Pulpit Commentary - Mark 3:1 - 3:35

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Pulpit Commentary - Mark 3:1 - 3:35

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This chapter begins with the record of another case of healing on the sabbath day; and it closes with the notice of a combination of the Pharisees with the Herodians to bring about the destruction of the Saviour. We may observe that he again chose the sabbath for a new miracle, that he might again and again confute the error of the scribes and Pharisees with regard to the observance of the sabbath.


He entered again into the synagogue
. St. Matthew (Mat_12:9
) says, "their synagogue" ( εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν ) This would probably be on the next sabbath after that named at the close of the last chapter. And there was a man there which had a withered hand ( ἐξηραμμένην ἔχων τὴν χεῖρα ); literally, which had his hand withered, or dried up. And they watched him ( παρετήρουν αὐτὸν ); kept watching him. There were probably scribes sent for this purpose from Jerusalem. St. Jerome informs us that in an apocryphal Gospel in use amongst the Nazarenes and Ebionites, the man whose hand was withered is described as a mason, and is said to have asked for help in the following terms:—"I was a mason, seeking my living by manual labour. I beseech thee, Jesus, to restore me the use of my hand, that I may not be compelled to beg my bread." This is so far consistent with St. Mark's description ( ἐξηραμμένην ἔχων τὴν χεῖρα ) as to show that the malady was the result of disease or accident, and not congenital. St. Luke (Luk_6:6) informs us that it was the right hand. The disease probably extended through the whole arm according to the wider meaning of the Greek word It seems to have been a kind of atrophy, causing a gradual drying up of the limb; which in such a condition was beyond the reach of any mere human skill.


The scribes had already the evidence that our Lord had permitted his disciples to rub the ears of corn on the sabbath day. But this was the act of the disciple, not his. What he was now preparing to do was an act of miraculous power. And here the ease was stronger, because work, which was prohibited under pain of death by the Law (Exo_31:14
), was understood to include every act not absolutely necessary.

Mar_3:3, Mar_3:4

Stand forth
. The words in the original are Ἔγειραι εἰς τὸ μέσον Rise into the midst. In St. Matthew's account (Mat_12:10
), the scribes and Pharisees here ask our Lord, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" The two accounts are easily reconciled if we first suppose the scribes and Pharisees to ask this question of our Lord, and then our Lord to answer them by putting their own question to them in another form. Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill? Our Lord's meaning appears to be this: "If any one, baying it in his power, omits to do an act of mercy on the sabbath day-for one grievously afflicted, as this man is, if he is able to cure him, as I Christ am able, he does him a wrong; for he denies him that help which he owes him by the law of charity." Our Lord thus plainly signifies that not to do an act of kindness to a sick man on the sabbath day when you are able to do it, is really to do him a wrong. But it is never lawful to do a wrong; and therefore it is always lawful to do good, not excepting even the sabbath day, for that is dedicated to God and to good works. Whence it is a greater sin to do a wrong on the sabbath than on other days; for thus the sanctity of the sabbath is violated, just as it is all the more honoured and sanctified by doing good. In our Lord's judgment, then, to neglect to save, when you have it in your power to do so, is to destroy. They held their peace. They could not answer him. They are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against the truth, refuse to say anything for it.


When he had looked round about on them with anger, being
grieved ( συλλυπούμενος )—the word has a touch of "condolence" in it—at the hardening of their heart. All this is very characteristic of St. Mark, who is careful to notice the visible expression of our Lord's feelings in his looks. The account is evidently from an eye-witness, or from one who had it from an eye-witness. He looked round about on them with anger. He was indignant at their blindness of heart, and their unbelief, which led them to attack the miracles of mercy wrought by him on the sabbath day as though they were a violation of the law of the sabbath. We see hero how plainly there were in Christ the passions and affections common to the human nature, only restrained and subordinated to reason. Hero is the difference between the anger of fallen man and the anger of the sinless One. With fallen man, auger is the desire of retaliating, of punishing those by whom you consider yourself unjustly treated. Hence, in other men, anger springs from self-love; in Christ it sprang from the love of God. He loved God above all things; hence he was distressed and irritated on account of the wrongs done to God by sins and sinners. So that his anger was a righteous zeal for the honour of God; and hence it was mingled with grief, because, in their blindness and obstinacy, they would not acknowledge him to be the Messiah, but misrepresented his kindnesses wrought on the sick on the sabbath day, and found fault with them as evil. Thus our Lord, by showing grief and sorrow, makes it plain that his anger did not spring from the desire of revenge. He was indeed angry at the sin, while he grieved over and with the sinners, as those whom he loved, and for whose sake he came into the world that he might redeem and save them. Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth: and his hand was restored. The words "whole as the other" ( ὑγιὴς ὡς ἡ ἄλλη ) are not found in the best uncials. They were probably inserted from St. Matthew. In this instance our Lord performed no outward act. "He spake, and it was done." The Divine power wrought the miracle concurrently with the act of faith on the part of the man in obeying the command.


The Pharisees and the Herodians combine together against the Lord. This was a terrible crisis in his history, or rather in the history of those unbelieving men. They are now in this dilemma: they must either accept his teaching, or they must take steps against him as a sabbath-breaker. But what had he done? The miracle had been wrought by a word only. It would have been difficult, therefore, to have obtained a judgment against him. Therefore they secured some fresh allies. They had already gained to their side some of the disciples of John the Baptist (Mar_2:18
), now they associate with themselves the Herodians. This is the first mention that we find made of the Herodians. They were the natural opponents of the Pharisees; but here they seem to have found some common ground of agreement, though it is not very easy to say what it was, in combining against our Lord. But it is no uncommon thing to find coalitions of men, strangely opposed to one another on most points, but united to effect some particular object; and it is easy to see how the purity and spirituality of our Lord and of his doctrine would be opposed, on the one hand, to the ceremonial formality of the Pharisee, and on the other to the worldly and secular spirit of the Herodian.

