One of the most common questions I receive is Why couldn’t Jesus heal in His hometown?
I’m well aware of the traditional theories that blame the people of Nazareth for their unbelief. Unfortunately, the way I often hear that unbelief explained is as though it was somehow a force with more power than Jesus’ faith. As you’ll see in a moment, there’s a much more plausible explanation.
To help the many people who raise this question, I thought it would be best if I shared a lesson from our 40-Day PAID IN FULL Healing Ministry Activation Manual. Here is the lesson from Day 32: Ministering to Friends:
Mark 6:1-5a —Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (NIV)
Sometimes, the more familiar a person is with you, the more difficult it is for them to see you as someone who actually has something to offer them from God. This isn’t as true among believers who have learned to value the presence of God in one another and learn from each other, but it’s certainly common among those who view people from a worldly perspective.
When Jesus visited His hometown, the people took offense at Him (Matthew 13:57). “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” they asked. The people could only see Jesus’ earthly identity and refused to believe that the little kid who used to run around their village could possibly have anything Messianic to offer.
Many people interpret this passage as though the unbelief of the people was somehow a force that was more powerful than Jesus’ faith. If that’s true, then it’s the only time the unbelief of others managed to stop Him. After all, Jesus didn’t have any trouble raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17-44). He once walked into the middle of a funeral procession and raised a dead boy (Luke 7:11-17). And when the disciples lacked the faith to cast a demon out of an epileptic boy, Jesus pointed to the entire generation—in other words, all the people around Him—as being “unbelieving and perverse” (Matthew 17:17); yet He still healed the boy (Matthew 17:14-20).
I have seen many people healed who didn’t really believe for themselves. As a matter of fact, if unbelief were a force that stopped healing, then we wouldn’t accomplish much of anything on the streets! Some of us have more faith in the power of someone’s unbelief than we have faith in God!
But the problem in Jesus’ hometown wasn’t actually “unbelief.” It was a “lack of faith” (Mark 6:6). There’s a big difference (See Appendix C). Faith is a relational word whereas belief is an intellectual word. One refers to our trust in a person while the other refers to our embracing of information. If my wife says she will meet me in one location, but I believe she will be in another, then I have belief, but I don’t have faith. And if I follow my belief rather than putting faith in my wife’s words, then I’m not going to find her in the other place! Faith cannot happen apart from believing a person, but belief can happen apart from faith.
Whenever Jesus marveled at someone’s faith, it wasn’t necessarily their perfect faith in God (or else they could have been healed without approaching Him); rather, it always seemed to be their unwavering trust that Jesus (who they thought was merely a teacher or prophet, not yet understanding His divinity) would consistently minister healing on God’s behalf. It wasn’t a matter of believing the right information about God; it was a matter of trusting the Person of Jesus. When Jesus showed up in His hometown, the people had no expectation that God would use Him to do anything spectacular. They didn’t trust Him to be the Messiah that He was. As far as they were concerned, Jesus wasn’t good at anything except carpentry. It’s far more likely that these people didn’t come to Him for healing than that their lack of faith was somehow a power more potent than Jesus’ faith.
In fact, in Luke’s account (4:14-30), a very different picture is painted in which Jesus offended the people of His hometown with His preaching and pointed out that prophets are without honor in such situations. The crowd then chased Him away and tried to throw Him off a cliff! That didn’t leave much of an opportunity for healing ministry!
Can you imagine one of the people from this crazed mob coming to Jesus and asking Him to heal them? And even if you could imagine such a thing, can you imagine Him riling up the crowd and saying, “It’s not working, guys! Come on! You need to have more faith!”? Darkness is not a force; it’s an absence of light. I’ve never seen a light bulb struggle because the darkness was too strong. In the same way, “lack of faith” is not a force. Faith is.
When ministering healing to friends, you’ll occasionally encounter people who don’t believe you have anything to offer them. But I’ve found that most people these days will at least give you an opportunity to try. Many will try to escape (or give you an out) rather than allowing you to persevere. I have learned to honor these requests, but not without at least explaining my desire to persevere and see them made whole “because Jesus wants it and already paid for it.”
I have seen many of my friends healed—many of them from my home church. It is entirely possible to minister healing to friends. Even Jesus was able to heal “a few sick people” in His troublesome hometown (Mark 6:5). But don’t allow yourself to be offended in the times when people you care about reject your offer to minister (or if they try to throw you off a cliff). Continue to love them and be their friend because “love never fails.”