Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
Sunday, April 11, 2021
The Home Court Disadvantage
In the world of sports, it is always better for a team to play on their home court.
There are numerous reasons, for this: When teams play on their own home court,
they don’t get worn down by traveling to another town. They get to sleep in your own bed instead of losing sleep in a hotel. They don’t have to eat out—you get a home-cooked meal.
But most importantly, they play in a front of your hometown crowd: Family, friends, and people from the town who have come out to cheer for them. No wonder it’s called the home court advantage!
But imagine a team that played a home game only to discover that the fans were cheering for the visiting team and against their hometown! What if these fans booed their own team whenever they did something right?
How demoralizing would that be? How long could a player keep playing?
This is essentially what happens to Jesus in the passage.
He’s been traveling around with his disciples; teaching and performing miracles. And he’s been met with a lot of resistance. People have tried to kill him, run him out of town. But now he returns to his hometown. You’d think at least here he’d have the homecourt advantage! But instead of finding people cheering him on—he’s booed out of the stadium. Rejected.
This story confronts us with some of our own negative heart attitudes. But it also shows us how Jesus can transform those attitudes and our hearts.
Instead of doing a three point sermon, we’re just going to walk through this passage verse by verse.
v.1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.
When it says Jesus went to his hometown, it’s referring to Nazareth.
Archeologists suggest that it was a small village of no more than 500 people. The size of small towns in Montana—like Belt or Big Sandy.
It’s earliest reference in history, outside of the Bible, is by some obscure writer 200 years after Christ’s birth.
All this suggests that Nazareth was an insignificant town.
It’s no wonder that when Jesus first calls his disciple Nathaniel in John 1:46, Nathaniel says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
How can anything significant come from such an insignificant town?
v.2 When the Sabbath came, Jesus 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?
There are certain teachers who, when then teach, you can tell that they have a special gifting. For example, John Piper preaches with an alluring passion; Paul Tripp teaches with humor, and then, all of a sudden, he cuts you to the heart; James KA Smith is extremely profound and articulate when he teaches. When you listen to people like that, you think, “This is amazing! I could listen to this for hours!”
This is how the people in Jesus’ hometown felt when they heard him teach in their place of worship, the synagogue. They thought, “Wow! I mean, really, wow!”
Jesus’ teaching was unlike anything they had ever heard.
They rightly ask: “Where did he get these things? Where does this wisdom come from?” In addition to his teaching, they had seen and heard about his miraculous healings. They rightly ask, “What is this about and where does this power come from?”
Those are all the right questions.
In Luke’s version of this story, he tells us that Jesus doesn’t keep them guessing. In Luke 4, Jesus reads an OT passage about the Messiah and then says, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “I am the Messiah this passage is talking about!”
The point is: Jesus presents these people with insurmountable evidence:
- Here’s a man who speaks with the very power, wisdom, and authority of God—who could he be?
- Here’s a man who performs the very miracles of God—who might he be?
- Here’s a man who claims that he is the Messiah sent by God—who could he possibly be?
Yet, how do they respond to this evidence?
v.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.
Notice, there are two major criticisms they launch against him:
The first is: Isn’t this the carpenter? In other words, isn’t Jesus just a blue collar worker? How can the meaning of life come from someone like him? The Messiah isn’t going to be a plumber or a mechanic or logger. Even though the group of people saying these things are mostly blue collar workers—they exhibit a class bias against Jesus.
The second criticism is: Isn’t this Mary’s son? Some scholars suggest that referring to him as “Mary’s son” is an intentional slur—referencing how he was conceived out of wedlock. An illegitimate bastard. But most scholars agree that they refer to him as “Mary’s son” because Joseph is no longer alive.
The criticism isn’t that Jesus was born out of wedlock. The criticism is that Mary is one of them. This is why they continue by saying, “Aren’t his brothers and sisters here with us.” It’s he one of us? In other words, he can’t be somebody special because he is just an ordinary person like the rest of us. Why should we listen to you?
We can relate to their response because this happens to us still today:
- As pastors: Someone will come up to us and say, “I was just went to a Christian conference and this big name speaker was there and it was so great because he told us that when we read the OT—you can see Jesus in the OT! It was so lifechanging for me!” (Really? As pastors, we say that pretty much every Sunday! But you finally hear it because it was from some big name speaker…)
- Or as a parent: Your child says, “I was over at my friends house and it was so great because I talked to their dad and he said that it’s really important to start thinking about my career now. That was so lifechanging for me! I’m going to do it!” (Really? You haven’t heard that from me every week for the last 3 years?)
