Familiarity Breeds Unbelief
Twice in the New Testament do we read of Jesus being amazed. Think of that. The one who knew the thoughts of every human-being was stunned on two occasions.
Jesus was amazed at the faith of a non-Jew that he never met. A Roman centurion had a servant that he deeply cared for but was sick and dying. He hears about Jesus and sends elders of the Jews as his emissaries to request Jesus to come and heal the servant. Jesus is willing. He sets out to go to the centurion’s house. But while he is still on his way the centurion sends another delegation to tell Jesus this,
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him (he was stunned), and turning to the crowd following him he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’” (Luke 7:6-9).
The second time we read about Jesus being amazed it is in his in his hometown. Again, Jesus is stunned. But not because they trust him, but because of their lack of faith. Familiarity, then and now, can lead to unbelief.
(Reading the text)
Remember what has just happened. Jesus had stilled a violent storm, had freed a man from being oppressed by thousands of demons, had healed a woman of an incurable disease, and to top it all off raised a twelve-year-old girl from the dead. And when he enters his hometown, after hearing him speak, the people who knew him best, reject him
1. Doubting Jesus
Here we see people that knew Jesus since he was a child. They hear him speak and their reaction is doubt. Jesus was the oldest child of at least six other siblings, four brothers and at least two sisters. They heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue and were amazed but refused to trust Jesus.
There is something that I like to define as “healthy indecision”, something that needs more information to give more assurance.
a. Healthy Indecision
Some people are hesitant to entrust themselves to God in Christ because they doubt. A doubter is literally a person “in two minds” (note: “doubt” is derived from “double”). Jesus never chided doubters. When John the Baptist was imprisoned, he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was indeed the Messiah (Matthew 11:2–6). Jesus responded by asking them to inquire as to what they had seen and heard and then to inform John. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Matthew 11:4–6).
The word stumble in Matthew 11 is the same word in our text where we read, “And they took offense at him” (6:3). The word is skandalisthē. Skandalisthē is where we get our English word scandal. It means to be offended to the point of breaking off a relationship. We should all have healthy doses of doubt, but these will not lead us to reject Jesus, but to draw near to him.
To be skeptical means to inquire. Our doubts are like security checks at the airport: they sound off an alarm when something questionable arises. Doubts encourage us to research.
Oswald Chambers said, “Faith must be tested, because it can only become your intimate possession through conflict.” One reason why people do not trust in God is that they have never given themselves the time or permission to do the heavy lifting on their doubts.
Untested doubt is like untreated cancer cells – they will metastasize and thereby take on life- and faith-threatening proportions. When doubt gets to be chronic, it turns pathological and will kill faith, prayer, hope, and confidence.
As with John the Baptist who doubted and needed reassurance, there is healthy indecision that leads to faith. But there is also unhealthy decision that will lead to a lack of faith
b. Unhealthy Decision
The hometown crowd mentioned in this text were offended by Jesus. They stumbled and rejected Jesus, as did his siblings.
They had three issues that caused them to decide against Jesus.
i. Source of his teaching
They asked, “Where did this man get these things?” The miracles performed by Jesus were indicators that he was more than a man. He was God. The hometown folks did not connect the dots. They saw irrefutable evidence of divine intervention but did not consider the source of his teaching to be directly from God.
ii. Power of his teaching
They ask, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!” Jesus’ words were both strong and beautiful, and they were backed up or augmented by supernatural acts.
iii. Heredity of his origin
“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?” Of course he is. But he is much more than that.
2. Demoting Jesus
In our culture rationality and the scientific method are kings. What we cannot explain through thorough investigation cannot be true. Our culture bows down to the gods of rationality and the scientific method.
This mind-set affects how our culture interprets who Jesus was and is. Let me briefly mention three of these. They each put Jesus in a straitjacket, allowing him to be tamed.
a. The “Great Man” view of Jesus
How many times have you heard from others, “Oh, I consider Jesus to be one of the greatest men who ever lived. He’s up there with Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. Jesus is a moral role model. We all need to look up to him and pattern our lives after him. He was a great man.”
b. The “Great Teacher” view of Jesus
Then there are those who say, Jesus was great because of his teaching. Just look at the sermon on the mount. If we would all simply live according to his teaching, the world would be a much better place.
c. The “Delusional Savior” view of Jesus
Still others say he was simply out of his mind. Jesus was delusional. That is what his mother and siblings thought. Earlier in Mark, in chapter three, we read, “When his family heard about this (driving out demons, large crowds following him) they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (3:21). Like his family at that time so too some people today would say, Jesus was crazy. They should have locked him up.
What do these three views of Jesus have in common? They want to tame Jesus. They want to have control over who he is. They want to compartmentalize him; to put him in a box. In so doing, it is they that restrict him. Putting Jesus in a box is scandalizing Jesus. It ultimately does not lead to faith in Jesus, but to rejection of Jesus. Rejecting Jesus is what his family wanted to do to him – they wanted to take charge of him. They were so familiar with Jesus, that their familiarity prohibited them from seeing who he really was.
Listen to this: Either you have charge over Jesus or Jesus has charge over you. You cannot have it both ways. Who Jesus is should determine your response to him, and that response can only rightly be trust (faith).
3. Elevating Jesus
“Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith”. He could not believe that they did not believe! He then said, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor” (6:4).
Jesus considered himself to be a prophet. A prophet is a person who speaks for God. He is God’s voice speaking into the life-circumstances of people, calling them to change direction.
Now, these were Jews. Who did Jews absolutely revere and honor? Their greatest prophet was Moses, through whom God led Israel out of Egypt and gave them the Ten Commandments. In Deuteronomy 18 we read of the prophet Moses speaking of yet another prophet, even greater than himself.
“Moses said: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For that is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see His great fire any more, or we will die.’
Jesus is the prophet to which Moses was referring! He is the voice of God. He is indeed God, come in the flesh.
If we were to let Jesus be Jesus in our lives, how would we do that?
a. Listen to Him
We would first listen to him. In the Jewish mind listening was more then hearing or understanding. Listening meant obeying. If one hadn’t obeyed, he hadn’t listened.
Are you obeying Jesus?
b. Surrender to Him
Just as the wind surrendered its power to Jesus, as the demons surrendered their hold on the demonic, as the woman’s sickness was under the healing control of Jesus, and as death itself surrendered to Jesus – so too we today, should fully and gladly surrender to Jesus. Surrender means for Jesus to have control of our lives – here and now and after we die.
It means Jesus goes to work with us. He is in the office when tensions are high, when people are at each other’s throats, when big decisions need to be made. Surrendering to Jesus means surrendering how we work to Him. This is normal Christianity.
Familiarity to Jesus inhibited even Jesus’s family members from trusting and following him. But that changed. They all came to believe that Jesus was more than a man, he was God who became man. He was more than a great teacher, he was the divine teacher, and he was not dilutional about considering himself to be Savior of mankind.
Of the four brothers mentioned, James and Jude went on to become leaders in the early church and both wrote books divinely inspired that we have in our Bible.
Familiarity of Jesus can lead to a lack of faith in Jesus. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t put Jesus in a box. Allow Jesus to pervade all of who you are in every situation you find yourself in. Listen to him. Surrender to him. And YOU will be amazed, stunned even, at the strength and beauty of Jesus your Savior alive and at work in and through you. Amen.