Mar_3:7, Mar_3:8

Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the sea
. This shows that the miracle just recorded took place in the interior of Galilee, and not at Capernaum, which was close by the sea. The chief city in Galilee at that time was Sepphoris, which Herod Antipas had made his capital. There the Herodiaus would of course be numerous, and so too would the Pharisees; since that city was one of the five places where the five Sanhedrims met. The remainder of these two verses should be read and pointed thus: And a great multitude from Galilee followed: and from Judaea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and beyond Jordan, and about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, hearing what great things he did, come unto him. The meaning of the evangelist is this, that, in addition to the great multitude that followed him from the parts of Galilee which he had just been visiting, there were vast numbers from other parts who had now heard of his fame, and flocked to him from every quarter. This description sets before us in a strikingly graphic manner the mixed character of the multitude who gathered around our Lord to listen to his teaching, and to be healed by him—as many, at least, as had need of healing.


And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship
( πλοιάριον )—literally, a little boat—should wait on him προσκαρτερῆ αὐτῷ )—literally, should be in close attendance upon him—because of the multitude, lest they should throng him. This shows in a very graphic manner how assiduously and closely the crowd pressed upon him, so that he was obliged to have a little boat always in readiness, in which he might take refuge when the pressure became too great, and so address them with greater freedom from the boat. St. Luke (Luk_5:3) says, "He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship," making the boat, so to speak, his pulpit.


As many as had plagues
—the Greek word is μάστιγας ; literally, scourges, painful disorders—pressed upon him ( ὥστε ἐπιπίπτειν αὐτῷ ); literally, fell upon him, clung to him, hoping that the very contact with him might heal them. This expression, "scourges," reminds us that diseases are a punishment on account of our sins.


And the unclean spirits, whensoever they beheld him, fell down before him, and cried, saying
. It is worthy of notice that the afflicted people fell upon him ( ἐπίπιπτειν αὐτῷ ); but the unclean spirits felt down before him ( προσέπιπτεν αὐτῷ ), and this not out of love or devotion, but out of abject fear, dreading lest he should drive them out of the "possessed," and send them before their time to their destined torment. It is just possible that this homage paid to our Lord may have been an act of cunning—a ruse, as it were, to lead the people to suppose that our Lord was in league with evil spirits. Thou art the Son of God. Did, then, the unclean spirits really know that Jesus was the Son of God? A voice from heaven at his baptism had proclaimed him to be the Son of God, and that voice must have vibrated through the spiritual world. Then, further, they must have known him to be the Son of God by the numerous and mighty miracles which he wrought, and which they must have seen [o be real miracles, such as could only have been wrought by the supernatural power of God, and which were wrought by Christ for this very purpose, that they might prove him to be the promised Messiah, the only begotten Son of God. It may, however, be observed that they did not know this so clearly, but that, considering, on the other hand, the greatness of the mystery, they hesitated. It is probable that they were ignorant of the end and fruit of this great mystery, namely, that mankind were to be redeemed by the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Death of Christ; and so their own kingdom was to be overthrown, and the kingdom of God established. Blinded by their hatred of Jesus, whom they perceived to be a most holy Being, drawing multitudes to himself, they stirred up the passions of evil men against him, little dreaming that in promoting his destruction they were overthrowing their own kingdom.



Into a mountain
; literally, into the mountain ( εἰς τὸ ὄρος ). Similarly, St. Luke (Luk_6:12
) says," He went out into the mountain to pray." The use of the definite article might either point to some well-known eminence, or to the high table-land as distinguished from the plain, and in which there would be many recesses, which would explain the use of the preposition Tradition indicates Mount Hatten as the place, about five miles to the west of the Sea of Galilee. The summit rises above a level space, where large numbers might stand within hearing. It is supposed, with good reason, that it was from thence that the sermon on the mount was delivered. It was at daybreak, as we learn from St. Luke (Luk_6:13), after this night of prayer, that he called unto him whom he himself would ( οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός ): and they went unto him ( καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς ); literally, they went away to him, the word implying that they forsook their former pursuits. His own will was the motive power: he called "whom he himself would;" but their will consented. "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will seek."

Mar_3:14, Mar_3:15

Out of those who thus came to him, he ordained twelve literally, he made or appointed twelve. They were not solemnly ordained or consecrated to their office until after his resurrection. Their actual consecration (of all of them at least but one, namely, Judas Iscariot) took place when he breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (Joh_20:22
). But from this time they were his apostles "designate." They were henceforth to Be with him as his attendants and disciples. They were to go forth and preach under his direction, and by his power they were to cast out devils. Several manuscripts add here that they were "to heal sicknesses," but the words are emitted in some of the oldest authorities. The authority over unclean spirits is more formally conveyed later on, so that here St. Mark speaks by anticipation. But this shows how much importance was attached to this part of their mission; for it recognizes the spiritual world, and the special purpose of the manifestation of the Son of God, namely, that he might "destroy the works of the devil." He appointed twelve. The number twelve symbolizes perfection and universality. The number three indicates what is Divine; and the number four, created things. Three multiplied by four gives twelve, the number of those who were to go forth as apostles into the four quarters of the world—called to the faith of the holy Trinity.

