Here, as before, we have our Lord Jesus busy at work in the synagogue first, and then by the sea side; to teach us that his presence should not be confined either to the one or to the other, but, wherever any are gathered together in his name, whether in the synagogue or any where else, there is he in the midst of them. In every place where he records his name, he will meet his people, and bless them; it is his will that men pray every where. Now here we have some account of what he did.
I. When he entered again into the synagogue, he improved the opportunity he had there, of doing good, and having, no doubt, preached a sermon there, he wrought a miracle for the confirmation of it, or at least for the confirmation of this truth—that it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day. We had the narrative, Matt. 12:9.
1. The patient’s case was piteous; he had a withered hand, by which he was disabled to work for his living; and those that are so, are the most proper objects of charity; let those be helped that cannot help themselves.
2. The spectators were very unkind, both to the patient and to the Physician; instead of interceding for a poor neighbour, they did what they could to hinder his cure: for they intimated that if Christ cured him now on the sabbath day, they would accuse him as a Sabbath breaker. It had been very unreasonable, if they should have opposed a physician or surgeon in helping any poor body in misery, by ordinary methods; but much more absurd was it to oppose him that cured without any labour, but by a word’s speaking.
3. Christ dealt very fairly with the spectators, and dealt with them first, if possible to prevent the offence.
(1.) He laboured to convince their judgment. He bade the man stand forth (Mark 3:3), that by the sight of him they might be moved with compassion toward him, and might not, for shame, account his cure a crime. And then he appeals to their own consciences; though the thing speaks itself, yet he is pleased to speak it; “Isa. it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, as I design to do, or to do evil, as you design to do? Whether is better, to save life or to kill?” What fairer question could be put? And yet, because they saw it would turn against them, they held their peace. Note, Those are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against a truth, will say nothing to it; and, when they cannot resist, yet will not yield.
(2.) When they rebelled against the light, he lamented their stubbornness (Mark 3:5); He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts. The sin he had an eye to, was, the hardness of their hearts, their insensibleness of the evidence of his miracles, and their inflexible resolution to persist in unbelief. We hear what is said amiss, and see what is done amiss; but Christ looks at the root of bitterness in the heart, the blindness and hardness of that. Observe, [1.] How he was provoked by the sin; he looked round upon them; for they were so many, and had so placed themselves, that they surrounded him: and he looked with anger; his anger, it is probable, appeared in his countenance; his anger was, like God’s, without the least perturbation to himself, but not without great provocation from us. Note, The sin of sinners is very displeasing to Jesus Christ; and the way to be angry, and not to sin, is it be angry, as Christ was, at nothing but sin. Let hard-hearted sinners tremble to think of the anger with which he will look round upon them shortly, when the great day of his wrath comes. [2.] How he pitied the sinners; he was grieved for the hardness of their hearts; as God was grieved forty years for the hardness of the hearts of their fathers in the wilderness. Note, It is a great grief to our Lord Jesus, to see sinners bent upon their own ruin, and obstinately set against the methods of their conviction and recovery, for he would not that any should perish. This is a good reason why the hardness of our own hearts and of the hearts of others, should be a grief to us.
4. Christ dealt very kindly with the patient; he bade him stretch forth his hand, and it was immediately restored. Now, (1.) Christ has hereby taught us to go on with resolution in the way of our duty, how violent soever the opposition is, that we meet with in it. We must deny ourselves sometimes in our ease, pleasure, and convenience, rather than give offence even to those who causelessly take it; but we must not deny ourselves the satisfaction of serving God, and doing good, though offence may unjustly be taken at it. None could be more tender of giving offence than Christ; yet, rather than send this poor man away uncured, he would venture offending all the scribes and Pharisees that compassed him about. (2.) He hath hereby given us a specimen of the cures wrought by his grace upon poor souls; our hands are spiritually withered, the powers of our souls weakened by sin, and disabled for that which is good. The great healing day is the sabbath, and the healing place the synagogue; the healing power is that of Christ. The gospel command is like this recorded here; and the command is rational and just; though our hands are withered, and we cannot of ourselves stretch them forth, we must attempt it, must, as well as we can, lift them up to God in prayer, lay hold on Christ and eternal life, and employ them in good works; and if we do our endeavour, power goes along with the word of Christ, he effects the cure. Though our hands be withered, yet, if we will not offer to stretch them out, it is our own fault that we are not healed; but if we do, and are healed, Christ and his power and grace must have all the glory.
