From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Mark 1 to 8                                    Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:


Quickly Understanding Mark


(Volume 1:  Chapters 1 to 8)




Roland H. Worth, Jr.



Copyright © 2019 by author






Introduction to the

“Busy Person’s Guide” Series


            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to buy all those that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is also the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes up an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of their restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.)  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the New King James Version--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.

            Individual verses then follows.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value of course but, hopefully, a “nugget” or two of something useful in every verse analyzed.

            Sometimes it will be the core thought or message of the verse.  Sometimes it will be a key moral principle the text intends to convey.  In all cases it will be summed up in significantly different words than the text or with supplemental interpretive phrases to “flesh out” the meaning or intention. 

            Every verse is unique.  Some make us wonder why people acted the way they did and we briefly probe the possibilities.   In other cases we wonder why they so misunderstood what was going on and we suggest reasons that could have motivated them.  Other passages present an implicit challenge to the then listener and here we make it explicit so we can face the same challenge as the original audience.  To understand yet other readings, a piece of historical background is needed and we have tried to provide that as well.

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should prove invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book.  We begin with the assumption that virtually every one shares:  this purports to be a first century book by someone claiming to know a great deal about the life of Jesus.  Based upon what he has preserved for us, what can we learn about Jesus’ life?  What can we learn about His teaching?  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  Hence the sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.   


The original version of Matthew, Luke, and John  appear to have been done in 2006 and was revised in 2017-2018, during which the translations were added as well as extra commentary added to enhance what was already present.  In this time frame Mark was added to complete the four gospels.

            Frankly, I had forgotten that these volumes were anywhere near completed in first draft form.  They were among a number of various projects I had set aside over the decades that were either partially or nearly fully researched and “ready to go”—except I had nowhere for them to “go to.”  Now that I have my own web site there is a place. 

And it is my hope and prayer that these and my other works will live on in the electronic realm for many years to come.  After all the purpose of any serious Biblical study should be to deepen one’s own understanding of the sacred text—and, where possible, to assist others in their efforts to do so as well.

                                                Roland H. Worth, Jr.






Chapter One




                        The Role of John the Baptist (1:1-1:8):  1 The beginning of the      gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah     the prophet, Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, / who will prepare your way, / the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, / Prepare the way for the        Lord,/ make his paths straight.’ ”

                        In the wilderness John the baptizer began preaching a    baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from        the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem were going    out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as     they confessed their sins. John wore a garment made of         camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate      locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “One more powerful    than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to bend down         and untie the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but      he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  --New English Translation   (for comparison)    



             1:1      The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Mark labels “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” as the time at which Jesus is baptized by John and enters His own public ministry.  In contrast “the beginning of the [physical/earthly] life of Jesus Christ” was far earlier and is covered by both of the other Synoptics from the time of the physical conception of the Lord.  His even earlier pre-existence in heaven is covered in the first verses of the gospel of John.

            The fact that He is called “the Son of God” seems almost empty rhetoric if it means nothing more than that He was merely another honorable man and followed the demands of Jehovah.  That would apply to any and all obedient Jews of the time.  Hence the invocation of the label in the very first sentence of the gospel strongly implies that it was in some special and superior sense that the term is used.  The introductory words of John provides that “unspoken background story” as do the accounts of His miraculous conception in both Matthew and Luke.   


            1:2       As it is written in the Prophets:  “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, / Who will prepare Your way before You.”  Since the words are spoken by no less than an inspired “prophet” (Malachi 2:17), they must be regarded as authoritative and reliable, i.e., they unquestionably would be fulfilled.  Just as the original speaker/prophet had been commissioned by God, the expression “My Messenger” tells us that this new person is also specially chosen by God Himself.  Realizing this must have been both humbling and more than a little scary when John first recognized that the words applied to himself (verse 4).

            It was, of course, a great honor to have one’s work predicted by God, but there was also something deeply humbling in the fact as well.  For all the good that he would do, his primary task was still as a “preparer” for someone else.  His own work would be esteemed and well regarded, but it would also provide the foundation that someone greater than himself--Jesus--would build upon.

            Sidebar:  The very popular “critical text” of the Greek--followed by the bulk of translations--refers the verses quoted to “Isaiah.”  When Malachi is quoted along with the prediction of Isaiah (in the next verse) one could imagine either both being mentioned by name or, if only one, then Isaiah would be the most natural choice because he is so well known for repeated Messianic predictions.  The Pulpit Commentary prefers a different explanation:  The oracle of Malachi is, in fact, contained in the oracle of Isaiah; for what Malachi predicted, the same had Isaiah more clearly and concisely predicted in other words.”      


            1:3       “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; / Make His paths straight.’   We think in terms of cities and all they can provide--and they do.  But there can be successes launched in other venues as well, even the scarcely populated “wilderness” between cities.  And it was from that kind of unexpected base that John launched his successful teaching career.  Instead of going into the cities, those who heard of him and his message increasingly came out of those very places and took the time to travel major distances to hear and listen to his teaching.  

            That teaching involved spiritual road building:  “Make His paths straight.”  By teaching the people sound moral principles, he successfully encouraged multitudes to start thinking once again about important spiritual and ethical matters.  Their religion had become “routine;” he put serious commitment back into it.  In the short term, this was of immediate value to them, but in the long term it also prepared them for an even more important teacher in the man from Nazareth.

            Sidebar:  This second quotation comes from Isaiah 40:3.  The only other quotation from this source comes near the end of the gospel in Mark 15:26 (which invokes Isaiah 53:12).


            1:4       John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  “A baptism of repentance” was an outward act to show that one recognized the existence and seriousness of one’s sins and had every intention of changing for the better.  Without such it was an empty ritual and John had no time for such foolishness--as in the example of those priests who came to be baptized by him because it was the latest popular fad rather than out of any desire to reform for the better (Matthew 3:7-12).

            The purpose of this immersion--for this and related words like submersion and  dipping all describe the meaning of the Greek term found here, baptízō--was nothing short of the exoneration of sins:  If you didn’t go through it you wouldn’t have forgiveness.  It is useful to remember that repentance is both a commitment/pledge to change (which happens before the baptism) but also a carrying out of that pledge afterwards.  Unless you’ve carried out that commitment, you are no better than a man who has bought a new boat--and never turns the engine on.  You aren’t going anywhere!

            Sidebar on the location of the baptism:  It is “the dry and unpeopled region extending from the gates of Hebron to the shores of the Dead Sea.  ‘It is a dreary waste of rocky valleys; in some parts stern and terrible, the rocks cleft and shattered by earthquakes and convulsions into rifts and gorges, sometimes a thousand feet in depth, though only thirty or forty in width . . . The whole district is, in fact, the slope of the midland chalk and limestone hills, from their highest point of nearly 3,000 feet near Hebron, to 1,000 or 1,500 feet at the valley of the Dead Sea.  The Hebrews fitly call it Jeshimon (1 Samuel 23:19, 24), “the appalling desolation,” or “horror.” ’   (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            1:5       Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  Jesus is well known as the Man from Galilee, while John the Baptist is connected with “the land of Judea” and never with the more northward region.  Within Judea people came from as far away as Jerusalem--some twenty-one miles.  These weren’t simply “people with nothing better to do that day!” 

            The baptizing was done at or near “Bethabara beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28):  Both the critical text and the majority of manuscripts, however, speak of the place being Bethany.  This location is not associated with Galilee for after Jesus’ baptism we read that “the following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee” (John 1:43).  Presumably he was in Judea for one of the religious feasts celebrated in Jerusalem.  This would also be the most convenient time for others from Galilee to be baptized.

            As to those who were baptized, they represented a broad cross-section of society.  The crowds that flocked to his baptism included representatives of every class:  Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7), tax-gatherers (Luke 3:12), soldiers (Luke 3:14), rich and poor (Luke 3:10).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

            There was an essential pre-requisite for their baptism and that was an admission of their bad behavior.  No admission of sin, no baptism.  Some of the hardest words in any language are, “I did wrong!”  Jesus did not fit into this category because of His sinlessness, but if He did not conform to the requirement of baptism He would be perpetually open to the challenge of whether He accepted the authority of John the Baptist or not.  See more on this in verse 9.      


            1:6       Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  His clothing was made of coarse, long camel’s hair and would have an appearance and texture rather like sackcloth.  Not the most comfortable thing to wear, but an ongoing reminder that his would never be the “refined” life of either farmer, merchant, or city religious leader.  A diet of locusts mixed with wild honey would have been readily available in wilderness areas.  Not an exciting or varied diet, but sufficient to keep one alive.


            1:7       And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  Comparative importance can be conveyed in different ways.  A “door opener” is obviously way down the totem pole compared with those he opens the door for.  A secretary is similarly lower than the governor.  But it is hard to imagine a more profound difference in position than when you are not even deserving of the lowly status of undoing someone’s “sandal strap!” 


