Can Our Words Limit God’s Work? | 04.30.23 | The Scandals Of Jesus pt 4
Pastor Drew Williams
Have you ever been heckled before? Usually, when I think of hecklers, I think of rowdy people who try and distract everyone at a comedy show, pulling attention away from the performer on the stage. Or it’s someone yelling “boo” from the back of an auditorium when someone is about to start a song or begin to speak.
Can you imagine how awful it would feel to have someone just yell out “boo” when all eyes are on you?
Like, just take a second an imagine it with me. All eyes are on you, there’s some electric nervousness in the air, but it’s an overall positive feeling. And just when you think things are going well, someone starts to heckle from the edge of the crowd.
“Who let this person in here? You’re a loser. You don’t belong here!”
And I don’t care if you have nerves of steel, that’s got to be an unsettling feeling. Your stomach knots up, your blood runs cold, you start to perspire on your forehead and your ears feel really hot.
You’re not sure if you’re angry and want to yell back, or if you’d rather just run and hide somewhere and forget that anyone ever gave you attention ever.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe I don’t belong here.
What an awful feeling. What an awful narrative to receive and begin to believe.
In our Jesus story today, there’s a very similar experience, and we’re going to see how the power of words can shut down the good work that God might be pushing along.
So open your black, seat–back Bible to the gospel of Mark chapter 6, on page ?? of the NT.
We’re in the middle of this series about the scandals and rumors that surround the most famous person in history, and we’ve been looking at some of these less-known stories about Jesus.
Today, we’re considering the scandal that Jesus’ birth was illegitimate.
Now, for any of us that have spent ANY time around the Christmas story, we know that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, involving his young mother, Mary, and a work of God. Joseph also received a dream from God to help him know to stay with Mary and raise this son that was not his.
But what did the neighbors think?
Joseph and Mary are betrothed to be married, engaged and committed to each other. Then someone overhears that they got into a big fight. Not sure what’s going on, but Joseph seems really hurt and angry.
Whatever it was, Mary’s parents don’t seem too happy either, and Mary is all of sudden on a trip to visit her distant cousin, Elizabeth. She’s gone for three months, and when she comes back, she’s wearing her clothes a little baggier. Or maybe she put on some weight.
Whatever is going on, it seems like Joseph and her patch things up, and they even move up the wedding date. By the time of the wedding, Mary clearly has a baby bump.
The whispers at the wedding. Oh man…
The older women are tsk-ing and mumbling about the shame of it all. The younger men are elbowing each other in the ribs and trying to give Joseph high fives, but he’s not having any of it. Says it’s not his. Something about a “miracle baby from God.”
Say what now? It’s not Joseph’s? Then what is he doing getting married to her anyways?
The only miracle I’m seeing is that he’s staying with that cheating tramp.
Oh, the shame of it all! And next week everyone is being called back to their hometowns for the census, so even MORE people from the family are going to see the newlyweds who are about to bring a baby into this world any second.
Even people who aren’t from Nazareth can do math. They’ll all know.
And part of me wonders how many of those whispers continued even when Jesus was growing up. Did people comment on whether or not he looked like his brothers and sisters that Joseph and Mary had afterwards? Did the other children pick up on it? Was Jesus called names?
If you’ve been able to find Mark chapter 6, we’ll see what types of comments his hometown brings to him today. Let’s read together:
[SLIDES] Mark 6:1-6
We start with the recognition that Jesus has been travelling and is now going to his hometown of Nazareth.
[SLIDE 4] (blank)
Up until this point, he’s just been visiting all the villages around the Sea of Galilee, and most recently cast out demons from a guy into a herd of pigs. He’s also healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and raised a little girl from the dead.
Now, he heads to Nazareth, the town where he grew up, worked, and then left at the age of 30.
But he comes back into town as a rabbi and a healer, a prophet with followers and disciples.
It was common practice in middle eastern hospitality that travelling teachers were invited to share a word in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. So Jesus is handed a scroll and teaches from it. Luke chapter 4 records this story as well and gives a little more detail about the fact that Jesus was teaching from Isaiah about the Messiah and the “year of the Lord’s favor” and then said, “Today, this is fulfilled.”
I’m the guy. I’m the one making all this come true and happen right now.
And we can see that the response to Jesus wasn’t ALL good. Many were astounded, which could mean amazed or overwhelmed or filled with wonder. But we see that it wasn’t positive wonder.
