After a successful teaching tour involving some pretty significant miracles, Jesus made a return visit to his hometown. Unlike the contestants on the X-Factor reality show, who revisit their own communities as newly-made celebs to a rapturous welcome from their friends and families who have been eagerly watching their progress on the TV, Jesus came home to a fairly mixed reception. Many who heard him speaking in the synagogue were amazed and asked each other “‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?’” Mark 6:2 (ESV).
They talked excitedly among themselves, but some were determined to bring Jesus down to their level: “He’s just a carpenter”, some insisted. “We know his mother, Mary; his brothers and sisters live near us.” Mark tells us that “They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him”. Mark 6:3 (NLT). We go on to read, “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” (verse 5). Most of us would be probably pleased with a few sick people healed at the end of the meeting, but for Jesus, he was shocked at the level of unbelief. Notice, because of their unbelief; Jesus the Messiah: Miracle-Maker, God Incarnate; was hijacked by the unbelief of his fellow townspeople.
In the Exodus narrative we see the monumental acts of God ultimately resulting in the fledgling nation of Israel being released from 400 years of slavery. Plagues and unnatural natural disasters rain down on the land of Egypt until the brutal and unyielding Pharaoh finally caves in to God’s insistence. Pharaoh cannot stop the Lord Almighty. The Israelites then find themselves in a pinch point with mountains on either side, the Red Sea in front, and the army of Egypt galloping towards them from the rear. God is not fazed; he rolls back the sea and makes a pathway through it so that his beloved people can walk through on dry ground. The Red Sea could not stop the Lord Almighty. The Israelite refugees watched over the ensuing weeks as God provided bread from heaven, every day, water from a rock, and meat, in the form of a hail of quail, when they fancied meat.
However, the time came when God instructed the people to actually enter the Promised Land. Moses famously sent twelve spies into Canaan to do a rekkie. The reports they brought back were stunning. It truly was a most desirable land, “flowing with milk and honey”, but the spies were split 10:2 against attempting to take the territory. They had not only seen the giant grapes, but the giant giants. They had seen fearsome warriors driving iron chariots—new technology—which they felt ill-equipped to combat. The ten spies with a gloomy report won the day, with the whole nation of over a million people going for the gloomy option. Moses was left with only two supporters for military conquest: Caleb and Joshua. The grumpy people won the day. In fact, the grumpy people completely hijacked the Lord Almighty’s plan to give them the land, putting everything on hold for forty years.
The writer to the Hebrews, many centuries later, tells us that the Israelites could not go into the land “because of their unbelief”, Hebrews 3:19 (ESV). Of course, God is Almighty; he does not require either the permission or cooperation of feeble humankind in order to act. He does, however, seem to want partnership and involvement from those he loves. He chooses to do nothing without revealing it to his prophets (Amos 3:7), he actively seeks intercessors who will negotiate with him over his interventions on the earth, and he gives instructions to inherently weak individuals who may fail in following through. Paul tells us that that it is possible to “quench” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or even “grieve” the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). This is the same mighty Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, not a fluffy bunny, wafty feeling, which doesn’t matter.
We may not be able to ultimately stop the Lord Almighty, but he has certainly given enough authority to frail humanity to hinder, avoid and miss the promises of God coming to fruition in our lives and in our lifetimes. He has given us the ultimate choice: will we try to bring Jesus down to our level: “he’s just a carpenter”, or will we surrender our lives to his Lordship and live every day eagerly responding to his voice?