Mark began his gospel indicating that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. We recall that Mark presents the gospel in a different manner than the other gospel writers. Mark moves quite abruptly from one event to the next. He seems most concerned with the action of the narrative and the fulfillment of Jesus as the Son of God. He does not include the birth narrative, but launches straightway into the ministry of John the Baptizer and indicates that though he is the greatest of the prophets, he is merely a forerunner who prepares the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. After Jesus is baptized and tempted in the wilderness by Satan, he declares a new eschatological age. His words are strong and authoritative. He proclaims that because of his arrival on the scene, the “time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.” And because of this fact, a response is required. Jesus commands everyone to “repent and believe in the gospel.”
This will be his message and his ministry. As he goes from town to town healing and silencing demons, he indicates in Mark 1.38 that he must continue with his preaching ministry. For this is why he came.
We saw last week that people are really beginning to question who Jesus is. First, we watched as Jesus approached a tax collector and called him to follow. The text seems to indicate that Levi immediately followed after Jesus – leaving behind his occupation. After this, it seems as though Levi then invited Jesus to dinner. And much to the chagrin of the religious leaders, Jesus partied with the “sinners” and tax collectors – the worst of the worst in their mind. And so they begin to question. “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting and they asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast?” On the Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples pluck a few heads of grain and the Pharisees asked, “why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus has come and challenged their view of the law. He accuses them of being so rigid with the letter of the law, that they have lost its intent. He reminds them that there is no place for fasting when He is present among them. And then he tells them that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.
And so we will see again, that Jesus continues to boldly confront the Pharisees and their understanding of the Law. And we will also see that it is not well received. This will set things in motion more rapidly as opposition to him and his ministry increases.
We are in Mark chapter 3 this morning. Please turn your Bibles with me to Mark 3.1-12.
I have entitled the sermon, Expectations, because we will see that people often had (and still do have) different expectations of who Jesus should have been and he should be. Let’s read the text as we get underway. READ.
The first point is Law or Life? “Again he entered the synagogue.” Mark records another account that takes place in a synagogue. Though not the main point of the passage, it is noteworthy that Jesus makes it a practice to frequent the synagogue on the Sabbath. Though he could have merely been off doing his own thing, it seems as though he made it a priority to attend worship at the synagogue.
Jesus enters the synagogue. It is not clear whether this is the same day or the following Sabbath. Interesting to note that once again there is a man here with a withered hand. We noticed previously in chapter 1 that there was also a man with an unclean spirit (a demon) who was also in the synagogue. But here there is a man who had a deformity. Though I’m not sure any commentators indicated this, you almost tempted to think that he has been brought there for a trap. And I’ll explain. Just looked at the next words. “And they watched Jesus.” The meaning of this word and phrase is to “watch maliciously” or “to lie in wait for.” Let’s set the scene. The synagogue was this building where they would come to worship on the Sabbath. It consists of a room where the seats were lined up against the outside walls. It was a place of worship as well as a place to come and dialogue about philosophies and ideas. I envisioned Jesus entering the synagogue and as he does people are congregated throughout in conversations. You can almost see and hear them whispering in their circles, pointing and watching his interaction with this deformed man. Can you see it?
The text indicates that they watched him. They watched him so that they might ambush him. Do you think that they themselves invited the man into the synagogue? It is certainly cause to wonder. Consider Luke 14.1, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Or Luke 20:20 “So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.” And some other texts indicate that they lie in wait for him and test him in order to bring charge against Jesus.
Perhaps these were the same Pharisees that just saw Jesus picking the heads of the grain in the fields. Maybe they were others who heard about it and wanted to see for themselves. So here they were – waiting for Jesus to take the bait as it were. They were waiting for a reason to accuse him. Ironically, it doesn’t appear that they were in the synagogue to worship. Does it?
