Although we have moved into chapter 3 of the Gospel, this chapter continues the theme of the Galilean ministry of the Lord. There is continuing opposition and conflict from the religious authorities of the day and further scenes in areas where the Lord has worked before. He is in the synagogue. He is by the seaside. He is in the house.
Before we consider the verses in any detail, we might divide the chapter into five sections:
First, then, we will consider the synagogue scene.
We have seen other synagogue scenes in chapter 1 verses 21 and 39, where the Lord was present to heal those that were sick and to deliver those possessed with demons. Here, as before, there stands a marked contrast between the activities of the Lord in bringing blessing and the activities of the religious leaders as they ‘took counsel … against him, how they might destroy him’, v. 6.
Mark’s detail about the man with the withered hand is limited. He tells us only that the man was in the synagogue and that his hand was withered. Luke adds the detail that it was the man’s right hand. Yet, in Matthew’s Gospel, the exchange between the Lord and the Pharisees is revealed.
They asked the Lord whether it was lawful to heal on the sabbath day. It was that question that brought from the Lord the reminder of the provision that was made in the law. The law allowed a man or woman to act in a compassionate manner in the case of an animal that had fallen into a pit; to leave the animal might well be fatal. To bring it out of the pit was allowed in order to preserve life, or the quality of life. The Lord asked the question, ‘How much then is a man better than a sheep?’ Matt. 12. 12. It is clear that the Lord looked at the man and saw his need; the Pharisees looked at the man and saw an opportunity to trap the Lord. The Lord sought to bring healing to the man in his need. The Pharisees sought grounds whereby they might accuse the Lord.
As we have seen, their motivation in watching the Lord was ‘that they might accuse him’, v. 2. Wuest comments, ‘The verb is in the imperfect tense, speaking of continuous action. They kept on watching Him, bent on finding our Lord at fault with reference to the Sabbath’.1 The word ‘accuse’ carries with it a suggested plan to bring the Saviour before a tribunal and to accuse Him publicly.
There was no compassion in their heart for the man’s need. There was no appreciation of the opportunity that was afforded to this man whilst the Saviour was present to heal. Their religious ritualism had resulted in the ‘hardness of their hearts’, v. 5.
They watched. Maintaining aloofness from the proceedings in order to maintain their status and independence, they observed closely the actions of the Saviour in respect to the man. It says something of their knowledge of the Saviour’s character. They expected Him to heal, but that brought in them no appreciation of the compassion of the Saviour or any respect for His obvious power and ability.
The Lord did not shrink back from doing that which was good because of the obvious antagonism of the Pharisees. He commanded the man to ‘stand forth’, in the midst of the assembled company.
There are two possible reasons for this command. In stepping into the midst of the company, the man was clearly acknowledging his need. He could have remained hidden from the view of most, but in obeying the command of the Saviour he was accepting the need of his heart and showing a willingness to be healed. There was in the command of the Saviour also a desire to issue a challenge to those that sought grounds for an accusation against Him. Unlike the Pharisees, whose motives and ideas were hidden to the people, the Lord’s ministry was not hidden. It was manifest to all.
The challenge is issued to those that would seek grounds to accuse. ‘Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?’ The Lord shows that to fail to do good is to do evil. To fail to heal this man would be an act of evil. But worse than that, the Lord was challenging the heart of the Pharisees. He planned to heal on the sabbath. They were planning to destroy Him on that sabbath. Which would they judge to be evil?
‘They held their peace’. Wuest comments, ‘The verb is imperfect. They kept on being quiet. Theirs was a painful, embarrassing silence’.2 They had no answer!
They had looked, spying closely upon Him, to find something by which they could accuse Him, v. 2. Here, He looks round about on them. His penetrating gaze finds only the hardness of their hearts, a hardness that is common to them all.
