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Fishers Of Men -- Luke 5:1-11
“And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God, He stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And He entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when He had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto Him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him”- Luke 5:1-11.
Fishers of men! We hear a great deal about that nowadays. This is the first occasion on which our Lord Jesus Christ called men to that high calling. I want you to notice it particularly. We read, “And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God, He stood by the lake of Gennesaret.” The lake of Gennesaret is the same as the Sea of Galilee, or the Sea of Tiberias. It is a fresh-water lake, not very large, but very beautiful. One who has seen it can readily visualize what this first verse brings before us. In many places the hills seem to roll gently down to the lake itself, and there is just a very narrow beach so that one standing there would find himself crowded back to the water as people thronged toward him. On the other hand, the people could stand or sit up along the hillside and listen very readily as one spoke to them, either from the shore itself, or as our Lord did, from a boat. Everything about the Sea of Galilee fits in perfectly with the picture that we have in the New Testament. There is one thing that is indisputable: The New Testament was clearly never written by men who simply imagined the stories that they tell. They knew what they were talking about. Every detail of the picture is exact. Luke, himself, perhaps was not among those who had heard the Lord Jesus preach, but he said he had accurate knowledge of all things from the first, and he must have visited the Sea of Galilee. He must have looked over all the country round about, or he could not have given such accurate descriptions of the various places that he mentions in his Gospel. He is recognized, even by unbelievers, as one of the most careful geographers as well as one of the most accurate historians extant.
It is a great moment in one’s life when he hears the call to a life of service, in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and for the blessing of a lost world. To respond to that call in loving obedience is to enter upon an altogether new and blessed experience, where one lives and moves on a higher plane than ever before. This is something more than conversion or even than consecration. For all who are saved have been born from above and all such are consecrated by God Himself to glorify Him and to do His will in this scene. But to some there comes a higher calling-a summons to leave all in the way of occupation with temporal things and to go forth at His bidding to represent Him as His ambassadors. His anointed ministers, to whom is committed in a special way the great task of “taking men alive” and then leading them on in the knowledge of Christ. That many imagine they are “called to the ministry” who are unfitted in every way for such high and holy service is very true, and often more evident to others than to those who are thus self-deluded. But when the Lord truly calls one to go after Him in full-time service, He fits that one for the work which He intends him to do. Possibly, there were never four men who gave less promise of marked ability as preachers of the Word than the fisherman quartet here; yet each of these was chosen by Jesus to fill a special place, and two of them were destined to become known as among the greatest missionary-preachers and teachers of all time. We know very little of Andrew, and James was martyred very early (Acts 12:1-2), but Peter and John were granted many years of devoted service and their written ministry has edified untold millions.
The Lord Jesus was standing upon the shore. The people were thronging down to hear Him, crowding Him back toward the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee or the Lake of Gennesaret, as here called. Then Jesus turned about and He saw two fishermen’s boats in the lake, close to the shore, but the fishermen were gone out of them and were washing their nets. Jesus knew the owners of these boats, and He felt perfectly free to ask for the use of one of them. He entered into one belonging to Simon Peter and asked him to thrust out a little from the land. This was not the first time the Lord had contacted Simon Peter, neither was it the second nor third. We read of the first definite instance in John, chapter one, where two of the disciples of John the Baptist heard their master say, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and they left John and followed Jesus. They spent all the rest of the day with Him, listening to the wonderful words that fell from His holy lips, and then immediately became exercised about bringing others to Him. We read that one of the two who heard John speak was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother-“And he first find-eth his own brother Simon, and brought him to Jesus.” There is something about the actual arrangement of the Greek text there that has led scholars to believe that it really means this: He was the first of the two to find his brother, implying that John himself found his brother James on that occasion and brought him to Jesus also, but John modestly hides himself and speaks only of that which his friend Andrew did. Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. The Lord Jesus welcomed him and gave him that new name “Peter.” From this time on Peter was numbered among those who are recognized as disciples of the Lord Jesus, but the disciples of Christ were not necessarily separated from their secular employment. Many delighted to listen to His messages and were taught by Him, and it was later that He separated a little group of twelve, and another group of seventy to go out preaching. So Peter at first continued in his daily work as a fisherman. He was engaged in this occupation when the Lord Jesus asked for the use of his boat. He entered into Simon’s boat and when He had done so, Jesus sat down in the boat and taught the people.
