Alfred Place Baptist Church

6:1-6 A Prophet Without Honour In His Hometown

Mark 6:1-6 “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house is a prophet without honour.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

If we have been favoured to have lived in a single community during those first long years of our lives it will always have a special place in our affections. “Where do you come from?” people might ask, and we have a ready response. Whereas if we have moved with our family from place to place we find it difficult to answer the question. You hear people reply, “Hard to say; my father was in the services and we moved around.” Such a person might feel envious of a man whose memories are so confidently earthed in one place. When we become Christians we find we have a special concern for our hometown. Is the gospel preached there? Is there a place where Christ crucified is heard each Sunday? Is there ‘salt’ and ‘light’ there? We’ll savour the opportunity to go back and see our own folk and maybe speak to them of the faith.

Our Saviour had that feeling for Nazareth. He wasn’t born there, though his father Joseph was a Nazareth man. An imperial Roman census had meant Joseph had to go to distant Bethlehem to register, even though his wife Mary was at an advanced stage of pregnancy. Her first child, Jesus, was born in a stable because of the overcrowded inn, and was soon hurried off as a political refugee to Africa. We don’t know how long the family stayed in Egypt – maybe about a year? That seems likely. Then he would have no memories of his time there, but when Herod had died, and the succession was secure so that the threat against the child’s life was lifted, Joseph brought Mary and Jesus, and perhaps the next child too, back to Nazareth to resume his work as the village carpenter. From that time on Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown.

It wasn’t much of a place. Look in a concordance of the Old Testament for the place name ‘Nazareth’, and you’ll discover that it isn’t mentioned once. Search the writings of Josephus the Jewish historian and he doesn’t refer to it. The rabbinical writings, the Talmud and the Mishnah, don’t have a single reference to Nazareth. Apart from the dozen references in the New Testament the first time it is recorded in Christian literature is in a little book by an obscure man named Julius Africanus, who lived 200 years after Christ. Nazareth was what the Americans call a ‘one horse town.’ It was a hamlet of earthen houses perched on sixty acres of rocky hillside where less than five hundred people lived. It was a mixed race area with poor scattered Gentile families who kept smallholdings. It was a nothing place. It was not a centre of education, learning, trade, finance and local government. It was an insignificant community which ambitious teenagers deserted for the distant city. Here the Son of God lived for at least twenty-five years. He walked its hills, and played in its lanes; he carried water from its well for his mother. At the well he would have heard the news of sicknesses, and death, and marriages, and the birth of babies in the village. There were no city gates where the elders met. The carpenter’s shop would have been a place for men to stand and talk while a plough was being repaired. As the first born son Jesus was given responsibility quickly and he worked with his father in the carpenter’s shop in his hometown.

The Son of God had been in the beginning with God his Father, and he was God, and now he lived with his mother Mary and stepfather Joseph and many half brothers and sisters in little mud house indistinguishable from any others, sharing a bed with his brothers. He had been surrounded by an innumerable company of angels who worshipped him and did his bidding, but when he became flesh he lived with five hundred sinners in Nazareth. He had made all things in the vast creation, for without Christ was not anything made that was made, but now he was making doors, window frames, shutters, stools, tools, wheels and carts. He humbled himself to that, the life of obscurity, being found in appearance as a man of Nazareth, indistinguishable from the other men of that place. He made himself nothing for our sakes. Because he loved his people he lived among sinners for those long years. Surely he understands us today, in a way – I say it reverently – that neither of the other members of the Godhead can sympathise with us, for he is the one who alone was made flesh, and he is still a man today and will be forever. He is the one who is touched by the Christian who feels trapped in a small and unappreciative community, his gifts unrecognised and seemingly unused, because this was Christ’s own experience.