            1:8       I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  The object John used to administer baptism was the water of the Jordan.  In contrast, the one coming would be able to baptize “with the Holy Spirit.”  Since the Holy Spirit is obviously not of this earth, is the one who gives it likely to be of merely human origin?  Does it not require supernaturalness to be able to do this?  Since John is referring to the actions of the Messiah, does this not require that the Messiah be supernatural?  We certainly don’t have the details “spun out” like in the prologue of John, but don’t the words presume the same--or something extremely similar?  



                        Baptism of Jesus and the Satanic Sequel (1:9-13):  Now in those    days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by         John in the Jordan River10 And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit         descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven:       “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” 12 The        Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. 13 He was in    the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He   was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs.

                --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:9       It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  Jesus was about thirty years old at the time (Luke 3:21-23).  Fully grown; a mature man.  With years of work experience behind Him and regular exposure to synagogue worship and practice.

            Although Jesus is described in the New Testament as sinless (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5), there was no way you were going to be able to convince others of it except after something happened that was so dramatic that it made the concept both reasonable and highly compelling--think the physical resurrection from the dead.  Hence Jesus needed to conduct Himself as if He were as much a sinner as anyone else.  If God expected others to offer sacrifices, Jesus did.  If He expected others to observe the various feasts, Jesus did that as well.  Hence it would be inevitable that Jesus would be baptized by John and that what the Father expected others to do, the Son would do as well.


            1:10     And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Whether this was visible to all or not, this verse tells us that Jesus saw it clearly enough and John 1:32 tells us that the Baptist did as well.  How many beyond these two we do not know.  Regardless of how we judge that particular matter, there is no reason to take the voice in the next verse as being heard by them alone.  We certainly know that near His death at Jerusalem, God spoke implicitly praising Jesus in the Temple and that some heard distinct words while others dismissed it as mere thunder (John 12:27-30).  In both cases the supernatural voice clearly testified that this Jesus was someone unique since the speaking occurred to honor Him alone.  (As is also the case in the third occasion when a voice is heard from heaven, at His Transfiguration (Mark 9:7.)


            1:11     Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Two important facts are revealed here:  (1)  Jesus is God’s “beloved Son”--He thinks well of Jesus; He has affection and high respect.  He is not a Son “He is stuck with,” but one who exhibits every ideal the Father regards as desirable.  (2)  In addition the Father is “well pleased” with this Son of His.  The baptism is a redundant, needless act for there are no sins to be forgiven and no sins to repent of.  Yet Jesus has humbled Himself and set the example of obedience that is expected of everyone else who does have sin.


            1:12     Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  “Drove” is a strong word:  in the most extreme case it can be used of making something involuntarily occur--for example, the same Greek word is used of casting out demons in Mark 3:22.  At the least it carries the overtone of applying pressure to do something:  It insisted to Jesus’ consciousness that this was absolutely what needed to be done next.  The idea is not so much that Jesus was unwilling, but that there was a natural human reluctance to face the confrontation that must occur.

            The fact that Jesus was willing to do this is seen in the language found in both Matthew 4:1 (“led up”) and in Luke 4:1 (“led by the Spirit”).  The stronger language here in Mark is sometimes explained as being used because it implies an immediate and rapid movement to the place of the temptations.  It can also be explained by the presence of the Spirit internally within Him after His receiving it in verse 10:  Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1).  It would not seem unjust to argue that the Spirit was amplifying the sentiments of His own to go and get this over with since this was something that must be done.  (These texts can also be read not as referring to some personal “indwelling” of the Spirit but that the message given by the Spirit was within and guided Him.)  


            1:13     And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.  We are informed of the duration of the temptations (forty days), the source of them (Satan), the environmental danger (“wild beasts”) and how that He ultimately received angelic help (“ministered to Him”).  What we are not told here is anything about the contents of the temptations.

            After this period of temptation, we learn from another of the gospels that the Lord returned to where John was continuing his baptisms.  Hostile “priests and levites” (John 1:19) cross-examined John and he responded about how “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (John 1:26-27). 

            “The next day [after this] John saw Jesus coming toward him” and spoke of how he had seen the Spirit come down upon Jesus at his baptism (verses 28-34).  Note that this is identified as the “next day” after the confrontation with the religious authorities and not the next day after the actual baptism.  Since there had been forty days of temptation at least that amount of time had intervened before this next meeting together.

            The second day after John’s pronouncement (verse 35) Jesus met Andrew and Peter (verse 40).  On the third day (verse 43) He decided to move on to Bethsaida (verse 44) and then to Cana for a wedding feast (3:1).  All these things are skipped as the author moves on to the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry.       



                        Jesus Begins His Ministry and Recruiting Disciples (1:14-20):  14 Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and         proclaimed the gospel of God. 15 He said, “The time is fulfilled    and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the   gospel!” 

                16 As he went along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and         Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea (for they        were fishermen). 17 Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will         turn you into fishers of people.” 18 They left their nets         immediately and followed him. 19 Going on a little farther, he saw      James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother in their boat   mending nets. 20 Immediately he called them, and they left their     father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

                --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:14     Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.  With John in prison, there was no one to publicly share God’s recent message of moral reform.  If it was going to be preached it was going to be by Jesus and He naturally centered it in the region He was most acquainted with, that of Galilee. 

            Earlier He had taught in Judea, denouncing the turning of the Temple into a place of business (John 2:13-22) and performing a number of miraculous “signs” in Jerusalem (verse 23).  Since a large number of individuals were being baptized in Judea by His disciples and He was there with them (John 3:22), this surely implies that He was doing the preaching that naturally preceded such.  But now it was time that He returned (“came to Galilee”) and took over the teaching role that was no longer possible by John due to his arrest by Herod Antipas.        


            1:15     and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  “The time is fulfilled”--that which was predicted long ago is about to become a reality.  And what is to be fulfilled is the establishment of the long awaited “kingdom of God.”  It is so close that it is as if you could reach out and touch it--it “is at hand.”  A hand’s reach away, if you wish.

            God was going to do His long promised part, but the general population had obligations when they embraced it:  (1) Setting their lives aright by a positive change (“repent[ance]”) in action and attitude--not only to do right, but to want to do right, ungrudgingly and willingly.  Part of that is to (2) “believe in the gospel”--the “good news” that is preached by Jesus of Nazareth.  The Torah and prophets were praiseworthy and commendable, but now there was something additional that must be respected and adhered to, the teaching of the “good/gospel news” that they would hear from Jesus.      


            1:16     And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Part of Jesus’ work would involve recruiting what we today would refer to as “support staff.”  No one can do all the work, especially when it was Jesus’ conscious intention to complete His personal, earth side labor within only a few years.  It was vital that there would be a cadre of reliable and authoritative individuals to lead the new movement once He had left.  

            Hence now the second stage of the recruitment begins:  The first stage for Simon and Peter had been when they had originally met after hearing John the Baptist praise Him (John 1:35-42).  But now there was the need to have an ongoing cadre available to Him and with Him at all times.

            Sidebar:  In the New Testament this body of water--the largest fresh water lake within geographic Israel--is sometimes simply called “the Sea” (Matthew 4:15), “the Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1), and “the Sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).  It is called “the Sea of Galilee” for that is the geographical/political region lying to its west.  It is called “the Lake of Gennesaret” because of a town located on the northwestern shore. 

            And it is described as “the Sea of Tiberias” because Herod Antipas built a governing site and resort community on the western shore in 18 A.D. and named it after the emperor.  (It never hurts for a regional governor to emphasize how much he “admires” the Emperor!)  It had a theater, forum, and stadium, and was the political capital from which he ruled.       


            1:17     Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  It is far easier to be “leaders of men” rather than “fishers of men.”  The first simply implies leadership and that can be gained by appointment or as the result of obligations owed to you by others.  But to be “fishers of men” requires that you have to gain, “catch,” recruit those who you are to lead.  You have to be able to reason with them and convince them of what needs to be done. 

            When Jesus introduces this offer with “follow Me,” He effectively tells them:  “I will show and teach you how to do this.  I will provide you with the encouragement and teaching that will enable you to do it.”

            But what kind of movement are they going to be creating?  Since these had all come into contact through association with the Baptist and his attempt to ready people spiritually for what was to come, the movement had to be spiritual in nature--with the purpose of faithfully serving God.  To the extent that this is a Messianic movement--and its impossible to believe that John’s message could inspire anything other than just such an understanding of what was happening--the nationalistic and temporal aspects attached to that in popular thought would inevitably be in their minds as well.  The spiritual aspirations will turn out to be well grounded, but not the worldly ones easily grafted on it 


            1:18    They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  This was so important that there was no delay at all.  No excuses.  Just the prompt commitment to go wherever Jesus went and do whatever He said needed to be done.  For people who had long roots in the community that took more than a little courage since what they decided to do would obviously affect their family and children as well.


            1:19     When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets.  While in the same neighborhood (they had only “gone a little farther”), Jesus encountered two men working on their fishing equipment.  Whether in this technological age of ours or in the one of theirs where the necessary materials were far simpler, “upkeep” is always required.  If the material isn’t kept ready to be used, it won’t be able to meet your needs.


