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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3

Verse 1

FAITH AND UNBELIEF CONTRASTED

‘There was a man there which had a withered hand.’

Mark 3:1

The narrative, like the whole of Mark’s Gospel, is marked by picturesqueness.

I. The obedience of faith is exhibited.

( a) This man was obedient in the presence of a great foe. ‘And He saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth’; and Luke adds, ‘He arose and stood forth’ ( Mark 6:8). Luke also informs us that the ‘scribes and Pharisees watched’ Christ. The foe of Christ and of the Truth was now present. Of the Pharisees Josephus has said, ‘They had so much weight with the multitude, that if they said anything against a king or a high priest they were believed.’ May we follow the courageous example of those who lived and died for the faith!

( b) This man was obedient although suffering from natural inability. Jesus said, ‘Stretch forth thine hand’—yea, the dry, withered hand—‘and he stretched it out.’ So Christ now bids the spiritually dead believe, obey, live.

( c) This man was obedient to the reception of a great blessing. ‘And his hand was restored whole as the other.’ To-day Christ gives to such as are obedient to His call the unspeakable gift, the new life.

II. The hostility of unbelief.—This unbelief was not doubt or the suspension of judgment, but the positive rejection of Christ and His claims upon them. Such unbelief is characterised by—

( a) Unfriendliness. They observed Him narrowly that they might accuse Him. The mind which thus labours is contemptible. Such unbelief is always unfriendly to Christ.

( b) Callousness. They were unsympathetic. To them the welfare of the maimed man was a small matter. They were morally impenetrable. Unbelief is always associated with hardness, callousness; moral petrifaction is the sure end and companion of persistent unbelief.

( c) Madness. This is shown by its bitter hatred of goodness. Christ was goodness personified, yet they bitterly hated Him. It is shown by their purpose to suppress the truth by the murder of its exponent and advocate. ‘How they might destroy Him.’ To act thus is to challenge the Almighty to arms.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The old Gospel of the Hebrews informs us that the man was a mason by trade, and there is no reason to doubt the tradition. He is said to have addressed his supplication to the Lord in these words: “I was a mason seeking sustenance by my hands; I beseech Thee, O Jesus, restore Thou me to health, that I may not shamefully beg my food.” Luke ( Mark 6:6) adds the characteristic note, which would come naturally from the pen of the physician, that the man had his right hand withered.’

(2) ‘Our Lord goes into the synagogue at Capernaum, where He had already wrought more than one miracle, and there He finds an object for His healing power in a poor man with a withered hand; and also a little knot of His enemies. The scribes and Pharisees expect Christ to heal the man. So much had they learned of His tenderness and of His power. But their belief that He could work a miracle did not carry them one step towards a recognition of Him as sent by God. They have no eye for the miracle, because they expect that He is going to break the Sabbath. There is nothing so blind as formal religionism. The poor man’s infirmity did not touch their hearts with one little throb of compassion. They had rather that he had gone crippled all his days than that one of their rabbinical Sabbath restrictions should be violated. There is nothing so cruel as formal religionism.’

Verse 5

THE HUMAN SIDE OF A MIRACLE

‘Stretch forth thine hand.’

Mark 3:5

By the command of the text three conditions were demanded:—

I. Faith was required.—Unbelief hinders God’s merciful designs, excludes the light of His presence, arrests the arm of His salvation. Faith is the handmaid of His goodness, the almoner of His bounty. Faith is the mysterious moral force which thrusts out the hand of humanity to take the gift Divine.

II. Obedience was rendered.—It was not a small matter to stand forth before that hostile company, and incur the charge of complicity with Jesus in the breaking of the Sabbath. Obedience to Christ, in this case, meant disobedience to the rulers and lawyers and scribes. It meant forgetfulness or disregard of the traditions of the elders. And this implied much more. One man, we know, was cast out of the synagogue because his life of darkness had been lit up by the Son of God. We know that the Jews sought to put Lazarus to death, because in his grave he had heard the voice of Jesus, and come forth. This crippled man, then, might well have much to apprehend. But undaunted he obeyed, and in the very act of obedience he found the blessing that he craved. This obedience was the fruit of his faith, and the faith which does not produce obedience is of little worth. Saving faith is always obedient faith.

