Sunday, July 16th 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. 2 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? 3 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. 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. 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. 7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; 8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: 9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats. 10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. 11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent. 13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
Father, we thank you for sending forth Christ to bring us to You. We thank you Lord Jesus for sending the apostles to preach Your gospel. We thank you for giving us that gospel and preserving it for us to read. We ask that you would give us faith to hear and understand it now. In Jesus name, Amen.
This morning we come to a new chapter and section in Mark’s gospel. So far we have seen Jesus perform many miracles and those miracles come to climax with the resurrection of a twelve year old girl from the dead (the raising of Jairus’s daughter), which we saw last week (that was how chapter 5 ended).
All through these opening five chapters, Jesus has been demonstrating that He has power to heal any affliction, He has power to cast out and conquer demons, He has power to control the wind and the waves of the sea, He even has power over death itself.
And the conclusion Jesus wants us to arrive at from observing these mighty works is that Jesus is indeed God, Jesus is divine. No one could do all of these things the way that Jesus does unless He is God. And so miracles are given as signs of Jesus’ divinity, and yet not all who hear and see these signs come to that conclusion. As Jesus said when he taught in parables, not everyone has ears to hear nor eyes to see.
This is especially true of Jesus’ own family, his friends, and his acquaintances back in Nazareth. And the question I want to set before us as we ponder this text is: Why is it that some people refuse to believe in Jesus? We know of course the big answer is sin, but what specific sins, what specific obstacles are there, for people to believe on the Lord Jesus?
This text is going to give us some good examples to answer that question.
Division of the Text
There are two basic sections to this passage:
In verses 1-6, Jesus returns to Nazareth and encounters unbelief.
In verses 7-13, Jesus sends out The Twelve and tells them the consequences of unbelief.
Remember the context here, Jesus has just commended the faith of the woman with the flow of blood. This unclean woman reached out in faith to Jesus and was healed. Jesus has just performed a series of astonishing miracles. And now Mark shows us in these two sections the inverse of that faith and the consequences of unbelief.
And part of the irony is that those who are most familiar with Jesus lack faith, while those who have only heard about him from a distance, have great faith. And we said this is a foreshadowing of the Jews eventually rejecting Christ while the Gentiles will embrace Him.
And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.
Jesus is now leaving the Sea of Galilee (the coastal regions) and going back to his hometown of Nazareth.
Nazareth was a kind of suburb of Galilee, about 25 miles southwest, and it probably had no more than 500 people living in it (perhaps fewer). Nazareth was only about 60 acres in size, and we know from other places in the New Testament that it was of very little reputation amongst the Jews.
For example, in John 1:46, Nathanael says to Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Little does he know that the only thing that is Good came out of Nazareth.
So Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah, but he was raised in Nazareth, and Nazareth was what we would call a little Podunk town (flyover country).
And so you can imagine the response of a small town when they start to hear that Jesus of Nazareth is performing miracles, healing people, casting out demons, teaching in the synagogues. And with that comes some natural curiosity but also suspicion; Is this really the same Jesus who grew up here? Who does he think he is now?
We saw back in Mark 3:21, that his companions, his friends and family thought he was “beside himself.” They thought maybe he’s gone crazy. And so there is both concern and suspicion and curiosity about Jesus as he returns to Nazareth after some time away.
2 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? 3 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.
So Jesus returns and he goes to teach in the synagogue he once grew up in (he goes back to his home church).And when they hear him teach, they are astonished, but they are astonished not at his teaching per se, but because they don’t understand how it is that this carpenter now teaches with greater wisdom and authority than the scribes. They are confused how this same Jesus they all once knew, who had brothers and sisters still living amongst them, could suddenly claim to be the promised Messianic King.
In Luke’s version of this same scene, they actually try to kill Jesus.
So this is the homecoming Jesus receives from his former neighbors. They are offended at him.
In verse 4 we see how Jesus responds.
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.
Why is this statement so proverbial and true? What is it about human nature that cannot stand to see people elevated above us, who were formerly our equals or inferiors? Why is it so hard for these fellow residents of Nazareth to rejoice that in one of their own, salvation has entered the world?