            1:20     And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.  By the time Jesus reached them, He had already decided what to do and beckoned them to cast in their lot as well.  In this case we learn not only the name of their father, but that they were rather prosperous as well.  Unless they were, having “hired servants” would have been impossible.  We also know that they were partners with Peter and Andrew in the fishing trade (Luke 5:7-10).  Apparently John was the group’s business representative when dealing with such matters in Jerusalem since he was known by face to the household of the high priest (John 18:15).



                        Jesus Demonstrates His Supernatural Authority By Casting Out             Demons (1:21-28):  21 Then they went to Capernaum. When the     Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to      teach. 22 The people there were amazed by his teaching, because     he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts        in the law. 

                23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an   unclean spirit, and he cried out, 24 “Leave us alone, Jesus the      Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—     the Holy One of God!” 25 But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come         out of him!” 26 After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They       were all amazed so that they asked each other, “What is this? A         new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean         spirits and they obey him.” 28 So the news about him spread      quickly throughout all the region around Galilee.  --New English        Translation (for comparison)



            1:21     Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.  Although the local synagogue would find a usage throughout the week, the Sabbath was the day of formal worship and therefore the day to find the most people.  Since people were there to pray, sing psalms, and learn more of God’s will, there could be no better time or place to actively engage in teaching. 

            Aside--what the Bible tells us about Capernaum:  “[It] is not mentioned in the Old Testament or the Apocrypha.  It was situated on the western shore of the Lake, in ‘the land of Gennesaret’ (Matthew 14:34; John 6:17, 24), and was of sufficient size to be always called ‘a city’ [or ‘town,’ according to translators’ preference] (Matthew 9:1).  It was a customs station (Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:27), and the quarters of a detachment of Roman soldiers (Matthew 8:9; Luke 7:8).  It was the scene of many striking incidents in the Gospel History besides that here recorded.  It was at Capernaum that the Lord healed Simon’s wife’s mother (Matthew 8:14); wrought the miracle on the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5); cured the paralytic (Matthew 9:1[-2]); called Levi from the toll-house (Matthew 9:9); taught His Apostles the lesson of humility from the child set in their midst (Mark 9:35-37), and delivered the wonderful discourse respecting the ‘Bread of Life’ (John 6:59).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            1:22     And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  The scribes loved to cite authorities--this rabbi or that rabbi.  They loved to hide behind rabbinic predecessors to prove there was “no way possible for you to be right.”  In vivid contrast, Jesus loved to “argue Scripture:  Here is what it says and this is what it means.  No “passing the buck” to someone else, but taking the full responsibility on one’s own shoulders. 


            1:23     Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out.  There were those who were physically sick in those days, but the time also had those who were physically or mentally gutted by supernatural phenomena as well.  In this case, a demon possessed individual was horrified at the presence of Jesus (verse 24).  The fact that he was actually in the synagogue and was permitted to stay argues that so long as such individuals were not actively “acting out,” that they were permitted to be there even during worship.  And why not?  No one had a way of curing them.  The prayers, singing, and teaching could do no harm.  Perhaps it could actually do some good! 


            1:24     saying, “Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”  The use of the plural “us” shows that he was afflicted with multiple entities within.  They feared that Jesus might be out to harm (“destroy”) them--which shows that they could both be destroyed and that Jesus had the power to do so.  But why could Jesus do so and not others?  Because compared to them, He was uniquely “the Holy One of God.”  His purity could purge the sufferer while nothing others could do would help at all.

            Sidebar:  “The” not “a” “Holy One of God.”  (“The” is in the Greek.)  It is hard to read this text without concluding that the demon is recognizing the Messianic role of Jesus that is painted in Psalms 16:10:  You [God] will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption”--The merely human would not be abandoned forever in Sheol; in contrast the “Holy One” would never decay in the grave at all.  

            1:25     But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”  Jesus wasn’t about to tolerate any argument and bluntly told him to shut up and get out of the oppressed man.  This shows that the entities were self-conscious and fully capable of acting independently of the human they were afflicting.  Furthermore, it was urgent to end the conversation because of the messianic connotations of the language he had used.  “Holy One of God” were words subject to massive misunderstanding by the general population, who were anticipating a temporal earthly redeemer rather than a redeemer of their souls. 


            1:26     And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.  The evil entity made life miserable one final time by “convulsing” the person and screaming--surely in anger and protest--as it left the man.  What happened was involuntary and could only be traced to the verbal demands just given by Jesus.  In other words, Jesus’ words had raw power behind them.  No wonder the people were startled (verse 27).

            Sidebar on the gospels’ different selection of miracles to mention first in their accounts:  The first miracle recorded by Matthew is the healing of a leper by a touch (Matthew 8:1-4); the first miracle which John records is the changing of water into wine (John 2:1-11); the first miracle recorded by Mark and Luke (Luke 4:33-37) is this casting out of a demon in the synagogue of Capernaum.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            1:27     Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this?  What new doctrine is this?  For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”  It would have been incredible if anyone could see and observe this without a sense of astonishment so it is no surprise that this reaction was shared by one and “all” who were present.  It surely indicated something vitally important but they had no idea of what. 

            Oddly, they don’t bother to ask Him!  They simply bounce it around among themselves.  There are some questions that one simply does not feel comfortable coming out and raising.  There is the certainty that one does not yet know everything that is needed but also the queasy feeling of whether one really wants to know much more at the moment until one has had time to think it all through.


            1:28     And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.  People travel and people gossip.  It is human nature.  When something this dramatic occurred, farmers and merchants and travelers “immediately” began sharing it with those they encountered throughout Galilee.  (Our text also implies that Galilee was pretty much its own entity so far as sharing news and the maximum distance most would be traveling in the short term.  Only as the religious feasts occurred on the calendar would there be major traffic to Judea and Jerusalem to convey the word--at least in comparison to how much was shared regionally.)



                        Jesus Demonstrates His Supernatural Authority By Miraculous Healings Both Private and Public (1:29-34):  29 Now as soon as they left       the synagogue, they entered Simon and Andrew’s house, with        James and John. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down, sick with a fever, so they spoke to Jesus at once about her. 31 He      came and raised her up by gently taking her hand. Then the   fever left her and she began to serve them. 

                32 When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him         all who were sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town         gathered by the door. 34 So he healed many who were sick with      various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not    permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:29    Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Being the Sabbath day, it was natural to enter the home of someone to eat and rest and enjoy the day.  Physical labor was not permitted and, after a hard week’s work, who would want to?


            1:30     But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.  Either the fever had not broken out with intensity before they had left for the synagogue service or Jesus had not been with them at that time.  Either way, Jesus has now been informed of the problem and that it is a serious one but we are left with the question of what did they expect of Jesus?  Before what had happened in the synagogue, perhaps it would have been only a prayer and a sympathetic blessing.  But Simon and the other three had seen an astounding miracle that day and they would have been less than human if they did not hope that some of that power might be used for the good of their household as well.       


            1:31     So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her.  And she served them.  Helping her rise, the fever “immediately” departed.  No delay.  No lapse.  Sick and then well.  In the duration from lying down and standing up.  After what she had been through physically, that was probably the happiest meal she ever served in her life! 


            1:32     At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.  With the Sabbath now past and the darkness fallen, there could never be a better time to see if Jesus could help the other ailing as well.  No one could object that it was the Sabbath day and there was nothing that could produce income that could be done at that hour.  The most productive use of their time would be what they had now decided to do.  Note that the ailing came in both categories of “sick” and “demon-possessed” as well; i.e., far from all illnesses were demon caused and they recognized it.


            1:33     And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  Everyone who had a problem showed up, not to mention the curious who had heard of what Jesus had done and wondered what would happen now.


            1:34     Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.  Sickness came in a wide variety of forms both then and today and Jesus successfully removed a spectrum of “various diseases” from the backs of the sufferers--His power was not limited to a narrow range of them.  Demons also were expelled:  Although “many demons” could refer to the fact that there were a significant number of cases being dealt with, the language could also refer to the number of entities involved:  anyone who had one demon might also have a variety of others and all of them were being ordered out.  

            One thing Jesus was not going to do was let them talk:  “they knew Him” and He had no desire for what they knew to be shared.  They got out the words “I know who You are--the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34) and that was as far as He permitted them to go.  The fact that He could gut their power was extraordinary enough in itself without allowing the demons to exercise a kind of intellectual jujitsu and undermine His spiritual credentials by inflaming the nationalistic preferences of His countrymen.  Jesus had no desire to be a temporal king, but word of His vast power could easily fester and become an excuse for insurrection to place Him in power.  Hence the need to rein in their mouths.    



                        Jesus Refuses to Be Limited to a Narrow Location in Galilee but             Teaches and Heals Throughout the Entire Region (1:35-39):  35 Then Jesus        got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed,        and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in      prayer. 36 Simon and his companions searched for him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so       that I can preach there too.  For that is what I came out here to      do.” 39 So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their      synagogues and casting out demons.     --New English Translation             (for comparison)   



            1:35     Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.  With so many seeking help the previous evening after sunset (verses 32-34), and this extremely early departure “a long while before daylight,” the Lord could hardly have gotten much sleep.  But both the healing and the prayer were important to Him and He made sure there was enough time in His schedule to engage in both--whether it cost some sleep or not.  A lesson there for us, perhaps?


