June 19, 2016
Through personal experience and years of ministry, I’ve discovered being raised in a Christian nation, or being raised in a Christian family, has some unique challenges. For example, on the one hand, I’ve talked to many who’ve told me – I can’t remember not believing in Jesus. I was brought to church from infancy – I’ve heard all the stories since I was old enough to understand. I’ve always thought of Jesus as the Savior who came to die for the sins of His people. And here comes the challenge – I can’t really remember when I was saved. I’ve always believed.
Let me say this: whether you can remember the day of your spiritual birthday is not relevant. What is important is your present confession. That is, do you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? You say, yes, I’ve always believed that. Do you believe He took on flesh to die for sinners, and was raised again the third day? Yes, always have. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins, and have you asked Him to forgive you of those sins and be your Savior? Of course. Then, by present confession, I believe you’re a Christian, a believer. Don’t misunderstand, I believe in the born again experience. That is, there came a time when you believed Jesus for your salvation. But whether or not you’ve got a date written in your Bible – a spiritual birthday and can remember it – is not really the point. Do you believe, right now, Jesus died for you, and are you trusting Him and Him alone for your salvation? If so, you can dismiss the nagging doubts, and trust our great Savior for His saving grace.
Which leads to the next challenge of being reared in a Christian home: you think you’re automatically in because, well, your family believes, your nation believes. Ask some, are you a Christian, and they say yes. In fact, somewhat over 70% of people in the US call themselves Christians. However, ask them why, and you may hear, well, I’m an American, aren’t I? I suppose for most of us, we wouldn’t fall into that woeful misunderstanding. But, how many would say, of course I’m a Christian, I was raised in a Christian home. Does that make you a Christian? You might say, well, I’m a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a good Catholic. Or, I was raised in Alliance Bible Fellowship. Does being reared in a certain family or a certain Christian denomination or a certain church make you a Christian? The answer is no. It is only explicit faith in the Gospel – the good news of who Jesus is, and what He came to do – that saves. Don’t miss that – explicit faith. Faith is necessary for God’s saving power to be unleashed. I’ve said it this way many times – God has no grandchildren. Just because your parents are Christians, doesn’t mean you are. You must believe for yourself.
So maybe this was your experience: you grew up in a Christian home, and there came a time when you faced a crisis of faith. Perhaps you went off to college, got your own job. You left home, and suddenly, you got to decide. No longer was mommy going to wake you up and say, it’s time to go to church. You got to decide, do I really believe this stuff for me – do I believe it because my parents believe it, or do I? And perhaps you even walked away – shut it down for a season. But after awhile, you faced a challenge and came to the end of yourself, and thought, that faith of my parents – I really do believe – not just for them, but for me. And you were graciously and gloriously saved – brought into the kingdom of God.
But that leads to a third challenge of being reared in a Christian home – and it’s really the one I want to talk to you about today. It goes like this: some say, I don’t believe precisely because I was reared in a Christian home. What do I mean?
Some of you would say, I was raised by parents who called themselves Christians, but, I lived with them. I know the real people. Oh, not the people who look all shiny and clean on Sundays. No, I saw them at home. I saw the way they treated each other, the way they treated me, the way they really lived their lives. They’re nothing but hypocrites. And you made a decision, if that’s Christianity, I want nothing to do with it. I understand that. If that’s been your experience, I’m terribly sorry. But let me offer a couple of thoughts. First, it may be your parents are just broken people. You see, the gospel doesn’t make us perfect – but it does put us on a path of sanctification – of growing in holiness and Christlikeness. And if your parents are on that path, give them a break – they aren’t perfect, just like you aren’t.
And I would also remind you, Christianity is not built on Christians. It’s built on Christ. Examine the life of any Christian, and eventually, you will find failure. But examine the life of Jesus, and you will find glorious, gracious, loving, divine perfection. And He will never let you down.
Which leads to the last related challenge: maybe you were reared in the home of faithful Christians, but you have chosen not to believe. In fact, that is the very reason you don’t believe – for some strange sense of individual freedom. And the, “I’m not going to believe just because they believe,” has become, “I will not believe.”