III. A strong resolution was needed.—‘Stretch forth thine hand!’—the very thing he could not do—the very thing he longed to be able to do! We can well imagine the man exclaiming, ‘Behold, Lord, my hand is withered, powerless, nerveless, practically dead. Lord, give me the power, and I will obey.’ But he found that the law of Christ is, Obey, and thou hast the power. ‘He stretched forth his hand, and his hand was restored.’

Illustration

‘There is a great difference between the miracles of the Old Testament and those of the New. Compare the wonders of Moses with the works of Christ. The former were chiefly displays of judgment; the latter, of mercy. In either case they were designed to accredit their author as the messenger of God, but in the case of our Lord this was not the chief purpose. He claimed the faith and homage of men on higher ground, and only appealed to His miracles as a last resource. “If ye believe not Me, believe the works.” The works He did bare witness of Him, but He Himself was the true and perfect witness. His miracles were not so much to prove His Divine authority as His Divine compassion.’

Verse 5

THE HUMAN SIDE OF A MIRACLE

‘Stretch forth thine hand.’

Mark 3:5

By the command of the text three conditions were demanded:—

I. Faith was required.—Unbelief hinders God’s merciful designs, excludes the light of His presence, arrests the arm of His salvation. Faith is the handmaid of His goodness, the almoner of His bounty. Faith is the mysterious moral force which thrusts out the hand of humanity to take the gift Divine.

II. Obedience was rendered.—It was not a small matter to stand forth before that hostile company, and incur the charge of complicity with Jesus in the breaking of the Sabbath. Obedience to Christ, in this case, meant disobedience to the rulers and lawyers and scribes. It meant forgetfulness or disregard of the traditions of the elders. And this implied much more. One man, we know, was cast out of the synagogue because his life of darkness had been lit up by the Son of God. We know that the Jews sought to put Lazarus to death, because in his grave he had heard the voice of Jesus, and come forth. This crippled man, then, might well have much to apprehend. But undaunted he obeyed, and in the very act of obedience he found the blessing that he craved. This obedience was the fruit of his faith, and the faith which does not produce obedience is of little worth. Saving faith is always obedient faith.

III. A strong resolution was needed.—‘Stretch forth thine hand!’—the very thing he could not do—the very thing he longed to be able to do! We can well imagine the man exclaiming, ‘Behold, Lord, my hand is withered, powerless, nerveless, practically dead. Lord, give me the power, and I will obey.’ But he found that the law of Christ is, Obey, and thou hast the power. ‘He stretched forth his hand, and his hand was restored.’

Illustration

‘There is a great difference between the miracles of the Old Testament and those of the New. Compare the wonders of Moses with the works of Christ. The former were chiefly displays of judgment; the latter, of mercy. In either case they were designed to accredit their author as the messenger of God, but in the case of our Lord this was not the chief purpose. He claimed the faith and homage of men on higher ground, and only appealed to His miracles as a last resource. “If ye believe not Me, believe the works.” The works He did bare witness of Him, but He Himself was the true and perfect witness. His miracles were not so much to prove His Divine authority as His Divine compassion.’

Verse 5

THE HUMAN SIDE OF A MIRACLE

‘Stretch forth thine hand.’

Mark 3:5

By the command of the text three conditions were demanded:—

I. Faith was required.—Unbelief hinders God’s merciful designs, excludes the light of His presence, arrests the arm of His salvation. Faith is the handmaid of His goodness, the almoner of His bounty. Faith is the mysterious moral force which thrusts out the hand of humanity to take the gift Divine.

II. Obedience was rendered.—It was not a small matter to stand forth before that hostile company, and incur the charge of complicity with Jesus in the breaking of the Sabbath. Obedience to Christ, in this case, meant disobedience to the rulers and lawyers and scribes. It meant forgetfulness or disregard of the traditions of the elders. And this implied much more. One man, we know, was cast out of the synagogue because his life of darkness had been lit up by the Son of God. We know that the Jews sought to put Lazarus to death, because in his grave he had heard the voice of Jesus, and come forth. This crippled man, then, might well have much to apprehend. But undaunted he obeyed, and in the very act of obedience he found the blessing that he craved. This obedience was the fruit of his faith, and the faith which does not produce obedience is of little worth. Saving faith is always obedient faith.

