Category Archive: Bible – NT – Mark
Isaiah 56 describes the good news of coming salvation in terms of the inclusion of eunuchs in the house of God. Formerly, they were excluded from the assembly of Yahweh; they could not draw near to God (Deut 23:1). But why were they excluded?
As with many other exclusions from the assembly — for instance, the exclusion of those who have an emission or who have touched someone who is dead — the reason is symbolic, symbolic of something in the Old Creation so that when Christ comes and we enter the New Creation these exclusions no longer apply. Death results from sin, and if you touch someone dead it spreads so that you yourself are symbolically dead, and you may not bring that stench of death-as-a-result-of-man’s-sin into God’s presence. So too with the eunuch.
What is a eunuch? A eunuch is a man who is physically unable to beget, a man who by reason of damage to his organs of generation barren and fruitless. His fruitlessness symbolizes those who do not bear fruit to God’s glory, and, as Jesus teaches, those who do not bear fruit will be cut off and burned (John 15).
But now associate that with Mark 11:12ff. and the cursing of the fig tree. In my previous blog entry, I noted that Jesus, in his temple action, quotes from Isaiah 56 about his house becoming a house of prayer for all nations. This is not a statement about how it was always supposed to be, but about the salvation that was still future in Isaiah’s day. And Jesus makes it clear that that time of salvation is now here. But the context in Isaiah 56 also talks about the eunuch who is not to see himself as a withered tree. The fig tree that represents the fruitless temple and those who take refuge in it withers under Jesus’ curse, but when Jesus comes, eunuchs are no longer fruitless; they may enter God’s house and have a fruit better than sons and daughters and a name that will never die.
One step further: What’s the first reference to fig trees in the Bible? Genesis 3, where Adam and Woman sew fig leaves into garments with which they hide their genitals from each other. (Not from God: When he comes, they want something bigger to hide behind and so they hide behind the trees of the Garden.) Specifically, then, the first appearance of fig leaves is as garments that cover the source of man and woman’s fruitfulness.
The temple and those who use it as their hideout have fig leaves but no fruitfulness toward God. They are Adam and Woman, covering their fruitlessness. But Jesus exposes their fruitlessness. They are eunuchs who are banned from His house.
I have read many, many commentaries on Mark 11:12ff. All of them mention that Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” But none of them mention what is in the context.
They focus on the “all nations” and point out that the “son of a foreigner” will be welcome in the temple (Isa 56:3a, 6-8). But in the same context, we have this: “Let not the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a withered tree’” (Isa 56:3b). In the Septuagint, the Greek word translated withered here is exactly the same word that Mark uses in this context to describe the fig tree that Jesus curses.
He sandwiches Jesus’ temple action between two accounts of that fig tree — the cursing and the result — so that we will read what Jesus does in the temple in light of what he does to the fig tree and vice versa. The temple that rejects Jesus and has become a hideout for robbers is a barren, fruitless fig tree and Jesus’ curse will make it wither. But the eunuch who trusts in Jesus is not withered; he’s fruitful, and he will have a place in Jesus’ house and an everlasting name that will not be cut off (Isa 56:4-5).
When you’re preaching the narratives in Scripture — and this is particularly true when you’re preaching the Gospels — you have to answer the question: Am I preaching a particular text or am I preaching the event described in that text?
Here’s what I mean: At a certain point in his earthly ministry, just as he leaves Bethany one day on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus sends two men out to get a colt for him to ride on. That’s an event and it is recorded in all four Gospels.
But it isn’t recorded in exactly the same way; it’s not as if Mark, Luke, and John all say what Matthew says, word for word. Rather, each evangelist tells the story in his own way. Matthew and John cite Zechariah 9:9, which speaks of the king coming to Zion, lowly and riding on a donkey, but Mark and Luke don’t. Matthew tells you that the disciples brought two animals, a donkey and its colt, but the other evangelists mention only the colt, and Mark and Luke don’t even indicate that the colt was a donkey (which, I submit, suggests that they expect you to know that from reading Matthew). Mark and Luke make the point that the colt must be one on which no one has ever ridden, but Matthew doesn’t say that. Mark says that the crowds shouted a welcome to the kingdom of David, but the others don’t; Luke says that they shouted “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” but the others don’t. And there are a host of other differences, too.
