Mark 6:1-6

Why Jesus Was Astonished


Throughout the Gospel of  Mark we’ve repeatedly seen Jesus demonstrate his lordship over disease, demons, and even death itself.  Everywhere he goes, the common response  seems to be one of amazement.  People are amazed at the authority with which he teaches.  Crowds are astounded at the impossible tasks he performs before their very eyes. At one point even his own disciples turn to one another and ask “Who then is this?”  In our passage this week, Jesus returns to his hometown where the response is not quite what we’ve seen before.

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  Mark 6:1

While Mark does not tell us explicitly, we know the name of this hometown is Nazareth.  This is where Jesus grew up.  He ran down these streets as a boy playing with friends. This is where he learned the trade of carpentry from his father Joseph.  This apparently is where his family still lived.  And now he is back in town for what must have been an awfully painful visit.  This is the only visit to Nazareth that Mark records in his gospel, and we’ll see perhaps why in a moment.  Some commentators believe this visit corresponds with the episode described in Luke 4 where Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah, preaches a sermon, and in response, the townspeople attempt to throw him off a cliff.  Nothing in either text makes this connection necessary and it seems likely that Luke 4 and Mark 6 are describing separate visits.

Nazareth is a small town about 25 miles southwest Capernaum.   It’s population was measured in the 100’s at most, not in the thousands.  This small town is mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament or even extra-biblical writings of the time such as the writings of Josephus, the Mishnah or Talmud (James Edwards, Pillar NT Commentary: Mark, p. 169).  Nazareth was an obscure little village built on a rocky hillside, miles from anywhere “important.” This was a town where nothing big ever happens.

#1 Why The People Are Astonished (v.2-3)

2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.  Mark 6:2-3

In typical fashion, Mark does not include many side details related to this visit.  How long was Jesus in town for?  Was their a reunion with his family?  This would have been quite  a reunion because remember that Jesus’ family had earlier traveled the 25 miles from Nazareth to Capernaum to confront Jesus.  They were convinced that he had become insane and attempted to seize him (c.f. Mark 3:20-21).  They were unsuccessful.

What we do know is that Jesus waited for Saturday, the Sabbath, to arrive and he entered the town’s synagogue to teach.  We are told the people were astonished at Jesus.  By this point in Mark’s gospel, we’ve seen that this is a common response to Jesus.  But as we keep reading we discover this is not the kind of astonishment we should seek to emulate.

The people begin to ask a series of questions that reveal the true posture of their hearts.  It is interesting to note that these skeptics do not question the legitimacy of the reports they had heard about all that Jesus had done.  While no “mighty works” were done in their presence, they did hear for themselves the wisdom which flowed from his mouth.  Even this hostile crowd has no problem believing the authenticity of what Jesus had done.  However, they are not interested in why he had done all that he had done but rather they what to know how he had done it.   Where did this man get these things?

Is not this the carpenter?  They were familiar with Jesus’ profession before he left town.  He was not a rabbi nor does it seem likely that he was trained by any famous rabbi.  He was trained by Joseph to be a carpenter.  Incidentally, from this verse we know that Jesus’ profession in his early years was carpentry.  The Greek word for carpenter is tekton and has also been applied to those who work with stone, as well as wood, and anyone involved in the task of building.

The son of Mary? That Jesus is described as the son of Mary and not the son of Joseph presents several possibilities:

  1. Joseph was possibly long since deceased at this point and so Jesus was known in relation to his mother.
  2. While it seems highly unlikely, perhaps it was known by the point that Joseph was not really the father of Jesus.
  3. However, most commentators agree that this was a way to insult Jesus and to insinuate an illegitimate birth.

And brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?  In other words, we know who Jesus is.  We know his mother.  We know his brothers and sisters.  Here is further evidence that Mary was not a perpetual virgin as some suppose.  We have here a list of her children!

The people of his hometown take offense at Jesus.  On the one hand, we might applaud them for paying enough attention to be offended.  So many only half-heartedly encounter Jesus or his teachings.  These people, however, couldn’t escape seeing and forming opinions of what Jesus was doing.  The result was that they were offended.  The Greek word used here for offense comes from the word skandalizo which can be translated literally as “stumbling block.  (This, by the way, is the Greek word from which we get the word scandal.)

So why are the people stumbling over Jesus?  Why are they offended?  It is not because they lack information.  It is not because Jesus’ words and actions have gone unnoticed by them.  They stumble over Jesus because they are too familiar with him.  As Jesus has said  new wine needs new wineskins (c.f. Mark 2:22).  The crowd at Nazareth is attempting to understand Jesus, the new wine, using old wineskins.  This is just the village carpenter.  We know his family.  We know everything we need to know about him.

