The Marvel of Unbelief

The Marvel Of Unbelief

Mark 6:1-6

Warren E. Berkley

Mark 6 –  Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. 2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 3 Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

4 But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”5  Now 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. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

“He Began To Teach”

Jesus could have saved people by force, snatching sinners out of sin and making them righteous (theoretically this is argued by virtue of sovereign divine power). But there is every reason to believe God did not want robots, leaving their sin and doing His will without personal choice. God wants people who love Him to decide to serve Him by choice, not compulsion.

So it was the purpose of Jesus to preach and teach (Mrk. 1:38,39). His miraculous power was never used to capture sinners against their will and drag them into the kingdom. He delivered God’s message, telling people of their sin and offering gracious forgiveness, inviting a response of active faith (Matt. 11:28). Jesus, who raised the dead (Mrk. 5:41; Jno. 11:43,44) and performed other miracles, gave priority to preaching.

God intends for His people to spread the word, to support and be engaged in the preaching of the gospel. Paul wrote to Timothy and we have the literary work in the New Testament, but in that volume, Paul said “preach the word,” and Timothy was to find other men to train and charge to deliver the word (2 Tim. 4:2; 2:2). So Jesus “began to teach.” And after this attempt in Nazareth, He left there but continued “teaching,” (v.6). Have we started?

“Many hearing Him were astonished”

To be “astonished” is to be amazed, but not necessarily changed (Matt. 7:28). Preachers have this experience all the time, when someone leaves the building with unrestrained celebration of the sermon, yet the celebration falls short of real life change after the exit from the building/event. Many who heard Jesus immediately knew He was unique and they could not categorize him with their usual teachers. But, to take His teaching and listen to change; to give Him and His message inner access, often did not occur. This reminds us to be hearers who become engaged (Jas. 1:21-27).

“Where did this man get these things?”

“These things” refer to what He said and may also include what He did (note the series of four miracles that precede this section). It is enlightening – in these early chapters of Mark – to discover these two pressing questions: (1) “Who can this be?” in Mark 4:41, and (2) “Where did this man get these things?” To have the answer, the people needed to “stay tuned,” to keep listening with good and honest hearts. The vital inquiries about the person and work of Christ are answered clearly in four books I highly recommend: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You will see who He is and you will learn where He got what He said. “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God,” (Jno. 3:34).

“They were offended at Him”

Here was the Son of God speaking to them exactly the message they needed to hear from God, about how to change their lives and serve each other. They took offense! They were put off or annoyed by Him. It is a sign of weakness and immaturity on their part, produced by self-centered unbelief. Jesus became – to the unbelievers – a “rock of offense.” They stumbled as many today, who hold strong determination of heart that is against the truth of God and that favors self or attachment to a religious system.

And this prompted Jesus to make the statement: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Blindness to the truth can take people to such a place, they resist truth when it appears very close. Here (and in Jno. 1:46), there is evidence of what we often see today – that we make very quick judgments about people based on nothing more than the superficial. Indeed, as we have oft heard, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and (as David E. Garland said): “The expert at a conference is usually the one who has come from farthest away!” A local handyman (carpenter), telling us about our relationship with God, who sounds so much different from our rabbis? “No way,” to use modern vernacular. So . . .

Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief”

This was not just a typical or passing thought, “wow, these people don’t believe the truth when they hear it.” He was astounded and grieved that they would remain in their sin and continue under the ill-conceived oversight of selfish leaders. He cared and out of that care came his astonishment. The people of Nazareth enjoyed so many advantages. Jesus lived among them. He preached to them with power. They knew of His miracles. But they were blind to his identity, deaf to his message and hardened their hearts against Him, to their own peril and loss.

Jesus is not physically here on earth today. But His people are here and His message is sounded forth. Human responses often duplicate that of the people of Nazareth. The stubborn unbelief of sinners who are offered gracious forgiveness and life in Christ, is astonishing.

Matthew Henry: “If we cannot do good where we would, we must do it where we can, and be glad if we may have any opportunity, though but in the villages, of serving Christ and souls. Sometimes the gospel of Christ finds better entertainment in the country villages, where there is less wealth, and pomp, and mirth, and subtlety, than in the populous cities.”