We have seen how when his herald, John the Baptist, went and proclaimed his coming as the promised King, the Lord Jesus bade goodbye to the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, never again to make another chair. He walked with destiny, away into the wilderness, to the banks of the river Jordan to hear John’s preaching and to be baptised by. The Spirit then came upon him, and his Father announced from the heavens that he was not at all Joseph’s son but God’s own beloved Son. After his temptations in the wilderness he begins his public ministry preaching to growing crowds of people and confirming the truth of his words by miracles, wonders and signs. He gathers around him a group of twelve disciples and teaches them, and they follow him all over Galilee. His base is Capernaum, but the incident before us takes place in Nazareth, twenty-five miles away. Jesus would have walked along the Via Maris (Way of the Sea), the main trade route between Damascus and the Mediterranean, and then left it for the final few miles, leaving that main road for a country track through the thorn bushes and dry ground leading to the hills around Nazareth itself. What he and his disciples encountered there was rejection. The rejection was so total that the Lord was amazed at their attitude, and it is that amazement that we must examine.

1. THERE WAS EVERY HUMAN EXPECTATION THAT THEY WOULD RECEIVE HIM.

The people of the town knew the Lord Jesus intimately. They had watched him grow up. His parents had been eminently respectable members of the community. His mother and the rest of the family still lived there. He must have made a remarkable growing impression on these people throughout those twenty-five years. Luke tells us that he grew in favour with them. There was a certain initial popularity because he was such a pleasing young man. He loved each one of them as he loved himself, day after day. Their occasional sarcasm and cruelty failed to provoke him to anger. He always gave a gentle answer. He had forgiven them again and again for the ways they’d insulted him. He overcame their evil with good. He kept no record of wrongs. He was patient with them, and kind. There wasn’t an envious bone in his body. He was the humblest man in the community. He was always protecting the weak, always trusting, always persevering in doing good. He never cheated in the prices he asked for finished jobs. He never gave shoddy workmanship. He kept his word. He was straight and fair in everything he did. He honoured his father and mother. Every mother wished for a son like him. Every father hoped the carpenter would marry one of his daughters.

Jesus knew Jehovah God in a way that no one else in Nazareth did. He kept the Sabbath, and was always present in the town’s little synagogue. He knew the Old Testament Scriptures intimately. He was a man of prayer. Nazareth, throughout its quiet history, had never had a man of such integrity living in its midst. You would have expected a certain pride that their village had conceived such a figure, but that was not the case. They could not see his glory. They loved darkness rather than Jesus Christ because Nazareth sinners were evil men like all sinners. There was an enmity in their hearts towards God and his anointed, just like the enmity which is also in your hearts. Sinners are not neutral or undecided about Jesus Christ. You don’t want him to lord it over you, and you will make sure he doesn’t.

When the Lord and the twelve returned, and had stayed a few days in Nazareth, the Sabbath day came, and Jesus went to the synagogue and spoke up at the appropriate time. He taught the people of his hometown his beliefs. He sat before them in a teacher’s characteristic stance and he explained to them clearly and unashamedly the nature of the kingdom of God. Now wasn’t this typical of our Lord’s manliness and integrity? There weren’t furtive meetings in back streets, or in the carpenter’s shop after hours, where the Saviour gathered a few of his old chums and sold his ideas to them in whispers. There wasn’t something of grumbling unrest and criticism of the synagogue leaders which was done in a corner. This is what happened: the Saviour went to the synagogue, and there he spoke openly to the congregation of people who knew him, telling them about the kingdom of God. Let us remember that this was not the first time he had done this. He had broken many years of silence twelve months or so earlier, speaking in the synagogue for the first time, and they had been outraged at what they’d heard him say. He had sat in that building for all those years on the Sabbath with his family, and we have no record that he’d ever said one word, but the first time he did speak, as Luke describes the scene for us (Luke 4) there was such rage at his teaching that the men attempted to frog-march him out of the building pulling him to the edge of a nearby precipice wanting to throw him to his death, but he just slipped through their hands. It was to that very same congregation that our brave young Saviour has returned. He is a debtor to the Nazarenes, both Jews and Gentiles.

