Mark 3The former part of this chapter reports to us a miraculous cure wrought by Christ upon a man who had a withered hand. The place where he wrought it, was the synagogue; the time when, was the sabbath-day; the manner how, was by speaking a word; the persons before whom, were the envious and malicious Pharisees. These men were always cavilling at our Saviour's doctrine, and slandering his miracles; yet our Saviour goes on with his work before their faces, without either interruption or discouragement.
Learn thence, That the unjust censures and malicious cavils of wicked men against us for well-doing, must not discourage us from doing our duty either towards God, or towards our neighbour. Though the Pharisees watched our Saviour, and when their envy and malice could find no occasion of quarrel, they could invent and make one; yet such was our Lord's courage and resolution, that he bids the man which had the withered hand, stand forth: to show that he was resolved to heal him, notwithstanding their malicious purpose to accuse him for it as a breaker of the sabbath. Opposition met with in doing our duty, must not discourage us from doing good, if we will follow the example of our blessed Redeemer.
Observe here, 1. The Pharisees' sinful and graceless disposition, and that was hardness of heart. The heart of man is naturally hard, and full of obstinacy and enmity against Christ: but there is an acquired hardness, which continuance in sin occasions; the Pharisees laboured under both.
Observe, 2. A double affection which this hardness of heart found in the Pharisees did stir up in Christ: namely, anger and indignation, grief and commiseration: He was grieved for the hardness of their hearts.
Learn hence, 1. That human passions are not sinful, and that the christian religion doth not destroy natural affections.
2. That anger at sin, either in ourselves or others, if kept within its due bounds, is not only lawful but commendable. This passion of anger was found in him, in whom was no sin.
3. That our anger against sin ought to be accompanied with grief and compassion towards sinners. We should pour out our tears of compassion, when men pour forth their abominations.
4. That all sins, hardness of heart and unbelief are most grievous and offensive, nost displeasing and provoking to Jesus Christ: He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.
Obsreve, 3. The sudden aned instantaneous cure which our Saviour wrought upon the man that had the withered hand: our Saviour did not touch him, but only said to him, Stretch forth thy hand, and it was presently cured.
Learn hence, That Christ's having absolute power over all bodily diseases and infirmities to cure them miraculously without means, only by a word speaking, is one argument that proves him to be truly and really God.
Observe here, 1. What dismal effects this famous miracle of Christ had upon the Pharisees and Herodians. Instead of being convinced by it, they conspire against him for it. These Herodians and Pharisees were of different opinions, enemies to one another, yet they join together in seeking the death of Christ.
The Pharisees were against paying tribute to Caesar, looking upon themselves as a free people, accounting the Roman emperor an usurper. The Herodians were for it. Herod being made by the Roman emperor king of the Jews, was zealous for having the Jews pay tribute to Caesar; and such of the Jews as sided with him, particularly his courtiers and favourites, were styled Herodians; but both Pharisees and Herodians take counsel against Christ.
Learn thence, That unity and consent is of itself alone far from being a mark and note of the true church. Unity in the faith and doctrine of Christ, and in the profession and practice of the true religion, is a note indeed of the true church: but unity in opposing Christ, his person, his doctrine, his people, is so far from being a mark of the true church, that it is the badge of the antichristian synagogue.
Observe, 2. The prudent means which our Saviour uses to preserve himself from the rage of the Pharisees, he withdrew himself from them. Christ's example teaches his ministers their duty in a time of danger to fly from persecution, and to endeavour to preserve their lives, unless when their sufferings are like to do more good than their lives.
Observe, 3. The great zeal and forwardness of the people in flocking after our Saviour's ministry; people come now at first from all places and countries, from Judea, from Idumea, from beyond Jordan, from Tyre and Sidon, to hear his doctrine, and see his miracles. The people came from all parts when our Saviour first began to preach. His ministers find it thus: at their first coming amongst a people their labours are most acceptable, and they do most good; our people's affections are then warmest, and perhaps our own too.
Observe, 4. What sort of people they were which attended thus zealously upon our Saviour's ministry, they were the common and ordinary people; the poor received the gospel, whilst the Pharisees, and other men of most account, the mighty, the noble, and the wise men after the flesh, despised our Saviour's person, slighted his ministry, and sought his life. The ordinary and meanest sort of people ever have been more zealous and forward in embracing the gospel, than ever the great, and the rich, and the honourable part of the world have been.
It is a sad but certain truth, heaven is the place where few, comparatively, of the great men of the world, are like to come; their temptations are many, their lusts are strong, and their great estates, through their own abuse, become fuel to their lusts.
