This sermon is number 29 in a series of 57
Studies in Mark - Part 29
"The Paralysis Of Unbelief"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now let us turn to Mark chapter 6 please, the first six verses of Mark 6. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, it says: "And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching".
Let's all pray for a moment: Father, we thank You for the Gospel records of our Lord Jesus in His life and ministry. We thank You for what a precious privilege it is to have it. We pray that as we study this portion concerning the unbelief of the people of Nazareth, that we will be found to be a believing people that see the Lord Jesus work mightily among us. Hear our prayer, and take a dealing with every heart, for the glory of Christ we pray. Amen.
Now the harmony of the Gospels shows the personal pain that the Lord Jesus Christ experienced in His early ministry. A year earlier than this particular event in Nazareth that we are reading about in chapter 6, the Lord Jesus suffered intense rejection in Nazareth, His hometown. On that occasion the day seemed to begin well, on the Sabbath He was again in His family synagogue standing reading Isaiah chapter 61 verses 1 and 2 from the scroll of the Old Testament prophets. In Luke chapter 4 it's recorded: 'All spoke well of him', but the tide changed - because when the Lord began to preach quite confrontationally, the mood became violent. We read in Luke 4:29: 'And they rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong'. These loving inhabitants of Nazareth tried to kill their own 'home-grown boy' just at the beginning of His ministry.
More recently, as we have it here in Mark 6, the Lord undergoes further personal humiliation. Before this event in chapter 6, of course, we studied in chapter 3 that His family on another occasion - not in Nazareth - attempted to restrain Him and take Him back to Nazareth, because they thought that He was mad. But here we find the Lord Jesus again persistent in His gracious reaching out to His own people, again He is attempting to reach those in His hometown with His message. So, where we left off last Sunday morning, the Lord Jesus walks 20 miles from Capernaum to Nazareth - and this, indeed, is His last recorded visit to His hometown. Another opportunity for those people to hear Him again, to hear the word of the Lord; another opportunity for them to believe on Him and be saved - yet we find on this final visit where the Master passed by, the people's hearts are still hard in unbelief.
'Sometimes they crowd His way
And His sweet praises sing,
Resounding all the day,
Hosanna's to their King;
Then 'Crucify!' is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry'.
It's lovely to see how gracious the Lord Jesus is to the hardest of hearts, isn't it? It is wonderful to know that the Lord Jesus, even now, to the hardest heart in this congregation is reaching out again - and yet, that said, we can never and ought never to presume upon His gracious tenderness. For as we read, and we'll look at it in a moment or two in verse 6, 'He marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went' - and rather than read the rest of that, let me just stop there for a moment to get that impression that ought to be left on us. He went!
'O sinner' - are you here today, unconverted, never been born again? - 'Thine ears have been deaf to His voice!
Thine eyes to His glory been dim.
The calls of thy Saviour have so wearied thee,
O what if they should weary Him?'.
It's serious, isn't it? How gracious He is, reaching out again to Nazareth, and yet this is the last time - He will never reach out to them again. The Nazarenes missed the deadline, I wonder will you? Let's return to the passage, verse 1, the second half of the verse says that His disciples went with Him, they followed Him there. Now the significance of that is that the rabbis, when they moved about the countryside, they were always accompanied by their own little circle of disciples. So what Mark is trying to relay to us here is that as the boy Jesus - as far as they are concerned - comes home to town, He enters as a teacher with His disciples in tow. Immediately there is intrigue, He's not coming home on a normal visit, He's coming home on official business, He's coming home as a Rabbi with His disciples.
Now in verse 2, at the beginning, we see that it was the Sabbath day and He began to teach in the synagogue. Now let me just point out to you that it seems here that the Lord Jesus had to wait until the Sabbath day to do any teaching, and that implies that there were no crowds flocking Him here in Nazareth, there were no faith-filled people bringing their sick folk to be healed. Indeed, in verse 5 the implication is that the Lord Jesus Himself had to seek out a few sick folk to lay hands on and heal them.
Here He is, as verse 2 says, in the synagogue - which of course was His family synagogue - and He begins to teach. I think - and I think I'm qualified in saying this - it's hard to preach and to teach at home, especially at home with the people of God that you've grown up with. Someone has said: 'There are no greater critics of a man than those who have known him from boyhood'. I don't know whether that's true or not, I'm not going to say it's true - I think there are exceptions, and maybe you're one of them! - but I'm sure it's true of most in this circumstance. In verse 2, in the second half, we see that they were astonished, 'hearing him they were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?'.
