Sunday, July 27, 2008

Belief & Unbelief

It is always good to be home and to go home. Home is where you are well known and well treated. Home is the place of innocent, fun-filled memories. It’s always good to go home. It's always good, that is, except for when the home-folks try to kill you. During His first trip home, following the launch of His public ministry, Jesus Christ was assaulted by the people of Nazareth who became enraged at His preaching. Luke 4:29 tells us that the Nazarenes, “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.”

Consumed with wrath the people forcibly removed Jesus from the synagogue and attempted to toss the Christ over a cliff. It didn’t work. It couldn’t work. Luke says that, “he passed through the midst of them [and] went his way” (v. 30). This is because God the Father did not send His Son to be killed in this manner or at this time. At the divinely appointed time and by the divinely appointed means Jesus Christ would be sacrificed. The appointed time had not yet come, and the appointed means would be the cross, not being tossed over a Galilean cliff. Everything was under control and according to plan, including the murderously maniacal hometown synagogue crowd at Nazareth.

Jesus led His disciples back to that cruel town and synagogue in
Mark 6:1-6. Familiarity really can breed contempt, and it seems like that is truer in the arena of religion than anything else, or, as Philip Brooks has written:

Familiarity breeds contempt only with contemptible things or among contemptible people.

The contempt shown Jesus by the people of Nazareth said nothing about Him and everything about them.

Returning to His hometown synagogue after being forcibly removed during His previous visit was an act of gracious mercy, motivated by a heart that desired His people to look unto Him for their salvation, but they would not. (
Matthew 23:37) In the first six verses of Mark 6 the simultaneously powerful and pathetic truth of John 1:11 is illustrated: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

The unbelief demonstrated by the citizens of Nazareth stands out in stark contrast to the previously displayed faith of the diseased woman and Jairus. The hearts of the people mentioned in Mark 5 and 6 are graphic definitions and examples of the four types of soils/hearts that were presented in Mark 4.

  • Hard Soil (Mark 4:4, 15) – The people of Nazareth had heart hearts, and were totally unreceptive to the Gospel in spite of the evidence.
  • Stony Soil (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17) – The 5,000 whom Jesus will feed (6:30-44) were overjoyed with Christ’s supernatural culinary skills. They loved to be physically healed and well fed, but there is no statement given as to their repentance of sin and faith in Christ. We do know from John’s account of this miracle (John 6) that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” once He began to preach about the high cost of discipleship. The shallowness of their soil became obvious when they began to hear hard truth.
  • Thorny Soil (Mark 4:7, 18-19) – From the listed cast of characters in Mark 6, King Herod best typifies the crowded heart. He feared the Baptist, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man. He protected him from the murderous designs of his scheming wife (albeit in prison and only for a little while). He was a captivated listener to John’s preaching, but the cares of this world choked out the gospel seed which John had planted.
  • Good Soil (Mark 4:8, 20) – The diseased woman, Jairus, and those receptive to the apostles’ ministry all are representative of the gospel seed falling on good ground and bearing fruit.

The sad but true fact is that not all people who hear the gospel will receive the gospel. According to Jesus, many will reject the message. Christ first taught this to His disciples in Mark 4, and it was made obvious as time transpired. It was never plainer than in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. As the Lord trained His chosen ambassadors to carry the Gospel to the people; He prepared them (and us) for the rejection that they would inevitably face. Not all who hear the truth will accept and believe the truth.

Praise God that some will!

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