Mar_3:16, Mar_3:17

And Simon he surnamed Peter
. Our Lord had previously declared that Simon should be so called. But St. Mark avoids as much as possible the recognition of any special honor belonging to St. Peter; so he here simply mentions the fact of this surname having been given to him, a fact which was necessary in order that he might be identified. All the early Christian writers held that Peter was virtually the author of this Gospel. Simon, or Simeon, is from a Hebrew word, meaning "to hear." James the son of Zebedee, so called to distinguish him from the other James; and John his brother. In St. Matthew's list, Andrew is mentioned next after Peter, as his brother, and the first called. But here St. Mark mentions James and John first after Peter; these three, Peter and James and John, being the three leading apostles. Of James and John, James is mentioned first, as the eldest of the two brothers. And them he surnamed Boanerges, which is, Sons of thunder. "Boanerges" is the Aramaic pronunciation of the Hebrew B'ne-ragesh; B'ne, sons, and ragesh, thunder. The word was not intended as a term of reproach; although it fitly expressed that natural impetuosity and vehemence of character, which showed itself in their desire to bring down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village, and in their ambitious request that they might have the highest places of honor in his coming kingdom. But their natural dispositions, under the Holy Spirit's influence, were gradually transformed so as to serve the cause of Christ, and their fiery zeal was transmuted into the steady flame of Christian earnestness and love, so as to become an element of great power in their new life as Christians. Christ called these men "Sons of thunder" because he would make their natural dispositions, when restrained and elevated by his grace, the great instruments of spreading his Gospel. He destined them for high service in his kingdom. By their holy lives they were to be as lightning, and by their preaching they were to be as thunder to rouse unbelievers, and to bring them to repentance and a holy life. It was no doubt on account of this zeal that James fell so early a victim to the wrath of Herod. A different lot was that which fell to St. John. Spared to a ripe old age, he influenced the early Church by his writings and his teaching. His Gospel begins as with the voice of thunder, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Beza and others, followed by Dr. Morisen, have thought that this distinctive name was given by our Lord to the two brothers on account of some deep-toned peculiarity of voice, which was of much service to them in impressing the message of the Gospel of the kingdom upon their hearers.

Mar_3:18, Mar_3:19

is next mentioned after these eminent apostles, as the first called. The word is from the Greek, and means "manly." Bartholomew, that is, Bar-tolmai, the son of Tolmay. This is a patronymic, and not a proper name. It has been with good reason supposed that he is identical with Nathanael, of whom we first read in Joh_1:46
, as having been found by Philip and brought to Christ. In the three synoptic Gospels we find Philip and Bartholomew enumerated together in the lists of the apostles; and certainly the mode in which Nathanael is mentioned in Joh_21:2 would seem to show that he was an apostle. His birthplace, too, Cana of Galilee, would point to the same conclusion. If this be so, then the name Nathanael, the "gift of God," would bear the same relation to Bartholomew that Simon does to Bar-jona. Matthew. In St Matthew's own list of the apostles (Mat_10:3) the epithet "the publican" is added to his name, and he places himself after Thomas. This marks the humility of the apostle, that he does not scruple to place on record what he was before he was called. The word Matthew, a contraction of Mattathias, means the "gift of Jehovah," according to Gesenius, which in Greek would be "Theodore." Thomas. Eusebius says that his real name was Judas. It is possible that Thomas may have been a surname. The word is Hebrew meaning a twin, and it is so rendered in Greek in Joh_11:16. James the son of Alphaeus, or Clopas (not Cleophas): called" the Less," either because he was junior in age, or rather in his call, to James the Great, the brother of John. This James, the son of Alphaeus, is called the brother of our Lord. St. Jerome says that his father Alphaeus, or Clopas, married Mary, a sister of the blessed Virgin Mary, which would make him the cousin of our Lord. This view is confirmed by Bishop Pearson (Art. 3:on the Creed). He was the writer of the Epistle which bears his name, and he became Bishop of Jerusalem. Thaddaeus, called also Lebbaeus and Judas; whence St. Jerome describes him as "trionimus," i.e. having three names. Judas would be his proper name. Lebbaeus and Thaddaeus have a kind of etymological affinity, the root of Lebbaeus being "heart," and of Thaddaeus, "breast." These names are probably recorded to distinguish him from Judas the traitor. Simon the Canaanite. The word in the Greek, according to the best authorities, is, both here and in St. Matthew (Mat_10:4), Καναναῖος , from a Chaldean or Syriac word, Kanean, or Kanenieh. The Greek equivalent is Ζηλωτής , which we find preserved in St. Luke (Luk_6:15). It is possible, however, that Simon may have been born in Cana of Galilee. St. Jerome says that he was called a Cananaean or Zealot, by a double reference to the place of his birth and to his zeal. Judas Iscariot. Iscariot. The most probable derivation is from the Hebrew Ish-Kerioth, "a man of Kerioth,' a city of the tribe of Judah. St. John (Joh_6:7) describes him as the son of Simon. If it be asked why our Lord should have chosen Judas Iscariot, the answer is that he chose him, although he knew that he would betray him, because it was his will that he should be betrayed by one that had been "his own familiar friend," and that had "eaten bread with him." Bengel says well here that "there is an election of grace from which men may fall." How far our Lord knew from the first the results of his choice of Judas belongs to the profound, unfathomable mystery of the union of the Godhead and the manhood in his sacred Person. We may notice generally, with regard to this choice by our Lord of his apostles, the germ of the principle of sending them forth by two and two. Here are Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, and so on. Then, again, our Lord chose three pairs of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, James the Less and Jude, that he might teach us how powerful an influence is brotherly love. We may also observe that Christ, in selecting his apostles, chose some of his kinsmen according to the flesh. When he took upon him our flesh, he recognized those who were near to him by nature, and he would unite them yet mere closely by grace to his Divine nature. Three of the apostles took the lead, namely, Peter and James and John, who were admitted to be witnesses of his transfiguration, of one of his greatest miracles, and of his passion.

