Please turn to Mark 6.
I’ll admit it, I was a difficult teenager for my parents. I and other kids in my high school class were regularly up to no good. I was particularly close to a guy named Wade, and I don’t think he and I had a good influence on each other. We were constantly over one another’s houses, doing dumb things, talking foolish, making our parents suspicious. Rightfullysuspicious.
I remember one time in our senior year of high school, Wade and I and a couple of other kids found ourselves without supervision in a room on the third floor of the school. It struck us that, in the room just below us, there was a physics class going on. We went to the janitor’s closet and found some rope. We tied it to our Korean friend’s ankles. Then we lowered him down out of the window, headfirst, to knock on the window of the class below. We had given him a sign that read “Help, Call 911.”
From our third-floor classroom, we heard an uproar in the room below us. We waited, and sure enough, a few minutes later the vice principal burst into our room.
Well, fast forward nine years, and my home church hires me to be an assistant pastor. I would occasionally preach. Imagine my chagrin when I would look out at the audience and see Paul and Kathy, Wade’s parents. I always imagined that they were shaking their heads at me, muttering under their breaths, “Fraud! We know where you came from, who you really are!”
Well, with that story we can understand the scene in Mark 6. We’ll read vv 1-6.
[Jesus] 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.
In his own hometown and among his relatives and households, individuals stumbled over Jesus. His teaching made an impression on them. They didn’t doubt that his own hands had accomplished mighty works. Still, though, their general reaction to Jesus was that of UNBELIEF.
Why this lack of trust?
We’ll try to answer in one word: FAMILIARITY. They knew his parents and siblings, and that long acquaintance with certain mundane facts about Him had the effect of their dismissing him. Thus, they wouldn’t be receiving help from Him.
Yes, help. They had problems, needs, and He could help.
But – this is the carpenter, the son of Mary, brother of James!? We already know this guy…have known him as long as he’s been alive – what happened to him? Where did he pick up this ability?
Questions. Vaguely irritated questions.
Questions are fine. But the problem with their agnosticism is that, in fact, God in Jesus waspresent, ready and willing to do mighty works. Yet they never got through asking questions and got around to bringing their problems to Him.
A missed opportunity.
We can sympathize with the townspeople. They’ve watched Jesus at town soccer. Seen him board the school bus every day. Work in the local hardware store. And now – He’shealing? Casts out demons from people that babysat Him? Speaks authoritatively of the Kingdom of Heaven, even says that when I’m present the Kingdom is present! Who does He think He is? This local boy going to help me?
The Incarnation – God takes on human form. Eats cereal. Experiences growing pains and zits. Asks his mom about the history of Roman occupiers. Sits next to his brothers and sisters in the synagogue. Living on this street in that house. Looks out the window. Shades his eyes from the sun. Stretches his quads. Swims with childhood friends who have nicknames. Has to repeat himself because just as he was saying something the first time the chariot went by and drowned him out. Measures lumber. Wipes the sweat from his eyes.
Yes, Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us. But even after observing his mighty works and hearing his authoritative teaching, what prevails in his townspeople’s minds is this impression of familiarity.
We’re looking for something novel. Extra-ordinary.
You could easily suppose that if God were really present, everything should be extra ordinary: Smoke. Thunder. Shaking. External effects that would also echo in your mind and spirit and stir your soul to powerful feeling.
Allow me to make the first application: If you’re not a Christian, you should know that a perpetual stumbling block to belief is the Incarnation of God of the 1st century. But not just that fact. But since then, the ongoing presentation of the Man, Jesus, through ordinary, run-of-the-mill means. Earthy vessels, Paul called them.
I used to play basketball at the Y in Newton, MA. I remember one day another player gave me a ride home and I was talking the faith over with him. We arrived at my house, got out of the car and chatted for a long time. He said, if God wants to tell me something, why doesn’t He show up right here on Pearl Street and say what He wants to say?
In other words: Impress me, God. Shock me into trusting You.
But that’s not what God does. He almost never acts sensationally. (We could guess at His reasons – to start with, electrifying displays don’t persuade.) He works through the familiar.
For example, this is what could happen: your brother who used to fake sick to avoid hard things, and cheat on his math homework… could one day be the channel through whom you hear about eternal life, the Gospel. The gift of God could come to you in a familiar – indeed, unattractive – package. You’ll need to overcome the disconnect between the packaging and the gift inside.
Rather than focusing on and then being dismissive of the unremarkable presentation, instead ask yourself – is this Gospel true? And then ask, do I need the help that this is offering? How can I learn more?
Ah ha! That’s another implication of the Incarnation – the truth of this message isn’t going to be mind-melded onto you. You’re not going to receive an unconscious heavenly download of information.
