Mark 3:21
And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) And when his friends . . .—Literally, those from Himi.e., from His home. As the “mother and the brethren” are mentioned later on in the chapter as coming to check His teaching, we must see in these some whom they had sent with the same object. To them the new course of action on which our Lord had entered seemed a sign of over-excitement, recklessly rushing into danger. We may, perhaps, see in the random word thus uttered that which gave occasion to the more malignant taunt of the scribes in the next verse. They were saying now, as they said afterwards (John 10:20), “He hath a devil, and is mad.”

Mark

‘HE IS BESIDE HIMSELF’

Mark 3:21
.

There had been great excitement in the little town of Capernaum in consequence of Christ’s teachings and miracles. It had been intensified by His infractions of the Rabbinical Sabbath law, and by His appointment of the twelve Apostles. The sacerdotal party in Capernaum apparently communicated with Jerusalem, with the result of bringing a deputation from the Sanhedrim to look into things, and see what this new rabbi was about. A plot for His assassination was secretly on foot. And at this juncture the incident of my text, which we owe to Mark alone of the Evangelists, occurs. Christ’s friends, apparently the members of His own family-sad to say, as would appear from the context, including His mother-came with a kindly design to rescue their misguided kinsman from danger, and laying hands upon Him, to carry Him off to some safe restraint in Nazareth, where He might indulge His delusions without doing any harm to Himself. They wish to excuse His eccentricities on the ground that He is not quite responsible-scarcely Himself; and so to blunt the point of the more hostile explanation of the Pharisees that He is in league with Beelzebub.

Conceive of that! The Incarnate Wisdom shielded by friends from the accusation that He is a demoniac by the apology that He is a lunatic! What do you think of popular judgment? But this half-pitying, half-contemptuous, and wholly benevolent excuse for Jesus, though it be the words of friends, is like the words of His enemies, in that it contains a distorted reflection of His true character. And if we will think about it, I fancy that we may gather from it some lessons not altogether unprofitable.

I. The first point, then, that I make, is just this-there was something in the character of Jesus Christ which could be plausibly explained to commonplace people as madness.

A well-known modern author has talked a great deal about ‘the sweet reasonableness of Jesus Christ.’ His contemporaries called it simple insanity; if they did not say ‘He hath a devil,’ as well as ‘He is mad.’

Now, if we try to throw ourselves back to the life of Jesus Christ, as it was unfolded day by day, and think nothing about either what preceded in the revelation of the Old Covenant, or what followed in the history of Christianity, we shall not be so much at a loss to account for such explanations of it as these of my text. Remember that charges like these, in all various keys of contempt or of pity, or of fierce hostility, have been cast against all innovators, against every man that has broken a new path; against all teachers that have cut themselves apart from tradition and encrusted formulas; against every man that has waged war with the conventionalisms of society; against all idealists who have dreamed dreams and seen visions; against every man that has been touched with a lofty enthusiasm of any sort; and, most of all, against all to whom God and their relations to Him, the spiritual world and their relations to it, the future life and their relations to that, have become dominant forces and motives in their lives.

The short and easy way with which the world excuses itself from the poignant lessons and rebukes which come from such lives is something like that of my text, ‘He is beside himself.’ And the proof that he is beside himself is that he does not act in the same fashion as these incomparably wise people that make up the majority in every age. There is nothing that commonplace men hate like anything fresh and original. There is nothing that men of low aims are so utterly bewildered to understand, and which so completely passes all the calculus of which they are masters, as lofty self-abnegation. And wherever you get men smitten with such, or with anything like it, you will find all the low-aimed people gathering round them like bats round a torch in a cavern, flapping their obscene wings and uttering their harsh croaks, and only desiring to quench the light.

One of our cynical authors says that it is the mark of a genius that all the dullards are against him. It is the mark of the man who dwells with God that all the people whose portion is in this life with one consent say, ‘He is beside himself.’

And so the Leader of them all was served in His day; and that purest, perfectest, noblest, loftiest, most utterly self-oblivious, and God-and-man-devoted life that ever was lived upon earth, was disposed of in this extremely simple method, so comforting to the complacency of the critics-either ‘He is beside Himself,’ or ‘He hath a devil.’

