I remember when in 1959 a local favorite from Brandon, Mississippi, was selected as “Miss America.” Her name was Mary Ann Mobley. When she made a home-town appearance during her reigning year, all the pomp and publicity that a town of 2,200 could generate was set in motion. The high school band played, at least forty times, the recent top ten pop tune “Mary Ann.” A convertible ride around the town square ended with a drive down a curving street that went to a residential area beyond the Methodist church where Mary Ann’s house was. The street was then named, “Mary Ann Drive.” It is hard for us to conceive of contempt being the dominant response to greatness. When Jesus returned to his hometown, however, after an itinerancy of amazing, God-like teachings and works, his obvious competence set up an occasion for resentment, doubt, and rejection. This would allow him to prepare his disciples for the same kind of response.
I. Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth gave him a lukewarm reception.
A. He taught with astonishing effect. The listeners recognized that they had never heard the kind of clear, insightful authoritative teaching done by Jesus. “Where did this man get these things?”
B. They asked questions that should have led to right conclusions.
- How did he get the wisdom to teach with such authority? They recognized that his word and applications were filled with a wisdom beyond the reach of other (“Given to him”), truly a wisdom “greater than Solomon” (Matthew 12:42).
- From where does the power come to do such miracles? They even saw miracles performed “by his hands,” and knew that that also must be given from an extraordinary source. While they did not conclude that he was in league with Satan and performed his work by Satan’s power, still they did not follow through with a fitting answer to a relevant question.
C. They made observations that were unworthy of the profundity of the questions. Their prejudices about his insignificant background, their familiarity with his history and his family kept them from making a rational observation about what they heard and saw. Having eyes to see, they did not see; having ears to hear, they did not hear (cf. 4:12).
- They knew him as a tradesman whose profession would not afford an opportunity for advanced training or sophisticated scriptural or theological reasoning. He was “the carpenter.”
- They knew his mother Mary, his four brothers, and his sisters. The town probably was aware of the attempt of his family to get him from the limelight of both adulation and opposition (3:21, 31). Not only did they know his family as ordinary persons in a sub-ordinary town (cf. John 1:46), but they knew his family had some degree of embarrassment about his sense of personal importance.
D. Jesus pointed out the effects of unbelief.
- Jesus quoted a common proverb as related to his case. Jesus began his response with the common observation that familiarity breeds contempt. It is generally true that a person who gains widespread appreciation for excellence in some field will be slower to be received as deserving by those who have known the person as a peer and contemporary.
- Their resistance, however, was so strong that they even refused, for the most part, to come to him for healing. Though they had heard of this and even remarked about his power to do the miraculous, they would not consent to the implications of these things. Probably they were aware that coming for such help implied an acceptance of messianic status; they were not willing to concede this.
- Toward such deep resistance to this implication, Jesus exhibited amazement. The hardness of the human heart in recognizing its need for transformation and forgiveness was truly unfathomable. In the face of irrefutable evidence, even hometown acquaintances and family will not come to one who implies their need for a Lord to save them and rule over them.
- Rejected in his own village, Jesus again went to his itinerant ministry in the villages nearby. In Mark’s gospel, this was the last time he went to a synagogue to teach.
II. Jesus sent the message to surrounding villages. Here Jesus begins what Mark had announced as the reason for the selection of the twelve (3:14, 15)—to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.
A. Jesus sent the twelve to expand the ministry of preaching and manifestation of compassionate power.
- He gave preparation for opposition
- “Unclean spirits” – Jesus knew that the resistance of Satan to this beginning of an expanded ministry of preaching would be opposed with particular violence by Satan. As a auxiliary to their preaching ministry they would show not only the message of full salvation, but the power of the ultimate demise of Satan.
- Unreceptive villages – As his own village had shown resistance to the words and works of Jesus himself, these villages would in many cases resist the message of such wandering messengers. He gave them specific instructions on dealing with the variety of responses they would encounter.
- They would spread the word as Jesus had presented in the parable of the sower and the soils (4:1-9), the parable of the mystery concerning how seed grows and produces a mature plant (4:26-29), and the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32). They would sow and would find rocky soil, shallow soil, hungry birds, and some good productive soil.
- They were to travel light and be dependent on positive response to their message.
- In order to cover as much ground as possible, they were not to linger where there was no evidence of a readiness. If soon after entering the city and preaching, they were received into a home, they would stay with room and board provided by their hosts.
- Their journey was to be unencumbered with any weight but only a staff that would be a help in crossing some of the terrain. Perhaps the staff also was reminiscent of the presence of God with Moses. These were the beginning stages of forming a new people for the Lord as Moses had been called to give formation to the Israelites as a nation.
- With no believing response, they were to leave with a symbolic gesture of separating themselves from that group of unbelievers. Now, only believers were to be considered as their brothers, fellow children of God.
- They were to preach and show compassion on the sick and those oppressed by the demonic.
- They cast out demons in the name of Jesus and also healed many people by anointing them with oil, a symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit in such healings.
- They preached that men should repent. This is a summary of their content. Surely it included things that Jesus already had taught them and what they had observed in his ministry. The message of repentance would be in the context of the forming of a New Covenant people. Repentance would show the work of the Holy Spirit as active in the life of the hearer (1:8, 10; 3:28, 29) even as he was active in their healing. They would preach that Jesus came to forgive sins (2:5) and that he directly claimed to be the Lord (5:19, 20). They would give testimony to his power over nature, disease, and the demonic and that he is the one who had given them such power as well as the commission to preach.
B. They went to do as he said.
- They preached that men should repent. As from the beginning in the preaching of John the Baptist, this also implied a belief in the Messiah with a dependence on him for forgiveness of sins. This repentance involved, not just a sorrow for sin, but a determination of mind and heart to live justly toward men and with cordial love and worship toward God.
- They manifested the power of the gospel over the forces of Satan. This was not their native power but was granted them by Christ. It was connected with the preaching of repentance to show that the rescue from the power of darkness was intrinsically connected with the gospel. This anticipates the culmination of Jesus’ victory when by his death, “He destroy[ed] him that had the power of death–that is, the devil–and free[d] those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
- They anointed with oil for healing. The power of healing was not in the oil but in their dependence on the healing power of the Holy Spirit. True health and ultimate freedom from the corruption of these fallen bodies come only from redemption through the death of Christ and his resurrection. The believers’ union with him in this victory is effected by the Spirit by whom we “are being transformed into the same image [of Christ] from glory to glory” culminating in the resurrection. This same symbolic presentation of dependence on the Spirit was the in the order set forth by James for the sick (James 5:14).
III. Jesus received his sent-messengers for them to report their experiences (30-32). Though it would not last long, this was to be a time of rest, reflection on what had happened, and further instruction.