“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him….And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”
In this chapter Mark was inspired by God the Holy Spirit to link five things together, almost as though they were one, so that we might see the connection between them and learn from it. In verse two Mark describes the conduct of the Pharisees in the synagogue with these words: — “They watched him.” They watched him, ready to seize any word or action by which they might slander his name and accuse him of evil. Let us watch him, not to accuse him, or merely to gratify our curiosity, but to worship him and learn from him, that we may both imitate him and honor him as we make our pilgrimage through this world. Let us watch the Son of God, our Savior, as he moves in and out among men in different circumstances and conditions.
The Lord Jesus is our Example and our Teacher in all that he said and did. May God the Holy Spirit give us light and grace that we may learn to follow the Son of God as we watch him in the five different positions set before us in this chapter.
Watch Him in the Synagogue.
“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.) And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him” (vv. 1-6).
Our Lord Jesus came to the synagogue that day on an errand of mercy for the benefit of one specific man. A man whose hand was withered was about to be made whole. In verses three and five the Savior singled out this needy soul. — “And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.” Then, in verse five, “he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.”
That is a beautiful picture of God’s saving operations of grace in the salvation of sinners. An election was made and a commandment was given. The Lord Jesus sovereignly singled out one man. He chose to be gracious to one among many. Then he issued a command. — “Stretch forth thine hand.” This man was commanded to do what he absolutely could not do. Yet, being commanded to do it, he was enabled to do it. Even so, when sinners are called to life and faith in Christ, by the omnipotent mercy and irresistible grace of his Spirit, they are made alive in Christ and enabled to believe on him, though it is absolutely impossible for them to do so otherwise.
After the Lord’s command an act of faith was performed. — “And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” With the commandment came the ability to obey. And when God the Holy Spirit calls a sinner to life and faith in Christ, he gives that sinner life; he gives him the will to obey; and he gives him the gift of faith. Thus it is written, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power”
Mark tells us, in verse two, that these pompous, self-righteous, tithing, sabbath keeping, Pharisees watched the Savior’s every word and movement. They did not watch to learn. —”They watched…him that they might accuse him!” Here they are in the house of God, pretending to worship God, pretending to keep the sabbath day, pretending to be holy, pretending to be lovers of God and lovers of men. But they were nothing but hardhearted hypocrites. These men would not break the sabbath day for anything; but they did not hesitate gathering with the Herodians on the sabbath day in a church discipline committee to plot the murder of the Son of God!
The Pharisees and Herodians hated one another passionately; but their religion was the same (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). It was the religion of man, the religion of the beast, the way of Cain. Both the Pharisees and the Herodians were self-righteous legalists, pretending to honor God, flattering themselves with the delusion that they were holy, while using religion for their own advantage. When the Lord Jesus and the gospel he reveals exposed their hypocrisy, they gladly embraced one another to oppose him.
Nothing has changed. Legalism always produces hardness. Those who watch others in the name of “brotherly love” that they might accuse them to others do so because of a hardness of heart that comes only from self-righteousness.
Any religion that produces such hardness of heart is not of God. The grace of God does not produce mean-spirited legalism. The grace of God does not produce gossiping, slandering, backbiting hypocrites. Grace makes people gracious. Forgiveness makes men forgiving. The knowledge of Christ and the experience of his grace in the soul makes a person loving, kind, tender, forbearing, and patient with others.
Our Lord knew the Pharisees were watching him; but he made no effort to impress them or prevent their slanders. When Paul admonishes us to “abstain from all appearance of evil,” he is not telling us to live in a way that will prevent carping religionists from speaking evil of us. He is telling us to abstain from every form of doctrine that is evil, every form of doctrine that has the smell of free will, works religion, every form of self-righteous legality!
I hear people say, “We ought to live so that the world will see Christ in us.” The world did not see Christ in Christ. How do you think the world is going to see Christ in you? Do not try to impress the world with your godliness. The world (Secular or Religious) does not have the slightest idea what godliness is. Live for the glory of Christ, to do the will of God, and serve the interests of men’s souls, and ignore the world.
Verse five tells us that our Lord Jesus looked around the room, glaring at these pompous religionists “with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” Everyone in the room could plainly see the fire in his eyes. There is an anger that is sinful and to be avoided. Personal vengeance, sensual wrath, the anger of jealousy and envy, all those things are horribly evil. But anger at hard, self-righteous, legalistic, damning religion, anger in the cause of God’s glory is a just anger. Anger at a backbiting tongue is altogether proper. — “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue” (Proverbs 25:23; Psalm 139:19-22).
