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Events narrated in this chapter are the wonderful draught of fishes (Luke 5:1-11), the healing of a leper (Luke 5:12-16), the cure of the man carried by four men (Luke 5:17-26), the call of Matthew (Luke 5:27-28), complaints by the Pharisees and following discussion (Luke 5:29-31). The call of some of the apostles is also woven into the above narratives.
Now it came to pass, while the multitude pressed upon him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and he saw two boats standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. (Luke 5:1-2)
THE WONDERFUL CATCH OF FISH
The dramatic scene here is emphasized by the last two clauses. It had been an unsuccessful night of fishing, and the men who were about to be called to the apostleship were cleaning up the gear and getting ready to store it against the next fishing trip. With marvelous insight, Jesus accomplished several things at once. By using one of the boats as a pulpit, he could avoid the press of the throng; and, by means of the great catch a little later, he could provide further insight for the men about to be called to accompany him as apostles. Luke did not record the sermon Jesus preached on that occasion; and thus we should look to what Jesus did, rather than to the unrecorded message. Like the apostle John, Luke recognized the deeply spiritual overtones of such an event as this. Of course, it is incorrect to suppose that this miracle was the same as the one John recorded and which took place after Jesus' resurrection.
And he entered into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat. And when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Put out into the deep, and let your nets down for a draught.
Put out into the deep ... The KJV has "Launch out into the deep"; and Jesus would follow up this command, intended to be obeyed literally, with another just like it in the spiritual sector when he invited them to "follow." Their acceptance of the call was a launching out into the deep on a far grander scale than anything they could have done in Peter's boat. Every Christian and all churches still need this commandment to "put out into the deep." The miracle here is unique to Luke.
And Simon answered and said, Master, we toiled all night and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets.
Peter's objection against the thing Jesus commanded was well founded from the earthly viewpoint. It was not a good time to fish; the men were tired; they were cleaning up; and it could not have been an altogether welcome command from Jesus, who said, in effect, "Come on, let's go fishing!" Peter's response here, while obedient, was clearly petulant, and not spontaneous at all. Grudgingly agreeing to do it, he nevertheless made his displeasure known.
And when they had done this, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their nets were breaking.
One cannot help agreeing with the KJV which translated "net" (singular) in the preceding verse; and, although this is contrary to the Greek, there certainly seemed to be some insufficiency in the number of nets let down, raising a question whether or not Peter had fully complied with the Lord's command to let down the nets (plural). If there was any such deficiency on the disciples' part (and the Greek Text does not support the view that there was), it was surely rebuked by the size of the catch.
And they beckoned to their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
Such an astounding wonder was a fitting prelude to the call of these fishermen to become "fishers of men." The element of cooperation should not be overlooked. The great things are always accomplished by men working together.
But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus' knees saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
I am a sinful man ... Thus Peter confessed the sin which had been evident earlier in his grudging obedience a little earlier; and here is an admonition to all who follow Christ. Mere obedience, attended by a critical, complaining attitude, is not true obedience. Those who follow the Saviour should do so with joy, and without any of the reservations and grumbling complaints which seem to mark the service of some. Ours is a privileged and joyful service; our lives are directed by the Lord whose love and blessing are without limit; our personal judgments and reluctant attitudes should be utterly abandoned; and there is for the child of God no happiness like that of doing exactly what the Lord commanded.
Fell down at Jesus' knees ... This spontaneous act of worship on Peter's part should be noted. Christ received his worship, the reception of such a thing being an implicit claim of deity on the Saviour's part; and Luke's record of it here is significant as a further proof that all of the apostles concurred in thus hailing Jesus as God among human beings.
For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of fishes which they had taken; and so were also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon, And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
It may well be supposed that Andrew was also present; but Luke's purpose here was evidently that of detailing the circumstances under which the "inner circle" of the apostolic group were called. This, of course, was not the first time these had met Jesus, as more fully explained in John. However, this was the instant of their being called into a new and higher relationship with Jesus as apostles. Elements which aided their decision were (1) the consciousness of Jesus' miraculous power, (2) a vision of something greater, "thou shalt catch men," and (3) a consciousness of sin. Only Peter acknowledged sin here; but it may be that the others were equally guilty of the same attitude.
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all, and followed him.
Luke reported that Christ's call was directed particularly to Simon; but both Jesus and the men called understood it as including others in addition to Simon.
