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TEXT: Mark 6:1-6
SUBJECT: Mark #10: What Hinders the Kingdom?
For the last two or three months we have been working our way through the Gospel of Mark. I emphasize the word, 'Gospel' of Mark-instead of 'Book', for example-because this is what it is-it is 'good news'; it's an announcement of what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ.
What is that? We don't have to wonder: Through His Son, God is bringing His Kingdom into the world. This means Mark 1:15 is the Gospel's key verse and mission statement-
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.
For many years, God had promised to bring His Rule to earth, and, for a very long time, it seemed only a promise, nothing but empty words. Now at long last, the supposedly 'empty' words will be filled to the brim and more!
The Kingdom doesn't come all at once, but its early advances thrilled everyone who put their hope in it. After having his way for so long, the devil is humiliated in the wilderness; ordinary men are called to high office in the Kingdom, a demon is cast out in the synagogue, sick people are healed, lepers are cleansed, the Sabbath is made into the blessing it was always meant to be, an unclean woman is restored and a little girl is raised from the dead.
These were heady times for the twelve men who followed the Lord and saw His wonderful works every day. At this rate, all Israel would be saved in just a few years, and would become what God always wanted her to be-
A light to the Gentiles, to [become God's] salvation to the ends of the earth.
Of course, things didn't work out this way. The Kingdom's coming, that started off so quickly, is now slowing down. The scribes and Pharisees are poisoning the minds of the people against the Lord, and plans are now underway to get rid of Him once and for all. Their stout opposition to Christ will be a quite a barrier to the arrival of God's Rule on earth.
It is not, however, the only barrier. Something else is also getting in the way, slowing things down, and gumming up the works. Where is it coming from? It's coming from the Lord's hometown and includes His own family. What is the barrier itself? Not malice and hatred and deadly conspiracies, but something more acceptable than these things: unbelief is what it is, and not one born of ignorance, but of something worse than that. It is willfulness that gives birth to their unbelief, an unwillingness to welcome the Savior God is giving them because He's not what they were looking for and, to speak plainly, He is not what they wanted.
The problem is not theirs only. We, too, can want a Jesus God does not give while ignoring and even opposing the One He does give.
I pray this is not true of us, for the consequences are terrible. The wonder-working Jesus of Capernaum and other places-
Could do no mighty works there.because of their unbelief.
Peter urges us to look for and hasten the coming of God (whatever that means), but are we doing this? Or, are we doing the opposite? Are we pouring sand into the gears of His Kingdom by our unbelief?
One of the objections the Medieval Church lodged against Luther and others who championed 'faith alone' is that it made the Christian life too easy. Well, if 'faith' is nothing but consenting to the Apostles' Creed, the critics of the Reformation were right. But what if 'faith' is more than this? What if it means trusting God in general, and in particular, what if it means rejoicing in the Christ He gave us, even when His ways are mysterious and His wishes cross our own?
If this is what faith is, we say with the man whose son was tortured by a stubborn unclean spirit-
Lord I believe;
Help my unbelief.
Let us come to today's story, then, feeling the weakness of our own faith in Christ and praying God to increase it.
The story begins with a couple of details. Mark tells us when the things occurred and where. When is on the Sabbath. The author does not specify which Sabbath it is, but reading the story in context makes me think it was the one following the two miracles described in the second half of Chapter 5.
Remember what they were? A woman with a discharge of blood was healed and a dead girl was raised back to life. The healings occurred about twenty five miles northeast of where the Lord now is, and this means-the news of what He had done had got there before He did.
The people, therefore, should have welcomed Jesus with open arms, and praised God that He was at work in one of their own. When asked where he's from, a man from Bethlehem would not say, 'Bethlehem': he'd answer, From the City of David. You understand why. He's proud that one of the greatest men in the history of Israel grew up where he did.
The people in today's story ought to have felt the same way, only more so. But, of course, they didn't.
The Sabbath was spent-Mark tells us-in His own country. This means Nazareth, the village in which He grew up and where His mother, brothers, sisters, and extended family still lived.
Nazareth was a podunk town if there ever was one. It was on the side of a rocky mountain, and this means it was poor, and with a population of fewer than two hundred. If you remember the old movie, Sergeant York , the hillbilly hero of World War I, you get the idea. This means everybody in town knew Jesus and a good many of them were His blood kin.
In a culture that emphasized family far more than we do, where one member's failure disgraced the whole clan, and one's success dignified them all, you'd think a red carpet would be rolled out to receive the Local Boy Made Good.
There is no celebration of His return. If the children in Jerusalem strew the road with palm branches and their fathers cushion His ride with their coats, the men of Nazareth blush at His coming and the boys run off in shame.
A wise man confessed-
There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a virgin.
Had the man lived later than he did, he might have added,
'The way of a country with its Prophet'.
Our Lord is not s stupid Man; He knows a cold shoulder when it is given to Him. His love for Nazareth, though, is not pegged to their love for Him. He still goes to the synagogue on Sabbath, and is willing to preach the Gospel to a people who do not deserve it.
Yet even He is surprised and dismayed at the reception He got. One of His worst enemies said-
Never has a man spoken as this Man speaks.
In a way, the people in Nazareth agree: they, too, are astonished His teaching it's wisdom and power. But, instead of submitting to it with joy, they pick at it, the way some people dismiss Gospel sermons because they don't like the preacher's accent! By my count, five criticisms are leveled at Him.
Firstly, He has no credentials-Where did this Man get these things? The Jewish people have always valued learning, but Jesus had none of the conventional sort. Of course He knew God, Scripture, and man, but He had prepped at no school and called no rabbi, 'Master'. He was a lay preacher, you might say, good in a pinch possibly, but not a professional.