Watch Him at the Seashore
“But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea, And from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him. And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him. For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known” (vv. 7-12).
Here is another picture of God’s saving operations of grace. In the synagogue we saw, in the man with the withered hand, a picture of the effectual call and of God’s omnipotent grace in that call. Here we see a demonstration of God’s method of grace.
We must never imagine that God is in any way limited. He is not. Yet, he does declare in his Word that there are some specific things which are always involved in the conversion of chosen sinners. Here are three things always involved in the experience of grace.
1. A message was heard. — When our Lord and his disciples gathered at the seashore, great multitudes came from everywhere, “when they heard what great things he did.”
They did not hear just any message. They heard a message about him. They did not hear about what he wanted to do, or tried to do, or even would do. There is no gospel in that kind of preaching. — “They heard what great things he did!” Gospel preaching is all about him. It is all about Jesus Christ. Gospel preaching declares what great things he has done. He has brought in everlasting righteousness. He has satisfied divine justice. He has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. He has accomplished redemption, obtaining eternal redemption by the merit of his blood for his people.
Gospel preaching is absolutely indispensable in God’s method of salvation and grace (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-23; 1 Peter 1:23-25). It is the catalyst God has chosen to employ in saving his elect.
A catalyst is an agent of action. If a chemist desires to unite two substances to create another, in many cases, a catalyst is necessary. The catalyst does not cause the union and never enters into the union of those substances. But without the presence of that specific catalyst, the union would never take place and could not continue. That is exactly what the preaching of the gospel is in God’s saving operations.
Without question, were it his pleasure to do so, God almighty could have chosen to save sinners without the use of any means or agency of any kind. Had he chosen to do so, he could have sent angels to pull us into heaven by our noses, once atonement was made for us. But that is not his pleasure.
The Lord God has chosen to regenerate and call redeemed sinners through the agency of gospel preaching, because God has so ordained it. That makes the preaching of the gospel the catalyst necessary for the communication of his saving grace.
I know that many cry out against this and say, “That limits God’s sovereignty. That makes salvation depend upon man.” Do not be so foolish as to be found fighting against God.
We must never force the Scriptures to mean what we want them to mean. We must never bend the Word of God to our doctrinal notions and theological system. Rather, we bow to God’s Word. We cannot extol and honor God if we refuse to submit our reason to his Revelation.
Carefully read the Scriptures once more. It is impossible to read the following passages in their context without concluding that regeneration and faith in Christ, gifts of God the Holy Spirit and operations of his irresistible grace, are communicated to chosen sinners through the instrumentality of gospel preaching (Romans 1:15-17; 10:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Timothy 4:12-16; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25). In each of those passages the Lord God plainly declares that it is his purpose and pleasure to save his elect through the preaching of the gospel.
Perhaps you think, “What if one of God’s elect is in a remote barbarian tribe in the jungles of New Guinea where no gospel preacher has ever been?” I can see how that would create a problem, except for one thing: - There are no problems with God! He knows exactly how to get his prophet to the people to whom he has purposed to show his mercy. Just ask Jonah!
We preach the gospel with a sense of urgency, knowing that sinners cannot believe on Christ until Christ is preached to them. Yet, we preach with confidence of success, knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). God’s Word will not return to him void. It will accomplish his will and prosper in the thing it is sent to do (Isaiah 55:11). Every chosen, redeemed sinner must be regenerated and called by the Holy Spirit. And that work will be accomplished through the preaching of the gospel.
2. The Savior was touched. — Hearing what great things the Lord Jesus had done, these poor, needy souls thronged around the Son of God, like the woman with the issue of blood, in hope of touching him.
Granted, their hope, like hers, may have been shaky, maybe even desperate. But, like her, Christ was all the hope they had. And when Christ is all you have, Christ is enough! In their great need, they touched him. If we can, with the hand of hope and faith touch him, we shall be made whole. Like the publican in the temple, we will receive complete justification from God. God help you to touch him.
“Reach out and touch the Lord, as He passes by;
You’ll find He’s not too busy to hear your heart’s cry;
He’s passing by this moment, your needs to supply;
So reach out and touch the Lord, as He goes by!”