            1:36     And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.  Being both a disciple and having seen his mother-in-law healed, there would be natural interest in Peter as to what the Lord was doing the next day, but the interest went beyond that. . . .


            1:37     When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”  Jesus had performed a large number of healings (verse 34) and there was no particular reason to assume that He would not do more the next day.  Hence it seemed they would be facilitating His intentions by keeping Him posted as to what was happening.  Not to mention doing a good deed for the townspeople since it seemed that “everyone” was trying to find Him.  However, there are times when popularity needs to take second place to other obligations and opportunities and this was one of them. . . .


            1:38     But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”  Word would already be drifting into some of those communities and produce curiosity, if nothing else, to see this new healer.  But it was not healing that was at the top of His agenda--it was preaching.  It was good to heal the body, but heal the soul and you have a salvation that goes far beyond saving a person from any physical disease.

            Sidebar:  According to Josephus, Galilee was a densely populated district, with upwards of two hundred villages, each containing several thousand inhabitants.”  (Pulpit Commentary)  


            1:39     And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.  The logical place to teach were “synagogues”--though Jesus wasn’t adverse to teaching anywhere and any time when people were willing to listen.  These were institutions dedicated to the cultivation of spiritual insight and they were places where Jesus would find men and women desirous to gain more.  Not to mention finding those who misunderstood God’s will thoroughly and needing assistance in their understanding.

            “Casting out demons” remained on the agenda, but note that it is listed second.  True, such exorcisms worked to make the reliability of His teaching more credible for those who might question it.  Wonderful as such confirmations were, non-demonically possessed humans were far more numerous than the possessed and needed to prepare for eternity through hearing and obeying His teaching.  Hence the priority of teaching.       



                        Even Dreaded Leprosy Falls to His Power (1:40-45):  40 Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are        willing, you can make me clean,” he said. 41 Moved with      compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him,         saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” 42 The leprosy left him at once,         and he was clean. 

                43 Immediately Jesus sent the man away with a very strong       warning. 44 He told him, “See that you do not say anything to        anyone, but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering        that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to       them.” 45 But as the man went out he began to announce it       publicly and spread the story widely, so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote        places. Still they kept coming to him from everywhere.

                --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:40     Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”  Clearly having heard of Jesus’ ability to heal, the leper is not only confident of that power but that it is wholly within Jesus’ discretion whether to exercise it.  There is none of that strange 21st century American mentality “I have the right to such and such.”  No, you have the right to ask; whether you actually receive is according to the subject matter and the proper rules that govern it.  None of us is so important that such limitations can be ignored.  


            1:41     Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”  Jesus was impressed by the man’s humility and respect.  “Compassion” was the natural result and He acted to remove the curse the man visibly wore.  The term “be cleansed” is highly appropriate for leprosy came with disfigurement and the removal of the “blemishes” (for lack of a better word) would result in regaining normal appearance.


            1:42     As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  There was no delay in what happened.  As soon as the words left His mouth, the cure was visible and obvious.


            1:43     And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”  Verse 43 does not tell us what the Lord “warned him” about, but the next verse does.  In light of the order that is given there, it was firstly to keep the source of healing to himself rather than enthusiastically sharing it with everyone on the way.  This would delay obtaining the rituals that were required.  Furthermore if he spoke of it near the wrong priest, a hostile foe of Jesus might refuse to perform the required rituals out of animosity to Jesus’ role.  

            Secondly, to immediately go and offer the required sacrifices for cured leprosy.  Just because these were “ritualistic” matters did not remove the need for them since they were part of the religious code revealed through Moses.  Not even the joy of the moment justified it.

            Sidebar:  The sacrifices required f or leprosy:  viz. (1) two birds, ‘alive and clean,’ Leviticus 14:4, (2) cedar wood, (3) scarlet, and (4) hyssop; this was for the preliminary ceremony (Leviticus 14:4-7). On the eighth day further offerings were to be made, (1) two he lambs without blemish, (2) one ewe lamb, (3) three tenth deals of fine flour, (4) one log of oil.  If the leper was poor, he was permitted to offer one lamb and two turtledoves or two young pigeons, with one tenth deal of fine flour.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            1:45     However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.  The “however” at the beginning of the verse argues that Jesus intended His order to stay silent to apply both on the way to the priest and after the purifying rituals as well.  Jesus’ knowledge of human behavior surely warned Him that any silence was likely to be all too temporary due to natural enthusiasm over the miracle.

            Even so the effort needed to be made since this sharing of the news seriously inconvenienced Jesus’ central goal of teaching.  People became so obsessed with His miracles that He could not easily enter into cities without being diverted into this secondary mission.  Although miracles confirmed the preached word, if only miracles occurred there was no time left to teach--the very purpose of miracles being undermined!  Hence on the one hand they were needed to verify Jesus’ credibility, but they could easily became the core of Jesus’ importance in the public mind--to the neglect of even more essential matters.







Chapter Two




                        Jesus Proves His Ability To Do the Unseeable (Forgiveness of Sins) By Means of Doing the “Impossible” That Is Seeable (Healing of the Paralyzed)   (2:1-12):  1 Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum,       the news spread that he was at home. So many gathered that there was no longer any room, not even by the door, and he     preached the word to them. 

                Some people came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by        four of them. When they were not able to bring him in because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Jesus. Then, after        tearing it out, they lowered the stretcher the paralytic was lying   on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son,         your sins are forgiven.” 

                Now some of the experts in the law were sitting there,   turning these things over in their minds: “Why does this man s    peak this way? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God    alone?” Now immediately, when Jesus realized in his spirit that         they were contemplating such thoughts, he said to them, “Why         are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to   say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up,         take your stretcher, and walk’? 

                10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has       authority on earth to forgive sins,”—he said to the paralytic—         11 “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” 12 And   immediately the man stood up, took his stretcher, and went out         in front of them all. They were all amazed and glorified God,     saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”       --New English Translation (for comparison)



            2:1       And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.  “It was heard” tells us that there was no effort to spread word that Jesus was again in town.  Nor did people learn about His presence by His participating (yet) in the synagogue worship.  Someone had clearly seen Him and word had quickly passed around as it would in any urban setting. 

            Sidebar:  After His rejection by the people of Nazareth, Jesus spent so much time in Capernaum that it became known as “His own city” (Matthew 9:1).


            2:2       Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.  And He preached the word to them.  Having an audience available literally “at His front door,” they were invited into the courtyard until space was even cramped outside of the door.  (The courtyard setting is required by the paralyzed man being lowered down from above to Jesus.)  The substance of what was preached is not hinted at here but, as inevitable with any well intentioned and effective preacher, it would be something that would be particularly useful in their lives--to make them better people both morally and spiritually.


            2:3       Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.  Being unable to walk, this man could get there only courtesy of the friendship and co-operation of others.  Not just of one person, but of four.  This was “going out of the way” in helpfulness, but if there are those who you deeply like or feel sorry for, what else can you possibly do?  In chapter one, He had established a track record of healing both normal physical diseases as well as overt demonic possession.  There was no reason to believe that Jesus had suddenly lost those powers and He was the one option that might provide relief.  If it failed, nothing was lost; if it worked, he had his life back.

            Sidebar on this healing as illustrative of how the gospel writers often give only part of what was happening and how comparing the accounts allows insight into the fuller picture:  Here again the minuteness of detail is very observable.  It is also interesting to notice how the three writers of the synoptic Gospels supplement and illustrate one another.  Matthew gives the outline, Mark and Luke fill up the picture. 

            “Luke (Luke 5:18) tells us how they sought means to bring the paralytic into Christ's presence.  They carried him on his bed up the flight of steps outside the house, and reaching to the roof; and then both Mark and Luke tell us how, having first removed a portion of the tiling and broken up the roof, they then let him down through the opening thus made into the midst before Jesus.  The chamber into which he was thus abruptly lowered was most probably what is elsewhere called the ‘upper chamber,’ a large central room, convenient for the purpose of addressing both those who filled it and also the crowd that thronged the outer court below.”  (Pulpit Commentary) 


            2:4       And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  Their quite logical intention was frustrated by the very size of the crowd.  The course of many would have been to stand there in great frustration, but these folk clearly took time to think their problem through:  this was simply an opportunity not to be missed; they had to find a way.  If they couldn’t approach on the ground, they would use the outside stairs and lower the sufferer down from the flat roof to the presence of the Lord. 

            This would have taken a bit of work and would have been observed by the crowd:  “What in the world are they up to?” probably went through their minds and from their lips as well.  Until their quite visible task was finished, every eye that could see would be looking in their direction.  We have no idea what was on Jesus’ own face, but it is hard to escape the suspicion that He stood there with pleasant amusement--not laughing at them, of course, but pleased that they had found a creative way to solve their problem. 


            2:5       When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”  Once in front of Him, the physical condition was obvious yet He doesn’t bother to mention it.  Instead He uses His ability to produce the physically “impossible” to prove that He could do the same on a spiritual level:  “Your sins are forgiven you.”  A paralytic was temporally “doomed” because of the affliction but that ended at death; in contrast the person whose sins had not been forgiven was spiritually doomed as well--but forever.  Jesus wished to remove both afflictions and not just one.  All His miracles bore implicit witness to this ability (verse 9).  It was another reason why obeying His teaching was so much more important than obeying that of the rabbis.

