Calvin College’s homecoming weekend was one month ago. I did not attend and in fact, I’ve not attended any of my high school or college homecoming celebrations. Perhaps it is because they always seem to fall on very busy times in the fall or maybe because I’ve always lived a good distance away. Or maybe the truth is that I’m just not that interested. Probably more to the point is that I didn’t really have a tight group of classmates and there is that inner fear that instead of saying, “Oh! Jerry Hoek!” they might say, “Jerry... Who?” Homecomings often come with a risk, don’t they? Will they know me? What will they think of me? Will they even care?
This morning we look at Jesus’ homecoming and it is very curious. Jesus goes back home to Nazareth after his extended time of ministry in the area around the Sea of Galilee and the Decapolis. It was a homecoming that didn’t go well for Jesus but even more sadly, it didn’t go well for the people in his hometown. For they questioned and ultimately rejected his teaching and his authority, and as a result they missed out on all the things that Jesus was doing elsewhere. The question I would like us to consider is whether we do similar things. Do we miss out on God’s blessings because of hardness of heart or even unbelief? Let’s read Mark 6:1-6.
Mark says that Jesus left Capernaum and traveled south into the hill country of Galilee. He came to the village where he had spent his youth and early years of his adulthood. Mark does not name Nazareth, but this is clearly meant by “his hometown.” Jesus returned to Nazareth accompanied by his disciples, just as a rabbi would be accompanied by his disciples. This reference to his disciples is important for during this period Jesus had been not only teaching and healing the people in Galilee but also training his disciples. Jesus will be sending them out on their first mission next in Mark 6:7-13. They needed to be trained for that and so Mark mentions them to anticipate that.
On the Sabbath day Jesus attended the synagogue in Nazareth and was given the opportunity to teach from the Old Testament Scriptures. Mark says that many in the congregation were amazed at his teaching. However, this in turn started the townspeople wondering where Jesus had received his teaching and wisdom. It also prompted them to wonder where Jesus had received the power which had been shown elsewhere in miracles of healing and casting out demons. So what is going on here? It is possible that the people in Nazareth had heard of the suspicions voiced earlier by the Jerusalem scribes and had believed them. But there is something more basic going on here than just that.
And so they wanted to know the source of his wisdom and who had given him the power to speak and act with such authority. The Jerusalem scribes’ answer was either the source was God or it was demonic. Remember from before that we saw that the scribes had concluded that Jesus was demon possessed. The local people in Nazareth weren’t that sophisticated in their conclusion. The first impressions of amazement wore off and it very soon became resentment when they recalled Jesus as just a construction guy in Nazareth. Not knowing the source of his wisdom, they find his ability and authority as a teacher offensive. In spite of what Jesus had said and done, the people could not get beyond the fact that this was Joseph’s son who was no better than any of them were.
The rhetorical question, “Isn’t this the carpenter, Mary’s son?” is very telling. First, there has been debate as to the meaning of the word “carpenter.” There may have been attempts in the early church of making Jesus’ first profession as being something more than just a menial construction laborer. However, Mark calls him a carpenter or we may say a construction worker. The question about his vocation is intended by the people to be derogatory. Is not this the carpenter means, “Is he not a common worker with his hands just like the rest of us are?”
The phrase “Mary’s son” is also disparaging. They disparagingly bring up his past as one whose mother was pregnant before she was married. You see it was contrary to Jewish custom to describe a man as the son of his mother, even when she was a widow – unless you wanted to insult a person. Jesus was to them an illegitimate “loser,” to use a common insult that some use today. They find no reason to think that Jesus had a special call of God to any kind of mission. They know his siblings and they “know” that there is nothing special about him.
Jesus responded with a proverbial saying: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” There are many parallels of this proverb in both Jewish and Greek literature. It would seem that many of his family and fellow villagers did not understand and certainly did not honor Jesus, much less believe in him. Remember what happened earlier with Jesus’ own family. In Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35 Mark says that Jesus was so busy healing and teaching while surrounded by crowds that he didn’t have time to eat. At that time his family and relatives expressed their view that Jesus was insane and attempted to stop his ministry by force. However, Jesus is doing more than just quoting a common wise proverb.
Jesus’ specific use of this proverb shows that he is intentionally comparing himself to the prophets. The Old Testament prophets were dishonored and rejected among their own people in Israel’s history. And so in saying this, Jesus anticipates his own ultimate rejection by Israel. Jesus is indeed a prophet and he knows that he will be rejected as such by his own. And as a result they missed the one of greatest worth.
In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Publishers, turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch book manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reviewer’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reviewer insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” The reviewer said that sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. The reviewer continued, “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely, I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.” Knopf wasn’t alone.
III. We read in verses 5-6 that as a result Jesus was unable to perform many miracles.
Now notice that Mark is not saying that Jesus was unable to do any miracles. It’s not like the people’s skeptical unbelief made it impossible for Jesus to do miracles. It wasn’t like Jesus suddenly no longer had that power. Rather in this setting, Jesus chose not to exercise his power in those circumstances. In the presence of unbelief Jesus restricted his activity to the healing of a few sick individuals. The power of God which Jesus had could be used only when there was faith. Unbelief meant that the people of Nazareth would not receive the power of Jesus that so many others had experienced.
As a result, Mark says that this time Jesus was amazed, the only time Mark describes this emotion of Jesus. Apparently Jesus had not anticipated the reaction of the people. And Jesus being amazed indicates the degree of resistance Jesus encountered there in Nazareth. It’s hard to imagine Jesus, as God, being amazed since he knows all and knows the hearts of all people. What was amazing to him was that people would reject the very one they had been looking for and the one who loved them and could save them!
The point is here is that the blessings that God is willing to pour out may be held back because of our unbelief. God is willing to pour out his blessings on people but in their stubborn unbelief people themselves can restrict those blessings. Is that something we do if we doubt God’s care or perhaps linger in sin? We have to be careful that we don’t think we earn God’s blessing in any way, but this instance shows that unbelief and sin caused Jesus to withhold his blessing and miracles. Do we restrict the blessings God is willing to pour out on us by doubting that God can deal with whatever our situations and problems may be? Let’s make sure that we fully accept our Lord Jesus in our lives so that we can receive the many rich and gracious blessings he came to give to us.