I dare you to pray this! Psalm 139:23-24

We are back in Psalm 139 today. I want us to cover the last two verses, vs. 23-24. We looked at the prayer request in v. 19 last week and drew some conclusions about it. Well, here we have a very different kind of prayer request – one that, I think, requires courage to pray.

But before we get to this, I want to think more generally for a moment on David’s relationship with God. The depth of his relationship with God is evident in this Psalm. He certainly was a person after God’s own heart, as Scripture says (2 Samuel 13:14).

The Psalm itself is one long prayer; one long and detailed conversation with God. You can see how he is aware that God is an intimate part of every aspect of his life, and he invites this.

This depth of relationship with God comes out in many of the Psalms. Here are some examples of this in prayers to God:

  • “Be not far from me (God), for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” – Psalm 22:11.
  • “(God) You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” – Psalm 56:8 (NLT).
  • “(God) You have turned for me my mourning into dancing . . . and clothed me with gladness” – Psalm 30:11
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for (God) you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
  • “When the cares of my heart are many, (God) your consolations cheer my soul.” – Psalm 94:19

You can see in these, and so many more, that when there’s a problem the psalmist asks for help, complains while trying to understand what’s going on, seeks closeness and finds strength in God. And when there is joy, the psalmist shares it with God through praise. This is really a picture of God as companion, or God as best friend. There is a relationship of intimacy and caring between God and the writers of the Psalms.

This, then, leads me to ask, ‘What about us?’ Or more specifically, ‘How good is your relationship with God?’ Are you aware of God being involved in every part of your life? Do you have a sense of closeness with God? Is God an intimate companion?

Certainly the prayer we are looking at today is a part of this, so let’s move on to –

The prayer of Psalm 139:23-24

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Remember with me, the flow of the Psalm as a whole. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. This is the background. And so he responds.

  • In vs. 1-18 he appeals to God, ‘God, you know everything about me; you know my commitment to you.’
  • Then in vs. 19-22 he makes his loyalty to God clear. ‘God, I hate evildoers.’ He shows himself to be on God’s side.
  • And this lead us to our verses where he gives an open-ended invitation, ‘God, continue to search and know me’ – just in case there is anything to the accusation.

Now, let’s break the prayer down, so we can understand it. First of all, it continues the theme of the Psalm as a whole of God searching and knowing David. In v. 1 David notes that God has searched and known him, but here he invites God to continue to search and know him. And the focus is squarely on what’s within him.

The two phrases, “search me . . . and know my heart” and “try me and know my thoughts” are slightly different ways of saying the same thing. They are parallel to each other. He wants God to look inside of him, his inner person, so that God knows what is in his heart.

I do have a question about this prayer. If we pray this prayer are we praying, lead us into testing/temptation?? (David does pray for this elsewhere – e.g. Psalm 26:2). The word in v. 23, “try,” can mean examine, prove, tempt, or test. The word usually does mean testing in the sense of trials and temptations (again, Psalm 26:2).

If it does mean this, then we would have to modify this prayer to bring it in line with what Jesus has taught us about prayer. He taught us that we are to pray that God not lead us into testing, since we might fail and dishonor God’s name. It comes from a sense of humility and an awareness of our weakness.

I take the word “try” here as a further expansion of the word “search” in the first line (basically parallels). So I don’t think it’s asking God to test us, or to allow Satan to test us. Maybe the translation “examine me and know my thoughts” would be good. The idea, again, is that God is looking into the depths of his soul to see what is in him.

The word in v. 23, “thoughts,” can be translated as “disquieting thoughts” or “anxious thoughts” and perhaps these phrases are in your Bible translations. (This is a different word for thought than the word used in v. 2 and v. 17). But it is probably best to see it in parallel with the word “heart” as I said before, and simply translate it, as it is here – “thoughts.” David seems to be saying in different ways, know my ‘inner person.’ He doesn’t seem to be focusing on a particular category of thoughts, but on all that is in his heart and thoughts.

The problem that David is concerned with; what he wants God to look for is “any grievous way.” The phrase means literally a “way of pain in me.” It can be translated as a hurtful, vexing, or sorrowful way.