And so, it’s becoming increasingly popular to not believe in opposition to those closest to you. Your family, your parents. Despite the preponderance of evidence, you swing with the pendulum – I don’t want to believe just because my parents believe. Fact is, I think that’s why many do believe – they were raised in a Christian family, so they just believe because they’re supposed to. Not me. And as a result, the largest group of so-called atheists is among those 30 and under. Because that’s the thing to do. You see, familiarity has bred contempt. You reject precisely because so many believe. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with Christianity, other than you were raised in it. You want to go your own way, make your own choices, live your own life, live how you want. I will not believe because others do. And despite the rationality of the faith, despite the power of the gospel narratives, despite the proof of changed lives around you – you refuse to believe – to your own eternal peril.
We’ve been in the Gospel of Mark for some time. It has been Mark’s purpose to prove Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And the proof has been strong – more, actually remarkable. After the prologue in the first half of chapter 1, Jesus launched into His Galilean ministry – in northern Israel. He did things like drive out demons and heal everyone who came to Him – even lepers and paralytics. His teaching was amazing – with authority. And He then began calling disciples to Himself. Of course, with His rising popularity came rising opposition. Not everyone liked what He was doing – forgiving sins, healing on the Sabbath. So the religious leaders were already conspiring to kill of Him.
Then there was that day His own family came from Nazareth to get Him. You see, they thought He’d lost His mind. Let’s do an intervention, bring Him home – see if we can’t bring Him to His senses. Did you catch that? His own family – those who grew up with Him, thought Him crazy.
Well after that, Jesus ratcheted things up a bit. After choosing His twelve disciples and teaching in parables…at the end of chapter 4, through chapter 5, He performed some spectacular, awe-inspiring miracles. He calmed a storm, He drove out a legion of demons, He healed a woman of an issue of blood, and He raised a little girl from the dead. Incredible – He demonstrated His divine authority over nature, demons, disease and even death. Remarkable proof. Who wouldn’t believe? Well, those you think would believe. Those who should believe, the religious, and even His own family – they don’t. You see, familiarity breeds contempt. Read the text with me today – it’s found in Mark 6. We’ll read the first six verses of the chapter.
Do you see that? Those you think would believe, should believe, don’t. We’re going to look at this story today – how Jesus was rejected by His own family. And maybe you’re here, and you’re rejecting, because of the familiarity of the faith. You grew up with it – just like they grew up with Jesus. My hope is, in this continuing, remarkable proof, you will believe. And then, for those of you who have family members – sons, daughters, brothers, sisters who should believe, but don’t – I want to offer some encouragement. Let’s look at the story.
Jesus has been doing His ministry largely in Capernaum, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Now, He makes His way about 25 miles to the southwest, to His hometown of Nazareth, and to His own family. By the way, Nazareth isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament or in the Talmud. It was a rather insignificant village built into the side of a rocky hill. Archeological evidence suggests it was at most a town of 500 people. We remember, Jesus wasn’t born there – He was born in Bethlehem, but He was reared in no-count Nazareth. It’s why Nathaniel says, when he hears of Jesus possibly being the Messiah, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth.”
We notice His disciples are with Him – that’s normal for us to hear. But you have to understand, disciples followed rabbis. And Jesus was no rabbi. He’d received no formal training at the feet of any approved rabbi. He shouldn’t have followers. When the Sabbath came, as was His custom, He went to the synagogue and began to teach. At first glance, this may seem unusual – usually when you go to church, the pastor speaks. But then, if a visiting, qualified man – a rabbi or scribe was there – he would be invited to speak.
So Jesus speaks. We don’t know what He says – it’s likely the same event recorded in Luke 4 where He reads from Isaiah 61 – a messianic prophecy. He then sits down and while all eyes are on Him, He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Okay, so they take Him to cliff to throw Him off – but we’ll save that story for Luke.
Regardless, as usual, at this point, His hearers were astonished. Remember, His teaching was not like the scribes – it was with His own authority and full of wisdom and truth – unlike what they’d ever heard. Again, they’re amazed – astonished – at His teaching, but they have a problem. This is still Jesus, the one who grew up with them. So they ask a series of five questions:
The first two questions are at the end of verse 2. They ask, “Where did this man [notice, not even Jesus – this man] get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?”