            Sidebar:  The wording of what Jesus says has been used to prove that sin had somehow led to the paralyzed condition.  (An accident while involved in some blatant evil, perhaps?)  The case of the paralyzed man in John 5 is invoked and especially the words of caution and warning in verse 14:  See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” They may be right, but the incident makes full sense even if this element were not present.           


            2:6       And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts.  That the claim was controversial was natural, especially among religious specialists such as the “scribes” that are mentioned here and the broader group of “Pharisees and teachers of the law . . . who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.”  (Their presence is mentioned in the parallel account in Luke 5:17.)  They all claimed to be intelligent people--and were--but there was nothing in their background to prepare them to embrace a claim as radical as this one.  Both the substantial number of listeners and the place of their homes are significant:  This was an audience who would carry word of His claims back to places far and wide throughout geographic Israel.  They might be retold in a tone of horror, but there was no way that such a radical claim could avoid being repeated.  


            2:7       “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  The assumption of their argument is quite true:  “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  That God had such power was a fundamental principle of the Old Testament (Isaiah 43:25, Micah 7:18, Psalm 130:4, for example). What did not enter their mind was the possibility that God might delegate someone to do it or that--as was actually the case here--the One standing in front of them might have been in the form of God before being born in the flesh (as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-7).  No matter how Jesus might have this power, the real question was not whether it was “possible” but whether the claim was true.  If it was true then it was possible.  Furthermore through His miracles, He amply demonstrated the kind of raw power one would expect such a Person to have.


            2:8       But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?  Jesus did not have to hear the words to know what they were thinking “in their heart” (verse 6).  It did not even require His supernatural power; it was an inevitable reaction to an unprecedented claim.  So Jesus promptly challenges them to think through whether there was good evidence that it might be objectively true no matter how intense was their passion to deny it. . . .


            2:9       Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’  Both are beyond the bounds of anything that seems possible.  And there would be a three fold proof of it:  (1)  He would be able to “arise” and stand on his feet.  (2)  In spite of his longstanding record of bodily weakness, he would also have the strength to lift a load:  “take up your bed.”  (3)  He would now have ongoing mobility--the ability to “walk” with the bed wherever he needed to carry it.


            2:10     But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic.  This would be a demonstration of His power to grant forgiveness as well as healing.  It would be tangible and visible evidence and not a mere claim.  The forgiveness they had no personal way to verify, but they had every means necessary to verify the reality of the healing. 


            2:11     “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”  If he was well, where better for him to go?  He suffered no ceremonial defilement (as with leprosy) and his family would need to know just how well things had worked out for him. 

            Sidebar:  The original word thus rendered [as ‘bed’] means a portable pallet, little more than a mat, used for mid-day sleep, and the service of the sick.  It was of the commonest description and used by the poorest.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            2:12     Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”  No prolonged prayer.  No “go home, for you will get well there.”  Instead an “immediate” arising from the bed, full of strength and joy.  The latter the crowd shared in for theyall were [both] amazed and glorified God.”  This kind of thing was unprecedented and they full well knew it--“We never saw anything like this!”  The “scribes” had what gave every indication of being a sound and logical argument; Jesus responded with a demonstration of raw power that proved the argument unsound.



                        Jesus Recruits Levi the Tax Collector (a/k/a Matthew) To Be One of      His Followers (2:13-17):  13 Jesus went out again by the sea. The whole crowd came to him, and he taught them. 14 As he went     along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth.         “Follow me,” he said to him.  And he got up and followed         him. 15 As Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s home, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples,      for there were many who followed him. 

                16 When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that        he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his       disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and     sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who        are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I     have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”     --New English    Translation (for comparison)



            2:13     Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  Standing in a courtyard of a home or even in a doorway did not offer as much room for everyone to see and hear you as there was at the next teaching site, the seaside.  There people could stand or sit without the heavy crowding in the limited confines of a city street.  Once again the crowd was numerous (= “the multitude”) and Jesus took the opportunity to do what was highest on His agenda--to teach God’s will.  What we have is a tiny fragment of His total teaching though the same core themes would be repeated time and again, in varying forms, as the months went by.


            2:14     As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, “Follow Me.”  So he arose and followed Him.  Jesus’ interest in a tax collector had to be startling to others.  Tax collectors were the proverbial “other”--not to be trusted, rarely honest, and about as interested in spiritual matters as a trash collector is in fresh fruit.  Somehow--on some unknown basis (surely Divine insight)--Jesus saw that this man had the potential for good service in God’s kingdom.  So He offers him the opportunity.  God’s grace is exhibited in the opportunity being given; free will is exhibited in how that opportunity is embraced or rejected.

            Sidebar:  Situated as Capernaum was at the nucleus of roads which diverged to Tyre, Damascus, Jerusalem, and Sepphoris, it was a busy centre of merchandise, and a natural place for the collection of tribute and taxes.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  Being a seaside community there would be varying amounts of taxable product crossing the Sea of Galilee as well.


            2:15     Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.  However strange it might seem to be having dinner with a pious “rabbi,” a goodly number of those involved in the tax collection business were curious enough to do so.  (One could take “tax collectors and sinners” as synonyms for the same people or it could be that various individuals associated with the revenue agents but not actually having that occupation are also under consideration.)  Equally intriguing is the fact that Jesus shared in the meal along with other personal disciples:  Since Jesus was doing it, they were willing to enter the uncomfortable situation as well.

            Sidebar on the social status of tax collectors:  The ‘publicans’ properly so called were persons who farmed the Roman taxes and in later times were usually Roman knights and men of wealth and position.  Those here alluded to were the inferior officers, natives of the province where the taxes were collected, called properly portitores.  So notorious were they for rapacity and dishonesty that Suetonius (Vit. Vesp. i.) tells us how several cities erected statues to Sabinus, ‘the honest publican;’ and Theocritus in answer to the question, which were the worst kind of wild beasts, said, ‘On the mountains bears and lions; in cities, publicans and pettifoggers.’  The Jews included them in the same category with harlots and sinners; see Matthew 21:31-32; Matthew 18:17.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            2:16     And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”  Although “the scribes and Pharisees” were not guests, they clearly knew what was going on.  Either they were standing on the edges of the room as cynical gawkers (not an unknown ancient phenomena) or they stood outside backbiting Jesus’ reputation when they learned what He was doing.  (The “He said to them” in the next verse argues that at least some of them had entered the dining area to verify that what they heard was happening.) 

            One wonders which was more offensive to them--people eating a social meal with Jesus or with the tax men?  Perhaps this is overly cynical.  But what is absolutely certain is that they chose to use the meal as leverage to expose Jesus as blatantly lacking proper spiritual and moral scruples:  Why He eats with terrible people like that!  What further proof do you need?


            2:17     When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  Jesus invokes the reality that His foes are using against Him as the reason such interventions are both appropriate and essential:  Of all people they urgently need to hear the message of moral reform and spiritual excellence.  In doing this, He also tells us that tomorrow does not have to be today:  Because we are ethical failures at the moment does not mean that we have to continue to be such.  Part of the core gospel message is the promise:  Change is possible; you do not have to be slaves of the past or of your worst human instincts.



                        Jesus Explains Why He Does Not Fast But John Does (Mark 2:18-22):              18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. So they    came to Jesus and said, “Why do the disciples of John and the      disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t         fast?” 19 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast   while the bridegroom is with them, can they?  As long as they        have the bridegroom with them they do not fast. 20 But the days    are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and at that time they will fast. 

                21 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from   the old, and the tear becomes worse. 22 And no one pours new    wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,         and both the wine and the skins will be destroyed. Instead new        wine is poured into new wineskins.”     --New English Translation             (for comparison)  



            2:18     The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”  A very logical question at a very appropriate time:  We are fasting just as those aligned with John the Baptist; why in the world don’t your disciples do so as well?  The reference to John is especially important because it lifts the question above the provincial one of upholding the Pharisees’ own practices.  This involved actions on which there was a wide consensus.  Furthermore it had to intrigue them why Jesus’ practices were so different from those of John’s camp when John had spoken so highly of Him.  One would expect the followers of both to be doing the same thing.

            Sidebar:  To be part of the supposed spiritual elite one fasted twice a week--as in the example of the Pharisee praying in the Temple (Luke 18:12).  The two days selected were based upon the rabbinic traditions that on a Thursday Moses climbed Sinai and on a Monday he came down from it.


            2:19   And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  The answer to their question is surprisingly uncomplicated:  This simply isn’t the time for it.  It isn’t that fasting is somehow wrong or undesirable, but there needs to be more to it than a mere ritual/routine to be observed.  Otherwise you gut it of all substance.  And now that you have the “bridegroom” present--rather than waiting for his arrival--it is a time for joy and celebration instead.

