The Scandal of the Gospel
April 28, 2019
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’ 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination:
Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to receive your word. This we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.
Last week was Easter. We celebrated the fact that Jesus the Christ was crucified, dead, and buried. And on the third day rose bodily from the grave defeating death. To celebrate that, we looked at a section of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians were he details the historicity of the gospel, the essence of the gospel, and the grace in the gospel.
This morning, we resume our series in the Gospel of Mark. For the past several months we have been looking at Mark’s gospel account and seeing the real Jesus, the historic Jesus. Mark has made very clear that Jesus is God incarnate; that he is true God of true God and fully man. We have seen him demonstrate his divine authority by calming a storm with his word; he has shown his authority over demons by casting out a legion that had possessed a man; he has shown his lordship over even disease and death.
We pick up the story with Jesus returning to his hometown, Nazareth. We have a saying you can’t go home again. It’s often hard for people to return home after spending time away. They’ve changed, the town has changed, and it isn’t always an easy fit. Returning home for Jesus isn’t just an awkward transition. He is rejected. As we examine this passage, we’ll see the scandal of Jesus and ministry of the church.
The Scandal of Jesus
“He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.” For roughly the past year, Jesus has been ministering in and around Capernaum. The last time Jesus was in Nazareth was at the very start of his ministry. He was in the synagogue and he interpreted Isaiah 61 in light of him. He said that he was the one who was the one the Holy Spirit had “anointed to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19a). Since then, he has been ministering in Capernaum.
Now he returns to Nazareth. Nazareth was about 30 miles southwest of Capernaum. It was a small town. There were roughly 500 people who lived in the town of Nazareth. For context, that’s roughly a third of the size of Murphy. That is slightly larger than my high school graduating class. Nazareth was a small town. Everyone would have known everyone. They would know their families.
When the Sabbath came, Jesus taught in the synagogue. Mark doesn’t report what he taught but he almost certainly did what we do during worship. There would have been a reading from the Torah and the Prophets and the rabbi would have explained the passage and applied to the people. That had been the established practice since the return of the exile.
And Jesus would have done that. He would have explained the day’s passage in light of him and the coming Messianic Kingdom. He would have explained how it prepared people for the coming kingdom and he would have called the people to repent.
And the crowd in the synagogue was astonished. They said amongst themselves, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?” They knew he wasn’t a rabbi. They knew he hadn’t studied. They knew he was a carpenter. They knew he was just a regular, ordinary man like them.
That’s what astonishes them. They know he’s an ordinary man and yet he preaches and teaches with such power and authority it amazes them. He taught like no one they had ever heard before. His ability to explain the text was unparalleled. He knew exactly how to apply it this congregation in Nazareth. That astonished the people.
Their astonishment reveals the fact that they are actually offended by Jesus. They knew him growing up. They know he’s a carpenter. They see him only as an ordinary man like them. That leads them to insulting and slandering Jesus. They say, “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?”
They call him the “son of Mary”. That’s tantamount to calling Jesus a bastard. Jewish culture always said the father’s name when saying “son of”. That was true even if the father was dead. Go back and look throughout Scripture. It always says the father’s name when they say “son of”.
So they are insulting Jesus. It’s possible that they knew that Mary was pregnant before she married Joseph. They knew Joseph to be an upright and just man and assumed then that Mary had been unfaithful. So they insult him. They know him and his family. His brothers and sisters are just like them. They’re ordinary. And they see that Jesus has this authority to preach and teach and they’re offended.
- Kent Hughes says that his ordinariness is what offends them. About thirty years ago, Margret Thatcher was the U.K. Prime Minister. While people were divided on her politics, everyone was united in their dislike of her accent. Thatcher grew up in a working class home. She didn’t speak the Queen’s English. She spoke a standard working class accent. It was an ordinary accent that showed she was from an ordinary family. And her ordinariness offended everyone.
As a result of being offended at him, Jesus did no mighty works among them. Mark tells us that he healed a few sick people but he didn’t do any mighty works. Let us note that Jesus didn’t do any mighty works NOT because he was unable. He was completely and fully able to do any mighty works in Nazareth.
Jesus chose not to do any mighty works there. Maybe you’re wondering why? The miracles that Jesus did while on the earth were to confirm that he is the Messiah; they were to confirm the in-breaking of Kingdom of God. Since the people didn’t believe and were offended by the person of Jesus, any mighty works he might do would fall on deaf ears. They would see the miracles and reduce Jesus to a simple miracle worker. They would a sideshow attraction and not the Son of God incarnate. Jesus did no mighty works because the people were offended by him.
People were not just offended by Jesus 2,000 years ago. People are still offended by Jesus today. As modern, westerners we love when Jesus talks about forgiveness and turning the other cheek. We hear those things and love it. But when Jesus speaks about sex, sexuality, and marriage, we’re offended. We don’t like when he says, “… from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10:6-9.
We’re offended because in that statement Jesus makes clear that marriage is for one man and one woman and that sex is reserved for that union. We’re also offended because he says divorce is not how it is supposed to be.
Those from Eastern cultures will be just as offended as we are. They like what he says about sex, sexuality, and marriage but they’re offended when he talks about forgiving your enemy and turning your cheek. People are offended by Jesus.
