SERMON: The Unbelief of False Believers | Mark 6:1–6

The Unbelief of False Believers | Mark 6:1–6
Shaun Marksbury | Quacco Baptist Church
Sunday Evening Service | 30 July, 2017

This week, we are looking at how unbelief operates.  More to the point, we’ll see how unbelief operates among supposed believers.  So, we are examining the unbelief of false believers.

What do we see?  First, unbelief causes false believers to be scandalized by Christ (vv. 1–4).  Second, unbelief causes false believers to be separated from Christ (vv. 5–6).  Let’s start our examination.



Sermon Notes:

I.               Introduction

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some of the most incredible miracles in Scripture.  Jesus has calmed the storm that the disciples saw as their death.  He casts out the legion of demons from the man that no one could bind.  He heals a malady that no physician could heal.  He raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead.  Jesus Christ alone performs the works of the Father (Jn 10:37).

Yet, Jesus’s trip home in this text is hollow by comparison.  This is Jesus’s last recorded trip to Nazareth.  One would think that His final trip would have been the first recorded in Luke 4.  There, they become so incensed at His message, that they seek to throw Him off the cliff and stone Him.  Still, He comes back now, sadly to find His hometown in cool and settled unbelief.

As such, in v. 6, we read that Jesus is amazed.  Whereas others marveled at Christ (5:20; 15:5), now it is His turn to be astounded at faithlessness in the midst of such truth and verifiable miracles.  This is the second of only two instances where we read that Jesus was amazed—the other was in Luke 7:9, where the centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant from a distance.  This grievous instance is bewilderment at the dogged refusal to believe from who were otherwise seemingly faithful Jews.

What was this lack of faith?  Understand that we never read that human faith was a prerequisite for Jesus’s miracles—He cast demons out of a man without anyone asking, and He raised a dead girl who obviously exercised no faith!  Yet, His townspeople only gave Him a polite hearing on the Sabbath, and we read that He only began to teach.  We also read that He “could do no mighty work there, except… a few” (v. 5).  In other words, in cities like Capernaum where He’d essentially eradicated all sickness, relatively few Nazarenes came to Him to be healed.  

So, this wasn’t simple lack of faith, but determined unbelief.   Unbelief in God’s Word is always linked to a wicked disposition.  It was when Eve disbelieved God’s Word that she ate of the fruit.  It was their refusal to repent and believe that caused the people of Noah’s day to perish in the worldwide deluge.  This is the unbelief that condemns a soul to the judgment of hellfire; as John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  And the people of Nazareth have a sinful, morally culpable state of mind, a self-condemning resolve to not believe. 

This serves as a contrast to what we studied last week.  We saw then how true faith in the Savior operates.  This week, we are looking at how unbelief operates.  More to the point, we’ll see how unbelief operates among supposed believers.  So, we are examining the unbelief of false believers. 

What do we see?  First, unbelief causes false believers to be scandalized by Christ (vv. 1–4).  Second, unbelief causes false believers to be separated from Christ (vv. 5–6).  Let’s start our examination.

II.            Unbelief causes false believers to be scandalized by Christ (vv. 1–4)

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.”

Again, in v. 1, Jesus travels about twenty miles southwest from Capernaum to where He grew up—Nazareth.  The local man who was gaining national fame returned with His twelve disciples (v. 7).  At some point since Jairus’s house, then, the rest of disciples the disciples met with Jesus. 

The disciple’s presence means that He wasn’t just visiting home; Jesus planned on engaging in public ministry.  However, compared to previous passages in Mark, we notice something lacking.  In v. 1, we read that He came to Nazareth, and v. 2 picks up on the following Sabbath day.  Where are the crowds?  Verse 5 says that He only healed a few sick people, indicating that folks simply were not coming to Him.  The public ministry, then, is restricted to the synagogue.