5. The enemies of Christ dealt very barbarously with him. Such a work of mercy should have engaged their love to him, and such a work of wonder their faith in him. But, instead of that, the Pharisees, who pretended to be oracles in the church, and the Herodians, who pretended to be the supporters of the state, though of opposite interests one to another, took counsel together against him, how they might destroy him. Note, They that suffer for doing good, do but suffer as their Master did.
II. When he withdrew to the sea, he did good there. While his enemies sought to destroy him, he quitted the place; to teach us in troublous times to shift for our own safety; but see here,
1. How he was followed into his retirement. When some had such an enmity to him, that they drove him out of their country, others had such a value for him, that they followed him wherever he went; and the enmity of their leaders to Christ did not cool their respect to him. Great multitudes followed him from all parts of the nation; as far north, as from Galilee; as far south, as from Judea and Jerusalem; nay, and from Idumea; as far east, as from beyond Jordan; and west, as from about Tyre and Sidon, Mark 3:7, 8. Observe, (1.) What induced them to follow him; it was the report they heard of the great things he did for all that applied themselves to him; some wished to see one that had done such great things, and others hoped he would do great things for them. Note, The consideration of the great things Christ has done, should engage us to come to him. (2.) What they followed him for (Mark 3:10); They pressed upon him, to touch him, as many as had plagues. Diseases are here called plagues, mastigas—corrections, chastisements; so they are designed to be, to make us smart for our sins, that thereby we may be made sorry for them, and may be warned not to return to them. Those that were under these scourgings came to Jesus; this is the errand on which sickness is sent, to quicken us to enquire after Christ, and apply ourselves to him as our Physician. They pressed upon him, each striving which should get nearest to him, and which should be first served. They fell down before him (so Dr. Hammond), as petitioners for his favour; they desired leave but to touch him, having faith to be healed, not only by his touching them, but by their touching him; which no doubt they had many instances of. (3.) What provision he made to be ready to attend them (Mark 3:9); He spoke to his disciples, who were fishermen, and had fisher-boats at command, that a small ship should constantly wait on him, to carry him from place to place on the same coast; that, when he had despatched the necessary business he had to do in one place, he might easily remove to another, where his presence was requisite, without pressing through the crowds of people that followed him for curiosity. Wise men, as much as they can, decline a crowd.
2. What abundance of good he did in his retirement. He did not withdraw to be idle, nor did he send back those who rudely crowded after him when he withdrew, but took it kindly, and gave them what they came for; for he never said to any that sought him diligently, Seek ye me in vain. (1.) Diseases were effectually cured; He healed many; divers sorts of patients, ill of divers sorts of diseases; though numerous, though various, he healed them. (2.) Devils were effectually conquered; those whom unclean spirits had got possession of, when they saw him, trembled at his presence, and they also fell down before him, not to supplicate his favour, but to deprecate his wrath, and by their own terrors were compelled to own that he was the Son of God, Mark 3:1. It is sad that this great truth should be denied by any of the children of men, who may have the benefit of it, when a confession of it has so often been extorted from devils, who are excluded from having benefit by it. (3.) Christ sought not applause to himself in doing those great things, for he strictly charged those for whom he did them, that they should not make him known (Mark 3:12); that they should not be industrious to spread the notice of his cures, as it were by advertisements in the newspapers, but let them leave his own works to praise him, and let the report of them diffuse itself, and make its own way. Let not those that are cured, be forward to divulge it, lest it should feed their pride who are so highly favoured; but let the standers-by carry away the intelligence of it. When we do that which is praiseworthy, and yet covet not to be praised of men for it, then the same mind is in us, which was in Christ Jesus.