Mark 6:5

Whether the narratives of the three synoptic evangelists refer to one visit to Nazareth or to two visits, is a question which has been eagerly discussed. Give suggestions for the settlement of the dispute. Possibly such discrepancies were allowed to exist that we might care less for the material, and more for the spiritual element in the Gospels; that we might concern ourselves less with external incidents in the life of Jesus, and more with the Christ who liveth for evermore. Those who rejected our Lord at Nazareth have their followers in the present day, who are influenced by similar motives. let us discover the reasons and the results of their conduct.

I. INDIFFERENCE TO CHRIST SOMETIMES ARISES FROM FAMILIARITY WITH HIS SURROUNDINGS. The inhabitants of an Alpine village live for years under the shadow of a snow-clad mountain, or within hearing of a splendid fall which comes foaming down its rocky bed; but they do not turn aside for a moment to glance at that which we have come many miles to see. This indifference, bred of familiarity, characterized the Nazarenes. They had known the great Teacher as a child, and had watched his growth to manhood. He did not come upon them out of obscurity, as a startling phenomenon demanding attention; but they knew the education he had received, the teachers at whose feet he had been sitting, the ordinary work he had done, etc. Jesus himself acknowledged the influence of this, when he said, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." We warn our hearers against similar peril; for there are many who have known their Bibles from childhood, who remember the old pictures which at first aroused some interest in it, who have attended public worship for years, and yet their lives are prayerless, and it may be said of them, "God is not in all their thoughts." Beware of that familiarity with sacred things which will deaden spiritual sensibility. Most of all, let us who think and speak and work for Christ pray that our hearts may ever be filled with light and love, and may be kept strong in spiritual power.

II. CONTEMPT FOR CHRIST SOMETIMES SPRINGS FROM ASSOCIATION WITH HIS FRIENDS "Is not this... the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?" Possibly there was nothing known about them which was in antagonism to the truth and purity Jesus proclaimed, but as there was nothing wonderful about them, it was the more difficult to believe there was anything Divine about him. Far more reasonably, however, does the world misjudge our Lord because of what is seen in us. Earthly, ordinary, and spiritually feeble as we are, we nevertheless represent him. He speaks of truth, and is "the Truth," yet sometimes the world asks concerning his disciples, "Where is their sincerity and transparency?" We profess to uphold righteousness, yet in business, and politics, and home-life we sometimes swerve from our integrity. let there be but living witnesses in the world such as by God's grace we might become, and through whom there should be the outgoings of spiritual power, and then society would be shaken to its very foundations. When the rulers saw the boldness of Peter and John - the moral change wrought in these Galilean peasants - "they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus;" and "seeing the man who had been cured" standing beside them, as the result of their work, "they could say nothing against it."

III. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST BRINGS ABOUT A WITHDRAWAL OF HIS INFLUENCE. "He could there do no mighty work." He could not. His power was omnipotent, but it conditioned itself, as infinite power always does in this world; and by this limitation it was not lessened, but was glorified as moral and spiritual power. In Nazareth there was an absence of the ethical condition, on the existence of which miracles depended - an absence, namely, of that faith which has its root in sincerity. If we have that, all else is simplified; if we have it not, we bind the hands of the Redeemer, who cannot do his mighty work, of giving us pardon and peace, because of our unbelief. Christ marvels at it. He does not wish to leave us, but he must; and old impressions become feebler, the once sensitive heart becomes duller, and we become "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Nevertheless, he leaves not himself without a witness. If he must quit Nazareth, he will go "round about the villages teaching," encircling the town with the revelations of power which it will not receive into its midst. And though he "can do no mighty work" such as Capernaum had seen, he will lovingly "lay his hands upon a few sick folk," who in an unbelieving city have faith to be healed. "Thou despisest not the sighing of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as be sorrowful." - A.R.

