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Edward F. Markquart

Series B
Healings on the Sabbath: Gospel Analysis

EPIPHANY 9A         Mark 2:23-3:6

Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 44-45. 


According to the Gospels, Jesus was involved in sixteen healing miracles, whereby God, through Jesus and the power of faith, healed a person.

The Gospel of Mark records ten consecutive incidents at the beginning of his Gospel where Jesus was involved with people being healed of their diseases. These healings were signs that the reign of God was present.

Please examine the Gospel Analyses for Epiphany 4B. .

#46 PLUCKING GRAIN ON THE SABBATH     Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5

- One Sabbath  This story is a continuation of the previous story.

-He was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

-The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"On the Sabbath, the disciples were picking grain and rubbing the grain in their hands. The Pharisees declared that such actions were considered work and the violation of God’s law not to work on the Sabbath.

This is a wonderful illustration of how degenerated a good religion can become.

For the Pharisees, their religion had deteriorated into rules, regulations and rituals. Rulers, regulations and rituals became more important than mercy and kindness, more important than serving other human beings in need.

-And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions."Jesus is again brilliant in his insights into the Old Testament and the way he uses the Old Testament to serve his own point of view.

-Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."This statement is grounds for blasphemy. In this passage, Jesus is not accused of blasphemy, but he clearly indicates that the Son of Man (himself) is the Lord of the Sabbath. Only God was the Lord of the Sabbath. Notice that again, Jesus, says that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath, and as he does so, Jesus is referring to himself.

  #47  THE MAN WITH THE WITHERED HAND     Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11

- Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. Jesus entered the synagogue. It seems that we are back in the synagogue in Capernaum. From previous Gospel Analyses beginning with Epiphany 4B, we remember the photographs of the reconstruction of that ancient synagogue.

-They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. The previous story has set the stage for Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, which was against the Pharisees' petty interpretation of the laws of the Torah. The past two incidents have laid the groundwork for this story of the man with the withered hand being healed on the Sabbath.

Throughout the gospels, there is a consistent theme that the Pharisees and religious leaders were plotting against Jesus and trying to find some legitimate accusation against Jesus for disobeying their strict interpretations of Jewish law. We smile inwardly as we see the cleverness and intellectual craftiness of Jesus, who circumvents their arguments. By using the logic of their own Jewish Torah, Jesus demonstrates the truth about God.

-And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward."

- He said to them, "Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." (Matthew only) Circle the word, “sheep.” In the previous incident and in this incident of the man with the withered hand, Jesus (through Matthew) adds an appropriate quotation from the Old Testament. This quotation illustrates the truth of what he is saying. Jesus knew how to use the Scripture to support his arguments about the truth of God. Similarly, we today, need to know how to use Scripture when arguing with contemporary Christian legalists who seem bent on condemning people to hell and everlasting damnation. Certain Christian legalists know how to use the Bible to condemn people with whom they disagree and disapprove.

-Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?" What a clever question. Jesus stunned those Pharisees with his impeccable logic. Jesus used their own Scriptures against the hardness of their hearts and minds.

-But they were silent. Jesus stopped those Pharisees in their tracks and they had nothing to say.

-He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart, This is the only time in the Scripture that the gospel tells us that Jesus had anger. It takes a lot to get Jesus mad and the petty arguments of the Pharisees pressed his “hot button.” Notice that Matthew and Luke omit Jesus’ reference to being “angry” as if his being angry would be too human. (We recall Jesus cleansing the temple and driving out the money changers, but the word, “anger,” is not used in that story although Jesus was using a whip and appeared angry at the desecration of the temple.)

Underline the phrase, “hardness of heart.” Later in this course, we will teach that "hardness of heart" is the essence of the sin against the Holy Spirit.

See appendix to this GOSPEL ANALYSIS about “their hardness of heart.” “Their hardness of heart” could be the preaching theme for Epiphany 9A.

-And said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

-The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was in power in this province of Galilee, and it is assumed that the Herodians were people of the ruling class who were associated with the reigning governor of Galilee.

Write in the margins of your textbook:: “Thus begins the plot for the Pharisees to plan for the execution of Jesus.” The seed was planted at this moment for the unfolding drama and events that led up to Good Friday and Jesus’ death on the cross, all carefully orchestrated by the Pharisees.

-They were filled with fury and discussed one another what they might do to Jesus. (only Luke). Circle the word, “they”, and write in the word, “Pharisees.” They were filled with fury against Jesus because he violated all of their interpretations of the Old Testament and Jesus also claimed that he was the Lord of the Sabbath, equating himself with God (blasphemy).