Now that word 'astonished' there has the sense 'deflated', imagine a tyre going down, that's the way they felt! Webster puts it like this: 'They were completely flabbergasted', that's the modern idiom in our language that really would describe the way they felt. Now what was the reason for this? Because the reason for them being flabbergasted is the crux of the message of this passage, and we've got to get to it if we're going to really learn what God wants to say to us. The reason is in verse 2c, 'From whence hath this man these things? Where did He get these things?' - what things? Look on: this wisdom, and this power, that's really what 'mighty works' means - 'Where does He get His wisdom and His power?'.
Now He didn't perform any miracles here in Nazareth, of course, apart from these ones that may have been in private amongst some few sick folk. So they probably heard about the miraculous deeds that He was performing round about the nation - but this perplexity they had caused them to be flabbergasted: 'Where does this boy that we know from He was knee-high, where does He get these words from, this wisdom from, and this power from?'. Now here really was their perplexity: Rabbis, and He was coming out as a Rabbi to them, they needed to be trained - and Jesus was not the product of rabbinical school, He was a carpenter. For many years He was their carpenter! 'So', they say, 'Where does He get all this knowledge, and where does this supernatural power come from?'.
Now, they came to a diabolical conclusion, they said His power comes from the devil, and is not of God. Of course, we've dealt with that already in Mark 3:22, there were those religious folk who said that He was casting out demons by the prince of demons, Beelzebub. Now let me say this very clearly to you, and this is important for you to take note of: these people of Nazareth that were attributing the works of God to Satan by implication, they had the bare facts right. Let me repeat that: they had the bare facts right about the Lord - what am I talking about? Let me spell it out: He was untrained, He was a carpenter, He was wise and He was powerful. Now here is the lesson for us: we do not always come to the right conclusions on the bare facts alone - did you hear that? We don't always come to the right conclusions on the bare facts alone, but we interpret facts according to our presuppositions. We interpret facts according to our presuppositions - what are presuppositions? Presuppositions are simply assumptions that we make, and often they are unwarranted assumptions and they can lead us to wrong conclusions.
Let me illustrate this by a somewhat humorous anecdote, but it brings the message home to you. If you heard someone say: 'There are different kinds of love', you would say, 'Well, that's right'. Then this person says: 'Like, I love my wife, and I love my dog' - different kinds of love. Now the presupposition that you probably would make to that statement is: a man should love his wife more than his dog, therefore this man does love his wife more than his dog - and then he says: 'When it rains, I send out the wife to get the dog'. You realise that that presupposition, that assumption you made was incorrect. You had the facts, but because you made a presumption, an assumption, you got the conclusion wrong.
Now here, as far as the Nazarenes were concerned, their facts, the bare facts that were obvious, were right. He was untrained, unqualified in their culture to be a rabbi. He was a carpenter, they did grow up with Him, they did know His family, and He was manifesting great wisdom and power. Now, let me show you the presuppositions of their unbelief that drove them to this fatal conclusion, listen carefully to them for they have great application to all of us today. Here is their first presupposition on these facts: one, they concluded that God doesn't use common people. This Jesus was not educated as a rabbi, He was a craftsman - that's literally what the Greek word means. He was a working man, not of the right stock or trade to be a rabbi.
Now the irony of this statement coming from the Nazarenes was that the popular attitude around in those days was that the Nazarenes were the lowest of the low, and this should have been offensive to the Nazarenes - 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?', people said. Yet they applied this same axiom to their greatest Son, indeed the Son of God! Now here's a lesson for us all: man's ways are not God's ways. These Nazarenes could not reconcile the fact that the village carpenter could be the great Prophet of God. God, imagine it, when He came to earth, came as a common man. What grace, that the great Creator could wear the apron of a village carpenter! He took upon Himself the common life with all its common tasks - as Paul says in Philippians 2: 'He made Himself of no reputation'. They made the presupposition: 'God doesn't use common people', and God pointed out that His way is to use common people.
Now note also that, although it's not here of course, we know that He chose twelve common men as His disciples - they wouldn't have been the dozen I would have chose, or you, but those were the ones He chose to be the foundation of the church! Turn with me for a moment to Acts chapter 4 and verse 13, Peter and the apostles are preaching a defence to the Council that is forbidding them to speak in the name of Jesus the Nazarene - you can see the inference of how offensive they felt it was. Verse 13, do follow with me if you have a Bible, 'Now when they saw', verse 13, 'the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men' - stop there. That would be better translated 'uneducated and untrained men'. 'Ignorant' today has a pejorative sense, that's not what it means, it's talking about the fact that they were uneducated and untrained as far as Judaism was concerned. Yet why were their eyes fixed on them? Because the power of God was evident in their lives.