And He could there do no mighty work.
Our plan will be to give you in the first place CERTAIN REASONS, WHERE THE UNBELIEF WAS STRONGEST, THE MIRACLES WERE FEW; and then in the second place, to examine THE PARTICULAR TERMS IN WHICH ST. MARK SPEAKS OF OUR LORD'S CONDUCT AT NAZARETH. Now the first thing to be observed is, that, though our Lord wrought not many miracles among His countrymen, He wrought some: so that they were not wholly without the means of conviction. Undoubtedly it is altogether a mistake to imagine that miracles give evidence in proportion as they are multiplied; it would not be difficult to prove, that the reverse of this is nearer the matter of fact. But if more and greater miracles would have made them believers, why did He not work more and greater? Do you not know that God deals with men as with rational creatures; and that if He were to make proof irresistible, men would virtually cease to be accountable. It is God's course to do what is sufficient to assist you, but not what will compel you to be saved. But we do not see any reason to suppose that it was exclusively in judgment, and in order to punish the obstinacy of His countrymen, that our Lord refrained from working miracles in Nazareth. Christ, in virtue of His omniscience, saw that He should be rejected, even if He wrought many wonders. He would determine, in virtue of His benevolence, to work only few. You cannot but see that individuals are often favoured for a time with spiritual advantages, and then placed in circumstances where those advantages are wanting. But we shall let you more thoroughly into an understanding of the conduct of our Lord, if we now examine, in the second place, more particularly, the TERMS IN WHICH THAT CONDUCT IS DESCRIBED IN OUR TEXT. You observe that St. Mark represents it as not having been altogether optional with Christ, whether or no He would work many mighty miracles in Nazareth; he rather speaks of actual inability: "He could there do no mighty works." "He was unable," is the original, "to do there any mighty work." In what sense, then, are we to suppose that He was unable? We are sure He was not unable in the sense of deficiency, so that the inability must be interpreted as meaning, not that our Lord was actually unable, but unable consistently with certain fixed principles, with what was due to His own character and mission. You may find, indeed, some few exceptions to this rule in the narratives of the evangelists; but ordinarily you will perceive that our Lord inquired into the faith of the party before He made that party the subject of a miracle; as though, unless two things concurred — power on one side, and belief on the other — there was to be no supernatural working. But still, when we have shown that our Lord's rule throws no suspicion on His miracles, it will naturally be inquired why such a rule was prescribed and enforced. Say what we will, the miracle would have been more striking if wrought on an unbeliever; and it seems strange to ask that faith as a preliminary, which you are accustomed to look for as a consequence. On this we have to observe, that a miracle, though it required faith in its actual subject, did not require faith in the bystanders, and might, therefore, be instrumental in subduing their unbelief. But, if what Christ did for a diseased body were emblematic of what He would do for a diseased soul, how natural, how necessary, that He should require faith in those who sought to be healed. Otherwise, as you may all have remarked, it might have been thought that Christ would heal unconditionally as a spiritual physician. If faith be surprising from what its possession can effect, it is yet more surprising from what its non-possession can effect. And shall we doubt, men and brethren, that there is much the same baneful energy in our own unbelief, as in that of the Nazarenes? "The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." So that even as the want of faith in the men of Nazareth prevented Christ from showing Himself as a worker of miracles, so may want of faith in ourselves, prevent Him from showing Himself as the Healer of souls.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

