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Bible Commentaries
Mark 3

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

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Verses 1-35


In the former chapters we have seen the perfect Servant, in His ministry of grace and power, dispensing blessing in the midst of the Jewish nation. We have also seen that, while this ministry brought to light the faith of a godly remnant, it also aroused the enmity of the leaders of the nation who dared to charge the Lord with being a blasphemer, of associating with sinners and breaking the sabbath.

This opposition foreshadowed the great change of dispensation about to take place. The Jews, who reject their Messiah and commit the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost, will be set aside and grace will flow out to the Gentiles. The old order, under law in Judaism, will give place to the reign of grace under Christianity. This change of dispensation is indicated, in this fresh division of the Gospel, by a series of incidents that take place in the synagogue (1-6); by the sea (7-12); on the mountain (13-19); and in an house (19-35). Each place and scene has its special significance.

(Vv. 1-6). The first incident tells us that the Lord "again entered into the synagogue," thus setting forth His presence in the midst of the Jewish nation - for the synagogue was the meeting place of those under law. What an arresting scene takes place in this synagogue at Capernaum! God's perfect Servant - the Lord of glory - is present with power to bless, and grace in His heart to use the power on behalf of the needy. Man is there in all his deep need, but powerless to help himself, for his hand is withered. The religious man is there with no sense of his need, no realisation of the glory of the Lord, and indifferent to the need of others.

Of these Pharisees, we read that "they watched Him," not to learn of His ways and the grace of His heart, but in the hope that He would do good "on the sabbath day" in the healing of a poor needy man that was present, and thus give them occasion to bring a charge against the Lord of working on the sabbath. What a witness to the perfection of Christ, that His enemies do not expect any evil from Him, but can count upon His doing good! And in our day, and measure, do not the men of the world bear unconscious witness to the truth of Christianity, inasmuch as they expect Christians to do good and act in a way different to themselves. If Christianity is all false, why should unbelievers expect the Christians to act in a better way than themselves?

If the Lord was not the Son of God and the Servant of Jehovah, why should these Jews expect Him to heal this man? They unconsciously bear witness to the grace of His heart and the hardness of their own hearts. Seeing that the Lord knew what was in their hearts and that they were seeking an occasion against Him, we might judge it would have been prudent to refrain from healing the man in public, and thus deprive these wicked men of the opportunity that they sought. But the Lord was here to manifest the grace of God and so proceeds to act with the utmost publicity. He tells the man to "stand forth" before them all. By His question the Lord gives these men an opportunity to state their difficulties as to healing on the sabbath day. But we read, "They held their peace." This silence was not that lowly grace that marked the Lord when, in the presence of insults, He answered never a word. It was the silence of mere policy and, more eloquently than words, exposed the impotent hatred of their hearts. The Lord looked upon them with righteous anger. But behind the anger there was distress. He was grieved for the hardness of their hearts that was wholly indifferent to the need of the man, perfectly helpless to meet that need, and bitterly opposed to the One who had both the grace and the power to bless. In result, the men that would not allow the Lord to do good on the sabbath, were perfectly prepared to do evil. Already they had watched to accuse Him; now they take counsel to destroy the Blesser.

(Vv. 7-12). The malice of the Jew cannot stay the grace of the Lord, or check His unwearied service of love. It does, indeed, divert that service into other channels, and become the occasion of grace reaching a wider circle. This change in the ways of God is suggested by the Lord withdrawing from the synagogue - the Jewish centre - and taking His place by the sea, so often used in Scripture as a figure of the nations. The rejection of Christ by the Jew opens the door for the blessing of the Gentile.

Further, in this new position, we have an indication of the new principles which mark the day of grace. The Jews in the synagogue were governed by sight - "they watched Him"; their hearts were hardened to their own need, and filled with enmity to the One who alone could meet their need. In contrast, by the sea side, "a great multitude," including Gentiles, were attracted to the Lord "when they had heard what great things He did." Faith cometh by hearing and is the outcome of a sense of need. For, if they were drawn to Christ by His grace, they were driven to Him by their need. "As many as had plagues" came. Solomon, in his prayer, speaks of every man knowing "the plague of his own heart," and points the only way of relief in spreading it out before God ( 1Ki_8:38 ). A plague in the heart is something known only to the individual, that comes in to mar his joy. Some question between the soul and God that is unsettled; it may be some secret sin unconfessed. Faith, realising the grace that is in the heart of Christ, can spread the plague out before Him, and find deliverance from every evil influence.

