Is Jesus enough for you?
The week following Christmas is usually a fun week for our family. We spend much of the week taking long drives to visit our extended family, and we did that this year as well. Basically, we visited my wife’s hometown of Fredonia, New York followed by a visit to my extended family near Scranton, Pennsylvania. While visiting Scranton, we helped put together a surprise birthday party for my father.
I don’t know what conversations around the table sound like when you get together with your family, but there are certain subjects I can always count on my extended family to bring up during a meal. We will talk about our careers and our children. We’ll talk about food, cars, and politics. At some point, someone will typically ask me a theological question, and eventually, someone will bring up the subjects of personal finance, investing, and who won last year’s game of Monopoly.
There’s an unwritten rule in our family that I didn’t realize was there until I reached my 40s, but if I had to summarize the rule, it might sound something like this: “You don’t know anything until you’re 40, and even then we’re still not positive you know anything.” I lived on the edge of both sides of this rule this year.
On the positive side, one of my uncles who I consider a great example of how to manage personal finances, asked my opinion on a financial matter. I shared my thoughts and he asked me to send him more information about it so he could learn more about the subject. I must admit, that felt good.
On the not-so-positive side, my father didn’t accept my advice when we were playing Monopoly. I offered him a property trade that would have been a win/win scenario for both of us. I also explained that if he didn’t take the trade, there was no way he or I could win the game. He rejected my suggestion, and as a result, we were the first two players eliminated.
Can you relate to that kind of scenario? Have you ever felt ignored or dismissed by people who have known you since the days of your youth? Does it ever feel like they might be the hardest people to convince that you might actually know what you’re talking about?
Jesus experienced that same kind of scenario during His earthly ministry. His family resisted His teaching, at least for a time, and the people of His hometown rejected the plain meaning of what He taught when He was in their midst.
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And 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? 3 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 6:1-3)
On the Sabbath, Jesus began teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, His hometown. As He had experienced when He spoke in Capernaum, the people who heard His teaching were astonished. He taught with great clarity and authority. His teaching demonstrated His great wisdom and understanding. The people of Nazareth couldn’t understand how someone who grew up in their community could have obtained such knowledge and ability.
We’re also told a little bit more about Jesus’ earthly family and occupation. As His earthly father Joseph had done, Jesus practiced the trade of carpentry. Following the birth of Jesus, this Scripture also reveals that Joseph and Mary had additional sons and daughters. Two of those sons, James and Judas (later called Jude) became influential in the early church and wrote two of the letters in the New Testament. But the impression we’re given in the gospel accounts is that prior to Christ’s resurrection, the earthly siblings of Jesus shared a similar feeling toward Him as the people of Nazareth. They didn’t believe in Him. They didn’t understand or accept the fact that He is God.
And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:4-6)
The disbelief of the people of His hometown stood out to Jesus. He marveled at it, yet He also addressed it directly and acknowledged that it was historically common. Prophets are typically rejected by those who should have known them best. But because of their unbelief, they missed the privilege of witnessing Jesus do mighty works in their town.
One of the companion Scriptures to this passage is found in Luke 4. In that passage, we’re told that Jesus read from the book of Isaiah when He was speaking. When He told the group that was assembled that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies, they not only rejected Him but tried to kill Him by throwing Him down a cliff. Jesus passed through the crowd and escaped their murderous attempt, but their rejection of His ministry caused them to miss the blessing of His presence and ministry among them. Jesus moved on from Nazareth and taught elsewhere.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. (Mark 6:6b-9)
The ministry of Jesus not only involved His teaching and healing but also involved intentional efforts to train others. We see this in particular when we observe the work He entrusted to the apostles as He called them to go out among the villages encouraging others to repent and believe in the gospel.
This activity of Jesus stands out to me as something the church of our era should emulate to the best of our ability. Christians are called to train other Christians and give them many opportunities to use their gifts to serve others. We’re called to mentor one another and gradually entrust the work of ministry to those we’re mentoring. Local churches that follow this pattern replicate leaders, grow strong, and send people out into various aspects of the mission field. Local churches that minimize this responsibility, or ignore it altogether, become small, ingrown, ineffective, and weak.
When I was a brand new pastor in my early 20s, I saw a large portrait of a pastor on the back wall of the sanctuary of a church near Binghamton, New York. When I asked about that man, I was told, “He had a knack for giving ministry away. He trained a lot of men who became pastors in other places. One of the hallmarks of his ministry was his desire to raise up additional leaders.” After hearing that assessment of that pastor’s legacy, I decided that, by the grace of God, I wanted to follow that same pattern. Instead of hoarding ministry activity to myself, I wanted to give away as much as possible so that the local church wouldn’t become dependent on the efforts of just one person.
When Jesus sent His apostles out into the villages, He told them to go in groups of two and to take with them the very same things the Israelites were instructed to take with them when they left Egypt after eating the Passover.
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. (Ex. 12:11)
The apostles accepted the instructions of Christ and went out among the villages, proclaiming the gospel, encouraging people to repent, casting out demons, and healing the sick. And in this way, the gospel continued to spread among the people.
And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mark 6:10-13)
I do find it rather interesting that Jesus made certain that the apostles knew they could count on the Lord to supply their needs as they took on this task. Jesus made it clear that they didn’t need to overthink this journey. Their needs would be providentially provided for. When they needed a place to stay, one would be given to them. When they needed other resources, they would be able to trust the Lord to grant them as well. This is such a beautiful reminder for us to ponder in the midst of our materialistic age, isn’t it?
We live in an era where too much faith is placed in material things, and we as Christians can be just as guilty of over-trusting what can be seen as the world at large is guilty of doing. It’s true that the Bible teaches us to be people who practice frugality, make wise investments, and work hard to meet the needs of our family. Those are all admirable activities, but they aren’t supposed to become the source of our deepest sense of contentment. Our contentment should always rest in Christ.
If every earthly possession you currently own was taken away from you, could you still go to sleep at night with the peace that passes understanding in your heart? Could you rest in Jesus if everything you spent your life working for was gone in a day?
Dan Miller is a name some of you may be familiar with. He’s an author who has written some very well known books, and he hosts a very popular podcast. A few years ago, I came to know him as a friend, and not long ago my son and I enjoyed lunch with Dan and his wife Joanne. At the end of our lunch together, Dan and Joanne prayed for my son and encouraged him in a variety of ways.
Several days ago, I received a message from Dan stating that earlier this month he was told that he had advanced pancreatic cancer that had spread into his bones and other organs. He’s been told that he doesn’t have much time left, but he considers that knowledge a gift. He isn’t trying to hold onto the things of this world. He’s convinced he’s done what the Lord called him to do with his life, and he’s content to trust the Lord for what comes next. Dan knows that even though every earthly thing he’s worked for is about to be taken away and given to others, he still has what he needs most. He has Jesus and he’s approaching the coming weeks with a sense of joy, contentment, and expectation.
As we prepare to approach whatever this next season will look like for us, can we also joyfully state that Jesus is enough for us? Do we still think we need something in addition to Him, or can we be content in the knowledge that He really is what we need most? Everything else can be lost or taken away, but Jesus remains with those who are His forever.
© John Stange, 2023