Healing a Withered Hand

3:1 Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.
3:2 They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him.

They watched him – That is, the Pharisees watched him, v6. They did not seem to doubt that Jesus could heal, but they wanted to find out whether he would. According to Jewish tradition, the sick could be treated on the Sabbath only when life was in danger, which clearly was not the case here.

We see from this passage how prone people are to hate and persecute the godly.

3:3 So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” 3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil…?” – The contrast is either between Jesus healing or not healing, or between Jesus healing and his opponents plotting to kill.

3:5 After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

He…looked around at them with anger – Mark often makes such remarks, Mk 3:3,34; 5:32,32,37; 8:33; 9:8; 10:21,23-27; 11:11. What a look this must have been! What heart could be so hard that it was not struck with remorse! Yet they continued to hatch their murderous plot, v6. Note, of all sins, Jesus is most angered by religious bigotry and hypocrisy.

‘The gospel writers paint their portraits of Jesus using a kaleidoscope of brilliant “emotional” colors. Jesus felt compassion; he was angry, indignant, and consumted with zeal; he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved; he sighed; he wept and sobbed; he groaned; he was in agony; he was surprised and amazed; he rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy; he greatly desired, and he loved.’ (G. Walter Hansen)

3:6 So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot – i.e. still on the Sabbath, showing just how hypocritical was their opposition to Jesus’ behaviour on the Sabbath.

The Herodians – A Jewish group who supported the Herods, and Rome which gave authority to the Herods. They opposed Jesus because they thought his influence would be politically destabilising.

Crowds by the Sea

3:7 Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him. And from Judea, 3:8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came to him when they heard about the things he had done.
Mk 3:7–12 = Mt 12:15,16; Lk 6:17–19
3:9 Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward him. 3:10 For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order to touch him. 3:11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 3:12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Appointing the Twelve Apostles

3:13 Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and they came to him. 3:14 He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles), so that they would be with him and he could send them to preach 3:15 and to have authority to cast out demons.

That they might be with him – ‘The Twelve were chosen by Christ to be very near to himself and to be sent forth to minister. (Mk 3:14) But there is no word of any ceremony of ordination. Mark says that Jesus ‘made (poieo)’ twelve, and Luke that he ‘chose (eklego)’ them. (Mk 3:14; Lk 6:13) This was a very solemn occasion (Luke tells us that Jesus prayed all night before making his selection). But there is no ‘ordination’ mentioned. John speaks of the risen Lord as breathing on the ten, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’; (Jn 20:22) but it is difficult to see an ordination in this. It is probably significant that when Matthias took the place of Judas there is again no mention of any ordination. Lots were cast, and when the choice of Matthias was known he was simply ‘enrolled’ or ‘numbered’ with the others.’ (Ac 1:26) (NBD)

To be with him

‘Mark tells us that he chose the twelve simply to be ‘with him’. (Mk 3:14) When he went to Gethsemane he took three of them with him because he dreaded being alone. In the hour of his agony, he needs the presence of his own kind. All he asks is that they be there.

‘Are we ever ashamed of needing others? What is happening to our civilization (and to our Christianity) that we are ashamed of the need for relationships? Do we think we can find fulfilment by avoiding relationships? The archetypal Man, the Last Adam. needed people with him. How often, too, we feel ashamed that there are some people we love and like more than others! Yet, it is so apparent in the life of the Lord that he was closer to some than to others: felt more at home, more relaxed with them, more at ease; drew upon them more; liked and loved them more. We see the man Christ with friends, both male and female. We see how he loved children. We see him weep over Jerusalem. We see his spontaneous affection for the rich young man. There is no tolerance there of a detached, non-relational Christianity with its fear of getting too close and its dread of becoming too deeply involved: its fear of vulnerability. There was nobody more vulnerable than Christ. We can avoid all the pain in life by avoiding love. The Lord was prepared to so love as to be vulnerable, and he was hurt at last, cruelly hurt. One of the Twelve betrayed him. The three intimates forsook him and fled. In the end there was not one at the cross to offer encouragement or understanding. He knew the full horror of human infidelity and treachery.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

3:16 He appointed twelve: To Simon he gave the name Peter; 3:17 to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”); 3:18 and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, 3:19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

There is something about this list of names that confirms the accuracy of the account.  Simon, James, John, James, and Judas were all common names in 1st-century Palestine.  All the others were less common at that time.  It is all the common names that are given ‘disambiguators’, in order to distinguish them from others with the same name.  This was not necessary for those who had less common names.

