These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
Take your Bibles and open them to Mark 6. We are walking through the gospel of Mark and learning what it means to follow Jesus. We are discovering who Jesus is, growing in our understanding of His mission and kingdom, and uncovering what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus. Let’s dive into this.
Mark 6:1-6, Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. 2 The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” 3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. 4 Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” 5 And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. (NLT)
At the end of this we are told that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. To help us understand “unbelief” we need to understand doubt.
- Doubt is not the absence of faith; doubt is the questioning of faith. Listen carefully, you can only doubt what you already believe. Let me give you an example, when a Christian doubts the existence of God, he fears that God may not exist. He is doubting what he believes. When an atheist doubts, he fears that God may exist. By definition, you have to believe something before you can doubt that something. Christians have doubts all the time. They have unanswered questions about what God is doing and why He does or does not do what He is doing. That is normal.
- In Matthew 14, Peter walks out on the water to Jesus. After a few steps on the water Peter begins to sink. Then Peter cries out to Jesus to save him from drowning. Then the Bible says, “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’” (v.31). Peter had faith, even though it was little and he had doubt at the same time. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but the questioning of faith.
- Later in Matthew 28 when Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection we are told that the disciples, “When they saw him, they worshiped him – but some of them doubted!” (v.17). They had questions. All of this did not make sense to them. They had faith, but that faith was mixed with some doubt. Doubt is not the absence of faith.
- One of the original 12 disciples of Jesus earned the nickname doubting Thomas because he didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him Jesus appeared to them in the upper Room. Eight days later Jesus reappears supernaturally in the room with the disciples again and this time Thomas is there. Thomas reached out and touched Jesus and his doubt turned into more faith. When presented with the evidence, the doubter’s faith will grow.
- This brings us to unbelief. “Unbelief” is the determined refusal to believe. Doubt is a struggle faced by the believer. Unbelief is a condition of the unbeliever. Unbelief is an act of the will. It is a choice. Unbelief says, “I hear what you are saying and I choose not to be believe it. I reject what you are saying altogether.”
- At one point Paul was greatly affected by unbelief. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:12,“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief” (NLT). Paul is saying I did things out of “ignorance” (I could not understand the truth) and “unbelief” (I was deeply resistant to the truth). Unbelief is the determined refusal to believe. This is why Jesus had to confront Paul on the road to Damascus the way He did.
So in verse 5 Mark makes it very clear when he says, And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. This is not talking about doubt, little faith, or lack of faith. Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their determined refusal to believe Him in spite of all the evidence for Jesus being the Son of God, the Messiah, the Deliverer that was promised to come. Jesus decided not to do many miracles there because of their “unbelief.”
With all that said, I want us to take a brief look at this event in Nazareth and pick up a few more truths about Jesus and unbelief.
Unbelief ignores the obvious
Number one, unbelief ignores the obvious. Mark says in verse 1, Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. Let’s stop there for just a moment. This is Jesus’ second visit to Nazareth since He started His public ministry. The first time in Nazareth he spoke at a synagogue and declared that He was the Messiah and challenged the people regarding their unbelief. When Jesus was done teaching Luke 4:28 says, “When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way” (NLT). The last time Jesus was here in Nazareth He attended church, delivered the message and when He was done the church folks decided they were going to kill him by pushing him off a cliff. How would you like to return to that church and preach another message? Well, because Jesus is full of grace and mercy He decided to return one more time.
I’m assuming they are allowing Jesus to teach because He is a hometown boy. This is where He was raised. His fame and reputation has spread. They have heard of some of his miracles and teachings. So they give him another opportunity to teach in their synagogue. This takes us to verse 2.
Mark goes on to say, The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?”
- Though they did not attempt to kill Jesus on this occasion, like they had tried a year earlier (cf. Luke 4:29), their unbelieving disposition toward Him had not changed.
- The Lord’s teaching was authoritative (Matt. 7:28-29), knowledgeable (John 7:15-16), powerful (Luke 4:32) and unmatched (John 7:46). This is why “many who heard him were amazed.” The word “amazed” (ekplesso) means “to strike” or “to blast.” Today, we would say His teaching was “mind-blowing.”