Mar_3:20, Mar_3:21

The last clause of Mar_3:19
, And they went into an house, should form the opening sentence of a new paragraph, and should therefore become the first clause of Mar_3:20, as in the Revised Version. According to the most approved reading, the words are ( ἐξῆλθον ), He cometh into an house, or, He cometh home. There is here a considerable gap in St. Mark's narrative. The sermon on the mount followed upon the call of the apostles, at all events so far as it affected them and their mission. Moreover, St. Matthew interposes hero two miracles wrought by our Lord after his descent from the mount, and before his return to his own house at Capernaum. St. Mark seems anxious here to hasten on to describe the treatment of our Lord by his own near relatives at this important crisis in his ministry. So that theyi.e., our Lord and his disciples—could not so much as eat bread; such was the pressure of the crowd upon them. St. Mark evidently records this, in order to show the contrast between the zeal of the multitude and the very different feelings of our Lord's own connections. They, his friends, when they heard how he was thronged, went out to lay hold on him; for they said, He is beside himself. This little incident is mentioned only by St. Mark. When his friends saw him so bent upon his great mission as to neglect his bodily necessities, they considered that he was bereft of his reason, that too much zeal and piety had deranged his mind. His friends went out ( ἐξῆλθον ) to lay hold on him. They may probably have come from Nazareth. St. John (Joh_7:5) says that "even his brethren did not believe on him;" that is, they did not believe in him with that fuiness of trust which is of the essence of true faith. Their impression was that he was in a condition requiring that he should be put under some restraint.


The scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub
, etc. These scribes had apparently been sent down by the Sanhedrim, on purpose to watch him, and, by giving their own opinion upon his claims, to undermine his influence. They gave as their authoritative judgment, "He hath Beelzebub." One of the most prominent characteristics of the public works of our Lord was the expulsion of evil spirits. There was no questioning the facts. Even modern scepticism is here at fault, and is constrained to admit the fact of sudden and complete cures of insanity. So the scribes were obliged to account for what they could not deny. "He hath Beelzebub," they say; that is, he is possessed by Beelzebub, or "the lord of the dwelling," as a source of supernatural power. They had heard it alleged against him," He hath a devil;" and so they fall in with this popular error, and give it emphasis, by saying, Not only has he a devil, but he is possessed by the chief of the devils, and therefore has authority over inferior spirits. Observe the contrast between the thoughts of the multitude and of those who professed to be their teachers, the scribes and Pharisees. The multitude, free from prejudice, and using only their natural light of reason, candidly owned the greatness of Christ's miracles as wrought by a Divine power; whereas the Pharisees, filled with envy and malice, attributed these mighty works which he wrought by the finger of God, to the direct agency of Satan.


How can Satan cast out Satan?
Observe here that our Lord distinctly affirms the personality of Satan, and a real kingdom of evil. But then he goes on to show that if this their allegation were true, namely, that he cast out devils by the prince or the devils, then it would follow that Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself. As a house divided against itself cannot stand, so neither could the kingdom of Satan exist in the world if one evil spirit was opposed to another for the purpose of dispossessing, the one the other, from the minds and bodies of men. Our Lord thus employs another argument to show that he casts out evil spirits, not by Beelzebub, but by the power of God. It is as though he said, "As he who invades the house of a strong man cannot succeed until he first binds the strong man; in like manner I, Christ Jesus, who spoil the kingdom of Satan, whilst I lead sinners who had been under his power to repentance and salvation, must first bind Satan himself, otherwise he would never suffer me to take his captives from him. Therefore he is my enemy, and not in league with me, not my ally in the casting out of evil spirits, as you falsely represent me to be. It behoves you, then, to understand that it is with the Spirit of God that I cast out devils, and that therefore the kingdom of God is come upon you."


All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men
, etc. St. Mark adds the words (verse 30), "Because they said, [ ἔλεγον , 'they were saying,'] He hath an unclean spirit." This helps us much to the true meaning of this declaration. Our Lord does not here speak of every sin against the Holy Spirit, but of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. These words of St. Mark point to a sin of the tongue mere especially, although not excluding thoughts and deeds against the Holy Spirit. Observe what these scribes and Pharisees did; they cavilled at works manifestly Divine—works wrought by God for the salvation of men, by which he confirmed his faith and truth. Now, when they spake against these, and knowingly and of malice ascribed them to the evil spirit, then they blasphemed against the Holy Ghost, dishonoring God by assigning his power to Satan. What could be more hateful than this? What greater blasphemy could be imagined? And surely they must be guilty of this sin who ascribe the fruits and actions of the Holy Spirit to an impure and unholy source, and so strive to mar his work and to hinder his influence in the hearts of men.


Hath never forgiveness
. Not that any sinner need despair of forgiveness through the fear that he may have committed this sin; for his repentance shows that his state of mind has never been one of entire enmity, and that he has not so grieved the Holy Spirit as to have been entirely forsaken by him. But is in danger of eternal damnation. The Greek words, according to the most approved reading, are ἀλλ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος : but is guilty of an eternal sin; thus showing that there are sins of which the effects and the punishment belong to eternity. He is bound by a chain or' sin from which he can never be loosed. (See St. Joh_9:41
, "Therefore your sin remaineth.")