What an idea it gives us of the wonder-working power of Jesus — that to "lay His hands on a few sick folk, and heal them," was not accounted as any very "mighty" thing. And how irrepressible must be that grace which, even where it was restrained, must go forth, and go forth savingly, to some. Happy some! who in the midst of that wilderness of faithlessness, retained their faith, and carried off faith's reward. A type of that little, blessed band in every age whom the Lord chooses, and the Lord heals — as if to show in them what all life had been, if only all life had had faith. Great and many are the things which God has done for every one of us, they are but as nothing in comparison with what He might have done, and would have done, if only we had let Him. Now remember that the place was Nazareth — the most privileged spot of the whole earth; for there, of thirty-three years, Jesus spent nearly thirty. There, His holy boyhood, and the piety of His early manhood, had shed their lustre. And now, mark this, brethren — true to nature, true to the experience of the Church — true to the convictions of every heart — in the minds of the men of Nazareth there was an unholy familiarity with holy things — with the name, and the person, and the work, and the truth of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in the minds of the men of Nazareth, there was the usual consequence of that kind of familiarity — they looked at the external, till they were absorbed in the external. They had no faith — the material view destroyed the spiritual. They grovelled in the confidence of an outside knowledge till they became steeped in unbelief. Am I wrong in my fear that the more light, the less love; and that faith has retired as knowledge has advanced? There are two great truths which we must always lay down as fundamental principles. One is, that the love and beneficence of God are always welling and waiting, like some gushing fountain, to pour themselves out to all His creatures. And the other, that there must be a certain state of mind to contain it — a preparation of the heart to receive the gift — both, indeed, of grace, but the one the moral condition of the soul previous and absolutely necessary to the other. Before you can have the gift, you must believe the Giver. Continually God is communicating the power to believe, in order that afterwards He may fill the vessel of your belief with every possible good. But then, all depends on the way in which you welcome and cherish that first imparting of the grace of the Spirit. Without it, not another drop will flow. You go to your knees in prayer, and, within the range of the promises, there is no limit to the answers which God has covenanted to that prayer.

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)



1. Is it because God is unwilling to save sinners? His nature, etc., forbid such an idea.

2. Is it that God is unable to save?

3. Is it that the benefits of the atonement are limited to a few?

4. Is it that there is some defect in the Gospel? Man is the cause — unbelief.Conclusion:

1. Unbelief is absurd and unreasonable. God has ever kept His word.

2. Unbelief is absolutely criminal. Implies forgetfulness of past favours, etc.

3. Unbelief is ruinous. It prevents man's salvation, etc.

4. The great importance of faith.

(A. Weston.)


1. Unlimited and perfect knowledge belong to God alone.

2. Absolute uncertainty and doubt can be attributed to no intelligence whatever. Faith is a necessary condition in the spiritual life and prayers of all finite intelligences.


1. We are constantly exercising faith in inferior matters.

2. The evidence of the gospel is of the highest and most satisfactory kind.


1. If it is the result of non-examination of evidence, there is sin of neglect.

2. If he has examined, and still does not believe, there must be mental inaptitude or moral resistance.


The unbelief of the Nazarenes was a wonder to our Lord. The wonder was "real," says Cardinal Cajetan, being "caused" by the Saviour's "experimental inaquaintance" with such an unreasonable state of mind. It was "real" on another account. Unbelief in such circumstances as those of the Nazarenes was actually a most remarkable thing. It had a cause indeed; it had occasions; but it had no reason for its existence. Far less had it a sufficient reason; it was, that is to say, utterly unreasonable. It should not have been; it was an utter anomaly. So is all sin (see Jeremiah 2:12). It is an exceedingly strange phenomenon in the universe of God, and may well be wondered at. If wonder indeed were always the daughter of ignorance, one might wonder at Christ's wonder. Schleusner and Kuinol wondered, and rendered the word, not wondered, but was angry. Fritzsche, too, wondered, and while too precise a scholar to admit that the word could mean was angry, he proposed that we should correct the text and read it thus, and, because of their unbelief, they wondered (viz., at Jesus). But one may most reasonably wonder at such feats and freaks of exegesis. There is nothing really wonderful in Christ's wonder. While it is the case that there is a vulgar wonder, which is the daughter of ignorance and dies when knowledge is attained, it is also the case that there is another wonder, of noble origin, the daughter of knowledge. This wonder dwells in the loftiest minds, and is immortal.

(J. Morison, D. D.)

What men marvel at indicates their character. It shows what manner of spirit they are of, on what level they are moving, how high they have risen, or how low they have sunk on the scale of being. And I do not know that we ever feel the immense interval between ourselves and the Son of Man more keenly than when we compare that which astonishes us with that which astonished Him. To us, as a rule, the word miracles denotes more physical wonders; and these are so wonderful to us as to be well-nigh incredible. But in Him they awake no astonishment. He never speaks of them with the faintest accent of surprise. He set so little store by them that He often seemed reluctant to work them, and openly expressed His wish that those on or for whom they had been wrought would tell no man of them...What does astonish Him is not these outward wonders so surprising to us, but chat inward wonder, the mystery of man's soul, the miraculous power which we often exercise without a thought of surprise, the power of shutting and opening that door or window of the soul which looks heavenward, and through which alone the glories of the spiritual world can stream in upon us. Only twice are we told that He marvelled to whom all the secrets of Nature and Life lay open — once at the unbelief of men, and once at their faith (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9).

