Remarks on Mark 3:1-6

Mark 3:1‑6  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 6
JESUS is in the synagogue upon another Sabbath day; 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. How remarkable it is that Satan gets an instinctive sense of what the Lord was going to do. Satan outwits himself in his servants by expecting good from the Lord and the Lord's people. This is a remarkable thing. Again, if you find a child of God doing something wrong, the world feels it at once. Even they have an instinctive feeling of what the child of God ought to do. They know that he has no business with the pleasures and vanities of the world. They are surprised to see a Christian there. Why is this? They have not a bit of conscience themselves. Those who have got a purged conscience or those who have got no conscience at all, are far more likely to see what is right than those that carry a bad conscience. The man who had no conscience at all offers to follow the Lord wherever He goes. There was no struggle in it, no reality, no moral purpose. It was the mere vanity of the flesh, the same kind of presumption that said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient.” The flesh always assumes its own competency, whereas faith feels that it is only God who can work anything good and can ripen the fruits from trees of His own planting.
These men, I must repeat, who were assembled in the synagogue, expected the Lord to do good. They were looking for this; but they judged from their own thoughts what an awful thing it would be to heal on the Sabbath-day! Our Lord knew what they thought about it, but faith and love are very different things from human prudence. Mere prudence would have led a man not to have given them the smallest excuse, but grace does not mind giving people handles if they are disposed to take them. Grace is bent upon pleasing God, whether people like it or not; and Jesus therefore says to the man that had the withered hand, “Stand forth.” He gives it a publicity and stamps the character of the transaction in the most manifest manner—makes it a sign of what grace is, before them all. “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 be 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.” But those that would not let our Lord do what was good, were ready, even as He hinted Himself, to do what was evil on the Sabbath-day. They conspired to kill Him, the Lord; and to kill Him, for what? Because He brought the goodness of God before their very eyes; and they hated God. They would not have allowed it to themselves for a moment, that Jesus was even a good man; so blind and perverted is the judgment when the heart is not right! All the grace of Jesus only appeared to their eyes as the most abominable iniquity. We may well think what the heart of man is, and learn hence what our own natural thoughts and feelings are—not a whit better than theirs. The point of this second tale is not so much the passing away of mere ordinances in presence of the rejected Christ, or the supremacy of His person above the highest earthly claim; rather is it the necessary superiority of grace, as God's character and work in a world of sin and misery. How came this man with a withered hand in Israel? It was through sin somewhere, and the evident token of misery. Could God rest where there reigned either the one or the other? Was either the manifestation of God? And what were these proud sabbatarians, these enemies of grace and of Jesus? Were they, or was He, the true witness of what God is? Not more surely were they false representatives of God's character than Jesus was the manifestation of God's power as well as of His love. Jesus showed both in that word, “Stretch forth thine hand” and by its restoration to be “whole as the other,” proved that God, the goodness of goodness, was there. And He was there, not maintaining the Pharisees in their thoughts about His law, but vindicating His own grace; for grace alone can bring blessing into a sin stricken world. This may suffice for the general teaching of the second Sabbath-day, which I think is full of instruction, as giving us the witness that our Lord bore, His patient, gracious ministry in deed as well as in word.
But a few words must now be said upon our relation to the sabbath. When God sanctified and instituted that day, whether you take the time of creation or the giving of the law, it was emphatically the seventh day and no other. No man could have been thought to honor God, had he kept the fourth or fifth, or any other but the last day of the week. Instead of this, to have kept the first day of the week would have been an act of rebellion against God. How comes the mighty change? Is it that the first day is simply substituted for the seventh day? Is this what Scripture teaches? Taking the Acts of the Apostles, we find there that the apostles and others used to go on the Sabbath-day into the synagogue of the Jews—used to teach the Jews on that day, whenever there was an open door. On the first day they used to meet with Christians to take the Lord's Supper, or at any other services which might open. There was no such thing as dropping one day for another. Had it been a substitution, they would not still have gone on the sabbath-day with the Jew, and on the first day with the Christian. Yet they did both. At first such of the Christians as had been Jews went to the synagogue; and they were at liberty to take a part in reading Scripture. If this were done now? generally, the person would be considered an intruder; but in a Jewish synagogue it was allowed and welcomed. The apostles, therefore, and others, were perfectly justified in using this liberty for the truth; they were acting in the spirit of grace. Wherever we can go with a good conscience, and without joining in anything that is contrary to the Word of God, there one may and ought to go, if it would be a service to the Lord. But where one is required to join in that or with those we know to be opposed to the will of God, how are we free to go? Are we at liberty in anything to make light of what we know to be disobedience? But in this case there was nothing of the kind; for at the synagogue they simply read the Word of God and gave leave that it should be expounded. Who could say that this was wrong? If we knew that the Scripture and nothing but the Scripture was read upon any day of the week in a so-called church or chapel, and there were perfect room left to help, should one not be delighted to go, if indeed there would not be a kind of obligation upon us? If it were a mere crowd of heathen reading the Scriptures, one might enter it, and speak with them. The door would be, I believe, open, on the Lord's part, and grace would take advantage of it.