- Or a friend will say, “I was talking to my therapist and she pointed out that sometimes I can be a little controlling and that I need to stop trying to manipulate things that are outside of my control. It’s so freeing and lifechanging for me!” (Really? We’ve talked about this so many times! Yet, you talk to your counselor about it one time—and now you hear it?)
Why is it that at a conference, the best speaker, is the one from the farthest distance away?
Here’s why: Familiarity breeds contempt. And if not contempt, then, at least indifference. If you live right next to the railroad tracks—you eventually stop hearing the trains. The people who are close to you don’t listen to you because they are close to you. You are ordinary, everyday, run-of-the mill.
This is infuriating beyond belief, except for the fact that we regularly do it ourselves! We don’t listen to the people who are closest to us.
Why is it that a husband won’t listen to his wife when she challenges some of his behavior, but he will listen to an acquaintance at work? Why is it that a wife won’t listen to her husband when he points out an area to grow, but she will listen to the women who don’t know her very well from her book club?
And yet, this is the person who knows you best and loves you the most!
Don’t dismiss what people say just because they are ordinary or close to you—there’s a reason God has them in your life—they are the very people God wants you to listen to! Pastors and friends and family; don’t dismiss them because they are ordinary and “one of you.”
It’s no wonder Jesus says in v.4: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”
Call it: the home court disadvantage. We have a tendency not to listen to those who are closest to us. It’s a propensity that we must guard against.
This is what the people of Nazareth do to Jesus.
Even so, the people of Nazareth ultimately reject Jesus for a deeper reason.
This is pointed out in v.5-6: He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
In the previous 4 stories in Mark, people have been amazed at Jesus’ power. He calms the storm, casts out demons, heals a hemorrhaging woman, and raises a 12-year old girl from the dead. In each instance, people are amazed, astonished at Jesus! But now, in turn, Jesus is amazed at the people from his hometown—amazed at their lack of faith!
So much so, he couldn’t do any miracles there except “lay his hand on a few sick people and heal them.” In other words, because no one believed that Jesus was God the Messiah—very few came to him for help. It’s not that Jesus was incapable of healing, instead, they were incapable of coming. He could only heal the few that came.
And this is the root of their problem. These people from Jesus’ hometown had sufficient evidence. They heard his teaching. They saw his miracles. The heard his claims.
At the root of their rejection of Jesus was a lack of faith. An unwillingness to believe. They were in the grip of an irrational animosity toward God.
The Bible teaches that at the heart of human nature is a spiritual disposition against God. A visceral bent toward rejecting him:
- Romans 8:7: The mind governed by the flesh is hostile toward God.
- 1 Cor 2:14: The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness.
In other words, people may come with intellectual and rational reasons for not believing in Jesus, but that reasoning is merely in service to a heart that doesn’t want to follow him.
Atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagal writes: It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
The people of Nazareth have their reasons for not believing in Jesus. But those reasons are in service to a heart that doesn’t want God.
What does this mean?
It means that you might be presented with compelling reasons for God:
- The fact the entire universe if perfectly calibrated for life,
- The fact that we all adhere to a standard of morality even though naturalism can’t explain it,
- The fact that we all long for meaning and justice and believe in love.
These are all clues that there exists a transcendent God. And yet, there’s a part of us that doesn’t want it to be true. Why would we want a king to rule over us when we can rule over ourselves?
For the people of Nazareth, they didn’t want it to be true. So they rejected Jesus.
And yet, mysteriously, the rejection of Jesus is at the heart of why people change their minds and end up giving their lives to him. There’s something attractive about Jesus’ willingness to embrace rejection.
When Jesus says, “A prophet is without honor in his hometown,” he’s not just talking about Nazareth. He’s the king of the Jews. His hometown is also the town of Jerusalem. This is the city of King David. The home of the King. It’s where God’s throne is in the temple. And this story is a foreshadowing of what would happen there. When Jesus enters the King’s Hometown of Jerusalem, they also rejected him. He was arrested, tortured, and crucified.
He died for the people rejecting him. He died rejected—embracing the people who were against him.
- Like a soldier fights for the freedom of his nation even though the nation doesn’t appreciate it.
- Like an athlete who keeps playing for the fans—even though the fans have given up.
- Like a parent who keeps praying for her child, even though the child is rebelling.
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 5:8, says: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There is something beautiful and attractive in that.
And that is what Jesus has done for us.