It is easy to visualize that scene. There were the crowds of people on the hillside. Here is the Lord Jesus sitting in the boat and as He addresses the throng, His voice carries in the clear air to the last one on the hill. He instructs them concerning the kingdom of God, and I can fancy Simon Peter sitting there with all the sense of ownership, thinking, “This is my boat, and Jesus is here talking to these people. I am so glad to see them listening to Him.” The Lord said some pretty serious things. Peter would be looking around and thinking like so many folks today, “I am glad to see so-and-so here; I hope he is taking this in, and I hope so-and-so is getting what she needs.” But apparently Peter was not taking in anything. He was just allowing it all to go to the rest of the folks. The Lord Jesus recognized his true state, and his need for something to probe his conscience. So He said unto Simon, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Simon was bewildered and surprised. Jesus was not a fisherman. He was a carpenter, and He had not lived in a town on the lakeside. He lived in Nazareth, some miles away from the lake, and He could not be expected, if He were only a man, to know the right time or the right conditions for fishing. So Peter explains in the next verse that they had been out all night long fishing, and had gotten nothing. So he was amazed when Jesus said to him in broad daylight, probably with the sun shining brightly down, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets.” You can imagine an experience like this for Peter, and he, saying to himself, “If the fish were not there in the night, certainly they will not be in the sunshine. There is no use expecting to take any fish at this time of day. I know the conditions here too well for that.” Of course, our modernistic ministers and preachers have tried to explain the situation like this: they tell us that Jesus happened to look about and saw a school of fish, and instead of saying to Peter, “Look, there is a school of fish,” He thought it was a good opportunity to make Peter think He was working a miracle and so He said, “Let down your nets for a draught.” This is an endeavor to make our blessed Lord appear a mere charlatan. But the Lord Jesus wanted to reach the conscience of Peter, so He did something that would make him realize he was in the presence of God Himself.
“Let down your nets for a draught.” Simon Peter says, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.” It had been a most disappointing night. But then, instead of saying it is useless to let down the nets today, he says, “Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.” Jesus did not say, “Let down the net.” Jesus said, “Let down the nets,” to prepare for a great draught. Peter said, “Well, Lord, we will let down one net anyway.” Of course, he felt it was a poor time to fish and he did not expect to get anything, but since Jesus said so, he let down a net. When they had done this they caught a great multitude of fishes, and their net brake. Maybe, if they had let down the nets, that which was used would not have broken so easily. One was not sufficient to hold the great draught of fishes rushing into it, and when they realized that they would not be able to handle this great catch themselves they beckoned unto their partners who were in another ship. I suppose that would be James and John, for they seemed to be working together. They beckoned unto their partners that they should come and help them, and they came and they filled both the ships so they began to I saw a number of ship-loads-boat-loads- come in to Tiberias from the Sea of Galilee, but I never saw such a catch as this threatening to sink the boat. I remember, as they were bringing in a great lot of fish, I was quite surprised, and I said to one of the fishermen, “What do you call these fish?” and he said, “Poisson St. Pierre”-St. Peter’s fish. 1 said, “Are these some of the fish that Peter caught?” He said, “No; but these are some of the children of the fish he didn’t catch!” His name, though, is linked with them to this day.
