Jesus Demands A Response
Responding to the Marathon Bombings
This past Monday afternoon, April 15, two bombs went off at Copley Square as the Boston Marathon was in full swing. These blasts were heard around the world, as news quickly spread and widely circulated pictures revealed scenes of carnage normally seen only in war. Martin Richard of Dorchester, Krystle Campbell of Arlington, and Chinese student Lingzi Lu were killed in the bombings. Over 170 people were injured, many horribly, losing limbs or hearing.
A massive investigation began immediately, and by Thursday the FBI released pictures of the two suspects. The identification of 26-year-old Tamerlan and19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev set off a series of events that night that began with the killing of Sean Collier, a 26 year old MIT police officer, and the carjacking and robbing of a man in Cambridge. Police chased the brothers into Watertown, where the exchange of gunfire and explosions rang through the night. Tamerlan died, after receiving multiple gunshot wounds and being driven over by his brother Dzhokhar, who fled the scene.
Friday morning seven cities told their residents to stay inside, as a massive door-to-door manhunt took place in Watertown. That evening, David Henneberry of Watertown discovered Dzhokhar, bloody and lying in his boat. Law enforcement officials apprehended him and escorted him to the hospital in custody.
How are we to respond to this? We have seen many different responses over the past few days:
- A well-known local religious leader bearing the title of “reverend” posed the questions: “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?”, and “Where was God…?” She said that she has no answers to those questions.
- One writer has argued for the basic goodness of humanity, saying that these brothers are exceptions to the rule.
- Some have responded in fear, particularly as Dzhokhar was still on the loose.
- Others have expressed their confidence in the ability of law enforcement to keep us safe.
- We have witnessed public officials struggling for the right words and trying to bring the community together through vigils and “interfaith” religious services.
- But probably the most popular response coming out of the events has been a call for resilience; that is, to say that to say that terrorists have picked the wrong city because the Boston spirit is unbroken. I suspect that these words may sound a bit hollow to those most closely connected to the victims of these men.
How do we as Christians respond?
I will point you to a [forthcoming] blog post Brian has written for a fuller analysis of our Christian response. But here are eight one-line statements I would say are part of how we respond:
- Be rightly horrified and appalled at such and open display of wickedness.
- Grieve over the victims and their families.
- Call out to God for his justice, knowing that the justice of human courts is always incomplete.
- Remember that as wicked and terrible and grievous as these brothers’ sin against their victims is, their sin against a holy God is infinitely worse.
- Pray for the salvation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the advance of the gospel in this city.
- Thank God for his common grace seen in the heroic actions of those who immediately jumped in to help at Copley Square, in the tireless work of law enforcement officials to apprehend the suspects, in the fact that only four innocents have died, and in the relative peace that we daily benefit from in this society.
- Affirm that God is sovereign over all things for his glory and the good of his people.
- Rejoice in God for the cross of Christ, by which his justice is fully satisfied for our sins, and his mercy is poured out like a flood upon us.
Ultimately the events of this past week are a reminder of the horror of human sin, and the unimaginable terror of God’s wrath that is coming. It is a call for us to repent and turn to Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life and joy in him. In the end, the way you respond to bombings is very closely tied with the way you respond to Jesus. And that is what our passage is about today.
When you encounter Jesus, which you do every time you hear the gospel, you are forced to respond. Mark 6:1-13 highlights two possible responses.
1. The Response of Stumbling over Jesus in Unbelief
The first way you can respond is by stumbling over Jesus in unbelief. This is the response of the people of his hometown. Verse 1 says that he “went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.” Jesus has been ministering near the Sea of Galilee, and now he goes up into the hills to Nazareth, his hometown. You might remember that he was born in Bethlehem, but Joseph and Mary were only there for the census. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which was small and relatively unknown. In fact, Nazareth is not even significant enough to be mentioned in the Old Testament. But these are the people who watched Jesus grow up. We see in verse 2 that Jesus is given the opportunity to teach in the synagogue. Surely these people have heard the reports about his miracles and public ministry, and now they get to hear the wisdom and authority of Jesus’ teaching first-hand.
This may be the first time Jesus has come to his hometown to teach since he launched his public ministry. But his family has already traveled to him. Remember back to chapter 3 after Jesus called his twelve apostles, verse 20-21 says, “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”” When they later tried again to come to him, his response in verse 35 is, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” So we can see that there are already family tensions. They think Jesus is crazy, and he has essentially disowned them unless they believe in him and they themselves become his disciples. We have already seen that proximity to Jesus, even being related to him by blood, means nothing in terms of the kingdom of God.
Presumably Jesus’ family had shared their opinion about him with the rest of the town. Once the townspeople witness his teaching for themselves, verses 2 and 3 give their unbelieving response.
It says, “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?”” They are saying, “We know this guy! We watched him grow up! He is the carpenter! Look, here are his brothers! He is nothing special!” They are so familiar with Jesus that they can’t believe in him. They are probably insulting him by calling him the son of Mary rather than Joseph. I’m not sure what they thought about the virgin birth, but it is possible they were trying to insinuate that Jesus was an illegitimate child. Yet all of this shows us that Jesus as the Son of God so fully took on humanity that when he began to reveal his true identity they didn’t believe it.
These people could not reconcile Jesus’ identity with his power and wisdom, with his teaching and mighty works. So it says at the end of verse 3, “They took offense at him.” Jesus’ familiarity and humanness and ordinariness was a stumbling block to them. In the Gospel of Mark, a stumbling block is anything that prevents a person from following Jesus in faith. And there were many who stumbled. This is why in Matthew 11:6, Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Verse 4 tells us how Jesus responded. He said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” He was like the prophet Jeremiah, who had the men of Anathoth seeking his life and telling him, “Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by my hand” (Jer. 11:21). Jeremiah 12:6 records the LORD speaking to the prophet: “For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you.” John 7:5 says likewise of Jesus, “Not even his brothers believed in him.”
Jesus’ family and hometown did not recognize him as a prophet. He came preaching, like John the Baptist, a prophet whose death we will deal with next week. In Mark 8, Peter will recognize that Jesus is far more than a prophet—that he is the Lord’s Messiah. This is why John the Baptist preached of Jesus in 1:7: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” But these people of Nazareth refuse to recognize who Jesus is. They stumble over him, and he becomes a scandal to them. His rejection here looks forward to his ultimate rejection that will take place not in Nazareth, but in Jerusalem, the great city of Zion. There, from chapter 11 on, Jesus will be increasingly rejected until he is hung up on a cross to die.
So what is the result? The result is in verse 5: “He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” We have seen with the paralytic in chapter 2, with the calming of the storm in chapter 4, with the bleeding woman and Jairus in chapter 5, that Jesus’ mighty works are paired with faith. And here because there was only unbelief he could do no mighty work. The very thing that unbelieving people demand so that they might believe, they don’t receive because they don’t believe. It is not that there is some deficiency in Jesus that makes him unable to do mighty works; it is as he answers in Mark 9:23 when he is asked to help a demonized boy if he is able. He says, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”
And whereas it is usually Jesus’ hearers who marvel at him, here it is Jesus who is amazed at their hard-heartedness and unwillingness to believe. So we find that Jesus leaves Nazareth, and goes to the other villages in the area teaching and providing an example for the twelve who are soon to go out.
This is how we find the mystery of faith. The Gerasene man who is possessed by a legion of demons believes and becomes an ardent follower of Christ, while Jesus’ own family and hometown rejects him. This is all by the sovereign will of God. And yet, God in his grace later moves upon at least two of Jesus’ brothers, who not only believe, but become leaders in the early church. We find in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that the risen Christ appeared to James, and he became a leader of the church in Jerusalem as we read about in Acts 21 and Galatians 1. James and Jude come to identify themselves in the New Testament letters they wrote as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” Isn’t the grace of God magnificent!
These two brothers moved from the first response of stumbling over Jesus in unbelief to the second: the response of believing in Jesus through the gospel.
2. The Response of Believing in Jesus through the Gospel
This brings us to the second half of our passage, where it says in verse 7 that “he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” Jesus is demonstrating his authority by sending out his disciples as delegates to do the same sort of ministry he has been doing, and command over unclean spirits highlights that authority. We were told about this in chapter 3 when Jesus called them as apostles so that they might be with him and he might send them out as missionaries to preach and cast out demons.
Just a few words about Christian mission here. One is that we have seen in the calming of the storm that these apostles don’t totally get it yet; they don’t seem ready to go on mission. But Jesus’ confidence is not in them; it is in himself and his authoritative call upon them. This is a word of encouragement to us. God fulfilling his word depends not on our having it all together, but upon the One who has called us and whom we are following.