They didn’t say anything. The text says they watched. I suppose it is possible that they were whispering and pointing. Regardless, Jesus knows their hearts. And just for a prime teaching opportunity, he tells the man to come. I am not sure why the ESV translates it this way. It is literally rendered, “stand up in the middle.” I suppose if Jesus were in the middle of the room, this would certainly make sense. It is clear that Jesus is going to deal with this here and now. I tried to put myself in the place of this man. So did one commentator when he wrote, “One can almost feel the man’s horror. Had he dreamed his handicap would be made a public spectacle he surely would never have braved attending synagogue. Rather than escaping notice, the dread of most persons who bear handicaps or deformities is having people stare them in the face: the man is summoned by Jesus to the center of the synagogue.”
And Jesus asks them the question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” As we will see, he is not necessary challenging their knowledge of the law but the condition of their hearts. James Edwards notes, “For Jesus human need poses a moral imperative. Where good needs to be done, there can be no neutrality, and failure to do the good is to contribute to the evil. It is thus not simply permissible to heal on the Sabbath but right to heal on the Sabbath, whether or not it is “lawful.” A litmus test of true versus false religion is its response to injustice.”
I think the point here is that you can be theologically knowledgeable and lack compassion for people. To glorify God is to be theologically accurate with a proper disposition of the heart. Edwards again notes, “Questions of theological orthodoxy and moral behavior cannot be answered in the abstract, but only by responding to the concrete call of God in one’s life and to specific human needs at hand. The test of all theology and morality is either passed or failed by one’s response to the weakest and most defenseless members of society. For Jesus the call of God presents itself urgently in the need of this particular man.”
For Jesus, to heal is to do good; to do nothing is evil. To heal is to save a life; not to heal is the equivalent of killing. It seems as though merely not working and resting on the Sabbath was not enough. The day must be used for good things. And of course we know the sum of the Law don’t we? Mark 12:28 “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” They missed it. Their traditions missed the point of the Mosaic Law. They did not love their neighbor. And the implication of this pointed out their lack of love for God.
And for the Pharisees, their response (or lack of a response) will betray their hearts. They were silent. They were silent because of their intent to accuse Jesus. Jesus looks around at them. How many? I don’t know. But he seemingly glares at them in anger. And he is grieved at the hardness of the hearts. They don’t truly want to know the character of God. They don’t want to know his compassion or justice. They merely want to accuse Jesus because he doesn’t fit their mold.
The same is true today, isn’t it? Many people have fabricated in their minds “their” own Jesus is. It is often a Jesus who makes them comfortable. It is a Jesus who looks away when you make a mistake and does not pass judgment on you. It is a Jesus that is talked about in some prominent books who has no expectations of you but just wants to hug and cuddle you. But then when we are confronted with the real Jesus, the biblical Jesus, we bristle because he may not fit our mold. So we cling to a fabricated Jesus – the safe and comfortable one. To be fair, people may also only see a Jesus who will judge but does not love them. And this too is an inaccurate understanding of him.
Unfortunately, this does not only pertain to unbelievers, but church folks as well. Sometimes we are susceptible to allow traditions hinder our work for Christ and in his name. I think the lesson here is clear for both believer and unbeliever. We need to continue to pursue the character of the Lord Jesus as we study his Word and engage him in prayer. He is not a figment of our imaginations but a real Person of whom we have reliable witness in the Scriptures. It is here that we can have our traditions and our beliefs challenged. And I think that this is one of the things that the Pharisees did not pursue. They were so stuck in tradition, they did not allow their thinking to be challenged – by Jesus himself. They were too proud to see or understand. Their hearts were hardened the text indicates.
I was trying to understand the “grieved” portion here. I suppose if I were Jesus sent down from heaven to earth to interact with those I had created, and those who supposedly represented me(!), I would be extremely grieved at these events. They were unwilling to listen to the Son of God and change their ways. Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart.
In the midst of the interaction, the hushed whispers, the questioning of Jesus and his glaring stares at all those around, Jesus says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” Jesus does not equivocate. Somebody indicated that “he did not decide whether or not to act depending on his standing in the polls or on personal consequences to himself.”