And yet, is not the saying a witness to the presence in that wondrous and gentle career of an element entirely unlike what exists in the most of mankind? Here was a new star in the heavens, and the law of its orbit was manifestly different from that of all the rest. That is what ‘eccentric’ means-that the life to which it applies does not move round the same centre as do the other satellites, but has a path of its own. Away out yonder somewhere, in the infinite depths, lay the hidden point which drew it to itself and determined its magnificent and overwhelmingly vast orbit. These men witness to Jesus Christ, even by their half excuse, half reproach, that His was a life unique and inexplicable by the ordinary motives which shape the little lives of the masses of mankind. They witness to His entire neglect of ordinary and low aims; to His complete absorption in lofty purposes, which to His purblind would-be critics seem to be delusions and fond imaginations that could never be realised. They witness to what His disciples remembered had been written of Him, ‘The zeal of Thy house hath eaten Me up’; to His perfect devotion to man and to God. They witness to His consciousness of a mission; and there is nothing that men are so ready to resent as that. To tell a world, engrossed in self and low aims, that one is sent from God to do His will, and to spread it among men, is the sure way to have all the heavy artillery and the lighter weapons of the world turned against one.

These characteristics of Jesus seem then to be plainly implied in that allegation of insanity-lofty aims, absolute originality, utter self-abnegation, the continual consciousness of communion with God, devotion to the service of man, and the sense of being sent by God for the salvation of the world. It was because of these that His friends said, ‘He is beside Himself.’

These men judged themselves by judging Jesus Christ. And all men do. There are as many different estimates of a great man as there are people to estimate, and hence the diversity of opinion about all the characters that fill history and the galleries of the past. The eye sees what it brings and no more. To discern the greatness of a great man, or the goodness of a good one, is to possess, in lower measure, some portion of that which we discern. Sympathy is the condition of insight into character. And so our Lord said once, ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward,’ because he is a dumb prophet himself, and has a lower power of the same gift in him, which is eloquent on the prophet’s lips.

In like manner, to discern what is in Christ is the test of whether there is any of it in myself. And thus it is no mere arbitrary appointment which suspends your salvation and mine on our answer to this question, ‘What think ye of Christ?’ The answer will be-I was going to say-the elixir of our whole moral and spiritual nature. It will be the outcome of our inmost selves. This ploughshare turns up the depths of the soil. That is eternally true which the grey-bearded Simeon, the representative of the Old, said when he took the Infant in his arms and looked down upon the unconscious, placid, smooth face. ‘This Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ Your answer to that question discloses your whole spiritual condition and capacities. And so to judge Christ is to be judged by Him; and what we think Him to be, that we make Him to ourselves. The question which tests us is not merely, ‘Whom do men say that I am?’ It is easy to answer that; but this is the all-important interrogation, ‘Whom do ye say that I am?’ I pray that we may each answer as he to whom it was first put answered it, ‘Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!’

II. Secondly, mark the similarity of the estimate which will be passed by the world on all Christ’s true followers.

The same elements exist to-day, the same intolerance of anything higher than the low level, the same incapacity to comprehend simple devotion and lofty aims, the same dislike of a man who comes and rebukes by his silent presence the vices in which he takes no part. And it is a great deal easier to say, ‘Poor fool! enthusiastic fanatic!’ than it is to lay to heart the lesson that lies in such a life.

The one thing, or at least the principal thing, which the Christianity of this generation wants is a little more of this madness. It would be a great deal better for us who call ourselves Christians if we had earned and deserved the world’s sneer, ‘He is beside himself.’ But our modern Christianity, like an epicure’s rare wines, is preferred iced. And the last thing that anybody would think of suggesting in connection with the demeanour-either the conduct or the words-of the average Christian man of this day is that his religion had touched his brain a little.

But, dear friends, go in Christ’s footsteps and you will have the same missiles flung at you. If a church or an individual has earned the praise of the outside ring of godless people because its or his religion is ‘reasonable and moderate; and kept in its proper place; and not allowed to interfere with social enjoyments, and political and municipal corruptions,’ and the like, then there is much reason to ask whether that church or man is Christian after Christ’s pattern. Oh, I pray that there may come down on the professing Church of this generation a baptism of the Spirit; and I am quite sure that when that comes, the people that admire moderation and approve of religion, but like it to be ‘kept in its own place,’ will be all ready to say, when they hear the ‘sons and the daughters prophesying, and the old men seeing visions, and the young men dreaming dreams,’ and the fiery tongues uttering their praises of God, ‘These men are full of new wine!’ Would we were full of the new wine of the Spirit! Do you think any one would say of your religion that you were ‘beside yourself,’ because you made so much of it? They said it about your Master, and if you were like Him it would be said, in one tone or another, about you. We are all desperately afraid of enthusiasm to-day. It seems to me that it is the want of the Christian Church, and that we are not enthusiastic because we don’t half believe the truths that we say are our creed.