Observe, 5. The behaviour of these unclean spirits (the devils) towards our Saviour, and our Saviour's carriage towards them; they fall down at the very sight of him, they cry out, and confess him to be the Son of God; but he sharply rebukes them, and charges them that they should not make him known. Not that our Saviour would have the knowledge of his person suppressed, but because the devils were not fit persons to preach Jesus Christ. A truth out of the mouth of the father of lies, is enough to render truth itself suspected. Besides, the time appointed for the full and clear manifestation of the Godhead of Christ was not yet come. This was not to be done till after his resurrection; the divine nature was to be hid under the veil of Christ's flesh, during his state of humiliation and abasement.
As the Jewish church arose from twelve patriarchs, so the christian church became planted by twelve apostles. The person commissioning them was Christ; none may undertake the work and calling of the ministry, but those whom Christ appoints and calls. The persons commissioned were disciples before they were apostles; to teach us, that Christ will have such as preach the gospel to be disciples before they are ministers; trained up in the faith and doctrine of the gospel, before they undertake a public charge.
Observe farther, The holy preparative which our Saviour uses in order to this election of his apostles; he goeth up into a mountain to pray upon that great occasion. He went up into a mountain to pray, and spent the night in prayer to God. Luke 6:12
And when it was day, he called his disciples, and of them he chose twelve. In this prayer no doubt he pleaded with his Father to furnish all those that were to be sent forth by him with all ministerial gifts and graces.
Learn thence, That as prayer is a necessary preparative to all duties, so more especially befoe the public election and ordination of the ministers of the church: solemn prayer is to be used by such as are to ordain and choose them: our Lord's practice is to be a standing rule herein to all church-officers.
Observe again, Though Christ called his apostles now, yet he did not send them forth now, yet he did not send them forth now: He ordained twelve that they should be with him. That is, that they might converse with him, and be eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses of his life, doctrine, and miracles. And having been thus with Christ, and fitted and prepared for him for their work, afterwards they went forth.
Thence learn, That such as are to take upon them the office of the ministry, ought first to be fitted and prepared for it, then solemnly called to it, befoe they enterprize and undertake the execution of it: if the apostles here, who were called and qualified extraordinarily, were to spend some time with Christ to receive direction and instruction from him before they went forth to preach; how much more needful is it for such as are ordinarily called, to be well fitted and furnished for the ministerial service, before they undertake it!
Observe next, How the several names of the apostles are here registered and recorded: God will honour those that honour him, and are the special instruments of his glory. Of these apostles Peter is named first, and Judas last.
Peter is named first, because probably elder than the rest, or because for order sake he might speak before the rest.
From whence may be inferred a primacy, but no supremacy; a priority of order, not a superiority of degree. As the foreman of a grand juty has a precedency but no pre-eminency; he is first in order before the rest, but has no authority or power over the rest. Judas is named last, with a brand of infamy upon him; that he was a traitor, the person that betrayed his Lord and Master.
Whence learn, That though the truth of grace be absolutely necessary to a minister's salvation, yet the want of it doth not disannul his office, nor hinder the lawfulnes of his ministry. Judas, though a traitor, was yet a lawful minister. The mission of a person may be valid, though he be not sanctified.
Observe lastly, That our Saviour surnamed James and John, Boanerges, the Sons of thunder. St. Jerome thinks this name was given them, because being with Christ in the mount at his transfiguration, they heard the Father's voice out of the cloud like thunder: others think them so called, because they were more vehement and earnest than the rest in preaching, and did with greater zeal and power sound forth the doctrine of the gospel like thunder. It is very probable, that Christ gave them this name from a foresight of the heat and zeal of their temper, of which they soon gave an instance, in desiring fire to come down from heaven to consume the Samaritans.
Observe here, 1. How truly our Lord's words were verified, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, Joh 4:34: for he and his apostles going into an house to refresh themselves in their hunger, the people pressed upon him so fast to hear the word that he regards not the satisfying of his hunger, but applies himself to instruct the people.
Lord! how exemplary was thy zeal and diligence in preaching the everlasting gospel to a lost world! As it is instructive to, may it be imitated and followed by, all thy ambassadors.
Observe, 2. The rash censure of our Saviour's friends, that is, his kinsmen, concerning this action, in neglecting to eat bread, and suffering the multitude thus unseasonably to press upon him.
They conclude, he is beside himself, out of his right mind; and accordingly went out to lay hold upon him.
Learn hence, (1.) That the forward zeal and diligence of Christ and his ministers in preaching the gospel, is accounted madness and frenzy by a blind world. But they may say with the apostle, If we be beside ourselves it is to God, 2Cor 5:13. But who were persons that thus looked upon our Saviour as beside himself? Verily his own kindred and relations according to the flesh.