Now keep that passage open, because we're going to come back to it - but the point is this: God, as He came incarnate, though His glory could be seen by all, did not come in the pomp and trappings of this world's esteem. He came as a common man, that is profound. When this same Christ chose twelve disciples, who would be the Apostles, who would be the foundation of the church, He chose uneducated and untrained men - and then, keep your finger in that passage and come with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 1, we see that when He gave gifts to the church over and above the apostles to every believer, we find in chapter 1 verse 26: 'For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence'.
When He gave gifts to men to do His work, generally speaking He gave those gifts to common men and women. You should be excited! I'm not saying that's all that you are, but that is all you are, that's all I am - a common man, common men and women! God still works in this way, nothing has changed - the church might have changed, education may have changed, our presumptions may have changed, yet God's Word has not changed - and His record is: God uses common people, that's His plan.
Now, that said, let me please emphasise: we must never despise education, we must seek as much as we can get in one sense, and not be fools for the sake of it. We must beware of parading our ignorance as a virtue, and I think some people do that - but we must never think that this world's awards mean anything in the spiritual realm. We've got to revisit this truth, as Zechariah spake: 'He answered, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts'. I was talking to someone even this week, who is just climbing the ladder of education to serve the Lord - and I'm not despising that, that could be perhaps the way God is leading folk, but the impression you're left with is: you need these things, these accolades today, or people just won't listen to you!
Turn back to Acts chapter 4, because God's word does not hold that view up as credible - Acts 4, the same verse, verse 13: 'Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled' - at their education, or their training? - 'they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus'. The Spirit will give a superior knowledge than any school, than any university, than any Bible College, than any seminary can give - and we must beware of evaluating Christians by their job, by their position in life, or by their education.
Let me illustrate it to you by speaking of John Bunyan. John Bunyan was in prison because he would not cease from preaching - a bit like the Apostles here in Acts 4. Of course, he was a non-conformist being outside the Church of England, and he could have been released from prison - many people don't realise this - if he just had agreed not to preach in public without being ordained in the established church. He could have walked free, the door was open for him. There were times, if you read his life story, where his wee daughter would have come to the door and pleaded with him: 'Daddy, Daddy, come home' - she didn't understand what it was all about. He said that that experience was like having your skin peeled from off your body alive. When he was released, people would gather to hear him preach, and up to 3000 people would come to hear him when he was in London. His fame even reached the ears of King Charles II. The King ridiculed John Owen, the great Puritan, for one occasion of hearing what he called 'the illiterate tinker prate'. The King received from the learned and eloquent John Owen this reply, listen to it carefully: 'May it please your Majesty, could I possess that tinker's ability for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning'.
God uses common people. These Nazarenes had made the presumption: 'He hasn't been trained in the rabbinical schools, He can't be of God'. Let us not make the same assumptions. Their second presupposition was: yes, God doesn't use common people, and He certainly doesn't use someone we know - or at least we think we know. Does God use people we know? Look at verse 3: 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary' - He was their carpenter. 'The son of Mary' is a slur upon His mother for they're inferring that He was born illegitimate, for usually in those days they spoke of someone as being a son of their father. It speaks of His brothers and sisters - incidentally it shows that the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary remained a virgin is false, here we see His brothers and sisters - and the absence of a mention of Joseph would indicate that he has probably died by now and Jesus, therefore, being the eldest, has assumed the position of man of the house. He is responsible, He is the figurehead of this home, and the point that these people are making is: 'We know this man! Not only is He untrained - don't you think He can pull off this stunt of making out that He's something special, we know Him!'.
They thought they knew Him - why? Because they were familiar with Him, He had been their neighbour for 30 years. They had played with Him, they had prayed with Him, they had commissioned Him to build a table and a stool - He was a commoner, no better than they, as far as they were concerned. This shows us the great truth that sometimes we are too close to people to see their greatness. They were, and it says they were offended by Him. The Greek word there is the word 'scandalitso' (sp?), it means 'stumbling stone', and we have derived our English word 'scandalised' from it. They couldn't explain Him, so they rejected Him. What lessons there are there! How often do we reject things we can't explain?