They got such a multitude of fish that the boats were almost sinking as they drew them to land. Simon Peter was so stirred by what had taken place that he recognized the fact that no one but the Creator of the fish could ever have commanded the treasures of the deep to come into his net that way. He realized in a moment that he was in the presence, not only of the greatest prophet that had ever risen in Israel; not only of the greatest teacher that had ever come to mankind; not only of the most remarkable miracle-worker that the Jews had ever seen-he was in the presence of God! He fell down at the feet of Jesus, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” When one is brought consciously into the presence of God, it always has the effect of making him realize his own unworthiness and sinfulness. When Job came into the presence of God he said, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Yet he was the best man living in his day, a man whose outward life was perfect and upright, and a man who feared God; but in the presence of the Lord, with the infinite holiness of God revealed to him, he felt he was but a poor sinner. Isaiah had the same experience. He was one of the most noble and eloquent of all the prophets, a man used of God to preach to others. Yet when he was in the temple one day and God was manifested to him, he cried out, “I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” He heard the seraphim surrounding the throne of God, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” He recognized in a moment that there was a holiness of which he knew nothing and to which he, in himself, could never attain; but when he confessed his sinfulness and said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips,” one of the seraphs took a coal from off the altar and touched his lips, saying, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
And now, Simon Peter here, active, energetic, and who had been with the Lord on a number of occasions; who had listened to His teaching and seen His miracles, now, apparently for the first time, recognized Him as God manifest in the flesh; and the result was a complete breakdown on his own part, and he cried, “I am a sinful man, O Lord!” I wonder if we have all broken down like that before God? The thing that is most natural to the heart of man and most hateful to God, is pride. “Most men,” we are told, “will declare to every one his own goodness, but a faithful man who can find?” Speak to the average man about his hope of heaven and he will tell you, “Yes, I do expect some day to arrive there.” He does trust that eventually he will find his home in that city of the saints; and you ask, “On what ground do you expect to be there?” Almost invariably he talks to you about his efforts to do good; his attempt to obey the Golden Rule and to love God with all his heart, and to love his neighbor as himself, and that he has never been guilty of any serious offenses. He bases his hope on his own merits. But God’s Word says, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” Whenever you find men or women talking about their own righteousness, bolstering themselves up by the records of their own good works you may be sure they have never actually been in the presence of God. Simon Peter exclaims, “I am a sinful man; depart from me,” as much as to say, “I recognize I am not fit to associate with a Holy One such as Thou art.” Yet he clings to Him and says, as it were, “You will have to send me away, if You do not want me with You.” And our Lord never sends any sinner away. If you come, recognizing your guilt and confessing your sin, you may be sure He will receive you.
The Lord Jesus, instead of driving Peter away, said unto him, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” In other words, “The very fact, Simon, that you have recognized that in yourself you are a poor sinful man makes you fit to go forth and become a blessing to others. You are going to have a higher calling, Peter. You are not going to spend the rest of your life on the Sea of Galilee fishing, but you are going out at My command to win souls, to bring others to a saving knowledge of the God of all grace; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Or, as He puts it in another Gospel, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Now do not misunderstand. I do not suppose that the Lord Jesus says exactly those words to everybody. He does not call everybody to give up their temporal employment, and go forth in the ministry of the gospel, or to go out as missionaries to distant lands. But He does call everybody to be devoted to Himself and if devoted to Him, whatever your calling in life, whatever your station, however you may be occupied, you will be enabled to glorify Him, and though it may not be for you to do the work of an evangelist, though it may not be for you to go out as an apostle as Peter did, you will be able to influence others by your life, a life lived for God, which is the best testimony any one can give to the saving grace of God. Fear not. It is true you are a sinner in yourself, but if your trust is in Christ and you are resting in Him who died to save you, in Him who shed His blood to put away your guilt, you can go forth in confidence to serve. “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
God could have sent angels into this world to carry the gospel of His grace to lost men, and I am sure there is not an angel in heaven who would not gladly leave the glory and come down into this world and go up and down among the nations to tell the wondrous story of Christ, who died and rose again. But Christ did not commit to them this precious ministry. He has entrusted it to saved sinners-to you and to me, who, through His grace, know Him as our Redeemer. God give us to be faithful in making known the message to those round about us. We may have to do it in a very quiet way. It may be just a little word here and there. It may be just a short gospel message; it may be a brief testimony that will tell of the saving grace of Christ. All of these may be used as the hooks wherewith we catch men and bring them to know the Lord Jesus Christ for themselves.
This was a crisis in the life of the Apostle Peter, or I should say, the fisherman Peter. It marked the break between his life as a fisherman and that which was to prepare him for the apostleship, for we read, “When they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him.” Never again was Peter to be engaged in the fishing-business for a living. There was one time, you remember, after the resurrection, when he was still in a somewhat bewildered state, following his denial, that he went down to the Sea of Galilee, and was fishing; and again the Saviour appeared and again a great multitude of fish came into his net, but from that time on we never read of Peter taking up a net again. He devoted his life entirely to carrying the gospel message to a lost world. “They forsook all, and followed Him.” I take it that “they” here included, at least, the four men-Peter, Andrew, James, and John. This was really their induction into the apostolate. They gave up their temporal employment and from this time on they were associated with Jesus as He went from place to place, preaching the gospel of the kingdom. So, after three-and-a-half years of association with Him they were prepared, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, to go forth declaring the gospel of His grace in power; so that multitudes, both of Jews and Gentiles, were saved. In this way they proved the truth of the Lord’s words, “From henceforth thou shalt catch men.” I cannot conceive of any higher calling on earth than that of being used of God to bring precious souls to Himself. Who would shrink from such service when commissioned by so wondrous a Master! To be a fisher of men is one of the greatest privileges one can enjoy.