#48 JESUS HEALS MULTITUDES BY THE SEA     Matthew 4:24-25, Mark 3:7-12, Luke 6:17-19

- Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, Jesus left the village synagogue at Capernaum and went to the lake. We can easily imagine the synagogue in Capernaum and see Jesus walk to the lakeshore.

-And a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. Jesus’ fame had really spread. People from Galilee and Judea and Iduemea and even beyond the Jordan River and as far north as Tyre and Sidon. Yes, the power of legend was beginning to build around the healing ministry of this Jesus from Nazareth. From the far north in the area of Sidon and Tyre, and from the far south near Jerusalem; from north to south and east to west, Jesus’ popularity was accelerating and mushrooming. 

-He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. We recall from earlier lessons the photograph of an ancient fishing boat that was twenty-six feet long and had room enough for fifteen men.

-They brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. (only Matthew) These were the known diseases of that ancient world. All the people from the various wings of an ancient hospital came to Jesus for healing, and we still do today. Jesus healed them all/many. Jesus and God still want to heal all people of all diseases.

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, "You are the Son of God!" But he sternly ordered them not to make him known. It is the unclean spirits who recognize the truth about Jesus, the Great Physician.

 -Power came forth from him to heal them all. (Only Luke)  Luke, the author, is forever talking about this power of God that lived in Jesus, that lived in the New Testament Christians in the book of Acts, and still lives in Christians today.

Gustave Dore, 1866



#118. THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT     Matthew 12:31-37, Mark 3:28-30           

Both Matthew and Mark’s gospels connect the sin against the Holy Spirit with the previous story about the Pharisees who said that Jesus was empowered by Satan rather than God. In other words, for both Matthew and Mark’s gospel, the Pharisees were the primary example of people who commits blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, Matthew 12:31. Circle the word, “therefore.” Matthew specifically connects the story about the unforgivable sin with the previous story about the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees.

After the title of #118, The Sin against the Holy Spirit, write the following words: = hardness of heart of the Pharisees.

Having doubts, depression, and questions are not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

All people go through periods of doubts and questionings about God, Christ, the Bible, and everything else under heaven. Similarly, all people go through periods of depression when they feel that God is far away from them or that they are far away from God. These attitudes and actions are not the “hardness of heart” or “the unforgivable sin” that the Bible talks about, but are part of our human condition.

The sin against the Holy Spirit is the hardness of heart towards God/Christ.

-Therefore I tell you,

-Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men/people.  Circle the word, “every,” and write near that word, “every single sin of our lives.” From both the Old Testament and from the New Testament, we know that God is miraculously forgiving and generous in mercy. God will forgive all of our sins, not matter how heinous and atrocious.

-But the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. What does that mean? Many Christians ask: What is this unforgivable sin anyhow? The answer is this: hardness of heart. Some people’s hearts become so hard, that the Word and Spirit of God cannot penetrate. The Pharisees were a primary example of this. The hearts of the Pharisees were hard against Jesus and his words and kingdom. The Pharisees actually claimed that Jesus’ heart was full of evil and the demonic rather than full of the Living Spirit of God. The Pharisees were totally blind to the Spirit of love that lived within Jesus. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul also talks about the fact that a human heart can become very hard (Pharaoh, Romans 9:11). In the parable about the seed, some soil is planted on the “hard path” and the seed cannot penetrate the hard path that has become like stone. So it is with some human beings: their hearts have become hard like stone towards God and the things of God (love, mercy, the kingdom, Christ). We hear similar words in a contemporary hymn, entitled HERE I AM LORD. The words of the second stanza say: “I the Lord of snow and rain, I have born my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone. Give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send?” One of the purposes of God is to break human hearts that are made of stone.

- Jesus looked at them (the Pharisees) with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart.” Here we see the hardness of the Pharisee’s hearts.  Page 45, Mark 3:5. Underline this sentence. Graft this sentence into your hearts. This was the fundamental problem of the Pharisees: hardness of heart. They had hearts made out of stone.

-All sins and blasphemies of human beings (sons of men) will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness.  (Mark) This teaching is clear in the Gospel of Mark: all sins committed by human beings will be forgiven, except for hardness of heart (blaspheming the Holy Spirit.) We can understand this teaching. This teaching makes sense to us.

