Ending well

Mark 6:1-13 A Prophet Without Honor

1Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When 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 he is performing? 3 Isn’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.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

 

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

 

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

 

            Back when Jesus was in college he found himself in the computer lab, typing at 4:30 pm, trying to finish his final paper for a very difficult class. He was surrounded by his classmates who were obviously in the same position. The paper was due at 5.

            Just then, the lights went out and a groan was heard throughout the computer lab. Many students had lost their entire projects. The electric came back on at 4:45, and Jesus hit the print button and ran across campus, delivering his final paper just before the deadline while others sat, weeping behind blank screens. The point of the story: Jesus saves.

            I am a failure. Sure, I have achieved a fair amount in my years on this earth. I have a lovely family that I care for deeply. I have a good job that I feel is pretty stable. I have a house that I love in a city that I love. I have good friends and we have some good times. So why am I a failure? Because I have not succeeded at everything I have set out to try to do.

            However, I figure I am in pretty good company. I am sure that not everyone here has excelled at everything that you have tried. Surely you have burned a cake, struck out in the bottom of the ninth, and not received that promotion at work. If you have ever failed at something, you too are in good company. Guess what, Jesus failed too.

            In Mark’s Gospel we find Jesus and his disciples entering into Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town where everyone knew everyone else and they knew their business. Word got around quickly in this small town. On the Sabbath Jesus enters into the synagogue in his hometown and he begins to teach. Passages like 1 Timothy 2:3-4 talk about the desire that Jesus has for all to believe in him, which makes good sense to me. If Jesus is offering something no one else can offer, and he loves everyone, surely it is Jesus’ desire to have everyone come to him.

            But what happens at that synagogue? Jesus is rejected. People are like, Hey, didn’t you help build my house? Aren’t you the carpenter? Yeah, he made my coffee table. The people knew him; they had grown up with him. They knew his mother, father, and his siblings. And in their minds he was still that little boy that used to run around with his dad’s hammer and chisel all the time. Yes, I believe Jesus wanted them to believe the things he was telling them, but they couldn’t get over the fact that he had grown up among them and now it would seem that he was getting too big for his britches.

            The thing that I find amazing is found in the end of verse 2 when the people ask, “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” The people recognize that Jesus is full of wisdom. They even recognize that he is performing miracles. The guy brought a little girl back to life in the previous chapter, for crying out loud! But yet all that they can see is the little boy Jesus. In their eyes he will always be that little boy. And Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

            The lack of faith seems to be the most powerful force in the world because Mark tells us that Jesus could not do any miracles because the people didn’t have faith. With the exception, that is, of healing a few people. But that’s no biggie, right?

            I have been thinking a lot lately about electricity. Perhaps you can guess why as many in our community are still without electricity now over a week after the storm that hit us last Friday. So I found myself thinking about Thomas Edison. Edison did not invent electricity, and some would say that he did not invent the light bulb either. What he did invent was the first practical light bulb that didn’t just light up and burn out. The first “practical” light bulb ever patented lasted 13.5 hours before it needed replaced. And I bet you were disappointed when those cfl bulbs that you purchased burned out after a year!

            Edison is said to have recorded 1,093 US patents for his many inventions, plus various other patents in other countries. When we talk about a guy like Edison we use words like brilliant, genius, pioneer, and innovative. Not bad for a guy whose only formal schooling lasted about 3 months.

            My favorite quote from Edison has to do with the invention of the practical incandescent light bulb. It is a well-known fact that Edison worked for a long time to make a light bulb that could be used for every-day purposes. When he was asked one day how he kept going through all of those years of failures, Edison replied by saying something like, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb.”

            Edison knew what he was gifted at. He knew he was on to something. So he tried something and when that didn’t work, he tried again. When that didn’t work he tried again.

            Jesus also knew that he was gifted. It isn’t clear from Scripture whether or not Jesus knew that he was God incarnate, but he did know that he had a special relationship with God. He refers to himself as a prophet in verse 4 when he talks about a prophet being without honor in his hometown. He has seen his own abilities to teach and heal. So as much as it must have hurt to be rejected by his own friends and family in his hometown synagogue, he knew he was on to something so he tried again.

Just look at verse 6. I think that this says so much about the person of Jesus. “He was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” The verse divisions in our Bible were added many years after the text was recorded. But it is amazing to me that we go from Jesus being amazed at their lack of faith immediately to Jesus going around teaching from village to village. Jesus didn’t fail. He just found 10,000 people who weren’t interested in his message. And as we read on, we find that Jesus commissioned his 12 disciples to help share his message. Based on their results, and the fact that we are all here today 2,000 years later, I think we can say that Jesus was no failure.

            It seems that Jesus gives us permission to make mistakes and permission to fail. The lesson seems to be that mistakes are only mistakes and failures are only failures if you fail to learn from them.

I want to focus on two men for the rest of our time together this morning, and they could just as easily been women.  So ladies, please listen up as well.  It just so happens that Jesus chose a group of 12 men to be his closest friends and his original 12 disciples.  I want to look at two of Jesus’ closest disciples; I want to look at Peter and John.