III. A strong resolution was needed.—‘Stretch forth thine hand!’—the very thing he could not do—the very thing he longed to be able to do! We can well imagine the man exclaiming, ‘Behold, Lord, my hand is withered, powerless, nerveless, practically dead. Lord, give me the power, and I will obey.’ But he found that the law of Christ is, Obey, and thou hast the power. ‘He stretched forth his hand, and his hand was restored.’

Illustration

‘There is a great difference between the miracles of the Old Testament and those of the New. Compare the wonders of Moses with the works of Christ. The former were chiefly displays of judgment; the latter, of mercy. In either case they were designed to accredit their author as the messenger of God, but in the case of our Lord this was not the chief purpose. He claimed the faith and homage of men on higher ground, and only appealed to His miracles as a last resource. “If ye believe not Me, believe the works.” The works He did bare witness of Him, but He Himself was the true and perfect witness. His miracles were not so much to prove His Divine authority as His Divine compassion.’

Verse 13

CALLING AND ELECTION

‘And they came unto Him.’

Mark 3:13

I. Here is the evidence of our calling.—We come because He calls. Let us not trouble ourselves with the doctrine of election. Let each one ask himself the question, ‘Have I come to Jesus?’ If you have, then Christ has called you, and you have heard that call. You are one of the elect, for you have come to Jesus. In order to answer the question, “Am I one of the elect?’ first ask another: ‘Have I come to Jesus?’ ‘Am I one of the elect?’ is not the first question. ‘Have I come?’ is the first. Your answer to this question will be the answer—the only answer—to the other. Are you at His feet?

II. All who hear His voice go ‘unto Him.’—‘My sheep hear My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.’ Take care you make no mistake here. Take care it is to Him you go. There are many voices all around you. God’s call is to come first to Jesus. This is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus first—‘Jesus only.’

III. That they should be with Him.—Mark the important word here—‘with Him.’ He called them ‘ unto Him.’ For what purpose? That they should be ‘with Him.’ We were redeemed that we should walk with God. We were bought with His blood that we should be ‘with Him,’ that we should never leave His side, that we should have Him nearer to us than any earthly friend, however near or dear. Why are so many satisfied with having been ‘called unto Him,’ and care so little about being ‘ with Him’? Most of God’s people are walking at a distance. They have forgotten why the Saviour called them—‘that they should be with Him.’ This is the only tenure on which you hold the great blessings of redemption. You have no right to one of them except on this condition—that you walk with God.

—Rev. F. Whitfield.

Verses 13-15

THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY

“He goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto Him whom He would: and they came unto Him. And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach and … to heal.’

Mark 3:13-Ezra :

The selection and sending forth of the Apostles formed a new departure in the ministry of the Master, and the incident reveals the essential elements in the Christian ministry.

I. The solemnity of the call is seen in

( a) The vocation. The call of Christ was in itself a solemn act, as being the expression of His own choice. The choice was not theirs, but His. The vocation was first His and then theirs. They simply obeyed His voice. Even so is it to-day. The ministry of Jesus Christ is not an office to which men are self-elected. ‘Do you think in your heart,’ so runs the question in the Ordination Office, ‘that you be truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ?’

( b) The intercession. Again, the solemnity of the call was increased by the events which preceded it. The call of Christ was consequent upon an ‘all night’ of communion with the Father.

( c) The ministry. How solemn the call when we remember the nature of the ministry. ‘He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth’: ‘with Him’ in fellowship; ‘sent forth’ in service. The order of their ministry is surely as significant as its nature. First, fellowship; then service.

II. The diversity of the choice.—From the solemnity of the Master’s call let us now reflect upon the diversity of His choice.