Our Lord's brethren and his mother had now arrived to look after him. He was in the house teaching; but the crowd was so great that they could not approach him. The multitude filled not only the room, but the courtyard and all the approaches. St. Luke (Lujke Luk_8:19
) says," they could not come at him for the crowd." His brethren here spoken of were in all probability his cousins, the sons of Mary, the wife of Alphaeus or Clopas. But two of these, already chosen to be apostles, were most likely with him in the room, and of the number of those towards whom he stretched out his hand and said, "Behold, my mother and my brethren!" whilst Mary and the others had come (Mary, perhaps, induced by the others in the hope that the sight of his mother might the more move him) for the purpose of bringing him back to the quiet of Nazareth. We cannot suppose that the Virgin Mary came with any other feeling than that of a mother's anxiety in behalf of her Son. She may have thought that he was in danger, exposed to the fickle temper of a large multitude, who might at any moment have their passions stirred against him by his enemies, the scribes and Pharisees; and so she was willingly persuaded to come and use her influence with him to induce him to escape from what appeared evidently to be a position of some danger. If so, this explains our Lord's behavior on this occasion. The multitude was sitting about him, and he was teaching them; and then a message was brought to him from his mother and his brethren who were without, perhaps in the courtyard, perhaps beyond in the open street, calling for him. The interruption was untimely, not to say unseemly. And so he says, not without a little tone of severity in his words, Who is my mother and my brethren? Our Lord did not speak thus as denying his human relationship; as though he was not "very man," but a mere "phantom," as some early heretics taught; and still less as though he was ashamed of his earthly lationships; but partly perhaps because the messengers too boldly and inconsiderately interrupted him while he was teaching; and chiefly that he might show that his heavenly Father's business was more to him than the affection of his earthly mother, greatly as he valued it; and thus he preferred the spiritual relationship, in which there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, but all stand alike to Christ in the relationship of brother, sister, and mother. It is remarkable, and yet the reason for the omission is obvious, that our Lord does not mention" father" in this spiritual category.


Looking round on them
περιβλεψάμενος which sat round about him. Here is one of the graphic touches of St. Mark, reproduced, it may be, from St. Peter. Our Lord's intellectual and loving eye swept the inner circle of his disciples. The twelve, of course, would be with him, and others with them. His enemies were not far off. But immediately about him were those who constituted his chosen ones. As man, he had his human affections and his earthly relationships; but as the Son of God, he knew no other relatives but God's children, to whom the performance of his will and the promotion of his glory are the first of all duties and the dominant principle of their lives.



The withered hand.

This incident serves to bring out the antagonism between the spiritual and benevolent ministry of the Lord Jesus, and the formalism, self-righteousness, and hard-heartedness of the religious leaders of the Jews. It serves to explain, not only the enmity of the Pharisees, but their resolve to league with whomsoever would help them in carrying out their purposes and plot against the very life of the Son of man. It serves to exhibit the mingled feelings of indignation and of pity with which Jesus regarded his enemies, whose hatred was directed, not only against his person, but against his works of mercy and healing. But the incident shall here be treated as a symbol of man's need and of Christ's authority and method as man's Saviour.


1. The hand is the symbol of man's practical nature. The husbandman, the mechanic, the painter, the musician, every craftsman of every grade, makes use of the hand in executing works of art or fulfilling the task of toil. The right hand may be regarded as the best bodily emblem of our active, energetic nature. It is our lot, not only to think and to feel, but to will and to do.

2. The withering of the hand is symbolical of the effect of sin upon our practical nature. As this man was rendered incapable of pursuing an industrial life, so the victim of sin is crippled for holy service, is both indisposed and incapacitated for Christian work. The withering of muscle, the paralysis of nerve, is no more disastrous to bodily effort than the blighting and enfeebling power of sin is destructive of all holy acceptable service unto God.

3. The apparent hopelessness of this man's case is an emblem of the sinner's hopeless state. This unhappy person was probably condemned by his misfortune to poverty, privation, neglect, and helplessness. He was aware of the inability of human skill to cure him. The case of the sinner is a case of inability and sometimes of despondency. Legislation and philosophy are powerless to deal with an evil so radical and so unmanageable. Unless God have mercy, the sinner is undone!


1. He saves by the impartation of power. Christ in the synagogue spoke with authority, both when addressing the spectators who cavilled, and when addressing the sufferer who doubtless welcomed his aid. Power accompanied his words—power from on high; healing virtue went forth from him. How grateful should we be that, when the Son of God came to earth with power, it was with power to heal and bless! He is "mighty to save." There was power in his person and presence, power in his words and works, power in his example and demeanour, power in his love and sacrifice. When he saves, he saves from sin and from sin's worst results. The spiritual inefficiency and helplessness, which is man's curse, gives place to a heavenly energy and activity. The redeemed sinner finds his right hand of service whole, restored, vigorous. Under the influence of new motives and new hopes, he consecrates his renewed nature of activity to the Lord who saved him.

2. He saves with the concurrence of human effort. Observe that the Lord Jesus addressed to this sufferer two commands. He bade him "Stand forth!" which he could do; and "Stretch forth thy hand!" which he could not do—or at least might, judging from the past, have felt and believed himself unable to do. Yet he believed that the Prophet and Healer, who spoke with such authority, and who was known to have healed many, was not uttering idle words. His faith was called forth, and his will was exercised. Without his obedience and concurrence, there is no reason to suppose that he would have been healed. So every sinner who would be saved by Christ must recognize the Divine authority of the Saviour, must avail himself of the Saviour's compassion, and in humble faith must obey the Saviour's command. It is not, indeed, faith which saves. It is Christ who saves, but he saves through faith; for it is by faith that the sinner lays hold upon the Saviour's might, and comes to rejoice in the Saviour's grace.


1. The first requisite for a sinner who would be saved is clearly to see, and deeply to feel, his need and helplessness.

2. The next requisite is to come into the presence of the Divine Saviour.

3. Yet again, it is requisite to exercise faith in him who is mighty and willing to save.

4. And every healed and restored sinner should consecrate all his active powers to the service of his Redeemer.


Persecution and popularity.

The evangelist represents, in very graphic language, the crisis in the ministry of Jesus now reached. We learn what was the attitude towards Jesus, both of the populace and of the ruling classes. We see the scribes and Pharisees meeting with the Herodians, and plotting against the Benefactor of mankind. We see the multitudes thronging from every quarter to look upon, to listen to, the far-famed Prophet of Nazareth. It is a striking contrast. It may be to us an earnest of what was to come; of the malice that slew the Lord of glory, and of the praise that should encompass him from all lands; of the cross, and of the throne.