David is praying, “God look for anything in me that causes pain.”

  • Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that cause you pain God?
  • Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that will cause me to hurt others?

Now there is good reason to pray this. Jeremiah 17:9-10, a passage that shares the same theme and some of the same vocabulary (search, test) as Psalm 139, says, among other things, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” There is much for God to find and know in each one of us. There are many grievous ways that need to be rooted out.

“Lead me.” David wants God to know him and then to show him any grievous way, so that it can be dealt with. This is how God leads him. The phrase, “in the way everlasting” can also be translated, “the ancient way.” In either case, I believe the meaning is the same. We are talking here about ‘the way of God,’ or ‘the way of righteousness.’ So the request is that God help him not to walk in a grievous way, but in the way of God.

Summary: This prayer is asking for three things:

1. “God, look in my inner person”

2. “Find anything that would cause you or others pain” and show me these things.

3. “Lead me in your path of righteousness.”

The title today is –

I dare you to pray this

I say this, because if you understand this prayer, it takes courage to pray it. It takes courage because you are inviting God to show you your sins, your weaknesses, your defects. And that’s not an easy thing to have to see.

Usually, we want to hide all this stuff. We don’t like to have to see our sins and weaknesses, think about them or dwell on them. We don’t want God to see them (although he does). And we certainly don’t want others to see them.

Often we respond by living in denial, to keep us from having to look at these things. And then, if God or someone brings something up we get defensive. You know how it works, ‘Well, I’m better than so and so,’ or ‘It’s not that bad,’ or ‘It’s justified.’ We minimize.

But not only this, it takes courage to pray this prayer because you are inviting God to correct your issues, so that you can walk in his paths. And it can be hard work to have to do this.

I’m sharing this with you because, as hard as this might be, this is the way to grow in your Christian life. It’s only when we fully open ourselves up to God that he can show us our problems, things we are often blind to. And it’s only when we become aware of these things that we can begin to receive help to overcome them.

And remember, God already knows all your “grievous ways,” and probably a lot of other people do as well; more than you think. So instead of living in denial and being defensive, ask God for help. Don’t run away from God with your struggles, run to God.

I encourage you to pray this, and to continue to pray this, and to listen to what God has to say, and to have the faith to allow God to lead you in the way everlasting.

Let’s take a moment in quiet right now. If you are willing, pray this prayer. I believe that God will speak to you even now.

The purpose & the problem of Psalm 139

The literary structure of Psalm 139

We’re back again in Psalm 139. Last week we covered the first 18 verses highlighting the theme that God knows all about us. The first thing I want us to do today is step back and take a big picture look at the Psalm as a whole – all 24 verses. And I want us to think about why it was written, or what the point of the Psalm is.

You have a handout that shows how it’s put together. I won’t go into this, but I do invite you to keep this at hand as we look at

The purpose of Psalm 139

Let me give you the situation that I think is going on here right up front. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. Why? I don’t know. Maybe someone thought he was too sympathetic to someone they saw as a wicked person. Just a speculation.  In any case, there’s an accusation and it’s one that David considers false. And from reading this Psalm, this accusation  must have been a painful thing for him to deal with.

What does he do? He takes it up in prayer with God:

  • 1 – “Lord, you have searched and known me.”
  • 2-3 – God knows all that he does and thinks, his thoughts and ways.
  • 4 – God knows all his words.
  • 5 – God is all around, with his hand on him.  God knows all that goes on in his life.
  • And then in v. 6 – he pauses to ponder such knowledge that is beyond him.
  • In vs. 7-12 – he points out that even if he wanted to “flee” and hide somewhere and secretly sin, he can’t. God would see and know him everywhere, for God is everywhere.
  • In vs. 13-16 – he points out that God formed him and his days from beginning to end. Nothing is hidden from God.
  • In vs. 17-18 – he again pauses to ponder the amazing sum of God’s thoughts

– So in all this, in vs. 1-18, David offers up an appeal to God, God you know whether I am loyal or not.  You know all about me, right? You know my commitment to you.

