Jesus Heals on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6)
Again we find the Lord in conflict with the Pharisees as to the sabbath question. His declaration that the sabbath was God’s gracious provision for man’s comfort—never intended to add to man’s burdens but rather to relieve them—had made no impression on these stern and crafty legalists.
Among the congregation in the synagogue service on this particular sabbath was a poor, helpless man with a withered hand—that is, a hand that had become paralyzed and hung uselessly by his side. Jesus’ critics, knowing the compassion of His heart took it for granted that He would take an interest in this man. Instead of rejoicing in this evidence of divine love and consideration, they watched Him with jealous eyes to see if He would exercise His healing power on the sabbath. They secretly hoped He would, so they could accuse Him of violating the tradition of the elders. Such is the heart of man, even though outwardly pious and religious, when a stranger to the grace of God!
Jesus, to whom nothing was hidden and who read their minds like an open book, asked the partially paralyzed man to “stand forth.” One can imagine how eagerly and hopefully he would obey, expectantly looking to Jesus for the healing of his infirmity.
Then the Lord asked the question, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?” No one answered. Knowing their hypocrisy He looked on them with anger. It was holy indignation because of their pretense to honor God and their indifference to the needs of men. The hardness of their hearts grieved the tender spirit of Jesus.
He then commanded the man to stretch out his hand. At once, as he looked in faith to Jesus, he felt new life pulsating through that paralyzed limb, and he stretched it out and found it was now as well and strong as the other.
One might have thought that such an exhibition of the grace and power that was in Jesus would have filled every heart with gladness and led to praise and thanksgiving to God for having visited His people so wonderfully. But the miracle had the very opposite effect on these jealous advocates of human traditions as opposed to divine revelation. They exhibited an utter lack of conscience toward God while displaying a punctilious concern for the observance of their traditions and false conceptions of the will of God regarding the observance of the weekly sabbath. The Pharisees, stern champions of orthodoxy that they were, entered into collaboration with the Herodians, the worldly and corrupt politicians of their day. Both groups wanted to lay hold of Jesus and put Him out of the way. Thus did extremes meet then, as often since. Men of entirely opposite views agreed on the rejection of Christ and consulted each other about how He might be destroyed. Such is the inevitable evil of the natural heart in its opposition to God!
Jesus Heals Multitudes (Mark 3:7-12)
We are told that Jesus withdrew Himself and that with His disciples He returned to the shore of the sea of Galilee. Learning of His whereabouts, great crowds assembled. They came not only from Galilee itself but also from Judea, from as far southeast as Idumaea (the land of Edom), and from as far northwest as the regions of Tyre and Sidon. The fame of Jesus had spread far abroad. It was a time of expectation and speculative ferment among the Jewish people everywhere, who confidently looked for the predicted appearance of the long-desired Son of David who was to bring liberty and salvation to Israel. The hope that Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth, might be the Messiah evidently was in the hearts of the multitudes that came from near and far to hear His words and to behold His works of power.
So dense was the crowd that they pressed upon Jesus as He stood on the narrow beach. He therefore asked of one of His disciples (Peter, we know from other records) for the privilege of using his fishing boat, which was anchored offshore, as a pulpit. Standing in this little ship He addressed the people who hung avidly on His words. The hills rise from the shore in that particular section of the coast of the little inland sea like a vast amphitheater so that the voice of the speaker would be heard readily by thousands.
Many sick ones were in that crowd, and after finishing His discourse Jesus healed all who came. So great was their faith in His healing power that they stretched forth eager hands, believing that to touch even His garments would bring the deliverance for which they longed. None were disappointed. Even those possessed with demons were freed from their bondage, the evil spirits proclaiming the truth of His deity. But He did not look with favor on audible recognition from these vile powers, and so commanded them to refrain from acknowledging Him in this way.
Jesus Ordains the Twelve (Mark 3:13-21)
From among the many who had become disciples of Jesus He chose twelve who were to be intimately associated with Him. With one unhappy exception, they were destined to become His witnesses after His death and resurrection.
“He ordained twelve… that he might send them forth to preach.” It is not men who choose or appoint themselves to be servants of Christ. He chooses and ordains His own (John 15:16). All of the twelve apostles were what we might call “hand-picked men” (even Judas), being the special objects of divine interest. Helpless in themselves, the twelve were empowered by the Lord to do mighty works in order to accredit the message they were to carry to Israel.
The name of Simon, whom the Lord surnamed Peter, stands alone in verse 16. He was in some respects the prince of the apostles. His warm, energetic nature and fervency of spirit fitted him in a special way for leadership after he was endued with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His ministry, as we know, was to the Jews particularly, although it was he who also opened the door of faith to the Gentiles by proclaiming the gospel in the house of Cornelius. Jesus surnamed him “a stone.”