1. This passage furnishes the evidence of our Lord's popularity. The people left their cities and villages, their homes and occupations, in order to follow Jesus. From various parts of the province of Galilee, through which he had just been travelling upon an evangelistic tour, the people flocked to the neighborhood of the lake. They came also from Jerusalem and Judaea, where successive miracles had made his name and person familiar to the inhabitants of the metropolis. Not only so, but from the east side of the Jordan, and Idumaea; and (strangest of all) from Phoenicia, far away in the north-west, multitudes, attracted by the great Prophet and Physician, found their way to Gennesaret. It is plain that an immense impression had been created by the ministry of our Lord, that he was becoming the chief figure in the land, succeeding to the prominence and the popularity of John the Baptist.

2. This same passage brings before us the grounds of our Lord's popularity. Wherever he had gone, he had so acted as to justify the name he gave himself, "the Son of man;" he had shown himself the universal Saviour and Friend. Some came grateful for healing virtue and for pardoning mercy, having themselves tasted and seen that the Lord was good. Some brought to him the maladies of themselves or their friends, hoping to experience his grace. The unclean spirits came, confessing him to be the Son of God, acknowledging his regal authority, prepared to flee at his bidding and to leave the sufferers free. Some came to see him of whom such great and delightful tidings had been spread abroad; and others hoping that they might witness some illustrations of his saving might. His ministry of teaching attracted some, and the sequel tells us how richly such were rewarded by the incomparable discourses which were delivered at this period of Christ's career. And there were, doubtless, some few noble, devout, and ardent souls, who longed for the revelation of a spiritual kingdom, which should fulfill the promises of God and realize the ancient and prophetic visions.

3. The consequences of Christ's popularity are no less clearly related. It is plain that at this period our Lord was quite embarrassed by the excitement and eagerness of the crowds who thronged around him. It was this embarrassment that led him, first to withdraw to the lake, and then to request that a boat might be in readiness to receive him from the pressure of the crowd, and, if necessary, to take him to the near seclusion of the eastern shore. It was this embarrassment also which led him to direct those who partook of the benefit of his compassion to refrain from celebrating his praise, and even to keep silence concerning what he had done for them.

4. But let us bear in mind that this popularity was but superficial. Jesus knew well that most who followed him did so either from curiosity or with selfish desires of benefiting from his ministry. He was not deceived by the popular interest and acclaim. He was aware that at any moment the tide might turn. At Nazareth it was proved how ungrateful and violent the people could be when once their passions were roused or their prejudices crossed. And his ministry closed amidst the clamor and the execration of the fickle multitude, upon whose minds the arts of crafty priests and politicians played, as the storm-wind plays upon the surface of the mighty sea.

II. WE HAVE A PICTURE OF OUR LORD'S PERSECUTORS, THEIR PLOTS AND PROJECTS. At the very time that multitudes were openly thronging around Christ, there was secret consultation among men of position and influence as to the means of effecting his ruin. We observe the occasion of this hostile attitude and action. For a while there had been no opposition, but rather a general interest and expectation. The change seems to have come about as a consequence of the violation by the Lord Jesus of the customs and traditions of the ceremonial rabbis or scribes. There were deep-seated reasons for the hostility cherished against the Prophet of Nazareth by the religious leaders—scribes and Pharisees.

1. His conduct towards the common people was a grave offense. The rabbis generally held the unlearned and lower class in great contempt; in their esteem those who knew not the Law were cursed. They would not associate with them or touch them. Now, the Lord Jesus made himself at home with all classes, and accepted invitations, not only from rulers and scholars, but from publicans, at whose table he met the worldly and the sinful. He even chose one from the despised class of tax-collectors to occupy a place among his own immediate friends and followers. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and, when he preached, encouraged such to draw near to him. "The common people heard him gladly." That an acknowledged rabbi should act in such a way was a scandal in the view of the self-righteous and ceremonious; it was conduct likely to lower the learned in the general esteem, to bring religion and the profession of the scribes into contempt.

2. We gather from the Gospel record that the chief cause of complaint against Jesus was his neglect and violation of the ceremonial Law. This Law was to the rabbis the breath of their nostrils; and our Lord and his disciples, doubtless under his influence, were very negligent of the observances upon which the ruling class laid such stress. The Pharisees fasted, Jesus feasted; the Pharisees performed innumerable ablutions, Jesus ate bread "with unwashen hands."

3. The sabbath was, however, the most important point of difference. Many of the rigid Jewish religionists held the most narrow opinions and cherished the most absurd and ridiculous scruples with regard to what was lawful and what unlawful upon the weekly day of rest. It was not possible that Jesus, with his views as to the spirituality of worship and as to the nature of holiness, should agree with these petty and childish notions; it was not possible that he should do other than violate traditional rules and shock formal prejudices. He encouraged his disciples to pluck and eat corn on the sabbath; he performed cures upon the day which he held to be made for man; he directed those who were healed to take up their couch and return home. In all these respects he both vindicated religious liberty and asserted himself "Lord of the sabbath." The rigid ceremonialism and ritualism of the rabbis was offended, alike with the superiority which the Lord claimed over all rules, and with the disdain he showed for their usages and traditions. They hated him, as narrow and formal religionists of all schools ever hate the teachers who place religion in the heart rather than in ceremonies and creeds, and who proclaim that newness of life is the one acceptable offering and sacrifice in the sight of the Divine Searcher of hearts.