[SLIDE] Mark 6:2
“Where did THIS MAN get all this?” Almost like they’re saying, “who does this guy think he is?”
Where did he get all this stuff he’s saying? He couldn’t have come up with it himself. He was trained as a builder, a carpenter, a normal manual labor guy. He’s not a scholar!
And even though they mention his “deeds of power,” there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not they believe the stories they’ve heard, because, after all, he’s just a local boy.
[SLIDE 6] (blank)
“We KNOW this guy. He’s nothing special. Isn’t he the ‘handyman,’ the son of Mary?”
And the fact that they don’t mention Joseph is the scandalous part of this exchange. Even if Joseph had already passed away, it would still have been common to refer to someone by way of their relationship to their father. “The son of Joseph”.
We still do this today with last names usually coming from the father’s side. And many last names, like mine, are just abbreviated versions of some male ancestor I have. Drew Williams is just short for Drew from William’s family line. Johnson as a last name just means that somewhere back in your lineage was someone who was John’s son.
But Joseph isn’t mentioned because they are perpetuating the rumor that Jesus’ father is actually unknown.
“Oh we know that Joseph raised him, but Joseph wasn’t his dad. No, maybe he came from some affair or some other shameful trist that Mary got herself into.”
No, there’s nothing special about this guy.
“We know his brothers…we know his sisters. He’s the only one who has flown off the handle and abandoned his family and his town, and NOW he comes back all high and mighty?!”
[SLIDE] Mark 6:3
And verse 3 tells us that they “took offense” at him. And the word used for “offense” can also be used to mean “to cause to stumble,” or “to cause to sin,” or “to offend.”
In other words, the reaction they had was not a small one, and it wasn’t a kind one. Luke tells us that they tried to throw him off a cliff…that’s how mad they were at his audacity for making the claims he made.
[SLIDE 8] (blank)
And Jesus responds to that with this really interesting statement: “A prophet is usually honored, except in their hometown, among their kin or clan, and in their own house.”
And I bet he said that because those are exactly the places that he was enduring shame and contempt thrown at him.
After starting his ministry and helping a BUNCH of people, sharing hope and grace, Jesus is in his hometown experiencing nothing but dishonor, shaming, and betrayal at the hands of his community and direct family.
And verse 6 tells us he was “amazed,” extraordinarily disturbed. It hit Jesus. It hurt Jesus. Because he CARED for these people, but was being cast out.
And apparently, in response to their unbelief, Jesus didn’t do any deeds of power. In Jesus’ ministry, miracles were almost always a RESPONSE to faith. But it’s not like Jesus didn’t HAVE power, because he clearly cured a few sick people.
I mean, he’s still JESUS, after all.
But then he leaves his hometown of Nazareth, never to return.
And I want to just point out that the biggest scandal of this story isn’t Jesus’ supposedly sketchy beginning. The scandal is that these people had the Messiah right there, and they silenced him and sent him off with their scoffing and scrutiny.
In fact, their actions and treatment of Jesus limited the work of God in their area, because Jesus didn’t stay to heal a bunch of people or proclaim God’s kingdom because they didn’t want him to. They couldn’t bring themselves to accept him as a healer and prophet.
Apparently, no one noticed the halo around his head, like we usually see in religious paintings. Not even his family members recognized his divine calling.
His hometown viewed themselves as his equal and could only see him as the neighbor boy, a local handyman.
And I wonder, do we do that? Do I do that? Do I limit the work of God in someone’s life through my scoffing and shaming of people I know?
“Oh, I don’t believe they could actually change…”
“She’ll always be the little raggamuffin in my mind…”
Do we have a culture of honor with our speech, or is casual dishonor more common in your conversations?
How about this one: do we expect people to pretty much stay the same? Or do we expect God to be transforming them?
Because, if we don’t expect God to change other people, it’s probably because we think WE’RE off the hook as well and don’t need to change. I mean, it IS easier to just stay as we are, rather than being renewed and transformed to look more and more like Jesus.
The thing I want you to know from today is that our words of disbelief and shaming can LIMIT God’s work in our midst. (x2)
If we put our focus on what WE see in people, focusing on their flaws or weakness, it discounts the power of God that is able to work THROUGH weakness.
If we label people based on their past and don’t think they can change, it betrays the fact that we actually think WE can’t change, either.
Our words have power to limit us from being a part of God’s work.
If we label people based on their weakness, only counting whether or not they’ve failed recently, it shows we believe that OUR righteousness and life relies on our EFFORT, not on grace or forgiveness.