3. Christ was confessed. — “And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God” (v. 11).
When those who were possessed of demons were delivered from the powers of hell by the grace of God, they who had experienced his power fell before him and confessed, “Thou art the Son of God!” That is how God saves his elect. 1st. He causes them to hear the gospel. 2nd. He gives them the hope of grace, causing them to come to Christ in faith. 3rd. He causes them to confess Christ as their God and Savior.
Watch Him on the Mountain
“And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house” (vv. 13-19).
There are many, many things in these verses that need to be thoughtfully and prayerfully studied. But here are things that are so obvious that they grab our attention as we read them.
1. Here is a display of our Savior’s sovereignty. — “And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him” (v. 13). Our Lord Jesus called whom he would. And all whom he was pleased to call came to him.
2. Here is a description of gospel preachers. — “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (vv. 14-15).
That which Mark tells us in verse fourteen about the original apostles may be applied to every man in every age who is called of God to preach the gospel of Christ. The gospel preacher is a man chosen and ordained of God. He is a man who is with the Lord, and more importantly, with whom the Lord is. The stars of the churches are in his right hand. The gospel preacher is a man sent of God. God sends his servants where he wants them, and puts them there at the time he has ordained. The preacher is a man sent to preach. God’s messengers are all preachers. They are men with a message. And their message is Jesus Christ crucified. And they are men accompanied with God-given power to perform the work to which they are sent.
3. Here is a fraud numbered among the apostles of our Lord. — “Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him” (v. 19).
I am thankful that Judas is listed here among those the Lord Jesus sent out as his apostles. Remember, the passage begins with a display of our Lord’s sovereignty. He called to him “whom he would.” Judas was not there by accident. He was there by divine purpose, just as much as Peter was. Though he was a wicked, reprobate man, he was an instrument in the hands of the sovereign Lord God, by which his eternal purpose was accomplished. Even so, our Lord Jesus Christ is Lord (absolute despot) over those very false prophets who deny him (2 Peter 2:1).
Watch Him Among Unbelievers
“And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself” (vv. 20-21).
If you have a marginal reference in your Bible, you will see that the word “friends” might be better translated, “kinsmen”. Our Lord’s unbelieving kinsmen pitied him as a madman. His family apparently tried not to show open hostility to him; but they were obviously embarrassed by the fact that he was a relative. Here, Mark tells us that they tried to take him by the arms and lead him out of the streets, saying to the crowds, “Do not pay any attention to him, the poor man has lost his mind!”
“And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils” (v. 22). — When confronted with the doctrine of Christ, and his undeniable power as the Son of God, rather than bowing to him, they ascribed everything he did to the devil.
Our Lord responded to the “courteous” unbelief of his pretended friends and the open blasphemy of the Pharisees in exactly the same way.
“And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit” (vv. 23-30).
He asserts his sovereignty over the powers of hell. — “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house” (v. 27). Next, he assures us of the forgiveness of sins. — “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme” (v. 28). Then, he warns us of the danger of willful unbelief. — “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (v. 29).
Any man who dares thumb his nose at God almighty and his darling Son is courting eternal reprobation. There comes a time when men and women cannot be saved, when God will not show mercy. I do not know when that time comes. I do not know where God has drawn it; but I do know that God has drawn a line in the sand. Any who cross that line in obstinate rebellion and unbelief cannot be saved. They are as surely damned as if they were already in hell (Proverbs 1:23-33).
When that happens, God leaves them alone. His people have no ability to pray for them. God’s servants are not able to speak to their hearts. There is no gentle wooing of the Spirit tugging at their hearts. The Lord God himself declares, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3). Men can make of that whatever they will, or make nothing of it if they dare. But willful unbelief is a very dangerous thing.
Watch Him Among His Real Family
“There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” (vv. 31-35).
It appears that those brethren who tried to get him to go with them to the insane asylum went to his mother, hoping to use her influence to put an end to the family’s embarrassment. But our Lord describes his family, the family of God, as being made up of chosen, redeemed, called sinners who “do the will of God.”
We do not have to guess or speculate as to what the will of God is. He tells us plainly in his Word. — “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). The only way sinners can get into his family is by adoption (Galatians 4:4-7; 1 John 3:1-3). And the sure evidence of adoption is faith in Christ.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).
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