The Best of All

The Best of All

Blessed Bible, sacred treasure,
Precious book, of all the best,
There is comfort never failing,
And a calm abiding rest.
Read with reverence, and commit it,
Verse by verse, and day by day;
‘Tis the word that God has spoken,
And it cannot pass away.
—Fanny Crosby

Fourth Observations

man with fireworks
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The Fourth of July still rings true to the original purpose for me and I hope for all my friends who read this. It is about our patriotic respect for all the good about this country. The freedom, the work ethic, the ideal of helping our neighbors, the beauty of our land, the ingenuity of our people, the care of our nurses, the diligence of law enforcement and soldiers, the many good teachers who work so hard, the grandparents who transmit good heritage, the children who care for aged parents, the parents who devote time and care to raise the next generation, the elders and preachers who appeal to Scripture and nourish people with that sound teaching … I could write more about the exceptional qualities we are privileged to have around us, by the grace of God. There are so many other examples.

I have no prophetic gift to know if all of this will continue and fulfill our greatest hopes. I cannot be certain about the future of this nation. What I can be certain about is, citizens of the Kingdom of Christ have nothing to fear about their destiny. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me’?” And, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire,” (Hebrew 13:6,8; 12:28).


1 Jno. 2:3-6

John’s First Epistle

1 Jno. 2:3-6 

Keep His Commandments

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.1 Jno. 2:3-6, English Standard Version.

Keeping Commandments is an idea that has fallen on bad times in our age. People in our time have little or nothing to say about keeping commandments. In the public arena (Bible terminology: The World), obedience isn’t a high priority.

Yet, the importance of keeping God’s commandments hasn’t changed. This has really never changed. It should be clear to us, as we read the New Testament, when Christ came, He didn’t minimize or abolish keeping God’s commandments. (1) He illustrated obedience by how He thought, spoke and lived. (2) By His death, He made a way for the disobedient to be forgiven and renew their commitment to obedience. The change from the Old Covenant to the New did not downgrade obedience.

In this passage, John says that this is how we know we are children of God through Christ. We keep His commandments. Yes, in the previous chapter, there is that avenue of confession to be forgiven when we fail. That only serves to stress the importance of obedience to God. And remember (from the opening verses of this chapter), we have an Advocate in Jesus, not so we can sin but if we do!

John goes further. If we claim relationship with Christ but we do not keep His commandments, the claim is not true. The positive side of all this is: “…whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” and so: “…whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

I check my walk my seeing if I’m keeping His commandments. As I keep His commandments, I maintain by walk; walking in the light as He is in the light.

“Care-giving” School

Originally Published July 2013 {those we cared for, mentioned in this post, have since passed away.}

“Care-giving” School

Warren E. Berkley

person wearing hearing aid
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Paula and I have been to “care-giving” school, and we are still enrolled. In the circumstances we’ve had, caring for Paula’s mother, Paula’s aunt and now my mother, it has been “on the job training.” Here are three things we’ve learned:

(1) You cannot make people do what they are not willing or capable of doing. You can offer your best arguments, hold out the most attractive motives and plead with the patient to do what you have determined is best. If they are not capable of fulfilling that request, or not willing, there comes a time when you are wasting your energy. The same is so when helping people find their way to the Lord or come back to Him. You simply cannot command people and expect there will always be a positive response. Because of ingrained sin or absence of will, the person you are trying to take care of may never do what you ask (more important, what the Lord asks). (In the case of patients who are physically/mentally ill, there is obviously no blame to be assigned and no eternal consequence.)

(2) As a care-giver, you cannot do it all by yourself. You will need allies, family members, medical specialists, friends and professionals to form a team to execute the care plan – all drenched in prayer. The same is true of those who need spiritual care. You may need to ask others to help, enlist the support of others who know the negligent person, thus forming a care-giving team to get the sinner out of sin.