The Lord’s response is twofold. He is angry, and this is the only explicit mention of His anger in the New Testament. It is the response of the Saviour to their sin and lack of repentance for that sin. He is also grieved but, whereas the anger was but momentary, the grief was a more prolonged distress. Grassmick comments, ‘It was non-malicious indignation coupled with deep sorrow, grief, at their obstinate insensitivity’. 3 All of these characteristics of the Saviour reveal something of His feelings – compassion for the man, anger and grief at the impenitent Pharisees.
A second command is issued by the Saviour, ‘stretch forth thine hand’. How cleverly the act of healing is accomplished. To have touched the man would have been to invite accusation of healing on the sabbath. There was no visible means used that anyone could construe as work on the sabbath. In stretching out his hand, the man expressed his obedience and his faith in the ability of the Saviour to heal. The reward of faith was that ‘his hand was restored’.
It is Luke that tells us the state of their mind at the action of the Saviour, ‘they were filled with madness’, Luke 6. 11. This fury, or loss of reason, was the extreme reaction of these religious leaders when confronted with the Saviour’s healing of the man.
Mark uses that word characteristic of his Gospel, when he tells us that they ‘straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him’. Their sabbath scruples are cast aside as, in their fury, they seek ‘how they might destroy him’. The warring factions are suddenly united in a common desire and bid to rid themselves of the Saviour. Hiebert comments, ‘They regarded as a terrible crime Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, but they had no qualms about plotting murder on the Sabbath’.4
This brings us to the second scene in the chapter.
In chapter 1 verse 16, chapter 2 verse 13, and here, we see the Lord by the sea of Galilee. We will see further references to the Lord’s movements by the seaside as we progress through this Gospel.
Withdrawing from further confrontation with the Pharisees, the Lord is found at the seaside ‘with his disciples’. The phrase suggests that His disciples felt and shared the Lord’s sense of alienation from and rejection by the religious leaders of the day. Hiebert comments, ‘With His disciples, placed emphatically before the singular verb in the original, suggests that they intimately shared His alienation from the Jewish leaders’.5
It will be noted, later in this chapter, v. 14, that the Lord, in calling the twelve, had the desire that, first, they should be with Him.
Mark tells us ‘a great multitude’ gathered and followed the Lord. They came from all parts of the land and ‘beyond Jordan; and … Tyre and Sidon’, v. 8. How long the multitude took to gather Mark does not tell us but, considering the distances some must have travelled, it would have taken time.
What brought the crowd together? Mark tells us, ‘they had heard what great things he did’, v. 8. The sentence suggests that the stories were continually circulating and growing. Mark has told us already of how the fame of the Saviour spread, ‘throughout all the region round about Galilee’, 1. 28. It would appear from these verses, vv. 7-9, that His fame had spread much wider than that.
The size of the crowd and their desire to reach the Saviour caused a problem. The safety of the Lord could never be in question, but the safety of the disciples could. They are the ones instructed to make ready a small ship and bring it along the seashore parallel with the Lord’s movements.
What forbearance was shown by the Saviour! The crowds pressed and pushed. Their desire was to touch Him and be healed. The small ship could have been used to enable the escape of the Lord, but He chose not to use it. What compassion and care He displayed to those around Him.
The idea that but a touch of the Saviour would bring healing had grown, for, 5. 28, the woman with the issue of blood said, ‘If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole’. The power of a touch of the Saviour was evident here, for all those with plagues came to find healing. The eager throng, jostling for position and access, would have presented a frightening scene, but one in which the Saviour was in complete control.
We see that power and control of the Saviour evident also in His handling of those possessed with unclean spirits. The spirits were powerless before Him. They fell down, prostrating themselves before the Lord. They had to acknowledge who He was and their subjection to Him. Of their cry, Wuest comments, ‘They kept on constantly crying. What horrible confusion this was, deep throaty, raucous voices from the Satanic world’.6 However, the Lord does not seek the testimony of demons to further His cause. Thus, He forbids the witness of the unclean spirit world as incongruous with His own impeccable character and person. Cole adds, ‘the Lord wanted men to find out who He was by listening to His words and by watching His deeds’.7 The challenge to our hearts is – what do our words and deeds reveal of us?