(S. Cox, D. D.)

God's plan of impressing spiritual truths is not by demonstration. Christianity has no irresistible proof. If it had, there would be neither unbelievers nor Christians, for in such a case there would be no such thing as faith, but only knowledge, and a Christian is a man who has knowledge but who also lives by faith. Religion would be pursued and practised as mathematics are, or as science is when mathematics are applied to it. But observe under what system we should then be placed. Man would not be capable of moral freedom in conducting his life and forming his character. He would think of God and of his soul and its interests in the way in which a man builds up the propositions of geometry; his convictions would be the theorems, and his actions the problems which were fastened to one another by iron links. Man would be a creature of mind, but where would there be room for his heart and its loving surrender to God, for his will and its resolve to listen to the Divine voice and obey it? These can only exist where man has power to give himself away, i.e., where he has moral freedom. And if we take away freedom and love and will in man's relation to God, there would be no meaning in them as between man and man. If we destroy the source there can be no streams, and sympathy and love and gratitude, the feelings which unite men in families and friendships, cease to exist; these have their life, not in necessary chains of reasoning, but in the free exchange of the soul. In such a world God might be a supreme architect and mechanician, building up a universe by fixed physical laws; He might even be an author of scientific thought leading forth intellects into higher and wider investigations in the track of His own creations; but He could not be a Father and Friend, drawing to Him the love of children for the glimpses they have of the supreme beauty of His purity, and the pulsations that come throbbing from the love of His heart. The universe might be a temple, but where would be the worshippers with songs of love and joy and self-devotion?...God could not make spiritual truths subject to the laws of mental demonstration, without making them no more spiritual — without depriving man of his freedom, and leaving him no room for his heart and conscience and spirit. If there are to be ties of sympathy between man and God, and an immortality which has in its bosom an eternal life, man must be dealt with as capable, not only of knowledge, but of the choice of love. God has made man capable of faith, but therefore also of unbelief; the kind of proof He gives him may persuade, but will not constrain. God does not force His own existence upon men.

(John Ker, D. D.)

We begin, then —

I. With SPECULATIVE UNBELIEF; that unbelief which shapes itself into a creed, denying either the being of a God or the inspiration of the Bible. And we say it is a marvel, whether regarded as a matter of taste or of judgment, as a matter of taste, or preference, or choice. We are astonished that any man should be willing to disbelieve these great facts. Take atheism. Even if there be no God, still we should suppose that any intelligent being would wish there were one. The simple idea of living in a world, sustained and managed by no almighty and benevolent intelligence, and which the next hour some tremendous brute and blind force might shatter and send back to the old primordial chaos, this very thought is so dreadful that our very instincts recoil from it. Even if atheism were a logical belief, we should expect every man to argue against it — that men of philosophy and science would go abroad through creation, climbing every mountain, traversing every desert, sounding every ocean, descending into all the spectral caverns of geology, ascending all the sublime heights of astronomy, questioning all phenomena, or forces, or forms of nature, in the intensest agony of a desire to find evidences for a God, crying in the words and accents of a child searching for an absent father, "O tell me, tell me! have you not seen Him? have you not heard Him? In all these broad realms is there no print of His footsteps? no trace of His handiwork? Am I, indeed, a poor, wretched, forlorn orphan? O tell me, tell me! is there not a God?" Now, I repeat it, all this is simply marvellous. It is marvellous that a man should choose rather to be a creature of chance than child of Jehovah; and more marvellous that he should take testimony rather of pulsating spawn than of soaring seraphim, and choose rather to follow a reptile's trail in the mire to God's awful grave, than mount exultingly in the glorious track of an archangel to God's everlasting throne.

