Read the Passage: Mark 3
The Sabbath is an important theme in this book, as in his Gospel Mark mentions the Sabbath 11 times. In Mark 2:23–28 Jesus was asked by the Pharisees why His disciples were breaking the Sabbath. In response, Jesus pointed out that it was not the Sabbath that His disciples were failing to keep, but the Pharisees’ erroneous interpretation of the Sabbath. Further, in His question to the religious leaders recorded in Mark 2:24–26, Christ implied that the Pharisees were guilty of legalism—that is, teaching a works-based form of righteousness. By way of correction, Jesus taught, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27–28). While Mark does not record the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ teaching here, they surely were not pleased, which led to Christ’s encounter with a crippled man on the Sabbath as is recorded in Mark 3:1–6.
Mark 3:1–6 is the last of five consecutive conflict episodes between Jesus and the religious leaders. This passage begins with Mark recording that Jesus “entered the synagogue again” (Mark 3:1). Most likely, this refers to the synagogue in Capernaum where Christ had previously cast a demon out of a possessed man (cf. Mark 1:21–28). It seems probable that the presence of a crippled man at this synagogue was arranged by the Pharisees, for they were closely watching Jesus to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath. After commanding the man to step forward, Christ asked the Pharisees if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath (cf. Mark 3:3–4). As with His question at Mark 2:25–26, it seems that Jesus’ question of the Pharisees here is designed to highlight the rulers’ legalism and distortion of the law, for nowhere in the Old Testament is healing on the Sabbath prohibited.
Unsurprisingly, the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ healing of the crippled man was to plot to kill Him, even forming an alliance to do so with the Herodians, a rival political party (cf. Mark 3:6). Yet, the response of the multitudes was to follow Christ (cf. Mark 3:7–8). Mark notes that a great multitude from all around Palestine came to see Jesus at this early point in His ministry. As He had done earlier (cf. Mark 1:32–34), so here Jesus healed many in the crowds, casting out demons, and teaching the people. As before, Jesus instructed those who were healed to not make Him known (cf. Mark 1:44; 3:12). Mark 3:13–19 contains a list of the twelve apostles. Parallel lists occur at Matt. 10:2–4; Luke 6:14–16; Acts 1:13; yet, interestingly, the order of apostles varies from list to list. Regarding the names of Jesus’ apostles, note that elsewhere “Thaddaeus” (Mark 3:18) is called “Lebbaeus” (Matt. 10:3), as well as “Judas” (Luke 6:16; John 14:22; Acts 1:13).
In Mark 3:22–27 Jesus teaches on what has become known as the unpardonable sin. In reading Matthew’s parallel account of this teaching, it is easier to understand the context of this passage. In short, Jesus gave this teaching immediately after the scribes and Pharisees had rejected the divine origin of His healing of a demon-possessed, blind, and mute man (cf. Matt. 12:22–27)—a miracle that Mark omits. After this healing, as is recorded in Mark 2:22, the religious leaders ascribed this undeniable miracle to the power of Satan. Jesus’ response was two-fold. First, Christ pointed out the illogical nature of such a claim (cf. Mark 3:23–27). Second, Jesus declared, “He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). The idea here is that if one turns their back on or denies the only source of forgiveness—that is, God—then forgiveness is not available.
At Mark 3:20–21 it was noted that while large crowds of people were following Jesus, “His own people [i.e., Jesus’ family] . . . went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mark 3:21). In this same context, at Mark 3:31 it is reported to Christ that His mother and His brothers were looking for Him. Surely Jesus knew that His mother and brothers did not yet believe in Him. Therefore, in response, Christ taught that His followers were His family. Further, by way of absolute clarity, Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). Later, Jesus would teach, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life” (cf. Luke 14:25–27).
- Like the Pharisees, are you ever tempted to make external elements—like religious customs or worship practices—overly important and/or a test of orthodoxy?
- Do you think the man with the crippled hand was coincidentally present at the synagogue or was this encounter engineered by the Pharisees to trap Jesus?
- Why did the Pharisees refuse to answer Jesus’ question at both Mark 2:25–26; 3:4? Why was Christ angry with the religious leaders?
- What is the unpardonable sin? Why is this sin unforgivable? Can believers ever commit the unpardonable sin, or is this sin limited to unbelievers?
- What did Jesus mean in saying that His followers were His family? What relationships have you had to give up in order to follow Jesus?