Moreover, we can detect here an

Undesigned coincidence. Mark tells us that Jesus nicknamed the brothers James and John ‘sons of thunder’, without giving us any explanation of why he did so.  Neither Matthew nor John shed any light on this.  Luke, however, records an incident when the two brothers wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume some Samaritans (Lk 9:51-55).  ‘Thus,’ concludes Peter Williams, ‘the brothers called “Sons of Thunder” in Mark are recorded in Luke as wanting to call down lightning. The two reports fit well together, as one appears to record a name based on character, and the other appears to report a character fitting well with the name.’ (Can We Trust the Gospels?)

Mk 3:16–19 = Mt 10:2–4; Lk 6:14–16; Ac 1:13

Simon the Zealot – ‘Zealot’ as referring to a specific political party does not occur in the available sources until AD66.  It is likely, then, that Simon was a ‘zealot’ in the sense that he was an enthusiast for the law (cf. Acts 21:20; 22:3,19).

Jesus and Beelzebul

3:20 Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat.
3:21 When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
3:22 The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.”

‘Beelzebul, ‘Lord of flies’, was originally the name of a Canaanite God (2 Ki. 1:2). By Jesus’ time it had come to be used, in the form Beelzebub, as a name for the chief of demons, or Satan.’ (NBC)

3:23 So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 3:24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. 3:25 If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 3:26 And if Satan rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and his end has come. 3:27 But no one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house.
Mk 3:23–27 = Mt 12:25–29; Lk 11:17–22
Mk 3:31–35 = Mt 12:46–50; Lk 8:19–21

According to N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God), the exorcisms of Jesus (Mk. 1:23–7/Lk. 4:33–5; Mt. 4:24/Mk. 1:39; Mt. 8:28–33/Mk. 5:1–14/Lk. 8:26–34; Mt. 9:32–4; Lk. 8:1–3; Lk. 11:14–15; Mt. 12:22–32/Mk. 3:20–30/Lk. 11:14–23, cf. Mt. 10:25; Mt. 15:21–8/Mk. 7:24–30; Mt. 17:14–18/Mk. 9:14–27/Lk. 9:37–43; Lk. 13:10–17 (cf. v. 16) ‘signalled something far deeper that was going on, namely, the real battle of the ministry, which was not a round of fierce debates with the keepers of orthodoxy, but head-on war with the satan…The exorcisms are especially interesting, in that they formed a part neither of the regular Old Testament predictions, nor of first-century Jewish expectations, concerning healing and deliverance associated with the coming of the kingdom; nor were they a major focus of the life and work of the early church. They therefore stand out, by the criterion of dissimilarity, as being part of a battle in which Jesus alone was engaged. He seems to have seen himself as fighting a battle with the real enemy, and to have regarded the exorcisms—or healings of those whose condition was attributed to the work of the satan—as a sign that he was winning the battle, though it had not yet reached its height. ‘If I by the finger of god cast out demons, then the kingdom of god has come upon you.’

‘The “strong man” is Satan, and Jesus had bound him, probably at the time of his triumph over him in the temptation in the wilderness, Mt 4:1-11. During his earthly ministry, Jesus had entered the strong man’s “house” (the world of unbelievers who are under the bondage of Satan), and he was plundering his house, that is, freeing people from satanic bondage and bringing them into the joy of the kingdom of God. It was “by the Spirit of God” that Jesus did this; the new power of the Holy Spirit working to triumph over demons was evidence that in the ministry of Jesus “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 418)

English: ‘Mark makes very clear here what will become even clearer in Mk 4:10–20, that alongside the deeds of God there have to be the explanations from God. It is not self-evident what God is doing, least of all, it seems, to those who were trained theologically. Action and word together are not only necessary in our mission in the world; they are necessary first in God’s mission in Christ to us.’

3:28 I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. 3:29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 3:30 (because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”).

“Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven” – ‘And why? Not because it is greater than God’s mercy, or Christ’s merits; but first by a just judgment of God upon such sinners, for their hateful unthankfulness in despising his Spirit; whence follows an impossibility of repentance, Heb 6:6, and so of remission, Lk 13:3. Secondly, such a desperate fury invadeth these men, that they maliciously resist and repudiate the price of repentance, Act 5:31, and the matter of remission, 1 Jn 1:7, viz. the precious blood of Jesus Christ, whereby if they might have mercy, yet they would not, but continue raving and raging against both medicine and physician, to their unavoidable ruth and ruin.’ (Trapp)

Carson remarks that this saying is all the more remarkable, given the emphasis throughout Scripture on God’s grace and mercy (e.g., Ps 130:3–4; Isa 1:18; Mic 7:19; 1Jn 1:7).