Place yourself in the man’s shoes once again. Everything is probably silent at this moment. You could hear a pin drop. Everybody is waiting to see what Jesus will do against these established and honored religious leaders. And here is this man, probably just slipped in and wanting to fade into the background, is now front and center in the debate. And Jesus calls for his hand. What would you do? Do you trust this radical and rebellious guy? Or do you say, “that’s alright. I think I’d prefer to keep the peace here.”
What does this man do? He stretched it out! This man had faith that Jesus could heal him. Was it the authority with which he spoke? Was it the reputation and stories that were now spreading throughout the region? For whatever reason, this man demonstrates great faith! A commentator writes, “Once again Mark describes faith without using the word. Faith is not a private wager but a public risk that Jesus is worthy of trust when no other hope can be trusted.”
What does this look like for us? One of the things I most appreciate about our baptisms is the public declaration for Jesus Christ. It is here that we testify that we no longer stand with the world, but stand with Christ – alone, if necessary. How do we stand in the workplace? It’s a bit more difficult there. Are we willing to risk our acceptance from others at the soccer fields and golf courses, at the construction sites and businesses? I love the faith of this man, who was unashamed to show his trust in Jesus – alone, it seems.
He stretches out his hand and his hand was restored. The irony of all of this is that Jesus does not even do any work! The text here doesn’t indicate that Jesus did anything, simply that the hand was healed. Jesus has such authority that no action on his part is necessary.
However, that was all that was needed for the Pharisees to immediately exit and plot to destroy Jesus. But first they had to recruit some help. The Herodians are a bit obscure throughout Scripture. The ESV Study Bible helps us out with their identity: “A loosely organized group that sought to advance the political and economic influence of the Herodian family (c. 37 b.c.–a.d. 93). Although the Herodians and the Pharisees were adversaries in regard to many political and religious issues, they join forces here to combat the perceived threat to their power and status.” It appears as though they may have found a common enemy in Jesus. As such it benefitted them both to form this alliance.
The next section introduces the next point, Healer and Lord. Whether it was the desire to escape the opposition or merely to pursue solitude, Jesus withdraws with the disciples to the sea. It seems as though the latter pursuit was unsuccessful for a great crowd followed. So Jesus has hit the big time now! Notice where the people come from. They come from Galilee. This is the area around the lake of which Capernaum is at the north end. Judea and Jerusalem is southern Palestine! Tyre and Sidon are northwest of Capernaum. Idumea is southeast of the Dead Sea and beyond the Jordon is east of the Jordan River.
Let’s investigate a bit who would come from these regions. Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem were principally Jewish territories. Idumea and the land beyond the Jordan River were mixed Jewish and Gentile. Tyre and Sidon were largely, if not entirely, Gentile regions. And these were all coming to see Jesus. Why? Were they all coming to place faith in Jesus as the Son of God? Hardly. These were crowds. Let’s allow James Edwards to help us out with the understanding of crowds in Mark’s gospel. “Crowds play an important role in the Gospel of Mark. Mark attests to Jesus’ popularity in Galilee by referring to crowds nearly forty times before chapter 10. Crowds form audiences for his teaching and are the object of his compassion, but Mark never describes crowds turning to Jesus in repentance and belief, as the gospel requires (1:15). In respect to understanding and faith, crowds generally demonstrate passivity, and given their precipitous reduction following Jesus’ teaching on suffering at Caesarea Philippi, they demonstrate even greater fickleness. The single most common attribute of crowds in Mark is that they obstruct access to Jesus. Thus, despite Jesus’ popularity, crowds are not a measure of success in Mark. They constitute “outsiders” who stand either in ambivalence or opposition to Jesus.”
So I think it is largely curiosity and potential healing that brings people from all over to see Jesus. The text indicates that it was what he was “doing” that drew the crowd to him – not his preaching on the kingdom, repentance and belief in the gospel. I cannot help but think about many of the television evangelists today that are so popular. What do they offer? The Benny Hinns will offer healing on the spot with enough faith, while the Joel Osteens offer wealth and personal advancement. They come in droves to hear the man-centred messages; and the call to cross-carrying discipleship is strangely lacking. Here there is no mention of sin and no good news that Jesus has paid the price for that sin so that people can be reconciled (made right) with God. When Jesus started difficult teachings of following him in John 6, many of his “disciples” turned away. The show was over.
