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17. Jesus – a prophet without honour

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 5: Episode 17
Matthew 9:27-34 Mark 6:1-6 Matthew 13:53-58

Two blind men call Jesus 'Son of David' - a messianic title. They are healed but the Pharisees say it is through demonic power. Jesus returns to Nazareth but is not accepted there.

Two blind men call Jesus 'Son of David' - a messianic title. They are healed but the Pharisees say it is through demonic power. Jesus returns to Nazareth but is not accepted there.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Series 5 and Episode 17, which is the last episode in this series. This episode is entitled ‘Jesus - a Prophet Without Honour.’ We're going to study two events that are connected in this episode: one recorded in Matthew 9: 27 - 34, then we're going to turn to Mark 6: 1 - 6 for our second event. The first one is a series of miracles as Jesus is on the road and the second one happens immediately afterwards when Jesus returns to his hometown in Nazareth. There's a similar theme in both of these passages and they're connected together chronologically as well.

Introduction and Recap

In Series 5, we've had all sorts of remarkable events happening. This is Jesus' second tour of Galilee after he gave the Sermon on the Mount in Series 4 and after his first tour of Galilee, which is recorded in Series 3. At the end of this Series, in the episodes that we've just had, we've seen some remarkable miracles, one following another. After the incredible teaching recorded in Matthew 13 of the seven parables about the growth of the Kingdom, Jesus took a journey across the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile side on the east, in the Decapolis area (the area known as the Gaderene area, or the Gerasene area) and during that journey there was a sudden storm - a really severe storm that threatened to sink the ship that Jesus was on and the other boats, that were in the group travelling across. He calmed the storm miraculously. That's the first incredible miracle.

Then, secondly, when he arrived on the eastern shore, he encountered two men who were heavily influenced by demonic powers - extremely oppressed, separated from society - and he set them free with the dramatic outcome when the evil spirits were allowed to go into a herd of pigs which ran into the lake. Then, when he returned, immediately he was approached by a synagogue leader, a respected leader in one of the towns in Galilee by the lakeside, a man called Jairus, whose daughter was on the point of death and, in fact, died during the episode. Jesus raised her from the dead, having healed the sick woman who'd suffered for twelve years from a condition of bleeding. A remarkable series of miracles have taken place and have been described by the Gospel writers during this second tour of Galilee.

Healing of Two Blind Men

As he goes along the road in the first event that we're going to describe today, Jesus performs two more outstanding miracles which produce an interesting and significant response. The context here is the emerging conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities - the very different views of who he is: what is his identity? And that's the key question. Is he the Messiah? Is he a false messiah? Is he an intruder in Israel or is he the deliverer of Israel? This is the question that is always in the back of our minds in this part of the narrative of Jesus' life because it was being constantly debated. The crowds had different influences upon them. We're going to read our first event from Matthew 9: 27 - 34:

‘As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. 29Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; 30and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” 31But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. 32While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed(or demonised)and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” 34But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Matthew 9:27-34, NIV

We've already seen in earlier episodes how the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees has come to a head and they have denounced him as a false messiah; they do something similar here.

Son of David

Notice, the starting point is the two blind men - two very vulnerable men in their society, who are following Jesus calling out, ‘“Have mercy on us, Son of David.”’ Let's think about their vulnerability for a moment. Blindness was a terrible affliction in the ancient world; it still is today. In the modern world, with more medical resources and social resources, there's much support that can be given to people who've lost their sight but, in those days, blind people were often reduced to being beggars on the street. They didn't find an easy place in their families; sometimes they were rejected; they weren't able to do jobs and to work and to make a living for themselves, in almost every circumstance, and so they really suffered. We encounter blind people several times in the Gospel narratives and always there's a sense of desperation and urgency and sometimes they are literally just begging on the road. These two men, obviously, had heard a lot about Jesus because Jesus passed through all the towns and villages of the area quite regularly as he toured around Galilee (as we made clear both in the first tour, Series 3, and in the second tour which we're covering now in Series 5) and it will continue beyond this. They call out to him but they use a very remarkable title: Son of David. We're beginning to see this emerging in the Gospel narratives. We saw it in one earlier episode; we're going to see it several times in the future. People identify Jesus by this title Son of David.

We see it happening when Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon (as recorded in Matthew 15: 22) when she pleads with him to help her, calling him the Son of David. We see it in Matthew 20: 30, later on, where two other blind men (one of whom was called Bartimaus) called out to Jesus, ‘“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”’ - very similar to these two men here. When Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, just before the confrontation that leads to his crucifixion, the crowd cry out many acclamations and one of them is, ‘“Hosanna to the Son of David.”’ (Mark 10:10) Something is going on in the minds of the people; they're identifying Jesus with the great King David and, as I've explained in previous episodes but I'll just briefly remind you in this one, this was highly significant because in 2 Samuel 7: 16 the prophet Nathan prophesied to King David, in the early part of his reign, that he would have an eternal dynasty - his successors would be connected to the monarchy permanently, forever. This didn't exactly happen in a continuous way from that time until this because the monarchy was abolished at the time when the nation of Judah went into exile under the hand of the Babylonians and the monarchy was never restored. The Jews believed that the restoration of the monarchy of David, some successor of David, would be the moment of liberation for the nation and many people believed that the Son of David would be the Messiah himself. We've discussed that in more detail in earlier episodes, but the title is very significant and it indicates what, in popular opinion, people were beginning to say about Jesus.

These two very vulnerable men follow Jesus along the road but then they did something which is easy to miss - they managed to get in the house where he was when he went indoors. Bearing in mind that Jesus always travelled with a crowd, and he always had his disciples with him and houses weren't that big, it was difficult for people to get indoors with Jesus - and yet these two men managed to do it, despite being blind! Jesus saw the intensity of their faith and their aspiration and so he says, ‘“Do you believe that I am able to do this?”’ and they said ‘“Yes, Lord.”’ They were healed and then a mute man is healed as a demonic force is cast out of him which causes his affliction.

Two Distinct Views

Then comes the significant moment, at the end of this episode, where we have two fundamentally different views of what is going on. ‘The crowd was amazed and said, (verse 33) “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”’ That's the first view and it's true. In Israel, miracles took place from time to time as recorded in the Old Testament. There were seasons or times in the life of the nation when there were significant and remarkable miracles. The time under Moses' leadership where the children of Israel came out of Egypt through the Red Sea and into the wilderness; those forty years in the wilderness; and the entry into the Promised Land, was a time filled with many miracles - mostly miracles of provision. The time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha was a time of remarkable miracles associated with their prophetic ministry, involving even people being raised from the dead but these times were rare and none of them equated to what Jesus was doing now. He was performing multiple - hundreds if not thousands - of healing miracles and casting out evil spirits from people on a regular basis. Almost every single day there were miracles going on in Jesus' life. There was a massive outburst of the miraculous that had never remotely been seen on that scale, in the history of Israel - hence the statement, ‘“Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”’ That statement opens up the people to the view that Jesus really is the Messiah and the Saviour of the nation, as indicated by the two blind men saying that he was the Son of David.

The opposing view is then given by the Pharisees who said, ‘“It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”’ This view has already been articulated; we've followed the chronology of Luke, rather than Matthew, and so we've already looked at an incident, recorded in Matthew 12, which I've referred to on quite a number of occasions since then, which (according to the chronology we've adopted) probably took place before this event. It was a major confrontation where we first hear this statement that he is a false messiah operating by demonic power. It's reiterated here and it shows the incredible conflict that is taking place over the identity of Jesus. I wonder if that's a familiar idea to you because in many societies we have a conflict, even today, over the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus?

A Return Home to Nazareth

Our second incident has a similar theme: Jesus moves on from this unnamed place, as he was travelling around and he goes to his hometown, Nazareth, as recorded in Mark 6: 1 - 6. It's important to note that Jesus has previously returned to Nazareth on one significant occasion (as recorded in Luke 4) when he went to the synagogue and preached - we'll mention it again in just a moment - but he returns again to his hometown. Let's read this passage, Mark 6: 1 - 6:

‘Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What's this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles (that) he is performing? 3Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6He was amazed at their lack of faith.’

Mark 6:1-6, NIV

Jesus spent his early life, as far as we know, entirely in the town of Nazareth. A town of just a few hundred people. He would have been a well-known member of society and community. His family ran a carpentry business, which probably extended to being builders, working mostly with wood and he's described here as a carpenter - as if he's taken to the family business, maybe even taken over the family business when possibly his stepfather, Joseph, died. He's not mentioned in the text here and, as I've noted in previous episodes, Joseph doesn't appear in any of the narratives of Jesus' ministry and it appears that he may well have died - which would mean that Jesus had taken over the primary role in the family as the oldest son. When Jesus started his ministry, he left Nazareth very suddenly and he never came back to live there. This would have caused a tremendous upheaval in his family. He moved his base and his headquarters and his home, so to speak, to the fishing village of Capernaum, down by the lakeside of the Sea of Galilee. What would the family think about this? This is quite an important question. Quite a lot of time has elapsed and Jesus has been travelling around and he's hardly accessible to his family at all.

In fact, Mark records in chapter 3, just before this event - which we've already noted but we'll just go back to it now - the fact that on one occasion Jesus' mother and brothers arrived when Jesus was ministering Mark 3: 31,

‘Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”’

Mark 3:31-32, NIV

Jesus used that as an opportunity to teach about spiritual mothers and brothers and sisters and family. They'd been trying to see him and that incident occurred not so long before this one and, as far as we can tell, Jesus didn't actually respond to them and give them any private time on that occasion. There's a complex relationship going on here. We know that Mary, his mother, wholeheartedly believes in Jesus' destiny and his identity as the Son of God and, obviously, she believed that from the very beginning when the angel Gabriel, as recorded in Luke 1, spoke the message to her and revealed to her what was going to happen with her miraculous pregnancy. She knew all that, the Scripture says that ‘she treasured all these things in her heart,’ but she had a complex family dynamic to negotiate because probably Joseph had died and the brothers (and probably the sisters) were not believing Jesus, their half-brother, to be the Messiah, the Son of God, a Prophet, a teacher or anything - they were at home, working away in their family business, running the family home. Jesus now returns to this complex situation and he teaches in the synagogue. People are amazed at his wisdom; he performs a few miracles; he spends a few days there, chapter 6: 2, said: ‘when the Sabbath came,’ indicating he'd been there beforehand, but there's no evidence that large crowds gathered in Nazareth. This is really quite interesting. The same thing happened on the previous occasion when Jesus returned (in Luke 4) there isn't evidence that huge crowds, or travelling crowds, were gathering and particularly on this occasion. He's slightly out of the public eye, in terms of all the travelling crowds, and the atmosphere in Nazareth was probably not conducive to his ministry.

He notes, very specifically in verse 6, ‘he was amazed at their lack of faith’ because, as they heard him speaking, it says in verse 3 ‘they took offence at him.’ That statement involves, I think, both members of his family and the wider community. They took offence at Jesus. The whole community is struggling to come to terms with the sudden change that has taken place in Jesus since he left the town and started his travelling ministry. They can't really reconcile the fact that he was living a very ordinary, godly, positive, local family life and now he's just left and he's forming this great mass movement around his miracles and his teaching. It's a very hard thing for them to comprehend; they have all their memories of the past and they can't really work out how Jesus has been energised in this way. Of course, we know the answer to that question: he went to be baptised by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit came down on him in power and he announced, when he came back to Galilee, that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived and it was time for people to repent and believe and this was the moment that God, his Father, had chosen his ministry to start. The local community in Nazareth and the family didn't fully understand that and so they found it very difficult. Jesus makes this telling statement in verse 4,

‘“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”’

Mark 6:4, NIV

This is a very telling statement and this is the theme of our episode: Jesus is a prophet without honour. He wasn't fully honoured by the Pharisees, when he performed those miracles in the last episode, and he's not honoured in his hometown, amongst the people who know him, amongst his relatives, and even in his family home there is tension.

Reflections

These are quite poignant and sad events but there are things we can learn. The first miracles on the road, as recorded in Matthew 9, indicate the division of the Jewish people -between those who really want to acclaim him as the Messiah, and the Pharisees and their followers, who took the entirely opposite view and wanted to denounce him as a false messiah.

Jesus' return to Nazareth causes us to reflect more deeply about what exactly is going on. His motive for returning to Nazareth, almost certainly, was to visit his family - they'd try to visit him while he was busy and the indication is that they didn't succeed in getting time with him or taking him away and bringing him home but here he chooses to come home. He chooses to honour his family. This is important. Jesus always honoured his family, even though his priority of serving his Heavenly Father was the highest priority in his life. The residents of Nazareth were struggling with how Jesus, the common man, the working class man, could have such wisdom. This is an interesting prejudice which often occurs. How can a working class person be so wise and be a leader? You've probably heard that story before, it's a common issue in many different societies. The religious leaders of the Jewish people - whether they were rabbis, whether they were priests, whether they were Pharisees - were well educated and had a strong religious upbringing and plenty of time given to the study of religious texts in the Old Testament. Jesus, from the very beginning, was a working man. He had full access to the synagogue and the Scriptures, but he did not have any special education. How could he have such wisdom? Jesus illustrates what God shows us throughout the history of the Church: that his anointing, his enabling to people, is not based only on education or social background; it's based on calling.

The humility of Jesus' social background, the humble origins of Jesus, are an important thing for us to remember. One of the toughest places for Jesus to witness about his mission was to his own family and to his own fellow townsmen in Nazareth, people who'd known him since childhood. However, there's a good news story to come. The family here, apart from Mary, are resistant, sceptical, uncertain about Jesus but, when we get to the end of the story - to the end of Jesus' life and the story of the Early Church - we notice something very remarkable concerning his family. Two of his brothers almost certainly become senior apostolic leaders in the Early Church. One is James, Jesus' half brother, who probably had a resurrection appearance (as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15: 7) who became a senior leader in the Jerusalem church (as recorded in Acts 15 and elsewhere) and who wrote the book of James. The second one is Jude (his full name, Judas, abbreviated to Jude) who is almost certainly the author of the book of Jude in the New Testament. It's very likely that two of Jesus' half-brothers become apostolic and senior leaders in the Early Church - that is fascinating. Something happened within his family between this moment and the moment when Jesus ascended and his ministry was complete. This is summarised by the fact that, after Jesus ascended to heaven, there was a period of time when the Apostles gathered to pray before the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, and there were about 120 people gathered in that group. It says, very interestingly, in Acts 1:14,

‘They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.’

Acts 1:14, NIV

The very same men that are named here - sceptical, unsure, taking offence at Jesus - are fully involved; his brothers are caught up in his mission. Sometime later on, possibly at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection, his brothers come to understand the true significance of Jesus.

One final point. There's a very interesting comparison we can make here between Nazareth and Capernaum. Nazareth, his hometown, where he grew up, spent about 30 years, and Capernaum, which was now his base for his mission. In Capernaum, we read of very large crowds, very remarkable teaching and miracles that happen frequently, when Jesus is there, coming and going. In Nazareth, there is scepticism; there are no crowds gathered; there is uncertainty about Jesus; and the spiritual atmosphere is described as that of ‘lack of faith.’ This is interesting: only a few kilometres separate these two towns and yet a world of difference exists between them in terms of their response to Jesus. In Capernaum there are many people believing; people who come to Capernaum and take hold of the message. In Nazareth there is a lack of faith. Different spiritual atmospheres exist in different locations. This applies today in our world. We don't fully understand the difference but a general atmosphere of openness to God or a general atmosphere of resistance to his will can be detected in different atmospheres, in different countries and in different parts of different countries. We can pray for the spiritual atmosphere to become more receptive, for the culture to become more open, for people's hearts to become more open, for cultural leaders in our communities to show respect for the faith or to adopt Christian faith for themselves. This has happened in different parts of the world where whole nations have been opened up to the Gospel - as happened in the 20th century in South Korea, which is described by South Korean leaders as a situation of an open heaven, where the spiritual atmosphere was receptive to the Gospel. We see in microcosm, here in Galilee, these two different towns - a receptive town and an unreceptive town - and we see the difference in the outcomes. Jesus, a prophet without honour. Even despite his amazing miracles and his amazing offer of the grace of God and the Kingdom message, there is a divided opinion in Israel about whether he is the Messiah and whether they should follow him. This story will continue as the mission develops in Series 6 and, in series 6, we see Jesus moving into his third tour of Galilee but this time he commissions his Apostles, in pairs, to go off and preach on their own for the first time. We see a big development of the ministry taking place in the episodes that are going to come in Series 6. I hope you'll join us.

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