THE UNBELIEVABLE UNBELIEF
Mark, the Evangelist, tells us that it was Jesus who was amazed at the people’s lack of faith (Mk.6: 6). Jesus went home to share with His people the marvelous things God was going to do for them through one of their own and they rejected Him (Jn.1: 11). Yes, some marveled at Jesus’ wisdom and healing ability; but, they could not connect because Jesus was one of their own and they knew His family. Jesus had so much to offer and could do very little because they could not believe that God was using one of their own (Mt.13: 53-58). The hometown’s people were too familiar with Jesus and His family to accept Him as God’s Prophet, rather as God’s mouthpiece (Mk.6: 1-6).
Luke, the Evangelist, tells us that Jesus returned home after He did miracles in Capernaum, the region’s headquarters. He had chosen His hometown (Nazareth) to announce His mission. Jesus had already distinguished Himself as an eloquent preacher and the people were willing to listen to His words of wisdom. On the Sabbath, the leader handed Jesus the Scroll of Isaiah, but He nor the people expected one of their own to identify Himself with the Messiah of Isaiah 61: 1-2. At first, the listeners marveled as they always do. When Jesus could not get them turned on, He compared them to the widows of Elijah’s day that refused His help. A Sidonian widow, Zarephath took in the prophet and Naaman the Syrian was healed of leprosy. That enraged these listeners and they took a hold of Jesus and dragged Him to the top of their cliff, where they intended to throw Him to His death. They became powerless, when Jesus just walked through the crowd and left them for good (Lk.4: 13-30). He shook their dust of His feet and moved on (Mt.10: 14).
The rejection, Jesus took to heart. He made it part of His instruction regarding the urgency of His mission. His messengers were not to waste time with people that were neither ready nor willing to receive them (Mt.10: 5-15, 40-42). They, too, would be rejected and persecuted, like He was. Even when they shall run for their lives, they shall not be able to preach in all the places in Israel before they join their Lord (Mt.10: 21-23). Jesus went where people needed Him and He expected the same of His disciples. They were not to be stationary, but traveling messengers. They were in the world, but not of the world and so was their message about God’s kingdom (Jn.17: 16-18, 36). God’s kingdom, nor Christ’ messengers were to be stationed in one place, like before, in Jerusalem. God was no longer to be worshipped in a temple or on a mountain (Jn.4: 21-24). Their mission field was the world (Mt.28: 19-20). When the first believers tried to settle in Jerusalem, they were scattered and so was Peter (Ac.8: 1-8; 12: 17). The attempt to localize God was over, or was it?
Jesus was skeptical about His follower’s way to maintain faith in Him. Unbelief would become their biggest hurdle. On one occasion, He asked this question, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Lk.18: 8)? How can unbelief replace belief? It can by taking the message of Jesus’ kingdom literally. Jesus’ promise that He would build His church was also taken literally (Mt.16: 18) and so were the keys to the kingdom handed to Peter (Mt.18: 19). But when the first Christians were hampered from erecting small temples and places of worship, someone remembered that Jesus had tied the kingdom to the heart and not to a physical structure. “The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘there it is,’ because the kingdom is within you” (Lk.17: 20-21). With regard to the keys of the “kingdom,” Peter was not the only one that was being sent. That, too, Jesus clarified before He departed for heaven. He said to His disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (Jn.20: 21-23).
We should all be amazed what our predecessors have done with Jesus’ instructions. Their building programs gave people work, but their interpretations tied belief to earthly powers. In fact, it identified Jesus with individual churches and denominations. It has people believe that their nation is Christian or God’s people. One Sunday morning before I was to deliver my regularly scheduled talks, the phone rang and a male voice inquired whether God was going to be present. I stammered for an answer and I still do. What I should have answered was, “If you do not have Him in your heart, then you will not find Him here. If you do, then come and share Him with us.” God’s house is not just some building but the human heart, mind and soul. Neither can any human authority give God or Christ to anyone else. What we are asked to do is “love one another and forgive each other.” God has no problem with loving and forgiving, we do.
We are not any different from the Nazarithes that rejected and nearly killed Jesus. We no longer use cliffs, but legal ways to lock away Jesus and keep Him in sanctuaries. Jesus did predict that many would turn away from believing in Him and that they would stop loving each other (Mt.24: 10-12). In that case, His followers will shake the dust of their feet and go elsewhere where Jesus is welcomed. What Jesus told a Samaritan woman also applies to us, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn.4: 21). We ought not be amazed at what we have done with Jesus and His teaching! Jesus predicted that it would happen (Mt.24: 25).