No, if you are asking questions you sincerely want answered, you’ll have to pursue those answers, and in the ordinary ways. You’ll have to read materials. Make appointments to discuss with a Christian. In order to apprehend this truth, you’ll have to hear and discuss and weigh and honestly question. You’ll have to put in the time.
Here’s how it works: God says to you: Seek My Face. You agree and respond to Him: Your face, Lord will I seek.
Think about how a lot of people buy wireless headphones. They’ll look up 20 websites, read reviews, ask friends for their opinions, compare prices…and ultimately do one click from Amazon.
But when it comes to matters of faith, most people –moderns especially – never spend energy pursuing the truth. They’ll have a few vague ideas bouncing around in their heads – all religions are basically the same, God is in nature etc. They might be generally intelligent and read broadly. And yet, often they’ve never, for instance, actually read through the New Testament. Or addressed their questions to a practicing Christian.
I’ve been speaking to a woman for years about becoming a Christian. She’s very intelligent, ambitious. She likes a lot about Christianity, and says she’d like to believe. But though I give her books or booklets to read, she never takes the time. I think she thinks to herself: that’s paper, that’s reading, that’s how I got my degrees. I want God to come to me through more mystical, magical methods!
Yes, I think this lack of effort is due to the assumption that God will work through sensational means. And not through the familiar and ordinary. But Friend, consider the Incarnation!
I want to put one more twist on this discussion: For many hundreds of years Christianity has been the dominant worldview of the west. People are familiar with it, and now are bored by it. They’re gravitating toward the occult, interest in aliens, strangeness, wildness.
We in the west are familiar with Christ, bored by Christ, looking for novelty.
But if you could just listen again, with better ears, to the old story of Jesus. If we could awaken from a type of stupor that has settled over us. Because with Christ and the Gospel, the freshness and wildness and drama are there, right in front of us!
Think about it: The Gospel story contends that there are demons and Beings covered with eyes and other creatures that would fit easily into a Star Wars barroom scene. There’s a God who becomes man, yet few recognize it. There are soldiers breaking legs. There are prostitutes who see more clearly than urbane townspeople.
In Christian dogma there’s an ancient Spirit whose breath oozes life into the walking dead. There is a respect for the ancient and there is a continual revitalization in the new. Giants who stride over the earth. In the depths of the ocean swims a great beast called Leviathan that has never been drawn out into the gaze of men. A man’s blood that, once a person drinks, in him from then on “lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” (Hopkins)
Here’s what I’m trying to say: Familiar truth is the most amazing! We live in a world that teems with grandeur and awesomeness that we can see and smell and hear, if only we would. If we seek: take out our microscopes and telescopes, only more amazing-ness we behold. And when we turn from the visible to the Scriptures, the Christian story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we find drama and the uncanny and plenty that – if we could just get past the sense of familiarity – continually takes our breath away.
So, yes, God comes to us in the familiar, but that’s not to say boring. Friend, don’t fall into the trap of demanding the superficially exciting. Not only will you be waiting for something that’ll never come. You didn’t really need that anyway!
And all the while you wait for the spectacular, Christ stands ready to work mightily in your life. If you’ll just humble yourself to accept the guise of the old and familiar means!
The second application of our passage runs toward those who are already believers, who have known Jesus for some time, who have been brought to God through Jesus Christ. The God who is now with You through Jesus Christ is a God who does mighty works. Have faith in Him.
This passage reminds us that, somehow, the inundation of Jesus language can be the very thing that hardens us against trusting in God, against expecting Him to help us, asking/seeking/knocking until He does help. “This people draw near me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
The thing that could happen is that, even as Christians are surrounded with words about Jesus and power and hope, we come to be sullen and withdrawn and think weak, secular thoughts. The very thing that made us alive – the word of Jesus! – mixed with unbelief could become the instrument of spiritual lethargy. We say that God has come near in Jesus, and yet in our hearts God is distant and He’s not for us. This is tricky stuff.
HOWEVER! By the Spirit of God we’re given faith, even in the tricky atmosphere of religion. He is a river of water that keeps refreshing the hearing and thinking and imagining and hope and expectations of Christ’s people. Instead of becoming bored and cynical and fearful and missing the opportunities of help from God, through Christ’s Spirit we are godly – that is, we think toward God even in the most non-church settings, and we maintain an ongoing dialogue with Him.
Through the warm wings of the Spirit brooding over us (Hopkins), we’re given the impetus to open our mouths and call to God especially at those times when He seems distant, when we don’t feel like He’s for us.
AND HE RESPONDS TO OUR FAITH AND ANSWERS OUR FAITH-FILLED REQUESTS.
God does mighty works. He has created the world, and everything in it. He holds it together by His will. He spoke, and the heavens were made. As the words came out, backed by the breath of His mouth, the billion billions of explosive stars came into the heavens.
