mind-blowing, it will often be received with indifference.
When the Nazarenes turned their backs on Jesus in contempt, Jesus was astonished. Twice we are told Jesus was astonished.
Many times the word is used to describe the response others had to Jesus. The crowds marveled at his wisdom when he confounded the religious leaders trying to trap him. Pilate was amazed by Jesus as he quietly stood in the face of the accusing mob. The crowds were amazed when Jesus demonstrated the power to transform the physical and spiritual world around him with a word from his mouth. The disciples were amazed when the crucified and buried Jesus appeared in the room with them and asked for something to eat.
Only twice was Jesus himself astonished.
In Matthew 8, when a father asking for Jesus’ help with his disabled servant, said to Jesus, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof! Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, “Go!” and he goes, and to another, “Come!” and he comes . . . When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel.”
This is the other time Jesus is amazed.
“Nor need we wonder that He wondered; for He was true man, and all human emotions were His. To one who lives ever in the Father’s bosom, what can seem so strange as that men should prefer homeless exposedness and dreary loneliness? To one whose eyes ever behold unseen realities, what so marvellous as men’s blindness? To one who knew so assuredly His own mission and rich freightage of blessing, how strange it must have been that He found so few to accept His gifts! Jesus knew that bitter wonder which all men who have a truth to proclaim which the world has not learned, have to experience-the amazement at finding it so hard to get any others to see what they see. In His manhood, He shared the fate of all teachers, who have, in their turn, to marvel at men’s unbelief.”
What did he do? When the mind-blowing message of the kingdom come was met with total indifference?
He expressed his astonishment. Then he kept moving forward.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
Indifference is terrible isn’t it? I can handle anger. I can handle swearing and mocking. But blatant indifference is tough. Have you ever shared your faith with someone like that? You prayed and planned and worked yourself up for weeks to have a conversation for the salvation of a soul. And they could care less. It’s tough. What should we do?
We should be amazed. What a thing! To hear the message of infinite meaning and unending grace in the gospel of Christ and turn your back!
And we should keep moving forward. Many are indifferent. But many are not. There are souls out there longing for answers, desperate for meaning, thirsty for love. We have what they are looking for.
Let’s keep moving forward.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown