He Marveled Because of Their Unbelief | Mark 6:1-6

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 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? 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. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Mark 6:1-6 ESV

Only Luke records Jesus’ first return to Nazareth after beginning His ministry.[1] The beloved physician places this visit shortly after the baptism and temptation of our Lord, noting that He began to teach in the synagogues of Galilee, but here are how things went down whenever Jesus arrived in His hometown:

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim 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.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:14-30

In our present passage, Jesus returns once more to Nazareth, and although they do not attempt to kill Him this time, their hearts were still hardened to His presence.

OFFENDED BY JESUS // VERSES 1-3

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. After raising Jairus’ daughter back to life, Jesus makes His way back to His hometown, which is evidently Nazareth. Remember, of course, that while Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He grew up in Nazareth “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). We certainly do not know how much time had passed since Jesus’ previous visit, but as Mark has shown us, Jesus’ popularity has only continued to grow, leaving Him scarcely able to go anywhere without a great crowd following after Him. Jesus was now a full-blown celebrity, for as we will see soon even King Herod wanted to know more about this Jesus.

Furthermore, Jesus did not enter Nazareth alone (as presumably He did during His first visit); instead, His disciples went with Him. There is a significant point to be made about the disciples being with Jesus at Nazareth, but we will place it on hold until next week. For now, let us simply note that His general popularity and His disciples specifically are likely why this trip home does not reach the volatile levels that it did in Luke 4.

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? 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?”

As is Jesus’ normal pattern, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach, and those who were willing to hear Him were astonished. Like almost everyone else that we have read in Mark’s Gospel, they were wrestling to make sense of Jesus, but they could not wrap their mind around Him. He baffled them. We, of course, have seen similar amazement over the previous passages. The disciples in the boat upon the calmed sea were certainly astonished. The Gerasenes were amazed whenever they found the demoniac clothed and sane. The household of Jairus marveled to see Jairus’ daughter walking around. For the disciples and the former demoniac, their astonishment moved them toward Christ, while the Gerasenes begged Him to leave them. The reality is that everyone who encountered Jesus struggled to understand Him. But the people of Nazareth had a unique hurdle to overcome, they already knew Jesus.

They have no doubt heard about all the wonders that Jesus has done. Recall too that the only previous mention of Jesus’ family came back in chapter 3 whenever they began to worry that He had lost His mind. They likely saw and heard the scribes from Jerusalem who had come to investigate Him, concluding that He was casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. They had witnessed how deep Jesus was getting Himself into the deadly waters of those who claimed to be the Christ. The inhabitants of Nazareth certainly would have heard such things by now.

Yet take particular note of how the first three questions are phrased. They speak of Jesus’ miracles and wisdom as though they were outside Himself. They have no category within their own minds for how Jesus could naturally possess such wisdom and power, so they pondered about where these wonders had come from. They certainly could not come from Jesus because, after all, they knew Him, as the final two questions emphasize.

Consider the appeals that they make. First, they knew Jesus as their hometown carpenter. Sproul explains:

The people did not ask, “Is this not the son of the carpenter Joseph?” They knew Jesus Himself as a carpenter. However, the Greek word here, tekton, can mean “carpenter,” “stone mason,” or anyone who is involved in the craft of building; it is the word from which we get our word architect, which simply means “chief builder.” It is very possible that instead of being a carpenter who worked with wood, Jesus was a stone mason; that would explain the strength that He obviously developed as a young man. In all probability, however, He worked with both wood and stone, as builders in His day produced all sorts of things, from houses to cabinets to yokes for oxen.[2]

They knew Jesus’ occupation. He was not a trained rabbi nor an intensely studied Pharisee. He worked construction. Since Nazareth contained only around five hundred people, they probably walked by or used directly things that Jesus built every day.

Second, they knew His family. They knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters. It is significant that they call Jesus the son of Mary because even if Joseph had already died (as is most often assumed), it would have still been natural to call Jesus by the name of His father. To call Jesus Mary’s son likely means that they were implying that His birth was illegitimate.

Having questioned all of these things about Jesus, Mark gives us their conclusion: and they took offense at him. The Greek word for their offense is the origin of our word scandal. They were scandalized by Jesus because they knew Him. Ryle notes that “it is an awful truth, that in religion, more than in anything else, familiarity breeds contempt.”[3] Even though the Nazarenes were near to Jesus longer than any other people, they became blinded by His ordinariness. Morgan goes so far as to place them in the same category as the scribes of Jerusalem. They could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus is God’s anointed one; therefore, they must view His wonders as demonically empowered. Yet hear another point that Morgan makes:

Yet listen once again to these men of Nazareth, and notice the reaction of their criticism upon themselves. He is one of us, therefore He is incapable of being an instrument of good! Mark how their criticism of Him, how they understood it, was condemnation of themselves. This man, who has worked by my side, cannot teach me anything. Why not? Because he is on my level. Then you can never teach any one anything. This man who comes from our village, cannot come back to our village and teach us anything. Why not? Because he is one of us. Then the whole community labours under the disability of being unfit for doing anything that in itself is great. Oh! these critics of Jesus in Nazareth! How tacitly and unconsciously they were confessing their own limitations.[4]

They saw in themselves nothing notable, and Jesus was one of them. Sadly, this mentality is not unique to the people of Nazareth. Rather, they displayed a very common human tendency to despise the greatness out of a sense of inferiority. I am convinced that this is one of the main reasons that so many people are addicted to following celebrity gossip, which, allow me to remind you, is still gossip. Although celebrities have fame and fortune, learning the gritty details about their broken lives brings them back down to earth, reassuring us that they are not any better than us. In fact, we might be better than them! Or we could point to how many argue that reality television actually makes people more immoral by exposing them to acts of immorality, so that we can subconsciously say to ourselves, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” This is socialism and communism cannot improve society. State-enforced equity must always result in the superior descending down to the inferior. For example, I do not have the level of talent or practice to equitably compete in basketball against Lebron James; therefore, Lebron James would need handicap his own performance in order to make things truly ‘fair.’

All of that is to say that Nazarenes were not unique, and we have no moral high ground over them. In Jesus’ presence, they rightly felt His superiority, and they took offense at Him. Interestingly, this is the still the greatest scandal of Christianity. Now do not get me wrong, there are many scandalous doctrines present within the Bible, such as creation, hell, grace, and atonement. Yet the greatest scandal has always been and will always be Jesus Himself. Paul says so Himself in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, specifically pointing at the cross of Christ:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

            “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
                        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Notice that the Nazarenes acknowledged both the signs and the wisdom of Jesus; they simply did not want Jesus Himself. They scorned the superiority of Christ. God Himself had been quite literally dwelling among them, yet they rejected His merciful condescension. The One through Whom, for Whom, and by Whom all things were made had made His home with them, and they could endure even a miniscule fraction of His glory. The sorrowful reality for the Nazarenes is that, just as Jesus humbled Himself by becoming man and being crucified yet was then raised to life and exalted by the Father, those who humbly confess their need for Christ and submit to Him will be exalted. As Jesus said elsewhere, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). He came down to us in order to raise us up with Him.

NO MIGHTY WORK THERE // VERSES 4-6

We come now to Jesus’ reaction:

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Like He did in Luke 4, Jesus laments that prophets often find the least honor in their hometown and among their relatives. We should pause here to take great care that Jesus is not pronouncing these words over us. You see, living in the Bible Belt can kind of feel like Nazareth sometimes. Jesus is so cultural that it’s almost like living in His hometown. Everyone’s heard His name. Almost everyone thinks that they know Him. But also like the Nazarenes, most think He is a good guy with some wise and godly words to say, but He’s not their Lord. He’s not their Messiah. He’s not their Savior. As back then, so too today Jesus refuses to yield. He refuses to play the game of cultural Christianity. The Judge of all the earth refuses to be judged by arrogant eyes. The Great Physician refuses to cure those who obstinately declare themselves to be well.

