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LSB Proper 9B Sermon – Mark 6:1-13

July 6, 2015

July 5, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And [Jesus] 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. And He called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”

Jesus’ appearance at the Nazareth synagogue isn’t a great homiletical triumph, a preaching event that brings all sorts of converts to the faith. You heard how the people questioned Jesus’ teaching: “Where did this Man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands?” Those start out as expressions of amazement and wonder. But the questions soon shift to unbelief: “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 the Gospel Writer summarizes the people’s response: “And they took offense at Him.”

Jesus’ appearance at the Nazareth synagogue is an incident of rejection by the people. They heard what Jesus said; its depth and power stunned them. They knew about some of the miraculous deeds that He had performed; those acts caused a great stir. But when it came down to receiving what Jesus was saying and doing as true, as something which carried authority from above, the Nazarenes could not accept it. Instead of benefiting from the divine wisdom and power that Jesus was bringing to their midst, the people of Nazareth desired none of it. Whether they believed it to be some sort of sham or something sinister, their reaction was full-on rejection: “And they took offense at Him.”

With that reaction, the people of Nazareth close themselves off from what Jesus desired to bring them. Jesus points out their faulty response: “And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’” The Gospel Writer records the result of this: “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.” The Nazarenes’ failure to receive Jesus meant that they also failed to receive what He could have provided to them.

But Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth does not define the entirety of His work. What was rejected at Nazareth is received elsewhere. And Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth did not take away anything from His identity and did not remove any of His authority. Even after receiving the cold shoulder in His hometown, Jesus continues to bring the LORD’s words to the people of Galilee: “And He went about among the villages teaching.” Not only does Jesus go around the region exercising His authority, He empowers His disciples to do the same: “And He called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” And when Jesus commissions the Twelve, they carry out the task: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”

This incident in Jesus’ life reveals a paradigm that is applicable to the entire creation. It centers on how people react to what the LORD has to say to His world. Whether done by a prophet, by an apostle, or by the very Son of God, the proclamation of the LORD’s message in this world will receive both positive and negative responses. Some will hear it and be glad. They will find in it the benefit of forgiveness, life and salvation. But others will take offense and close themselves off from what the LORD desires to give them. That offense may be taken at the message itself or the messengers who speak it.

Even now, you see that response of offense. Some of you may recall how you once felt about Jesus’ teachings. Some of you at first found it to be offensive. If not offensive, then perhaps you considered it strange and not meant for you. Or perhaps there was even a rejection of Jesus’ teaching because of who spoke it to you. Regardless of what shape that took, such a response initially closed yourself off from what Jesus desired to give to you.

Then there are the times when all of us find something unappealing in Jesus’ teaching. Even we who hold membership in the Church are guilty of that. It typically happens when Jesus’ teaching makes a demand on us. It typically is when Jesus demands His followers to do something that calls for a sacrifice: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…. If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me…. I do not say to you [to forgive your brother] seven times, but seventy times seven…. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate….” These instructions stand against humanity’s way of acting and point out something more excellent and demanding. And yet, when those teachings strike people’s ears, there is the reaction seen in Nazareth: “And they took offense at Him.”

Over and over again, the world asks the same questions that the people in Nazareth did: “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him?” They are questions posed even to you who are followers of Jesus’ teaching. They are questions of rejection and ridicule. For when you do speak about the way of life that Jesus lays out for you—both the salvation that He has achieved through His death and resurrection and the sanctified discipline that He calls you to—there are the questions hurled as insults: “Where did they come up with that? Does anyone actually live or think that way? How backwards can someone get? Why would anyone believe such foolishness about sin and salvation, let alone reveal that in public that they do? Who do these people think they are to impose such demands on any of us?” That has been poured out by the bucketful during the past few years, even more so during the last several weeks as the matter of sexuality and marriage has been discussed.

This hard fact is not unknown. The negative response happens in your hometown, from your friends and neighbors. The questions may be spoken by your relatives. Even more painful, the offense at Jesus’ identity and teaching may be present in your own household. The description that the LORD gives to Ezekiel about the Israelites fits Americans just as well: “nations of rebels, who have rebelled against Me…. impudent and stubborn.” What Paul described that he endured is shared by others who follow Jesus: “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” This leads us to our morning’s psalm, as we pray with the psalmist: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”

But remember that this incident in Jesus’ life doesn’t only show the negative response that He receives. And the offense taken by the Nazarenes and their rejection of Jesus does not detract or diminish His authority. Recall again what Jesus does after His hometown wants nothing to do with Him: “And He marveled because of their unbelief. And He went about among the villages teaching. And He called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” This shows that Jesus’ authority was not defined by how people received Him. He carried that authority whether people recognized it or not.

Jesus is not the Son of God or the Incarnate Word or the Messiah based upon how people responded to Him. The rejection at Nazareth would not keep Jesus from going to Capernaum, Genessaret, Bethsaida, and the other Galilean towns and preaching in their synagogues. Even more so, the rejection at Nazareth would not prevent Jesus from going up to Jerusalem and accomplishing salvation for the world through His atoning death and securing everlasting life by His resurrection.

There is a corollary of this that applies to others. Whether or not the impudent and stubborn people of Israel heard the LORD’s words spoken to them, Ezekiel was still a prophet. Whether or not the people in the various towns received or listened to them, the Twelve still carried Jesus’ authority. Despite all the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities he experienced, Paul was still an apostle. Whether or not congregations will listen to the gospel of Jesus and receive His sacraments, the ministers of the Church still have that office.

That corollary also extends to you. You are the chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people of the LORD’s possession, no matter how people respond to your proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Your identity is not defined by how the world reacts to you, but by the authoritative, performative word of Jesus that declares you to be His own and recipients of His grace.

The authority carried by Jesus is used for the purpose of bringing people to believe in Him and to receive His benefits. That is what the first prayer of the day recalled: “O God, Your almighty power is made known chiefly in shown mercy. Grant us the fullness of Your grace that we may be called to repentance and made partakers of Your heavenly treasures.” When we are lured to take offense at Jesus, then we call for Him to use His authority to change our hearts and minds, having Him send us the messengers like the Twelve who will proclaim repentance. When we face the scorn and scoffing of others, then we repeat the psalm’s petition: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” 

Our life of discipleship stems from recognizing that Jesus carried divine authority into the world. We know where Jesus got these things: they were always His. We know the wisdom given to Jesus: it is the Father’s will that He reveals. We know how such mighty works are done by Jesus: they are the exercise of His divine authority for our benefit. We know who Jesus is: yes, He is Mary’s Son, but He is also the Son of the Most High God. That is what we have come to believe, no longer taking offense at Jesus, but following Him wherever He calls.

So Jesus performs many mighty works here—absolving our sins, giving us a claim to everlasting life, and strengthening our faith even when others reject Him and us as He reminds us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Then when Jesus returns in His unveiled identity and authority, there will be no marveling because of our unbelief, but rather His rejoicing that we are people who trusted in Him.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


From → Sunday Sermon

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