Jesus had no confidence that things would be any easier at this time. He had heard of no change in the village, but this time he had twelve strong disciples who were there in the synagogue listening to him Even his own family pitied him saying publicly about him, “He is out of his mind” (Mk. 3:21). They wanted to take control of him, and take him away until he had got over his religious delusions. It seems clear from our text that his brothers James, Joseph, Judas and Simon stayed away from the synagogue this particular Sabbath day, just his sisters attending: “Aren’t his sisters here with us?” (v.3). But Christ addressed all who were there with his amazing authority. Most preachers can remember the first time they spoke in their own home congregations, or the time when their parents were first sitting before them and listening to them. Maybe it wasn’t too difficult for me because I had spoken in midweek meetings, and my father’s twin brother was a preacher, so that going to church, and then taking part in a service was a gradual matter. But it is always a bit of a trial for everyone. They want you to do well, and you want to do well, but the servant of the Lord must not strive at any level.

Preaching is different from many other vocations. You may be a brilliant brain-surgeon, but Mam and Dad can’t come to watch how you perform an operation. They cannot see you teach English, or accomplish a business deal, or make judgments in the Stock Exchange, or witness you at work in the armed services. But they can come and see you leading a congregation in worship, and trying to inspire them with a sermon. Out of the privacy of your walk with God you have felt a call to full-time Christian service. The first Sunday comes, and your family are sitting on the edge of their pews watching you. So it was here in the synagogue in Nazareth. All these familiar people, with whom Christ had sat for all those years, are now listening intently to the local boy who had gone away and made a name for himself as a preacher, but now had come home with men who followed him. It is clear that our Lord was unintimidated by the people’s hostility or his family’s coolness.

On that Sabbath day the Nazareth congregation did not hear academic words, literary words, technical words, sophisticated words. When Jesus returned from Capernaum he had not picked up a city accent. The people were not offended because they could not understand him because they could understand only too clearly. The Saviour characteristically stated his truths, illustrated them and applied them to all his hearers. The Lord drew them in to what he was saying by asking them questions. He drove his points into their minds. He spoke about jots and tittles, gifts brought to the altar in the temple in Jerusalem, murder and anger, divorce, oaths, revenge, and loving your neighbour. He spoke about the errors of the Pharisees, giving to charity, praying on street corners with vain repetitions, people fasting with disfigured faces. He spoke about a city set on a hill, right and left hands, sky and earth, head and hair, tax collectors, birds, flowers, grass used as fuel, sheep, wolves, thorn bushes, figs, thistles, fruit trees, builders, storms. The people in the synagogue knew exactly what he was talking about. The images were vibrant, and we who read his sermons 2000 years later can enter Nazareth and look around with him. The pictures are intensely relevant for three-quarters of the inhabitants of the world today who work on the land, especially those who live in Asia and Africa and South America.

Jesus preached to them in a fascinating way; he spoke to them about someone calling somebody else a ‘fool’; a court case leading to a prison sentence; lusting after a woman; being slapped on the cheek; being sued for a coat; being stopped by a Roman soldier who insists that you carry his bag; seeing a beggar; hearing someone curse you; refusing to forgive someone; getting something in your eye as you chop wood; building a house on a solid or shaky foundation before a storm buffets it. Jesus told them, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven.” How plainly and vividly he spoke. He’d never sinned. No one could point a finger at him. He owed no man anything. He had never insulted one of them. They could not blame him for shoddy work he had done. He had not adopted an affected manner speaking with airs and grace. He did not patronise them. He preached grippingly, and memorably so that for the rest of their lives they would not forget what they heard in that sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth. Never man spake like this man. Mark tell us that many of them were amazed at his preaching, and yet increasingly as they understood what he was telling them, that they needed to repent and believe the gospel, they took offence at him and would not believe him.

Christ’s teaching had been authenticated by thousands of miracles. They had heard of these incidents; some of them knew the people whose lives had been transformed by a word from Jesus. There was a story that a 12 year-old girl had been raised from the dead. Her father’s name was Jairus, a leader in a minor synagogue like theirs about thirty miles away. If they questioned any of the twelve disciples who sat together in a corner of the room listening intently to what Jesus said, then the disciples told them, “Yes, he raised Jairus’ daughter. Yes, he has given sight to the blind, and cleansed lepers, and cast demons out of people. No illness has been too advanced, no case too difficult for him to handle.” Yet still Nazareth people were offended by him.