These facts are enough, then, to show that it is a great mistake to suppose that the Lord's day is a mere substitution for the sabbath. On the contrary, the Lord's day has a far higher character than the ancient day of rest. Not that one would for a moment forget that the sabbath-day was divinely appointed. It was founded upon two great truths of God. First, it involved, and displayed, and promised, as it were, (in type at least,) creation-rest: it witnessed rest after God had finished His work of creating. The second notable connection with the sabbath day was this: it was the day of law. On these two occasions of surpassing moment to man and Israel was the sabbath brought out by God with peculiar solemnity. The sabbath-day rests therefore upon divine ground; but it is the ground of creation and law. Is either of the two the Christian place? In no wise. Are you a mere child of man, a creature now? Then you are assuredly sinful and must be cast into bell. Are you on the ground of law? Then you are lost and condemned, for you are under the curse. But the Christian is on the footing neither of creation nor of law. On what is he then? He belongs to the new creation and stands in grace; the clean, exact contrast of the foundations of the sabbath-day. Hence it is that the first day of the week comes before us as a wholly new thing, the holy memorial of divine blessing, proper to the Christian individually and to the Church of God. And on what basis does it rest? When Christ rose from the grave with a new life to give to every soul that believes in Him, at once Israel is set aside. Risen from the dead, what more connection had He with Israel than with the Gentiles? He was entirely above them both. We meet Him there, His work done, in resurrection-life. He is found, after that, meeting with disciples only; not with Jews and Gentiles, but in the midst of the assembly or that which is the type of it. But He first meets with individual saints, Mary Magdalene and others. We find Him in the assembly on the first day of the week. And the Lord's day has this character to us now. It is first the day of Christ's resurrection, when not merely the work of redemption was done, but the work of new creation begun in mighty power. Thus the new day is founded, not upon creation, but upon redemption, and it is the expression of grace, not of law.
These are the Scriptural ways of putting the matter. Therefore is it to be maintained, not that the Christian man has got no special day in which he meets his Savior; for he has one incomparably more blessed than the sabbath of man. It is not that he has not got as good a day as the sabbath of Israel: he has an infinitely better one. He is not merely remembering a creation, which is passed away; but he has entered on a new creation. Not that he is occupied with a paradise that is lost; he looks onward confidently to that which is gained. The paradise of God is opened to him. It is not that he is following and occupied with Adam that fell; he has before his soul the Second man, the last Adam, that rose. These are our hopes. He is not, therefore, within the domain of the law that will curse him, but in the atmosphere of grace by which be is saved. This shows us why people, whether they understand the difference or not—all Christians—keep the first day and not the sabbath. They may call it the sabbath-day; but this is quite a mistake, and a grievous one. Those who view it as the sabbath may be most excellent persons, but the notion is seriously an error in doctrine and practice. It is an earthly, Jewish principle; and it is a Christian's duty, if he know better, not to spare it, however he may feel for the prejudices of the godly.