( a) Its beauty. If vitality involves variety, variety imparts beauty. Each Apostle was chosen, we may assume, not because he was similar to, but because he was different from the others.

( b) Its utility. Again, the utility of variety is as striking as its beauty. If there are many men and many minds, there must be also many methods. If twelve apostles were chosen to receive and transmit the teaching of Christ, we may be sure that no one man, no one school, no one church, has the whole truth. Schools of thought in the Church are like the shades of colour in light. Each colour disclosed by the spectrum is related to the rest, and only when all are blended do we see light.

( c) Its unity. The Apostles were as diverse in character as they could be, and yet underlying the diversity we must not fail to discern their unity. They were united by a common discipleship, a common sympathy, and a common supplication.

III. The activity of work.—The mission of the Apostles has been defined in the words, ‘He sent them to preach and to heal.’ Like the mission of their Master, it had reference ‘as well to the body as the soul.’

( a) Healing. Even as the apostolic mission embraced ‘healing,’ and the healing of ‘all manner of disease,’ mental and physical, so the Christian ministry must include within its scope the condition of the body and mind, with all the circumstances which in any way affect them. In a word, let it be said that nothing which concerns, even in the least degree, the well-being of man in flesh or spirit, as an individual or a member of society, can be excluded from the pale of ministerial activity.

( b) Preaching. And yet the ‘preaching’ must precede the ‘healing,’ not always in the order of time, but certainly in the order of thought. Physical concerns will be kept subordinate to the predominant claims of spiritual matters. First things must be kept first. As the body is more than raiment, so the soul is more than the body.

—Rev. Canon J. Denton Thompson.

Illustration

‘As our Lord appointed His Apostles, so they in their turn laid their hands on others to succeed them, from whom, through the same sign of laying on of hands, authority has been transmitted in an unbroken line to the bishops who ordain priests to-day. This ministry we believe our Lord appointed to preserve the visible unity of His Church, and as the channel of conveying His gifts to men. As things are we must confess that the visible unity of the Church is a lost ideal, for the restoration of which we must earnestly pray. But while we keep as clear as we can from condemning others, we must hold to our own convictions that the unity of the Church is a real fact, and the brotherhood a definite brotherhood. It consists in more than reverence for and endeavour to follow the example of our Saviour. There is one Lord, but there is also one Faith and one Baptism.’

Verse 14

THE MINISTRY OF PREACHING

“He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach.’

Mark 3:14

Such is the Evangelist’s brief account of the origin and purpose of the Apostolate.

I. The decay of preaching.—Does the preaching of the message of Christ, does the preaching of Christ, hold anything like its proper place at present among us of the Church of England? If I see things at all as they are, it is far otherwise. A certain slight of the sermon is in fashion, and the preacher himself is not in love with his work—he allows himself to deal scantly and perfunctorily with his sermon. Perhaps it is not only brief (a merit, in the modern fashion) but thin. Perhaps it is but a glib essay, clever or otherwise, and sometimes all the colder and weaker to the soul for being that poor thing, clever. It is a discussion, a suggestion, an appreciation, a sketch, or what not; anything rather than a message; totally other than that delivery of Divine truth through human personality which Phillips Brooks finely tells us is the idea of the sermon.

II. The scriptural valuation of it.—Turn from such unworthy estimates of this great and sacred thing to the scriptural valuation of it, and to the reverent honour set upon it by the Church of England. Think of the sermon not as it can be travestied, but as the utterance by a man commissioned by the Lord and the Church, and who comes forth to his duty from converse with the Lord, of that ‘Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever,’ that ‘engrafted Word which is able to save the soul,’ yea, by which man can be ‘begotten again to a lively hope.’ In the name of the Bible, in the name of the Ordinal, in the name of prophets and apostles, and of an innumerable company of witnesses, are we not right in making all the appeal we can to the Church, and all the prayer we can to God, for a great revival of the pulpit?