4. Our Lord's treatment of the scribes and Pharisees was itself a cause of offense, an occasion of their enmity to him. Instead of treating them with deference, he defied their judgment, and (at a later period of his ministry) uttered denunciations and woes upon them for their hypocrisy. When about to heal the withered hand, Jesus "looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart." It was not thus that they were wont to be regarded and treated. If this treatment were continued, their influence must be undermined.

5. The cause of hostility just mentioned was a symptom of a deeper difference between Jesus and the rabbis: the spiritual quality of his teaching was such as to conflict with all their notions of religion. With them religion was an affair of the outward life alone; with him it was, first and foremost, an affair of the heart. And even with respect to outward actions there was this great difference: the rabbis thought of the attitude of prayer, Christ of the feeling and desire; the rabbis thought much of tithes and fasts, of sacrifices and services, Christ of the weightier matters of the Law; the rabbis thought much of what went as food into the man, Christ of the thoughts which expressed themselves in moral conduct. Observe the feeling that was aroused in the breasts of the Pharisees. Luke tells us "they were filled with madness," i.e. carried away by violent rage and hostility. What a revelation of human iniquity! The actions of the holy and gracious Redeemer excite the fury of those he came to benefit and save! And the hostility then felt grew and gathered as the months passed on, until it culminated in the successful plot against the Holy One and Just. Such feeling did not evaporate in words; it led to action. The enemies of Jesus retired to deliberate, to plot. There was more than indignation; there was malice, a resolve to avenge themselves upon One too holy, too authoritative, for them to bear with him. An unnatural alliance was formed between the rabbis, who represented the principles of rigid Judaism both in nationality and in religion; and the Herodiaus, who seem to have been Sadducees in religion, and in politics supporters of the house of Herod, and accordingly advocates of all possible independence upon Rome. It is not easy to understand this league. The Herodians themselves may not so much have hated Jesus as, from political motives, they desired to gain the favor of the powerful Pharisaic party, whose influence with the people generally was great, and who might be made the means of strengthening the supporters of Antipas. The aim which these confederates set before them was atrocious indeed; it was nothing less than the destruction of Jesus. Answer his reasoning they could not. Equally unable were they to find fault with his irreproachable character, his benevolent actions. Their only weapons were slander and craft and violence. How to work upon the fears of the secular authorities and the passions of the populace—this was their aim and endeavor.


The twelve.

Some of these twelve had been "called" by the Master long ago, and had already been much in his company. Others had been, for a shorter time and less intimately, associated with him. This formal appointment and commission took place upon the mount, and immediately before the delivery of the ever-memorable sermon to the disciples and the multitude. The passage is suggestive of great general truths.

I. CHRIST THOUGHT FIT TO EMPLOY HUMAN AGENTS IN THE PROMULGATION OF HIS RELIGION, That he might have dispensed with all created agency, that he might have employed angelic ministers, we cannot doubt. But in becoming man—"the Son of man "—he contracted human sympathies and relationships, and undertook to work, with a Divine power indeed, yet by human means.

II. CHRIST SELECTED HIS AGENTS BY VIRTUE OF HIS OWN WISDOM AND AUTHORITY. He called "whom he himself would." The Lord Jesus is the absolute Monarch in his own kingdom. Having perfect knowledge, unerring wisdom, and unfailing justice, he is fitted for supreme, unshared rule.

III. CHRIST CHOSE HIS TRUSTED APOSTLES FROM A LOWLY POSITION OF SOCIETY. Only one of the band—and he the unworthy member—was from Judaea. All the others were Galileans; and the inhabitants of this northern province were comparatively rude, unlettered, unpolished. Some rabbis would fain have been received into the number, but the Lord would not encourage them. He preferred to deal with unsophisticated natures. Perhaps James and John and Levi were in fair circumstances; the rest were in all likelihood poor. The twelve were, in education, very different from such men as Luke and Paul. Christ chose, as he has often done since, "the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." He rejoiced and gave thanks because things, hidden from the wise and prudent, had been revealed unto babes.

IV. CHRIST APPOINTED AGENTS WITH VARIOUS GIFTS, QUALIFICATIONS, AND CHARACTER. The three leaders among the apostles were certainly men of ability. Peter's vigor of style was only one index to the great native force of his character; James was slain by Herod, as probably the most prominent representative of the early Christian community; and John's writings show him to have been both profound and imaginative as a thinker. Of the other apostles, James the Less was certainly a man of inflexible will and of vigorous administrative power. In disposition these twelve men differed marvellously from one another. Two were "sons of thunder," another—Thomas—was of a doubting, melancholy spirit, and Simon was ardent and impulsive. All but Iscariot were deeply attached to Jesus, and it was not without purpose that one avaricious and treacherous person was included in the number. What various instruments our Lord employs for accomplishing his own work!

V. CHRIST RECOGNIZED AND EMPLOYED THE SPECIAL GIFTS OF HIS DISCIPLES IN HIS OWN SERVICE. This passage brings this truth vividly before us. Simon was surnamed "The Rock"—a title to which his character especially entitled him; and the sons of Zebedee were designated "Sons of Thunder," doubtless from their ardent, impetuous zeal in the service of the Lord. There was a special work corresponding to the special endowments of each.

VI. CHRIST QUALIFIED THESE AGENTS BY KEEPING THEM IN HIS OWN SOCIETY AND BENEATH HIS OWN INFLUENCE. "That they might be with him." How simple, yet how profound these words! What a Companion! What lessons were to be learned from his character, his demeanour, his language, his mighty works! Nothing could so qualify these men for the service of coming years as this brief period of daily and close intimacy with a Being so gracious, so holy, so wise.

VII. CHRIST HIMSELF COMMISSIONED AND AUTHORIZED THESE AGENTS. They were to be "sent forth;" hence their designation, "apostles." They were to be his messengers, his heralds, his ambassadors. And what was their ministry?

