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A. Jesus’ teaching ministry 4:14-5:11
This section of the third Gospel records some of Jesus’ initial preaching and various responses to it. Much of the material appears only in Luke. Interspersed are instances of Jesus performing mighty works. Luke, as the other evangelists, stressed the essential message that Jesus proclaimed.
These verses give the setting for the incident. Again Luke pointed out that the crowd was listening to the word of God (Luke 5:1; cf. Luke 4:32; cf. Luke 4:36). The people were so interested that they pressed upon Jesus. Jesus put some distance between them and Himself by teaching from a boat not far off shore.
Luke described the Sea of Galilee as a lake, as most of His readers would have thought of it. Gennesaret was the town and plain on its northwest coast from which it received its name.
Luke’s characteristic attention to detail is obvious in that he referred to two boats, setting the stage for Luke 5:7. Evidently the fishermen had used large dragnets (Gr. diktau) when they had fished all night, which Zebedee, James, and John were now washing and mending (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19; Luke 5:2). Peter and Andrew were using a smaller round casting net (Gr. amphibleston), throwing it into the water from close to shore (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16).
"It was a busy scene; for, among the many industries by the Lake of Galilee, that of fishing was not only the most generally pursued, but perhaps the most lucrative." [Note: Edersheim, 1:473.]
4. The call of Peter, James, and John 5:1-11 (cf. Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20)
Luke’s account of this incident is the longest of the three. Luke stressed Peter and omitted any reference to Andrew, his brother (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16). He characteristically focused on single individuals that Jesus’ touched wherever possible to draw attention to Jesus. He also stressed the sovereignty and holiness of Jesus as well as these disciples’ total abandonment of their possessions to follow Jesus. Jesus repeated the lesson of this incident after His resurrection (John 21:1-14).
Luke placed this account in his Gospel after the Capernaum incidents rather than before them as Mark did (Mark 1:14-28). He probably arranged his material this way to stress Jesus’ sovereignty over people having established the general program of Jesus’ ministry. [Note: Ibid., p. 876.] The emphasis on Jesus’ sovereignty continues through chapter 5. This was not the first time Jesus had talked with Peter and the other disciples mentioned. Andrew had told his brother Peter that he had found the Messiah (cf. John 1:41). However these disciples’ thought of the Messiah as their contemporaries did. They expected a political deliverer who was less than God. Jesus had to teach them that He was God as well as Messiah. This lesson and its implications took all of Jesus’ ministry to communicate.
Luke alone specified that Simon and his companions were "fishermen" (Gr. halieus, Luke 5:2). Consequently, Jesus’ command to launch out into the deep water for another try at fishing contrasts Jesus’ authority with the natural ability of these men. Peter’s compliance shows his great respect for Jesus that led to obedience and ultimately to a large catch of fish. "Master" (Gr. epistata) is Luke’s equivalent for "teacher" or "rabbi." Luke never used the term "rabbi," probably because it would have had little significance for most Greek readers. "Master" is a term that disciples or near disciples used of Jesus (Luke 8:24; Luke 8:45; Luke 9:33; Luke 9:49), and it indicates submission to authority. Luke is the only Gospel evangelist who used this term, and wherever it appears it refers to Jesus.
Luke first stressed the gathering of very many fish (cf. John 21:6). The details give the narrative the ring of truth. "Partners" (Gr. metochos) probably refers to partners in business (cf. Luke 5:10; Hebrews 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 12:8).
Luke’s other emphasis was Peter’s response to this miracle. The catch so amazed (Gr. thambos) Peter that he prostrated himself before Jesus, evidently in the boat. Peter now addressed Jesus as "Lord" (Gr. kyrios) instead of "Master." "Lord" expressed more respect than "Master." In view of later developments in Peter’s life, it is difficult to say that Peter viewed Jesus as God when he called Him "Lord" here. He may have done so and then relapsed into thinking of Him as only a mortal later. Nevertheless Peter expressed conviction of sin in Jesus’ presence indicating that he realized that Jesus was a holy man, very different from himself (cf. Isaiah 6:5). "Depart from me," or, "Go away from me," expresses Peter’s feeling of uncleanness in Jesus’ presence. Jesus’ superior ability caused Peter to sense that he was a sinner, one who fell short. "Sinner" (Gr. hamartolos) is one of Luke’s characteristic words. Of the 22 occurrences of this word in the Synoptics, 15 are in Luke.
