Unbelief (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
July 10, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: Mark 6:1–6:13
PROPER 9/B (2018): Ezek. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:1-10; Mk. 6:1-13
Unbelief, And [Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief (v. 6a).
God recapitulates, that is, in word and mighty deeds he continually restates his saving love toward man, having its fullness in the crucified man, Jesus. The cross is history’s apex to which all events are directed and from which mankind in these end times moves to its conclusion, the Last Day.
Unbelievers on the other hand miss time’s overall linear march. Instead time is observed consisting of repetitious eternal cycles or “rhyming” of events. George Santayana famously observed, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”
And there is some truth to this; but not of a cosmos in endless flux and recycle; rather the “rhyming” that the world observes is coincident of God’s recapitulating word and deed. God repeats, repeats, and repeats in our hearing and sight by his word and deeds directing us to Christ, the Crucified.
A cosmos that is cyclical, over-against one generated by God’s word, begets a disparate outlook. For the unbeliever, man is a bit player; hoping in the wax and wane of time, that by luck, by-golly, and personal wit, to catch and ride the flow of history’s atomic clock.
The believer, on the other hand, is oriented by God’s scriptural revelation of himself, comprehending that man’s existence is not a mindless evolutionary product of eternal repetitions; rather in Credo we acknowledge, “God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”. The Creator has established a beginning of time into which he inserts his will and dominion, determining an end of days. But what does this matter for us?
Well, Jesus’ home congregation correctly observed that he is a “man” (Mk. 6:2). Depending on one’s outlook then, Jesus is either a bit player in the endless permutations of cycles; or man’s continued rejection of Jesus crucified as apex of God’s salvific love for sinful men betokens judgment.
Jesus entered his hometown following an extraordinary proclamation of God’s dominion come to Jewish Galilee and the Gentile Decapolis calling all to repentance and belief in him. With Jesus’ arrival, the biblical end time signs swirled all about him in galactic array.
Jesus taught with an authority the equal of Scripture and wisdom beyond Moses. He confronted demons that bound and blinded men, commanding their departure to recapture the world for God. Jesus restored, in the destructive wake of sin and Satan, abandoned bodies and spirits, to a wholeness anticipating the new creation.
Nazareth’s failure to see and hear Jesus as the dénouement of salvation history and the subject of Scripture’s recapitulations was a culpable rejection of God’s gracious love in his final revelation in the “the Man”. Consider the re-capitulatory sampling, expressed and implied, in today’s liturgical Readings.
Israel lived under the dominion of Satan’s house in Egypt, servile hell. God gave Moses to the people, one of their own, as a deliverer. Moses confronted Pharaoh, the strong man of Egypt, bound him and plundered his house. God named these former slaves, his “Israel”, and “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22).
Reminiscent of Jesus in today’s Gospel sending out the Twelve, YHWH commanded Israel to leave all behind, save a pair of sandals and a staff (Ex. 12:11), so that his people were to trust in him for all provision. Now here is a mystery, of those Israelites that exited Egypt through the sea, many would rebel, rejecting their Savior-God, Moses his deliverer, and despise his provision.
Once delivered into the Promised Land, Israel turned away from God. Then the ten northern tribes were consigned into the devil’s thrall, an absorption into Gentile Assyria; lost forever. In the south, Judah refused to serve the Lord and so were made to serve demonic Babylon.
God called Ezekiel to speak to Israel in Babylon, “‘Thus says the Lord YHWH.’… [W]hether they listen or do not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezek. 2:4b, 5). The knowledge that a prophet was in their midst provided the germ and substance of Israel’s and our rebellious culpability. This too is a mystery; that the people God desired refused to listen and to see; still the prophet must proclaim both judgment and grace.
A funny thing happened in Jesus’ hometown synagogue. His teaching, wisdom, and power initially impressed his neighbors. Then suddenly he was offensive to them. He had come to his own (Jn. 1:11) and they rejected his call to repentance though in him God’s word and deeds were manifold and manifest.
Jesus’ neighbors angrily rejected the “man” from God, implicitly joining those claiming his works were as agent of Beelzebub (Mk. 3:22). In such an environment it is facile to merely observe, “that familiarity breeds contempt”.
Something more was and is going on, something we have been calling a mystery; not merely about Nazareth and the religious establishment of Jerusalem; but history’s recapitulations rejecting God’s salvation in Christ, continuing in these end times.
Earlier Jesus had taught about this mystery; of hatred’s irrational rejection of God’s grace and love. In the vein of God to Ezekiel, “whether they listen or do not”; Jesus doubled down, saying to his Twelve, “To you has been given the mystery of the dominion of God; but to those outside… in order that in their looking they may look but not see, and in their hearing they may hear but not understand; lest they turn and it be forgiven them” (Mk. 4:11, 12).
So today we have some idea that recognizes Jesus as a man, both for forgiveness and un-forgiveness the core of rebellion against God. The scandal into which people fall is Jesus’ humanity, perhaps especially today in broader “Christendom”.
Jesus’ crucified body and drained blood is the exclusive means of world’s salvation; but to many this is offends. False teachers and Protestant “divines” within the pale of the church continue to posit with Zwingli that Jesus’ “flesh profits nothing” (Jn. 6:63b, when in fact Jesus spoke of our sinful flesh in apposition to his own, profiting everything).
Is it any wonder that family members exposed to false teachers no longer worship Eucharistically conjoined in the crucified and risen flesh of Christ given to make us holy? Many have concluded, “At this point, what can it possibly matter!”
In today’s Epistle St. Paul addresses the matter against those he dubs “super-apostles”. These no doubt were errant pastors, preachers, and teachers come down from of Jerusalem with the appearance of true Christians. Against these “super-apostle’s” various enthusiastic teachings, that is, a faith divorced from the crucified humanity of Jesus in word and sacrament, they implicitly taught “another Jesus”, “a different Spirit” and “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
But St. Paul counters all false teachers who insinuate into the congregation. He associates himself with Jesus’ humanity for salvation and for judgment. Paul would not have the Corinthians “see in him or hear from [him]” (12:6) one boasting of personal paradisiac experience or private revelation apart from the cross.
For Paul there is no boasting of things that are unhelpful for salvation. Paul boasts only in what Christ has given him for glory from the Father, his human weaknesses intensified by a satanic thorn in the flesh (vv. 5, 7, 8), so to preach and know nothing other than “the man” Jesus crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) for the world’s unbelief.
Jesus’ hometown, those who “knew” him best, are mysteriously blinded. Jesus is so struck by this Divine determinism that Mark observes, “And [Jesus] was dumbfounded [which is to say, the word of God was rendered speechless] because of their unbelief.” Amen.