Another word about mission is that we should note that they were sent out two by two. We have hit this point before in Mark—that gospel ministry is not primarily to be done alone. Think of Peter and John, Paul and Baranabas, Priscilla and Aquila—to name a few. This is one of reasons why we are forming into a church, rather than seeking to minister individually. Does doing gospel ministry with a brother or sister make it sound more doable? This is the pattern Jesus showed us.
And a final word on Christian mission is that gospel ministry is done with the authority of Jesus and in dependence upon him. These Twelve are clearly dependent upon God, as they go out defenseless and without extra supplies. Just like the Israelites leaving Egypt, they take only a cloak, belt, sandals, and a staff. They are free from worldly encumbrances that might draw them away from their mission. They go with an urgent expectation that God will supply their needs and that he will work through them. They have the authority of Christ to preach, to cast out demons, and to heal, because the kingdom of the Messiah is breaking into this world. Brothers and sisters, this tells us that we don’t need to be innovative or fearful in gospel ministry. We are simply participating in Jesus’ mission as his representatives and we work by his authority and by dependence upon him.
That is a little about Christian mission. But I want to come back to the proper response to the gospel ministry of these apostles. That is the response of believing in Jesus through the gospel. There are two things I want to highlight from our passage so we can better understand what believing in Jesus entails.
Repent of Your Sins
The first thing I want to highlight about believing in Jesus comes from verse 12: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.” Believing in Jesus requires repentance. This repentance is an earnest owning, grieving, and forsaking of your sins in light of God’s holiness and the person and work of Jesus Christ. Listen to J. C. Ryle here:
The necessity of repentance may seem at first sight a very simple and elementary truth. And yet volumes might be written to show the fullness of the doctrine, and the suitableness of it to every age and time, and to every rank and class of mankind. It is inseparably connected with right views of God, of human nature, of sin, of Christ, of holiness, and of heaven. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All need to be brought to a sense of their sins—to a sorrow for them—to a willingness to give them up—and to a hunger and thirst after pardon. All, in a word, need to be born again and to flee to Christ. This is repentance unto life. Nothing less than this is required for the salvation of any man. (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, 115)
The apostles preached repentance just as Jesus preached, and we saw in Mark 1:14-15 that along with the command to repent is the command to believe in the gospel of Jesus.
The second part of believing in Jesus that I want to highlight is that believing in Jesus requires receiving him. This comes from verses 10-11: “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.”” Jesus has just been rejected in his hometown and so he went to other villages, teaching. He commands his Apostles to do the same. He tells them that if someone does not receive them and listen to them they are to shake the dust off their feet. This is a sign to their hearers that their blood is on their own heads and they are left accountable to God.
Why so severe of a response? It is because to reject Jesus’ apostles is to reject Jesus, and to reject Jesus is to reject God. If people receive the apostles and the message to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus, then they are spared from God’s judgment in light of the fact that Jesus is on his way to the cross to die for them. Listen to John 3:36 on this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Brothers and sisters, your gospel ministry is urging people to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. You are pleading for them to receive him or be subject to the judgment of God.
To believe in Jesus requires repentance. It requires receiving Jesus. It requires receiving his claims about himself as the Messiah, the Son of God. It requires receiving him as Messiah who took the judgment of God upon himself for you when he died, and receiving him as the risen Lord. He then calls you to go out as a gospel minister in his name and by his authority, inviting and urging others to do the same.
How Are You Responding to Jesus?
So what about you? How are you responding to Jesus? I began this evening asking how we are to respond to the Marathon Bombing and the events that followed. But Mark is here to tell us that you cannot even begin to answer that question until you have dealt with something much larger. This world will not make sense to you unless you have reconciled with its Maker, the One who sovereignly reigns over every event, whether good or evil. Your sins have made you an enemy of God. Jesus came and claimed that he is the only way to be reconciled to God.
How are you responding to Jesus? Exposure to the gospel is no guarantee of faith. Are you stumbling over Jesus and taking offense at him like the people of Nazareth? Or are you finding yourself to be grieving over the weight of your sin, realizing that nothing is more offensive to a holy God? Are you finding Jesus Christ to be more desirable than anything else and saying, “Yes, I want him!” Do you throw in your lot with Jesus? Is he yours? Have you received him?
In a few moments we will sing “Rock of Ages.” Let the third verse be your prayer:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.