            Sidebar:  The Baptizer had defended Jesus’ right to baptize on the grounds that, unlike John himself, he was the “bridegroom” (John 3:25-30).  Assuming that the followers of John who were involved in the criticizing (verse 18) remembered the words, one could hardly have a better argument for Jesus’ freedom to follow a different pattern than John himself had.  


            2:20     But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.  Christian fasting was going to be event driven:  not a ritual, but something done when there was an obvious reason for it.  In the short term, this was probably fulfilled in the day or two immediately after the crucifixion as the apostles mourned the loss of their leader.


            2:21     No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse.  Jesus gives arguments they could easily understand and they come down to this:  My new religious customs will be so different that the blending of old and new would be disastrous for the survival of the combination.  This includes the current topic--there will, indeed, be fasting (verse 20).  But it is not going to be of the kind they are accustomed to--ritualistic and on the same predetermined days rather than event driven, for example.

            Sidebar:  We know that Paul fasted on varied occasions (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27) and in both cases it is said in the context of Paul enduring suffering.  Fasting was also part of Paul’s psychological preparation for his first missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3).  Proper fasting was of such a private nature that outsiders would not be able to automatically tell you were even doing it by the way you looked and acted (Matthew 6:16-18). 


            2:22     And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”  Although the folly of indiscriminately mixing new and old is true of clothing (verse 21), this shows that it is far from the only example that can be given.  It represents a principle that duplicates itself in other areas as well.  It is not that the old is bad, but that the new is even better and far too different.



                        Jesus Claims Supernatural Authority to Regulate Even Sabbath Day      Observance Rules (2:23-28):  23 Jesus was going through the grain         fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick some heads    of wheat as they made their way. 24 So the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is against the law on the         Sabbath?” 

                25 He said to them, “Have you never read what David did   when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry—        26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high       priest and ate the sacred bread, which is against the law for any   but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?”      27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not         people for the Sabbath. 28 For this reason the Son of Man is lord        even of the Sabbath.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)     



            2:23     Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.  Although labor was prohibited on the Sabbath and even though the distance one could properly walk was restricted, there was inevitably movement of some kind throughout the day.  Because there were so many farms to feed the population, it is far from surprising that some of these trips would take people by or even through grainfields.  They would be near every village in the country where the land was farmable.  If passing through them, more than a few would do as the disciples were, “pluck[ing] the heads of grains” to get some modest relief from hunger--as Matthew 12:1 directly asserts was the reason in this case.

            Sidebar:  This passage marks with some nicety the time of the year.  The corn in that district would be ripening about May. It would, therefore, be not long after the Passover.”  (Pulpit Commentary)


            2:24     And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  There is nothing that can’t be used against you if you are dealing with someone who is determined to find fault.  The disciples weren’t out plowing a field.  They weren’t out sowing seed.  They were merely crushing grain in their hands.  And, yes, it was “work”--if you twist words sufficiently out of shape!

            Sidebar:  They did not accuse them of theft, for the Law allowed what they were doing (Deuteronomy 23:25).  They accused them of profaning the Sabbath.  The Law of course forbade reaping and threshing on that day, but the Rabbis had decided that even to pluck corn was to be construed as reaping, and to rub it as threshing.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            2:25     But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him.  Jesus does not tackle them on their word games but on the grounds of history.  And He doesn’t select the actions of some obscure individual, but that of David--the traditional prototype of both the righteous ruler and the righteous man.


            2:26     how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”  The Temple was not yet in existence in those days but the regular sacrificial offerings were offered within a tented setting as in the wilderness.  When it came to the showbread--which was replaced weekly--it could be only eaten after the fresh replacement was prepared each week . . . and it could only be eaten by the priests.  So desperate was David for food that the high priest--not a priest, but the one and only high priest--saw fit to provide it to David and his men.  Though far from fresh, when you are desperately hungry old bread is still far better than no bread.  This didn’t change the fact that this was not supposed to be done.

            But the Law encompassed the norm.  What if something extraordinary were to occur such as David’s situation?  Jesus argues that this transformed the situation from something sinful to something without guilt--note He doesn’t say it was desirable; only that the extraordinary situation made it acceptable.  The beauty of this example was three-fold:  (1)  They couldn’t deny it happened for it was clearly recorded in scripture (1 Samuel 21:1-6).  (2)  Unlike the argument against Jesus, this involved behavior that seemed explicitly and directly prohibited.  (3)  It involved a hero of the Old Testament whom they revered; it couldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

            Sidebar on the nature of the bread:  The Jews called them the loaves of the face, i.e., of the presence of God.  The bread was made of the finest wheaten flour that had been passed through eleven sieves.  There were twelve loaves, or cakes, according to the number of tribes, ranged in two piles of six each.  Each cake was made of about five pints of wheat.  They were anointed in the middle with oil, in the form of a cross.  According to tradition, each cake was five hand-breadths broad and ten long, but turned up at either end, two hand-breadths on each side, to resemble in outline the ark of the covenant.  The shewbread was prepared on Friday, unless that day happened to be a feast-day that required sabbatical rest; in which case it was prepared on Thursday afternoon.  The renewal of the shewbread was the first of the priestly functions on the commencement of the Sabbath.  The bread which was taken off was deposited on the golden table in the porch of the sanctuary, and distributed among the outgoing and incoming courses of priests. . . .”  (Vincent’s Word Studies


            2:27     And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  At work in David’s case--and that of Jesus’ own disciples--was that of proper priorities.  For all its holiness and importance, the Sabbath was still a tool.  A tool to benefit mankind with a time of rest from daily endeavors.  Mortals were to be benefited by the Sabbath rather than injured by it.  (The propriety of pulling animals out of the ditch on the Sabbath reflects the same standard:  Matthew 12:11.)  It isn’t a matter of rationalizing sin, but of setting the right priorities; of doing good rather than letting evil results occur.


            2:28     Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”  Here is the most radical assertion and the one they must have recoiled from the most for it leaves the clear cut impression that it is uniquely His right to make such Sabbath day “rulings.” Far less likely, it is possible that they viewed this as the assertion that all human beings had the inherent right to do what was best on the Sabbath--act as its “lord”--whether it always met the desired criteria of behavior for that day.  Truth be told, they would have hated the argument either way, but with the example of David firmly in hand, they had precious little with which to dodge the validity of the conclusion.

            His personal authority to ignore the traditional Sabbath rules--especially their glosses upon them--was to be put front and center in the Sabbath day synagogue healing that begins the next chapter.   In regard to the grain, our text only notes that it was when “His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain” (2:23) that the issue was raised.  No specific mention is made of Jesus Himself doing so.  What comes next, however, puts Him and His conduct directly at the center of the proper Sabbath day observance controversy.







Chapter Three




                        Jesus Claims Supernatural Authority to Regulate Even Sabbath Day      Observance Rules By Healing the Severely Disabled--Even In a Synagogue        (3:1-6):  1 Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man        was there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus         closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they       could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” 

                Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the     Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were         silent. After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the   hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your         hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the        Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him.     --New English     Translation (for comparison)



            3:1       And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  This man’s disability drastically reduced or even eliminated his ability to earn a livelihood, but in spite of that fact he did not neglect the opportunity to worship God.  Many, however, take the opposite approach and bitterly resent God for their physical problems.  Worse--and far less understandable--even if they lack such afflictions and even if He does provide them ample blessings, many still don’t take time to regularly worship.  They treat it as their inherent due rather than as a Divine gift to be deeply appreciated. 


            3:2       So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  Jesus had already demonstrated His willingness to transgress their rabbinic invented rules and it is not surprising that they were deeply suspicious that He would act in such a manner again.  Yet is there not something terribly self-condemning that their reaction would not be happiness at the potential betterment but annoyance over their traditions being violated?  Of course, in a very twisted sense, they were wanting Him to heal the man since they entered the synagogue hoping He would do something “that they might find an accusation [to make] against Him” (Luke 6:7)--and the healing gave them exactly that.  


            3:3       And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.”  Jesus took the initiative.  Whatever the man’s own inclinations, this put the responsibility strictly on the Lord’s shoulders and it would be impossible for them to credibly blame the healed for what was about to happen.


            3:4       Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  But they kept silent.  The question was quite logical and there was no answer to it compatible with their theology.  When there is no good answer it is easiest to keep the mouth shut and damn the other person in spite of that inability.  This outraged Jesus for we read. . . .


            3:5       And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  We don’t often read of Jesus getting outright angry because anger easily blinds one to considerations of fairness and justice, but there are also occasions so extreme that the only honorable reaction is anger.  Here the anger is aimed not at what they were actively doing but at the blind prejudice which they refused to even make the effort to defend (verse 4).  He “vented” it, not by doing evil to them, but by doing good to the suffering and removing his affliction.

            Sidebar:  This is “one of seven miracles wrought on the Sabbath-day. The other six were, (1) The demoniac at Capernaum (Mark 1:21); (2) Simon’s wife’s mother (Mark 1:29); (3) the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:9); (4) the woman with a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:14); (5) the man who had the dropsy (Luke 14:1); (6) the man born blind (John 9:14).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            3:6       Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.  How much did they include under the label of “destroy Him”?  Certainly at least destroy His influence and His reputation and calculate the ways they could most effectively do that. 