In English we have our own versions of this saying, something like, “familiarity breeds contempt” or “a bunch of crabs in a bucket.”
And the sin that is at the root of this rejection of Jesus is envy.
Envy is sorrow at another’s good.
It is envy that cannot rejoice that Jesus is the Son of God.
It is envy and human pride that cannot be glad that a blue-collar tradesman, can suddenly put all of the PHD holding rabbis to shame.
In verse 3 they ask, “Is not this the carpenter?” as if being a carpenter somehow disqualified Jesus from also being royalty or teaching them the Scriptures.
They say, “Is not this the son of Mary,” which suggests both that his father Joseph is probably long dead by now, and perhaps to their mind, Jesus is an illegitimate son of Mary, “he’s the son of that woman.”
In John 8, the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Where is your father?” and say, “We were not born of fornication.” Perhaps implying that Jesus was. I mean who really is going to believe before His death and resurrection that He was born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit? It sounds like a tall tale and a strange excuse for fornication.
So the residents of Nazareth are stumbled by the fact that Jesus was just like them in many ways. For 30 years he had lived a very ordinary life. He worked with his hands, he probably built fences or tools or even houses that some of them lived in. And in their mind, it would be totally incomprehensible that the little boy who they watched grow up into a man, who swung a hammer, who sweated, who ate the same food as them, and went to the same synagogue, would turn out to be the Creator God in the flesh. For people so familiar with Jesus’ humanity, it makes it almost harder for them to believe he is the Messiah.
Some find it hard to believe that God could become man, and some find it hard to believe that a man could be God. This is a stumbling block for the people of Nazareth.
Mary nursed baby Jesus at her breast, and that same human baby was at the same time fully God, the author of life, and Creator of the cosmos.
So some people do not believe because the incarnation is a mind-blowing mystery. They cannot accept that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. That there is One God and Three Persons and the Three Persons are the One God. For many that is just unacceptable, illogical, and unreasonable.
And then there are others who do not believe, not for theological or intellectual reasons, but for what we might call personal reasons.
For some it is because of pure envy. It is the pettiness of not wanting anyone to be better than us. Of not wanting anyone to tell us what to do, and certainly no carpenter. Who does he think he is?
This is what keeps many from entering the kingdom. They want to be in charge, they want to dictate the rules, they want to say what God can and cannot do, what God can and cannot be, and if He does not conform to their standards and expectations, they want nothing to do with Him.
It was this kind of envy that got Jesus crucified. Even Pontius Pilate could see that envy was motivating the Jews (Mark 15:10).
We see this earlier in the Bible with the story of the original twelve tribes. Why was Joseph sold into slavery by his own brothers? Because they envied him.
“Who do you think you are? You think you are better than us?”
It is those kind of sentiments that blind people to the truth.
Envy is the sin that has our nation by the throat. It is what drives political movements, business decisions, and national legislation.
Why do the gays want gay marriage? Why did they make the equal sign (=) their bumper sticker, and march for “marriage equality?” Because the very existence of heterosexual marriages makes them feel inferior, and they envy that.
Why do so many people want to tax the rich more than the poor, occupy wall street, and abolish the existence of entrepreneur billionaires? It’s not just because there is corruption and bribery in America, it is because they aren’t getting their cut of the bribe. The “have nots” envy the ones who have, and that spirit of envy drives all kinds of class warfare.
James 3:15 says that, “Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” I have never seen a more confused populace than I see today. The gender confusion, the sexual orientation confusion, the what color is my hair supposed to be confusion, our nation is desperately confused. We are approaching that sad state of Nineveh, where God says, “they do not know their right hand from their left.” They do not know a boy from a girl.
Nineveh repented. It is yet to be seen whether America will. And if we do, it will need to start where judgment always starts, and that is in the household of God. The church must come to absolutely hate envy in ourselves.
And so if you are made sad by someone just like you being elevated above you, of making more money, of being better looking or more intelligent, then watch out. There is envy in your heart, and with it will grow strife, and confusion, and all kinds of evil works. Envy has slain many a Christian households, it has divided friends, divided churches, divided denominations, divided countries.