Mark 3:16-19 tells the story of the calling of the disciples.  Mark writes, “These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

The first thing that I want to point out about this passage is that Jesus likes to give out nicknames.  I always wanted a cool nickname growing up. Jesus gives nicknames to the guys that I want to focus on. Simon is given the nickname “Peter” which literally means “the Rock.” “Finally, the Rock has come back to Jerusalem.” Back before Dwayne Johnson, Simon Peter was the original rock.

Then to John and his brother James, Jesus gives the nickname Boanerges, which Mark tells us means “Sons of Thunder.” It sounds to me like you might have a really good wrestling tag-team right there. The Rock and the Sons of Thunder. I’m scared just thinking about it! Really, I am a pacifist, I assure you.

Peter, James, and John seem to be a part of Jesus’ inner circle. He had a multitude of followers, he had his 12 disciples, then he had these three close friends. In Mark 5 we find the story of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter, who had a very serious illness known as death. It gets us all at some time, but it got Jairus’ daughter a little too soon. When Jesus went to bring this little girl back to life, he took with him three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.

A couple of the gospels tell the story of what we commonly call the transfiguration where Jesus went up a mountain and he had a conversation with Moses and Elijah. Which disciples do you think that Jesus chose to go up to the mountain with him to pray? Peter, James, and John.

After the Last Supper, when Jesus knew that his time on earth was short and that he would soon suffer and die at the hands of the Romans, he chose three of his closest friends to go with him out into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Who do you think he chose?  The Rock and the Sons of Thunder.

Now there are two different ways to interpret why Jesus chose to keep these three men close to him as much as possible. One possible reason could be because Jesus saw in these men the capacity to be great leaders in his church. The other reason could be because Jesus saw in these men the capacity to really miss the point and screw things up. I’ll ask you which you think it was in just a few minutes. Let’s look at their ministry first.

Peter, the Rock, is the guy that is always acting first, thinking second. When the disciples see Jesus walking on water, it is Peter that says That looks like fun. I think I’ll give it a try. Peter then gets an unexpected bath. Peter is the guy that at one time refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet because he doesn’t want Jesus to perform the role of a servant. Jesus says if Peter doesn’t allow Jesus to serve him that Peter will not be a part of Jesus’ ministry. Then Peter says, “Not just my feet, but wash my whole body!” Jesus says, “You had a bath back when you tried to walk on water. Let’s just stick to the feet for now. Peter is the guy that cut off a Roman soldier’s ear when they were trying to arrest Jesus. Peter is the guy that when Jesus was describing what would have to happen to him Peter yelled “I’ll never allow that to happen!” Do you remember what Jesus’s response was? He said, “Get behind me, Satan!” We don’t know if Jesus was calling Peter Satan, or just recognizing that there was temptation at hand. Either way, “Satan” isn’t a compliment. Peter is the guy that denies even knowing Jesus three times on the night when Jesus is handed over to the authorities. After that description, I am thinking that maybe Jesus kept Peter close by to keep an eye on him.

Well what about John, one of the sons of thunder?  Everybody knows that Peter is a goofy guy, but what about John?  In Luke 9 verse 49, John reveals a bit of his thunderous personality, “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

I don’t care who you are or where you are from, but where I come from, demons are a bad thing.  Removing demons is a good thing.  So while I’m not a specialist on demons, I believe that if someone is driving them out, we should let them do it.  And like Jesus says, “If they aren’t against us, they’re for us.”        

We only need to go a few more verses until we find these guys messing up again.  Jesus is traveling through a Samaritan town and the people there aren’t being overly welcoming.  And in verse 54 we find this, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”  And Jesus must be thinking, “Did you miss the day that I taught about loving your enemy?”

So I ask you again, did Jesus keep Peter and John close to him to keep an eye on them because they had a great capacity to screw up or because he saw great potential in them?  I think the answer is “yes.”

At one point Jesus asks Peter who people are saying that Jesus is.  Peter tells him that some claim he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets mysteriously brought back to life.  And Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16)  And some believe that Jesus put Peter, the Rock, in charge right then and there.  Peter became the one through whom Jesus’s ministry would continue.

And John, well, Jesus had some responsibility to give to him as well.  As Jesus hung on the cross, minutes from death, he spoke to John and asked John to take care of Jesus’ mother.  This was an honor and a privilege for John. Jesus trusted John so much that he gave the responsibility to watch after his own mother to John. John wrote one of the four Gospels in our Bible and he might have been the same John that wrote three Epistles as well as the book of Revelation. And in John’s gospel, we find that John receives a new nickname.  He is now known as the disciple that Jesus loved.

            My friends, we are all going to make mistakes along the way. We will at times feel like failures and we won’t achieve the things that we seek out to achieve. This is a part of what it means to be human. But one thing that I have learned along the way is that Jesus and his disciples show us that it isn’t the failures along the way that define you. What matters is how you finish this life. Will you pick yourself back up, move on to the next city and share your message there? Will you find the next filament to try in your incandescent light bulb? Because the next one might be the right one.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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