– And then starting in vs. 19-22 David offers up several expressions of his loyalty to God. This section is key to understanding this Psalm because it’s here we see that his loyalty has been challenged.

First in v. 19 – he prays, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” And he says, “O men of blood, depart from me!” Then we have the words of the wicked in v. 20, which obviously disgust David – “They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!” And then we have some clear statements of David’s loyalty to God in vs. 21-22 – “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

We’ll talk in a moment about his language, but the point here in context is that – “Hey God, I’m on your side.” I hate evil and I love the good. From his point of view there is no question about his loyalty to God.

– And then finally, in vs. 23-24 he gives an open ended invitation for God to keep searching and knowing him. He wants to make sure that he’s right before God in his heart and actions; that he’s not guilty of the accusation made against him; that he’s not missing something.

So the purpose of the Psalm is David’s prayerful working through of an accusation made against him. And as we see at the end, even though he’s open to God’s searching, he believes that his loyalty is clear. And let me just say that this is a good practice for us to emulate – processing things in prayer with God: accusations, difficulties and hardships – whatever we are facing. We see this all the time happening in the Psalms as the writers struggle with God and find faith and peace.

This brings us to what I’m calling –

The problem of Psalm 139: David’s prayer of hatred

It’s David’s expressions of loyalty to God, and specifically his prayer in v. 19, so central to the Psalm, that cause Christians discomfort. And, I believe, rightly so.

The prayer is straight forward, v. 19 – “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” Kill them, God. And this prayer springs forth from his heart-felt and self-confessed hatred of God’s enemies, found in vs. 21-22 – “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Now, this is certainly not the only place in Scripture or in the Psalms where there are expressions of hatred for enemies and calls for God to judge enemies. Let me give one other brief example from Psalm 109:8-9. David prays this concerning his enemy, “May his days be few . . .. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!” He prays for his enemy’s death. Then he prays that the man’s children, now orphans, would be beggars and that no one would help them. And he goes on to pray that all his resources would be seized by creditors, and that the man’s parents would be judged by God. I could give you more examples, but this will do.

The problem for Christians in all this should be clear:

  • We are called not to curse, but to bless – Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9
  • We are called not to condemn, but to give mercy – Luke 6:36-37; Romans 2:1-5
  • We are called not to hate, but to love enemies – Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20
  • We are called not to return harm for harm, but to return good for harm – Romans 12:17, 21; 1 Peter 3:9

We are agents of God’s grace, not judgment.

So this raises several very specific, and practical questions for us: What should we think of Psalm 139:19-22? Can we pray the prayer of v. 19 as it stands? And how should we pray regarding enemies?

Let me share several reflections with you:

It’s right to oppose evildoers and injustice. As we saw, in context, what David says is an expression of loyalty to God, “I’m on your side, God. I want what’s right.” This sentiment is correct. In this case David is speaking of people who are murderers, “men of blood” (v. 19). They despise God, possibly even using God’s name to accomplish their evil by swearing oaths to deceive people or to bear false witness against the innocent in court (v. 20).

It’s also true that in the end Evildoers must be judged, if God’s peace and justice is to be established. Those who refuse God’s grace cannot be allowed to continue to do evil indefinitely. There has to be a time of reckoning. The innocent must be rescued. Justice must be established.

But there are some differences between how David prays and how we should pray:

Difference #1 – Christian prayers must be governed by love. David’s prayer was rooted in “complete hatred” of enemies, as he himself says. Our prayers must be rooted in love for enemies. And this is really a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is Jesus – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” This is the Old Testament. “But I say to you, love your enemies” – Matthew 5:43-44. This is the new. In the Old Testament, God commanded love for neighbors, fellow people of the covenant. But not God’s enemies. In the New Testament, God tells us to have perfect or complete love – that is, love that includes everyone; the good and the evil, the just and the unjust, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:45. Our prayers must reflect this love and mercy for all people.