I don’t know – where do you think supernatural wisdom and supernatural powers come from? Newsflash! From a supernatural God. Jesus’ words and His works proved over and over He was the Messiah, but people chose over and over to willfully reject the evidence. Please notice, this is not just a lack of faith, not just deficient faith, not just a lack of knowledge which leads to faith – but undeniable evidence producing decided unbelief. You heard about it – the evidence is strong. You’ve seen it in the lives of your family – but you don’t believe.
They just heard Jesus’ words, they no doubt heard the stories about His works. Nazareth was only a day’s walk from Capernaum. It’s possible several of the people there had even witnessed some of His miracles. There were eyewitness accounts. Not only that – verse 5 – “He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” right there, in Nazareth. The word was out – the lame were walking, the blind were seeing, the deaf were hearing, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were breathing. But after hearing and seeing, they chose not to believe. Why? Familiarity.
Notice, by the way, they didn’t try to dismiss His works – there was no denying them. They just didn’t do anything with the facts. Over and over in the gospel of John, Jesus says something like, “My words and my works prove who I am.” John 5:36, “the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish – the very works that I do – testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.”
John 10:37-38, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”
His words and His works were proof – there was no denying it – but they did, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miracles?” They heard it, they saw it, and they chose not to believe. There was actually no rational reason to not believe, other than the hardness of their hearts.
You ever know someone like that? You present them with evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – and what do they do? They don’t believe it. They dismiss the evidence. They argue with the evidence. Anything but accept it. Why? If what Jesus said and what Jesus did prove who He was, why don’t people believe? Because to turn to Him, they must turn from their sin. That’s key. Jesus said it this way in John 3:18-20:
18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
That’s the bottom line. You talk to some who refuse to believe – present them with all the evidence, all the facts, and they argue with it, they deny it – because they love their sin, their darkness, more than truth.
The next three questions are found in verse 3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?”
Let me ask, what does any of that have to do with anything? Here’s what they were struggling with. Jesus was one of them. He wasn’t a Rabbi, formally trained. He wasn’t a scribe. This is the only place He’s called a carpenter – the word could refer to woodworking or stone masonry – He probably did both. He didn’t enter His public ministry until He was thirty, so He probably spent a good 15 years plus as the carpenter in Nazareth. The people were saying, He’s just your average common laborer. That’s not meant to be derogatory – He just can’t be the Messiah – He doesn’t come from a king’s family, from a ruler’s family, even from a rabbi or a Pharisee’s family. He hasn’t had the proper training. How can He be the Messiah?
Look, His family is still here with us – Mary, His brothers, His sisters. He’s no one special – He’s a commoner, a local, like us. In short, they were saying, He doesn’t have the heredity, He doesn’t have the education, He doesn’t have the training to be the Messiah. Again, I ask, what difference does any of that make? None. Do you think it mattered to the leper where Jesus got His degree? Do you think it mattered to Jairus’ daughter where Jesus was educated? Do you think it mattered to the paralytic where Jesus grew up and whether or not He knew how to swing a hammer? Not one bit. And yet, in Nazareth, in their willful unbelief, they made it a big deal out of nothing.
Just like today. People take what is irrelevant and make it paramount. They’ll dismiss the truth of the message, and want to talk about irrelevant topics. They want to talk about the supposed errors in the Bible, they want to talk about abortion or capital punishment or politics. They want to talk about the hypocrites in the church or how Uncle George professed to be a Christian and it never changed his life. All kinds of irrelevancies. None of that really matters as it relates to who Jesus is and what He did. You see, if you can get people to focus on Christ instead of Christians, they’ve got a problem. Unfortunately, many times, we can be drawn into those conversations and miss the most important truths. Don’t allow people to sidetrack you from the message of the gospel. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus is the answer to your sin problem. That’s the truth they need to hear.