I am making to you this first point, that from every human expectation you would expect the people of Nazareth to be impressed by him, for his utterly blameless life, the courage he had to return to that synagogue where he had been so shabbily treated a year ago, the cogency and authority of his teaching, and the news of the miracles he had wrought all over Galilee. You would expect the synagogue to resound with shouts of Glory to God, and Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. But at the end there was stony silence and rejection, and Christ had to walk out of the indifferent and hostile congregation with his twelve disciples unwanted, unappreciated and unloved. There was no invitation to Jesus to come and preach to them again.

2. THE CONGREGATION IN NAZARETH COMPREHENSIVELY REJECTED HIM.

We are told that many were amazed at his teaching (v.6). Let me turn that a number of ways. What has amazement got to do with godliness? Let me remind you that amazement is not a grace. It is no evidence that a person is a Christian that he hears a gospel preacher and is amazed at what he hears. None of the fruit of the Spirit is ‘amazement’. None of the spiritual gifts that God gives his people is the capacity to be amazed. Pity the poor preacher whose hearers cry, “Come and listen to our amazing preacher!” Cable television religion is full of preachers who are trying to amaze people, and gullible folks being amazed as people fall backwards, and laugh, and make animal noises, and claim to be miraculously healed. All that is no proof that the living Jesus is at work in a meeting. I am no champion of boring preaching. I also want to preach in an arresting and striking manner as I declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, and grieve when I cannot. Nothing is more essential for today’s sermons than that they move people to repent of their sins and see the glories of Christ the Saviour.

The congregation in Nazareth would not be moved, they were simply amazed that this man, who had never gone to a rabbinical school, whose whole life had been spent in their insignificant community making tables and chairs and repairing farming tools could now could sit before them all in their synagogue and speak to them in this way. “‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles?'” (v.2). They couldn’t celebrate this remarkable wisdom at all.

Let me turn it this way. Their perplexity wasn’t linked to God. There was, of course, Jehovah, the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God whose word was the Scriptures, the God who had promised one day to send the Messiah. They believed in God. He was that Lord who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth, the God who maintains summer and winter, seed-time and harvest. They were Jews, not Gentile unbelievers, and they were in the synagogue every Sabbath because of Jehovah their God. But then there was this fellow, and he was speaking to them in an amazing way. They saw two different entities: one was Jehovah the God of heaven, and the other was this fellow from round the corner, and the congregation saw no link between the two. It wasn’t at all, “Amazing Grace has sent the Messiah even to us in Nazareth.” It was bewildering for them that a Nazareth boy could talk in this way. Where had he got his wisdom? It was a mystery, and they didn’t like it. But it was unthinkable that it had come from Jehovah God. Then, where else could it have come from? That was their confusion of mind, that this hitherto silent man suddenly spoke up in his own synagogue and taught them with such authority.

People get frustrated by mysteries, and their perplexity quickly changes to scorn. You see it in Nazareth in a number of ways. Notice how they refuse to refer to him as ‘Jesus’. They couldn’t bear to mention him by name. They will name all his brothers, but they will dismiss him as ‘this man’ (v.2), that is, ‘this fellow’, or they refer to him as ‘the carpenter’ (v.3), or as ‘Mary’s son’. While there was no violence shown to him on his second time of speaking at their meeting house there is undisguised contempt for Christ. I once worked the night shift as a desk clerk in an apartment block in Philadelphia. I was studying in a seminary during the day, and the people in the apartments quickly learned that I was going to be a preacher, and henceforth one of them would refer to me as ‘the preacher boy.’ That really didn’t bother me: I had Christ. So there was contempt here in Nazareth with the Lord Jesus.

Notice they call him “the carpenter” (v.3). This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is found. The word means a man who makes things. Usually it is of wood, but it can also be of stone. There was nothing demeaning in Jewish society in manual labour. God himself worked in creation. But in the Gentile world (and Mark is conscious of them while he writes the gospel), it wouldn’t have been a complimentary reference. This fellow was a mere artisan.