(3) You cannot wear yourself out or make yourself sick. One of the significant and frequent problems in care-giving is, the care-giver becomes exhausted and perhaps ill. It is wise to pace yourself, take time away and refresh yourself with friends and family. Care-givers can become care-needers if this wise balance is not achieved. Likewise, in providing care for the spiritually ill, one must not become obsessed. There is other work to do. Your own spiritual welfare needs attention.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  Jude 20-25

Take Time To Be Holy

From Pressing On Magazine, Feb. 2013 – Click Here To Subscribe

“Take Time To Be Holy”

Dee Bowman

“Be ye holy, even as I am holy.”  The words ring as true today as if the ink from the pen of inspiration had not yet dried on the parchment.  “Be ye holy, even as I am holy,” means being like God; it means there is the need for adopting and maintaining a life of purity and dignity before God and men alike.  “Be ye holy as I am holy” means that God is made the well-spring for  our energy, the motive for our pursuits, and the never-changing direction for our hope.

Be ye holy as I am holy”  has to do with the fulfillment of our probation here in a most pure and loving way, with living of our lives according to the manner presented in His word.  It means we spend our lives in a consistent replication of the character of life and devotion to God so brilliantly seen in His son, Jesus, the Christ.

Be ye holy, even as I am holy” means seeing the Christ at Nazareth, seeing Him at Capernaum, seeing Him on the mountain of blessing, seeing Him in the wilderness of temptation, seeing Him in the Garden of His passion and on the road to Golgatha, and as He was suspended on the cross. But “be ye holy even as I am holy” also means seeing Him as the resurrected One, seeing Him as he returns to His Father, as seeing Him in His word as He dictates the means and methods for our return to His Father as well, for, said He, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh to the Father, but by Me.”.

“Be ye holy, even as I am holy”  means being like our Father, a fact for which He so longed that He gave His Son to bring it about.

Heb. 2:5-9

By The Grace of God

Hebrews 2:5-9

“For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

This passage begins repeating the kind of arguments made in chapter one, showing Christs’ superiority to angels. You remember, in chapter one the writer essentially said – what was said about Christ in prophecy, was not about angels. Christs’ relationship to the Father is unique and exalted above angel status.

That same kind of argument is made here, but in this section – an important question is answered. If Christ is inherently superior to angels, why did the Father send him to earth in the flesh, making Him a little lower than the angels. The answer is – that Christ, by the grace of God might taste of death for every man, and having suffered – he crowned with glory and honor.

Now, the cause of this is identified and should not be missed. The grace of God. Jesus was “made lower than the angels,” to suffer death for us – and this was caused by, motivated by and perfectly exhibits “the grace of God.”

May each of us take this to heart, pay close attention and accept the gift of God’s grace – by obeying the gospel and living as a disciple of Christ.

The Value of Vertical Comparisons

The Value of Vertical Comparisons

Warren E. Berkley

brown book page
Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

Preparing to teach a Bible class in the book of Mark, I found this paragraph in the Hendricksen/Kistemaker commentary on Mark:

In their heart of hearts Christ’s enemies must have realized that Jesus was infinitely better than they were. His humility (Luke 22:27) contrasted sharply with their pomposity (Matt. 23:5–7); his sincerity (John 8:46), with their hypocrisy (Mark 7:6); his sympathy (Mark 6:34), with their cruelty (Matt. 23:14). To a considerable extent their “religion” was activity in the interest of self (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16); his ministry was a sacrifice in the interest of others (Mark 10:45) and to the glory of the Father (John 17:1, 4). Did some of these enemies sense that he knew their real character, that he “had their number?”  {Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 10: Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. New Testament Commentary (271). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.}

This caught my attention as we navigated Mark 7, where the scribes and Pharisees condemned Jesus because His disciples did not follow their rituals (different from God’s rules). In this connection I said to the class – Comparisons that are horizontal have no real spiritual value . . . only comparisons that are vertical have value.

The fact that others are not doing what we do is not grounds for condemnation, and if such condemnation is issued – it reveals arrogance. It is a horizontal comparison.

What is needed is vertical comparisons, meaning – we compare ourselves and others with the highest standard, which is God’s Word (and the embodiment of His Word in the life of Christ). What I need to know is, how do I compare to God’s standard. What my friends and neighbors need to know is, how they compare to God’s standard. Only vertical comparisons have value.