"Luke does not use the term pejoratively but compassionately, as a common term applied to those who were isolated from Jewish religious circles because of their open sin, their unacceptable occupation or lifestyle, or their paganism. Luke shows that these sinners are the objects of God’s grace through the ministry of Jesus." [Note: Leifeld, p. 877.]
"What Peter does not realize is that admitting one’s inability and sin is the best prerequisite for service, since then one can depend on God. Peter’s confession becomes his résumé for service. Humility is the elevator to spiritual greatness." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 155.]
Jesus does not depart from nor reject sinners who feel conviction because of their sin. He draws them to Himself and sends them out to serve Him. Jesus used the fish to represent people that Peter would draw into the kingdom of God and before that into the church (cf. Acts 2; Acts 10:9-48). This seems to be a reference to catching in the sense of saving rather than in the sense of judging and destroying.
"Fishermen caught live fish to kill them, but the disciples would be catching people who were dead to give them life." [Note: Bailey, p. 112.]
Peter and his three companions immediately abandoned their life as fishermen to become Jesus’ disciples full-time (cf. Luke 14:33; Luke 18:22). Only Luke recorded that Jesus had contact with Peter before He called Peter to follow Him (cf. Luke 4:38). These fishermen left the greatest catch of their career, undoubtedly, because of what it showed them of Jesus. [Note: Morris, p. 114.] It is unlikely that they were able to finance their life as Jesus’ disciples with this catch of fish, as one commentator suggested. [Note: Geldenhuys, p. 182.]
"Luke did not lay particular stress on the thought of giving up all to follow Jesus (Mark 1:18; Mark 1:20): the accent is on Luke 5:10 with its call to mission." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 206.]
The general emphasis in this incident is on the authority of Jesus. His words had powerful effects. The only proper response to them was submission. Blessing would follow in the form of participation in Jesus’ mission.
"The major application in the miracle of the catch of fish centers around Jesus’ instructions and Peter’s responses. In the midst of teaching many, Jesus calls a few people to more focused service. Peter is one example of such a call. Everyone has a ministry, and all are equal before God, but some are called to serve him directly. Peter has the three necessary qualities Jesus is looking for. He is willing to go where Jesus leads, he is humble, and he is fully committed." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 163.]
This whole first section describing Jesus’ teaching mission (Luke 4:14 to Luke 5:11) focuses on Jesus’ authority and the proper response to it.
B. The beginning of controversy with the Pharisees 5:12-6:11
One of Luke’s purposes in his Gospel and in Acts appears to have been to show why God stopped working particularly with Israel and began working with Jews and Gentiles equally in the church. [Note: Liefeld, p. 879.] The Jewish leaders’ rejection of Jesus was a major reason for this change. The conflict between them is an important feature of this Gospel.
This section of the Gospel includes six incidents. In the first one Jesus served notice to the religious leaders in Jerusalem that the Messiah had arrived. In the remaining five pericopes, the Pharisees found fault with Jesus or His disciples. Mark stressed the conflict that was mounting, but Luke emphasized the positive aspects of Jesus’ ministry that led to the opposition. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 206.]
One of the cities of Galilee is what Luke meant in view of the context. He revealed his particular interest in medical matters again by noting that leprosy covered this man completely. There could be no doubt that he was a leper. As Peter had done, this man fell on His face before Jesus (cf. Luke 5:8). As Peter, he also appealed to Jesus as "Lord" (Luke 5:8). This address was respectful and appropriate for addressing someone with special power from God. [Note: G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew, pp. 122-23.] The leper was very bold in coming to Jesus since his leprosy separated him from normal social contacts. His conditional request cast doubt on Jesus’ willingness to heal him, not His ability to do so. It may express his sense of unworthiness to receive such a blessing.