I have heard of believers who could say, There is no harm in working upon the Lord's day. Who put such a thought into their heads? Seeking gain upon the Lord's day! Why even the world shames those who do so. Christendom owns the Lord's day. They may not enter into it intelligently. It is impossible for them to appreciate its roots and fruit. But a Christian behaving more selfishly or loosely than a worldly man—what a picture! How is the Lord's day then to be kept? It is a remarkable fact that nowhere is it made into a commandment. This is not the character of Christianity. When the Lord (as in John) speaks about commandments, they are always of a spiritual nature, and not like an ordinance. Take even baptism. People may call it an ordinance, but it is a misconception. So as to the Lord's Supper. When the Lord says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” how lowering to call this a commandment! Supposing you were at the dying bed of one who loved you better than any one else in this world; if he said, Here is my Bible, take it and keep it in remembrance of me; would you call this a commandment? Would it be the reason for keeping the Bible that you had a peremptory injunction to keep it? Such a thought would show that there was no heart there, and very little head either. I can understand a person in authority, if a child lacked feeling and sense, laying down something as a positive charge, just because the child wanted heart to do the right thing, unless it were made a matter of stringent obligation and penalty. But not so does the Lord speak to us. If you love the person who gives you the Bible to keep in remembrance of him, it is not as a mere commandment; but his heart gives you this token of his love to you, and your love keeps it, of course, and keeps it best because it is love that does it.
There are places where commandments come in most beautifully. Where in the New Testament do you hear of commandments most? In the gospels where the Lord's Supper, Christian baptism, or both, are shown out, commandments to the Christian are not, as such, mentioned. On the other hand, it is in the Gospel of John that we have the Spirit of God so full of the new commandments that the Lord lays upon us. These were the expressions of His mind. They brought in not His love only but His authority, which is blessed whenever it does come in, and the child of God loves and values both thoroughly. But if you bring in such thoughts into the Lord's Supper, what a complete misapprehension of the Lord's mind! It falsifies baptism and the Lord's Supper, to change them into things enjoined in the way of commandment. They are the most precious institutions of the Lord, the symbol and acknowledgment of the great standing facts of Christianity.
As to the Lord's day, I must again recall the remarkable manner in which it is introduced in the New Testament. There is no positive word such as, “The first day of the week thou shalt keep.” Wickedness thence infers that it is not to be kept. Some take advantage not to observe the day, because the Lord does not make it a matter of positive command. Another class take advantage of it in another form, and assume that it is the business of the Church to decide in such matters. One is human laxity, and the other the self-importance of man. The Lord's day comes before us as those that are quickened with Christ; stamped with His own special presence. Christ was, and I believe is, with His disciples in a manner peculiar to that day. I do not say that the Lord did not visit His disciples upon other days, but He was specially and pre-eminently with them gathered together on that day. This is enough for me. If I own the word of God as that which has supreme power over my soul, if I value every act of Christ as that from which I am to gather divine instruction, how can this be lost upon me? But the Holy Ghost follows it up. That day which our Lord consecrated with His own presence in the midst of His gathered saints, the Holy Ghost impresses upon His people. It is not brought out in the form of law or injunction or threat; but the Church of God, whatever other days they might meet on, took especial care to meet on this day. There was also a sweet connection between the Lord's Supper and His day. The earliest disciples took that supper every day; they seemed as if they could hardly part when they got together; and they came together as often as they could, and everything gave place to this. Not that I think that the Pentecostal state of things was the most maturely blessed. There was singular power of simplicity in them, and very wonderful manifestation of divine grace: but I have little doubt there were many souls that went on and grew and enjoyed the Lord more than they ever did on that day. It is an evil, unfounded notion, because the flesh constantly tends to draw the believer back from the first enjoyment of the Lord, to think that therefore it must be so. There is no necessity for declension at all. There is a kind of first fervor and freshness that is very apt to be lost in the soul; but if there is real integrity of heart to the Lord, positive growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ will follow. And although there may be a certain kind of joy that is not so great at the end of ten or twenty years as it was on the first day of coming to the knowledge of the Savior, yet I do not believe that it is therefore a wore spiritual state or more glorifying to God. One is the blessedness of an infant; the other of a full-grown soul, more firmly, calmly, unselfishly, it may be, honoring God in its way, provided the soul, along with increase of knowledge, maintains its singleness of heart to the Lord. That is where we fail: but as far as the power of the Spirit of God goes, there is no reason why a soul should not be as happy after fifty years as at the first.