Back to the above quote – in comparison to Christ, His enemies actual condition was dramatically manifest. He was good, they were not. He spoke the truth, they did not. He was sinless, they were sinful. He obeyed God and respected His Word, the enemies of Christ did not.

Let us be His friends, as determined by the vertical comparison.

From Expository Files Archives

About God’s Law

From Pressing On Magazine, Feb. 2015 – Subscribe Here

What We Should Know about God’s Law

by Warren E. Berkley

Reading the Bible, we should understand that law from God was not given as a weapon or instrument for men to use against each other. When the Pharisees used God’s law to write their own, to hold people to their standards, then that was a mis-use of God’s law. God never asked men to re-write His law to suit the ill-conceived purposes of their agenda.

When one uses the law of God to impulsively accuse others, while guilty himself – that’s a mis-use of God’s law (see Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-11). Law from God, rightly conceived, is given to hold us in check; to govern us and guide us and keep us morally upright. “Certain persons” in Ephesus had turned away from this authentic conception of divine law. All law from God is good, but must be used as intended by the Creator.

When the law is buried under a load of “traditions” which nullify its very purpose (Matthew 15:3, 6; Mark 7:9; then Matthew 5:43) or when it is used as a “take-off” point for spell-binders about ancestors, it loses its power. Just as in the public games only that man received the wreath of victory who played according to the rules (cf. 2 Timothy 2:5), so also only that person can expect to receive a blessing from the law who uses it as it should be use.”

Truth Connection: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,” (1 Timothy 1:8).

Behavior over blood

The Priority of Behavior Over Blood 

John 8:37-47

John chapter eight is packed with action. The action documented had a violent conclusion. The last verse in the chapter says, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him…” What happened? What was said that prompted wicked men to such violence?

The Jews who opposed Jesus suffered with a carnal predisposition to justify themselves by claims of their blood connection with Abraham. When, for example, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John’s baptism, John called for them to repent, warning them not to rely on their bloodline (Matt. 3:9). Paul gave instruction directed to this fleshly propensity when he wrote: “…he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God,” (Rom. 2:28,29; see also Phil. 3:1-11).

This was a massive stumbling block for many Jews, justifying themselves, excusing themselves and denying the need to be saved, based on claims of kinship with Abraham.

The issue was (as expressed by Jesus), their attitude and behavior was obviously unlike the character of their claimed father, Abraham.

Jesus said to them: “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” (Jno. 8:37). They were descendants of Abraham by blood, but not by behavior! Jesus spoke divine truth to these fleshly descendants of Abraham, and gave evidence of His deity and integrity. Yet, they believed Him not and their answer was: “Abraham is our father,” (Jno. 8:39).

Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham,” (Jno. 8:39). They were Abraham’s children by blood, but not behavior. This tells us a very simple thing: Blood is never an excuse for misbehavior. Unbelief and sin cannot be defended by claims of blood, genealogy or family origin. If a paraphrase be permitted, Jesus is saying: I know who you are; I want to talk about what you are doing, your behavior. You are seeking to kill me, because My Word has no place in you!

“But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this!” These Jews were plotting the downfall and death of mankind’s greatest Benefactor. The Messiah who came to save them was now in the sights of their malicious intent. They had the blood of Abraham, but not his heart.
The privilege of good heritage can be repudiated and lost by our ill-advised moral choices. It doesn’t matter how good the people were we came from, if we fail to respond to God’s Word and pursue godly character! Who we are is known by what we do, not the genealogy we claim! The good work of God’s Word, the influence of Abraham and the person and work of Christ was all obstructed and resisted by the carnal, party spirit and sinful willfulness of these men who sought to kill Christ. Their choices predominated over their heritage.

Next, Jesus said to them: You are doing the deeds of your father, but your father (as evidenced by behavior) is not Abraham; he is the devil!

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father-God.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

What an act of courage, for Jesus to speak to his enemies with such boldness. He told them they were corrupt, because though their blood was Abraham’s, their character was the devil’s!

Our conduct says more about who we are related to than our blood! The genuine test is – what do we think and do. Paternity is shown by practice. And “He who is of God hears God’s words!”

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 10.10; October, 2003