A Leper Cleansed -- Luke 5:12-15
“And it came to pass, when He was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus, fell on his face, and besought Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And He put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And He charged him to tell no man: but go, and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of Him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities”- Luke 5:12-15.
In this wonderful miracle of our Lord-a miracle duplicated many times in His ministry on earth-we find Him dealing with a man afflicted with leprosy, which is used in Scripture to illustrate the disease of sin. There are four things to be said of leprosy that are all true of sin. First, it is a constitutional disease; secondly, it is a loathsome disease; thirdly, it is an infectious disease; and lastly, so far as human power of healing was concerned, in the days of old, it was an incurable disease. In our day, science has discovered ways to cure it if taken in time, and to alleviate the suffering of those who have been ill longer. But in Bible times, no such method was known. God alone could undertake for the leper; that is what made the miracle of the Lord so significant.
Leprosy is a constitutional disease, and in that it pictures man’s sinful state by nature. You see, the trouble with all mankind is not that they become sinners by sinning, but they sin because they are sinners. We are are born in sin and are shapen in iniquity. The virus of sin is in our being, from the moment we draw our first breath. We readily disobey God and go from one sin to another because of the sinful nature with which we are born. We do not all sin in exactly the same way, but the Scriptures say that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
I remember reading some years ago in a Medical Journal of a dance which was held in the city of Calcutta, India, where there were many beautiful ladies, noblemen, people of wealth and culture. One young woman, the belle of the evening, was dancing with a Scottish doctor. He said, when he brought her back to her seat, “May I have a word with you? I hope you won’t take offense. I couldn’t help but notice it, but upon your shoulder there is a certain spot. Has it been there long?” The young lady’s face colored. “Yes, doctor; it appeared some months ago, and it has bothered me considerably.” He said, “I wish you would come down and see me tomorrow. I would like to call in a specialist along a certain line and have him look at this spot.” The young lady was rather frightened, but she did as he asked, and the next day after a thorough examination of the spot, she received word that she had the disease of leprosy. One little spot upon her shoulder and yet the disease was working within, and soon it would be manifested more and more, and that beautiful body would be marked and scarred.
Isn’t that just like sin? And yet so often it seems to be such a little thing to begin with; some habit which one knows is not right, so insignificant, and it grows and grows until at last sin is manifested in all its terrible corruption. A little sin leads to something worse, and it increases until it is emphasized in the whole life and is a spiritual form of leprosy.
Leprosy is one of the most loathsome of all diseases, and sin is loathsome. It is the most loathsome think in the entire universe of God. It is the one thing which has blighted the whole universe, broken millions of hearts and brought dishonor to God, the One who created the world. There is nothing in His sight so hateful as sin. We are told in the book of Proverbs that “fools make a mock of sin, but among the righteous there is favor.” Many are the foolish, careless, frivolous folk, who say, “A short life and a merry one,” and, “We might as well get all the enjoyment we can and indulge in every evil.” They do not seem to realize the loathsomeness of sin.
Leprosy is an infectious disease. One might easily pass it on to others by contact with them; and that was why the leper, whence once discovered, was sent away from his friends and family. He had to dwell apart in the wilderness. The Old Testament regulations were very strict. He had to present himself before a priest to be examined, and if found to be leprous he was obliged to remain without the camp, far from the dwellings of healthy folk. He had to put a cover on his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” That is God’s picture of the sinner. Separated from others, you see, because he might infect them. Those who live in sin are continually infecting others, for “one sinner destroyeth much good.” Yet in every heart is this virus working until checked by divine grace.