1. Jesus’ cleansing of a leprous Jew 5:12-16 (cf. Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45)
This miracle was to be a "testimony" to others about Jesus’ person (Luke 5:14). It authenticated His person and His teaching. It also shows the blessings that Jesus brought to people, specifically the spiritual cleansing of those whom sin has polluted (cf. Luke 4:18).
"Like sin, leprosy ["a defiling skin disease" TNIV] is deeper than the skin (Leviticus 13:3) and cannot be helped by mere ’surface’ measures (see Jeremiah 6:14). Like sin, leprosy spreads (Leviticus 13:7-8); and as it spreads, it defiles (Leviticus 13:44-45). Because of his defilement, a leprous person had to be isolated outside the camp (Leviticus 13:46), and lost sinners one day will be isolated in hell. People with leprosy were looked on as ’dead’ (Numbers 12:12), and garments infected with leprosy were fit only for the fire (Leviticus 13:52)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:186.]
By stretching out His hand and touching the leper, Jesus was doing the unthinkable (Leviticus 13). He probably did this to express His compassion for the man as well as to identify Himself beyond doubt as the source of his healing (cf. Exodus 4:4; Exodus 6:6; Exodus 14:16; Exodus 15:12; Jeremiah 17:5; Acts 4:30). Jesus’ words offered him reassurance (cf. Luke 5:10). Jesus’ authority extended to power over disease and ceremonial uncleanness. Doctor Luke again noted an immediate cure (cf. Luke 4:35; Luke 4:39).
"The most significant lesson from the cleansing of the leper story is that even outsiders can experience God’s healing grace." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 165.]
The healing of lepers was a messianic act (cf. Luke 7:22). Therefore the man’s "testimony" to his cleansing amounted to an announcement of Messiah’s arrival. Jesus did not want this man to fail to go to Jerusalem and present the required offering for the healing of leprosy (Leviticus 14:1-32). If the man had broadcast his healing, he may never have reached the priests there and the crowds may have mobbed Him even worse than they were already doing.
Luke omitted the fact that the man disobeyed Jesus (Mark 1:45) perhaps because this would have undermined his emphasis on Jesus’ authority. Instead he stressed the spread of the story (lit. "word," Gr. logos) concerning Jesus. The spread of the gospel concerning Jesus is a major theme of both this Gospel and the Book of Acts. This healing increased Jesus’ popularity. However, His response was not to rest on popular approval but to renew His dependence on His Father by praying in a solitary place.
". . . the mainspring of his life was his communion with God, and in such communion he found both strength and guidance to avoid submitting to temptation." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 210.]
Luke did not mention the fact that increased popularity hampered Jesus’ activities (Mark 1:45). He also listed hearing Jesus before experiencing healing in Luke 5:15, reflecting the priority of Jesus’ preaching over His miracles.
Again Luke stressed the priority of Jesus’ teaching ministry. The Pharisees and scribes had come to hear what He was teaching. These men, first appearing in Luke here, were the guardians of Israel’s orthodoxy. The Pharisees were a political party in Israel noted for their strict observance of the Mosaic Law as traditionally interpreted by the rabbis. Some of these doctors of the law (i.e., scribes, lawyers) were probably Pharisees, but probably not all of them were. The figure is a hendiadys indicating that they were religious watchdogs and does not mean that other religious leaders were absent. A hendiadys is a figure of speech in which someone expresses a complex idea by naming two entities and linking them with a conjunction. Thus scribes and Pharisees means religious leaders but does not imply that other religious leaders such as the Sadducees were absent. [Note: For a discussion of the religious leaders, see Steve Mason, "Chief Priests, Sadducees, Pharisees and Sanhedrin in Acts," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol. 4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, pp. 134-47.]
