Doubt & Discipleship

Mark’s gospel has moved us from faith to its opposite. The opposite of faith is doubt, denial, rejection. Many times, our lack of faith can expose us to doubt. In turn our doubt becomes nihilism, we become skeptics and pessimists. It’s terrible when this happens because it has a life of its own. It grows and as it grows it feeds on our confidence, it kills certainty and weakens our convictions. Even our Lord had to accept this… as Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is 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 6:1-4] Their problem wasn’t really with Jesus but with His power, His knowledge. They had known Him all their lives and known Him as child and a young man. He was the village carpenter. That doesn’t mean what we think it does today. Jesus would have been able to make plows, yokes for oxen, furniture, doors, windows and just about anything you needed, and it was not confined just to wood, it included metal and masonry. Jesus could have built you a house outfitted with most of what you would need to live in it comfortably. Jesus was a blue-collar guy, he was technical, a laborer. Not a scholar, not a Pharisee and these people would have known that. There was a reason the Pharisee were rich, because only the wealthy could afford not to work, only the wealthy could afford to study the law instead of making a living. That’s why Jesus was rejected in His own home town.  You see the real problem with doubt is that it tends to be self-realizing and all encompassing.

We don’t expect it to be, but nevertheless it has that effect and it’s no different for those that knew Jesus than it is for us. When we are confronted by that which we know well, we tend to be dismissive of it, to declare it safe, we reduce it to the mundane; we hold tightly to our fiction that we know it all, control it all and we discard everything that does not fit neatly into our expectations and Jesus is no exception…our faith is no exception. Let me tell you a story, there was this mountain climber, who after years of preparation was finally ready to climb mount Everest. But he wanted the glory for himself, so he decided to climb the mountain all alone. He started climbing and as he climbed he lost track of time and it got later, and later. The later it got the closer he was to the summit, so rather than camp like he had planned, he kept going. Of course, very soon it got dark. And as the darkness descended everything became black, he couldn’t see anything, visibility was zero. There was no light, the clouds covered the stars and the moon, it was pitch black and still he kept climbing because he knew that he was very close to the top of the mountain and even though he couldn’t see it he kept going, up, ever onward. Until finally, he slipped and fell…and fell…and he kept falling. As he fell all he could see was darkness as he tumbled down the mountain he started to remember all the things that he had done in his life, all the good and all the bad, everything…his life flashed before his eyes as the saying goes, because he knew he was going to die. But he didn’t, he felt this incredible pain in his waist and his breath was knocked out of him, as he was jerked to a sudden stop, because this wasn’t his first rodeo and he had prepared for this. He knew that he could fall so he did what any good mountain climber would have done. He tied himself off with a long rope around his waist. Smart guy right. Well now he’s dangling in the air, it’s still dark and he can’t see anything, he’s helpless and in that moment suspended in time, suspended in the air this awesome mountain climber shouts, “HELP ME GOD. HELP ME!” and then the mountain climber hears this deep voice from heaven… “What do you want me to do?” “SAVE ME.” “Do you REALLY think that I can save you?” “OF COURSE, MY GOD.” “Then cut the rope that is holding you up.” The man thought about it but instead he held on tighter to the rope. The next day a rescue team went out and found the man, frozen like a popsicle, stilling holding onto the rope…a foot off the ground. Doubt can be deadly. Doubt can keep you holding onto that rope when salvation is just a step away. You see all the faith in the world can’t get you off the mountain if you won’t let go of the rope. Most of Jesus’ own people refused Him and because they refused to let go of the rope they did not benefit from his wisdom, neither did they receive His healing power.

They held on tightly to that rope. They continued to doubt Him, and Jesus never returned and only a few were healed. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. [Mark 6:4-6] He was hurt, the people He had grown up with, people that he knew intimately, and no doubt loved fiercely had rejected Him and refused His gifts. This had to hurt tremendously and as amazed as they were at His fame, His wisdom and the miracle’s that He had done. The only question that concerned them was where He got this authority and because they refused to look beyond what they KNEW, they never received His gifts. Thankfully…I see that look again, what do you mean thankfully, because I believe that that rejection led Jesus to send out the twelve. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. [Mark 6:7-13] All things work to the good of God. Amen. Even the refusal of the Son is turned into a great work of evangelism. Jesus didn’t hang His head and give up just because His hometown rejected Him. No, He went out and continued to proclaim the kingdom of God. To teach, and He sent his disciples out and empowered them to do the same. That same power is ours, but not if we reject it, if we have no faith then we will have no reward. If we doubt our God we will be just like the Pharisee, doomed to be self-serving legalists, soulless hypocritical braggarts in love with our own piety. Harsh word I know, but true. Only in Jesus can we find redemption, only by repentance can we find Jesus and only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God. Amen.

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