Still, we see Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath day wherever He was.  Remember that the custom was to have a visiting rabbi teach a lesson, and Jesus is here with His disciples.  The local leader of the synagogue, then, allows Jesus another opportunity to teach.  We don’t know if this wasn’t simply a tradition, but my guess is that the townsfolk did not look forward to having to hear Jesus again.  Verse 2 says that Jesus began to teach, perhaps indicating that could not finish.   They were polite, and they thought it to be enough.

It’s important at this point the kind of people we’re talking about here.  These were not atheists.  Neither were they wicked individuals, shunning religion and out committing mayhem.  Nor were they Pharisees, professionally religious and politically motivated.  These were essentially small-town, church-going, average folks.  They were where they should have been, but they were unwilling to receive Christ’s Word.

Their silent arrogance is notwithstanding the fact that, on some level, His teaching was resonating with them.  Verse 2 actually says that they were amazed, and the same word for amazement or astonishment used in 1:22.  He teaches with a level of wisdom they had never seen before—and they ask, “Where did this man get these things?  What is the wisdom given to him?”  Moreover, He performed a few miracles, as we read in v. 5.  They also ask, “How are such mighty works done by his hands?”  These kinds of questions could have taken them a good direction, but false believers have commitments deeper than their professed faith: commitments to their sins.

That’s why their amazement turned their hearts to scandal, not worship.  The word for “offence” in v. 3 is the same word used in 4:17 of the seed that took root in the stony ground—the plant grew, but immediately “fell away” at the first sign of tribulation.  They would not continue with Christ because they did not have a God-given, genuine faith growing within them.  Perhaps it happened knowingly or unknowingly, but they suddenly and definitely come to a realization that Jesus means trouble, so they begin haranguing Him.

They ask, “Is not this the builder”—the carpenter, the craftsman.  This word is not limited to wood creations, and could include stone masonry and metalsmithing.  Some commentaries mention that Joseph and Jesus possibly built yokes for oxen, others that they worked in stone.  They continue, “Is not this… the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

Now, on the surface, this seems like a reasonable set of questions, but they are questions designed to lead to the people being offended.  They are questions to distract from what is being said.  In exercises of logic, this is called a red herring—not relevant to the message and evidence before them.  However, in their determination to remain in sin, they muddy the water, they put up a smokescreen—they avoid personal application altogether by asking unrelated questions. 

Indeed, there’s a second logical fallacy involved: the ad hominem, the attack against the Man.  Here, they know a man without intensive religious training—He worked in their community not long ago with His hands.  The Greek world did not value the blue-collar tradesman.  Similarly, perhaps the Jews here assume God doesn’t use the mundane or ordinary to accomplish His purposes, though He does (1 Cor 1:18–31).

This attack expands when they ask, “Is this not the son of Mary?”  Typical Jewish practice was to refer to someone by the name of the father rather than the mother.  Some commentaries suggest that they refer to Mary here only because Joseph is dead; even with Joseph dead, however, they should have referred to Jesus as “the son of Joseph.”  The reason they call Him the “son of Mary” is because there’s still a lingering question as to Jesus’s legitimacy. 

Remember, Mary was found to be pregnant before her and Joseph’s wedding night.  In John 8:41, Jesus has this exchange: “ ‘You are doing the works your father did.’ They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.’ ”  In John 8:29, the Pharisees say, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

What’s more, they point out His brothers and sisters.  As an aside, this is more evidence that Jesus had earthly brothers.  Yet, John 7:5 says that “not even his brothers believed in him.”  It’s likely that this small town knew this and that his brothers thought that Jesus was out of His mind (Mark 3:21).  There’s no doubt that they influenced many a local inquirer about their brother. 

They are offended—scandalized.  And so, Jesus quotes an old adage, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”  Jesus places Himself on par with the prophets and was indeed recognized by many as a prophet (v. 15; 8:28; Mt 21:11, 46; Lk 7:16; 24:19; Jn 6:14; 7:40; 9:17).  Yet, the townspeople disbelieved, as did Jesus’s “relatives and… household.”  They all refuse to believe Him.

Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt and their hearts grow hard.  It’s difficult to imagine how God could use the child down the street for such a great work.  When a local community knows all the faults and warts of an individual, it’s difficult to imagine that a great change has taken place.  Perhaps there is even a bit of jealousy at play in their hearts.  But this is even more than simple familiarity at play here—for those closest to Jesus feel the height of conviction of their sin.  They will either repent or reject the work He is doing. 

What do we learn?  Professed believers prove themselves to be false when they reject the message and work of Christ.  Someone may talk about the wonderful teachings of Jesus, but strictly in reference to some moralistic dogma like the Golden Rule.  They may even believe that He can work miracles.  Maybe they become comfortable and familiar with the “old, old story,” but for some reason, reject what He can do in their own lives.

Being where the Word of God is taught is not enough.  Having a good impression of Jesus, even awe, is no evidence of conversion.  And you’ll know the scandal of Jesus happens when He brings the truth too near, too personal.  His presence reveals those who merely masquerade as believers, those who will never have Him.  The sad reality is that theirs isn’t a true faith, and they reject Christ in the end.  That brings us to the next point:

III.         Unbelief causes false believers to be separated from Christ (vv. 5–6)

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.

Others marveled at Christ (5:20; 15:5), but here, Christ is astounded at faithlessness amid His truth and verifiable miracles.  He now preached repentance and belief in His gospel message (1:14–15; 6:2), and their initial excitement faded to offense.  They may have believed in God, but they disbelieved they needed to apply His message.

As such, He could not do a miracle there.  Again, it’s not that faith is a prerequisite for God to work.  However, one’s choice to disbelieve will certainly prevent Christ’s power from being known. 

MacArthur theorizes a positive spin to this situation: “Or, more importantly it may signify that Christ limited His ministry both as an act of mercy, so that the exposure to greater light would not result in a worse hardening that would only subject them to greater condemnation, and a judgment on their unbelief.”[1] 

The more miracles done there would have increased their condemnation, so a lack of mighty works was somewhat a mercy.  As Jesus explains in Mt 11:20–24: “Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.  ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! or if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’ ”

Still, that is nothing in the way of good news.  It is but a lessening of impending judgment.  Nazareth stands condemned.  Mt 7:6 says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Sure, they’re near Jesus in proximity or by blood, but their hearts are far (cf. Mt 15:8). 

They disbelieved by rejecting His message.  In v. 4, He places Himself on par with the prophets, and He was indeed recognized by others as a prophet (v. 15; 8:28; Mt 21:11, 46; Lk 7:16; 24:19; Jn 6:14; 7:40; 9:17).  However, He implies that He’s without honor, for His own family thought He’d lost His mind (3:21; cf. Jn 7:5).  Now, their embarrassment turns to outright rejection. 

They disbelieved by not coming to Him.  As a result, He was engaged in circuit or itinerant teaching.  He left Nazareth because of their unbelief.  Even so, He didn’t sink into despondency; He continued the work of gospel ministry elsewhere.

IV.         Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to imagine that the Christian sitting in the pew next to us is, well, not a Christian.  It’s even more difficult to imagine that you might not be the believer that you claim to be.  Even so, we see a repeated theme in the gospels—members of the God-believing nation coming to Christ, having good initial reactions to Him, but ultimately rejecting Him in their own lives. 

Thankfully, none are too far or too near for Him to save.  His family would eventually believe.  After He appeared resurrected to His brother (1 Cor 15:7), His family joined the disciples “with one accord” in prayer (Acts 1:14).  James and Judas (Jude) would pen the New Testament books bearing their names, and James even became the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13; Gal 1:19).  He saves those who grew up with Him, such as in church, who previously never came to Him.  Repent and believe today.

If you are a believer, notice the kind of rejection you may experience, even from supposed believers.  Next week, we are going to look at the sending of the Apostles, and they’re here, in Nazareth, with Jesus.  It’s important for Christ’s disciples to see the kind of rejection they may receive.  Down in v. 11, we read that He says, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  Sometimes, as we share the gospel, we need to be aware that there comes a time to move on to someone else.

[1] John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 1997), 1470.

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