And since this is true, this leads us to Difference #2 – Christian prayers shouldn’t ask for non-redemptive judgment. What’s this? The clearest example of non-redemptive judgment is when God takes someone’s life. Because when this happens there is no more grace, no more chance to be redeemed. This is what David prayed for. I do not believe that Christians can pray for this. This would be an expression of harm for harm, hatred, cursing and condemnation – not love.

Indeed, Jesus rebuked his disciples for this when they sought to call down fire on the Samaritan town that rejected Jesus in Luke 9:54-55. As Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Why then should we seek their destruction in prayer? And also, how could we ask for this since we are only able to stand before God by his grace? Can we ask God to act one way with others and another with us? Destructive judgment for others, mercy for us? Certainly not.

If we can’t pray for non-redemptive judgment, I do believe that we can pray for redemptive judgment. This is God’s judgment, but it still allows the person a chance to change. It’s judgment, but it’s also an act of grace, to wake them up to repentance, if they are willing. So yes, I can and have prayed that God would judge and stop an evildoer in this way. Maybe God would take away their political power, or use the legal system, or put difficult circumstances in their lives that cause them to stop. I believe that this is in accord with both God’s mercy and God’s justice.

But beyond this we have to leave things in God’s hands. Only God can decide when the time of grace is up and it’s time for non-redemptive judgment – in an individual’s life and for the world as a whole.

Let’s end with a responsive reading from –

Romans 12:14-21

– that demonstrates how we are to live our lives as followers of Jesus.

L: 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

P: 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

L: 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

P: 17Repay no one harm for harm, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

L: 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

P: 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

All: 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God knows all about you. Psalm 139:1-18

We’re beginning a series today on Psalm 139. There is so much in this amazing passage! Today we begin with how this Psalm teaches us that God knows all about us.

I encourage you to read this Psalm and meditate on it, let it permeate your thoughts and life, as we work through it together. Let’s begin by hearing Psalm 139:1-18.

God’s knows all about David

God’s knowledge of David is a central theme in verses 1-18. We are told that God knows him several times and in several different ways. And that God searches him, sees him, discerns him and is acquainted with him.

In the first part of the Psalm, vs. 2-3 we learn that God knows David’s thoughts and ways. In his own words,

  • God knows “when I sit down and when I rise up” – v. 2.
  • God knows “my thoughts” or it can be translated “intentions” – v. 2.
  • God knows “my path and my lying down” – v. 3, likely meaning, when I go somewhere and then come home and rest
  • And God is acquainted with v. 3 – “all my ways,” that is the kind of life I lead, even in private.

And then, we learn in v. 4 that “even before a word is on my tongue, behold . . . you know it altogether,” which is not a problem since as we just saw, God knows our thoughts.

But not only this, we learn in verses 7-12 that God can see and know him wherever he might go. He asks in v. 7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” The answer is, “Nowhere!” He gives several examples of this.

  • v. 8 – “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Heaven is the highest place in creation, the abode of God. Sheol is the lowest place in creation, the place of the dead. God is in both places. And if he is the extreme limits of height and depth, he is easily everywhere in between.
  • Another example, v. 9-10 – “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea . . .” that is, fly through the sky from the East to the farthest point West, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” God is in the remotest places. He is both in places that are near, and those that are far, far away. And God is everywhere in between, so that he can see and know David.
  • And finally, vs. 11-12 – “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” God can see and know him even in the darkest place. So God can see him and know him in places that have light, and also in the darkest places, and everywhere in between.

And if this weren’t enough we learn in vs. 13-16 that God has seen and known him from his beginning to his end. v. 13 says, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” v. 16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God has seen and known him, from the time that God formed him in the womb, to all the days formed for him that are written in God’s book. God sees and knows him from beginning to end.

Now –

God doesn’t just know David . . .

The prophet Jeremiah said more generally, “’Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” –  Jeremiah 23:24. God sees and knows all people.

And Jesus said this about God’s knowledge of each one of us – “The hairs of your head are all numbered” – Matthew 10:30. We don’t even know this, but God knows this about each one of us.

