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Missed Opportunities? Matthew 13:53-58; 21:18-22; Mark 6:5

14 Feb

We’ve all heard the words of the poet who wrote, “The saddest words of tongue or pen are simply these, It might have been.” How often do we miss opportunities to speak a word for Christ …miss opportunities for service …miss opportunities to worship Him?

I want us to spend our time today looking at two sets of verses which speak in a powerful and practical way to each person here today. The intent is that we see the events of our average day in a different light; that we determine to “open our spiritual eyes” and allow faith to reign.

(Matthew 13:53-58 NIV)  When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. {54} Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. {55} “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? {56} Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” {57} And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” {58} And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

(Mark 6:5 NIV)  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

Beginning with 13:53 and continuing through the first part of chapter 16, Matthew records eight incidents in the life of the Lord that correspond to and demonstrate the truths presented in the two parables mentioned.

Jesus had been ministering in and around Capernaum for about a year, using it as His home base (see 4:13; 8:5). But the majority of the people who saw and heard Him in that region eventually fell away, manifesting their rejection either by blasé indifference or direct opposition. Because of that rejection, His last teaching there was done entirely in parables, in order that, “while seeing they [would] not see, and while hearing they [would] not hear, nor … understand” (13:13). After Jesus finished the parables on the kingdom, He departed from there.

Because the Lord had spent more time there than anywhere else thus far in His ministry, Capernaum was especially guilty for rejecting Him. Earlier, Jesus had scorchingly rebuked them, saying, “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” 11:23.

Jesus had, in effect, pronounced a curse on Capernaum, and when He departed from there, that city’s doom was imminent. Jesus never went there again except as He passed through to minister elsewhere. He had come into the city and demonstrated power that could only have been from God. Yet the people would not have Him as Lord. Many marveled and some criticized, but few believed.

Now Capernaum’s opportunity was passed, and she entered a decline into oblivion from which she never recovered. Today the city is in virtually the same state of ruin—without houses or people—that it was a few centuries after Jesus was there. Apparently the town and the synagogue enjoyed a period of worldly prosperity for a while, but archaeological excavations show increasing pagan influence on the Jews there.

The last synagogue built in Capernaum, erected over the floor of the one where Jesus taught, was decorated with various animals and mythological figures. Having rejected the true God, the people were at the mercy of false ones.

Jesus’ home town was Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary went to live after returning from Egypt with their infant Son (2:23). It was to Nazareth that Jesus returned after His baptism and temptations (4:12-13); and we learn from Luke that the response to Him then was the same as it was on this occasion.

At first the people did not understand that Jesus was referring to Himself, because their initial response was quite favorable: “All were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” (Luke 4:17-22).

Knowing that the people’s praise was based merely on faithless recognition of His popularity and power, Jesus began to expose their real motives. He knew they wanted Him to duplicate in Nazareth the miracles He had performed in Capernaum. And He knew that if He complied with their demand they still would not accept Him as the Messiah, because “no prophet is welcome in his home town.”

In further rebuke of their hypocrisy and faithlessness, He reminded them that in the days of Elijah God had shut up the rain in Israel for three-and-a-half years and caused a great famine. During that time the Lord showed mercy on none of the many suffering widows in Israel but showed great mercy on a Gentile widow of Zarephath.

He also reminded them that during the time of Elisha, God cleansed no lepers in Israel but did cleanse the leprosy of the Gentile Naaman of Syria (vv. 23-27). They could not have missed Jesus’ powerful, rebuking point that a believing Gentile is dearer to God than an unbelieving Jew.

When Jesus made clear that He understood their wicked motives and would not bend to their hard-hearted provincial desire to have their own display of miracles, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;” and they rose up and cast Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff” (vv. 28-29).

From Jesus’ second, and similar, encounter with His former neighbors in Nazareth we can learn four important truths about unbelief: it blurs the obvious, builds up the irrelevant, blinds to the truth, and blocks the supernatural.

Unbelief Blurs the Obvious

And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?” (13:54)

The people at the synagogue in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth immediately recognized Him as the person they had known as a boy and young man. They also remembered that less than a year earlier He had worked miracles in other parts of Galilee, had impressed them with His great wisdom, and had so angered them by exposing their hypocrisy and unbelief that they tried to throw Him over the cliff to His death.