Hendriksen says: ‘As to other sins, no matter how grievous or gruesome, there is pardon for them. There is forgiveness for David’s sin of adultery, dishonesty, and murder (2 Sam 12:13; Ps. 51; cf. Ps. 32); for the “many” sins of the woman of Luke 7; for the prodigal son’s “riotous living” (Lk 15:13, Lk 15:21-24; ); for Simon Peter’s triple denial accompanied by profanity (Mt 26:74-75; Lk 22:31-32; Jn 18:15-18, Jn 18:25-27; Jn 21:15-17); and for Paul’s pre-conversion merciless persecution of Christians (Act 9:1; Act 22:4; Act 26:9-11; 1 Cor 15:9; Eph 3:8; Php 3:6).’

‘It is important to read the terrible vs 31–32 in their context. Insensitive application of these words to situations which bear no resemblance to the Pharisees’ deliberate perversion of the truth has caused distress to many vulnerable people. Jesus was speaking not of a temporary lapse but of a settled decision to oppose the work of God.’ (NBC)

Mounce: ‘Jesus is saying to his antagonists that to attribute to Satan that which has been accomplished by the power and Spirit of God is to demonstrate a moral vision so distorted that there is no longer any hope of recovery. It would be possible to speak against the Son of Man and be forgiven because at that time in Jesus’ ministry there was a hiddenness about his person. Not so with the mighty works wrought by the Spirit. They were clear demonstrations that the kingdom (power and reign) of God was present in the world. Denial of this was not the result of ignorance but of a willful refusal to believe. Therefore it is unforgivable. The only sin that God is unable to forgive is the unwillingness to accept forgiveness. Thus the “unforgivable sin” is a state of moral insensitivity caused by continuous refusal to respond to the overtures of the Spirit of God.’

Evans, similarly: ‘Jesus does not dismiss the importance of blasphemy against himself, but he recognizes that to speak against him implies that a person does not know his full identity. Through greater revelation and understanding, that deficiency can be overcome: the person can repent, and the person can then find forgiveness of sin. By yielding to the Spirit’s evidential and convicting work, a person can be led to that point. The only true “unpardonable sin” is when a person consciously, willfully rejects the operation of the Spirit bearing witness to the reality of Jesus as the Savior, and rejects the convicting power of the Spirit in his or her life.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

Morris: ‘When a person takes up a position like that of the Pharisees, when, not by way of misunderstanding but through hostility to what is good, that person calls good evil and, on the other hand, makes evil his good, then that person has put himself in a state that prevents forgiveness. It is not that God refuses to forgive; it is that the person who sees good as evil and evil as good is quite unable to repent and thus to come humbly to God for forgiveness.’ (Pillar)

Hendriksen draws attention to the process by which a person might render himself permanently impenitent, and therefore unforgiveable: ‘The blasphemy against the Spirit is the result of gradual progress in sin. Grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:30), if unrepented of, leads to resisting the Spirit (Act 7:51), which, if persisted in, develops into quenching the Spirit (1 Th 5:19).’

Barnes offers an unusual interpretation: ‘The word ghost means spirit, and probably refers here to the divine nature of Christ—the power by which he wrought his miracles. There is no evidence that it refers to the third person of the Trinity; and the meaning of the whole passage may be: “He that speaks against me as a man of Nazareth—that speaks contemptuously of my humble birth, &c., may be pardoned; but he that reproaches my divine nature, charging me with being in league with Satan, and blaspheming the power of God manifestly displayed by me, can never obtain forgiveness.”’

‘The critics of Jesus have watched God’s grace freely given in the casting out of demons. Their offence is not that they asked questions. In the gospels it is occasionally the questions, even the sharp questions which lead to some of Jesus’ most profound statements. (See, for example, Thomas and Jesus in Jn. 14:5–6.) Nor is their crime that they doubted. Thomas, again, is a good example (Jn. 20:24–29). Nor is it that they did not understand. The disciples of Jesus will find themselves in that situation in the very next chapter of Mark’s gospel (4:10–12). Least of all have the religious leaders unthinkingly, or ignorantly, or unknowingly, used hapless words constituting ‘blasphemy’ or ‘bad language’.  Their sin is that, in the presence of God’s grace in action, they have not only rejected it but ascribed it to the devil. This is their fixed position. No wonder they will not find forgiveness.’ (English)

‘The sin against the Holy Spirit is portrayed as resolute attribution of God’s gracious work to satanic origins. There is no forgiveness here because such an attitude is incapable of seeking it. What makes it worst of all is that these are the informed and educated religious leaders.’ (English)

‘Most interpreters agree that the unpardonable sin consists in obstinate rejection of the truth, and wilful apostasy from God, in opposition to one’s own convictions, and with malignant hatred of the gospel, the expression of which is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, as the illuminating Spirit by whom truth is carried home to the heart and understanding of believers, and to whom such apostasy and unbelief are th[/su_pullquote]ore more especially insulting.’ (J. A. Alexander)

“An eternal sin” – Of course, it is not the sin itself that is ‘eternal’, but the consequences.  It will never be forgiven.