And it came to pass, while he was in one of the cities, behold, a man full of leprosy: and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
THE HEALING OF A LEPER
The dreadful disease of leprosy left its victim in a totally pitiable condition without hope of any earthly cure. The fact that one so afflicted sought Jesus' aid indicated the popular conception that Jesus was a man of supernatural power. This dreaded malady was a type of sin in the Old Testament; and, although there were instances of its being sent as punishment for sin (2 Kings 5:27), it also occurred independently of sin. Significantly, Luke recorded the fact of the man worshipping Jesus.
And he stretched forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway the leprosy departed from him.
To touch a leper resulted in the ceremonial defilement of the one who touched; but Jesus did not hesitate to incur such defilement on behalf of those whom he came to deliver. In a similar way, he touched the bier of the dead (Luke 7:14). As often noted, Christ's cures were instantaneous, performed without physical effort on his part, and free of the type of incantations, ostentatious prayers, and hysterical behavior associated with so-called "healings" today. His were real, immediate, and designed to demonstrate his own heavenly power.
And he charged him to tell no man: but go thy way, and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Offer for thy cleansing ... Old Testament passages detailing the specific offering for such a sacrifice are Leviticus 13:40 and Leviticus 14:2ff. In honoring such regulations, Christ made clear his intention not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.
But so much the more went abroad the report concerning him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed of their infirmities.
The development in view here was the pressing unto him of such vast concourses of people with their incessant demands so much that it became physically impossible for Christ to continue. The foreknowledge of such a situation might have been one of the reasons underlying his charge that the leper should "tell no man." He apparently spread the word anyway; and, as a result, Christ found it necessary to depart, as related in the next verse.
But he withdrew himself into the deserts and prayed.
Deserts ... In Biblical times, these were merely uninhabited places, not arid desolations in the same sense the word is used today.
And prayed ... The reliance of Jesus upon God, and his constant dependence upon the Father's will appear throughout the New Testament in the vigorous pursuit of prayer which marked his holy life.
THE HEALING OF THE MAN CARRIED BY FOUR MEN
A fuller treatment of this wonder is given in my Commentary on Mark, Mark 2:1-12. It is mentioned only briefly in Matthew 9:2, Luke's account being the most graphic.
And it came to pass on one of those days, that he was teaching; and there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, who were come out of every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.
Here is a glimpse of the astounding effect the words and works of Jesus had already produced. The religious hierarchy were by this time fully alerted to the challenge of Jesus' life and teaching; and their hostility made itself evident at every opportunity. Nevertheless, the mighty works of Jesus continued unabated.
And behold, men bring on a bed a man that was palsied: and they sought to bring him in, and to lay him before him.
Mark related that there were four of these who bore their friend to Jesus and recorded their breaking of the tiles. Such urgency on the part of a sufferer could have been caused only by the most overwhelming conviction on their part that Jesus could indeed heal him.
And not finding by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went up to the housetop, and let him down through the tiles with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
The amazing independence of the synoptic narratives is dramatically proved by the variations. All three recounted this event, but each brought to it his own contribution of significant detail. There is no reasonable doubt that a genuine event lay behind the Gospel records.
And seeing their faith, he said, Man, your sins are forgiven thee.
Not the faith of the sufferer, but the faith of those who bore him, is in focus here. Christ never followed any stereotyped pattern in the discharge of his glorious mission. It is a safe conjecture, of course, that no sufferer would have allowed such inconvenience to himself and his friends unless he too had faith that Jesus would heal him; nevertheless, it was the faith of the group, not that of the individual, that Jesus noted.
Man, thy sins are forgiven thee ... Christ no doubt intended this to be a challenge of the religious doctors present in such large numbers; and, therefore, upon grounds fully known to himself alone, he announced the man's pardon of all transgressions, no doubt foreseeing the objections that would come of it, and the eventual healing of the man's body afterward.
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this that speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?
Speaketh blasphemies ... The reasoning of the Pharisees was a syllogism:
Only God can forgive sins.
This man is not God (deity).
Therefore, he is blaspheming by saying that he forgives sins.
Their second, or minor premise, was wrong; and therefore their conclusion was wrong. Jesus indeed was, and ever is, God; but this they did not believe.
It is not amiss, however, to notice that their major premise, to the effect that only God can forgive sins, was absolutely correct.