            That the Pharisees saw a potential linkage of political interests with their own distinctly religious opposition can be seen in their attempting to co-ordinate actions with the “Herodians.”  Theologically they had the same views as the Sadducees.  However their very name shows their acute loyalty to the political establishment.  We have no way to know whether they cast their fortunes with Herod Antipas on political grounds and only had modest religious interests or were religious figures who also took passionate interest in the political dreams of the broader Herod family.  Either way it is hard to read this as anything short of a Pharisee effort to broaden the anti-Jesus cabal.  The Pharisees had nothing to lose by this and, potentially, much to gain.             



                        Seaside Healings by Jesus (3:7-12):  Then Jesus went away with        his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee    followed him. And from JudeaJerusalem, Idumea, beyond the    Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came         to him when they heard about the things he had done. 

                Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small     boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward       him. 10 For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted       with diseases pressed toward him in order to touch him. 11 And         whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him       and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he sternly ordered   them not to make him known.     --New English Translation (for          comparison)



            3:7      But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea.  Curious individuals were so impressed with what they were hearing about Jesus--His teaching, His conflicts with the established religious authorities, and His miracles--that they sought Him out.  The broadness of the wording suggests that they came from a wide variety of places in both regions.  Especially those who came all the way from Judea. 

            These contacts would play an important role later as Jesus traveled about for they assured a wide spectrum of individuals already knew about Him.  They would have “primed the local pump” of interest for those who had not come into previous contact with Him.  It guaranteed Him a continuing audience wherever He went.

            The list begins with the two major geographic divisions we connect with Israel; the first being the northern region of Galilee.  However pious these folk might be it was still an area where there had historically been great interbreeding of Jew and Gentile.  Jewish though they were, they weren’t really “proper” Jews in the eyes of the dominant Jewish elements in Judea.  The Pharisees also lacked anywhere near the influence in the north that they had in the south.  There they defined spiritual propriety; when in the north they were horrified at the lack of it.


            3:8       and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  Jerusalem was the spiritual capital of Judaism and the dominant population center in Galilee.  Idumea was Jewish and south of Judea.  “Beyond the Jordan” means east of the Jordan and the identification comes because those associated with the gospels normally came from the west of that river.  In essence this is the area known as Peraea.

            In referring to “Tyre and Sidon” the author may have in mind either the region or the cities--quite likely both since the two can never be fully separated.  If we are thinking in terms of the region rather than the specific towns, think in terms of modern Lebanon.  Tyre is twelve miles from the 21st century border with Israel and Sidon twenty miles further north.

            The two cities, in the Old Testament, were bastions of pagan evil and domineering God’s people (see the description in Ezekiel 28).  In Jesus’ age they were both major Roman ports.  Although one can imagine an occasional Gentile becoming intrigued when hearing of Jesus, He was clearly a Jew and it would be Jews from that region who would have the strongest reason to be fascinated by the reports that came their way.  And since they were major ports, tradesmen--moving into and out of Galilee--would carry with them reports about this strange new Jewish teacher.

            The mention of these two specific cities in particular--of the many others that existed at the time--argues that there is some specific unstated reason for them being mentioned.  Probably to provide an explanation for why Jesus would later go into that region (Mark 7:24).      


            3:9       So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  The problem with a huge crowd lies in the pure numbers involved.  Even with the best of good will, they can get out of hand and walk over each other and do actual harm without meaning to.  Picture the crowds at a popular modern concert, moving with emotion and happiness--feeling, not thinking.  Jesus was acutely aware that they could, literally, walk all over Him, “crush Him” beneath their feet and, in their horror, would then wonder what they had done.  So Jesus assured that a boat was kept handy for His safety.  The potentially volatile situation was produced by the magnitude of His success. . . .


            3:10     For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  The healings were numerous (“many”) and covered a wide variety of difficulties--notice that the broad term “afflictions” is used rather than any one specific, narrower description.  Part of the reason for the broader terminology probably lies in the fact that not just natural disease was being encountered and removed. . . .


            3:11     And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.”  The terminology is intriguing:  unclean spirits.”  They didn’t just do evil to others by inflicting pain and suffering; they were evil.  In a very literal way one could say of them, “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20, of false prophets).  


            3:12     But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.  If “Son of God” meant nothing more than “pious man sent from God”--or anything that does not take us beyond past human experience--why would Jesus prohibit them from saying this?  Only if the expression carried with it a massive theological “weight” above and beyond the natural usage (= “pious servant of God”) does the prohibition make full sense.  Furthermore everyone who heard and saw what was happening surely recognized or suspected that this was the subtext behind the words they were hearing.  What else could it be?  



                        Jesus “Promotes” Twelve Disciples To be Apostles (3:13-18):  13 Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and         they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve (whom he named      apostles), so that they would be with him and he could send         them to preach 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 

                16 He appointed twelve: To Simon he gave the name         Peter; 17 to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he        gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”); 18 and     Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son   of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot,       who betrayed him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:13     And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  In the underlying Greek as well as in English we read of how He went up “on the mountain” and not the broader “a mountain”--as if an euphemism for some specific site is being used.  It could be called “the mountain” because it was used only on this one occasion (hence its special importance in the memory of the apostles) or because multiple occurrences of private interactions with the inner circle periodically occurred there throughout the public ministry.

            It is often assumed to be the same mountain on the side of which the Sermon on the Mount was delivered.  Although that site was only specifically identified in surviving records in the 300s and a church erected there, it is at most only a reasonable location.  But one must also wonder whether that accessible a site would have been chosen when Jesus wanted to be assured of being out of easy contact with the crowds and be able to appoint His cadre of apostles in strict privacy.    


            3:14    Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.  The twelve men He appointed were not to be “executives” (to use modern terminology)--they were to be the ditch diggers, the men who would do the hard work of expanding the borders of the Jesus movement . . . teaching others what Jesus had taught and explaining how they could apply those principles to their lives.  For that matter, doing whatever else was necessary as well. 


            3:15     and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.  Teaching was not enough at this stage.  They were not learned scribes or Pharisees.  They were simply hard working men like could be found throughout the country.  How were they to prove that their teaching had validity?  By doing what those who were (supposedly) book knowledgeable could not do:  heal the sick and expel demons.  The audience might not be sufficiently skilled to intellectually pick apart all that was being said, but they could certainly tell that if a person did the “impossible”--such as these miraculous healings were--the odds were vastly greater that their scriptural exegesis was profoundly more correct than those who had mere words and tradition to support themselves.


            3:16     Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter.  The fact that he is at the top of the list shows just how valued Peter already was to Jesus.  He saw in him a man uniquely qualified to put special trust in.  This wasn’t to think less of the others, but to give Peter his full credit.


            3:17     James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder.”  To be nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” tells us much about their enthusiasm and passion.  They were the type of men who were going to stand out in any crowd because of it.

            Sidebar:  “We may see in the name thus given a witness to the fiery zeal of the sons of Zebedee, seen, e.g., in their wish to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54), and John’s desire to stop the work of one who cast out devils (Luke 9:49), or the prayer of the two brothers that they might sit on their Lord’s right hand and on His left in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21).  It was, we may well believe, that burning zeal that made James the proto-martyr of the Apostolic company (Acts 12:2).  We can scarcely fail to trace in the multiplied ‘thunderings and voices’ of the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:5, 6:1, 8:5) . . . that which was in harmony with the spiritual being of the Seer, and with the name which his Lord had thus given him.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  


            3:18     Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite.  Although Simon’s description as “the Cananite” is not all that popular among translations any more, those that prefer something along that line have been known to alter it to “the Cananaean” (ASV, ERV, ISV, Weymouth), i.e., someone from the city of Cana.  Popular translations mostly prefer to speak of his as being “the Zealot” (ESV, NASB, NIV, etc.)--referring to the violent, revolutionary movement of the day.  “The Patriot” (in the GNT) is a euphemism for the same thing. 

            If one wishes to strip the political aspects and use the expression metaphorically, then the connotation would surely be “the Eager One” (as in the CEV).  Interestingly, the ancient Biblical translator and scholar Jerome believed that a double allusion was intended to both his civic origin and his religious enthusiasm.

            The apostles are a fascinating “mixed bag:”  Men of fiery temperament (Peter and the “Sons of Thunder,”), a man with quite possible roots in political revolution (Simon), and the tax-collector Matthew--identified in Matthew 10:3 as such but introduced under the alternate name of Levi in Mark 2:13-16.  Yet Jesus was able to blend together this highly disparate group into sharing a common goal and purpose.  They began “poles apart” in preferences and assumptions and each had to learn a profound lesson about adapting to very different individuals while working together for the same ends.        


            3:19     and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.  And they went into a house.  The reader is warned from the very first time that he is mentioned that this Judas is going to betray the Lord.  There is no effort to explain why this will ultimately happen and there is no hint that any of the other apostles were at all suspicious of him or his actions during the ministry.  Today we would say that he is the “ticking time bomb” in their midst that will take them all completely unaware--except for Jesus.  Yet no one made Judas carry out the betrayal; it was all within his own free will.  Like today “free will” guarantees no specific outcome for the very reason that it does give you the full liberty to act either in a constructive or a destructive manner.  Not to mention the responsibility for how that liberty is used or misused.