- Yet, the amazement of the audience did not lead them to put their faith in Him as Lord and Messiah. Instead, they hardened their hearts in continued rejection. Rather than recognizing the obvious – that Jesus was empowered by God – the people of Nazareth questioned the source of His supernatural wisdom and power, saying, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?”
- The people of Nazareth did not accuse Jesus of being empowered by Satan like some people had already done, but neither were they willing to acknowledge that His power came from God. Their unbelief and skepticism is seen in their questions. In order to maintain their unbelief, they looked for any explanation other than the obvious one. Like the compact ground alongside the road in the parable of the soils (Mark 4:15), their hearts were hard. They had been given more than enough evidence; yet they stubbornly refused to believe in Him (cf. John 3:18-20).
Unbelief ignores the obvious.
Unbelief focuses on the irrelevant
Number two, unbelief focuses on the irrelevant. Mark says in verse 3, Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” When a person refuses to believe something they will look for and find others things that support their unbelief, even if its not relevant. His occupation, His mom, and his brothers and sisters have no barring on the fact that He has proven that He is the Son of God. He has healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, controlled nature, and raised the dead. Jesus has demonstrated over and over again that He is the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Savior, the Son of God. Unbelief, the refusal to weigh and see the evidence, will focus on the irrelevant.
People do the same thing today. Unbelief will say, “Jesus died over 2000 years ago. He was a great teacher like many others. How could He have an impact on my life today?” That is a good question, but the list could go on and on. Unbelief looks for the irrelevant and non important issues surrounding Jesus in order to write Jesus off. Unbelief is determined to find things and reasons to not believe.
Let’s take a look at the people from Nazareth statements a little closer.
- The first thing they say is, “He’s just a carpenter” – According to Matthew 13:55, they also asked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” The word translated “carpenter” (tekton) is a broad term meaning builder or craftsman. It could refer to a carpenter, stonemason, metalsmith, or shipbuilder. Some early church tradition suggests that Joseph and Jesus specialized in making yokes and plows. Growing up in Nazareth, Jesus had likely crafted many farming implements, and perhaps done other building projects, for His neighbors. Those same people found it hard to believe that a woodworker from their humble hometown who had not previously revealed His divine nature could suddenly exhibit such deep understanding and supernatural power. But Jesus’ growing up seemed so ordinary and natural to His neighbors and family and friends that they found it impossible to think of Him as possessing divine wisdom and supernatural power. Unbelief will look for the simpliest fact to justify their unbelief. “He just a carpenter” and nothing more.
- The second thing they say is, Jesus is the “son of Mary” – This is the only place in the Gospels where Jesus was referred to by that title. The normal practice of that time identified a son by His father’s name. (In Jesus’ case, they would have used the name of His adopted father, Joseph (cf. Luke 4:22; John 6:42).
- Perhaps they referenced Mary because Joseph had already died while Mary was still living in Nazareth.
- It is also possible that they intended this as an insult, implying that He had been born illegitimately (cf. John 8:41; 9:29); when a man’s father was unknown, he was called the son of his mother.
The reality is, it doesn’t matter who His mother was. But for those with determined unbelief, they will focus on anything they believe supports their case, even its it irrelevant.
- Finally, they commented about Jesus brothers and sisters. They said Jesus was the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us. – According to John 7, at this point His siblings did not believe in Him (John 7:5). They not only didn’t believe in Him, but back in Mark 3 they thought Jesus was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21). In a small town like Nazareth, I’m sure the townspeople had asked His siblings, “What do you think about what your brother is teaching and doing?” I’m sure that Jesus’ siblings and the townspeople shared similar views about Jesus at this point. Eventually, His siblings would become followers, but it would happen after the resurrection (Acts 1:14; cf. 1 Cor. 15:7).
By bringing up His occupation and His family, the people of Nazareth turned irrelevant issues into stumbling blocks to defend their unbelief. They diverted their attention away from the truth in order to justify their rejection of Jesus. They had only known Him as the son of a local carpenter. They were unwilling to embrace Him for who He truly was: the Son of God. Their unbelief, determined refusal to see and accept the truth, would not allow them to see Jesus for who He truly was.