Matthew's revelation that this type of thinking against Jesus was in the inward thoughts of the Pharisees, rather than an open allegation against him, is not contradicted by Luke's statement that "they began to reason." Both Mark and Matthew mention the fact of Jesus' reading their thoughts in this situation; and the same is evident a little later here in Jesus reply (Luke 5:22).
But Jesus perceiving their reasonings, answered and said unto them, Why reason ye in your hearts?
From this it is clear that Christ was reading the thoughts of his audience.
Which is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?
The implications of this statement by our Lord are profound. Here, Jesus admitted that the so-called granting of absolution is on an absolute parity with performing a miracle. Anyone who can do either can do both; and he who cannot do both can do neither! It does seem that with such a proposition so boldly stated here, there should be an end of men saying, "I absolve thee?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins (he said unto him that was palsied), I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go unto thy house.
Christ thus gave the most dramatic proof of his authority both to heal men's bodies and to forgive their sins.
And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his house, glorifying God.
Thus, a second time in this chapter, Jesus directed the most visible and convincing proof of his oneness with the Father toward the community of scribes and Pharisees, making every effort to enlist them as believers in his holy mission. From John it is learned, however, that they had already rejected him and were merely stalking him with a view of putting him to death (John 5:18). That prior evil decision on their part was the true reason why they did not believe in this circumstance.
Glorifying God ... The healed man was aware that only God could have wrought such a wonder; and the same conclusion should have been made by Jesus' enemies.
And amazement took hold on all, and they glorified God; and they were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today.
On all ... Luke's use of these words in not absolute. For example, he said in another place, "And all the people ..." were baptized "of John's baptism; but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him" (Luke 7:29). Therefore, it may be assumed that the same group refused to glorify God in this instance.
We have seen strange things ... Indeed, how strange it was! That Almighty God should have become a man, concerning himself with the pitiful ailments of the flesh, and forgiving the sins of his fallen children. It is the strangest, most wonderful thing that has ever happened.
THE CALL OF MATTHEW
The balance of this chapter is related to the call of Matthew and discussions that arose at the dinner he made for Jesus.
And after these things he went forth, and beheld a publican, named Levi, sitting at the place of toll, and said unto him, Follow me. And he forsook all, and rose up and followed him.
This son of Alphaeus was a Hebrew with two names, a common thing in Galilee at that time. Mark and Luke speak of him as Levi, but Matthew himself used the name that has been loved throughout the Christian era.
The speculation that Jesus gave Levi the name "Matthew," meaning "gift of God," is not unreasonable; for Jesus also gave Simon the name "Peter."
Publican ... is a word applied to tax collectors; and, in Palestine at that time, the occupation itself was hated by the Jews. They particularly despised any of their own race who consented to such work for Roman usurpers. John the Baptist implied that the work of a tax collector was not in itself evil (Luke 3:13); but there is little doubt that the vast majority of holders of such an office enriched themselves through extortion and oppression. There is no hint that Matthew was like them.
Implicit in Jesus' call of such a social outcast was his purpose of redeeming all men. Jesus did not look upon outward appearances but at the genuine character of men. Never did the genius of the Son of God show more clearly than here. Matthew was a "gift of God" indeed to the Christian faith. His scholarly knowledge of the Old Testament, his intimate understanding of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and his ability to penetrate the sham of the religious hierarchy of that era fully endowed him with unique gifts which enabled the writing of the first Gospel. The integrity and sincerity of this great apostle were quickly evidenced by the dinner which he gave in honor of the Lord and for the purpose of introducing others to the Master.
He forsook all ... and followed ... Just as Luke passed over without mention the prior contact of Simon, James, and John with Jesus, the assumption that he did the same thing here is justified. The amazing restraint of all the sacred writers regarding themselves is apparent; and there is a remarkable sameness in the three synoptic accounts of the calling of Matthew.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house: and there was a great multitude of publicans and of others that were sitting at meat with them. And the Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with the publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
For additional comment on this episode, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 9:9.
One of the very best ways to begin Christian service is the method chosen here by Matthew. He gave a big dinner, invited many, and introduced the Saviour, thus committing himself publicly and irrevocably to the new way of life. No man can sneak into the service of God; and inevitable failure attends all who try to do so. Matthew did it right!
They that are in health have no need of a physician ... This was not an admission by Jesus that the Pharisees were "in health" spiritually; for truly their moral sickness was the scandal of that age. Of course, they viewed themselves as righteous; and thus the argument is an "ad hominem" statement based on their prejudice.