Luke viewed the power of God as extrinsic to Jesus (cf. John 5:1-19). Jesus did not perform miracles out of His divine nature. He laid those powers aside at the Incarnation. Rather He did His miracles in the power of God’s Spirit who was on Him and in Him as a prophet.
"Why would Luke say that ’the power of the Lord was present for him to heal’ if Jesus could heal at any time, under any condition, and solely at his own discretion? This statement only makes sense if we view healing as the sovereign prerogative of God the Father, who sometimes dispenses his power to heal and at other times withholds it." [Note: Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, p. 59. Cf. J. I. Packer, "The Comfort of Conservatism," in Power Religion, p. 289.]
In Acts, Luke would stress that the same Spirit is on and in every believer today, and He is the source of our power as He was the source of Jesus’ power.
2. Jesus’ authority to forgive sins 5:17-26 (cf. Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12)
Luke documented Jesus’ authority in yet another area of life by showing His power to forgive sins. In this incident the miracle is secondary and the issue of Jesus’ authority is primary. Jesus claimed to be God by forgiving the man’s sins.
This incident happened in Capernaum (Mark 2:1), though that fact was irrelevant for Luke. Other details in his account again add the touch of reality to it.
The zeal with which the four friends of the paralytic sought to bring him into Jesus’ presence demonstrated their faith, namely, their belief that Jesus could heal him. However the sick man also appears to have had faith in Jesus or he would not have permitted his friends to do what they did. Perhaps Luke did not mention the paralytic’s faith explicitly because to do so might have detracted from his emphasis on Jesus’ power. God responds to the faith of others when they bring friends in need to Him in prayer as well as in person.
". . . it is impossible to think that the man’s sins were forgiven if he had no faith of his own." [Note: Morris, p. 117.]
We should not regard physical healing and spiritual forgiveness as an "either or" proposition. Rather true forgiveness includes full restoration in every area of life. Jesus graciously did "both and" for this man, though often God does not restore people to complete physical health, some not until after death.
"Miracle becomes a metaphor for salvation. All Jesus’ miracles should be seen in this light." [Note: Bock, "A Theology . . .," p. 126.]
The religious leaders were correct. Only God can forgive sins. However, they were unwilling to draw the conclusion that Jesus was God.
"Whenever Luke reports what someone is thinking, instruction from Jesus usually follows." [Note: Idem, Luke, p. 158.]
"Luke, incidentally, is rather fond of questions which begin with ’Who?’ and refer to Jesus (Luke 7:49; Luke 8:25; Luke 9:9; Luke 9:18; Luke 9:20; Luke 19:3)." [Note: Morris, p. 117.]
As a prophet, Jesus may have had special insight into what His critics were thinking (cf. Matthew 9:3; Mark 2:6). It was easier to say, "Your sins have been forgiven you," because no one could disprove that claim. In another sense, of course, both claims were equally difficult because healing and forgiving required supernatural power.
Jesus did the apparently more difficult thing to prove that He could also do the apparently easier thing. This is the first time Luke recorded Jesus calling Himself the "Son of Man." Luke used this title 26 times, and in every case Jesus used it to describe Himself (except in Acts 7:56 where Stephen used it of Him). This was a messianic title with clear implications of deity (Daniel 7:13-14). Since the Son of Man is the divine judge and ruler, it is only natural that He would have the power to forgive. It was only consistent for Jesus to claim deity since He had just demonstrated His deity by forgiving the man’s sins. He would demonstrate it by healing him.
The paralyzed man responded in faith immediately (Gr. parachrema) to Jesus’ command. The stretcher had carried the man, and now the man carried the stretcher.
"The ability of the paralyzed man to resume his walk of life is a picture of what Jesus does when he saves. His message is a liberating one." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 158.]