Mark 3:9-10 “And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.” The tone here is that they pursued after him for their own benefit. Jesus is nothing more than a means to an end - the miracle worker to heal their diseases. There were so many that he thought they might crush him. And so he told the disciples to provide a way of escape.
It is interesting to see that there was a number of demons present in the crowd. I suppose it is possible that there were many who knew of this issue and thus sought after Jesus to rid them of these demons. This has happened already before and word probably spread. What I appreciate about the gospels in particular, is that they remind me of the reality of the spiritual realm. Because we live in this western society, this enlightened world, we tend to downplay the concept of the supernatural. I believe that there are many in third-world countries that would have a better understanding of dealing in this realm. I am not one to find a devil behind every bush. But I would also acknowledge that demons are present and active in many, many places. Remember there are thousands upon thousands of them. How often do we think of this??
Wouldn’t this be quite the sight? I’ve tried to picture this and understand the scene. Here we have people from all over Palestine and beyond – a great crowd. There are unclean spirits, or demons, who see Jesus and they fall down and cry out declaring him to be the Son of God. Was this visible? Did they inhabit the people here and force them to drop to their knees or prostrate before Jesus? Apparently their voices were audible because Jesus commands them to silence.
To fall down before Jesus indicates that they are inferior to the Lord Jesus and that he reigns over them. Declaring him to be the Son of God does not indicate a confession of commitment, but fear and opposition. And Jesus has the authority to silence them.
As we have discussed before and the NET Bible indicates “Jesus did not permit the demons to make him known because the time for such disclosure was not yet at hand, and such a revelation would have certainly been misunderstood by the people. In all likelihood, if the people had understood him early on to be the Son of God, or Messiah, they would have reduced his mission to one of political deliverance from Roman oppression (cf. John 6:15). Jesus wanted to avoid, as much as possible, any premature misunderstanding about who he was and what he was doing. However, at the end of his ministry, he did not deny such a title when the high priest asked him (14:61–62).”
Jesus is not merely a healer of physical illness or exorcist of demons. He is not a genie for our every whim and wish. He is not just a teacher or good guy. I hope that through this study, your understanding of Jesus Christ is being stretched and expanded. Jesus has strong convictions and great compassion. He is an example for us to see where truth and action collide. He is greatly concerned with truth. But with hard hearts, he is grieved and even angered. Jesus challenges the traditions of men.
But most of all, Jesus is the Son of God. He lived this life with the cross always in view. He came to fulfill a mission. Only the Son of God is competent and sufficient to be the sacrifice for sin. If you have had a deficient view of Jesus or no understanding at all, this is most important! As fascinating as these encounters are, they are preliminary to the road to Calvary. In other words, all these events are being carried out so that he will be placed on the cross to pay for our sin. This is even indicated in our text. His healing in the synagogue has triggered this opposition that will not cease until they have destroyed Jesus. The Pharisees have now set out to destroy Jesus. None of this is a surprise. Jesus understands all of this.
If you have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, think about the faith of the man with the deformed hand. Would you demonstrate the same faith in the face of opposition and ridicule? Will you count that cost, repent of your sin and believe the gospel?
It is my prayer that none of us are modern Pharisees. It is not a strict adherence to tradition that earns our righteousness before God. It is not merely a zeal for truth, participation in church activity, praying prayers in King James English, singing loudly or raising your hands that gains favor before the Lord. It is your heart that he looks to. He looks to a heart that has been changed by the Gospel.
When we understand the good news that Jesus died for sins and has changed your heart forever, it has an effect. It changes the way we live our lives. It changes the way we interact with one another in the church. And it changes the way that we treat those who do not know Christ. When we embrace the gospel, we need to share it with others. And this is all for his glory.