They that are sick ... It was the glory of our Lord that he came to heal the moral and spiritual sickness engulfing all people; and the Pharisees themselves were included in this if they had only been able to appreciate it. Jesus' deep thrust in this context has elements of humor in it. The very idea that the evil priests "had no need" of spiritual healing was such a preposterous thing that the people who heard Jesus' words must have laughed aloud.
And they said unto him, The disciples of John fast often and make supplications; likewise also the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink. And Jesus said unto them, Can ye make the sons of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come; and when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then will they fast in those days.
This was an effort by the Pharisees to open a conflict between Jesus and John the Baptist; but Christ's inspired reply made use of John's statement regarding Christ as "the bridegroom," and extending it a little with the effect of saying, "Look, this is a wedding; and all of the rules on fasting are suspended!" The background of this answer included the notorious behavior of the Pharisees themselves whose gluttonous conduct at weddings was a public scandal. There is no way that such a thrust by Jesus could have failed to precipitate a storm of laughter. It was a center shot; and the Pharisees were completely vanquished by it.
When the bridegroom shall be taken away ... Jesus however, was not amused. Those vicious enemies would yet nail him up to die, and he knew it; thus, there is this plaintive reference to the time when the bridegroom shall be taken away. This was a clear prophecy of his Passion.
And he spake also a parable unto them: no man rendeth a piece from a new garment and putteth it upon an old garment; else he will rend the new, and also the piece from the new will not agree with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old wineskins; else the new wine will burst the skins, and itself will be spilled, and the skins will perish. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no man having drunk old wine desireth new; for he saith, The old is good.
There are three comparisons: (1) new cloth on an old garment, (2) new wine in old wineskins, and (3) no man having drunk old wine desires new. The meaning is very similar in all three, and they stress Jesus' unwillingness to make the ceremonial fasts of the Old Testament a large feature of the new kingdom, the necessity of finding new "wineskins" (disciples) who would be able to receive his new teaching (as in the call of Matthew), and Jesus' understanding of the fact that many of John's disciples (though not all) would prefer the old ways to the new methods of the approaching kingdom.
The variations between Matthew and Luke derive from Luke's fuller report. Whereas Matthew mentioned patching the old garment with "new cloth," Luke has the fuller account of the "new cloth" having been rent from a "new garment." Matthew abbreviated the discussion, even omitting altogether the third analogy given by Luke. Regarding the fundamental reasons for such variations, they resulted from:
(a) The fact that Jesus himself varied his parables, illustrations, and teachings from place to place and time to time. There is no more unfounded assumption possible than the premise of some in the critical schools to the effect that Jesus gave, for example, the beatitudes, or the prayer he taught the disciples to pray, in one form only and upon only one occasion. Never! In a ministry that lasted perhaps fifty months and covered literally hundreds of villages and cities, it is absolutely mandatory to assume that Jesus' teachings were frequently varied as to their exact words. The opposite view is disproved by the variations reported in the sacred Gospels as well as by the common practice of speakers in all generations. Anyone following the speeches of a candidate for public office has observed the variations which always mark "the speech" given in many different localities. Common sense demands the supposition that Jesus' teaching, repeated hundreds of times, made use of countless variations and subtle changes to bring out additional truth or avoid the inevitable misunderstandings that would have resulted from a robot-like repetition of the same words over and over. The view that Jesus taught always in the same "verbatim et literatim" style is preposterous. Even when he quoted the inspired prophets of the Old Testament, he did nothing like that.
(b) Another source of variations in the Gospels was in the choice of materials by sacred authors, some selecting parables, some sayings, etc., not found in the others; and also in the particular stress or emphasis intended by the authors. They also wrote from diverse viewpoints. John gave the seven great signs; Matthew the seven great woes against the Pharisees; and Luke a vast body of material of particular interest to Gentiles, etc., etc. The diversity in the Gospels is so extensive as to deny, absolutely, any possibility of their being in any sense copies one of another.
Inherent in the threefold analogies of the kingdom Jesus gave at Matthew's dinner party is the fact of the "newness" of the kingdom of Christ. It was not to be merely a patch imposed upon Judaism, nor a mere refilling of old forms with vital new truth. "New wine ... new garment ..." Here was a glimpse of the truth stressed by the apostles, "Behold all things are become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34