Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
About that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee…
Mark 1:9a – C.E.V.
We leave the interaction between Jesus and John the Baptist for a bit, to focus on an intriguing piece of information that Mark provides us: The location of Jesus’ childhood. In fact, this is the only thing that Mark tells us about Jesus’ childhood.
Did you realize that Mark does not tell us the names of Jesus’ parents? Mary and Joseph are not mentioned by name in Mark. You have to read Matthew or Luke to get that information. When a modern biographer writes about someone’s life, a lot of time is spent researching the parents and the childhood of the person in question. These are things that really influence what a person becomes. Mark is not interested in that. In fact, none of the Gospel writers are really very interested in Jesus’ childhood. There is only one story in the entire New Testament about Jesus as a child and that story is only recorded in Luke’s gospel.15 We do not know what kind of child Jesus was, what his favorite pastime was, who he played with, or if he went to school. We do not know anything about how Jesus looked. Was he tall or short? Was he muscular or heavy? Mark is silent about these matters.
It is fascinating that Mark, the first gospel writer, does not feel any need to tell us many of the things that we would like to know about Jesus. Mark gives us no information about Jesus’ family or ancestors because his purpose to identify Jesus as the Son of God overrides this sort of detail. The only thing Mark does want us to know, and does tell us about Jesus’ childhood, is that Jesus is from Nazareth in Galilee.
You get a better idea of what people thought about Nazareth from a comment in John’s Gospel.16 Philip, one of Jesus’ first disciples, is excitedly telling Nathanael about Jesus. “We found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael replies, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Obviously Nazareth was not held in high esteem.
For a long time archaeologists could not find the ancient village of Nazareth. Scholars also searched for it in ancient writings from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. They could not find the name of the town in any writings prior to the third century. It was not until 2009 that the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that they believed that they found the evidence of human habitation in the Nazareth that existed when Jesus was alive. We do not know for sure the population at the time of Christ, only that it was a small village.
This does not mean Jesus grew up isolated, or in a cultural backwater. Nazareth was only four miles from Sepphoris, a large Roman town that served as the provincial capital. It was a Roman city rebuilt by King Herod Antipas. It had beautiful Roman architecture, an amphitheatre, and government buildings. Jesus likely would have worked there at some point in time.
Galilee itself was an area that had been controlled by the Assyrians in the later Old Testament era. It was known as the home of many non-Jewish inhabitants and was quite multicultural for first century Palestine. Greek, Roman and Jewish languages, culture and ideas were all part of Jesus’ world. Jesus would have likely spoken four languages. The common language of the time was Aramaic, and Mark leaves a few words of that in his gospel in different places. He would have had to speak and read some Greek because that was the language used in commerce and business. Jesus also would have had to speak a little Latin because the Romans were in charge of the country and that was the language of the Government. He was a Jew, and would have been able to speak and write Hebrew, as that was the language of the Jewish faith.
Galilee in the time of Jesus was also known as an area where the Zealots were based. The Zealots were fanatical anti-Romans who rebelled against Roman taxation and control and who wanted a war. The Romans, on the other hand, were demonstrating that they were in control, and so Jesus would have probably seen bloodshed growing up. He certainly would have heard people out in the streets inciting rebellion, and there would have been attempts to convince Jesus to join with their cause.
Nazareth was an agricultural community like so many other Jewish towns. The little bit of evidence we have about Nazareth shows us that the big industry there was viticulture: the raising of grapes in vineyards. Most people were farmers, but they were sharecroppers and did not own their own land. They raised their crops on someone else’s land and probably never got out of debt. We see this reflected in the parables of Jesus. He talked about people who owed money to kings, and workers who farmed land for other people.
There would have been a few people with a trade, and that is apparently the kind of family Jesus grew up in because he was called a tekton. Traditionally, this is a word, that has been translated carpenter, but it may also mean someone who worked with stone. Either way, Jesus had a craft. This meant that his family likely owned their own house and had enough to take care of themselves, but it was still a subsistence living.
Mark tells us in chapter six17 that Jesus had at least two sisters and four brothers, so he was the oldest of a big family. It is likely that Joseph had died prior to Jesus’ adult ministry as he is conspicuously absent during those latter years. Jesus probably stayed at home until he was an adult and helped provide for his mother and his family.
Jesus lived at the only time in the history of the Jewish people where they had temple Judaism and synagogue Judaism. In Jerusalem was the temple, the priests, and the sacrifices that Moses had described. In every little town there was a synagogue where Rabbis read the word of God and people studied the word of God together. Rabbis also would have gathered disciples together for teaching, so Jesus calling his own disciples together was not that unusual for that time and place. In Luke chapter four18 it says that on the Sabbath day Jesus “went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” Gathering with others for the purpose of worshipping God and learning about God was important to Jesus, and he did it his entire life. Even when Jesus became very aware that he disagreed very much with what people were doing and what some of those teachers were saying, he didn’t bail out. When Jesus knew that people would hate what he had to say, he still went to the synagogue. That is where he loved to be, where he loved to heal, where he loved to teach. That is where he got in a lot of trouble, but that’s who Jesus was. He did not stand outside and throw rocks, he stood inside with God’s people.
Jesus probably felt about a small town the same way a lot of us do. John Mellencamp sang in the 80s, “I want to live in a small town… I was born in one, want to die in one, want to raise my children in a small town…”19 We may have an idealized view of a small town, but a small town can have another side to it. Everybody knows everybody and calls everybody by name. They know your mother, your father, and your grandparents. They know what kind of people you come from. They know all the mistakes you made. They know what you were supposed to be and what you turned out to be like.
Later on in Mark’s gospel20 Jesus comes back to Nazareth and the people say, “We’ve heard about you, up in Capernaum. You have done good up there. What are you going to do here?” And guess what? Jesus really disappointed them. It said that Jesus did not do many miracles there because they didn’t believe in him, which is the ironic thing about the small town Jesus was from. They rejected Jesus. When they were confronted with who Jesus was, and what that would mean they said, “We don’t want that.” In fact in Luke chapter four it is recorded that they tried to throw him off a cliff and kill him.21 Some reception from the place where you grew up!
Sometimes when people grow up in small communities, change is very difficult to accept. People say, “this is how I was brought up, this is what I have always believed, this is the way I’ve always talked, the way I’ve always done business, and the way I have always treated people.” They find out that following Jesus means that you need to be different! You need to be loyal to, and changed by Jesus Christ, and not just be a product of where you are from.
Many of the things that I learned in my childhood community I now understand to be wrong. I learned a lot of racism growing up there. I was told that having a big house out in the suburbs and making lots of money is what life was all about. High school was all about getting drunk and having sex.
In contrast, if you want to ask me who I am today I will say, “Look at Jesus,” because Jesus is the one who has really made the difference in who I am and what I am. I am grateful for where I am from – all of us have a place where we live and where we can influence and help others – but the defining person in our life should be Jesus Christ. He should overrule and override anything that we grew up with, anything that we are, any mistakes that we’ve made, and any reputation that we have.
 A collection of childhood stories about Jesus were written in the 2nd or 3rd centuries in the falsely attributed Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gospel of Thomas which is also not part of the accepted canon of scripture.) We have no way of verifying their accuracy.
 John 1:45-46
 Mark 6:3
 Luke 4:17
 John Mellencamp, “Small Town”. From the album “Scarecrow” – 1985.
 Mark 6:1-5
 Luke 4:29-30
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