Unbelief is easily offended
Number three, unbelief is easily offended. Marks says at the end of verse 3, They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. 4 Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
The word “offended” (skandalizo) means “to snare” or “to cause to stumble” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23). We get our English word scandalize from it. It carries the idea of making someone outraged, shocked, disgusted, dismayed, or appalled. Their unbelief caused them to become very angry at Jesus. Remember, this is the same people who became so offended with Jesus about a year ago they were going to throw Him off a cliff for what He was saying for claiming to be the Messiah and confronting their hypocrisy and unbelief (Luke 4:23).
On this occasion, we are not told exactly what Jesus said at the synagogue, but I’m sure it was more of the same. Once again, the people were outraged. Their unbelief caused them to react negatively toward Jesus.
Whatever was said and done at that meeting it caused Jesus to conclude the matter by saying, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” Because the people were only looking at Jesus through the lens of unbelief all they could see was the little boy who used to play in the streets and the teenager who made mistakes in making farm equipment. All they could see was His humanity and none of His deity. They saw the man, but they could not see the God-Man. Their unbelief prevented them from doing so. They were offended that He was claiming to be something they could not see in Him. Regardless of what Jesus would say or do their unbelief caused them to not see who He really was.
Unbelief hinders the supernatural
Number four, unbelief hinders the supernatural. Mark says in verse 5, And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. The people’s unbelief (determined refusal to believe) impacted what Jesus did and did not do among them. Is this telling us that Jesus was unable or unwilling to do miracles among them? Is this saying, even if Jesus wanted to do miracles there He couldn’t because of their unbelief? Is this what verse 5 is actually saying? If this is the case, then He is not all powerful.
Let me show you what I mean? In response to the people’s unbelief, Jesus chose not to do any miracles in Nazareth, with the exception of a few healings. The issue was not that He lacked the supernatural power to perform miracles. Rather, there was no reason to do miracles there, since the purpose of His miracles was to confirm the truth and reveal Himself as the Lord and Messiah, and to lead sinners to saving faith. Because the people of Nazareth had already set their rejection in stone, miracles were unnecessary.
Listen carefully, Jesus does not need your faith to perform miracles. Jesus can heal the sick, cast out demons, walk on water, and raise the dead without anyone believing. He is God in the flesh. He is all powerful. Jesus is not dependent on people’s faith to perform miracles.
- In Luke 17, Jesus healed ten lepers and only one of them confessed faith in Him and was saved.
- The crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:13) did not even know Jesus’ identity when he was healed.
- The man born blind (John 9:1,7) did not speak of his faith in Jesus until after he was given sight (v.38).
- The two demon possessed men earlier in Mark that Jesus delivered made no profession of faith until after they were delivered (cf. Mark 1:23-26; 5:1).
- When Jesus raised people from the dead, he obviously did so without first requiring faith from them (Luke 7:14; John 11:43).
- The Lord healed multitudes of people, even though not all of them believed.
- Clearly, Jesus’ power was not at all diminished by unbelief.
Jesus’ decision to not perform miracles was an act of mercy. Jesus explains in Matthew 11:20-24 that in an atmosphere of unbelief, where the people refuse to believe Him no matter what evidence is presented, if He were to do many miracles it would only make their unbelief stronger and harder. It would become more difficult for them to believe later. By choosing not to do many miracles among them, Jesus was actually demonstrating mercy toward them. The best way to understand verse 5 is to read it like this, And because of their unbelief, he [was unwilling] do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
Jesus had loved these people, forgiven them for what they had tried to do to Him a year earlier, taught them truth, and performed many miracles around Nazareth in other villages and cities. He had demonstrated over and over again who He was. He was the Messiah and the Savior. In spite of all the evidence, they held on to their unbelief. As a result, Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief.”
Sadly, you will encounter people throughout your life who are filled with unbelief. They will not believe no matter what you say or what God does in their life. It will take a miracle and a major crisis for them to go from unbelief to belief like Paul on the road to Damascus.
There may be some things you believe about Jesus and there may be some things you don’t. You are a mixture of belief and unbelief. In Mark 9:24 a man cries out to Jesus and says, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (NLT). This is where we are saying, “Jesus, there are some things I believe about you, but there are some things I’m stubborn about when it comes to you. I refuse to believe it. Help me overcome my unbelief.”