And if you’re a follower of Jesus, people will be offended by you too. Jesus says in John 15:18-21, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”
If you’re really someone who has taken to heart the essence of the gospel, then you’ll act and think like Jesus acts and thinks. And people will be offended by that. They’re do to us what they did to him. They will be offended on account of the gospel. And they will find Jesus scandalous.
While we live in the Bible belt, people will still be offended by us for being Christians. We will live in ways that are counter-cultural. Culturally, people will be ok with us talking about traditional sex, sexuality, and marriage. They’ll be ok with us saying that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. That won’t offend them.
But people will be offended when we are gracious and forgiving to those they don’t think we should be. They’ll be offended when we show grace and forgiveness to addicts and criminals. They’ll look at those people and think they’ve ruined their lives; that they don’t deserve a second chance. But for us in Christ, we will recognize that we didn’t deserve a second chance; we’ll recognize that God loved us when we were his enemies. And that grace will cause us to extend grace to others. And that will offend people when we show grace to addicts and criminals.
People will be offended by us calling sin sin. We don’t like to admit we’ve sinned. We’re ok with saying we’ve messed up or made a mistake. But the word sin has dropped from our cultural vocabulary. And so when we as the Church say that’s not just a mistake but sin, people are offended. They’re offended when we say that salvation is only through Jesus the Christ and not anything we’ve done.
People are offended by Jesus. So what does that mean for Jesus’ ministry?
The Ministry of the Church
“And he went about among the villages teaching.” Jesus continues to travel around to the villages near Nazareth, teaching and preaching as he goes. He was not deterred by the rejection he faced in Nazareth. The fact that people were offended by him did not stop Jesus from continuing his mission. He continued to preach the coming Kingdom of God, explaining the Torah and prophets in light of him, and calling people to repent.
Sometime after having taught in various towns and villages, “he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” He commissioned the twelve to continue his ministry. They were to go two by two into the towns and villages near Nazareth and do what he has been preparing them to do.
He sends them two by two for two reasons. First, the Torah required two witnesses. Deuteronomy 17:6 requires that more than one witness is required for legal purposes. The two disciples could affirm the truth about what Jesus has done.
Also, being sent in pairs allowed for mutual encouragement and comfort. Ministry is not an easy thing. It is hard work. It is often emotionally draining to sit with people and counsel them. And it’s even more draining when you’re a missionary and there is a lot of opposition and rejection. So Jesus sent them out in pairs.
“He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.” The Twelve are essentially sent out into the mission field with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Why would Jesus do that? Why would he charge them that they are not to take anything to eat, no supplies, or any money? By sending them out with nothing but the sandals on their feet, the shirt on their backs, and the staff in their hands Jesus wants them to rely on him. He wants the disciples to rely on him as the one who strengthens and supports them. Jesus wants the Twelve to know without a shadow of the doubt that the ministry they are embarking on is only possible if they rely and depend on him.
At times we think, “We need contemporary music to successfully minister to Millennials” or “We need an amazing preacher for ministry to be successful”. When we think those things, we forget that ministry is only successful when we rely on Jesus. For us to successfully minister to Murphy, Cherokee County and the surrounding areas we need to rely on Jesus.
Ministry success is not measured with numbers. Having more people in attendance during worship does not mean success in ministry. Having a larger budget does not mean success in ministry. Ministry success is not measured in recognition or popularity. Ministry success is measured with our complete and utter reliance on Jesus Christ to give us the words to share the good news. Ministry success is measured in our reliance on Jesus Christ for wisdom in how to respond to difficult situations so that they see Christ in us. Ministry success is measured in knowing we cannot cause someone to come to faith but we will humbly share the good news with everyone and disciple those who respond.
The last part of the charge that Jesus gave the Twelve is found in verse 11. He says, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them”.
Any town where they are offended by the gospel of Jesus, the pair was to shake the dust off of their feet. Many pious Jews would shake the dust off of the hem of their garments when they were leaving a Gentile land so as to not pollute the holy land with even the dust of paganism. What Jesus is saying is that those places that don’t receive the gospel are tantamount to being Gentile; that town is essentially pagan.
The act of shaking dust of your feet and garments was symbolic of judgment. Had any of the pairs offended a town in a way similar to how Jesus offended Nazareth they would have shook the dust off of them in front of the town elders. The elders would have understood it as a sign of judgment against them. It was a warning.
That sounds mean and unloving but it actually is very loving. If someone you love does something dangerous, what do you do? If your child starts to run out into the busy intersection, what do you do? You warn them that they could get hurt and you do so because you love them.
The same is true here. The Twelve would want everyone to understand the seriousness of rejecting Jesus. And for the people to understand just how serious it is, they would need to warn them in such a symbolic act.
There will be times when we minister to people and need to warn them that they are in sin and rejecting Jesus. Sometimes that might mean they are actively put under church discipline. That could include being admitted to the table for a season or it could mean being asked to step down from a leadership position. But discipline and warning are ultimately a sign of love; a sign that we love them enough to correct them. As a church, sometimes we need to love our people that way. Sometimes we need to warn them, discipline them, admonish them so that the offending person might recognize their and repent.
Ministering requires that we rely on Jesus for wisdom in how to proclaim the gospel and how to warn people in sin. The great culture will take offense at us, just like it takes offense at Jesus. But we are called to minister all the same.