In the course of the New Testament, I think you find this very thing; the Spirit of God taking up the first day and showing that it was not merely a hasty feeling of the disciples, but a truly godly one. The Spirit of God directed it when the apostles were there, and not only leads them on, but preserves the record of the fact for us. Therefore, in Acts 20:77And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7), we have it recorded, that so it was after the Jerusalem-state, when they went up to the temple to worship and used to break bread at home. For let me say in passing, the margin is correct; it is in contrast with worshipping in the temple. They used to pray in the temple because they had been Jews, and they took their Christian feast at home. Now it may have been always the same houses where persons went. There is no such idea as moving about from house to house, but it was at home, i.e., in a private house and not in the temple. After this state of things was past away, we hear of assembling to break bread on the Lord's day, the first day of the week. And, when we think of it, there is peculiar force and blessedness in the first day of the week being the Christian day. What is the idea of the Sabbath-day? I take the first six days to myself, to the world, to earthly things, and then at the end of it, when I may be tired of serving myself and other people, I finish up with the Lord and give the last day to Him. But now how beautifully the Christian form of the truth comes in! It is the first day. I begin with the Savior. I begin with His grace. I begin with Him that died for me and rose again. I am not a Jew, I am a Christian, and therefore, let us not forget, it is the seventh day which is the Sabbath, for the one; but the first day, which is the Lord's day, for the other; the day of Him who by His own blood, death, and resurrection has acquired a just title for my eternal and heavenly blessing. He had it in His own person; He was Jehovah, the Lord of all, before ever He came into the world; but now He is Lord on another ground—that of redemption—because He has died and risen. There is at once the open door of my blessing—of your blessing—divine blessing to every poor soul that is brought by grace to receive Him and bow to Him.
We will not dwell farther upon this subject now. I have desired to convey with simplicity the general principle of these two sabbath-days. Instead of pursuing the subjects of the chapter for the present, it seemed better to bring out the divine character of the sabbath-day and the still more blessed and equally divine character of the first day; the one being the day for the Jew, the other for the Christian. The sabbath-day will re-appear on the earth in the millennium. I mean that the seventh day of the week will be then kept by the Jews. The prophecies are plain that the sabbath of the Lord is yet to be observed. But by whom? By Israel and by the Gentiles, too; for the Gentiles by and by will be subordinate to Israel, and both on earthly ground. God's intention is to exalt Israel to the first place on the earth. Meanwhile, what becomes of Christians? They will be taken out of the earth altogether; they will be in heaven; all question of particular days will be completely at an end; we shall be in the day of eternity, we shall have entered upon the rest of God, the sabbatism that remains. In spirit we have done so even now, because we have received Christ and eternal life in Christ. But then we shall be manifestly in the eternal day, when there will be neither first day nor last day, but one infinity in the glorified state, blessedly serving our God and the Lamb. But upon the earth, when Israel will be restored and brought back to their own land and converted by God's goodness there, will they observe the Lord's day? No; they will keep the Sabbath. If you look at Ezekiel, you will see the force of it exactly. You might be able from thence to form a map of Israel's condition in the land—it is given there so distinctly and positively, that a person might with little trouble lay down the landmarks of each tribe of Israel. Thus clear is the word of God as to the future disposition of each tribe within the borders of the Holy Land. They will have not only a glorious city and temple—the name of it, “The Lord is there;” but when that day of glory comes, they will not be as we are, keeping the day of resurrection, but the sabbath, which was a sign between the Lord and Israel. Looking at the Scriptures, you will find how often the sabbath-day is said to be Jehovah's sign to them;. and He will cause His people then to keep the sabbath-day. They will do so in a far more blessed way than ever they did; they will rest upon Christ, though they will not have the same heavenly assurance that the Christian has now. When Christ rose from the dead, He had done with the world; and we, too, in Him, have done with the world now in the spirit of our souls, and in the character of our relationship to God. “They are not of the world.” How far? “Even as I am not of the world.” Christ is the measure and standard of how far we are not of the world; and not being of the world, we have a day that bears the stamp of joy upon it. The day that Christ rose from the dead and was manifested as not of the world, that is the day for the Christian. But inasmuch as the world will be made a blessed world then, and the Lord will make it His own world, they will have a day suited for the world, the sabbath-day. Nothing can be more plain or more important, practically.
May our souls, each of us for himself, learn the truth, and, having learned it, may we be witnesses of it in word and deed! May we stand forth by His grace as those who now have nothing to do in this world but the will of God, for the glory of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! That is the business of every soul that loves Jesus and rests upon His blood and is risen with Him.