Luke 5 Continued

17. Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.  And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.

Every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem would take in the entirety of the nation of Israel, excepting the land of the half-Jews known as Samaria. It seems that these Pharisees and teachers of the law had come together in a great convocation from every place in the land to hear the Lord Jesus. Who had organized this it is hard to say, but its object is not too hard to guess. They had probably gathered to make a determination as to whether they would announce Jesus Christ to be the Messiah and support Him as such, or not. Thus they were considering all the Lord said and did as if He were a candidate for the position of Messiah.

This is indeed a very unique situation. In most other places in the gospels, when the Lord is opposed by various Pharisees and religious leaders, it is simply those in a particular town or particular place in Israel. For example, if the Pharisees in Jerusalem opposed the Lord, this does not mean that those in Galilee were doing the same thing, for they were not in constant communication. Yet here, they had all come together. This would be an almost historic event, for we cannot suppose that such a convocation occurred on a regular basis. These were busy men, and did not travel around the country for their health. They did not have “conferences” that they attended, unless it was during the feasts three times a year in Jerusalem. Whether or not this convocation was connected with such a feast it is hard to say. We have no indication that the Lord had left Galilee. If this did take place in Galilee, it indicated quite a commitment on the part of these important and busy men. They must have taken the possibility of the Lord being the Messiah very seriously indeed to have all gathered together like this! Let us see how the Lord responds to this situation, and what His message will be to these men who have come together to judge Him.

First of all, we read that the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Though these were important and influential men, neither importance nor influence has any effect on disease. There were some among these rulers who were afflicted by disease, and the power of the Lord was there to heal them all. Certainly this was a very good start to His candidacy, for who could think badly of One Who had just healed him?

18. Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.

Some local men enter the picture now. They have brought a paralyzed man on his bed to be healed by the Lord. However, the convocation of leaders is so great that they have filled the house to capacity, and there is just no way into it. Thus, these men are halted in their purpose to bring this man and lay him before the Lord.

19. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.

It seems there was a crowd outside the house as well, for others had gathered there to see how the Lord’s interview with this great convocation of religious leaders would turn out. Perhaps others were hoping for healing once the Lord completed His interview with these important men.

Since the usual way to Jesus being blocked by the crowd, these men with their paralyzed friend must find another way to get to the Lord with their request. The rooftops of their houses were often just made of poles laid together and covered with a kind of thatch tiling. Deconstructing this kind of roof would not have been difficult. Thus, they create a hole, and let the bed with the paralyzed man still in it down into the midst before the Lord Jesus. If only we would seek God as diligently in our lives as these men did in this situation!

20. When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

The Lord sees the faith of these men. This faith was evidenced by their determination to get this man to the Lord, and their confidence that this would be what the man needed. The Lord sees this faith, and He provides far more than any of them bargained for: He forgives the man’s sins. This was what he needed far more than the healing of his body, though he may not have known it.

It is ever faith that procures the forgiveness of sins. Abraham’s faith was accounted to him for righteousness in Genesis 15:6. In the same way, the Lord accounts the faith of this man and his friends to him for righteousness. Notice too that it was not just the man’s faith that the Lord Jesus noted, but the faith of his friends as well. We cannot underestimate the value of Godly friends.

21. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The scribes and the Pharisees observe the Lord do this, and they immediately start to reason about it. Remember, they were there to “test” the Lord Jesus, and so they were seeking to act in the role of officials, judging the Lord’s every action as to whether it was proper or not. If the Lord had wanted to impress these men or act like a “candidate” for the Messiahship, which is how they were viewing Him, there was little He could have done that would have turned them against Him more than this. Israel at that time was under the control of the Romans, who were polytheists. They were constantly fighting against the idea that there were multiple gods, insisting that there was only the one, true God. Part and parcel of the Roman belief was the idea that a man like Caesar could also be a god. The Jews insisted that a man could not be a god, and many of them had been willing to die for that stand.

Now the religious leaders well knew that no man could forgive sins. As men, the most we can do is forgive our sins against each other. Yet no one can forgive a man’s sins against God except God alone. These men knew this, and so when the Lord said this, they knew right away that He was claiming to be equal with God. To them, this could be nothing but blasphemy. They would never be willing to acknowledge the Lord as Messiah now. He had done something that, to them, was unforgivable.

Why would the Lord have made what appears to be such a huge blunder in front of these men? Did He not realize that these men could recommend Him as the Messiah to the whole nation of Israel? Of course He did! Yet God’s way is not man’s way. The Lord was not interested in being the Messiah upon the terms that men would have set for Him. He was God’s Messiah, not man’s. It was up to all men, including these religious leaders, to submit themselves to Him, not the other way around. Though they might have viewed themselves as the Lord’s judges, the Lord Jesus was not there to be judged by them. They must accept Him on His terms, or not at all. With these men, not at all was the only option.