If we would prefer to heckle or shame others, it shows our own sense of self-worth is precariously built on pushing others down instead of lifting them up.
Do we have a culture of honor or dishonor in the way we speak?
Because our words of disbelief and dishonor and shaming can actually LIMIT the work of God in our church and in our community.
[SLIDE 10] (blank)
Whether it shames people into inaction, or whether it drives people away before we can witness God working through them, a culture of dishonor in our speech, a habit of gossip and negative speech, any of those little pockets in our community that would rather get together and rant and vent about what they DON’T like…those things limit our ability to see God at work in our midst.
Because that type of speech can limit people’s willingness to boldly trust God and step forward in faith towards what he’s calling them to.
Not only that, but it can also cut US off from where God is at work because we keep drawing our focus to negative judgment, only believing what we’ve seen before, only wanting what we’ve become used to, instead of waiting patiently on the Lord, trusting that HE is ABLE where we are unable.
Our words of disbelief and dishonor can limit God’s work in our midst, and they are the opposite of what the apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus when he said:
[SLIDE] Ephesians 4:29
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
So what should we do instead? How can we apply this to our life? How about this:
This week, share a story of God’s grace.
This week, instead of complaining, instead of remaining quiet, share a story with someone of where you have seen God at work. Where have you seen God do something in someone’s life that you didn’t expect?
Where have you seen God’s grace at work in your family? In our church?
[SLIDE 13] (blank)
Because, if God is calling us to cultivate a culture of honor, how can we do that in our families, in our spheres of influence, in our church?
How can we use our words to build up instead of tear down?
How can we cultivate an EXPECTATION that God is actually transforming us and others and working in our midst, and how can we use our words to share stories about that?
Because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my natural critical heart and negativity to limit what God is doing around me. I don’t want my downward focus to keep me from seeing what he’s doing. I don’t want my disbelief to keep me from being able to join him in the work he’s doing.
How is God calling you to cultivate a culture of honor by sharing a story of his grace this week?
Now, maybe that’s hard for you to think of, because maybe you’ve actually been the recipient of dishonoring and shaming speech.
Maybe it’s hard for you to think about creating a culture of honor because you’ve actually been the one on the receiving end of heckling. You’ve actually been the one talked about. You’ve actually been the one no one believed in and discounted.
If that’s you, I want you to hear this: Jesus endured all those things so that you could know that his love and grace is for YOU.
You see, sometimes we can let the burden of scorn and shame weigh us down and keep us back from God’s grace, healing, redemption, restoration.
We believe the lies and stay back from taking that next step in faith, because we don’t think Jesus can use “someone like us,” Jesus can’t transform “someone like us.”
But the fact that Jesus was born the way he was SHOWS that he came to connect with EVERYONE and bring everyone into the fullness of life in the kingdom of God.
The author David Instone-Brewer wrote this, “The scandal of Jesus’ illegitimatacy demonstrates that when God became human, he shared all of our suffering and redeemed every aspect of our fallen humanity so that he could represent and redeem everyone.”
Jesus had a teenage mom. Jesus was conceived out of wedlock and endured the rumors and whispers of that.
Jesus was a foreign refugee in Egypt.
Jesus had a blended family with half-siblings.
Jesus grew up poor. He abandoned his hometown and family business.
Jesus was homeless and slept outside. He accepted funding and help from others.
Jesus had sketchy friends and got in trouble with “church folk.”
[SLIDE 15] (blank)
But Jesus intentionally came to be part of normal society, not just upper society, or only certain types of people, so that we could know that his love and grace is for ALL OF US.
Whether you’re poor or rich,
whether you’re a local or not from around here,
whether your family is perfect or broken…
…Jesus’ love and grace is for YOU.
Whether you are super smart or just have street smarts,
whether you’ve been successful or down on your luck,
whether you hang out with the right or wrong crowd…
…Jesus has a plan for you and can transform YOUR life.
And if you’re still listening to me right now, Jesus is offering you his love and life and inviting you to follow him, one step at a time, so that you can join his work of restoration.
The limiting words of others don’t have to hold us back from God’s work, because we follow the one who has the words of life.
We follow the one who transform anyone.
We follow the one who can overcome any darkness we’ve experienced, whether it is in our past or whether we’re in the middle of it right now.
Let’s put our belief in Jesus, and put that belief into action by taking our next step of following him, trusting him to lead us and transform us. Let’s pray…