One more word. Christian men and women have to make up their minds to go on in the path of devotion, conformity to Christ’s pattern, self-sacrificing surrender, without minding one bit what is said about them. Brethren, I do not think Christian people are in half as much danger of dropping the standard of the Christian life by reason of the sarcasms of the world, as they are by reason of the low tone of the Church. Don’t you take your ideas of what a reasonable Christian life is from the men round you, howsoever they may profess to be Christ’s followers. And let us keep so near the Master that we may be able to say, ‘With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.’ Never mind, though they say, ‘Beside himself!’ Never mind, though they say, ‘Oh! utterly extravagant and impracticable.’ Better that than to be patted on the back by a world that likes nothing so well as a Church with its teeth drawn, and its claws cut; which may be made a plaything and an ornament by the world. And that is what much of our modern Christianity has come to be.

III. Lastly, notice the sanity of the insane.

I have only space to put before you three little pictures, and ask you what you think of them. I dare say the originals might be found among us without much search.

Here is one. Suppose a man who, like the most of us, believes that there is a God, believes that he has something to do with Him, believes that he is going to die, believes that the future state is, in some way or other, and in some degree, one of retribution; and from Monday morning to Saturday night he ignores all these facts, and never allows them to influence one of his actions. May I venture to speak direct to this hypothetical person, whose originals are dotted about in my audience? It would be the very same to you if you said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ to all these affirmations. The fact that there is a God does not make a bit of difference to what you do, or what you think, or what you feel. The fact that there is a future life makes just as little difference. You are going on a voyage next week, and you never dream of getting your outfit. You believe all these things, you are an intelligent man-you are very likely, in a great many ways, a very amiable and pleasant one; you do many things very well; you cultivate congenial virtues, and you abhor uncongenial vices; but you never think about God; and you have made absolutely no preparation whatever for stepping into the scene in which you know that you are to live.

Well, you may be a very wise man, a student with high aims, cultivated understanding, and all the rest of it. I want to know whether, taking into account all that you are, and your inevitable connection with God, and your certain death and certain life in a state of retribution-I want to know whether we should call your conduct sanity or insanity? Which? Take another picture. Here is a man that believes-really believes-the articles of the Christian creed, and in some measure has received them into his heart and life. He believes that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for him upon the Cross, and yet his heart has but the feeblest tick of pulsating love in answer. He believes that prayer will help a man in all circumstances, and yet he hardly ever prays. He believes that self-denial is the law of the Christian life, and yet he lives for himself. He believes that he is here as a ‘pilgrim’ and as a ‘sojourner,’ and yet his heart clings to the world, and his hand would fain cling to it, like that of a drowning man swept over Niagara, and catching at anything on the banks. He believes that he is sent into the world to be a ‘light’ of the world, and yet from out of his self-absorbed life there has hardly ever come one sparkle of light into any dark heart. And that is a picture, not exaggerated, of the enormous majority of professing Christians in so-called Christian lands. And I want to know whether we shall call that sanity or insanity? The last of my little miniatures is that of a man who keeps in close touch with Jesus Christ, and so, like Him, can say, ‘Lo! I come; I delight to do Thy will, O Lord. Thy law is within my heart.’ He yields to the strong motives and principles that flow from the Cross of Jesus Christ, and, drawn by the ‘mercies of God,’ gives himself a ‘living sacrifice’ to be used as God will. Aims as lofty as the Throne which Christ His Brother fills; sacrifice as entire as that on which his trembling hope relies; realisation of the unseen future as vivid and clear as His who could say that He was ‘in Heaven’ whilst He walked the earth; subjugation of self as complete as that of the Lord’s, who pleased not Himself, and came not to do His own will-these are some of the characteristics which mark the true disciple of Jesus Christ. And I want to know whether the conduct of the man who believes in the love that God hath to him, as manifested in the Cross, and surrenders his whole self thereto, despising the world and living for God, for Christ, for man, for eternity-whether his conduct is insanity or sanity? ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’3:13-21 Christ calls whom he will; for his grace is his own. He had called the apostles to separate themselves from the crowd, and they came unto him. He now gave them power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils. May the Lord send forth more and more of those who have been with him, and have learned of him to preach his gospel, to be instruments in his blessed work. Those whose hearts are enlarged in the work of God, can easily bear with what is inconvenient to themselves, and will rather lose a meal than an opportunity of doing good. Those who go on with zeal in the work of God, must expect hinderances, both from the hatred of enemies, and mistaken affections of friends, and need to guard against both.When his friends - Greek, "they who were of him." Not the apostles, but his relatives, his friends, who were in the place of his nativity.