III. The preacher and his sermon.—The man goes forth to preach, because his Master sends him. To go at his own bidding would be intolerable. What is not the rest and power of that thought, He hath sent us forth? And then, coming from that presence, from that Divine and human companionship, from the feet of that King, from the Cross of that Redeemer, what shall we go forth to preach? Not our ideas, but His Word. Not our guesses at a thousand things, but His revelation of the ‘one thing needful’; and the one thing needful is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

IV. A remedy for our divisions.—In the revival of the preaching of Christ—Christ in His glorious Person, His finished work, His never-finished working, Him first, midst, last, and without end—there may lie, by the mercy of God, one great means, perhaps the greatest means, of deliverance at last from the distresses of our divisions.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.

Illustrations

(1) ‘ “A few nights ago,” once said Bishop Moule, “it was my privilege to address one of those great congregations of our Durham mining people whose listening, when they listen, is indeed an inspiration to the preacher, an appeal to him to give out his whole self for their service, mind and soul. My theme was Jesus Christ, and I could not but tell them that I could take no other. ‘I used long ago,’ I said, ‘to preach of many things; but as life runs around and age draws near, I can preach of only one thing, it is Jesus Christ.’ ” ’

(2) ‘Well and nobly does Dr. Arthur Mason write ( Faith of the Gospel, ix. § 2): “First among the appointed means of grace comes the preaching of the Word of God. There is a truly sacramental grace and power in preaching.” “The words are not mere words, but vehicles of something beyond words.” “If preaching is not reckoned among the Sacraments, but parallel with them, it is because it is more, not less, than a Sacrament. The gift conveyed through it indeed may not be greater, but it more immediately influences the springs of thought and will.” ’

Verse 17

‘BOANERGES’

‘And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and He surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The son of thunder.’

Mark 3:17

St. James and John were together in desiring to rival the fiery and avenging miracle of Elijah, and to partake of the profound baptism and bitter cup of Christ.

I. The two brothers.—It is remarkable that St. James, he whom Christ bade to share His distinctive title with another, should not once be named as having acted or spoken by himself. With a fire like that of St. Peter, but no such power of initiative and of chieftainship, how natural it is that his appointed task was martyrdom! Is it objected that his brother also, the great Apostle John, received only a share in that divided title? But the family trait is quite as palpable in him. The deeds of John were seldom wrought upon his own responsibility; never, if we except the bringing of St. Peter into the palace of the high priest. He is a keen observer and a deep thinker, but he cannot, like his Master, combine the quality of leader with those of student and sage.

II. John a follower, not a leader.—In company with St. Andrew he found the Messiah. St. James led him for a time. It was in obedience to a sign from St. Peter that he asked who was the traitor. With St. Peter, when Jesus was arrested, he followed afar off. It is very characteristic that he shrank from entering the sepulchre until St. Peter, coming up behind, went in first, although it was John who thereupon ‘saw and believed.’ With like discernment he was the first to recognise Jesus beside the lake. St. Peter, when Jesus drew him aside, turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, with the same gentle, silent, and sociable affection, which had so recently found him with the saddest and tenderest of all companions underneath the Cross.

III. John and St. Peter.—John was again with St. Peter at the Beautiful Gate; and although it was not he who healed the cripple, yet his co-operation is implied in the words, ‘Peter fastened his eyes on him, with John.’ And when the council would fain have silenced them, the boldness which spoke in St. Peter’s reply was ‘the boldness of Peter and John.’ Could any series of events justify more perfectly a title which implied much zeal, yet zeal that did not demand a specific unshared epithet? Add to this the keenness and deliberation which so much of his story exhibits, which at the beginning rendered no hasty homage, but followed Jesus to examine and to learn, which saw the meaning of the orderly arrangement of the grave clothes in the empty tomb, which was the first to recognise the Lord upon the beach—and we have the very qualities required to supplement those of St. Peter without being discordant or uncongenial. And therefore it is with St. Peter, even more than with his brother, that we have seen John associated.

—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.

Verse 27

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL

‘No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.’