The author of Hebrews says this,  “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” – 4:13. So I can say with great confidence, sisters and brothers, that God doesn’t just know David through and through –

God knows you through and through

  • God knows all your movements, when you sit, when you rise, when you go somewhere, when you come home and rest.
  • God knows your thoughts and your intentions.
  • God knows your ways, the kind of life that you choose to live in this world.
  • God knows your words before you say them.
  • God can see and know you anywhere you might be.
  • And God has seen and known you from beginning to end.

God knows all about you! God knows all about me. God knows all about everyone who has lived. God knows all about everyone who is living. And God knows about everyone who will live. God knows all this.

Now, let me share some reflections on this insight from Psalm 139. And the first is –

1. Wow! God is amazing!

God can do this! God is truly incredible! What I am saying is that we see in these verses the greatness of God and it should lead us to praise God.

David himself says in wonder in v. 6, “Such knowledge (that is, the knowledge that God has) is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” To do what God can do; to know what God can know is beyond any of us. We can’t even begin to understand this.

Along similar lines, David says in vs. 17-18, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” God’s thoughts, or as it can be translated “intentions or purposes,” are so many that they are beyond counting. God is beyond us – way beyond us. We simply don’t have the capacity to grasp what God can do. We serve a great God!

2. If you are doing evil, this should cause you concern

That’s because, you can’t evade God. You can’t keep God in the dark.

  • He knows what you say and do
  • He sees right through you – inside you – and knows your thoughts and intentions
  • And he knows you from beginning to end

He knows all this about you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. There is no shield or barrier that you can hide behind. There’s no hiding from God. And that’s exactly why if you are doing evil, you should be concerned.

Finally, since God knows all about you, you can be sure that –

3. God knows your needs and can help you

Speaking of what his everyday life is like, David says to God, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” – v. 5. It’s like God’s presence is in front of him and behind him and all around him and his hand is upon him. In the same way God’s presence and knowledge of us is pervasive. God is close to us and we are never off his radar. And so he is always aware of our needs and is always nearby to give us his help.

Even if you are in the most remote place, God sees and knows you. As David said, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” – v. 10. Or if you simply feel far away from God, God sees and knows you. And if you look to God, he can lead you and hold you with his right hand.

Also, even if you are in the darkest place, God can see and know you and your needs. David said to God, “the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” – v. 12. Or if you simply feel that you are in a place of darkness – perhaps it’s depression, anxiety or loneliness. God can see you and know your need while you are in your dark place. And God can help.

Finally, God “formed you” and knows you inside-out. And so God knows your weaknesses, where you struggle, where you need help and grace to make it through – vs. 15-16.

That God knows us, his children, is a source of great comfort for us, because we can be sure that God will see us and help us in all of our lives.

Jesus visits home. Mark 6:1-6

The literary structure of Mark 6:1-6

Today we’re looking at Mark 6:1-6 and the story of Jesus visiting his home in Nazareth. This passage is interesting for several reasons. One is that it tells us more about –

Jesus’ personal life

First, about his family. In chapter 3 we learned a bit about his mother and brothers when they tried to stage an intervention to take Jesus home. Here in v. 3 we learn that he is “the son of Mary,” which is an unusual phrase since one would normally make reference to the father. This might indicate that Joseph died some time ago.  Also four brothers are mentioned as well as several unnamed sisters. So Jesus had at least six siblings.

Also he worked as a carpenter – v. 3. This is what he did before he began his ministry. This is the only place in Scripture that says this.

Now this doesn’t mean exactly what it means today. It refers to someone skilled at working with wood, metal or stone. So it could also mean he was a blacksmith or a stone mason or some combination of these. Joseph was also a carpenter and Jesus, no doubt, learned the trade from him (Matthew 13:55).

Also, just to note, his job was considered to be a skilled one. So he would not have been dirt poor, at least when he was working as a carpenter.

Let’s look more closely now at –

The story

– to see what else we can learn.

1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue . . ..

Nazareth is about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee, where he was previously. (Nazareth as his hometown – 1:9, 24).

Jesus had become famous in other parts of Israel and beyond and now he has come back to his hometown. There’s a bit of the ‘local boy does good’ dynamic here, and so they’re curious to see what’s going on.