Everyone present glorified God because of what Jesus had done. One of Luke’s objectives was to glorify God and to encourage his readers to do the same in this Gospel and in Acts (cf. Luke 2:20). The amazed reaction of the crowd recalls the same response of the people on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11-12; cf. Luke 7:16; Luke 13:17; Luke 18:43; Acts 3:9; Acts 8:8). Perhaps Luke meant to draw the reader’s attention to "today," the last word that is also the first word Jesus spoke when He announced the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2 a (Luke 4:21). The "day" of the Messiah’s appearing had arrived, and the witnesses of this miracle testified to it albeit unknowingly.
Luke’s emphasis in his account of this incident was on Jesus’ authority and the people’s acknowledgment of it. He also stressed Jesus’ ongoing mission (cf. Acts).
"Three quest stories appear early in the narrative of Jesus’ ministry, in Luke 5, 7. Three reappear toward the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, in Luke 17, 18, , 19. Thus they appear early and late in the narrative of Jesus’ ministry prior to his arrival in Jerusalem. The tendency to bracket Jesus’ ministry with this type of story suggests the importance of these encounters in Jesus’ total activity." [Note: Tannehill, 1:118.]
A quest story is one in which someone approaches Jesus in quest of something very important to human wellbeing. Of the nine quest stories in the Synoptics, seven are in Luke, and four of these are unique to Luke.
Levi (Matthew) was a tax collector ("publican," AV). However he was not a chief tax collector, as Zaccheus was (Luke 19:2), nor does the text say that he was rich, though he appears to have been. Nevertheless the Pharisees and most of the ordinary Jews despised him because of his profession. He collected taxes from the Jews for the unpopular Roman government, and many of his fellow tax collectors were corrupt.
"It is of importance to notice, that the Talmud distinguishes two classes of ’publicans’: the tax-gatherer in general (Gabbai), and the Mokhes, or Mokhsa, who was specially the douanier or custom-house official. Although both classes fall under the Rabbinic ban, the douanier-such as Matthew was-is the object of chief execration." [Note: Edersheim, 1:515.]
Jesus’ authority is apparent in Levi’s immediate and unconditional abandonment of his profession to follow Jesus. Levi obeyed Jesus’ as he should have and in so doing gave Luke’s readers a positive example to follow (cf. Luke 5:11). Luke’s terminology stresses Levi’s decisive break with his former vocation and his continuing life of discipleship. This decision undoubtedly involved making financial and career sacrifices.
3. Jesus’ attitude toward sinners 5:27-32 (cf. Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17)
Luke painted Jesus bestowing messianic grace on a variety of people: a demoniac, a leper, a paralytic, and now a tax collector. He liberated these captives from a malign spirit, lifelong uncleanness, a physical handicap, and now social ostracism and materialism. Again the Pharisees were present. In Levi’s case, Jesus not only provided forgiveness but fellowship with Himself. The incident shows the type of people Jesus called to Himself and justifies His calling them.
The joy of Levi and his outcast guests contrasts with the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes. The religious leaders objected to Jesus and His disciples’ eating and drinking with these tax gatherers and sinners because of the risk of ceremonial defilement they ran by doing so. They focused their criticism on Jesus’ disciples rather than on Jesus, perhaps because Jesus was so popular.
Jesus used a proverb to summarize His mission (cf. ch. 15). He used the word "righteous" in a relative sense and perhaps a bit sarcastically since no one is truly righteous, though the Pharisees considered themselves righteous. A person must acknowledge his or her need for Jesus and His righteousness before that one will benefit from the Great Physician’s powers. This acknowledgment of need is what Jesus meant by repentance. Repentance leads to joy in Luke as well as to life (cf. Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; Luke 15:22-27; Luke 15:32). Luke stressed the positive call of sinners to repentance in this Gospel and in Acts. Luke referred to repentance more than Matthew or Mark did (cf. Luke 3:3; Luke 3:8; Luke 10:13; Luke 11:32; Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5; Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; Luke 16:30; Luke 17:3-4; Luke 24:47).