Mark 3:27

We have no a priori right to deny the existence of evil spirits. It has been urged that in a world created by a good, and wise, and powerful God, a being like Satan can have no conceivable place. But the argument obviously proves too much. We have not a few bad men, and not a few bad women, around us, who act the part of tempters to others, and labour hard to make them as depraved and as wretched as themselves. How are they to be accounted for? And unless we are prepared to show cause why an unseen and spiritual personage should be an utter impossibility—the very fact of the existence in the world that we do know of such people as I have spoken of may well raise the presumption that there may be something corresponding to them, and even on a larger scale of intelligence and power, in the world that we do not know.

I. Our Lord’s testimony.—In the passage before us, our Lord is quite at one with His accusers in the crowd as to the fact of the existence and the agency of evil spirits. He speaks of Himself and of another person (not impersonation) who is opposed to Him. The latter is strong, and hold his goods and keeps his house; but Jesus is stronger, and enters into the other’s house and binds him and wrests his possessions out of his hand.

II. The opposing forces.—In this great universe, of which we men form apparently so inconsiderable a part, there are two kingdoms—the kingdom of light on the one side, and the kingdom of darkness on the other; or, to express oneself in different words, the kingdoms of good and of evil, or of truth and of falsehood. Each of these kingdoms has a personal Head. On the one side stands Jesus Christ, the God-man, the source of all light and knowledge, of all holiness and purity and goodness, the loving, gentle, kind, sympathising Saviour and Sovereign of mankind. And ranged behind Him, and guided and directed by Him, and working under Him, are the multitudes of the ‘saints,’ the men and the women who believe in His Name and desire to extend His influence over the earth, and with them an innumerable, but invisible, company of the holy angels. These three together (the Captain and his two bands of soldiers) constitute what may be called the ‘army of the living God.’ On the other side stand the dark hosts of Satan. They form (we suppose) a vast organisation. St. Paul’s language seems to intimate as much when he tells us that we ‘wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities; against powers, against the ruler of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ The idea conveyed in this language is, first, that of great numbers. Then, of the formidable power. This huge organisation, bound together not by the tie of love, but by the tie of fierce, consuming hatred against God, is led (as it appears) by one mighty chieftain, whom our Lord denominates ‘Satan.’ Is it fanciful to suppose that this dark potentate and his subordinates, who have now studied our human nature, and the circumstances in which we live, for thousands of years, know all about us, and all about each individual member of the human family; understand our weaknesses, our proclivities; are acquainted with our past and our present; and, like the hunter, who prepares the most tempting bait for the creature he wishes to entrap, are skilful to spread the toils into which we are most likely to fall, to weave the airy, unsubstantial phantoms by the fascinations of which we may be most easily led on to the very verge of the pit of destruction? Such a view, I think, we are justified in taking. It is not fanciful; it is not poetical. It is plain, simple matter of fact.

III. No neutrality.—The conflict between these two kingdoms is even now going on. And the formidable, the almost appalling thought is this, that we are compelled, whether we like it or not, to take our part in it. We might wish to stand aloof as mere spectators; perhaps we do wish to be spared the trouble, the effort, the strain, the risk of it. But that cannot be. We must take one side or the other. We must be for Christ, or against Him. And the veriest trifler, who flits about, butterfly-like, from pleasure to pleasure, in apparent innocence and gaiety of heart, doing no harm (as we say), but also doing no good, is and must be implicated in this great strife, which is going on through the ages, and which, if we had only the faculties to look into the heart of things, we should see to be in deed and in truth shaking both heaven and earth.

Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.

Illustration

‘In that terrible scene, when the future Judge of all was brought up to the bar of a human judge, and was accused and condemned by His own creatures, Pilate laboured hard to exonerate himself from responsibility, to lay the burden upon others’ shoulders, to stand aside himself, so as not to be implicated and entangled with one party or the other; and he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, in order to show how completely (as he thought) he had succeeded in the attempt. But he had not succeeded. He was under the necessity of taking his side for or against, as all men have to do when Christ appears before them.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE STRONG MAN ARMED

When Christ cast out an evil spirit from a man, it was in itself a great act. But Christ gave it a far greater importance, by the way in which He taught us to regard it. It was not, He said, a solitary miracle; it was a part of a great undertaking which He was accomplishing.