This way of thinking about Jesus won’t work. The wineskins will burst.  The proverb “familiarity breeds contempt” rings true here.  It turns out that a close physcial relationship with Jesus – be it growing up in the same town or even under the same roof – is not enough to produce faith.  Their hearts were hard.  In the end, they couldn’t explain how Jesus did what he did.   And they refused to accept the obvious answer before their very eyes.

#2 Why Jesus is Astonished (v.4-6)

4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.  Mark 6:4-6

The hometown crowd was astonished at Jesus, and we see here that Jesus was equally astonished back at them.  Mark tells us in verse 6 that Jesus marveled at them.  We frequently see people marveling at Jesus but here Jesus is the one who is full of amazement.  In only one other incident is it recorded that Jesus was full of amazement (Greek – thaumazo).  We find it in Matthew 8:10 and Luke 7:9 where Jesus is amazed at the faith of the centurion.  Here in Nazareth he is amazed not at the presence of faith but in the absence of faith.

From a certain perspective, we could argue if anyone should “get it,” it should be Jesus’ own family, his own hometown.  But those closest to Jesus are the very ones who reject him.  Jesus, who exercised immeasurable influence wherever he went, did not “win over” his own family.  And so he marveled at their unbelief.

Jesus quotes a common proverb of the day.  A prophet is honored everywhere except at home.  Notice the circle of relationships gets smaller and smaller: from those in his hometown to his own relatives to those in his household.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.    In addition to being offended, ultimately, the people of his hometown are deprived.  They miss out not only on witnessing the mighty works of Jesus but they miss the opportunity to experience him for who he truly is.

We must not misunderstand this verse.  It is not that Jesus was absolutely unable to do mighty works.  Mark tells us, after all, he did heal a few sick people whose situation must have been so bad they still humbled themselves to come to Jesus.  In the face of open hostility and certainly a lack of faith, why would Jesus perform miracles in front of them?  The Son of God did not become incarnate in order to entertain or amaze.  He is not a magician.  He is not a sideshow.  He came to establish the kingdom of God ultimately by dying on the cross to redeem a people for himself.  The mighty works he performed were never meant to be an end unto themselves.


#1 Are you too familiar with Jesus? Are you expecting, by your exposure to the church or your children’s exposure to the church that somehow a vibrant faith will result?  Are you just close enough to Jesus to be bored by what you know?  But not close enough even to be offended?  Has the Bible become so mundane to you that you can barely pay attention long enough to digest anything in it?

What was it that the people of Nazareth lacked?  What was really at the root of their unbelief?  It is the same issue that persists today.  A lack of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  Only his renewing work in our hearts can provide the real faith we need to trust him. Remember that Christianity is not man’s religion.  Nor is the Bible a divine rulebook showing us what we must do.  It is the story of a stiff-necked and rebellious people and a holy God, who despite our sin, has set his affection on us yet.  It is a story that is consummated in person and work of Christ.

How do we shake familiarity?  We humble ourselves in prayer and ask the Lord to renew our heart and fill us with the Spirit.  We repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus, the one who loves us and gave himself up for us.

#2 Do you have sense of expectancy of what God will do?  Or are you like the people of Jesus’ hometown.  They expected little and received little.  One commentator put it this way:

“Unbelief robs the church of its power.  We can add new programs until we do not have enough hours in the day to administrate them or enough bulletin inserts to advertise them.  But without a believing expectancy in Christ and his power, nothing will come of it.  ‘And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him’ (Hebrews 11:6)” (R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant & Savior, p.134

Now, let’s be clear here.  The object of our faith is not our faith.  We do not have faith in faith.  We have faith in the Lord and in what he has promised to do.  Do you have a growing sense of expectancy of what God can do?

Discussion Questions

  1. After reading the passage for this week also read Mark 3:20-21, 31-35. Based on Mark 3 how would you describe the family’s relationship with Jesus? Why might this have been a difficult visit for Jesus to make? Can you relate in anyway?
  2. How do the people of his hometown respond to Jesus? Why do you think they are astonished and even offended?
  3. Discuss the questions that the people ask in verses 2 and 3. What do we learn about Jesus and his family from these questions? What do we learn about the people who are asking them?
  4. Application: How can becoming too familiar with Jesus be a bad thing? What evidence is there in your life that you have become too familiar with Jesus? What can you do about it?
  5. In verse 4 Jesus quotes a common proverb of the day. Notice he progresses to smaller and smaller circles: from his hometown, to his relatives, to his own household. In what ways have you seen the proverb to be true? Why do you think it is true?
  6. How are we to understand the comment in verse 5 that “he could do no mighty work there?” Does this mean that Jesus is not omnipotent? What does this reveal about the nature of mighty works?
  7. Application: How does unbelief hinder God’s work in our lives? How can we develop a greater sense of expectancy of what God can do? How can we help one another in this area?



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