In today’s focus passage Jesus has returned to his hometown after one of his three preaching circuits throughout Galilee. Jesus has been invited to speak in his local synagogue, the center of religious life in any Jewish town. In Galilee Jesus regularly taught or performed miracles in the synagogues. After the rejection that we see here in his home town of Nazareth there is no record of Jesus entering a synagogue again. Synagogues are mentioned again only in Mark as places of hypocrisy and persecution. And here is what today’s passage says:
He left there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him, and how are these miracles performed by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended by him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” He was not able to do a miracle there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. He was going around the villages teaching.—Mark 6:1-6
Verse 3 says, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” The parallel in Matthew 11:55 reads, “Isn’t this the carpenters son?” Luke 4:22 reads, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” A carpenter was a craftsman in wood and stone. The phrase “son of Mary” may hint at Jesus’ supposed illegitimacy or indicate that Jospeh had died (no mention is made of Joseph in verse 4 or elsewhere in Mark). This is the only time Jesus’ mother is mentioned by name in Mark. Jesus’ brother James later became leader of the Jerusalem church and was killed on orders from the high priest in AD 62, and he authored the book of James. Judas was probably the author of the book of Jude. Joses (Joseph) and Simon are not named again in the New Testament. Jesus sisters are not named, but the plural indicates he had more than one. The religious leaders only mentioned Jesus’ family to point out the fact that knew Jesus’ background and could not believe that a man they knew personally could be doing all the things that he is doing and know about all of the things that he was teaching.
In verse 4 Jesus responds to this unbelief in this way, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as a prophet in way that was consistent with the mission and message of God’s prophets throughout the Old Testament. The following characteristics identify Jesus as a prophet:
- He was a man filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit and full of the knowledge of God’s Word.
- His life was characterized by intimate spiritual unity and relationship with God, his Father.
- He gave prophetic predictions, some of which have already taken place and others which pertain to the end times have yet to come.
- He performed symbolic actions that represented spiritual truths and expressed a sincere passion for God’s honor.
- He exposed the shallow and unfaithful hearts of the religious leaders and criticized the way they followed their own traditions rather than God’s Word.
- He shared God’s sorrow and suffering over the spiritually lost condition of those who refused to turn from their own ways and follow God.
- He focused on the moral and ethical principles of God’s Word, holiness, justice, righteousness, love and mercy, in contrast to relying on religious ceremonies to keep people in a right relationship with God.
- He proclaimed the supreme and final reign and judgement of God.
- He called people to repentance—to change their attitude toward God, admit their sin, turn from their own way and begin following God and his purposes.
Verses 5 and 6 say this, “He was not able to do a miracle there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. He was going around the villages teaching.” Matthew treats the phrase “he was not able” not as a statement about limitations of power but as a statement of fact (“he did not do”, Matthew 12:58). The reason was the people’s unbelief. Previously they were astonished at Jesus. In an ironic twist, Mark alone ended the narrative with Jesus being amazed at them. What amazed him was their lack of faith. The people of Nazareth did not refer to Jesus by name but only as “this man”, a sign of contempt. And it is this lack of faith that we are going to spend the rest of our time today discussing.
Just as a lack of faith hindered the working of miracles in Jesus’ hometown, so unbelief in the church still gets in the way of powerful things Christ desires to do among his people today. Failing to accept what the Bible says is true, denying that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the church today or rejecting God’s standards of high and wrong will prevent the Lord from showing his power among his people. Christ’s followers must maintain an intense spiritual hunger for God’s Word and pray, “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Leviticus 14, Mark 6:30-56, Psalm 40:1-10 and Proverbs 10:11-12