I. The house.—Every one’s own heart is ‘a house,’ or ‘a palace,’ which Satan, as ‘a strong man armed,’ holds and keeps. So long as ‘the strong man’ holds his ‘palace’ on an undisputed tenure, it is all quiet; ‘his goods’—alas that the man himself is among the chattels!—‘his goods are in peace.’ But when Christ, Who is represented as the stronger One—when ‘the stronger One’ comes, there is warfare, warfare to the death; and this warfare in the breast is the first, and for a long while, the only token for good.

II. The ‘binding.’—See how He ‘binds.’ A little while ago some straitening circumstances happened to you, and you felt strangely circumscribed. You chafed against the restraint which you felt but could not overcome. Or a very heavy trial almost crushed you, or a very deep humiliation visited your heart, or for a while you were utterly shut in to dark and dreary thoughts. The mystery grew very deep. But, unknown to you, ‘the stronger’ was binding ‘the strong one.’ The fire of persecution and shame and suffering that was kindled upon you—it was not to burn you, but the enemies that were spiritually oppressing you; and at the same time, it consumed the bands that encircled you, and set you free, to walk joyfully through the furnace.

III. ‘The spoil.’—‘He will bind the strong man, and then He will spoil his house.’ The habit of sin broken, the power of sin reduced, the love of sin destroyed, the soul is emancipated; and now Christ is free to claim His own property, which His own blood has purchased and His own right hand has rescued. Has not He a right? Are not all ‘the spoils’ His?

Verses 28-29

SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST

‘All sins shall be forgiven unto … men … but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness.’

Mark 3:28-Joel :

There is probably no text of Scripture of which the full meaning is more uncertain, and yet, in spite of its obscurity, probably no text in which there lies a more solemn warning. Why should speaking against the Holy Spirit be less pardonable than blasphemy against the Son of God? The sin of one who has received the Spirit is more conscious; it is a deadlier sin, because the sinner who commits it stands higher in the Christian life. The greater unpardonableness, whatever it be, however it be extended or limited, consists not in the nature of Him against Whom it is committed, but in the state of heart of him who has been guilty of it. No one can pretend on earth to say what this sin is. We simply do not know. There is no known sin of which we can dare to say, without awful presumption, that God can never forgive it. Ignorant and morbid brooding on this matter has often been an instrument in the hands of Satan to craze weak brains. Suffice it for us that all sin is exceedingly sinful, and that until it be forsaken no sin can be forgiven. But even when we have said this the text continues to be a word of solemn and even of awful warning.

It deeply behoves us to consider what sins are sins against the Holy Spirit of God.

I. Disbelief in the Holy Ghost.—You begin the Creed by saying that you believe in an Almighty Father. Well, you may entirely lose the sense of that Fatherhood and yet be forgiven. You go on to say that you believe in a Saviour Son; you may entirely lose the sense of that Sonship and yet be forgiven. But the third article—‘I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life’—disbelieve that if you dare; disbelieve that, and your own being is degraded into the state of dust driven by the wind, and the element of dissolution has entered into your very heart and soul. And why? Briefly and summarily, because the Spirit is the source of life, of all true life, and all nature with one voice and with one glory is set to teach you reverence for the life communicated to you by the Father of Spirits.

II. A sin of the life.—But the sin is not in mere words. It is a sin of the life. It is a sin of the whole being. Wherever any man, whether he calls himself an atheist or a Christian, gives himself over to vile affections, there breathes a leprosy of decay through every word and action. There have been such men; and can any man, in any way, approach to this condition without a sin against the Spirit of God? The gift of the artist, the writer, the orator, the poet, the musician, the man of science, the philosopher, are all the manifold gifts of the one Spirit of God. But when art, sinking into degradation, deals only with what is foul and horrible; and when music becomes petty, vulgar, meretricious, effeminate; and when literature becomes unclean and polluting; and when poetry cares only to paint the gates of hell; and when science bends all her energies to dispeople heaven and earth of God; and when philosophy grovels downwards into a base pessimism—surely every man who in these ways prostitutes the gift of God, is guilty of a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. But it does not require any genius to sin against the Spirit of God; the sin can be sinned in the humblest position by the most common man. Every one who sins against light and knowledge commits this sin.