Mark then tells us that Jesus could do not mighty work there. What does that mean? Is Mark saying that Jesus’ power was somehow limited by the faith of the Nazarenes? Sproul makes the argument that because Jesus was performing His miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus could not do mighty signs there because God placed Nazareth under His judgment for their unbelief. I also appreciate the answer of Ryle:

This expression of course cannot mean, that it was ‘impossible’ for our Lord to do a mighty work there, and that although he had the will to do mighty works, he was stopped and prevented by a power greater than his own. Such a view would be dishonouring to our Lord, and in fact would be a practical denial of his divinity. With Jesus nothing is impossible. If he had willed to do works, he had the power.

The meaning evidently must be, that our Lord ‘would’ not do any mighty work there, because of the unbelief that he saw. He was prevented by what he perceived was the state of the people’s hearts. He would not waste signs and wonders on an unbelieving and hardened generation. He ‘could not’ do a mighty work, without departing from his rule, “according to your faith be it unto you.’ He had the power in his hands, but he did not will to use it.[5]

This statement should be particularly forceful in the context of the previous passages that have been purposefully highlighting the mighty works of Jesus. We have seen Jesus calm a storm, cast out a horde of hell, heal an unhealable woman, and raise the dead. The cumulative effect of these reveal that Jesus is mightier than the cosmos, hell, sickness, and even death. Yet He is halted by their unbelief. Perhaps Morgan’s comparison of the Nazarenes to the scribes of Jerusalem is more fitting than we first realized. In that passage, Jesus told us that all sins will be forgiven except for blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, which essentially means that the only ones who will not be forgiven are those who refuse to be forgiven, those who reject forgiveness. In a similar way, Jesus’ mighty works are only hindered by those who despise Him. This is an instance of Him refusing to cast His pearls before swine.

In an interesting turn, we then find Jesus marveling at His hometown. Again, Mark has repeatedly emphasized how those who met Jesus were astonished at Him, but this time, Jesus is the one who is marveled. His astonishment, however, is not positive; instead, He marvels at their unbelief. We, of course, should remember that in a town as small as Nazareth these were people that Jesus knew and loved. He grew up with them. He loved them. But now that His identity as the Christ is being revealed, they are among the many who rejected Him. We know that the Christ would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3), but this continual rejection by His hometown must have cut particularly deep with Him.

Our Lord, however, did not beg or plead for the Nazarenes to believe in Him; He simply went about among the villages teaching. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11), so He moved on. He went to other villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. This should be a reminder to us that the gospel is never stopped by rejection. It is also a warning that the day of hearing the gospel and of being called to follow Christ is not infinite. Those who continue to reject faith in Christ are not guaranteed the ability to believe tomorrow.

What is it about Jesus that offends you? The great danger is that Christ will be offended by you. All who trip over the skandalon, the scandalous Christ, will have His offense in return. Let us learn from the people of Nazareth.[6]

Indeed, though we are no better than the people of Nazareth, let us embrace the scandal of Jesus. Let us face Jesus fully and truthfully, not according to our own terms, but as He presents Himself in the Scriptures. Let us hear His words and respond by clinging to His cross for salvation.


[1] Arguments, of course, can be made that Luke’s account simply focuses upon different elements of His visit than Matthew or Mark. The differences, however, seem to be too significant for them to be the same account, and I see no reason why Jesus would not later desire to return to His hometown a second time with His disciples. Furthermore, in Luke’s account, the Nazarenes are at first amazed by Jesus’ teaching but then become wrathful whenever He refuses to perform miracles as though He were a dog performing tricks. While noticeable not wrathful in Matthew and Mark, they are presented as being flippantly scornful toward Him. For instance, in Luke they call Jesus Joseph’s son, but in Mark, they call Him the son of Mary, insinuating His illegitimate birth. This seems to indicate that they were friendly and polite toward Jesus at His first visit, until their anger bubbled over, and during His second visit, they were no longer murderous but had internalized their scorn.

[2] R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 107.

[3] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 85.

[4] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel of Mark, 136.

[5] Ryle, Mark, 88.

[6] Sproul, Mark, 110.

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