"The connection between Luke 5:32 and Luke 19:10 suggests that they form an inclusion. That is, we have similar general statements about Jesus’ mission early and late in his ministry, statements which serve to interpret the whole ministry which lies between them." [Note: Tannehill, 1:107.]
The religious leaders (Luke 5:30; Mark 2:18) and John’s disciples (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18) raised the question of fasting. They did so because it was another practice, besides eating with sinners, that marked Jesus and His disciples as unusual (cf. Luke 7:34). Since Jesus preached repentance (Luke 5:32), why did He not expect His followers to demonstrate the accepted signs that indicated it? These questioners made Jesus and His disciples appear to be out of step by contrasting their behavior with that of John the Baptist’s and the Pharisees’ disciples. All of those people appeared to be sympathetic to Jesus and righteous.
The Old Testament required only one day of fasting, namely, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29), but over the years additional fasts had become traditional. Evidently John and his disciples fasted periodically. The Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday (cf. Luke 18:12) as well as on four other days in memory of Jerusalem’s destruction (Zechariah 7:3; Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19). [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "nestis," by J. Behm, 4:930.] Jesus did not oppose fasting, but He criticized its abuse (Luke 4:2; Luke 22:16; Luke 22:18; Matthew 6:16-18).
Luke alone mentioned the reference of Jesus’ questioners to prayer. He probably did this to clarify the circumstances in which fasting happened for his readers. The questioners implied that Jesus’ disciples neglected prayer as well as fasting.
4. Jesus’ attitude toward fasting 5:33-39 (cf. Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22)
The setting of this controversy is the same as the previous one: Levi’s banquet.
Jesus compared the situation to a wedding, which calls for joy. He meant that He was the bridegroom who had come to claim His bride, Israel (cf. Isaiah 54:5-8; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:19-20; Hosea 2:23; Ezekiel 16). His disciples were His friends who rejoiced at this prospect with Him. Therefore to compel them to fast was inappropriate. Thus Jesus rebuked His questioners. However, Jesus implied that the bridegroom would die. This was one of Jesus’ early intimations of His death. Then His disciples would fast. They probably did this after His crucifixion but before His resurrection. They also do it after His ascension and before His return to the earth (cf. John 16:16-24).
Jesus next illustrated with parables the fact that His coming introduced a radical break with former religious customs. He did not come to patch Judaism up but to inaugurate a new order. Had Israel accepted Jesus this new order would have been the messianic kingdom, but since the Jews rejected Him it became the church. Eventually it will become the messianic kingdom. Simply adding His new order to Judaism would have two detrimental effects. It would damage the new order, and it would not preserve the old order. It would also appear incongruous. Only Luke’s account includes the first effect, that it would damage the new order. Luke evidently included this to help his Christian readers see that Israel and the church are distinct.
"The real point is the incompatibility of the two pieces of cloth, and the contrast of new and old is implicit. . . . Whereas in Mk. the deficiencies of Judaism cannot be mended simply by a Christian ’patch’, in Lk. the emphasis is on the impossibility of trying to graft something Christian onto Judaism." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 227.]
The second illustration adds the fact that the new order that Jesus had come to bring has an inherently expanding and potentially explosive quality. The gospel and Christianity would expand to the whole world. Judaism simply could not contain what Jesus was bringing since it had become too rigid due to centuries of accumulated tradition. Here Luke’s account is very close to Mark’s.
Only Luke included this statement. Jesus’ point was that most people who have grown accustomed to the old order are content with it and do not prefer the new. They tend to assume that the old is better because it is old. This was particularly true of the Jewish religious leaders who regarded Jesus’ teaching as new and inferior to what was old.
Jesus contrasted four pairs of things that do not mix in this pericope. They are feasting and fasting, a new patch and an old garment, new wine and old wineskins, and new wine and old wine. His point was that His way and the way that the Jewish leaders followed and promoted were unmixable. The religious leaders even refused to try Jesus’ way believing that their old way was better.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 5". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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