And you will notice that envy is especially found amongst groups and individuals who are most similar to one another.
For example, as much as I enjoy playing basketball, I feel no envy towards Lebron James or Michael Jordan, because we are not even in the same category of skill or height or capability. It does not hurt my ego to say they are better basketball players than me, or to watch them win championships. I can be happy for them.
But if I were to play 1 on 1 against someone who was exactly my height, and my age, and my skill level. And he beat me by one point, and received all the praise and glory of winning, and everyone thought he was soooo much better than me, I would be tempted to envy. I would feel there was some grave injustice in the world that someone who I think is my equal, others think is above me.
You can find envy almost everywhere you look. And if we are honest with our own heart, envy is in far more places than we would like to admit. So be careful when you start to make comparisons. Be on guard when you make judgments in your heart about others.
This is what kept the people of Nazareth from believing in Jesus. They could not fathom a man they thought their equal, to be God.
Continuing in verses 5-6 we see the consequences of unbelief.
5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief.
Think about what Jesus could have done in Nazareth. He could have showed up, and because of their great faith and reception and honor of Him, poured out blessings beyond what they could have imagined. He came there to bring the kingdom of God.
But because of their envy and unbelief, He can do there no mighty work.
This is not to say Jesus lacked the power as if his doing of mighty works was dependent upon their faith, but rather that, the purpose for doing mighty works was made void by their unbelief.
If someone is committed to putting the worst spin on whatever you say, you mine as well stop talking. If a group of people is committed to interpreting whatever you do, however great, as some evil deed (as something done by the devil), then why do it?
In this sense, Jesus is being merciful to them by not doing mighty works, because if he did, it would only heighten their judgment, making them even more without excuse. Envy is such an irrational sin, that even if Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, they still would not believe. Because envy locks itself in a room of unhappiness and swallows the key.
Behold, Jesus stands at the door and knocks, but envy will not let him in.
So this is the homecoming Jesus receives in Nazareth. And while he marvels at their unbelief, he continues to minister undeterred. In verse 6b and following we see that Jesus now multiplies his efforts by giving his authority to The Twelve.
And he went round about the villages, teaching.
7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; 8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip (bag), no bread, no money in their purse: 9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
This is the first commission of the twelve apostles, and in a very real sense, the beginning of the church and her apostolic ministry.
When we confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” we are confessing that our faith and doctrine and preaching is the same faith and doctrine the apostles preached.
Christ is the cornerstone, the prophets and apostles are the foundation, and the church is built exclusively on top of them (Eph. 2:20).
It is in this sense that the famous words of St. Cyprian (210-258 AD) are true, “There is no salvation outside of the church,” and “No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother.”
The spiritual lineage of Christ Covenant Church goes all the way back to Christ and the apostles, and therefore this is the first missionary trip of the one true church, of which we are a part.
So notice first that Jesus calls the twelve to himself, and gives them his own power over unclean spirits. What this teaches us is that Jesus’ Divine power can be transferred to his chosen representatives. But it also teaches us that his chosen representatives can exercise that power, while they themselves might not be true believers. This is proved out by the example of Judas who ministered as an apostle, but later apostatized.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
So it is possible for apostles, evangelists, and ministers in the church to do real, true and mighty works in the name of Christ, to convert souls, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, and yet on judgment day, Christ will say to them, I never knew you.
This is a very important principle for distinguishing between the objective good work of the Holy Spirit, and the crooked instruments He often uses to do those works. Sometimes people have a crisis of faith because the person that led to them Lord, suddenly abandons the faith. Or their pastor, who they trusted and learned from, commits adultery or commits suicide, and their faith is shaken.
Well Jesus tells us, and Scripture warns us that this is going to happen. And yet it should not nullify the actual truth or the actual power that was manifest in their ministry. Remember the Apostle Judas. Remember the Apostle Peter, he is going to deny Christ three times. All the apostles are going to scatter in shame. And yet that does not make false the true preaching and good works they do now.
Next, we observe that Jesus sends the apostles out two by two. There are multiple reasons for this, but the primary one here is that according to Biblical standards for justice, there must be two or more witnesses for a testimony to be valid in a court of law.