He taught about regeneration, worship, evangelism, sin, salvation, morality, divorce, murder, service, servanthood, pride, hate, love, anger, jealousy, hypocrisy, prayer, fasting, true and false doctrine, true and false teachers, the Sabbath, the law, discipleship, grace, blasphemy, signs and wonders, repentance, humility, dying to self, obedience to God, and countless other subjects. He taught the truth about everything that pertained to spiritual life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).

In addition to teaching with great wisdom, Jesus had displayed supernatural power that all but banished sickness and disease from Palestine and had performed miracles of nature that astonished the most hardened skeptics. At the very least, it should have been clear that Jesus was a prophet of God unequaled by any of the Old Testament era. How could the people not believe Jesus was from God, when only divine power and wisdom could explain the greatness of what He said and did?

Like the scribes and Pharisees, the people of Jesus’ home town synagogue refused to make the logical and obvious connection between His power and His divinity because they were willfully unbelieving. The seed of the gospel fell on the hard-packed soil of sin-loving hearts into which God’s truth could not make the slightest penetration.

Those who heard and saw Jesus did not reject Him for lack of evidence but in spite of overwhelming evidence. They did not reject Him because they lacked the truth but because they rejected the truth. They refused forgiveness because they wanted to keep their sins. They denied the light because they preferred darkness. The reason for rejecting the Lord has always been that men prefer their own way to His.

When a person willfully rejects the Lord, even the most compelling evidence will not convince Him of divine truth. Cultists and liberal theologians who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the divine Son of God can find countless ways to discount or explain away the most obvious truths of Scripture. They then congratulate themselves for their intellectualism in explaining Scripture without accepting its truths, for seeming to honor Christ without believing in Him or in what He taught, and for calling themselves by His name while denying His divine nature and power.

 UNBELIEF BUILDS UP THE IRRELEVANT

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary; and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (13:55-56)

Instead of accepting the obvious and overwhelming evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, the people of Nazareth focused their attention on the irrelevant. It was indeed surprising to see someone they had watched grow up and with whom they had gone to synagogue all His life suddenly come on the scene as a great leader—with no formal training and no recognition by the accepted religious hierarchy

The facts that Jesus was the carpenter’s son and the Son of Mary, that He had brothers named James and Joseph and Simon and Judas who everyone in  Nazareth knew, and that He had sisters who still lived there were irrelevant to the issues of His being the Messiah or not.

The fact that the citizens of Nazareth did not regard Jesus and His family as being out of the ordinary completely undercuts myths that attribute bizarre miracles to Him when He was a child. One story maintains that whenever He found a bird with a broken wing, He would stroke it gently and send it flying on its way healed and healthy. This text completely mitigates against such fabrications.

It is tragic that small issues can be used as great excuses for not believing. The people of Nazareth were like people throughout the history of the church who can find every foolish reason to justify their rejection of the gospel.

They don’t like the attitude of the one who witnesses to them; they think most church people are hypocrites; they think the preacher is too loud or too soft, too stuffy or too overbearing; and the services are too formal or too informal. They are offended at the slightest things Christians do and construe the insignificant as being all important. They put up one smoke screen after another to excuse their unwillingness to believe the clear and demanding claims and promises of Christ.

UNBELIEF BLINDS TO THE TRUTH

And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household.” (13:57)

Took offense is from skandalizoô, which has the basic idea of causing to stumble or trip up and is the term from which our English scandalize is derived. Jesus’ friends and former neighbors were offended by His claims. They were offended by His ordinary background, by the commonness of His family, the limits of His formal training, His lack of official religious status, and many other irrelevant or secondary issues.

Until a person is willing to have the hard ground of his heart plowed up by God’s truth and to confess and forsake his sin, he will be offended by the gospel. Until a person faces his sin in penitence, the truth of the gospel is hidden from him, and the blessing of the gospel is lost to him.

Unbelief Blocks the Supernatural

And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. (13:58)

Some of Jesus’ miracles were done in direct response to personal faith; but many others, perhaps most of them, were done regardless of any specific expression of an individual’s faith. All of the miracles were done to strengthen the faith of those who believed in Him; but although God can perform miracles where there is no belief, He chose not to perform them where there was hard and willful unbelief.

Jesus warned, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6).

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2019 in Jesus Christ

 

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