Unbelief Isn’t Always About Evidence
Text: Mark 6:1-6
Main Idea: Unbelief is the abject refusal to acknowledge the wisdom and work of God in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
I. An Intentional Homecoming
II An Astonishing Response
III. A Commentary on Unbelief
The most surprising thing we see in our text this morning is that unbelief is not fueled by a lack of empirical evidence, like authoritative teaching, miraculous healings, and changed lives. Nor is unbelief easily dissolved by the bonds of long-term personal relationships. And that is because, more often than not, unbelief is driven by a deep-seated unwillingness to accept that God would choose to fulfill his promises through utterly unimpressive agents. To put it another way, unbelief is just as much about the messenger as it is the message.
In fact, many of you who came to faith in Jesus later in life have experienced exactly what I am talking about. Your life before Jesus was a mess. But, God in his infinite grace broke into your world when you heard the gospel message. You were convicted of your sin, you were concerned for your eternal state, you embraced Jesus by faith as your only hope of forgiveness and restoration to God, and Jesus transformed you into a completely different person.
And as a result of this you wanted nothing more than to see your spouse, your family, and your friends come to faith in Jesus too. So you shared the gospel with them, you shared how Jesus turned your life upside down. But, they responded in piercing ridicule instead of personal repentance… because they knew who you used to be.
As we turn to our text this morning, the first time Gospel reader might expect that Jesus’ hometown will celebrate his growing fame and believe his message, after all they have known him for the longest time. But, their response is no better than the Scribes and the Pharisees.
Main Idea:Unbelief is the abject refusal to acknowledge the wisdom and work of God in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
An Intentional Homecoming (Mark 6:1)
If we were reading this book for the first time and knew absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ, at the end of chapter 5 we might be thinking, “Everyone is going to believe is Jesus now—how can they possibly misunderstand who he really is?” What I mean by this is that, Jesus has just displayed his sovereign lordship over the ocean, over a legion of demons, and over death itself. But, the change in location this morning introduces a drastic change in the narrative. (the crowds have been amazed at Jesus’ authority (1:22; 5:20; 6:2), but in Nazareth it is Jesus who is amazed at their disbelief.)
The journey from Jarius’ house to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth is only about 25 miles—roughly the distance from Poulsbo to Port Orchard. But, the difference is that Nazareth would make Port Orchard look like a thriving metropolis.
Except for a few mentions in the NT, Nazareth was virtually unknown to the rest of the world.
- If you dig through the OT, the works of the Jewish historian Josephus, and the rabbinical writings known as the Mishna and the Talmud you will not find a single reference to Nazareth.
- In fact, the first known record of Nazareth is from two-centuries after the time of Christ. And the first recorded church is from the time of Constantine in 325 AD.
And this is because, Nazareth was nothing more than an obscure ramshackle village of about 500 people who lived in homes built out of rock and dirt… this may very well be the reason Nathaniel tells Philip: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
What I want to you see is that Nazareth was the kind of place that could use a hometown hero it was the kind of place that could use any reason to celebrate…
An Astonishing Response (Mark 6:2–3)
A Cynical Audience
What we see in these verses is the sad but true reality that questions do not always lead to the truth, especially when those questions are driven by cynical presuppositions. What I mean by this is that the people of Nazareth do not respond to Jesus’ teaching like the Jews did at Pentecost to Peter’s preaching or Paul’s preaching in Berea..
Acts 2:37–38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 17:11 …received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
The people of Nazareth don’t ask how to respond to his teaching nor do they search the Scriptures to see if Jesus’ teaching is true. Rather, they react with a battery of suspicious questions.
Mark 6:2…“Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?
Notice, they don’t try to refute the obvious. They have witnessed his miracles. They have heard him teach and believe he has wisdom. But, they never get around to asking the question that will ultimately lead them to the answer they are seeking— “What does this really mean?” The reality is that their questions are not driven by an honest desire to uncover and understand the true source of Jesus’ unexpected power BUT to paint him as a charlatan and confirm their private belief that Jesus is utterly unremarkable.
What I mean by this is that, every single question is designed to undermine, demean, and damage both his character and his motives even though he motivated by their eternal good in the gospel.
Mark 6:3 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.
A Scandalous Backstory
On the surface these three questions seem rather innocuous. In fact, these questions seem like they should drive the towns people of Nazareth to embrace Jesus because they have known Jesus for close to thirty years. They have seen him in the streets playing with the other children, they have had him over for dinner, they have seen him work with his father, they have seen him in the synagogue. They know his temperament, his character, and his love for God. And for all of this, they have never seen him commit a single sin.
But, the scandal is not that knew something sinful about Jesus’ past. Rather, the scandal is that he is acting with greater authority than his family background and social status warrant.
They knew that Jesus grew up as a common blue collar man. What I mean by this, is that, the term “carpenter” (τέκτων) has a very broad range meaning; it can denote a “carpenter,” a “builder,” a “craftsman,” a “stonemason,” or a menial “construction worker.” Therefore, their first point is simply this, we know that you didn’t go to an ivy league school. You grew up with callouses on your hands and dirt under your fingernails just like us.
Second, they openly insult him by calling him the son of Mary. In the first-century, a child’s lineage was always linked to their father. Therefore, they are most likely propagating the town’s long-held belief that Jesus was an illegitimate child and that illegitimacy transferred directly over to his present ministry.
Third, they knew everyone in Jesus’ family, a family that traveled all the way to Capernaum in chapter 3 to drag him back to Nazareth because they thought he had completely lost his marbles. They don’t merely know his family. The towns people know that his family—as this stage of his ministry—doesn’t believe in him either.
