Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Folly of Unbelief: Resentment

Yes, the Nazareth citizenry were amazed at the works and words of Jesus Christ, but their unbelief had blurred them to the obvious and blinded them from the truth. Amazement, however, was not the only emotion on display in the Nazarene synagogue. There was also resentment.

Mark 6:3 reeks of resentment. The people of Nazareth were not happy that a hometown boy was teaching; at least the type of teaching that Jesus delivered. It was not the style of teaching that offended the people as much as the substance of the teaching. After all, who did this “local boy” think he was calling them to repentance?!

Sinclair Ferguson writes:
One can sense the terrible small-town mentality gone badly wrong as they closed ranks in opposition to Jesus. Much of what they said smacks of pride. Other people might be taken in by Jesus, but they knew better.
Here is what the people said about their Messiah, who had been raised to manhood right in their midst: “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.” (Mark 6:3)

The Christ was “despised and rejected”, to borrow Isaiah’s phrase, by the hometown crew. The people’s comments drip with denigration and resentment. “Is not this the carpenter?” There is nothing subtle about that remark. It’s as if they had said: “Shouldn’t this guy stick to hammers and nails, and not worry so much about topics and ideas that are beyond him? After all, he’s the town carpenter!”

The observation that he was “the son of Mary” was an even more spiteful statement. That is because Jewish sons were always identified by their fathers, not their mothers, even if their father was dead. If a man’s father were dead he was still his father’s son. Referring to Jesus as “the son of Mary” was a nuanced way of calling Christ a bastard. This was a cheap shot; a low blow aimed not only at Jesus but at His mother.

Christ was despised by those who knew Him best. In that regard, Nazareth was a miniature of many churches today. No one has seen, let alone lived near, the Lord for 2,000+ years, but for the many people who are cultural Christians Jesus is despised. How sad it is to see people who have grown up with Christ in the church either openly or secretly despise and reject Him.

Just as the Nazarene unbelief had blurred the obvious and blinded them from the truth, we see it here build up the irrelevant. Invariably, unbelief will shift away from the main issue of the Gospel and eternity to something that is comparatively irrelevant.

For example, you bring someone to church where the Word is clearly and charitably preached. Afterwards you ask your friend what he thought, and he answers: “The people were unfriendly…awkward…out of style. Their kids wouldn’t talk to my kids. The pews were uncomfortable. I didn’t know the songs. People kept violating my personal space; everybody wanted to shake my hand. The guy in front of me kept moving his head. The kid behind made all kind of noise. The preacher thinks he knows-it-all, and he was too loud…too quiet…too long…too preachy”. Books could be filled with people’s complaints.

For the most part all of the above is a smokescreen. It’s a build-up of the irrelevant to cover-up the important; namely their need to repent and believe. This doesn’t mean that some complaints aren’t valid. It doesn’t mean that churches should be cold to their guests, or proud of an uncomfortable atmosphere, or distracting in their mannerisms. That is not the issue. The issue is that unbelievers (and backslidden believers) will find something that does not matter, attach themselves to that, and make it an issue to divert the focus away from the eternal and onto the temporal.

Christ was not only resented by the people because they were familiar with Him. They resented Him because he offended them. Very plainly Mark tells us, “they were offended at him.” The Greek word translated “they were offended” is “skandaliz┼Ź”. Clearly, this is the word from which our English term “scandalized” is derived. It means “to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to offend.” The people had no real complaint with Jesus. That was true then; it's true now, and it will always be true. There was nothing in His manner which was offensive, but His message cut people in half. It was (is) supposed to do that. The offense is not, and never has been, with Christ; the offense was, and always will be, with the Cross.

They were scandalized by the message of the cross. They were offended when Christ would preach:
They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, [even] God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? [even] because ye cannot hear my word… And because I tell [you] the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? (John 8:39-43, 45-46)
The people of Nazareth, just like people today, did not need more proof as to who Jesus was and from where His power originated. More evidence is not needed. What is required is a willingness to abandon sinfulness and turn by faith to Jesus Christ. The refusal to believe, then and now, is not rooted in a lack of facts but in an unwillingness to deal with sin.

This is the offense of the cross. In Arnold Dallimore’s brilliant and epic biography of George Whitefield, the greatest evangelist since Paul the Apostle, he has a chapter entitled “The Offense of the Cross”. In that chapter he details how the young minister, who at first was adored by all, including the professional clergy and the aristocracy, started to sour in many minds of the same. Much of the clergy and the aristocracy were offended at Whitefield’s clear, passionate, and faithful proclamation of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. One example is the Duchess of Buckingham who exclaimed in a letter to a fellow noblewoman who admired Whitefield:
It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish such sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.
Regardless of your ranking in society, the Gospel is offensive. Not in a rude, crass, or immoral sense (therefore the messengers of the Gospel should not be offensive in a rude, crass, or immoral sense), but the Gospel is offensive because the message of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. Jews demanded signs and the Greeks sought wisdom. Those two groups still exist today, but we are to preach Christ crucified anyway, and that message is stumbling block to some and folly to others.

This unwillingness to believe is a pathetic condition, but it is not hopeless! Hard soil requires plowing; the preparation work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that God will use you, believer, in that plowing process.

Just as we see with the people of Nazareth; until one has his hard heart plowed up and turned over he will not be willing to break with his sinfulness and there can be no believing, seeing, or understanding the things of God. They were amazed by Christ’s words and works, but unmoved by them. They resented this Man, and His lack of formal education and training. They were offended by His message, and we will see tomorrow that this was to their own detriment.

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