So what do you do when you preach this passage? One approach is to preach the event, perhaps attempting to include (and harmonize) all the details from all four Gospels. The event actually happened and all the details of it (though accepting that the various details do harmonize and being able to show that they do are two different things).
This is sometimes a valuable thing to do. For instance, in John’s Gospel Jesus comes to the temple and overturns tables and drives out the sacrificial animals, and he does something similar in the other three Gospels. But there is a huge difference. John is describing an event that takes place early in Jesus’ ministry, but the other three Gospels report something that happened just before the cross. For a number of reasons, I take these to be two distinct events, one at the beginning and one at the end of Jesus’ ministry. No one Gospel reports both, but it wouldn’t be improper for a pastor to preach a sermon on both texts, perhaps showing how Jesus inspects the temple twice, just as a leprous house is inspected twice in Leviticus.
Preaching the event in that way has its place, just as a topical or thematic sermon has its place (e.g., a sermon on infant baptism that draws on a number of texts). It seems to me that this is what Klaas Schilder does in the meditations (not sermons) in his magnificent Christ in His Sufferings trilogy, often with breathtaking results. But here’s the problem: A sermon like that — preaching the event of the “triumphal entry” — isn’t preaching what any one Gospel actually says.
By trying to focus on the event and drawing in all the details from all the Gospels, such a sermon fails to say what a particular Gospel says. Matthew has a reason for drawing attention to Zechariah 9:9, but Mark and Luke have a reason not to. Mark is interested in Jesus as the son of David and his kingdom being the restored Davidic kingdom, but that’s not Luke’s point; Luke is interested in showing how the crowds shouted something similar to (and yet different from) what the angels shouted when they appeared to the shepherd, but that’s not John’s point. Each one is doing his own thing, drawing attention to one detail or another in order to make his own point, and if you preach the event, you miss that distinctiveness.
That said, there’s also a ditch on the other side, namely, preaching one particular text while ignoring what other texts about the same event say. And so I read commentaries on Mark 11:1-11 that say, for instance, that the colt could have been a horse. Not according to Matthew. Or they say that it wasn’t the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” and later on “Crucify him” because the ones shouting “Hosanna” were the Galilean pilgrims traveling with Jesus and the ones who shouted “Crucify him” later were the people of Jerusalem. Except that where Mark tells us the people traveling with Jesus shouted “Hosanna,” John 12 says that there was a crowd shouting the same thing that came from Jerusalem to meet Jesus — and some of them may have been shouting “Crucify” later. (Mind you, so may the Galilean pilgrims who traveled with Jesus, since, after all, they were still in Jerusalem at that time!). I read a commentary last night that talked as if these acclamations were offensive to Jesus, but Luke 19 says that Jesus refused to rebuke the crowds and told the Pharisees that if they kept silent even the stones would cry out, which certainly doesn’t sound like disapproval. In each of these cases, it appears that commentators have so focused on Mark that they have forgotten that Mark is describing an event and that he isn’t the only one to do so.
Now it’s not necessary for your sermon to include everything the other accounts say. If you’re preaching Mark 11, you don’t have to mention what John 12 says about there being a crowd coming from Jerusalem to meet Jesus or what Matthew 21 says about the colt and its mother being brought to Jesus. You may simply talk about the crowd with Jesus and the colt. But you do have to avoid saying something in your sermon on Mark 11 that would contradict those other passages.
Preaching the event is certainly permissible, sometimes particularly valuable. But it isn’t the same thing as preaching the text with its distinctive focus. And on the other hand, preaching the text allows you to say what the Spirit inspired a particular author to write, but it isn’t helpful if it focuses on the text to the exclusion of the actual event and the other accounts of it.
In his wonderful A Study in Saint Mark, Austin Farrer notes some of the patterns that converge in Mark 9:14-29. Here’s one:
Exorcism of child at parent’s request (Mark 7:24-30); Healing of a deaf-mute (Mark 7:31-37)
Healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26)
Exorcism of deaf-mute child at parent’s request (Mark 9:14-29)
Healing of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52) (Farrer, 41).