See, their “offence” is not simply dislike but a deep seated refusal to believe that that God would use someone like Jesus. In fact, Mark uses,the Greek root word behind our English verb “offence” in verse 3 (σκάνδαλον), eight times in his Gospel to denote various obstructions that prevent people from coming to faith in OR faithfully following Jesus Christ.
Mark 4:16–17 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.
Therefore, I think the residence of Nazareth are saying, “Jesus, who are you to walk into town with your merry little band of followers like you own the place?! Sure you can teach and you’ve learned a few tricks. But, do you really think we are going to follow you? We know you, and we know that you are no better than us. Why don’t you just pack up your little sideshow here and take it somewhere else… we don’t believe you are anything more than a carpet-bagging counterfeit.
A Commentary on Unbelief (Mark 6:4–6)
Notice, this chapter began with the people marveling at Jesus’ teaching and the story ends with Jesus marveling at their unbelief. The three groups of people that should respond from years of intimate relationships (hometown, relatives, and family) turn on him faster that the Scribes and the Pharisees did.
But, what does their unbelief have to do with his ability to heal? Does Jesus feed on their faith before he can perform a miracle? Does he need to fill up his “faith tank” with a crowds belief so that he has enough power to heal? I realize I am being a little ridiculous, but no. Jesus is the omnipotent creator of the universe. He just calmed a raging storm despite the disciples unbelief.
Mark isn’t trying to say that Jesus did not have enough “power” to do more miracles. His “so-called” inability is directly related to the town’s moral condition. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus consistently heals those who come to him in faith—the previous two miracles in chapter 5 underscore this very point (5:21–43).
Jesus is not unable or unwilling to heal broken people his backwater town. In fact the text tells us that he healed a few people by laying his hands on them. This is a key detail. Jesus healed the people who stepped out in faith despite the angry crowd. And he only healed a few because the people’s cynical unbelief prevented them from bring more of their sick people to Jesus in the first place.
Hebrew 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Pursue Jesus with Eyes of Faith NOT Cynical Unbelief
What do we see in the text? The greatest obstacle to faith is not the failure of God to act. But, the unwillingness of the human heart to accept [how God has acted] the God who humbled himself, setting aside his glory, becoming one of us so that he might be rejected and bear our sin on the cross so that we might be restored to God through faith.
John 1:10–13 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
If you are still wrestling with the message of the gospel, don’t give up and don’t give into cynical unbelief. Please get ahold of me, I’d love to spend time in the Bible with you to help you see who Jesus really, why he came, and the promises for all who believe in him.
Don’t reject the greatest news in the history of the world and lose your soul. Don’t persist in unbelief. The promise of the gospel—just like the healing in this passage—is available to everyone who comes to Jesus by faith.
Rejection: The Way of Discipleship.
The Gospel writer wants his readers to know that Jesus’ rejection was wholly undeserved and an ever-present experience. The religious leaders oppose Jesus. His family think he’s lost his mind. And his hometown think he is nothing more than an egotistical pretender.
As we read thorough this Gospel, we see that his miraculous works and authoritative teaching didn’t shield him from mud-slinging defamation, unwarranted attacks, and wholesale rejection. But, all of this was prophesied over 700 years before his birth.
Isaiah 53:1–3Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Jesus isn’t like Joel Osteen, promising you can have your best life now. Jesus is the one who says:
Mark 8:34–36And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
This is the call of the gospel, “Don’t waste your life on things that will not ultimately satisfy. Don’t avoid the very real cost of following me because you can gain the whole world and lose your soul.
And to the believer he says, “rejection is a normal part of the Christian life.”
A few years ago I met a Bhutanese man who came to faith in Jesus later in life. He had a great education. He had a great job in the government. He was moving his way up the ladder… But, everything changed after he became a Christian. From the moment his supervisor found out he converted from Buddhism, this man has never received another promotion and exists as a social outcast in the workplace as an ever-present example to anyone else who might do the same thing.
But, this man is not bitter. He is content with his situation and uses his free time to further God’s kingdom in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. He knows that he is called to live his life as resident foreigner in a foreign land because his citizenship is no longer defined by his nationality (1 Pet 1:1, 17; 2:11). Rather, through his “new birth” he is a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20) and child of the king.
I don’t know the hardships you have to endure for following Jesus. But, I want you to know that Jesus has faced everything you are facing and even more. Satan wants you to believe the lie that Jesus doesn’t know your hardships, that he does not care about your pain, or that your suffering is pointless.
1 Peter 4:12–14 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Hear Peter’s exhortation this morning. Meditate on it in your free time. Read it over and over again as you share in the sufferings of Christ.
Don’t be surprised when you suffer and are rejected for the sake of Christ.
Understand that every insult you receive on account of Jesus is motivated by the fact that you belong to him.
Rejoice, not because you enjoy ostracism and exclusion; but because you know that it is temporary and that you will welcome Jesus in gladness and joy upon his promised return. Suffering in his absence will be fully-rewarded in his presence.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 169.
David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 230–31.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 172.
According to John 7:5, Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his earthly ministry. They became believers in the post-resurrection church. They are mentioned, together with Mary, as present with the disciples in Jerusalem after the resurrection (Acts 1:14) and are later identified by Paul as traveling missionaries in the church (1 Cor 9:5).
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 173. (Cf. Mark 4:17; 6:3; 9:42; 9:43; 9:45; 9:47; 14:27; 14:29)
Mark 2:5; 4:40; 5:34, 36; 9:23–24; 10:52; 11:22–24.
Garland, Mark, 238.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 175.