Ultimately, I do not believe the religious leaders in Israel would have ever accepted God’s Messiah. Even if God had sent a Messiah Who was a mere man rather than God Himself, they would never have been willing to accept such a one on God’s terms. They wanted a Messiah who would act according to their rules and fit himself into their plan. They would only have been willing to follow a Messiah they could influence and control, and who would put up with their made-up traditions and customs. No one sent from God would ever have been willing to do this. As the Lord Himself said in John 5:43, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.” These men would have been willing to follow an imposter who only claimed to be from God. One actually from God they never would have been willing to follow.

22. But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?

The Lord knew very well what was going on in the minds of these men, and that they were passing a negative judgment against Him. Therefore He points out to them the error of what they were doing. They were trying to judge by human standards One Who had all authority from God, both to forgive sins and to heal.

23. “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’?

Of course, it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” since no one can see sins being forgiven to know whether it has indeed been done or not. Yet now the Lord Jesus will prove the authority behind His words by demonstrating with something they can see and test very definitely–His ability to make this man walk. If He is has the authority from God to do this, this should prove to men of reason that God has also given Him the right to do the other, and to forgive sins as well.

24. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”–He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

The Lord frames this as a demonstration to these men who had come out to judge Him. He was making a presentation, but not such a one as they had hoped for. His presentation to them comes as a challenge to their faith. He was not interested in receiving their commendation. Instead, He was interested in giving them an opportunity to believe.

Then, the Lord turns to the man who had been let down from the roof. He speaks to him, giving him very specific instructions as to what he should do.

25. Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.

The man followed the very specific instructions the Lord had given him to the letter. Once he was healed and able to stand up and walk, he might have felt like staying a while to discuss with others the great miracle that had happened to him. He might have felt like running around, dancing, or otherwise enjoying the newfound freedom his healed legs gave him. Certainly he didn’t feel like leaving and going home, carrying his heavy mat along with him. Yet this is just what he did, following the Lord’s commands to the letter. Yet notice that he went praising God all the way! This combination of right actions and right attitudes is exactly what we need to strive for. It matters little if we have a great attitude about God if we refuse to do what He has instructed us to do. And it matters little if we obey His words if we do not glorify and praise Him in our hearts. The only proper course is to display right attitudes and actions both.

26. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!”

This healing filled those in attendance with amazement and fear. Imagine knowing that you were in the presence of a Man Who could not only heal, but also could forgive sins! For this is what the Lord’s actions had proved: that He did indeed have the authority to forgive a man’s sins. Now these men had much to ponder on their long trip back to the many towns they had come from.

The word for “strange things” here in Greek means “paradoxes,” according to the Companion Bible. These men considered the things they had seen to be a paradox. They saw a man who claimed to be able to forgive sins, which they considered blasphemy. Yet, He was able to heal a lame man, something that only the power of God could do. These men considered this a paradox, and were unwilling to decide what the solution to this seeming contradiction might be. We can credit them for glorifying God, yet they stopped short of what they should have done. If they responded with the same kind of faith that the paralyzed man had, they would have been willing to follow whatever the Lord said. Yet, as I said, many of them would never have accepted a Messiah Who claimed equality with God. In spite of this, they could not deny the power He demonstrated. So the religious leaders come to no decision after this convocation. They should have responded with more faith, but at least they did not respond with rejection. Unfortunately that would change with time.

27. After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Levi is another name for the man Matthew who wrote the gospel that bears his name. There can be no doubt of this if we compare this verse to Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:14. Perhaps Matthew was a name the Lord gave him, as He gave Simon the name Peter.

The tax collectors were outcasts in Israel, considered traitors since they collected taxes for the hated Roman Empire. Usually such men had been excommunicated from the Israelite community for some offense against the chief priests and rulers. The rulers had set this up so that there was no repentance and no forgiveness. When you were cast out, this was a permanent thing. Moreover, since no one would have anything to do with such a person, fearing excommunication himself, those who were thus cast out had little choice of occupation. No one would hire them, none would trade with them, and many would not even talk to them. Yet Rome had no such stigma against them, and were willing to take them into their ranks. Thus, those cast out and labeled by the religious leaders as “sinners” would often resort to tax collecting as their only way to make a living. So the Lord meets this man Levi, yet He looks upon him with compassion. He sees something in Levi that those who had rejected him did not. So, just as He had done with Peter and those with him, He now calls upon Levi to follow Him.

