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Mark 6:16, 4552; 7:89, 13comment (0)

September 17, 2009

By Michael Wilson

Related Scripture: Mark 6:16, 4552; 7:89, 13

Bible Studies for Life
Director, Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford University

The Challenges of Knowing Jesus
Mark 6:1–6, 45–52; 7:8–9, 13

“Goal-thwarted anxiety” — that’s the way my psychology professor at Samford University many years ago described what happens to most people when they face obstacles. We are well aware of the feelings that surface when something we work for does not come to fruition. We know what it is like to be frustrated and disappointed when roadblocks and unexpected developments deny our goals. This week’s lesson helps us reflect on the obstacles Jesus faced in ministry. We can learn valuable insights from His example that can help us better respond to our own challenges of rejection, fear and traditionalism.

Face Rejection (6:1–6)
Word of Jesus’ ministry had spread quickly throughout the region. Folks in His hometown were eager to welcome Him back and hear Him speak in their synagogue for the first time. We might presume the townspeople had some pride in the fact that Jesus was, in effect, their small-town boy who made it big. Who would have expected what Luke recalled about Jesus’ first sermon in His hometown (Luke 4:14–30)? Shouldn’t they have given “pats on the back” and words of encouragement to the young preacher? Instead the people who watched Him grow as a child became so enraged at His sermon they ran Him out of the synagogue. They intended to stone Him by throwing Him off a cliff onto rocks below. What they heard as blasphemy was in reality Jesus disturbing their comfortable religious traditionalism. By courageously declaring Israel had rejected God’s messengers of redemption even as Gentiles received them, Jesus challenged the congregation to confront its departure from the right practice of the teachings of its faith. Sometimes people refuse to hear and apply truth even when it is presented in clear and convincing words.

Overcome Fear (6:45–52)
Travel by boat was risky in the time of Jesus. Frequently seafarers departed on voyages only to be lost at sea, never to return home or be seen again. They had to rely on instincts and knowledge of weather patterns when planning voyages, whether by ocean or across what we would consider a very large lake, the Sea of Galilee. A storm might develop that could cause a boat to capsize or be torn apart, and those on board could drown. Many of the stories of sea travel found in Scripture recount perilous, life-threatening situations during which there was great fear. Mark’s account of the disciples’ boat being tossed about by raging winds is a story of fears overcome by the powerful presence of Jesus. Perhaps the most important message of the story is found in the statement, “Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.” Whatever fearful situation we face, we should remember Jesus is “in the boat with us” as we face the challenge.

Confront Traditionalism (7:8–9, 13)
There are many “isms” popular today: patriotism, atheism, liberalism, conservatism, fanaticism, racism — the list can become quite long. Most “isms” represent beliefs and practices that give expression of the word’s meaning. Some “isms” have adherents who are quite vocal and active in their expression.

One reason Jesus’ hometown crowd wanted to launch Him off a cliff was because He challenged its deeply valued traditionalism. The people appear more committed to defending the traditions of their faith than allowing the meaning behind the traditions to influence how they live. Jesus likely knew His commentary on Isaiah’s familiar words would be received like a slap in the face. How sad He had to resort to such powerful statements to move His audience to respond. Sadder still, the gathered congregation reacted with anger. There is no further mention of Nazareth in the story of the early church after Jesus left, fleeing for His life. We can only wonder what might have been different if His sermon had been received in a manner that led to repentance and change.

Even today, many Christians have become indifferent to Jesus’ call to love God and others. Perhaps we need to hear hard words, painful to receive, that call us from a comfortable and safe practice of faith to greater things.

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