II. That PRACTICAL UNBELIEF which consists in a personal rejection of the gospel of Christ, as manifest in the man who, believing in God, and accepting the Bible as His inspired Word, yet goes on, from day to day, putting his eternity away from him as carelessly — yea, as resolutely as if he stood boldly forth with the infidel, professing to believe that God is but a phantom, and the Bible a lie. We say the attitude of this man is even more wonderful than the other. We are less astonished at an intellectual mistake than at a great practical blunder. We are not so profoundly shocked when a blind man walks off a precipice as when a man does the thing when possessed of all his senses, and with his eyes wide open. To believe that in this world of probation we are positively working out our own salvation, absolutely settling the question whether we are to be saved or whether we are to be lost; that there is a heaven of inconceivable and everlasting happiness and glory, and yet turn madly away when its gates are lifted up to our immortal footsteps — is to make exhibition of a folly immeasurable, and all the angels of heaven must stand astonished at the spectacle, and the omniscient Son of God "marvels at our unbelief."

(C. Wadsworth, D. D.)

I. WHO marvelled? The Son of God. He did not marvel amiss.

II. AT WHOM did He marvel? At the men of Galilee. He had been brought up among them.

III. AT WHAT did He marvel? Why, at their unbelief.

1. Because it was so unreasonable. He had done everything to prevent it.

2. It was so unkind. He had yearned over them.

3. It was so sinful.

4. It was so unprofitable.

5. It was so dangerous.

6. It was so wilful.

1. Sinner, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

2. Anxious soul, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

3. Backslider, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

4. Believer, Jesus marvels at your unbelief.

(H. Bonar, D. D.)


1. The wonderful forms of unbelief that are found among the professed people of God.

(a)At times they doubt the wisdom of providence.

(b)Mistrust of the Divine faithfulness.

(c)The efficacy of prayer is doubted.

(d)The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(e)The efficacy of the precious blood of Christ.

2. Why they are so wonderful.

(a)Because of believers relationship to the Father and the Lord Jesus.

(b)Because faith is backed up by such wonderful historical facts.

(c)The personal experience of the present.

(d)It is wonderful when we consider our own beliefs.


1. You have no saving trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

2. Some are afraid theirs is an exceptional case.

3. Such unbelief is marvellous because —

(a)The cause is inexcusable.

(b)With some of you it is little more than a mere whim.

(c)It causes you so much grief,

(d)It has existed so long.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Unbelief, as regards Jesus Christ, is surprising because of —


II. THE NUMBER AND POWER OF THE EVIDENCES WHICH ENCOURAGE FAITH IN HIM. The people whose unbelief amazed Jesus had many and weighty reasons for faith.

1. His holy life.

2. His wise teaching (ver. 2; Luke 4:22).

3. His mighty works (ver. 2).

4. The agreement of these things with the Messianic predictions (Luke 4:18-21).


1. Foregoes the most precious blessings.

2. Incurs the most terrible condemnation (John 3:16-19; John 8:24).

(W. Joules.)

I. UNBELIEF RESTRAINS CHRIST. His beneficence was restrained by the lack of faith. While Jesus never defined faith, He did not demand great faith before He blessed men, but responded to the weakest. But the absence of faith restrained Him. The reason of this. Sceptics sometimes object that Christ's miracles were a matter of faith...There was no real cure...They use the word faith as if synonymous with imagination, excitement, etc. But a lame man cannot possibly imagine himself able to walk, etc. It is not the faith of a frenzied, heated imagination, but the faith that gave up to Christ to do as He pleased, etc. This was essential. Is often illustrated in common life. You cannot know the skill of your physician until you trust him. You cannot know the full benefit of friendship until you trust your friend. A regiment cannot prove the military skill and courage of their captain until they trust him.

II. Unbelief ASTONISHES Christ. He has shown His power in manifold ways. He has promised His grace and strength, and He is astonished that we still refuse to trust Him. The argument for trusting Christ gathers strength every day. The reproach of unbelief gathers strength every day.