Then they also refer to Jesus as “Mary’s son” (v.3), and again this is the only place in the Bible where you can find this phrase. In Jewish society it was the name of the father which was attached to the male child – ‘Simon son of Jonah: James and John the sons of Zebedee’. Jesus is called the son of Mary. Maybe it means Joseph was already dead. It is clearly abnormal, and disrespectful, and may even insinuate illegitimacy. “Who did he think he was, sitting in the synagogue and speaking like that, pretending to be someone, turning up with 12 yes-men, none of them coming from Nazareth. We know where you live! We know your family! We know the odd thing that happened at your conception – Mary’s boy!”

So they heard this wonderful teaching and they were amazed at it, but quickly their perplexity turned to cynicism. “They took offence at him,” (v.3) Mark tells us. That is, they were repelled by him. The Word of God was preached to them with all its warnings and promises of eternal life; the beautiful Saviour was there in front of them, but sinners deplored it all. They dismissed him. The presence of the Lord Jesus in a meeting doesn’t guarantee saving faith. We may hear the gospel preached in the power of the Spirit, and perish in our sins. We may die under the activity of a living blessed Spirit. We may taste the Word of God, and see something of the world to come, and yet be lost. Don’t let this happen to you. The Lord Jesus said of the places where his mightiest works were done and where yet the people didn’t believe that it would be more blessed for them to have lived in Nineveh in the Day of Judgment than to have had the privileges of the living Christ preaching to them and to remain hardened against him. The people of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes when a reluctant prophet gave a monotonous message of judgment, but they had had the Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, yet they refused to change their ways.

3. THE LORD CHRIST WAS AMAZED AT THEIR LACK OF FAITH.

How does he respond? “True prophets have honour everywhere, except in their own country, their own family and their own home” he said. It was a common proverb because the phenomenon is common enough. Jesus applies it to three concentric circles, first, his hometown, and then closer still, his family members, and finally his own home, all coolly disposed towards him. All saying, “The jury is out.” All finding it impossible to accept that there was anything exceptional in one they’d known intimately. We know this mentality only too well. We live on the western seaboard of the British isles, and for years the people who live here expect all their most able and talented men will move away. There was a science lecturer in Swansea University who came from Talybont – that little village five miles north of Aberystwyth – who stood for a Welsh political party in the General Election. He returned to canvas for votes in his home village where he met two old men sitting on a bench. “Ah, John,” said one of the men who knew him and his family well, and could remember the bright precocious boy who had gone to Ardwyn Grammar School in Aberystwyth, and on to University to pick up his first class honours degree, “where are you living now?” “Swansea,” John said (which is ninety miles away). “Swansea?” the old man said. “Swansea? . . . I thought you’d have gone far.” John couldn’t have been that clever after all. He would have gone to England wouldn’t he, or America? Bright and able people don’t stay in the Nazareths of this world. If they do then they are second rate or fakes. Bright people go far from Nazareth – to the city, to Jerusalem, or even Rome. Well, Christ would, but not in the manner the people of Nazareth would ever understand! He would go to London and New York and Moscow and Beijing. There wouldn’t be a place where his presence would not be found. He would be honoured in many a country and family and home.

So Jesus explains to the disciples that the perplexity and rejection that they must have begun to meet from their parents and friends was something which he himself also experienced. In other words, when people find your new faith in Jesus Christ, and your enthusiasm for religion ridiculous there is nothing 21st century in this at all. Such coolness is so old-fashioned. People treated Jesus just as suspiciously. The world is always scornful of real faith because light shows up darkness. They are saying that ‘nobody can know’, while you are saying to them the very opposite, “I know! I know whom I have believed. Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God.” So don’t let the raised eyebrows of those who know you well demoralise you. Remember they’ve seen people going religious, and then falling away. Especially this is the case with young people. That is why the Lord Jesus told us the parable of the sower. Not all joyful response to the gospel is a saving response. You can understand that your family are bound to weigh you up. Make sure you are walking in the Spirit day by day.