Later, Farrer points out that Mark has four healings in connection with family relations:
(1) A mother(-in-law) is healed at the request of a son(-in-law) (Mark 1:29-31)
(2) A daughter is healed at the request of her father (Mark 5:21-43)
(3) A daughter is healed at the request of her mother (Mark 7:24-30)
(4) A son is healed at the request of his father (Mark 9:14-29)
Interestingly, the first two involve opposite sexes (son and mother, father and daughter) while the last two involve relatives of the same sex (mother-daughter, father-son). I’m not sure what the significance of all of this might be, but Farrer points out that the sequence culminates in the healing of a father’s son, a son moreover who first falls down “as if dead” and then is raised up and arises — using two words associated with resurrection in the rest of Mark’s Gospel:
The healing of the “son of the father” prepares our minds most directly for what the climax of the Gospel is to reveal, the resurrection of the Father’s only Son. It is directly after being proclaimed Only Son by the Father’s voice that Jesus descends the mountain to heal the son of the father (Farrer, 51).
In fact, Farrer goes further:
It is indeed the function of the healing at the mountain’s foot to draw together all the themes of healing in the previous signs. To begin with, it fuses exorcism with restoration of sensitive powers [i.e., hearing, seeing, speaking], for the demon exorcised is a spirit of deafness and dumbness. It completes the theme of parental intercession, and revives the theme of resurrection. For the boy being exorcised falls as dead, and must be raised by the hand like Jairus’s child before he can enjoy his new and purified life (Farrer, 51-52).
Later in the book, Farrer returns to this story:
The exorcism beneath the mountain which Christ comes down from glory to perform is an enacted parable of his coming passion. In face of scribal hostility and unbelief, and of weakness in disciples who cannot pray, Christ masters the devil, but only through a falling dead and rising up again (Farrar, 152).
Then, toward the end of the book, Farrar draws together several patterns, showing how Mark’s Gospel starts with distinct exorcisms, healings, and cleansings and then begins to combine things so that the same event is both a healing and a cleansing (e.g., the woman with the flow of blood) or, as in Mark 9, an exorcism which is also a healing. About this story in Mark 9, Farrer says:
The last healing in the series … seems perfectly expressive, it seems to have everything. It is the expulsion of Satan, it is the quickening of the spiritual powers, it is health through falling dead and rising again, it is the salvation of the son of the father. But still it is a mere symbol, a mere foreshewing; we must go forward into the passion and resurrection of Christ to find the substance of salvation (Farrer, 315).
Everything I wrote about the characterization of Peter goes double for the characterization of James and John, who seem to be taken as a couple of hotheads on the basis of one — count it: one — incident in which they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritan village (Luke 9:54).
Oh, yes. There’s also the name Jesus gives them: “Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Some people immediately link that name up with the later event in Luke 9:54 and say, “See? That’s why Jesus gave them that name. They were rash and impetuous and hotheaded.” And since Luke 9 happened after Mark 3, they have to add either the claim that Jesus foresaw that they would say what they did in Luke 9 and named them on the basis of that foresight or the claim that the behavior exhibited in Luke 9 was characteristic so that they were already displaying that sort of hotheadedness at the time Jesus named them.
But there’s no reason at all to see Luke 9 as the basis of the name “Sons of Thunder.” In fact, there is no reason to take “Sons of Thunder” negatively at all, let alone to understand it as a reference to rashness or hotheadedness. Going further, there is no reason to take that name as referring to anything in James and John’s character at the time that Jesus named them.
Jesus gives new names to only three of his disciples and he does so at the same time. Simon he names Peter, not because Simon was already such a solid rock but because Jesus intended to make him into a rock who would be a foundation stone for the church. Just as by changing Abram’s name to Abraham and changing Sarai’s name to Sarah, Yahweh was making them into new people, the parents of the child of the promise, so by naming Simon “Rock” Jesus was making him into a rock, revealing in the name the plan he had for Simon.
But if that’s true of Simon’s new name, then the parallel suggests that it’s also true with James and John’s new name. “Sons of Thunder” is not a description of who they already were, nor is it a description of some foolishness or wickedness in their character that Jesus would have to change. Rather, it’s a description of who Jesus was going to make them to be.