28. So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.

We see that the Lord’s choice was indeed a good one, for Levi, like Simon and the fishermen before him, drops all he is doing to follow the Lord. Clearly, though he was a member of a hated and feared class in Israel, his heart was open to God. Now, when the Lord calls, he responds in faith.

29. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house.  And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.

The fact that the Lord had called him clearly had a profound effect upon Levi. The fact that He not only did not reject and ostracize him, but that He even wanted him for a disciple, must have been a major turning point in Levi’s life. The one who was used to hatred and rejection now found himself loved and accepted by the Lord Himself. Thus, he is filled with gratitude, and throws a great feast for the Lord in his own house. The guests at this event, as we might expect, were a great number of his fellows, the other tax collector and outcasts.

Any of the rulers of Israel, and any of even what we might call the “decent” people in Israel, would not have had anything to do with such a crowd. They would not be caught dead eating in the house of a tax collector. The Lord Jesus, however, pays no attention to the conventions of the culture of the day, or to the demands of its rulers. Instead, He eats in fellowship with these men just as He would any other who was considered a good son of his country. When we remember that to eat together in that culture was a highly symbolical thing that indicated the closest fellowship, then we can see that His behavior would have been considered shocking and unacceptable to many in that day.

There is no mention here, as there is in the case of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8, of Levi restoring any funds to those he had cheated. It could be that Levi was one of those tax collectors who had asked instructions from John in Luke 3:12, and had received his instructions in Luke 3:13. If so, and if Levi had followed them, he would have collected no more than what was appointed for him, and would not have been enriching himself off the people, as so many tax collectors were. If so, he also would have been baptized by John, and would have been one who promised submission to whatever the Lord might ask of him in the future. This would explain his immediate obedience to the Lord’s call. This is exactly what John asked of those he baptized: that their hearts would be ready to respond to the Lord, whatever He might ask in the future. Levi proved he had this kind of heart when he left all to follow the Lord merely because He asked him to. He had an aftermind, a metanoia (submissive) attitude indeed!

30. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Now their scribes and Pharisees view this, and air their complaint. The reason they are called “their” scribes and Pharisees is to remind us that these were the local scribes and Pharisees, that is, those in this part of Galilee, not those in Jerusalem or back in Judea, who would be the primary enemies who would later put Him to death. These were different men of the same class, yet they had much the same attitude.

The men who were excommunicated from Israel were called “sinners” by the scribes and Pharisees. Of course, they were generally no more sinful than anyone else, but since any acceptance of these men was an affront to the Pharisees’ power, they made up this label to further alienate them from the rest of the people. They wanted to make out that they were great sinners far more than ordinary men, so that their decision to heartlessly treat them as outcasts who could never be restored would appear to be more justified.

Since any threat to their power to excommunicate was a threat to their power to hold Israel under their thumbs, the heartless leaders here were quick to speak against Christ for accepting those whom the Pharisees had refused to accept. How many in our day thus reject those whom the Lord has not rejected? The way of the religious is always to condemn those who don’t live up to our standards of purity, rather than loving those who are in need of a Savior, as Christ did.

The scribes and the Pharisees direct their complaint here to the disciples, rather than to the Lord. It heartens us to see that clearly these disciples, though they had culturally been taught to have nothing to do with men like Levi and his friends, were willing to accept him and eat with him if the Lord did so. It is likely that most of the disciples had strong patriotic feelings, and these would have viewed tax collectors as traitors to their nation. Others among the disciples would have felt strongly about keeping the law, and would have viewed sinners as men who rejected the law. Yet they all seem to have eaten with Levi without protest at the Lord’s example. This shows that they were truly yielded to the Lord, and were willing to accept His judgment on this matter. They deserved commendation for this. Instead, the scribes and Pharisees condemned them.

We might ask why these scribes and Pharisees complained to the disciples rather than to the Lord. It could be that they did not have the courage to attack the Lord directly. Yet I would suggest that there could be other reasons. For one, they may have been seeking to turn these disciples away from the Lord. Yet I also think that this was probably a backhanded way of insulting Christ. Imagine if someone condemned another person in front of you for following your example. You would probably feel not only condemned, but also humiliated. This could well be what these men were trying to do by complaining against the disciples, rather than against the Lord Himself.

31. Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Though they had not condemned the Lord directly, it is He Who stands up and answers for His actions, and explains why He is doing what He is doing. Of course, the Lord did not need to explain Himself, but I think He was compassionate here, since what He was doing was very difficult to accept, and it is understandable that some would have a problem with it. At any rate, the Lord points out the obvious fact that it is not those who are well who need a physician. What would be the use of that? There is no point in attempting to help those who have no need of it. Rather, it is the sick who need a physician. In the same way, the Savior came for those who need saving.

32. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

These scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves as righteous. They were wrong, of course, for these were in fact some of the most stubborn and wicked men in the land. Yet they thought they needed no help. There is little Christ can do for those who already consider themselves to be right before God. Yet in these outcasts there was every realization of their own unworthiness. Thus they were very open to the loving message and acceptance of Christ, far more open than their selfish and self-righteous leaders. Thus, it was men like these whom the Lord had come to call to repentance.

The word “repentance” here is the Greek word metanoia, and could better be translated “submission.” The Lord was calling these sinners to submit to Him, and they were doing so. The disciples, by joining the Lord in accepting these formerly-outcast men, were showing submission as well. The only ones who weren’t showing submission here were the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes.

33. Then they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”

These men who were condemning the Lord seem to change the subject. Perhaps they didn’t see anywhere to go with the statement the Lord had just made. The fact was that they sought no submission from the outcasts. They provided no way for them to come back into the community, or into their good graces. Yet there were probably many among the people who, at least inwardly, felt sorry for those who were thus cast out, and felt that perhaps there should be some way to help them and bring them back in. The Lord had claimed that He had come to provide these men such a route back to God. The leaders may not have liked the idea, but they would not appear in a very good light if they spoke out against it. So instead, they change the subject, and bring up another complaint they have against the Lord’s practice.

Since the Lord had so well answered their complaint about the disciples eating with tax collectors and sinners, these scribes and Pharisees now complain about the fact that the Lord and His disciples did not fast. Perhaps they wanted to imply that the Lord must be less Godly than John or the Pharisees’ disciples, since He did not teach His disciples to fast. To them, this outward act was crucial. At the very least, the difference between the two ways of conducting themselves that the Lord and John the Baptist used caused a conflict in the minds of these men. They knew John had recommended the Lord Jesus as being come from God, yet how could they be so close and yet have such different ways of doing things? If they were truly both sent by God, when one fasted, shouldn’t the other fast? When one prayed, shouldn’t the other pray? They seemed to think that God should only have one kind of follower.

34. And He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?

The Lord uses the illustration of a bridegroom. He was not saying that He was a bridegroom, but was just making this illustration. The friends of the bridegroom (we would call them the groomsmen) cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them. A wedding is a time of rejoicing, and fasting was a symbol of solemnity and sorrow.

35. “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”

Fasting was often used by Israelites as a sign of seeking God’s presence. Notice how Daniel used it this way in Daniel 10. The Lord Jesus reveals that the reason no fasting was being done by His disciples is because they had the One Whom they would be fasting to seek already present with them. There was no reason for them to fast while He was already present. Once He was taken away from them, however, then fasting would again be valuable, and they would fast in those days, even as John’s disciples did.

36. Then He spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.

He now speaks a parable, using a piece of cloth as an illustration. No one would put a patch that had not yet been shrunk from a new garment unto an old garment. If he did, when the new patch shrunk, it would pull away from the old garment and would just cause another tear. It would just be inappropriate to put a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old garment. In the same way, it would be inappropriate for the Lord’s disciple to fast when the Lord was there. It was just not the time for fasting.

37. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.

He speaks another parable, basically teaching the same truth with a different illustration. No one would put new wine into old wineskins. Wine as it ferments would stretch these wineskins out. A wineskin that had already been stretched would just burst if wine was put into it to ferment again. Then, the wine would spill, and the wineskin would be ruined.

38. “But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

New wine must be put into new wineskins, so that both the wine and the wineskins may be preserved. If this fact is ignored, only disaster could result. In the same way, it would neither have been appropriate nor beneficial for both the Lord Jesus and John to minister in the same way. They did both come from God, just like old and new wineskins could come from the same source. Yet their services were different and their purposes were different, and for them to have acted then in the exact same way would have been improper.

These Pharisees and scribes were trying to fit the new way of doing things that the Lord was showing them into their old ways of thinking and of doing things. This would just not work. What the Lord was doing was new, it was different, and it simply would not fit into the expectations and demands of these religious leaders.

39. “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

When one is used to old wine, the new no longer tastes good, and one desires to go back to the old. So it ever is when God introduces new things. There are always those who liked things better the way they were, and who speak fondly of “the good old days.” Yet God was here introducing something new in Jesus Christ, and those interested in obeying what He would have them do would have to get used to the changes that His Son would bring.