Secondly, He has no scholarly background-Is this not the carpenter? Some men are born geniuses, and don't need the customary schooling. Mozart was this way, and while other boys were learning to play 'chopsticks', he was performing for the crowned heads of Europe. Jesus, however, had been doing other things, not poring over books and thinking great thoughts, but working with his hands in His father's shop and supporting the family with His trade.
Thirdly, He has no distinguished family-Are not His brothers, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon with us, and his sisters? If Jesus is such an outstanding Person, how come His family is still eking out a living in this two-bit town? An apple doesn't fall far from the tree; if they're average-at best-who is He to say, 'The Kingdom of God is coming.by way of Me?
Fourthly, He has no legitimate father. If you read the Bible, you'll find a great many men are 'the sons of other men'. Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot.David the son of Jesse.and so on. What you don't find very often (hardly ever, in fact) is, 'Joseph is the son of Rachel' or 'Miriam bore Hannah, and Hannah bore Deborah and Deborah bore Elisabeth, and the like. Jesus, though is not called, 'the Son of Joseph', but rather, The son of Mary. His paternity, in other words, is in doubt. Even the people who knew Mary well, and knew her devotion to God, had to wonder how she had a baby less than nine months after she married her husband. In a culture that prized legitimacy, our Lord's pedigree made Him a fringe person in Nazareth.
Fifthly, He has no certain authority-What wisdom is this that such mighty works are performed by His hands? No man, working on his own, can perform miracles. A superhuman power has got to be working in Him to do these things, and this means: either God or the devil. By wondering where His power came from, they were saying, in effect, 'The powers of hell may be at work in Him'.
Because Jesus is not the kind of Messiah they want Him to be, the people of Nazareth are amazed at His gall and want no part of the Kingdom He offered them that day-
They were offended at Him
Mark says. And this means 'scandalized' or 'ashamed'.
If they were amazed that Sabbath, they were not the only ones to feel this way. Our Lord is too-He
.at them. He was as astonished by what they said as they were by what He said. On hearing the silly and bitter objections-
He marveled because of their unbelief.
He had no credentials? What credentials did Moses have or David? They were shepherds whom God took from their sheep to take care of His.
He had no scholarly background? What was the prophet Amos, but a herdsman and gatherer of sycamore fruit?
His family was undistinguished? Israel's greatest judge came from least family in Manasseh.
They didn't know His Father? Maybe they didn't, but if they had been keeping up with it, they would have heard the news from Judea. When this Man was baptized, a voice sounded from heaven-
This is My Beloved Son
In whom I wam well pleased.
The source of His power was in doubt? Was it really? Knowing Satan's grudge against the whole human race, does it seem likely that he would empower a man to-
Go about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil?
The objections were as solid as air! There was nothing to them, and they weren't even sincere. In Berea some years later, Paul preached to an honest synagogue. They were as amazed at what He said as the men of Nazareth were. But what did they do? Gripe, carp, murmur? Of did they-
Search the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so?
Had the men of Nazareth been God-fearing men, and eager for the Kingdom to come, they would have talked to the Lord about their concerns and asked the Twelve if the incredible stories about Him were true.
I once talked to a man who claimed to be an agnostic. He didn't say there is no God, but only, he didn't know if there was a God or not. I asked him what he was doing to find out? Reading the Bible with care? No. Praying for hours? No. Talking to people who said they knew the Lord? Not really. Since knowing if there is a God or not is more important than anything else, I think he didn't know because he didn't want to know!
What was true of the agnostic I talked to is equally true of the Nazarenes who waved off the Lord's claims, not because they were untrue, but because they did not want them to be true.
This was the majority opinion, but not everyone felt this way. Though the town was against our Lord a handful of people were for Him. And they were not sorry for it. A few came to Him in broken health, and-
He laid hands on them and healed them.
Most, however, could not be healed, not for any lack of power or mercy on His part, but for a lack of faith on theirs. The source of our blessings is Christ, and He gives them to us through faith.
.which not everyone has, including the ones who have the most cause to believe.
To round off the story Mark tells us what our Lord did after His painful rejection-
He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.
He was shocked by the unbelief of His family and neighbors, but His love for them and His devotion to God's will for their salvation were stronger than His hurt, so-instead of rejecting them as they rejected Him-He kept preaching the Gospel to them, till finally their unbelief gave way to faith.
It is worth noting that, years later, when a Jewish lawyer tried to discredit the church in the eyes of the Roman authorities, he called them-
The sect of.the Nazarenes.
Through the preaching of Christ in person, and in His disciples after His death, the Lord's hometown quit withholding the honor they owed their Prophet, and became His most loyal disciples.
How good the Lord is to not give up on His People! Hardly anyone responds to Christ at first, and many refuse to follow Him for most of a lifetime. But in the end His patience prevails. Faith is given, Jesus is received, and a lifetime of unbelief is forgiven.
If He is this patient with us, we ought to be patient. We witness to our friends and pray for them, but instead of bringing them to Christ, our words only drive them farther away. We wonder why they don't believe, and then, we too, give in to despair. We become unbelievers, in effect, thinking they cannot be saved because their unbelief is too stubborn and their hearts are too hard. But, Is anything too hard for the Lord? If He can win Nazareth, He can win your bitter wife or your abusive father or a runaway daughter or neighbor whose unbelief seems invincible.
Most of all, let us beware of allowing familiarity to breed contempt. Some of us have grown up in church and heard the Gospel thousands of times. We've heard it all before; there's nothing fresh or new or stimulating. Maybe not, but there was nothing new about manna either-yet it was the food of angels and sustained a people in the wilderness for forty years!
The Gospel will do the same thing for us. Let us, therefore, rejoice in it and live by it. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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