Then look at verse 4, 'But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house'. Now on three separate occasions, it's recorded four times, but on three separate occasions the Lord Jesus spoke that proverb. Really, if you were to translate it into our modern day idiom, it would be what we say: 'Familiarity breeds contempt' - it's the same truth really. Often because we see people's faults that we're close to, we see their inconsistencies and their foibles, we find it hard to respect those we are more familiar with. Now that was not the case with the Lord Jesus, that's why there's a greater condemnation upon the Nazarenes. This proverb says nothing about the Lord Jesus, but it says a great deal about the Nazarenes!
A tourist on one occasion was eager to see everything in an art gallery, and he fled from picture to picture scarcely noticing what was in the frames. On the way out past the guard at the door, he said: 'I didn't see anything very special here'. The guard said: 'Sir, it's not the pictures that are on trial here, it's the visitors'. These Nazarenes were on trial - the babe, the boy, the man Jesus was in their midst, and they were blind to Him. 'What think ye of Christ?', is the great diagnostic spiritual question of the ages - and you must answer that question, soul that is yet unsaved. The trouble is, so many people in Ulster are so familiar with Jesus, the cross, the gospel, that they're blind to it.
Can I apply this to Christians? Because it's so easy to apply it to non-Christians - but there is a danger for us too. We in the church are so exposed to the person of Christ, and the words and works of Christ, that we become desensitised to it all! Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His word? Has it gone? You're no longer refreshed in your soul when you see Him, when you hear about Him. We are so familiar, like these Nazarenes, with the person of Christ that we enjoy no blessing from looking on Him, or hearing Him, or being in His presence. This especially applies to what has come to be known as 'second generation Christians'. Your parents are saved, your grandparents - third generation, fourth, maybe fifth if you're like me - and because you've been with Christ, like the Nazarenes you've grown up with Him, from you were able to hear you have heard about Him...do you know what's happening in the church at large today in evangelicalism? Because we are into a second and a third and fourth-generation Christianity, Christ is not exciting enough! I'll tell you, there's nothing more exciting than God becoming man, and living among men as a common man, and doing a common job, and going among men and ministering without house, or home, or place to lay His head - and performing mighty miracles that no man ever performed - and then allowing Himself to be laid on a cross, and die for sins, and come alive three days later - what could be more exciting? The problem is: it's not exciting enough, it has lost its lustre for many.
Do you see the presuppositions of their unbelief: God doesn't use common people, and He certainly doesn't use things and people that we are familiar with. Here's the second point I want you to note: these presuppositions led to the powerlessness of their unbelief, the paralysis of unbelief. Verse 5: 'He could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them'. Now verse 5 has perplexed many, where it says: 'He could do no...' - now that does not mean that the Lord wasn't able to exercise His power. What it does mean is that He wasn't in the right circumstances to do that freely. Let me explain: first of all, this is the incarnate God who has omnipotence, He is all-powerful, and omnipotence cannot be limited apart from when - mark this - it is self-limited. Do you understand? When He chooses to limit it.
Now what the Lord Jesus was exercising here was His submissiveness to the divine conditions upon which God would reveal Himself. God has always declared that He will reveal Himself to the hearts of men when they have hearts of need that are full of faith. Have you got it? It wasn't that Christ couldn't do it in the sense that He was powerless, but He was not free to do it because God had already stipulated that men would only have God revealed to them by faith - and there was no faith here.
Could it be - and I have asked this question as I studied this passage - that the disciples learned more from the Lord not doing miracles in Nazareth than they had from witnessing the four mighty miracles that we studied in previous weeks? I think it's possible. They are learning this fact: God works in response to faith. Last week, the title, remember? 'The Difference Faith Makes' - and now they are learning a great message: unbelief freezes the exercise of God's power. In verse 6 we read that the Lord Jesus marvelled - by the way, the only other time we read of Jesus marvelling is in Matthew 8:10, when He saw the faith of the Gentile Roman centurion that was greater than all the faith that was in Israel. So once we see Him marvelling at great faith, now we see Him marvelling at no faith. Usually Mark says that the people were amazed at Jesus, and here we have him saying that Jesus was amazed at the people. Our question that we must answer today is: is He amazed at our unbelief? My unbelief, does it amaze Him?
