Monday, July 28, 2008

The Folly of Unbelief: Amazement

So Christ returned home, not for a holiday but for ministry. The Sabbath finds Him back in the synagogue in which He had grown and from which He had been forcibly removed. Even though Jesus’ last sermon in that place had ended in attempted murder, He is allowed to speak once again. Mark 6:2 records the reaction of those in synagogue that day: “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?”

Their reaction is one of amazement. The people of Nazareth were amazed at the words and works of Jesus. Who wouldn’t be? No man had ever before taught like this man. No man had ever before displayed such miraculous power on such a scale as He did. Old Testament prophets had done, by the power of God, some astonishing works, but not to the extent that Jesus worked. He virtually eradicated disease from Palestine during His ministry. The signs and wonders accomplished by Christ were unique to Him.

Mark does not indicate from which Old Testament text Jesus preached. That may reveal to us that the specific text was extraneous. Not that Scripture is irrelevant, but that the hard-hearted, obstinate refusal of the Nazarenes made the simple, Biblical, gracious, and powerful message from Christ’s own lips of no effect. These people were no more responsive than they were at the beginning of His ministry; except that this time they didn’t try to kill Him. They were amazed at Christ’s powerful, perceptive, and piercingly clear preaching, but they were unmoved by it.

The examples of Jairus and the woman of chapter five prove that faith is a powerful thing; specifically faith in Christ. The people of Nazareth also prove something: the folly of unbelief. The Nazarenes exemplify that unbelief is likewise as powerful as belief.

Because of their unbelief they were blurred to the obvious and blinded from the truth. They were astonished at His mighty works and marvelous words. They wondered at the source of these things, but that answer was obvious. One of the leading teachers of the Jews understood the source of Christ’s words and works. Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2)

Divine miracles and wisdom can have only one source: the Divine! The evidence was plain. I find it telling that the people didn’t deny the evidence. There was no suggestion that Jesus was an illusionist. There were no wacky explanations for how Jesus accomplished what He did; except from the jealous Pharisees who suggested that His power was derived from Satan (Mark 3:22). The people could only question the origin of Christ’s power, not the reality of it. This is perhaps the greatest apologetic from the scriptures regarding the deity of Christ. Not only did Christ’s friends, but His enemies did affirm that he performed the miraculous.

Still, one can be amazed at the evidence and not believe it; not trust in the amazing Jesus as Lord and Savior. Just as believing is a choice, so too is unbelief. At Nazareth, in spite of the overwhelming evidence the people refused to believe. They determined not to believe.

Why?! In 1856 JC Ryle wrote:

It is neither the want of evidence, nor the difficulties of Christian doctrine that make men unbelievers. It is want of will to believe. They love sin. (Expository Thought on Mark, Banner of Truth, p. 110)

What was true in England in 1856 was true in Nazareth, and it is just as true today. Listen to what Jesus told Nicodemus during their clandestine conversation:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)

Light is visible. The light of Christ will draw some and repel others, but not because there is some defect with the Light. Many are repelled by the light because many love their sin more than Christ. Lack of evidence was not then, nor is it now, the problem. Love of evil is the problem.

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