Jesus’ True Family

3:31 Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came. Standing outside, they sent word to him, to summon him. 3:32 A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.”

Joseph is never mentioned after the nativity narratives, and it is usually assumed that he had died. See also Jn 19:27, where the dying Jesus commends his mother to the care of John.

‘It is almost certain that Joseph was not alive during the ministry of Jesus. There is no direct mention of him, and it is hard to explain otherwise the word to John from the cross (Jn 19:26-27) and the reference to Mary and his brothers seeking Jesus. (Mt 12:46; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19) It is natural to assume that the brothers of Jesus were subsequent children of Joseph and Mary.’ (NBD)

English asks why, with her unforgettable experiences, as recorded in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke, demonstrated such little insight into Jesus’ ministry and mission.  However (suggests English), once we set aside the church’s presuppositions about Mary, and accept that she was a relatively unschooled Hebrew maiden who had been embraced by God’s grace, then the difficulty diminishes: ‘How could she understand all that was involved? Why should she not have shared the view of those around her about who Jesus was, and be equally upset at the unexpected turn of events, with such crowds and teaching and healings and exorcisms, and the pretentious claims implied—and occasionally blurted out at the height of excitement or controversy—about who he was? How could she have known that he would be in opposition, as it seemed clear he now was, to the religious leaders of the day whom she regarded with deep respect and awe? And if Joseph was now gone, how much more anxious about Jesus she would be. (If only his father had been here!) This attitude, of itself, neither detracts from the authenticity of belief in a virgin birth, nor shows Mary as in any sense unworthy or out of character in her behaviour. Many mothers can no doubt identify with her, if at a lesser level, in the anxiety and disappointment when a son’s life does not go as expected.’

A crowd was sitting around him – implying that he was teaching them at this time.

“Your mother and brothers are waiting outside for you” – They were unable to get in to see him themselves, because of the crowd.

On the unbelief of Jesus’ brothers during his earthly lifetime, see Jn 7:5.

A perpetual virgin?
The Roman Catholic dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity forces unnatural readings of the texts that refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  Either, it is said, Jesus’ ‘brothers’ were actually step-brothers, products of a putative earliery marriage of Joseph, or they were cousins, children of Mary’s sister who was also called Mary, and is to be identified either with the Mary (wife of Clopas) of Jn 19:25) or with the wife of Alphaeus (Mk 3:18).  Such theories are exegetically improbable and theologically unnecessary.
3:33 He answered them and said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 3:34 And looking at those who were sitting around him in a circle, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 3:35 For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” – The response is not unkind or disrespectful, but it is forthright.  Recall that his family had thought him to be ‘out of his mind’, Mk 3:21.

Jesus affirms his kinship with those who hear and do the word of God. His brother James later took this message to heart, Jas 1:22-25.

‘Jesus’ response relativizes natural familial bonds in relationship to the “new family” created by those who do God’s will. Here is an important Marcan motif. Discipleship is enlarged; neither the natural family of Jesus, nor those called to be disciples have an advantage over those who do God’s will (cf. 9:38–40).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

‘Jesus’ use of hyperbole must be taken into account here. Has he literally rejected his family? Probably not, for his family will come to believe in him, and his brother James becomes an apostle and one of the “pillars” in the church (Gal 1:19; 2:9). But his language indicates the seriousness of his message and the need to commit to it. Jesus’ mission was to create a new family that was not only bound by a force stronger than blood—the Spirit—but was also eternal.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

As English remarks, there are no grounds whatsoever here for the practice of some cults in taking children away from their parents.  ‘That,’ he says, ‘is unscriptural, since God placed human beings into families, and there is much New Testament teaching on the importance of the family unit. It is also inhuman and contrary to God’s creative purposes.’  But, English adds, ‘it is a warning that even so deep, precious, and basic a relationship as that of human family is superseded by the fellowship of the new family of God, which will continue into eternity.’

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