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A Prophet Without Honor

Mark: The Kingdom of God Is at Hand  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:33
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The people in Jesus's hometown of Nazareth acknowledged that His words were wise and His works were mighty. However, they didn't believe that He was worthy of honor as a prophet, let alone the one and only Lord and Savior.

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A Prophet Without Honor Introduction, Outline, & Prayer Unless I’m talking about superheroes, I really don’t use the word “marvel.” The dictionary I looked at had a note that said, “chiefly British”; so, maybe that’s why it’s not in my daily vocabulary. It means “to be filled with wonder or astonishment”; The New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd edition). to be stunned, amazed, bewildered, left breathless, awestruck, speechless. When something happens that we thought was beyond likelihood, possibility, or even imagination, we marvel at it. When we think or say, “I can’t believe this is happening,” we are marveling and we can do so for positive or negative reasons. For example, I marveled positively when my son was born and negatively when I watched the World Trade Center collapse September 11, 2001. Both were astonishing events that made me say, “I can’t believe this is happening.” My son’s birth seemed too good to be true and the 9/11 terrorist attacks seemed too horrifying to be true but both were true and left me marveling for very different reasons. In just a moment, we will discover something that made Jesus marvel and, at the risk of sounding confusing, I marvel at the fact that Jesus marveled. Think about it: how do you astonish a person who has no beginning and no end—who sees all, knows all, and possesses invincible, unlimited, and divine power? What would it take for God to say, “I can’t believe this is happening”? Today’s sermon text will answer that question and, as we’ll see, it wasn’t for positive reasons. Here’s where we’re headed this morning. First, we’ll read Mark 6:1–6, then we’ll look at two points—The Offended Town (vv. 1–3) and The Dishonored Prophet (vv. 4–6)—and then we’ll end by considering how we can honor Jesus in our lives. “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching” (Mark 6:1–6). Point 1: The Offended Town (vv. 1–3) In chapter 5, we discovered three examples of extraordinary faith in the lives of three very unlikely candidates. By faith in Jesus a man possessed by a legion of demons was rescued and commissioned as an evangelist. By faith in Jesus a woman who had suffered from an incurable and worsening sickness for 12 years was healed and restored as a daughter of God. And by faith in Jesus the father of a recently deceased girl received his daughter back from the dead. Soon after raising that girl from the dead, Jesus switched cities. In Mark 1, Jesus left His hometown of Nazareth and travelled to a city called Capernaum. He spent a lot of time there and it’s most likely the city He leaves in our text today for His hometown (when it says, “He went away from there,” “there” is probably Capernaum). So, in Mark 1 He goes from Nazareth to Capernaum and in Mark 6 He goes from Capernaum back to Nazareth. Back in the fall, we read about what happened when Jesus entered Capernaum and I want to read it again to compare and contrast it with what happens in today’s passage when He enters Nazareth. Mark 1:21–22, “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching…” Mark 6:1–2, “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished…” Jesus entered both cities the exact same way, by teaching in the local synagogue on the Sabbath. And in both cities, people are astonished at His teaching. But as I mentioned before, astonishment can be either positive or negative. For the people in Capernaum, it was positive, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:21–22). For the people in Nazareth, it was negative, “many who heard him were astonished… And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:2–3). In Capernaum, the genuine authority of Jesus’s words and works led the crowd to be positively astonished. In Nazareth, the same genuine authority from the same Jesus, with the same words and works, led the crowd to be negatively astonished. But why? The answer lies in what we discover from the questions they ask. Question 1: “Where did this man get these things?” We discover from this that they had heard His teaching. Question 2: “What is the wisdom given to Him?” We discover that they knew His teaching was wise. Question 3: “How are such mighty works done by His hands?” We discover they had witnessed His works and knew that they were mighty. So far, so good—why the offense? Question 4: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Of all the questions, this one reveals why they were astonished and offended by Jesus. They are not merely saying, “He’s a carpenter and we know His family.” They mean His occupation and family background weren’t good enough for to receive honor. Concerning His occupation, they probably thought, “There can’t be anything special or valuable about him because he’s just a laborer, an average person who does average things—we don’t need to pay any special attention to him.” Unfortunately, that kind of economic prejudice still exists in our culture; so, it’s easy to understand why they mentioned it. But why mention Jesus’ family? There must have been something about His family they thought dishonored Him. Why else would they bring it up? I have three ideas. First, it could be that Mary was a widow and they wrongly thought being a widow’s son was dishonorable. We know from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that Mary, Jesus’ mother, married a man named Joseph after she gave birth to Jesus. However, the offended Nazarenes don’t mention Joseph at all. The reason that makes the most sense is that he had died. Second, it could be that Mary falsely had a scandalous reputation in Nazareth for getting pregnant before marriage and that they wrongly thought being the son of a disreputable woman was dishonorable. Once again, we know from Matthew and Luke that Mary did get pregnant before marrying Joseph. However, it was not at all the result of an immoral scandal but the result of a miraculous work of God through the Holy Spirit. But I doubt that these Nazarenes—so easily, unrighteously, and unreasonably offended—would actually have believed that. Third, it could be that Jesus’s siblings were ordinary or perhaps troubled people and they wrongly thought that this was dishonorable. Whatever their reasons, they had no justifiable reason to judge Him or be offended. In fact, it’s their offense at Jesus’s occupation and heritage that’s offensive. On a normal, human level it’s unacceptable to be prejudiced against someone for those reasons. How off-the-charts unacceptable is it to be prejudiced against God in human flesh for such things—especially after confessing that His words are wise and His works are mighty?! Jesus gives us a glimpse in the next three verses. Point 2: The Dishonored Prophet (vv. 4–6) There are three questions we need to answer in vv. 4–6. First, how did Jesus respond to His reception in Nazareth? Jesus looked at the whole situation—their astonishment, questions, and offense—and responded directly to the offended crowd by saying, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Many scholars believe that Jesus quoted a somewhat popular saying of His day, similar to the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” in our day. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 243. Regardless, by saying this He labels Himself a prophet and their behavior toward Him dishonorable. Prophets were God’s representatives on Earth, sent by God Himself with specific messages of rebuke, warning, challenge, or encouragement meant for the good of the audience. Some of them had the ability to do mighty works that validated both their role in representing God and their message from Him. But their main purpose was not found in their miracles but in their messages. It was somewhat normal for them to be rejected by people, especially when their message called for repentance or warned of judgment. Jesus definitely fits the description of a prophet and clearly sees Himself in the line of OT prophets. This might make some Christians uncomfortable because it seems like too low a designation for Him. It would be like saying a superstar championship quarterback “throws a ball for a living.” That’s not an inaccurate statement; it’s just so insufficient at capturing his abilities and accomplishments that it almost insulting. That’s what happens when Muslims call Jesus a prophet—they mean prophet but nothing more and not even the best one. When we call Jesus a prophet, we mean the greatest prophet and so much more. I think Jesus meant to identify Himself in that way also, as the prophet God had promised to send Israel, the one they had been waiting or since their days of wandering the desert: In Deuteronomy 18, Moses tells the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (18:15) and, three verses later, he quotes what God told him, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18). The second question is: How is it that Jesus “could do no mighty work there”? Obviously, there’s some kind of connection between their unbelief and Jesus’s mighty works. But to say that Jesus was unable to do something unless people did something makes it sound like our faith is the battery that makes Jesus work. I don’t think we can say, “Sure, God is doing something but only because I gave Him the power to do it by my faith.” Part of what it means for God to be God is that He doesn’t depend on anyone for anything. Like Paul wrote in Colossians 1:16–17, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Similarly, Hebrews 1:3 doesn’t say, “God upholds the universe by the word of our faith” but “[God] upholds the universe”—including our faith—“by the word of His power.” So, back to the question, How is it that someone this powerful and independent “could do no mighty work” in Nazareth? He couldn’t do many mighty works there because they would have accomplished something contrary to His purposes, not because His hands were tied by human unbelief. The Nazarenes heard and saw everything Jesus said and did and the only thing it produced in their hearts was offense. If everything you said and did—no matter how wise and mighty and beneficial—offended people who in turn heaped dishonor upon you, how could you keep doing miracles? As far as God’s power was concerned, of course He was able to do mighty works whether they believed or not. However, as far as His allegiance to His own plans and purposes was concerned, He could not do mighty works because He was constrained by His own desires to work for His own glory and not against it. The third question is: Why did Jesus marvel at their unbelief? I think we can answer this question by thinking about what kind of unbelief they had. If I say, “I don’t believe in the Easter bunny,” I mean, “I don’t believe the Easter bunny exists—it’s just a fictional character people made up to scare children and distract us from the real purpose of Easter.” If I say, “I don’t believe in racism,” I mean, “I definitely believe that racism exists in the world; I just don’t believe anyone should think, feel, or do racist things.” The people of Nazareth had the second kind of unbelief. They believed His works but disbelieved His worth. They didn’t think Jesus’s words and works were just fictional stories people made up or some kind of optical illusion. They didn’t think He was healing people by sleight of hand. No, by their own admission they witnessed His words and works and believed they were wise and mighty. What they didn’t believe was that because of them, He was worthy of honor as a prophet and, indeed, much more; the Lord and Savior worthy of our surrender, allegiance, love, and obedience. Application: Honoring Jesus as Prophet I usually mention the word “application” in every sermon but I’ve never mentioned what that means. “Application” is not something preachers tack on to the end of sermons so that they can have a reason to talk more. “Application” is about changing the way we think, feel, and act so that, with God’s help, our lives align with what He says in the Bible. The Bible is not a lifestyle magazine offering a mixture of facts, opinions, and suggestions for us to casually either take or leave. The Bible is God’s holy, living, and active word that transforms, changes, and calls us to action. So, the application time is meant to help us bring our thoughts, feelings, and actions in line with the Bible. In this passage, they Nazarenes were offended at Jesus for petty, unjustifiable, and arrogant reasons and they expressed their offense by dishonoring Jesus in both their hearts and in public. But Jesus labels Himself specifically as a dishonored prophet. So, our call to action here isn’t simply to do the opposite of what the Nazarenes did but to do what they should have done: honor Jesus as a prophet. See His miracles as serving His message. We don’t treat Him like a personal miracle worker but a prophetic messenger sent by God with authority that demands our attention and allegiance. Hear, believe, and obey His message. Things went well in the OT when people responded rightly to the prophets that God sent and terribly when they didn’t. That doesn’t mean all of life’s problems will vanish if you have faith. But it does mean things will go terribly in eternal life if you don’t. Being eager and unashamed to repeat His message. What message is that exactly? We hear it in the theme verse of the book, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). 5
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