Learn hence, (2.) That oft-times the servants of God meet with the strongest temptations from, and are most discouraged and molested by, such as are their nearest relations by blood or alliance. This is a great trial, to find our relations setting us back, instead of helping us forward, in the ways of religion; but we must bear it patiently, knowing, that not only others of God's children, but Jesus Christ, his own and only son, did experience this trial.
Observe, 3. The malicious and wicked slander which the scribes endeavoured to fix on our blessed Saviour; namely, that he was possessed by the devil, and by a familiarity with him, and help from him, cast forth devils out of others.
Good God! how was thine own and only Son, the holy and innocent Jesus, censured, slandered, and falsely accused of the worst of crimes: of gluttony, of blasphemy, of sorcery! Can any of thy children expect freedom from the persecution of the tongue, when innocency itself could not protect thy holy Son from slander and false accusation?
Observe, 4. Our Saviour's answer, and just apology for himself, in which are contained, (1.) A confutation of their calumny and slander.
(2.) A reprehension of the scribes for the same. To confute this slander, our Saviour, by several arguments, shows how absurd and unlikely it is that the devil should cast out himself, and any way seek to oppose and destroy his own kingdom. As if our Saviour had said, "Is it likely that Satan would lend me his power to use it against himself? Surely Satan will do nothing to weaken his own interest, or shake the pillars of his own kingdom. Now if I have received any power from Satan, for destroying him and kingdom, then is Satan like a family divided within itself, and like a kingdom divided against itself, which can never stand, but be brought to desolation."
Our Saviour having sufficiently shown that he did not work his miracles by the power of the devil, he next informs them from whence he had that power, even from God himself; and accordingly he compares Satan to a strong man well armed, with weapons to defend his house; and he compares himself, clothed with divine power, to one that is stronger than the strong man.
So that the argument runs thus: The devil is very strong and powerful, and there is no power but God's only that is stronger than his. If then, says Christ, I were not assisted with a divine power, I could never cast out this strong man, who reigns in the bodies and souls of men as in this house, for it must be a stronger than the strong man that shall bind Satan; and who is he but the God of strength?--
Learn hence, That Christ's divine power only is superior to Satan's strength. He only can vanquish and overrule him at his pleasure, and drive him out of that possession which he holds either in the bodies or in the souls of men.
Observe, 5. The charge which our Saviour brings against the scribes and Pharisees' blaspheming his divine power in working miracles. He charges them of sinning the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. All sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, hath never forgiveness.
As if Christ had said, "All the reproaches which you cast upon me as man are pardonable; as when you check me with the poverty and meanness of my birth, when you censure me for a wine-bibber, a glutton, a friend and companion of sinners, and the like unjust crimes. But when you blaspheme that divine power by which all my miracles are wrought, and, contrary to the conviction of your own enlightened minds, maliciously ascribe all my miracles to the power of the Holy Ghost, this makes your condition not only dangerous but desperate, because you resist the last remedy, and oppose the best means for your conviction. For what can be done more to convince you that I am the true and promised Messiah, than to work so many miracles before your eyes to that purpose?
Now, if when you see these you will say, it is not the Spirit of God that works these, but the power of the devil: as if Satan would conspire against himself, and seek the ruin of his own kingdom; there is no way or means lift to convince you, but you will continue in your obstinacy, and malicious opposition to truth, to your unutterable and inevitable condemnation.
Observe here, 1. The truth and verity of Christ's human nature; he had affinity and consanguinity with men, persons near in blood to him by the mother's side, called here his brethren; that is, his kinsmen.
Observe, 2. That the mother of Christ, though she was a blessed and holy woman, yet she was not free from sin, but failures and infirmities are found with her. It was a fault to interrupt our Saviour unreasonably at this time, when he was preaching to the people. The like we see in her at other times, Luke 2:48, and Joh 2:3. No saint here on earth ever was in a state of sinless perfection.--Blessed be God, we are hastening to such a state.
Observe, 3. That Christ did not neglect his holy mother, or disregard his poor kindred and relations, but only showed that he preferred his Father's work and business before their company and acquaintance at this time.
Observe, 4. How exceedingly dear obedient Christians are to Jesus Christ; he prefers his spiritual kindred before his natural. Alliance by faith is more valued by our Saviour than alliance by blood. To bear Christ in the heart, is a greater honour than to bear him in the womb. Blessed be God, this great and gracious privilege is not denied us even now. Although we cannot see Christ, yet love him we may. His bodily presence cannot be enjoyed by us, but his spiritual presence is not denied us. Though Christ be not ours in house, in arms, in affinity, inconsanguinity; yet in heart, in faith, in love, in service, he is, or may be ours. Verily, spiritual regeneration bringeth men into a more honourable relation to Christ than natural generation ever did.
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