When Jesus visited His hometown to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom offer to His own, Mark says in his gospel that Jesus “could there do no mighty work…and He marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5,6) That’s a staggering thought: that those who had watched Jesus grow from childhood to adulthood, the extraordinary son of Mary and Joseph, would reject His Messianic claims in spite of the fact that in Galilee He had already demonstrated His Godhead through mighty messages and miracles.
Little wonder then, when Mary Magdalene, the formerly demon-possessed woman whose life had been transformed when Jesus freed her casting seven devils out of her demon devastated body, would on the Sunday after His Friday crucifixion tell the eleven apostles that His tomb was empty, they would not believe her; nor would they believe the two men who gave witness that they had seen Jesus, talked and walked with Him as He appeared to them as they walked on their way to Emmaus. Like those in His hometown in the beginning of His ministry, Jesus had to upbraid the disciples “with their unbelief and hardness of heart….” (Mark 16:14)
Unbelief has been labeled “Satan’s Masterpiece.” He plied his perverse skills using the twin fiery darts of unbelief and pride when he deceived our first parents, plunging them and all of the human race into this morass of universal unbelief. One pulpiteer proclaimed, “Could you roll all sins into one mass: could you take murder and blasphemy and lust and adultery and fornication and everything that is vile and unite them into one vast glob of black corruption—they would not even then equal the sin of unbelief. This is the monarch sin, the quintessence of guilt, the mixture of the venom of all crimes—the dregs of the wine of Gomorrah. It is the A-1 sin, the masterpiece of Satan, the chief work of the Devil.”
It was the sin that caused two million redeemed Jews to forfeit their passports into the Promised Land where awaited them cities they would not have to build and lush vineyards they would not have to plant after wandering in the Negev wilderness for 40 years. A land flowing with milk and honey was in their sights but “we see they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Hebs. 3:19). The “they” in verse 19 refers to “Your fathers (who) tempted me, proved me, saw my works forty years. Wherefore was I grieved with that generation, and said, they do always err in their heart…take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.” (Hebs. 3:9-12)
When the 19th century “Great Agnostic,” Robert Ingersoll said, “Life is a dark barren vale between the ice-clad peaks of two cold eternities,” he was not bewailing an atheistic despair that had suddenly overcome him. Unbelief was gradual, beginning perhaps, as it most often does, as an “innocent” questioning of restraints to one’s baser appetites; a bothersome, spiritual nuisance that serves at first as a check on one’s conscience; then in time unbelief unfolds in the recesses of one’s soul as a pronounced dislike of truth; it then comes to a fixed hatred of the truth and finally a total disdain of it followed soon by a final despair that Ingersoll and others would verbalize in utter hopelessness: “We wail and cry in the dark. Faith tries to see a star and hear the rustle of a wind, but the only sound we hear is the echo of our own voice.”
We can only by faith in the substance of things hoped for and in the evidence of things not seen heed the admonition of Hebrews 4:11: “Let us labor therefore, to enter into that rest (of faith) lest any fall after the same example of unbelief.”
“But exhort one another daily, while it is called To Day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebs. 3:13)