What the name exactly means is disputed by commentators, but many associate it with God’s thunderous voice and with his judgment (Ex 9:23, 28, 29, 33, 34; 19:16; 20:18; 1 Sam 2:10; 7:10; 12:17, 18; 22:14; Job 26:14; 36:29, 33; 37:2, 4, 5; 40:9; Ps 18:13; 29:3; 77:18; 81:7; 104:7; Isa 29:6; Ezek 3:12, 13; John 12:29; Rev 4:5; 10: 3, 4 [this Angel is Jesus]; 11:19; 14:2). So it seems possible that Jesus is identifying James and John as two witnesses whose speech will be thunderous like God’s speech and will administer God’s judgment, for salvation for his people but destruction for his enemies.
That said, what James and John suggest in Luke 9 — fire from heaven, like lightning associated with thunder — could be seen as a perversion of their name. Just as Simon is supposed to be a rock, but is anything but when he rebukes Jesus, so James and John are supposed to be sons of thunder but are in danger of abusing their calling. Luke 9 is not the time and place for that sort of judgment to come from the sons of thunder, and James and John need to learn from Jesus the right way of responding — and the right time and to call down God’s fire from heaven.
The Son of Man must suffer, for is he not the Son of Man? Christ takes Man upon him where he finds him, not in immortality, but in corruption, not in paradise, but expelled and in the wilderness. Adam is tempted in paradise, and then driven forth; Christ is first driven forth, then tempted, for he begins where Adam is, not where Adam was…. It is not enough that Christ should suffer Adam’s temptation and vanquish it; he must suffer Adam’s death besides, and vanquish that. — Austin Farrer, A Study in Saint Mark, 280.
Mark 3:20-35 is one of Mark’s typical sandwiches, in which a story starts, gets interrupted by a second story which relates to it in some way, and then finally comes to its conclusion. Here, we are told that, having heard about Jesus’ behavior, some of “His own people” come to seize him, saying, “He is out of his mind” (3:20-21). Then we have the second story, Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem who claim that he casts out demons by the ruler of the demons (3:22-30). Finally, we return to the first story, when Jesus’ brothers and mother come and send for Jesus and when Jesus identifies those who are doing God’s will by sitting around him as his brother and sister and mother (3:31-35).
That structure is obvious even in an English translation. But a look at the Greek reveals an interesting play on words. At the beginning, when Jesus’ “own people” say that he is “out of his mind” (3:21), the word used literally (or, rather, etymologically) means “standing outside.” (Perhaps that’s roughly equivalent to our English expression “beside himself.”) But at the end of the story, Jesus’ “own people” turn out to be his brothers and mother, who come and, “standing outside,” call him (3:31; cf. 3:32, which stresses again that they are “outside”).
So Jesus’ “own people” think Jesus is the one “standing outside” (in the sense of “crazy”). But Jesus’ family members turn out to be the ones literally “standing outside,” while Jesus identifies those who are sitting inside as his true family, those who, in obedience to God’s will, are “sitting around him” (3:32, 34). To be his true family — his true mother and brothers — his natural mother and brothers must come inside instead of calling him out.
Jesus does indeed belong with his family. But at this point, in spite of their natural relationship with Jesus, Mary and his brothers are not that family. They are seeking to take him away from the ones who sit around him in obedience to God, away from the ones he identifies as his mother and brothers and sisters, in order to take him into their protective custody, as if Jesus would be safe with them instead of they themselves being safe with him. And therefore, though they did later trust in Jesus, they are acting at this moment in unbelief. For Mary to become Jesus’ “mother and brother and sister” now, she must join those who are with Jesus; she must come inside. Otherwise, she will be left outside his family.
Furthermore, in a sandwich story, the middle story also relates to the story that frames it. And so here it is not just the frame story that involves standing (and sitting). In 3:24-25, Jesus says that a divided kingdom or a divided household cannot “stand.” And in 3:26, he speaks of “the satan” as “standing up” against himself.
The reference to the divided household that doesn’t “stand” might resonate with the frame story: Jesus’ natural household won’t stand if his mother and brothers are divided against Jesus. While Mary and Jesus’ brothers are not saying, with the scribes from Jerusalem, that Jesus is in league with the ruler of the demons, they are still opposed to him, still acting in unbelief, and therefore still in danger. Their natural family relationship to Jesus will not keep them safe. Mary is not saved through giving birth to Jesus, and she is not blessed apart from her faith. If Mary and Jesus’ brothers continue to “stand outside” instead of “sitting around him,” then their household won’t stay standing.