Deut. 19:15 says, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.”
Jesus reaffirms this principle when it comes to church discipline in Matthew 18:16, “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
As we will see in the next few verses, this missions trip is going to be a testimony against any town who rejects them. And when they shake the dust of their feet, they are acting as two witnesses before the Lord, that that town should be destroyed.
We see also here that Jesus reaffirms the principle that the worker is worthy of his wages, that those who preach should make their living from their preaching.
Jesus forbids them from taking with them a bag, bread, money, or even a second coat. The apostles are going to preach and minister, and the hearers are going to supply whatever they need along the way.
This is a call for the apostles to truly trust God to provide for them, and a call for those who receive their ministry to give honor to whom honor is due.
In verse 10 we see another guideline for ministry.
10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
When the apostles are shown hospitality and invited to stay the night, they are to remain there until they move on to the next town. And the reason for this is so that if someone else extends hospitality to them, who might be wealthier or of a higher status, it would be bad manners to just take the best offer. It would be disrespectful to that first family who offered you a place to stay, to move next door. So Jesus says, once you’ve accepted the offer of hospitality, don’t go trying to find a better offer, be content where you are.
Finally, in verses 11-13, Jesus tells them to how handle places that reject them.
11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent. 13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
The stakes are high when someone rejects the gospel. They are rejecting their own eternal salvation, they are rejecting the free offer of forgiveness of sins, they are rejecting the God who they were created to know. And Jesus says that when you come to a city, and no one receives you, no one gives you a place to stay, no one offers hospitality for the night, the judgment for that city, will be worse than the judgment that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
What was God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah? It was fire and brimstone. It was turning those cities in a smoking heap.
And the reason Jesus chooses Sodom and Gomorrah as an example is because the mission of the apostles is analogous to what happens in Genesis 19.
Jesus is sending out the apostles two by two. Genesis 19:1 says, “there came two angels to Sodom at evening.” God sends two messengers to Sodom.
Lot sees the two angels and welcomes them into his home, “And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways…and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.” (Gen. 19:2-3)
Lot shows them hospitality, and because of this, he alone (and his two daughters with him), are spared from God’s judgment.
The men of Sodom come to Lot’s house and want to rape the angels. That is the level of wickedness Sodom has become. And so God burns that city to the ground, because of their refusal to repent.
When Christian missionaries are kicked out of the country, or when cities and states, and nations become hostile to Christianity and openly refuse to repent at the preaching of Christ, they are begging heaven to rain fire and brimstone down upon them.
There are only two things that keep wicked places from being utterly destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah.
1. The patience and mercy of God.
2. The presence of Christians among them.
When God’s patience is up, and the righteous leave those wicked places, judgment falls on those lands.
Romans 2:4-5 says, “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
God is very patient, but you do not know where you are in the timeline. For you judgment day might happen on the way home from church. A car crash, a heart attack, a sudden stroke, none of us know when we might be face to face with the throne of God.
And this is why Paul says in Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Today if you are hearing this message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, then cast aside your wicked works, your envy and jealousy. Turn away from your sins. Prepare for judgment day because you don’t know when you might die.
The same message that the apostles preached, is the same message you hear every week: The kingdom of God is here, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus.
If you reject that message, Jesus says, it will be worse for you on judgment day than Sodom and Gomorrah. In other words, because you have been given even more revelation and truth than they ever received, the punishment for rejecting so great a light, so good an offer, will be far worse than fire and brimstone.
I close where I began. What obstacles are there to your belief? What sins, what envy is keeping you from receiving healing at the hands of Christ?
Jesus has sent forth apostles, He has sent forth preachers to the ends of the earth, to proclaim forgiveness of sins in His name.
And if you will cast aside your pride, and look to Him for salvation, He has given the church authority and power to declare, that your sins are forgiven through Christ. He has given the church authority to bind and to loose, to baptize and excommunicate, to preach this gospel to all who will hear.
And so receive that message. Welcome Christ into the home of your heart. Let him take up residence there, and He will make you clean.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.