Our text from Mark raises a troubling question. We are told Jesus, “...could do no mighty work,” in His hometown. Or, more literally, “He was not able to do any miracle there.” Why would Jesus be unable to perform miracles?
Mark has shown us Jesus can heal the sick (2:11-12), calm a storm (4:39), cast out demons (5:12-13), and raise the dead (5:41-42). In fact, Jesus was so filled with healing power that it flowed from Him and a woman who touched His garment was healed. Yet, after all of this, Mark tells us Jesus was, “...not able to do any miracle.” Why was Jesus unable to perform a miracle?
Sometimes, in sermons, we can help our people answer questions such as these. In fact, there is a sermon structure designed for this purpose: The Question-Answered Design. In this sermon, the preacher voices a question and then leads the hearers through a process of theological reflection. The preacher poses possible answers, theologically examines them, and concludes by proclaiming the final or fullest answer. Consider what such a sermon would sound like with our text.
Our text raises the question, “Why was Jesus unable to perform miracles?”
One possible answer might be because of God’s judgment. Jesus was unable to perform a miracle because God was judging these people. Jesus had just taught in their synagogue, and they rejected Him. Why, then, should God heal them? It is important to consider this answer because even today some people live burdened by this possibility. When they pray and do not receive healing, they wonder: “Is God judging me for my sin?”
While this seems like a reasonable answer, it does not match the mission and ministry of Jesus. Mark begins by revealing that good news has come in Jesus (1:1). While John the Baptizer thought Jesus would come with an axe and fire to destroy all sinners, Jesus comes with water and words which bring salvation instead. In fact, the mission of Jesus is to take God’s judgment upon Himself so all people might be saved. On the last day, when He returns in judgment, Jesus will condemn those who do not believe. But until that time, He is on a mission... a mission of mercy. He has come to save. People will question Him, misunderstand Him, even resist Him, but He will not stop until He has taken God’s judgment upon Himself and opened God’s Kingdom to all. So, upon deeper reflection, it is not because God is judging these people that Jesus cannot perform miracles there.
In fact, the mission of Jesus is to take God’s judgment upon Himself so all people might be saved.
If it is not because of God’s judgment, then maybe, it is because of their lack of faith. Perhaps Jesus was unable to perform miracles because the people did not believe. In some ways, this makes sense. Mark tells us Jesus marveled at their unbelief. Perhaps, when faced with their lack of faith, Jesus was unable to perform a miracle.
This answer still circulates among Christians today. Turn on the TV and you can hear faith healers say, “God wants to do good for you. God wants to bless you, but you have to have faith in order to get a miracle.” Listening to these preachers, someone suffering from cancer suddenly suffers from something worse: A crisis of faith. They begin to think God is not healing them because they do not have faith.
Here, we need to be clear. God does not need your faith in order to do a miracle. Miracles are revelations of God’s power over all creation. He who created the sea can still it with a word. He who formed the body can heal it with a touch. God, the all-powerful creator, does not need our faith to rule His world. Whose faith enabled Jesus to still the storm or feed five thousand people? In fact, on the last day, when Jesus raises the dead, who will be raised? Everyone; those who believe and those who do not believe. God is able to raise all people because God does not need our faith to perform miracles.
So, if Jesus is not judging the people for their lack of faith and if Jesus does not need faith to perform a miracle, why was Jesus unable to work miracles? Perhaps it is because of His mission. Jesus has come to bring salvation to all people, not judgment.
Jesus has come to bring salvation to all people, not judgment.
While miracles are not a reward for believing, they can lead to punishment for those who do not believe. In Mark, Jesus condemns those who seek signs from God (Mark 8:11-12). And, to those who have seen signs and yet still not believed, there is even greater condemnation. As Jesus says, “Woe to you... Capernaum... if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24). For Jesus to perform miracles in the face of unbelief would only increase God’s condemnation on the Day of Judgment. Jesus has just preached in His hometown and the people have resisted the Spirit’s work through that word. To do miracles in the face of such resistance would only increase God’s judgment.
And Jesus is on a mission of grace: Then and now. A bruised reed, He will not break. A smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. Jesus has been sent by His Father to bring good news. He fulfills this office. He will bring good news, send His disciples to bring good news, and, in His death and resurrection, become good news for all.
Regardless of how the world responds to Jesus, Jesus will respond to the world in love. Sometimes with miracles, sometimes without, but always with the self-sacrificial love that brings God’s gracious embrace and never-ending life.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 6:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 6:1-13.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 6:1-13.