Updated: Sep 25, 2018
This miracle at the beginning of chapter 3, the healing of the withered hand at the synagogue on the Sabbath, is the conclusion of the conflict we’ve seen brewing with Jesus and the Pharisees since the beginning of chapter 2. It began with the healing of the lame man and Jesus’ declaration of the forgiveness of his sins. Then it continued with Jesus’ feasting with sinners, tax collectors and other such unclean folk as well as Him allowing His disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath. Now they are in the synagogue again and Jesus does something that results in His enemies plotting His death.
We are told specifically that they were watching Jesus. These men who claim to have such superior moral scruples in all the small things are planning and plotting against Jesus with malice in their hearts and anger in their minds. And as Christ’s people we should expect no less. We will always be watched by a world that is spiteful and angry towards us and our savior. Watching what we say, what we wear, how we work, how we conduct all of our affairs. This should cause us to exercise, as one commentator puts it, a holy jealousy over all we do that we might not give any reason for our enemy to blaspheme our Lord as they often want to do. This will require much prayer, but we have a savior who was also watched and can sympathize and provide all the necessary grace.
This encounter Jesus has over the healing of the withered hand is really the ultimate proof of two things. First, the Pharisee’s hardness of heart and second, Jesus’ authority as Lord of the Sabbath. To understand Jesus’ anger at this point, it would be prudent to recall the only other account in scripture of a withered hand being healed.
In 1 Kings 13, a prophet confronts the wicked king Jeroboam for building idol shrines. When the king stretches out his hand and tells his men to seize the prophet it dries up and is withered. This wicked king was smart enough to know when to stop warring against God’s man. He begs the prophet for healing and the man prays for healing and God grants it.
This wicked king who established idol shrines in Israel had better discernment than these men who prided themselves for their alleged devotion to God. Then after his healing, the king invites the prophet to his home that he might eat and drink with him. Instead of that, the Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating and drinking too much. They have proven themselves to be worse than idolaters. Jesus’ miracle and the Pharisees response points to the fact that while at this point in their history, Israel had finally shaken their formal idol worship, they were practicing a form of idol worship that was even more subtle and even more dangerous. The idol of self-righteousness. Of seeking (and in their minds obtained) God’s approval through the works of man.
Jesus gives them a simple choice: Would God be pleased with doing good on the Sabbath or evil? Would he be more pleased by saving a life or killing? To anyone who is honest with the scriptures, the answer is obvious. Yet they are unable to answer. At least with words. Their actions tell us exactly what they think. For it says in verse 6, “The Pharisees went out immediately and held council with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
A New David and a New Israel
After these events Jesus is forced to flee the area. It is the same word used in the Septuagint to describe David’s fleeing Saul in 1 Samuel 19:10. And in this scene we see Jesus being portrayed as a new David and as his followers as a newly constituted Israel.
Just as when David fled to the cave of Adullam, “and everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to him and he became captain over them” (1 Samuel 22:2), so to has Jesus fled his enemies only to be surrounded by a great host of supporters. And while David mustered a fighting force of 400 Jewish men Jesus seems to have gathered a more numerous multitude that consisted of both Jew and Gentile.
Then we are told that Jesus goes up onto a mountain, for He is about to call out a new people for Himself as He did when as the Angel of the Lord on Sinai He called the twelve tribes of Israel to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This new people will be represented by a new twelve who will eventually be described by Peter as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
And like David who had 3 mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-12), Jesus had many followers, and even twelve close disciples, but He had three special men: Peter James and John. They are listed first among the twelve and are unique in that they alone are given new names by Jesus. However, as Jesus often does, he turns the script on its head. Where David’s mighty men risked their own blood so that he could have a cup of water to drink it will be Jesus who not only risks but gives His own blood so that they may drink the water of life.
Are you My Mother?
Many of the Psalms of David revolve around the idea that he is surrounded by his enemies. If you read a little closer though, often, the enemies that David describes are not the ones you might expect. They are his brothers-in-arms. His closest confidants. The men standing shoulder to shoulder with him, not those standing on the other side of the battlefield (see Psalm 55).
Jesus Christ, the greater David, faces similar difficulties. Not only are we told in the listing of the 12 disciples of His eventual betrayal at the hands of Judas, but now in verse 21 we have Jesus’ own family come to try and take him away because they believe him to have lost his mind. At the end of the chapter, Jesus will announce that He is the head of a new family. Not one which is bound together by common blood, but by common faith and practice. “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
The Strong Man
His family believes Him to be insane and the religious leaders who should be the first to recognize Him as Messiah, believe Him to be demon possessed or the Devil himself. They attribute his power and ability to cast out demons to the power of Beelzebub, the chief of demons.
Jesus responds with a parable. He tells them that is Satan is divided against himself then his house cannot stand and therefore is no threat. But since that is not what is happening, how does the godly man overcome the power of Satan in this world? Jesus compares Satan to a strong man. He says if you want to plunder the strong man’s house the strong man needs to be bound. After that has happened then people are free to enter in and plunder his house. Jesus can do what He does in terms of casting out demons because He’s already bested Satan. In the wilderness Jesus engaged in combat with His enemy and won. Later Jesus will tell his disciples that whoever believes in Him will be able to do even greater things because his enemy will eventually be fully defeated by means of the cross, the empty tomb and the ascension of the Son of Man to the right hand of the Father.
Our job, as the "burglars" of this parable, is to trust the true Strong Man, the one who was strong enough to bind up our strong enemy, and finish the job that He started and which He entrusted us with: go and plunder Satan’s house. This is the essence of the job that every Christian has, the Great Commission. Disciple the nations because they aren’t Satan’s anymore (Rev. 20:3), they’re Christ’s and they will be His inheritance.
The Unforgiveable Sin
Maybe you’ve been taught that what is often referred to as the unforgiveable sin, or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, somehow means that curse words with Jesus’ name in them are forgivable but curse words that refer to the Holy Spirit are damnable. This is certainly not the case. Nor do I believe that from the text we can say that Jesus was referring to the sin of unbelief, which, when one dies in such sin, it is unforgivable. That is a true statement from scripture, but not what Jesus is saying here.
The New Testament sets forth two stages of the work of God. First, we have the ministry of the Son and second, the ministry of the Spirit. Jesus receives the Spirit (His Pentecost) at His baptism, so the Spirit is unquestionably present in Jesus’ ministry, but the Spirit does not flow from Him to others until the upper room on the day of Pentecost in Acts.
The scribes of Israel were here rejecting Jesus (blaspheming him even) and that is a grave error on their part. But not so grave as to be absolutely fatal. What they were rejecting in the ministry of Jesus would be offered to them again through the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the disciples. Up to this point, the city that has murdered the very Son of God still has opportunity to repent. Biblical justice requires evidence from at least two witnesses and alas, they would speak against, persecute and blaspheme this second witness also and the result is the wrath of God upon the city. Time has run out. The great and terrible day of vengeance would come upon them and in 70AD the entire city would be destroyed.
The application for us is simple. Repent. Not later, not tomorrow, not next year. Repent now. God is patient and slow to anger. God gave Israel multiple witnesses and an entire generation of forty years. God gives us many witnesses to our own sin as well but if we continue in it, like them, we will be judged.
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 J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, P.44-45
 Mark Horne, The Victory According to Mark, P.73-74