                        Efforts To Discredit Jesus' Demonic Healings--And The Extreme Evil    of Doing So (3:20-30):  20 Now Jesus went home, and a crowd     gathered so that         they were not able to eat. 21 When his family         heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out        of his mind.” 22 The experts in the law who came down from     Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” 

                                23 So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How         can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. 25 If a house is divided        against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan   rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and         his end has come. 27 But no one is able to enter a strong man’s         house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house. 

                28 I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 (because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”).

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:20     Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.  The crowd had become so large and unmanageable that it was impossible to even find room or time enough to sit down and eat.  This context of things being “unmanageable” should not be overlooked in evaluating what His relatives wanted to do next.  They were “spooked” not only by what He was doing but by the very degree of success He had enjoyed.   


            3:21     But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”  His teaching had enjoyed success beyond anything that could imaginably be attributed to the work of a mere “carpenter” (Mark 6:3)--the career his father had earned a living with before Him (Matthew 13:55).  He was not from a rabbinic family or a scholarly one at all.  His varied astounding healings of disease and demon possessions would have brought awe, but also more than a little alarm about what was happening:  there was simply no precedent for them to work from.  And now this vast uncontrollable crowd on top of it all!  There is simply no way a sane man would want to be in the middle of all this chaos--is there? 

            Word had gotten back to them--“when His own people heard (rather than saw) what was happening--they made this decision to intervene.  They reasoned that “He is out of His mind” if He thinks He can control all this!  If not a questioning of His literal sanity then at least of His ability to harness the situation for good rather than chaos.  He simply does not have the right background to hope to control all this; He is out of His depth.  Hence, for His own protection, they needed to get Him away from all this. 

            Out of such concerns they leave their home to go where He is.  They only arrive close by in verse 31 and the intervening verses brief us on the passionate disagreement that had erupted between the scribes and the Lord.


            3:22     And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”  There is no way to challenge that the impossible has occurred.  For one thing there are too many cases of it--both now and in the past.  Furthermore kin who are rejoicing will be no less than outraged at them for falsely charging the healed as guilty of fraud.

            They need something targeting just Jesus.  Since the Devil’s supporters have been purged from the bodies of the suffering, would not the Devil himself have the power to accomplish the same thing?  After all, as his supporters and servants, they must obey him.  Hence the two lines of attack that Jesus is demon possessed (“He has Beelzebub”) and that it is demonic power that is used to “cast out demons.”  In either case non-human power is being exercised, but nothing any honorable man would want to be associated with!

            Sidebar:  As argued in the following verses, the Devil would be destroying His own cause if he treated his own demons this way.  Ordering them to leave temporarily might be a different story.  To the extent that the exorcists in Acts 19:13 were ever successful at all, could this have been the case?  As well as that of the alleged successes of His critic’s own offspring?  These Jesus refers to in rebutting His foes in the parallel account in Matthew 12:27:  “by whom do your sons cast them out?” 

            In saying this it should not be overlooked that the Devil unquestionably could produce a variety of “positive” looking pseudo-miracles that would be adequate to deceive many.  For Jesus Himself spoke of how, before the fall of Jerusalem, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). 

            Paul also spoke of how such a challenge lay in the future for those far from Jerusalem as well, using language that requires more than normal human fakery, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wondersand with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved“ (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).  Note, however, that though the fake miracles will provide the excuse for apostasy, the root reason will be a lack of love for God’s Divinely revealed truth. 

            Jesus now proceeds to point out that regardless of what types of chicanery the Devil may become involved in, casting out his own demons emphatically will never be one of them. . . .


            3:23     So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables:  “How can Satan cast out Satan?  Mark uses the term “parables,” the plural indicating that each of the four short arguments in verses 24-27 constitute one of them.  We normally associate “parable” with the idea of a short story illustrating a spiritual truth.  Here the “story” element in each case is reduced to an absolute minimum, though we can easily imagine each of the points being elaborated on at length if He had chosen to do so.  The value of such brevity is that the argument is so concise that it is hard to miss the point even if one tries.


            3:24     If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  An intensely divided nation collapses--either into chaos . . . or the hands of a dictator . . . or the control of a foreign power.  One thing it can’t do is continue to prosper and do well.  What exists is going to crumple and that is just as certain as the sun rising.  In Matthew’s (12:25) presentation of this teaching--as in Luke’s (11:17)--the consequence of the division is that it “is brought to desolation.”


            3:25     And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  The “house” refers, of course, to the family unit that dwells within it.  And even “family” would often mean “closely related kin” (including grandparents and close relatives); if a rather prosperous family, there would also be servants working for them.  If there is chaos within, the group is torn apart in hostile factions and the only thing they have in common is the roof over their heads.  The cause may be religion--read the description of a house divided over loyalty to Christ in Luke 12:52-53--or virtually anything else under the sun.  A warped mind can turn the best of worlds into the worst and a mediocre situation into a disaster.


            3:26     And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.  Satan’s success hinges upon a uniform policy.  To curse with affliction while simultaneously being willing to lift that affliction undermines the unity of effort and purpose essential to his long-term success.  Satan may be many things, but stupid is not one of them.


            3:27    No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  And then he will plunder his house.  Satan is obviously a “strong man” for look at the harm he has inflicted on others through his demons!  Yet Jesus has been able to “bind” (limit) the powers of the Devil by removing sufferers from it; He has rescued the sufferers from his grasp.  Although speaking of the cross and the resurrection, Paul’s words in Colossians 2:15 have obvious echoes in what happens in Jesus’ exorcisms:  “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”  He showed that His power far exceeded any they had or ever could have.  

            Sidebar:  Revelation 20:1-3 refers to a later long-term binding that would also dramatically limit Satan’s capacity to interfere with earth-side events and actions.


            3:28     “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter.  If there is one universal generalization it is that forgiveness of sin is available to every single person.  Even the vile insults (“blasphemies”) they offer.  But like all generalizations, there are exceptions.  In this case one exception applies. . . .


            3:29     but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”  One can get into a prolonged discussion of whether this refers to a one time act or an ongoing mindframe.  The latter makes far better sense and is more obviously consistent with other Biblical teaching on the willingness of God to forgive “all” sin.  However to the kind of person who is so desperate that they could recklessly and with no good reason throw at Jesus the charge that He was demon-possessed and was able to heal only through the powers Satan gave Him, one wonders whether there is much of a difference.  If the mind is this warped, can there be any change?  The one time accusation will repeatedly be invoked whenever the subject arises will it not? 


            3:30     because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”  There were attacks on Jesus that He was quite willing to forgive but the one that that demonic power made possible His miracles of exorcism was one that could not be forgiven because it was also a “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (verse 29).  In other words, it was an insult of others in the Godhead as well as an insult to Jesus alone. 

            Sidebar:  “ ‘They said (ἔλεγον).  Imperfect tense.  They kept saying, or persisted in saying.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)  Not a rash statement, never said again, but one that they repeated and repeated.  Surely not just on that particular day either:  Did they have any choice but to make this their standard explanation since the successes had to be explained in some manner that did not undermine their own position or superior authority?



                        Spiritual Kin Are Just as Important as Earthly Kin (3:31-35):       31 Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came. Standing outside,     they sent word to him, to summon him. 32 A crowd was sitting        around him and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your         brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 He answered them and said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at     those who were sitting around him in a circle, he said, “Here are      my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God   is my brother and sister and mother.”      --New English Translation   (for comparison)



            3:31     Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.  His closest kin had already determined to get Him away from the huge crowds and all the controversy that was going on (see verses 20-21) and they were now present and determined to carry out their plans.  The first step was to get Him away from His followers; the second was surely to hustle Him, protestingly, back home.  They meant well, but well meant plans are still not always the best ones.


            3:32     And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”  Those physically close to Jesus relayed word of the presence of His mother and kin.  This was the courteous thing to do, especially since they had no idea of what they intended.  Jesus, however, had no intention of going anywhere.  Rather than risk insulting family, He chose to compliment the disciples. . . .


            3:33     But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?  There was no denying that family was important, but is family strictly and only defined by genetic relationships?  Jesus throws this question out to them.


            3:34     And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers.  He doesn’t wait for them to answer His question but provides His own “visual” answer:  He looks around and asserts that all of them are also His kin.  Not distant kin, but the close kind--His family, “My mother and My brothers.”  In other words, they have the relationship with each other that exists within such a group--but based on mutual spiritual ties rather than physical ones.   


            3:35     For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”  It is doing God’s will that determines whether one has a shared family kinship in the Divine kingdom.  Temporal kin are wonderful, but spiritual kin just as much.  We are “stuck” with the temporal kind because it is the result of the “accident” of what household we are born into.  But spiritual kinship is established by an intentional act on our part, the decision to cast our future with Christ and His kingdom.  No wonder conversion is called the “new birth” for through it we are born into a new and additional family.  And, because of hostility from physical kin, it may become not just our new family, but our only real one.