Can I apply this to us all as a fellowship in our closing moments? Unbelief robs the Christian, but it also robs the church of the power of God. We have a great responsibility - it is not just 'Let go and let God', though that may apply in some circumstances it certainly doesn't apply here - we can either help or hinder the work of Jesus in the midst of His people. What are you doing? Are you helping? Are you hindering? The Scottish preacher A. J. Gossup on one occasion had the famous preacher Alexander Whyte ask him why he hadn't come to the evening service as usual that evening. Gossup replied that he was preaching to a certain congregation. 'How did you get on?', asked Alexander Whyte. He said: 'Well, I found it very cold'. 'Cold?', said Alexander, 'Cold? I preached there two years ago and I haven't got the chill out of my bones yet!'. Now let me stress that it's not cold for me to preach here, I enjoy preaching here, I think I enjoy preaching here better than I enjoy anywhere else - yet we still, all of us, can have paralysing presuppositions. Preaching in an atmosphere of expectancy can cause the poorest, weakest, most pathetic message to take light, and to do something amazing! Yet an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference can cause the most Spirit-packed preaching to fall lifeless to the earth. This is why miraculous signs in themselves never produce faith, faith is a personal commitment, faith is a choice on your behalf that only you can make. That's maybe why the Lord Jesus gave signs sparingly, and whenever He gave signs it was in answer to faith.
Now, often our presuppositions are faith-killers and paralyse the power of God. Let me give you four for your consideration. One: God doesn't do any miracles any more - if you want to kill faith, that will do it right away! You are presupposing - oh you've got the facts about Christ and the word of God and all - but you've everything in a box, so much so that you're not expecting God to do anything supernatural any more. The second presupposition: everything is bowing the knee to Baal these days, it's a lost cause now. Yet God is saying to you: 'There are 7000 that have not yet bowed the knee to Baal, it isn't as bad as you think'. Three: the Lord is coming soon, things are going to get worse and worse, we ought not to expect anything. Nonsense! For even in the last days there is an invitation, that Christ stands at the door and will open and commune with those who will answer His call. Four, another presupposition: this atmosphere is so foreign to the non-Christian when we preach the gospel - I'm not talking about a building by the way, I'm talking about a message - and if you talk about 'sin', and you talk about 'judgement', and you talk about 'hell', and you talk about 'blood', and you talk about 'a cross', and you talk about 'only one way to God' it makes them edgy, and they won't see and they won't hear - they couldn't possibly be affected! That's not what God says! If it's affecting you by causing you to have a presupposition that is killing faith, you need to deal with that.
The result of unbelief in verse 6, the second half, 'He went round about the villages, teaching' - that means Jesus carried on His ministry elsewhere. When it says there 'He went around the villages', look at it, in the Greek that literally could go 'He went round about the village in a circle'. Do you get what that's saying? He visited all the villages that were adjacent to the village of Nazareth, and He passed them by. The result of unbelief was the paralysis of the power of God in their midst when the living God in the flesh was there.
Can I finish with a story that I heard recently from the Evangelist and Bible teacher Peter Brandon on a recording. Some of you will know him, a mighty man of God. He was in a certain town taking meetings, and he had only arrived and he needed to do a couple of messages for himself. He went into the greengrocers, and right away the person - it was a small village - noticed that he was a stranger, and said: 'You don't belong here, what are you doing in this town?'. He explained who he was, that he was a preacher and he was coming to the local Gospel Hall to take meetings. The greengrocer answered: 'Well, I'm glad that you're going to the Gospel Hall and not the Church of England!'. He thought to himself, 'Oh?', and asked her why. She explained: 'Well, the Church of England invited a preacher, and this preacher got that whole church to fast and pray for two whole weeks'. She says, 'Nobody came through my doors to buy any food or drink! But add to that fact, when the meeting started', she said, 'It was awful' - now I'm only quoting this from memory, so forgive me if I make the odd mistake and you know the story better. She said: 'People would come into my shop and were visibly affected. One man who I've known for years was so down that I asked him what was wrong, and he said, 'I was at the meeting the other evening, and if I die today I know I would go to hell''. She says: 'It's awful, and add to this', she also said, 'You can feel God everywhere'. Peter Brandon went to the Gospel Hall where he was booked, and he hastens to add that they are a lovely group of believers - and he remarked to them: 'I believe that you've had a special mission, and there's been a touch from God on the town', and the reply he got was, 'What mission?'. He told the story, not me - do you know what the lesson is? Listen to this carefully: God goes anywhere faith wants Him, and unbelief is a killer, presumptions are killers, and we as God saints should be saying:
'Pass me not, O gracious Saviour,
Hear my humble cry:
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by'.
Does God use others because He can't use us? Oh He does, you better believe He does.
Father, make us a faith-filled people, increase our faith in Your word, and in Your Christ, and in Your plan, and in Your promises. We cry to You, our Father, let us not be a people whom You pass by because of our presumption, but may the power of God be manifest in our midst as we take You at Your word. For Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-ninth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Paralysis Of Unbelief" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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