But notice this, that the Lord Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith” (v.6). Can God be amazed? The whole point is this, that the inspired words of Mark say that God the Son was amazed, and that is very bold, but it is inspired boldness, and Scriptural boldness. The Lord looked at their hard faces staring at him as he preached to them, and he was amazed. Why was he amazed? He was amazed at their sin. He was amazed at their unbelief. It’s extraordinary, because God could look at the heavens, the imploding galaxies and black holes and not be amazed. He could see a billion tons of rain falling on the earth every minute and not be amazed. He could look right into the microscopic world of the atom, and the neutron, and the electron. He could see all the whizzing movement there and in the sub-atomic particles and not be amazed. He could go right into man’s brain and see the amazing interplay of all the brain cells and not be amazed. But we are told that when God the Son looked at unbelieving man he was amazed. I can go further: we are not told that God was amazed that men could crucify his Son but God was amazed that they could be so recalcitrant at the mighty works of Jesus.

Now I wonder whether the children can understand that, and perhaps if you haven’t listened before you could listen now. I am sure you know what it is to have something you think is terrific, a new toy or a new pet, and you have been so excited it. It is the best toy you ever had and then you have shown it to some friends, and they have dismissed it. They have no interest in it at all. They don’t want to look at it. They won’t discuss it. It may as well not even be in the room because they want to talk about everything else. Their rejection is simply amazing.

Or maybe you young people can think of bringing your boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet your parents and you still remember your disappointment when they ignored him, just showing him cold politeness. How amazing that they acted in that way to someone whom you loved. Here we have this great picture of God being amazed, and of all the things in human history that God saw, the one thing we are told that amazed him was man’s lack of faith. I am saying that this is what God’s word says. The Lord looked and he was surprised and shocked at the fact that they rejected him. He had lived in their midst for almost 30 years. They had never heard him say a mean word or do an unworthy deed. He had lived an utterly consistent blameless life. They had heard of his mighty miracles and these were not tall tales. He actually had done hundreds of them. He preached to them with beauty and authority so that they were amazed at what they heard and saw. But in the end they all turned on him. It was not that there was a division in the synagogue with some believing and following, while others rejected him. They all dismissed him. They together belittled him. It was not that they were deep thinkers or that they had a better alternative. They said, “He might fool those city slickers in Capernaum, but we know all about him.” It was simply unthinkable that Jesus of Nazareth might be God’s Messiah. They had nothing, but they were passionately prejudiced against the man who raised the dead and the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount, and Christ was amazed.

I am sure that what you know of European history in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the wholesale rejection of Jesus Christ, for what? What will the man of London give in exchange for Jesus Christ? I will tell you. For California dreamin’. What do I mean? Englishmen used to laugh at the excesses of Californians but the once-unthinkable has happened. The life-style that our fellow-countrymen envy and try to adopt is American West Coast. They are pursuing ‘self-actualisation’ by learning how to feel good about themselves They are into self-improvement and self-esteem. They deal with ‘issues’. The Prime Minister’s wife invites her own personal guru to No 10 Downing Street. She and her husband go through ‘re-birthing ceremonies’ in a hut in Mexico, smearing one another with crushed fruit – the British Prime Minister! The Englishman today talks of anti-oxidants, Omega 3 and cholesterol levels. He drinks herbal teas, and Botox is a household name. He has his coffee in Starbucks, which is an awful lot to pay for what is 95% water. Fitness training, bodybuilding and tanning is the norm for the young man about London. He eats crunchy salads and fish skewers, goes rollerblading and surfing, and he’s had plastic surgery, and my problem is that I cannot make that exchange seem amazing or ridiculous in his eyes. He has said no to the Lord Jesus Christ! He has said yes to all of that, and it is not at all incredible to most people, but the Lord is amazed.

God sees a godly woman walking with Christ year after year and her husband defiantly refusing to believe. He sees the gospel preached in the power of the Spirit in the heart of a community and nobody wanting to know. He sees Gideon Bibles given out and never opened, a Christian Bookshop open six days a week and few going in. They have the Word of God in their own language and they can’t be bothered to turn one page. They steer the conversation away from religion when an evangelical Christian begins to speak. That is what we see in society and meet in our own experience. It is the most depressing thing in the world, the lack of faith in Christ of 21st century men, women, boys and girls, and it shows no sign at all of ending. There’s a lot more California dreamin’ to be done before they wake up on resurrection morning..

