THE PHARISEES HOWEVER were by no means convinced, and they re-opened the whole question a little later when on another sabbath He came into contact with human need in one of their synagogues. The conflict raged around the man with a withered hand. They watched Jesus anticipating that they would be furnished with a point of attack. He accepted the challenge which lay unspoken in their hearts by saying to the man, "Stand forth" (v. 3), thus making him very prominent, and ensuring that the challenge should be realised by everyone present.
Another point concerning the sabbath is now raised. Is the law intended of God to prohibit good as well as evil ? Does the sabbath render unlawful an act of mercy?
The question, "Is it lawful to do good . . . or to do evil?" may be connected with James 4: 17. If we know the good and yet omit it, it is sin. Should the perfect Servant of God, who knew the good, and moreover had full power to execute it, withhold His hand from doing it because it happened to be the sabbath day? Impossible!
In this striking way did the holy Servant of God vindicate His ministry of mercy in the presence of those who would have tied His hands by rigid interpretations of the law of God. It is important that we should learn the lesson taught by all this, in case we should fall into a like error. The "law of Christ" is very different in character and spirit from "the law of Moses," yet it may be misused in similar fashion. If the light and easy yoke of Christ is so twisted as to become burdensome, and also a positive hindrance to the outflow of grace and blessing, it becomes a more grievous perversion than anything we see in these verses.
The hearts of the Pharisees were hard. They were tender enough about the technicalities of the law, but hard as to any concern for human need, or any sense of their own sin. Jesus saw the dreadful state they were in and was grieved, but He did not withhold blessing. He cured the man, and left them to their sin. They were outraged because He had broken through one of their precious legal points. They went forth themselves to outrage one of the major counts of the law by plotting murder. Such is Phariseeism!
Faced by this murderous hatred, the Lord withdrew Himself and His disciples. We see Him withdrawing Himself from the blaze of popularity at the end of chapter 1. He did not court favour, nor did He desire to stir up strife. Here we find the perfect Servant acting in just the way that is enjoined upon the under servants in 2 Timothy 2: 24.
But such was His attractiveness that men pressed upon Him even as He withdrew. Multitudes thronged about Him, and His grace and power were manifested in many directions, and unclean spirits recognized in Him the Master whom they had to obey, though He did not accept their testimony. He blessed men and delivered them, yet He did not seek anything from them. First He had a small boat on the lake into which He could retire from the throng; and then He went up into a mountain, where He called to Him only those that He desired, and of them He chose twelve who were to be apostles.
So not only did He answer the hatred of the religious leaders by retiring from them, but also by calling the twelve who in due time should go forth as an extension of His matchless service. He prepared thus to widen out the service and testimony. The chosen twelve were to be with Him, and then, when their period of instruction and preparation was complete, He would send them forth. The period of their training lasts until verse 6 of Mark 6. In verse 7 of that chapter we begin the account of their actual sending forth.
This being "with Him" is of immense importance to the one called to service. It is as necessary for us as it was for them. They had His presence and company upon earth. We have not that, but we have His Spirit given to us and His written Word. Thus we may be enabled prayerfully to maintain contact with Him, and gain that spiritual education which alone fits us to intelligently serve Him. The twelve were first chosen, then educated, then sent forth with power conferred upon them. This is the divine order, and we see these things set forth in verses 14 and 15.
Having called and chosen the twelve upon the mountain, He returned to the haunts of men and was in an house. At once the multitudes came together. The attraction He exerted was irresistible, and the demands upon Him such that there was no leisure for meals. So the first thing to be witnessed by the twelve when they began to be with Him was this strong tide of interest and the apparent popularity of their Master.
They soon however saw another side of things, and firstly that He was totally misunderstood by those who were nearest to Him according to the flesh. The "friends" were of course His relations, and they were filled doubtless with well-meaning concern for Him. They could not understand such incessant labours and felt they ought to lay a restraining hand upon Him as though He were out of His mind. Light upon this extraordinary attitude on their part is cast by John 7: 5. At this point in His service His brethren did not believe in Him, and apparently even His mother had as yet but a dim conception of what He was really doing.
But secondly, there were enemies, who were becoming even more bitter and unscrupulous. In verse 6 of our chapter we saw Pharisees making friends with their antagonists the Herodians in order to plot His death. Now we find scribes making a journey from Jerusalem in order to oppose and denounce Him. This they do in the most reckless way, attributing His works of mercy to the power of the devil. It was not just vulgar abuse, but something deliberate and crafty. They could not deny what He did, but they attempted to blacken His character. They looked His miracles of mercy full in the face, and then deliberately and officially pronounced them to be the works of the devil. This was the character of their blasphemy, and it is well to be quite clear about it in view of the Lord's words in verse 29.
But first of all He called them to Him and answered them by an appeal to reason. Their blasphemous objection involved an absurdity. They suggested in effect that Satan was engaged in casting out Satan, that his kingdom and house was divided against itself. That, if it were true, would mean the end of the whole Satanic business. Satan is far too astute to act in that way.
We must admit, alas! that we Christians have not been too astute to act in that way. Christendom is full of division of that suicidal kind, and it is Satan himself who, without a doubt, is the instigator of it. Had it not been that the power of the Lord Jesus on high has remained unaltered, and that the Holy Ghost abides, dwelling in the true church of God, the public confession of Christianity would long since have perished. That the faith has not perished from the earth is a tribute not to the wisdom of men but to the power of God.
Having exposed the foolish unreasonableness of their words, the Lord proceeded to give the true explanation of what had been happening. He was the One stronger than the strong man, and He was now occupied in spoiling his goods, by setting free many who had been captivated by him. Satan was bound in the presence of the Lord.
Thirdly, He plainly warned these wretched men as to the enormity of the sin they had committed. The perfect Servant had been delivering men from Satan's grip in the energy of the Holy Ghost. In order to avoid admitting this they denounced the action of the Holy Ghost as the action of Satan. This was sheer blasphemy; the blind blasphemy of men who shut their eyes to the truth. They put themselves beyond forgiveness with nothing but eternal damnation ahead. They had reached that fearful state of hardened hatred and blindness which once characterized Pharaoh in Egypt, and which at a later date marked the northern kingdom of Israel, when the word of the Lord was, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone" (Hosea 4: 17). God would leave these Jerusalem scribes alone, and that meant no forgiveness but damnation.
This then was the unpardonable sin. Understanding what it really is, we can easily see that the folk of tender conscience, who today are troubled because they fear they may have committed it, are the last people who really have done so.
The chapter closes with the arrival of the friends of which verse 21 has told us. The Lord's words as to His mother and His brethren have seemed to some unnecessarily harsh. There certainly was in them a note of severity, which was occasioned by their attitude. The Lord was seizing the opportunity to give needed instruction to His disciples. They had seen Him in the midst of much labour, and apparently popular; and also the centre of blasphemous opposition. Now they are to have an impressive demonstration of the fact that the relationships that God recognizes and honours are those which have a spiritual basis.
Of old, in Israel, relationships in the flesh counted for much. Now they are to be set on one side in favour of the spiritual. And the basis of what is spiritual lies in obedience to the will of God: and for us today the will of God lies enshrined in the Holy Scriptures. Obedience is the great thing. It lies at the foundation of all true service, and must mark us if we would be in relation with the one true and perfect Servant. Let us never forget that!
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