Next in order are “James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges.” When Jesus gave a new name to anyone, it indicated some characteristic He saw in him or which He was to produce in him in days to come. Boanerges is interpreted for us as “sons of thunder.” These young men were evidently of an electric disposition, easily stirred to quick judgments, and likely to be committed readily to decisive action. James was the first of the twelve to seal his testimony with his blood. John, evidently the youngest of the entire group, outlived them all, and after almost incredible suffering, died a natural death at Ephesus in the last decade of the first century of the Christian era.
Andrew was the brother of Peter, and it was the former who led the latter to Christ, as we are told in John 1:40-42. The names of Philip and Bartholomew (also called Nathanael) are linked together. They were friends before they met Jesus, and it was Philip who introduced Nathanael to the Savior. Matthew, also known as Levi, had been a tax collector in the Roman customhouse at Capernaum, but left all to follow Jesus. Of Thomas’ s earlier life we know nothing. He is chiefly remembered for his outspoken declaration of his doubt as to the identity of the One whom the rest declared to be the risen Christ. But when Jesus appeared a week later, Thomas was convinced and worshiped Him as his Lord and God. James and Thaddaeus (or Judas, not Iscariot) were brothers, sons of Alphaeus, and apparently cousins of Jesus. Simon the Canaanite, elsewhere distinguished as the Zealot, had belonged to a radically subversive party of Jewish patriots working secretly, and at times overtly, for the deliverance of Palestine from the Roman yoke.
The last of the list is Judas Iscariot (the man of Kerioth) who was to be doomed to eternal infamy. He seems to have been the “gentleman” of the twelve, a man of culture, appointed to be the treasurer of the little company. Judas was trusted by the rest as deserving special recognition, but he proved to be unreal and hypocritical from the very beginning. Of him Jesus said later, “One of you is a devil.”
After giving us this list Mark hastened rapidly on, as it were, to tell us of the further activities of God’s anointed servant. So many came to Jesus for healing and instruction that there scarcely seemed time for any physical relaxation on His part. He was kept so busy that neither He nor the twelve had leisure even to take their ordinary meals quietly and restfully. His friends—by that is meant His immediate relatives—actually feared for His mental health and, considering Him distraught, sought to dissuade Him from further service for a while at least. But He allowed none to interfere with the work He had come to do.
Jesus Warns of the Unpardonable Sin (Mark 3:22-30)
As the multitudes watched the miracles Jesus performed, certain scribes, religious leaders who had come up from Jerusalem, looked on with envy and jealousy. Observing His growing power over the minds of the populace, the leaders feared for their own prestige and authority. Even when demons departed from their victims, exorcised by His word, the scribes and Pharisees refused to believe that the Spirit of God was working in and through Jesus thus accrediting Him as the promised Messiah. Deliberately they declared, “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils [demons] casteth he out devils [demons]”! The statement was an evidence of the utter hardness of their hearts and their complete rejection of His testimony. In declaring the work of the Holy Spirit to be that of the prince of the demons, the scribes crossed the deadline. Their hearts were hardened, and the day of repentance for them had passed.
This is what some have designated “the unpardonable sin.” Actually there is no sin that is unpardonable if men repent and turn in faith to Christ. But it is possible to sin so that the conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. Men then lose all desire to repent and are given up to strong delusion; believing a lie, they are doomed to eternal perdition. It was so with these scribes. They had refused every witness God had given to the truth as set forth in Jesus.
The Lord exposed the wickedness and foolishness of the suggestion that He had cast out demons by the aid of the prince of demons when He asked, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” And He declared that “if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Nor could a house so divided continue. Neither was it possible to believe that Satan would rise up against himself and seek to destroy his own kingdom. To do so would mean an end of his power over mankind.
As a strong man, Satan had held the poor victims of demon possession in bondage for years until the stronger One came to bind him with His word and so spoil his house. To refuse the Holy Spirit’s testimony was to show that one allied himself completely with Satan in this great conflict. Therefore Jesus added solemnly, “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” The scribes committed blasphemy by saying, “He hath an unclean spirit.”
Mark 3:28-29 was never intended to torment anxious souls honestly desiring to know Christ, but the verses stand out as a blazing beacon warning of the danger of persisting in the rejection of the Spirit’s testimony of Christ until the seared conscience no longer responds to the gospel message.
Jesus Introduces a New Family (Mark 3:31-35)
Even the mother of Jesus evidently had not yet fully understood the nature and destiny of her miraculously conceived Son. She and other relatives of Jesus stood on the outskirts of the crowd and sent a messenger bidding Him come to them. In His answer the Lord showed how all merely natural relationships were to be superseded by those of a spiritual character. He asked, “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” Then looking around at the eager faces of those who were listening earnestly to His words He exclaimed, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” Thus Jesus emphasized the great truth that He had told Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The new birth, demonstrated by obedience to the Word, brings one into everlasting relationship to our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we continue to read about the work of the divine servant, we observe that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit Mark was not led to record the events in the life and ministry of Jesus in their exact chronological order. Rather in a beautiful moral order, Mark linked together certain facts and teachings that emphasize outstanding principles.