What about the reference to Satan’s “standing up” (a term for both resurrection and insurrection) against himself (3:26)? I’m not sure how — or if — it relates to the frame story, though it does provide one more verbal echo in this passage. For that matter, Mark’s Gospel is full of references to “standing”: in every healing, people “stand up,” until at the end the same terms are used for Jesus’ resurrection.
But the repetition of the word “stand” and especially of words having to do with “standing outside” sets up this question: Who is really “standing outside”? If Jesus’ family thinks Jesus is “standing outside” in the sense of being insane, then their household won’t “stand.” And if you think Jesus is “standing outside” in that sense, then you end up “standing outside” yourself, here literally but, as Jesus’ words make clear, also in a deeper sense.
The family is sitting inside, sitting around Jesus and with Jesus. While not everyone has to be crowded into the room where Jesus is sitting, everyone must be with him and not against him. That’s God’s will. Only Jesus’ family is safe, only the mother and brothers and sisters who stick with him. You’d have to be insane to be “standing outside.”
In Mark 13:32, Jesus says, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (cf. Matt. 24:36). That’s somewhat puzzling. Is it a limitation on Jesus’ omniscience, as if God the Father knows things that God the Son doesn’t? That can’t be. So is it saying that Jesus as a man doesn’t know things that God the Son knows? Even so, that’s still puzzling.
A friend of mine argued once for a different approach: When Jesus says that even the Son does not know the day and hour, he said, he is speaking of knowing something in order to pass it on to others. Neither the angels nor the Son has been given the knowledge of the day and hour in the sense that neither is commissioned to reveal it and make it known to us.
I haven’t studied this passage and so I won’t claim that this is the right interpretation. But the other day, I was reading Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 10 (Psalm 9, part 2, for Augustine). In that exposition, he mentions those passages in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Lo and behold, he says exactly what my friend said:
What, then, is so hidden as that which is said to be hidden even from the judge himself, not as far as his knowing it is concerned, but as regards his revealing it? (Expositions of the Psalms, 1:158, emphasis mine).
Klaas Schilder on Jesus’ suffering when Peter rebuked him when he was preaching about his upcoming suffering, rejection, and death:
And for the Saviour, fully aflame as He is with love for mankind, it is far worse suffering to meet a satan of flesh and blood than to confront that one great Devil who is sheer spirit. Jesus Himself is human. He called Simon Barjona a friend. And a friend’s opposition to the task which God placed upon the Son of man is a burden outweighing a thousand times the enmity to Him and the Father breathed out by the Demon of the pit.
Hearing His bride speak and act satanically, seeing a human being, one of those for whom He is giving His life, become an instrument of Satan, observing the flesh in Simon Peter assert itself to take exception to heaven’s law of atonement through fulfillment, and all that, mark well, at the moment of Christ’s prophesying — that must have been Jesus’ severest suffering up to this time. For He knows all the while that this same rebellion of flesh against spirit will presently nail Him to the cross. — Klaas Schilder, Christ in His Suffering, p. 20.
I have been preaching through the book of Mark and recently preached on Mark 8, where Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he must suffer many things, be rejected, die, and rise again. Peter scolds Jesus and Jesus, in turn, scolds Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.”
A study of the way “behind me” is used in Mark’s Gospel suggests that it is the language of discipleship. When Jesus called Peter, the same words are used: “Come behind me” (1:17). And in the very next verse, after Jesus rebukes Peter, he uses the same words again: “If anyone wants to come behind me” (8:34).
In that light, it appears that what Jesus is saying to Peter is not “Go away and don’t come back.” Rather, it is “Get back behind me. Return to your proper place as a disciple, not confronting me satanically to tempt me to step off the way, but following behind me on the way.”
Mark likes to play with the words for resurrection. Again and again in his Gospel, Mark tells us how Jesus raised up the people He healed or how they arose. He does not need to mention their posture, but he chooses to do so, emphasizing their rising. And the terms he uses are the terms associated in this Gospel with Jesus’ own resurrection.
On a first reading, these words may not jump out at us. But by the time we come to the raising of Jairus’s daughter and certainly by the time Jesus rises at the end of the Gospel, we should be able to see what Mark has been doing all along.