(Colmer B. Symes, B. A.)


1. Unbelief undervalues all the perfections of Deity.

2. Unbelief insults all the persons of the Godhead.

3. Unbelief renders the all-important work of salvation impossible.


1. There is the natural depravity of the heart (Hebrews 3:12).

2. There is ignorance, or blindness, of mind.

3. There is love of sin.

4. There is satanic influence (2 Corinthians 4:14).

5. There is the pride of human nature.


1. It keeps us in a state of condemnation before God.

2. It renders useless all the provisions of the gospel.

3. It is a sin for which there can be no remedy.

4. It is a sin peculiar to those favoured with the light of the gospel.

5. A sin which, if not abandoned, must consign to eternal remediless perdition.

1. Your responsibility. God calls upon you to believe.

2. However feeble faith is, if exercised, it shall be increased.

3. Let it be exercised now. "The word is nigh thee," etc. (Romans 10:8-17).

(J. Burns, LL. D.)

There are three general forms of unbelief.

1. That of scepticism, either doubting or rejecting the truths of religion and morals in general, or the Divine origin and authority of the Bible in particular.

2. Want of faith and confidence in God, in His promises and providence, which may and often does co-exist with a speculative belief of the Scriptures.

3. The rejection or failure to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed and offered in the Bible. These several forms of unbelief, although they have their common source in an evil heart, have, nevertheless, their specific causes and their peculiar form of guilt.

I. SCEPTICISM. This arises —

1. From pride of intellect; assuming to know what is beyond our reach, and refusing to receive what we cannot understand; setting ourselves up as capable of discerning and proving all truth.

2. From the neglect of our moral nature and giving up ourselves to the guidance of the speculative reason.

3. From the enmity of the heart to the things of God; or opposition in our tastes, feelings, desires, and purposes, to the truths and requirements of the things of religion.

4. From frivolous vanity, or the desire to be thought independent, or upon a par with the illuminate. The sinfulness of this form of unbelief is manifest.(1) As pride, self-exaltation is sinful and offensive in such a feeble insignificant creature as man.(2) As the habitude of the moral nature which makes it possible to believe a lie, is evidence of moral degradation.(3) As opposition to the truth is opposition to the God of truth, it is alienation from Him, in which all sin consists. Hence unbelief is the generic form of sin. It is the general expression of aberration, and the opposition of our nature to His. It is, therefore, the source of all other sins.

II. UNBELIEF, OR WANT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE DOCTRINES, THE PROMISES, AND PROVIDENCES OF GOD. This may exist in even the hearts of believers. It is a matter of degree. It arises either —

1. From the entire absence, or from the low state, of religious life.

2. Or from the habit of looking at ourselves, and on difficulties about, us rather than at God.

3. Or from refusing to believe what we do not see.If God does not manifest His care, does not at once fulfil His promise, then our faith fails. The sinfulness of this state of mind is apparent.

1. Because it evinces a low state of Divine life.

2. Because it dishonours God, refusing to Him the confidence due to an earthly friend and parent, which is a very heinous offence, considering His greatness and goodness, and the evidences which He has given of His fidelity and trustworthiness.

3. Because it is a manifestation of the same spirit which dominates in the open infidel. It is unbelief in a form which it assumes in a mind in which it has not absolute control. But it is in all its manifestations hateful to God.

III. UNBELIEF IN REFERENCE TO CHRIST. This is a refusing to recognize and receive Him as being what He claims to be.

1. As God manifest in the flesh.

2. As the messenger and teacher sent from God.

3. As our atoning sacrifice and priest.

4. As having rightfully absolute proprietorship in us and authority over us.This is the greatest of sins. It is the condemning sin. Its heinousness consists —

1. In its opposition to the clearest light. He who cannot see the sun must be stone blind.

2. It is the rejection of the clearest external evidence which evinces the opposition of the heart.

3. It is the rejection of infinite love, and the disregard of the greatest obligation.

4. It is the deliberate preference of the kingdom of Satan before that of Christ — of Belial to Christ.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

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