-Whoever says a wordagainst the Son of manwill be forgiven, but whoever speaks a word against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Often, a sentence or a story is clearer in one gospel than another gospel. Mark’s version of this teaching is clearer than Matthew’s and Luke’s. As a Biblical principle of interpretation, we go to clearer verses to understand less clear verses.

Matthew (vs. 32) and Luke’s (vs. 10) version slightly changes Mark’s wording.  In Matthew and Luke’s version, cross out the words, “Son of man,” and write in the word, “mankind” or “children.” This phrase makes more sense if it reads, “mankind” rather than “Son of man.” The line then agrees with Mark. 

I agree with those Biblical scholars who say that Mark’s version is clearer than Matthew and Luke’s version of the same teaching. That is, Mark is crystal clear: “All sins committed by humans are forgivable except for the sin against the Holy Spirit (hardness of heart).”

Matthew and Luke repeat Mark’s basic Bible verse, and then say that a “word against the Son of man will be forgiven.” Matthew and Luke replace Mark’s “a word against men” with “a word against the Son of man.” The phrase, “a word against the Son of man” causes confusion. Matthew and Luke do not mean that words spoken against Jesus will be forgiven. The focus of Matthew and Luke’s verse is not sinning against Jesus, the Son of man; the focus in Matthew and Luke is that all human beings sin and that all sins committed by human beings will be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Spirit (hardness of heart.) 

In other words, it seems that the translators may have made a mistake and translated “words against the Son of man,” and those Greek words should have been translated, “words against mankind/humans.”

Often, a version of the same story or sentence is clearer in one gospel than the other gospels, and Mark’s version of this teaching is clearer than Matthew’s and Luke’s. As a Biblical principle of interpretation, we go to clearer verses to understand less clear verses.

-The tree is known by its fruit/you will know them by their fruits/each tree is known by its own fruits. Luke’s version is the clearest, when he writes: “Figs are not gathered from thorns, not are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” In other words, we expect certain fruit will come from certain vines. That is just the way it is.

-The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil. Luke. We know this to be true: the key factor in human behavior is the heart of a particular human being. A heart filled with love will produce good actions; a heart filled with hatred will produce evil actions. We all know this. It is true to our human experience, and it was also true to Jesus in his teachings.

-Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Luke. We know this to be true as well. When a heart is full of love, loving words flow from that heart. A heart that is filled with evil rage and jealously, anger and jealousy will permeate the words and vocabulary.

-You brood of vipers, how can you speak good when you are evil? Matthew. Circle the phrase, “brood of vipers,” and write the word, “Pharisees.” Jesus calls a spade a spade, and he calls the Pharisees nothing but a brood of poisonous snakes. The Pharisees’ hearts were filled with evil, and were like poisonous snakes spitting out poisonous venom. So it was with the Pharisees.

-For I tell you on the day of judgment. Once again and repeatedly, Jesus believed that all human beings would face a final day of judgment. We will be judged by the words that we say because our words reveal the love or hostility in our hearts.

DISCUSSION QUESTION: DO YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO YOU THINK HAS A HARD HEART TOWARDS GOD AND THE WAYS OF GOD?  (How do you know that? Are you playing the judge? Is a tree known by its fruit and is the character of a person who has a hard heart revealed by his/her actions?)


DISCUSSION QUESTION: DO YOU THINK THAT SADDAM HUSSEIN/OR THE TERRORISTS HAVE A HARD HEART TO GOD AND THE WAYS OF GOD? (How do you know that? Are you playing the judge of Hussein’s heart? Is a tree known by its fruit and is the character of Saddam Hussein/a terrorist bomber revealed by his actions?) (This course was being taught during the war with Iraq and therefore the question was in the minds of the class members. In another class at a later day, the question about Saddam Hussein may become a question about another political figure who is similar to Saddam Hussein.)

#119. THE SIGN OF JONAH     Matthew 12:38-42, Mark 8:11-12, Luke 11:16, 29-32

-Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him. Matthew. The story of the “sin against the Holy Spirit” is bracketed (before and after) with two stories about the Pharisees. Circle the word, “Pharisees,” in Mark’s parallel.

Matthew, “some.” Circle the word, “some” and write: “not all the scribes and Pharisees were against him.”  Some of the scribes and Pharisees were against him; but not ALL of the scribes and Pharisees were opposed to Jesus. We know of the Apostle Paul who was a converted Pharisee. We know of Nicodemus who came to him at night and was a Pharisee. We know that some unnamed Pharisees warned Jesus “to get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31-31, page 190, #212)  So the Pharisees of the New Testament were not universally against Jesus.

