Can We Limit God?
Mark 6:5: So Jesus was not able to work any miracles there except to heal a few sick people by putting his hands on them.
In my decades of Bible study, this verse has always troubled me. If God is all-powerful, and if Jesus was God in the flesh, how could people possibly limit his ability in any way? How could Mark say that Jesus was unable to work miracles in his own hometown?
Perhaps the best clue to an answer comes from the verse preceding this one. Mark 6:4 tells us Jesus himself said, "A prophet is honored everywhere except in his hometown and with his own people and in his own home." When Jesus returned to his hometown, the people saw him as "the carpenter, the son of Mary." They looked at Messiah but saw only the carpenter's son!
This shouldn't be too surprising, as the book of John tells us, "not even his brothers believed in him." (John 7:5) The very people who had lived with Jesus for 30 years didn't really know him at all.
While people in other towns had flocked to him, his hometown experience was quite different. Apparently, the crowds didn’t gather, so he had no opportunity to preach until the Sabbath. When he spoke in their synagogue, he chose a portion of scripture which was a well-known Messianic passage (Isaiah 61:1-2), telling the people that the prophesy was now fulfilled -- obviously, in Jesus himself.
A Strange Reaction to a Gentle Man
Luke 4 tells us the people of Nazareth were so incensed at hearing Jesus claim to be Messiah they took him out of the city and were going to throw him off a cliff as punishment! Apparently, his ministry and miracles didn't convince them, and the power he had demonstrated in other towns didn't impress them, either. You would think they might consider these amazing works as proof that he was at least on a special mission from God, if nothing else...
The proof of Christ's deity and Messiahship were so obvious in that time, it’s hard to believe there would be anyone who remained skeptical of his claims–especially in his own hometown. In fact, in other towns he was called the prophet from Nazareth!
What Does This Verse Really Mean?
This verse does not really mean that Jesus was incapable of working miracles in Nazareth. Rather, it implies that the contempt of the people for his claims was so great it would not have served his purposes to do any miraculous work there. After all, his time on earth was short and his mission was to spread the gospel as far as possible.
The term used in this passage seems usual to us, but to the Hebrews it would make sense. When something was not the correct procedure and, therefore, they decided not to act, they would say it "cannot be done."
Mark 6:6 notes that even Jesus "was amazed at how many people (in Nazareth) had no faith." After all the years he had lived among them, they never noticed anything special about him, so they didn’t believe his words.
They did note that he spoke with great wisdom, and this wisdom must have been given to him by God, because they knew he had no formal education. Yet, they couldn't quite make that leap to the obvious conclusion: that Jesus was who he said he was.
He could have done as many miracles there as he did in other areas, I'm sure, but he didn't. I believe it was because the people wouldn't come to him in faith, believing he was indeed the Son of God. Their unbelief actually stalled the miraculous hand of God’s son and robbed them of the blessings he bestowed elsewhere. How sad...
After this incident, the Bible tells us, Jesus took his ministry to other areas, and never returned to Nazareth. They had proven themselves to be unworthy and unbelieving people, so there was no reason for Jesus to go back. His earthly ministry was short, and he wasted no time where people didn’t want to hear the truth.
Jesus Did Perform a Few Miracles There
This is obvious in the rest of the verse: "...save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk and healed them." There were still a few people in town who believed Jesus could heal them. They had heard stories about his ministry in nearby towns, and they believed he could heal them, too.
In response to their faith, Jesus cured them. I'm sure one of his main reasons for doing this was to show his power to the ones who had expressed doubt in his abilities. He was able to work in their lives, but they chose to reject him, so he moved on.
An Old Testament Reference
It is interesting to read a related verse in the Old Testament. Psalm 78:41 states: "They turned back and tempted God and limited the Holy One of Israel" (KJV) Think about that. You and I can limit the Creator of the universe by our faith--or lack thereof. What we believe can make it easy for God to move on our behalf, or basically tell Him we don't need His help.
It was not from lack of ability that Jesus was unable to act there, but a lack of faith on the part of the people. Those who need his help must have the faith to seek it. And, just as faith is the condition required for the salvation of the soul, so Christ required it as a condition of healing the body.
No, We can't Limit God
The amazing conclusion I draw from this: God works in our lives in response to our faith. We cannot limit a limitless God, but we can affect how he deals with us by our Faith (or lack of faith). If we ask God for help with something, but don't believe He will really step in and work in us, He does the gentlemanly thing and stays out of our way. There is a grave danger that we, like the people of Nazareth, can miss out on God's blessings because we fail to recognize God's messenger and to respond to him in faith. May we learn a life-changing lesson from the people of Nazareth and be sure we respond to Jesus with genuine faith.