Heard of it - Heard of his conduct: his preaching; his appointing the apostles; his drawing such a multitude to his preaching. This shows that by "his friends" were not meant the apostles, but his neighbors and others who "heard" of his conduct.

They went out to lay hold on him - To take him away from the multitude, and to remove him to his home, that he might be treated as a maniac, so that, by absence from the "causes" of excitement, he might be restored to his right mind.

They said - That is, common report said; or his friends and relatives said, for they did not believe on him, John 7:5. Probably the enemies of Jesus raised the report, and his relatives were persuaded to believe it to be true.

He is beside himself - He is delirious or deranged. The reason why this report gained any belief was, probably, that he had lived among them as a carpenter; that he was poor and unknown; and that now, at 30 years of age, he broke off from his occupations, abandoned his common employment, spent much time in the deserts, denied himself the common comforts of life, and set up his claims to be the Messiah who was expected by all the people to come with great pomp and splendor. The charge of "derangement" on account of attention to religion has not been confined to the Saviour. Let a man be made deeply sensible of his sins, and spend much of his time in prayer, and have no relish for the ordinary amusements or business of life; or let a Christian be much impressed with his obligation to devote himself to God, and "act" as if he believed there was an "eternity," and warn his neighbors of their danger; or let a minister show uncommon zeal and spend his strength in the service of his Master, and the world is not slow to call it derangement. And none will be more ready to originate or believe the charge than an ungodly and infidel parent or brother, a self-righteous Pharisee or professor in the church. At the same time, men may endanger themselves on the bosom of the deep or in the bowels of the earth for wealth; or may plunge into the vortex of fashion, folly, and vice, and break in upon the hours of repose, and neglect their duties to their family and the demands of business, and in the view of the world it is wisdom and proof of a sane mind! Such is the consistency of boasted reason; such the wisdom and prudence of worldly men!

Mr 3:20-30. Jesus Is Charged with Madness and Demoniacal Possession—His Reply. ( = Mt 12:22-37; Lu 11:14-26).

See on [1413]Mt 12:22-37; [1414]Lu 11:21-26.

See Poole on "Mark 3:21" When his friends heard of it,.... Not his spiritual friends, his disciples and followers, that believed in him; but his kinsmen, as the Syriac and Ethiopic versions render the words, who were so according to the flesh; when they heard where he was, and what a crowd was about him, so that he could not so much as take the necessaries of life for his refreshment and support,

they went out to lay hold on him: either out of their houses at Capernaum, or they went forth from Nazareth, where they dwelt, to Capernaum, to take him from this house, where he was thronged and pressed, along with them; where he might have some refreshment without being incommoded, and take some rest, which seemed very necessary: so that this was done in kindness to him, and does not design any violent action upon him, in order to take him home with them, and to confine him as a madman; though the following words seem to incline to such a sense;

for they said, he is beside himself: some render it, "he is gone out": that is, out of doors, to preach again to the people, which they might fear would be greatly detrimental to his health, since, he had had no sleep the night before; had been much fatigued all that morning, and for the throng of the people could take no food; so that for this reason they came to take him with them, to their own habitations, to prevent the ill consequences of such constant exercise without refreshment. Moreover, though this may not be the sense of the word, yet it is not to be understood of downright madness and distraction, but of some perturbation of mind, which they imagined, or heard, he was under; and answers to a phrase frequently used by the Jews, that such an one, , "his knowledge is snatched away", or his mind is disturbed; which was sometimes occasioned by disorder of body: so it is said (z),

"a deaf woman, or one that is foolish, or blind, or "whose mind is disturbed"; and if there are any wise women, they prepare themselves, and eat of the oblation.''