-Teacher, we wish to see a sign from heaven from you. Circle the word, “sign,” in all five columns. At some times in their lives, all people go searching for signs from heaven in order to believe. They/we want some evidence, some verification, some proof of God’s existence, God’s abundant mercy, the divinity of Christ, the sacredness of the Scriptures, etc. in order to believe. We all know that such basic concepts rest on faith, not proof; on trust, not verification. Even so, at times, we want proof and signs from God to verify or substantiate our fundamental beliefs.

-This evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign. Underline the phrase, “evil and adulterous generation” and write the words, “scribes and Pharisees.” The Pharisees believed that the power inside of Jesus was satanic and their Pharisaical hearts were hard and hostile against Jesus. Now, these same Pharisees were seeking for a sign from heaven that would authentic the true identity of Jesus. “Adulterous generation” does not mean that this particular generation was having numerous extra-marital affairs. Rather, this phrase refers to the people of God when they are “having affairs with the gods of their culture.” This happened repeatedly in the Old Testament: the people of God would go “a-whoring” after the gods of their surrounding culture. We do the same today.

Q or Quella? Notice that the analogy of Jonah and the queen of the South are parallel in Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark. It seems that in this section, Matthew and Luke may be copying from the same/similar source e.g. Q or Quella. The ideas are similar in both Matthew and Luke but in a different sequence.

-No sign shall be given to this generation except the sign of Jonah. The only sign that will be given to this evil generation will be the sign of Jonah who was in the belly of the earth for three days. The Pharisees wanted to see some grand sign from heaven but the only sign that would be given them would be the death of the Son of man. The Pharisees could not see the signs of God’s kingdom around them and in Jesus because their eyes were blind and their ears were deaf.

-For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. This is Jesus’ first reference to his coming death and being in the grave for three days, Friday-Sunday. The reference is veiled; it is oblique; and his disciples don’t comprehend that Jesus was talking about his own death and being buried for three days in the grave. Some scholars get technical at this point, and observe that Jesus was in the grave for only two nights, Friday and Saturday, and not three nights. From my point of view, it is the truth of the analogy that is important and not the details of the analogy. The analogy is understandable: that is, Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and Jesus was in the belly of the earth for three days.

-For they repented at the preaching of Jonah.  The people in Nineveh repented at the preaching, but the Pharisees did not repent. That is the point of this sentence: the Pharisees did not repent of the spiritual blindness of their eyes and the spiritual deafness of their ears.

-Something greater than Jonah is here. Highline and write: the Messiah.

-The queen of the South. Highlight and write: “the Queen of Sheba.” From the Old Testament and I Kings, we remember the story of the Queen of Sheba coming to listen to the wisdom of Solomon who was wiser than all the sages of history.

-Something greater than Solomon is here. Highlight and write: the Messiah.

#120. THE RETURN OF THE EVIL SPIRIT     Matthew 12:41-43, Luke 11:24-26

Q again. The parallels are from Matthew and Luke and there is no other source. The parallel words are exact and precise.

An analogy of the blackberry bushes. When we first moved into our home years ago, the hillside in front of our home was filled with blackberry bushes that had been there for decades. I had to dig out those blackberry bushes by the roots. I had tried chemicals on the blackberries and the chemicals didn’t work. I had tried to burn them with fire but fire didn’t work. I had tried to cut them down in the spring, and fall, but those blackberry bushes kept coming back with a vengeance. The only was to get rid of the blackberries was to dig each bush out by the roots. Those roots were deep and large and took plenty of work to eradicate. But that was only half of the job. I then needed to replant the whole hillside with a healthy and good “green cover” e.g. tam junipers. I couldn’t leave the hillside bare or other weeds and blackberry bushes would come back. I needed to plant new and healthy shrubs. I did, and the hill was covered with tam junipers. So it is with our lives. We not only need to get rid of evil and evil habits in our lives; we need to replace those evil habits with good habits, the healthy habits of God’s kingdom and reign.

This analogy could be applied to international politics. It is important to weed out the terrorists like a person weeds out the blackberry bushes from the hillside. You need to dig the terrorists organizations out at the roots that are deeply imbedded in the soil. But that is only half of the battle. You need to replant that area of the world with something good, with good plants, with good government, good jobs, good schools, good families, good medical resources. We need the goodness of God to grow in those situations.

-When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none.

-Then it says, "I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order.

-Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation."


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