Before anyone had opinions about how this world came to be, God had already created the world: the arctic fox, the crust, mantle, core, and inner core, optic nerves, the ozone layer, the color violet, pigs and kidneys etc etc. And ever since, through all the comings and goings of scientific opinion, God has been consciously, deliberately holding together every nucleus of every atom in the universe.
This cosmos is ordered by God, right now; it never was not ordered by God. It didn’t become by chance, accidentally, by any process that didn’t include God’s hand.
Moreover: He fashioned the heart of each individual on the earth. He observes and mulls over every one of our deeds, every mental event, the tiniest gesture of our spirits. And back to the application from our passage: Christian: The Most High, All-powerful God is prepared to do mighty, awesome, fearful deeds in Your behalf if you will trust Him.
Yet (review) sometimes this can happen: Somehow it’s easy for this to happen: We become overly familiar with Jesus and Jesus words and Jesus concepts… and stop looking to Him for real help. We begin the days when we’ll spend time with our grandkids, shaping the memories and character of the next generations, and we don’t even think to ask Christ for direction and stamina and the kind of grace that is beyond our actions.
We slumber next to all the language and apparatus of Christ. We often don’t really trust God, look to Him for help. And in the absence of faith, He doesn’t help.
This is a scandal: In times of real need, mundane need, the Church is always in danger of overlooking Jesus, because we associate Him with the extra-ordinary: Sundays and impressive buildings and emotionally, religiously charged moments.
And we don’t reckon with the Incarnated Jesus – meaning, that when we’re trying to find the right phrasing for an e-mail, and kicking ourselves that we’re not better writers, we don’t go to Jesus.
You have not, because you ask not.
But…again… the Spirit can shake us out of our slumbering dullness. And when He does, we do look to God for help. And He answers. He answers +! He gives us help, and through us the Spirit flows, out of our mouths come rivers of living waters. And through us our kids and our grandkids and our friends and our neighbors and our church members sense that Christ is alive and present and ready to help.
Brothers and sisters, let’s mark and resist our tendency to grow so familiar with God that we forget Him. Instead, in whatever external or mental circumstance we’re in, we’ll heed the exhortation to “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22).
Or let me quote that Hebrews passage with the paraphrased Message: “So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place…So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out.”
In this hour and the hours ahead of you this week, go to Him, and keep going back up to Him – that’s the force of this tense. Quoting Christopher Ash: ‘Draw near’, he says and the tense means, ‘draw near and then go on and on drawing near, again and again, day after day.’
And that we should, because Jesus has already done a mighty work – with His human blood He entered into the presence of God, presenting Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, the remitter of our guilt. A one-time sacrifice that changed things between God and you for all time, in every second of every day. Reconciled to the Creator. Close enough to legitimately call Him, “Abba.”
This Supper is a time to remember what has been accomplished by Jesus. We’ve been reconciled to the Creator. We’re not Fatherless. We’re not alone, left to our own thoughts. Not helpless.
There is a God to go to for help with gnawing worries. With looming fears. With shameful memories. With any kind of need, physical or spiritual, societal or deeply personal.
And a God to give thanks to. While we enjoy this Supper together, in your minds thank God for what He’s already given to you… and His commitment to give you more as you ask. Paul says this: through the gift of Jesus Christ our destiny is to reign in life (Romans 5: 17). We’re not just survivors off the wreck but conquerors. More than conquerors.
Dear Friends, amazing I must caution you now. But I do. As we take the Lord’s Supper, don’t overlook the Son of God! Especially don’t allow the familiarity of the Lord’s Supper and all the apparatus of the Church move you to drift from trusting the Son of God!
Brothers and sisters, this is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because it is His table, we extend an invitation to every baptized believer who’s in a solid relationship to his local church to join us in this sacred remembrance of the Lord’s death for us and for our salvation.
If the confession of faith we recite expresses what you believe, and the prayer of confession we pray is the prayer of your heart, then we would be delighted to celebrate this Communion Meal with you.
As the men pass out the bread, they’ll say “The body of Christ, broken for you.” As they distribute the cup, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” When you pass these elements on to your neighbor say the same thing.
But don’t mindlessly hear the phrase. Don’t mechanically repeat the phrase: But remember, this was for you. You. And it’s all done. You’re near God now. And you can call to Him. And He will act mightily for you.
Now let us confess our faith using the words of the Apostle’s Creed. Christian, What do you believe?
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into the realm of death;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
The Word of God proclaims that ‘God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness’ in Jesus Christ.
So let us confess our sins using Psalm 51, which is printed in the front of the hymnal. May these words be the prayer of our hearts today…
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Having confessed our sins and professed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we now remember the price paid for our redemption, and we renew our covenant vows of love and loyalty to our Savior and Lord.
I’ll ask Mike to thank God for the broken body of His Son…