His Gospel is like a mystery novel. When you come to the end and you see what all the clues were leading up to, you can go back and read the book again and recognize the clues for what they are. And so, after finishing Mark’s Gospel, we can go back and read it again with the final scene in mind and see all the ways in which Jesus’ healings and the ways in which people rise or are raised foreshadow what will happen to Jesus and what will happen to those who belong to Him.
That much I learned from Mark Horne’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, and possibly also from Austin Farrer’s A Study in St. Mark.Â But today, as I worked on Mark 1:35-39, something else jumped out at me.
All the events in the preceding verses (Mark 1:21ff.) took place on the Sabbath. Now, Mark tells us, “early in the morning,” which would be on the first day of the week, Jesus arose and went out to the wilderness, where Simon and “those with him” (presumably Andrew, James, and John) hunted him down. From there, they did not return to Capernaum. Instead, they kept going to the other towns and cities in Galilee so that Jesus could preach there also. That, Jesus says, was the purpose for which he came forth.
Just as the rising of the people Jesus heals foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection and our resurrection, so too this is a foreshadowing of the resurrection. Mark even uses the same words at the end of his Gospel when he tells us that “early in the morning” the women came to Jesus’ tomb (Mark 16:2; cf. Mark 1:35) only to discover that he had already risen. Mark adds that this was “on the first day of the week,” as was Jesus’ rising in Mark 1.
While the word for “He has risen” in Mark 16:6 is a different word, in verse 9 Mark uses the same word that appears in Mark 1, adding the word “early” again and saying once more that this was “on the first day of the week.”
When the angel appears to the women, what he says also reminds us of Mark 1. In Mark 1, we’re told that “Simon and those with him” found Jesus. Now, the angel tells the women to give a message to Jesus’ disciples “and Peter” (16:7).Â And just as Jesus told the disciples that he had come forth in order to go to the other towns in Galilee, now the angel wants the women to tell the disciples that Jesus is going before them to Galilee (16:7).
In Mark 1, Jesus is training the disciples for their future mission.Â Jesus’ mission is not just to Capernaum, their homeÂ town, nor is it the kind of mission the people in Capernaum might want, a mission limited to healing and exorcism. Jesus came to preach, to announce the fulfilment of the time that the prophets had foretold, the time when God’s kingdom was coming. And that message had to go to all Israel throughout Galilee.
When Jesus rises from the dead, his mission starts with him leading the disciples to Galilee again. From the other Gospels, we know that they returned to Jerusalem later. But first Jesus led them to Galilee, where he sent them out to the world: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (16:15; cf. Matt. 28:16-20).
Their mission will start in Jerusalem, but just as Jesus didn’t allow Capernaum to be his center of operations to which everyone had to come for healing or to hear him, so Jesus doesn’t allow Jerusalem to be the disciples’ home base. Now people don’t flow to Jerusalem; now the disciples go out, following Jesus, to Galilee and then to the world.
A PROPHET IN HIS HOMETOWN
(July 31, 2005, Sermon Notes)
When a new king arrives, everyone reacts. Some welcome him; others oppose him. That opposition may take many forms. You can attack openly, work against him secretly, or just brush him off and try to ignore him.
That’s what happens when we proclaim Jesus as Lord. Nobody stays neutral. Everyone responds, some in faith and some in unbelief. In Mark 6, Jesus comes to His hometown and His presence and His message provoke a response, but it is a respond of amazing unbelief.
NAZARETH’S AMAZEMENT AT JESUS (6:1-3)
Mark’s Gospel reaches its first climax with the raising of Jairus’s daughter. But then Jesus goes “from there” â€”Â from Jairus’s house â€”Â to “His hometown” (literally: “His father-town”). It’s Nazareth, but Mark doesn’t call it by name here; instead he describes it as the place where Jesus grew up, the place where Jesus’ father had lived, the place where His mother and brothers and sisters live.
Jesus’ disciples are with Him on this trip, which indicates that this is part of their training (Mark 3:14). In fact, given that Nazareth wasn’t near Capernaum, it appears that this was a special trip to teach His disciples something important.
What happens looks like what happened in Capernaum at first. Jesus teaches on the Sabbath in the synagogue, preaching the same message He always preached. But He didn’t get to finish His sermon. Mark tells us that Jesus began to teach but then questions arose.