1. To preach, to publish good tidings of salvation, righteousness, eternal life, through Christ. To this end it was evidently necessary that they should imbibe the Master's spirit, as well as know the Teacher's doctrine. It was necessary that, in due time, they should be witnesses of his resurrection and partakers of the Spirit poured out from on high.

2. To have authority to cast out demons, to carry on the work of the Lord, and to contend with the kingdom of Satan, and establish the reign of Christ, of light, of righteousness, of peace.


1. Christ's first call is to discipleship. We must first learn that we may teach; obey and serve that we may guide and aid others.

2. We are summoned to consecrate all our gifts and acquirements to the service and cause of Immanuel.

3. It is the highest honor and the purest happiness to be employed by Christ as his agents.

4. It is necessary to be much with Christ in order that we may be fitted efficiently to work for Christ.



Great men are often misunderstood by reason of their very greatness. Aims higher than those of others need other methods than such as are commonly employed by ordinary persons. How much more must this have been the case with the Son of man! His mission was unique—was altogether his own. He could not fulfill his ministry and do the work of him who sent him, without stepping aside from the beaten tracks of conduct, and so courting criticism and obloquy. He could not well conciliate public opinion, for he came to condemn and to revolutionize it. For the most part he went his way, without noticing the misrepresentations and the calumnies of men. Yet there were occasions, like the present, when he paused to answer and to confute his adversaries.

I. THE BLASPHEMOUS CHARGE BROUGHT AGAINST JESUS. His friends charged him with madness; his enemies attributed his works to the power of evil. In the allegation of the former there may have been some sincerity; those of the latter were animated by malice and hatred. Probably these scribes were sent down into Galilee from the authorities at Jerusalem, to check the enthusiasm which was spreading throughout the northern province with regard to the Prophet of Nazareth. The same charges were brought against him in Jerusalem; so that there may have been an understanding as to the method to be adopted in opposing the great Teacher. The scribes discredited Jesus, first, by asserting that he was possessed by Beelzebub, the Syrian Satan; and secondly, by explaining his power to dispossess demons by the league between him and the lord of the demons, whose authority the inferior spirits could not but obey. There was no attempt to deny the fact that demoniacs were cured; this would have been so monstrously false that to take such a position would have been to ruin their own influence with the people.


1. Our Lord's reply was on the ground of reason—of what might be called common sense. He used two parables, by which he showed the unreasonableness, the absurdity of the allegations in question. Suppose a house or a kingdom to be divided against itself, to be rent by internal discord and faction; what is the result? It comes to ruin. And can it be believed that the crafty prince of darkness will turn his arms against his own servants and minions? So, Satan would "have an end."

2. Having refuted their argument, our Lord proceeded with his own; gave his explanation of what was the spiritual significance of his ministry, especially as regarded the "possessed." So far from being in league with Satan, the Lord Jesus was Satan's one mighty Foe; he had already, in the temptation, overcome him, and was binding him, and now, behold! he was spoiling the house of his vanquished enemy, in expelling the demons from the wretched demoniacs of Galilee! He could not have done this had he been in league with Satan, had he not already vanquished Satan. Having effected this, he "spoiled principalities and powers."

III. THE CENSURE OF THIS BLASPHEMY. Our Lord first reasoned; then he spoke with authority, as One in the secrets of Heaven, with power to declare the principles of Divine judgment. There is, he declared, an eternal and unpardonable sin. If the scribes were not committing this, they were approaching it. The sin against the Holy Ghost, the confusion of truth with error, good with evil,—is a sin, not of ignorance, Hot of misunderstanding, but of wilfulness; a sin of the whole nature; a sin against the light without and the light within. Our Saviour, in condemning this sin, speaks as the rightful Lord, the authoritative Judge, of all mankind!

APPLICATION. "What think ye of Christ?" To think of him with indifference is unreasonable, and shows the most blameable insensibility to the great moral conflict of the universe, on one side of which Jesus is the Champion. To think of him disparagingly is blasphemy; for "he that honoureth the Son honoureth the Father," and he that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father. It is blasphemy to speak against the character or the authority of the Son of God. What remains, then? This: to think and speak of him with reverence and gratitude, faith, and love. This is just and right; and though Christ does not need our homage and honor, he will accept it and reward it.


Kindred of Christ.

The feeling with regard to Christ had, by this time, become extremely strong. On the one hand, the people generally were deeply interested in his teaching, were eager spectators of his mighty works, and in many cases were much attached to himself. Hence the crowd which thronged the house where Jesus was engaged in teaching—a crowd so dense that none from the outside could approach the Master. On the other hand, the opposition to the Prophet of Nazareth was growing and spreading among the scribes and Pharisees, some of whom from Jerusalem were now usually among the audience, anxiously on the watch for any utterance which they might use to the disadvantage of the bold and fearless Teacher. In these circumstances, the concern of the relatives of Jesus was natural enough. They saw that his labours were so arduous and protracted that he was in danger of exhaustion through weariness. And they feared that the attitude he was taking towards the hypocritical Pharisees was imperilling his liberty and safety. They accordingly professed to believe in his madness, and sought to lay hold on him. Hence the interruption recorded in this passage, which gave rise to this memorable and precious declaration of his spiritual affinity and kindred to all whose life is one of obedience to the Father.

I. THE FACT OF SPIRITUAL KINDRED BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE. Earthly relationships were admitted and honored by Jesus. Yet spiritual kindred was set above them. Under the gospel dispensation there are revealed emphatically the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of Christ. We are the children of God. Jesus, in his glory, "is not ashamed to call us brethren."

II. THE PROOF OF SPIRITUAL KINDRED WITH CHRIST. Who are they whom Jesus commends and admits to his fellowship and confidence? They who do his Father's will. Upon such he looks with approval.