So Good and So True

Reading: Mark 6.1-13
How long should a product be allowed to be advertised as "new" or "new improved"? What do words like "ultimate" and "supreme" mean these days?

The other day I heard the used-car talk-back programme on ABC radio. Someone rang in about a second-hand car they were considering. It had low K's, paintwork and upholstery in excellent condition, engine and transmission as new... and - the asking price was a real bargain. The enquirer commented, "It sounds too good to be true!" To which the expert replied, "It probably is!" You should beware, he said, any deal that is "too good to be true" - there is always some reason for the low price. You usually end up paying what you would have - and often more - by the time you've finished.

It seems we need a healthy scepticism and should never expect extravagant bargains - only slight reductions. Not many years back someone was offering a return flight to London for $300. The fine print committed you to stay in London's most expensive hotels!

We never really get "something for nothing" - somewhere someone has to pay the price!

Can it be true?

Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, a town of little note in Galilee. The only glimpse into his childhood is when he was twelve and stayed behind in the temple engaging the teachers of the Law in very perceptive discussion. He said to Mary and Joseph, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Lk. 2.49)

That gives us a slight insight into Jesus' awareness of his true identity. But his behaviour in Nazareth wasn't "out of the ordinary". After that incident, he returned to Nazareth and "was obedient to them... And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men" (vv. 51-52).

There were later writers who made up fanciful stories about those "hidden years". One has Jesus making clay sparrows on the Sabbath and, when Joseph rebuked him, he commanded them and they flew away. The New Testament knows nothing of such stories. Indeed, they are contradicted by today's reading - the reaction of the people of Nazareth to Jesus when he came back to visit them as a roving preacher. They had seen nothing out of the ordinary - no miracles, no parables, no incisive, insightful preaching... "Where did this man get these things...?" (Mk 6.2-3)

In their view, both message and messenger were locked up in "small town". They left no room for God to move, no room for revelation, no room for redemption, no room for grace and life...

It was ever so. A prophet might be honoured everywhere else, but not "in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house" (v. 4).

Too good to be true? No! So good and so true! But Nazareth missed out this time. There were sick people in Nazareth who could have been healed... There were folk discouraged and depressed... Some were ground down by disappointment and failure... All faced the realities of being a subject race under the heel of Rome... When will the Lord do something? When will Messiah come?

Here in Jesus himself all these hopes, longings and aspirations were being fulfilled. His presence, his revealing was so good, so true - "And he was amazed at their lack of faith" (v. 6a).

Getting the Message out

Jesus had left Nazareth to begin preaching when he was thirty and was crucified about three years later. The mission to get the message out could never be restricted to that time span. Jesus had said to his first four fishermen-disciples, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (1.17).

Jesus, by his death and resurrection, would complete a work nobody else could do, but he would commit to his disciples - and to us - the faithful sharing of the good news throughout the world. That was always the plan. That is still the plan.

The message - so good and so true - is complete. The mission is still being fulfilled.

The disciples of Jesus weren't just learning his teaching, but learning to share his mission. They were apprentices, and in today's reading, he sent them out two by two. He "gave them authority over evil spirits" (v. 7). They were his representatives, sent at his bidding to do his work.

There was an urgency to the task and they were to have what one writer has called "a studied simplicity of life". They were to be dependent on the welcome they received and, where they were not made welcome, they were to leave. The message was for all. All were to be given the opportunity to respond. Where people refused to receive to the message, "shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them" (v. 11). The moment of opportunity would pass them by.

"They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them" (vv. 12-13).

In general, the response was much better than Jesus himself had received in Nazareth - a great encouragement for the trainees!

The Message so Good and so True

As already mentioned, the message - so good and so true - is complete. The mission is still being fulfilled. We live after the cross, after the resurrection, after the great commission, after the ascension, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost...

Peter could tell the crowds, "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2.36), and he could call on them, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (vv. 38-39).

Paul could write to the Christians in Rome, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1.16).

Too good to be true? No! So good and so true! True for Australians! True for our neighbours and friends! True for all who will welcome it!

We are authorised by Christ himself to take this message into our community. He is depending on us! Are we depending on him? The message is so good and so true. Let us step forward confidently - together with one another, together with our Lord!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill Uniting Church, 9 July 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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