People weren’t asking Jesus questions; they asked each other. They recognize that Jesus is like David and Solomon: He teaches with wisdom. They recognize that Jesus has great authority and performs mighty works. But they don’t respond in faith. They don’t let Jesus teach. They don’t listen to Him when He calls them to repent. They don’t rejoice in the good news. They aren’t persuaded by His miracles: miracles in themselves don’t create faith.
In their questions they distance themselves from Jesus: “Where did this man get these things?” They don’t ask Jesus for an explanation. They simply ask each other in amazement because what they see and hear from Jesus doesn’t fit with what they think they already know about Him: Jesus is nothing more than the carpenter, Mary’s son, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.
This is the lesson that the disciples need to learn for their own mission: Resurrection is followed by rejection. Some people will not believe even if a person rises from the dead. To some people, Jesus would only be “Jesus of Nazareth” and all the wonders He did â€”Â even His resurrection itself â€”Â wouldn’t persuade them that He was Lord and Messiah. And still today, people stumble over Jesus because the gospel looks foolish, because they don’t want to submit, because they think they understand Him well enough already â€”Â and because they aren’t impressed by His ministers either.
In Nazareth, the people reject Jesus because He’s “the carpenter,” the builder. But the irony is that Jesus really is the builder, the one constructing a new house of Israel. And that is precisely why they need Him.
JESUS’ AMAZEMENT AT NAZARETH (6:4-6)
In their amazement, Nazareth rejects Jesus. And now Jesus is amazed and in His amazement, He rejects them. But first He puts their rejection of Him into its proper context: “A prophet is not without honour except in His own country, among His own relatives, and in His own house.”
What’s happening to Jesus isn’t unheard of. Rather, it fits the pattern we know from Scripture, and it’s the pattern that the disciples will also experience, the pattern we experience today. Often in the Old Covenant the Gentiles listened to the prophets when Israel wouldn’t. Elijah had to flee. David, too, had to flee from Saul but found refuge with the Philistines.
The people of Nazareth think their rejection of Jesus is wisdom, the result of insight that the rest of Israel doesn’t have. They know Jesus! But Jesus sets their response to Him in the light of Scripture as just one more instance of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh and His prophets. Jesus is despised, and His own people did not esteem Him (Isa. 53).
Their dishonour has consequences: Jesus “could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (6:5). It isn’t that their unbelief drained away His power. He still had the power to heal. But He couldn’t heal those who didn’t come.
Unbelief keeps you from Jesus and prevents you from enjoying His healing power. In the context of faith, Jesus conquers death and raises people to life (Mark 5:21-43) because death itself is only sleep for those who believe. But now we see that unbelief is more deadly than death.
In spite of the widespread unbelief, though Jesus does find some who are sick who respond in faith and He lays His hands on them as He did on Jairus’s daughter â€”Â the posture of blessing â€”Â and heals them. Even widespread unbelief can’t stop Jesus from establishing God’s kingdom, and that’s comfort for the disciples who will face rejection after Jesus’ resurrection. It’s comfort for us.
More than that, Jesus’ brothers are named in this passage, as is His mother, and it appears that all of them later came to trust Him. He appeared to James, His brother, after His resurrection and James became one of the great leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Though it may seem as if the gospel isn’t doing much when we preach it, in the end it may break through the unbelief of those who reject it now.
Still, the dominant note here is not comfort or joy but sorrow and astonishment at Nazareth’s unbelief. Jesus marvels at this unbelief, not because He didn’t understand it but because unbelief itself is so astounding. In the light of all that Jesus has said and done, unbelief is unbelievable!
And so Jesus rejects Nazareth. This isn’t a final rejection: He doesn’t destroy Nazareth; He still leaves time for the people there to change their minds. But He withdraws in judgment, not bothering to try to answer Nazareth’s questions, and He goes to other towns instead. In fact He never enters another synagogue in Mark’s Gospel.
The king’s arrival demands a choice and everyone responds. Some people won’t believe, no matter what wonders Jesus does, and that unbelief is deadly. If you stumble over Jesus, you end up outside God’s kingdom. But all who trust Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus “the carpenter,” foolish as His gospel may sound, insignificant as He may seem, experience His power, the power to restore them to wholeness, the power to build them up into God’s house.