On that phrase, "whose mind is disturbed", the note of Maimonides is,

"it means a sick person, whose understanding is disturbed through the force of the disease:''

and was sometimes the case of a person when near death (a): and it was usual to give a person that was condemned to die, and going to be executed, a grain of frankincense in a cup of wine, "that so his knowledge may be snatched away", or his mind disturbed (b), and: be intoxicated; that so he might not be sensible of his pain, or feel his misery; in all which cases, there was nothing of proper madness: and so the kinsmen and friends of Christ, having heard of the situation that he was in, said one to another, he is in a transport and excess of mind; his zeal carries him beyond due bounds; he has certainly forgotten himself; his understanding is disturbed; he is unmindful of himself; takes no care of his health; he will certainly greatly impair it, if he goes on at this rate, praying all night, and preaching all day, without taking any rest or food: wherefore they came out, in order to dissuade him from such excessive labours, and engage him to go with them, where he might have rest and refreshment, and be composed, and retire.

(z) Misn. Nidda, c. 9. sect. 1.((a) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 63. 1.((b) Ib. fol. 43. 1. Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 10, fol. 198. 4.

{4} And when his {n} friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.

(4) None are worse enemies of the gospel than they that should be enemies of it the least.

(n) Literally, they that were of him, that is, his relatives: for they that were mad were brought to their relatives.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Mark 3:21. And the multitude cometh together again, etc.

συνέρχεται: the crowd, partially dispersed, reassembles (implying lapse of an appreciable interval). Jesus had hoped they would go away to their homes in various parts of the country during His absence on the hill, but He was disappointed. They lingered on.—ὥστε, etc.: the crowding about the house and the demand for sight and succour of the Benefactor were so great that they (Jesus and His companions) could not find leisure, not even (μηδὲ) to take food, not to speak of rest, or giving instruction to disciples. Erasmus (Adnot.) thinks the reference is to the multitude, and the meaning that it was so large that there was not bread for all, not to speak of kitchen (obsonia).21. when his friends] not the Apostles, but His relatives, including “His brethren and His mother,” who are noticed here as going forth, and a few verses later on as having arrived at the house where our Lord was (Mark 3:31), or the place where the crowds were thronging Him.

He is beside himself] They deemed the zeal and daily devotion to His labour of love a sort of ecstasy or religious enthusiasm, which made Him no longer master of Himself. St Paul uses the word in this sense in 2 Corinthians 5:13, “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God.” Comp. the words of Festus to St Paul (Acts 26:24).Mark 3:21. Οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ, those belonging to Him) See App. Crit. Ed. ii., p. 150. The Gothic Version fram answers to περὶ and παρὰ.[25] Who these were, who belonged to Him, is clear from Mark 3:31, where the particle οὖν,[26] therefore, refers to this 21st verse, after the intervening parenthesis 22–30 has been as it were cleared out of they.—ἐξῆλθον, they went out) Their coming in Mark 3:31 followed their going out here. A table seems to have been laid at the house; see end of Mark 3:20.—Κρατῆσαι, to lay hold) to put a restraint on him.—ἔλεγον, they were saying) the messengers [not the relatives] from whom his relatives heard of His earnestness.—ὅτι ἐξέστη, He is beside Himself) By this word they were attributing to Him excess of ardour, overwhelming His intellect, but it was falsely that they attributed this to Him, as Festus did to Paul; Acts 26:24, Thou art mad. Comp. by all means 2 Corinthians 5:13; comp. ιἑρεὺς καὶ προφήτης ἐξέστησαν διὰ τὸ σίκερα, Heb. שגו. Isaiah 28:7; so ὁ προφήτης παρεξεστηκὼς, Heb. משגע; Hosea 9:7. The singular number does not admit of this being understood of the people; for although ὄχλος, a multitude, Mark 3:20 is singular, yet after an interval [between ΟΧΛΟς and the verb, if the latter were to be understood of the former], there always follow the pronoun and the verb in the plural.

[25] AB Vulg. Rec. Text read καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρʼ ἀυτοῦ; but Dabc read καὶ ὅτε ἤκουσαν περὶ αὐτοῦ οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ λοίποί (c has Pharisæi.)—ED.

[26] But the oldest authorities BCDG vulg. abc omit οὐν. A, however, supports it.—ED.His friends (οἱ παῤ αὐτοῦ)

Lit., they who were from beside him: i.e., by origin or birth. His mother and brethren. Compare Mark 3:31, Mark 3:32. Wyc., kinsmen. Tynd., they that belonged unto him. Not his disciples, since they were in the house with him.

They said (ἔλεγον)

Imperfect tense. Very graphic, they kept saying.

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