Leprosy was an incurable disease in olden times, and sin is incurable so far as human help is concerned. Scientists and philosophers have tried to evolve plans and schemes which might rid the human race of sin, but today, in spite of all their work and effort, sin reigns and ruins as heretofore. We are as wicked a people as mankind has ever been. No cure has been invented but the divine one,-the mighty power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was no possibility of mistaking this case. Leprosy was openly manifested. Some men’s sins are open. In some men the sins are not so evident. We have no difficulty in recognizing that broken-down drunkard as a sinner; the licentious man’s evil habits soon become evident to all. Some are able to keep their sins covered, like a leper covering his body with beautiful clothing. But God sees and knows all our wickedness and is going to deal with every man according to His Word.
However, no matter how sinful or vile we have become; no matter how polluted or unclean our hearts may be, there is healing and cleansing if we will but come to our blessed Lord who is as ready today to deliver from sin and its guilt and power, as He was to heal and save those who came to Him of old. No case is too bad for Christ. George Whitefield used to cry out sometimes, “My friends, Jesus will take even the devil’s castaways.” This expression gave great offence to Lady Huntingdon, who was a warm friend of Whitefield’s as also of the Wesley’s, but she thought the expression savored of irreverence and was not becoming on the lips of a gospel preacher. She is reported to have taken Whitefield to task for it, and he listened humbly and then sometime later asked one who had been converted through his ministry to go and see Lady Huntingdon and give her the story of his conversion. He told her how he had been down in the very depths of sin, a drunkard and a blasphemer, until at last he felt the only thing left was suicide. He would rather risk unending misery in the world to come than continue in the awful wretchedness which sin had brought into his life here. And so with this in mind he was on his way early one morning to throw himself into the River Thames and end it all, as he thought, when passing by Moorfields, he saw a great throng gathered at that early hour, and found they were listening to the great field-preacher, George Whitefield. Drawing near to the outskirts of the crowd, he heard the stentorian voice of the evangelist exclaim, “My friends, Jesus will take even the devil’s castaways.” It went home to his heart and he came to Christ. As Lady Huntingdon listened to the story, tears filled her eyes, and when she met Whitefield again she said to him, “Do not be afraid to tell them that Jesus will take even the devil’s castaways.”
We are told here that Jesus put forth His hand and touched the leper. Had He been but an ordinary man, such contact would have made Him ceremonially unclean, but instead of that, the leper was immediately cleansed, and the Lord Jesus commanded him to go to the temple and offer for his cleansing according as Moses had given instruction. This instruction is found in the fourteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus. Perhaps never before had any priest in Israel for hundreds of years had a cleansed leper come to him in order that this service might be carried out. Jesus said it was to be for a testimony unto them; and how much it must have meant when a man thus healed came to the priest and asked him to examine him carefully, and then to offer the sacrifices as prescribed in this chapter. In the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus we read how the priests were to diagnose cases of leprosy and undoubtedly they had to refer to this portion of the Word many, many times, for there were large numbers of lepers in Israel in those days. But possibly the fourteenth chapter was practically a dead letter, as there had never been an occasion for any of them to carry it out. What a testimony it must have been then when this leper, and in the months to follow many others, came to the temple in order to be officially pronounced clean and restored to the congregation of the Lord. One is not surprised to turn to the book of Acts later on and read, “A great company of priests were obedient to the faith.” They had known so many cases of the power of the Lord Jesus to heal that they must have realized, particularly after they learned of His resurrection from the dead, that He was in very truth the promised Messiah of Israel.
Healing And Forgiveness -- Luke 5:16-26
“And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed. And it came to pass on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before Him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (He said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today”- Luke 5:16-26.
Those were very busy days for our Lord as He went from place to place manifesting His mighty power and ministering so graciously. In Luke 5:16 we read, “He withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed.” I do not know of anything that so emphasizes for us the reality of the humanity of our Lord as the fact that He felt the need of praying and withdrew Himself to pray. He who was God, He who heard the prayers of others, came down here as man and took the place of the dependent One and lifted His heart to the Father in earnest prayer. It is a good thing for us all to retire into the wilderness and pray. As we enter more into the life of prayer, we will find renewed strength and courage for our daily tasks.