The Bible despairs of human nature. There is no use saying, in the face of these words, that if only people are presented with a living Jesus they will fall over themselves to embrace him. They did not do that in Nazareth. It is futile to believe that there is something good in every man, a divine spark that only needs a little bit of tenderness and it will blaze for Jesus. The only thing that blazed for Jesus in Nazareth was their scorn. The Son of God looked at them. How could he have better preached? What more signs did they want? How better could he show his love than by living in their midst for so long? They wouldn’t believe in him.

Then finally there is this: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (v.5). What were these miracles? They were confirmations that he was God the Son, the Messiah and Saviour of sinners. But these people said, “Oh no he’s not. He is a carpenter, Mary’s son, and that is all! We will not bow to him or follow him.” It was morally and spiritually inconsistent in the light of that rejection for Jesus to turn water into wine or multiply loaves and fishes there. They would ask, “How does he do that? Who taught him tricks like that?” If they rejected the word then he was not going to share the joy and life of the kingdom with them.

God’s power is not limited by man’s unbelief. We were dead in trespasses and sins, our hearts at enmity with God and yet the Spirit came upon us and made us alive and gave us repentance and saving faith and made us new creations. How many of the people Jesus healed knew who their healer was? Nine lepers healed by him didn’t even bother to thank him. Jesus did most of his mighty works in cities that rejected him. Even here in Nazareth he laid his hand on a few sick people and healed them (v.5). I affirm to you that man’s unbelief cannot resist omnipotence, but I insist on this, that there can be no putting forth of the power of grace where there is no trust, and where there is no faith in Jesus Christ. He will not give sacred things to dogs. He will not perform mighty works for the amusement of wretched King Herod. The Lord cannot do that and remain the just and holy God. Christ could not do miracles in Nazareth – in that Christ- rejecting place – because he would not. As Kent Hughes states is well, “Omnipotence is not omnipotence if it is bound by anything but its own will. Jesus was morally compelled not to show his power.”

I will ask you this; what Unitarian church has ever been revived? What cult like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons have ever known a mighty awakening? What avowedly modernist and feminist and homosexual congregation has ever known the outpouring of the Spirit? Christ can do no mighty work in such places because they have rejected his divine glory. Unbelief freezes the exercise of God’s power. A Scottish preacher was once asked by Alexander Whyte why he wasn’t present in Whyte’s congregation one Sunday night as he usually was. He told Whyte that he had been preaching in a certain church. “How did you get on?” asked Whyte. “I found it very cold,” said the preacher. “Cold!” cried Whyte. “Cold? I preached there two years ago and I haven’t got the chill out of my bones yet.”

Sometimes we ask ourselves why aren’t we knowing more of the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts. We sigh, “O for a closer walk with God!” We cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And maybe it is a mystery, but often it is not a mystery why we are so cerebral and formalistic and sanitised. We aren’t trusting the Lord as we should. Did he not say, “Be it unto you according to your faith”? Did he not promise that mountains would disappear if we believed? Think of those men and women listed in Hebrews 11. Many of them were very dysfunctional people. Some had great falls, and yet this one thing characterised them all, they believed in God. They obtained the promises of God, and they wrought works of righteousness, and they subdued mighty kingdoms through faith in God. Without believing expectancy in Christ nothing will come of planning and programmes and the most orthodox sermons.

There were the disciples sitting in a corner of the synagogue of Nazareth hearing the most sublime truths that this world has ever heard . . . and the place was like an icebox! There was Jesus’ hometown gang and they despised and rejected him. The disciples then caught a glimpse of the fact that they were following a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. There in Nazareth a little window was opened on the future, and Golgotha, and the tomb. It was absolutely essential for them to keep trusting him, even when they were persecuted for following him. This following Christ was not a trip to heaven on a bed of ease but through many dangers, toils and cares.

24th August 2003 GEOFF THOMAS