. . . 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?”

Mark uses the word “astonished” several times to refer to people being amazed and impressed by Jesus. Here, however, it is used in a negative way. People are shocked.

When they ask about his wisdom, this is related to his teaching ministry, which they have just experienced. When they ask about mighty works, this is related to his healing-miracle ministry that they would have heard about. Their concern is with the source of these things. He must not have taught or done miracles before he left Nazareth and so this is all new and shocking. Where did he get this stuff from?

They continue asking questions in v. 3 –

3“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?”

If the previous questions focused on “where,” these focus on “who.” Who does he think he is? He’s just one of us.

  • Some of us changed his diapers when he was a baby.
  • Some of us played games with him as a child.
  • He did carpentry work on our house.
  • The rest of his family is still here and they aren’t special!

 Who does he think he is going around teaching and trying to heal people? What has gotten into his head? Jesus couldn’t grow up to be someone so important!

And the result of all these questions comes out at the end of v. 3 –

And they took offense at him.

 They were shocked; they were appalled. They weren’t able to get past their knowledge of Jesus as a normal person; an average guy. And so they certainly weren’t able to recognize him for who he was – the Messiah, or, as we will see, to receive what God was doing through him. They didn’t believe.

We can do this too. Every great man or woman of God is a normal person; they grew up and had a family. They don’t just drop out of heaven ready made with a halo over their head. And sometimes because we know them, we can’t receive from them; what God wants to say and do through them. We put them in a box.

But we should be open to receive from any person that God chooses to speak through. This is true of leaders and also as we seek to minister to one another with the gifts and callings that God gives to each of us in the body of Christ. We need to be open.

4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Jesus acknowledges what’s going on. They know him as just one of them, not as a prophet or as the Messiah.

As the proverb says, prophets are typically honored, except in their hometown, by those who can’t see them as prophets. Today we would say, “familiarity breeds contempt.” And so the town rejected Jesus.

And the last part of the saying, “his relatives and in his own household” shows that even Jesus’ family didn’t accept him or his ministry. This would have included Mary, his mother and James his brother, later the leader of the church in Jerusalem (John 7:5). They had expressed their unbelief earlier in Mark 3:21 when they came to him because they thought he was “out of his mind.” And now they reject him when he comes home.

This story is a reminder that rejection by others is a part of serving God. Even by friends and family. Jesus said in Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” He also said in Matthew 10:36, “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Jesus didn’t just teach this, he experienced it, as we see in this story. And if Jesus experienced this, who are we to think that we won’t have a taste of it?

5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.

 I have always been intrigued by these verses. In chapters 4-5 of Mark:

  • Jesus shows himself to be the great teacher, giving the parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the harvest.
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord of nature, calming the stormy sea. In 4:41 the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord over all evil when he casts out a legion of demons and sets the man free.
  • He is the great healer, who cured the woman whom no doctor could cure.
  • And to top it off he shows himself to be the Lord of life when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

This is a portrait of Jesus as victorious in every way. No obstacle is too big for him – nature, demons, sickness or death.

But then he comes home and he’s stopped in his tracks. And what is the obstacle that stopped him? He is stopped by their unbelief. This unbelief keeps him from being able to do what he wanted to do and what he could do among them. It limits him and his ministry to them.

If they were astonished at him at the beginning (and not in a good way), in the end he is amazed at them (and not in a good way) – for their lack of faith.

The story ends with the phrase –

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus moves on to another place to do his work, looking for people that will receive him and his ministry with faith.

I would like to end by highlighting what I think is the message for us today from this passage –

Our lack of faith can hinder God’s work

This story is a warning to us. Do you get the message? We can stop Jesus in his tracks even though there may be much he wants to do in us and through us; in our lives and in our congregation.

Did you know that you have such power? This is the way God has set things up. We have a role to play if God is going to do all that he intends – to help us and bless us. We have to believe to receive.

There is no limit to what God can do if we allow him. Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “all things are possible with God.” But we have to believe. We have to open up our lives to him in faith and rely on him to do it.