Let me quickly address these family ties. It’s interesting they said, “Is this not the son of Mary?” That was unusual. In this patriarchal society, you would be identified by your father – it was like your last name. Jesus, son of Joseph. This was likely for one of two reasons, or both. First, many suggest, probably rightly, that Joseph was dead by this time and probably had been for some time. He’s not mentioned after Jesus was 11. So, by this time, Jesus was known as the son of Mary. That’s possible, but unusual. But it’s also possible Jesus was known to be only the son of Mary, and not Joseph. While Mark doesn’t record the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, certainly they knew that Jesus was “illegitimate” – the son of Mary but not the son of Joseph. This could then be a derogatory inference. How can a illegitimate son be the Messiah?
Then you have the issue of Jesus having brothers and sisters. There are basically three explanations of that. First, since the Catholic Church has wanted to teach the perpetual virginity of Mary, they say these were Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage – and therefore Jesus’ step-siblings. However, the text in Matthew says, when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he kept her a virgin until Jesus was born.
Second, some suggest the words here could be saying these were Jesus’ cousins. Possible, but there is a word in the Greek for cousins Mark could have used, and didn’t. Third, the most obvious meaning of the text, is these were children of Joseph and Mary, and therefore younger half-brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Regardless, here’s what I want you to see. His family did not believe in Him. Earlier in chapter 3, they came to get Him because they thought Him crazy. In John 7, they made fun of Jesus, challenging Him to go make Himself known in Jerusalem – because, they didn’t believe. Her’s my point, those who should believe – who watched Jesus grow up – did not believe.
Which leads to the final result of this willful rejection in verse 3, “And they took offense at Him…” Why would they do that? All He did was speak truth and do miracles – so what’s the deal? You should know, the word for offense is skandalizo which means to be offended, to be angered or shocked – to cause someone to stumble or fall. It comes from the same word we see in I Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.” It comes from the same word as in I Peter 2:4ff, “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God…For this is contained in Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed…the stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone…a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense [there is it].’”
Jesus Christ is the choice and precious cornerstone of the house that God is building. Those who come to Jesus must stumble on that rock. He is the skandalon, the rock that makes us stumble and fall. And when we are faced with the truth and reality of Christ, we can willfully choose to believe and bow at His feet and proclaim Him Lord, or we can willfully choose not to believe, refuse to bow, and be crushed by the rock.
This brings us to a difficult to understand verse 5, “And He could do no miracle except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” What does that mean? There were times Jesus healed people in response to their faith. There were times He healed in the midst of struggling faith, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” There were times He healed people who had no faith – that is, there was no faith involved in the healing at all. One day He just stopped a funeral procession and raised the widow’s son from the dead – no mention of faith – and one thing’s for sure – the boy didn’t have any faith.
But here, we have people who willfully chose to remain in unbelief. Theirs was not a struggling faith – they were settled in rejection. We’ve seen it, we’ve heard it, but we don’t believe it. And as a result, Jesus did not do many miracles there. You see, in Mark’s gospel, faith is necessary for God to act. Jesus did miracles in response to faith, to produce faith, or to strengthen faith. But, He would do no miracles among people who were hardened in unbelief.
The lessons for us as we close are two-fold. First, for believers – know that not everyone will believe – even those closest to you who should believe. You see, Jesus used a well-known proverb in verse 4, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” Incredibly, those who hear and see, those who should believe, often don’t. Some, when presented with the evidence, will deny it, and be offended.
Your job is not to cause them to believe, your job is to keep sharing. You see – that family of Jesus who did not believe? We don’t know anything about more about Joses and Simon. And His sisters are never named. But later, we know at least Mary and James and Jude believed. Acts 1 says Mary and His brothers were in the upper room with the early church. Later, James became the pastor of the church in Jerusalem and wrote the NT book of James. Jude wrote the book of Jude. Here’s my point – keep sharing. An initial rejection of the gospel is not always a final rejection.
And lastly, for unbelievers here this morning, as you consider the claims of Christ, put aside your familiarity and focus on Him. You will find no problem with Jesus. And want to encourage you from Hebrews 4, “Take care that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin…. Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – the Savior of the world. He will be your Savior, if you just repent and believe.