III. The ground of hope.—But ‘walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’ The Spirit of God is the Spirit of the Lord of life, and a witness to our hearts that there is a Holy Catholic Church of which every one of us is a member; a communion of saints, to which we may belong; and a forgiveness of sins, of which we may all partake; and a resurrection of the body and a life everlasting, which, even to the worst, and the most abandoned, and most habitual sinner, here may still be—because the offer of Christ’s pardon is still open to him—may still be an immortality full of joy unspeakable. These blessings are meant for every one of us.

—Dean Farrar.

Illustration

‘Although it is difficult to define what the unpardonable sin is, it is far less difficult to point out what it is not. A few words on this point may possibly help to relieve tender consciences. We may lay it down as nearly certain, that those who are troubled with fears that they have sinned the unpardonable sin are the very people who have not sinned it. The very fact that they are afraid and anxious about it is the strongest possible evidence in their favour. A troubled conscience—an anxiety about salvation, and a dread of being cast away, a concern about the next world, and a desire to escape from the wrath of God—will probably never be found in the heart of that person who has sinned the sin for which there is no forgiveness. It is far more probable that the general marks of such a person will be utter hardness of conscience—a seared heart—an absence of any feeling—a thorough insensibility to spiritual concern. The subject may safely be left here. There is such a thing as a sin which is never forgiven. But those who are troubled about it are most unlikely to have committed it.’

Verses 34-35

DIVINE RELATIONSHIPS

‘And He looked round about on them which sat about Him, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother.’

Mark 3:34-Habakkuk :

What words are these!

I. In the family.—It were a great thing that God should admit us to be His servants, to occupy the lowest place in all His house. But that He should count us thus in the family is a love which has no parallel.

II. A relative duty.—Suppose that you lived in the days of Christ’s sojourn upon earth, and that you were introduced one day to some one of whom you were at that moment informed that that person was ‘the mother,’ or ‘the brother,’ or the ‘sister’ of the Lord Jesus. With what interest, with what wonder, with what reverence, with what affection you would look on that person! Now is not the thing real now, though invisible? You meet a person of whom you believe that he is a true Christian. Perhaps he is a very poor person. At that moment Christ is introducing you to that person. You ought to see that relation to Christ as the determining feature in that person, and love and honour him for Christ’s sake. Is your love to Christ worth much if you are not doing it?

III. Intimacy and confidence.—But the subject bears still another interest. It is very comforting. Now suppose that any one of us is really at this moment so near to Christ that we have reason to believe that that hand is now pointing to us, and that those blessed words are really being addressed to us. What a wonderful intimacy and confidence may the thought of those words inspire us with! Are you indeed ‘as a brother, or a sister, or a mother’ to the Lord Jesus Christ? Then what may you not confide to Him?

—Rev. James Vaughan.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

DOING THE WILL OF GOD

Surely these words awake in the mind of every child of God a longing to be among the greatly blessed ones. There is a wonderful rest in acknowledging the claims of God’s will above all other claims in our lives. There are three ways in which we may do God’s will.

I. Pray according to His will.—This is to pray in the spirit of adoption ( Romans 8:15). It was thus Christ prayed, and through Him we have access. It is also to know what to pray for by the Holy Spirit’s guidance ( 2 Chronicles 1:12; 1 Kings 3:11-1 Chronicles :).

II. Suffer according to His will.—There is a suffering which comes direct from God’s hand and, when we recognise that, it is not difficult to wait patiently till the suffering with Him gives place to the glory with Him. There is also a suffering which we bring upon ourselves, but let us ever remember that all things work together for good to them that love God.

III. Work according to His will.—David willed to build a house for God, but God willed that he should only prepare for it, and David gave up his own idea. God’s will was done by David who prepared, the people who offered, and Solomon who built.

IV. The first step in doing God’s will is submission to that will. God wills all men to be saved; how strange that some choose to be lost.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 3". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/mark-3.html. 1876.