(Vv. 13-19). Again the scene changes from the sea to the mountain. The Lord had been with the Jews in their synagogue to find only the withered hand, the hard heart, and deadly enmity. He had been by the sea side the centre of attraction for needy souls, drawn from Jews and Gentiles. Now we are lifted above man's world to learn on the mountain something of the new ways of God. In the sovereign choice of the Twelve we see the foundation laid for the new order of blessing about to be introduced. The Church is called out from Jews and Gentiles, and is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." ( Eph_2:20 ). When at last we have a description of the Church in glory, we find in the foundation of the city the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. ( Rev_21:14 ).

This new work does not flow from the responsibility of man. It is wholly of God. The Lord, having separated Himself from man and his world, according to His own sovereign choice "calleth unto Him whom He would". He calls them, He ordains them, He sends them forth, and He gives them power. But above all, they are chosen that "they should be with Him." The nearest and dearest object of His heart is to have His people with Himself. Here, however, it is specially in view of service, for which the only true preparation is the company of the Lord. So the Lord could say in an earlier scene, "Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." (and again, at a later day, "if any man serve me, let him follow me" ( Joh_12:26 )). To reach Christ we must be separate from the world, even as He is, set forth by following Him into the mountain. There, from His company, in the separate place, they are sent forth to preach the glad tidings. This was something entirely new. In the Jewish system there was, indeed, the reading and expounding of the law in their synagogues, but there was no preaching. This new thing was to be introduced with the power to heal diseases, and cast out demons. Christ, not only does miracles Himself, but, He can give others the power to perform them.

(Vv. 19-21). Associating the disciples with Himself, the Lord now enters into an house. Connected with the house we have the relations of the Lord according to the flesh. If in the mountain we see the foundation laid for that which is entirely new, in the house we learn that the Lord no longer owns any connection with Israel after the flesh. His relatives felt the reproach of being connected with One who was condemned by their leaders, and whose teaching and practice condemned the world. Not being prepared for the reproach of Christ, they would seek to restrain Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind." They probably admitted all the hard things that their leaders said about Him, but they said, "He is beside himself," and should be put under restraint.

(V. 22). The scribes from Jerusalem, who by reason of their official position and intellectual superiority, had power and influence with the people, will not accept the plea of madness. They knew it was not the diseased mind of a madman, concentrating all his energy on one aim, but a very real power that cast out demons. They knew it was a power above that of man. They would not own it was of God, and hence they were compelled to impute His power to the devil - the only other power.

(Vv. 23-30). This terrible charge seals their doom. And yet with what perfect calm and grace the Lord meets this wickedness. In the mountain the Lord had just called unto Himself the Twelve, to associate them with Himself in blessing. Now He calls His enemies unto Him to pronounce their doom. Solemn thought! The One who calls in grace, will call in judgment. The Lord shows that their charge was, not only ignorant folly, but deliberate blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Here was One who was stronger than the strong man, who was taking his goods from him, showing, indeed, that He had bound the strong man. All this power was exercised by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Ghost (cf. Act_10:38 ). Hence to ascribe His power to the devil was to call the Holy Ghost a demon. This was a sin that could not be pardoned. It was the end of all hope for Israel on the ground of responsibility. This, then, is the solemn climax to all the Lord's gracious service in this world. "Man can see nothing in the activity of divine goodness but madness and the work of the devil." (J.N.D.).

(Vv. 31-35). The solemn scene that follows is the terrible result for the Jewish nation. All relationship with Israel after the flesh is renounced. Every link with the nation is broken. At the same time the Lord distinguishes a remnant who are in relationship with Himself, not by reason of their natural connection with Israel, but by faith in His word (see Joh_6:39-40 ).

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Mark 3". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/mark-3.html. 1832.
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