“And it came to pass on a certain day, as He was teaching, there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” He went into one home and many gathered about, and others stood in the doorway and openings as He ministered the Word to all those who were near enough to hear. While the meeting was going on, there came four men bearing on a bed a poor neighbor of theirs, a paralyzed man, “a man which was taken with a palsy”: But they could not get in through the door because of the crowd. They might have said, “Well, we will have to try some other time. We can’t get through that crowd now.” This is probably what you and I might have said. We would have gone away to wait for some more convenient season. I like the earnestness of these men. They wanted to bring this man into contact with the Lord, and so they took him up to the housetop and let him down through the tiling.
The roofs in the Orient were flat, as you can see them today in many places in Palestine and Syria, and in other lands of the East. These men lifted their poor paralyzed friend up onto the roof, and then they removed the mud hardened by the sun and lifted up the tiles and when they had a space large enough for the couch to go through, they put ropes underneath it and let him down through the roof into the midst before Jesus.
I can imagine the people there wondering what was happening when the pieces of mud and tiling fell through; and then when this couch was let down, they no doubt said something about spoiling the roof and were provoked at the interruption of the meeting.
Palsy pictures the helplessness of the sinner. This man was hopelessly ill. Perhaps he had lain on that couch for years and the outlook as far as he was concerned was absolutely dark. There seemed to be no possibility of a cure. How like that is to the case of the poor helpless sinner I Many know they are sinners but do not realize that they are absolutely helpless to relieve their condition.
We are not only utterly weak because of sin and cannot do a thing to save ourselves, but we are beyond all human help. No one else can deliver us, no matter how good or how well-meaning he may be. If we are ever saved at all it must be through the interposition of One who is more than man. Apart from Christ, there is no possibility of deliverance.
But this man had some friends who were interested in him. It is a great thing to have a friend concerned about you. It is a great thing when some unsaved one has some believer interested in him. Oh, unconverted man or woman, it means a lot to have someone praying for you! Husband, you may not realize it, but it is a wonderful thing to have a praying wife; wife, it is a wonderful thing to have a praying husband. Friend, it means a great deal if there are friends interested enough to pray for you. You should thank God when people are interested enough to pray for you. Some resent it, but why should anyone be angry because others are enough concerned to pray for them?
This man had friends and they determined if it was at all possible they were going to get him to Jesus. Christian, have you someone on your list of whom you are saying in your heart, “I must get him to Jesus”? These four men were not discouraged because of difficulties, but they brought their friend to Jesus even though they had to tear up part of the roof to do it. Can’t you picture them bringing him down the road and saying, “When we get him to Jesus, we know something will happen.” They might have said-but they did not-”Look at that crowd of people, there is not much hope today;” or, “Look at the crowds, but perhaps when they see the condition of this man, our friend, they will make way for him.” But no one wanted to make way, and they could not get their friend in through the doorway where Jesus was.
They might have reasoned, “It isn’t the Lord’s time; we will have to wait until the Lord is more willing to do something for him,” and so have gone back home and missed a blessing for him and for themselves. But these tremendously earnest men were determined to bring their friend to Jesus, and so they said, “There is another way; we will try the roof.” I think as the Lord was teaching, the folks must have been astonished as they saw the four eager faces of these men peering through the opening and then the couch being let down. They might even have said that the preaching of Jesus was more important than bothering with a paralytic like that! These men were so definitely interested; and we may well imitate their example. Some may have suggested, when they first went to get their sick friend to take him to Jesus, that it was of no use. But they were not discouraged. They knew that Jesus had healed others and they were insistent that he must come to Jesus also and prove what He could do. The sick man may have said, “All right; if you can get me there, I will go.” We often hear seeking souls exhorted to “pray through” in order to be saved, but it is the sinner’s friends who need to pray through in order that he may be led to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
No matter what the others may have thought, the heart of Jesus was delighted. It is always a joy to Him when He finds folks who are really in earnest. “When He saw their faith”-I think it means the faith of the four men and the faith of the sick man also; for it was faith that made him willing to come. The evidence of their faith was seen in what they did and by their earnest desire to get their friend to the feet of Jesus. “When He saw their faith, He said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” He saw that this man’s spiritual need was greater than his physical need. The spiritual need is always greater. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Many will say, “I wish you would pray that I might be healed of my sickness.” But few realize the need of pardon for sin.
Get right with God first-know His saving help first of all. So often people think of just one particular evil habit. They say, “I wish you would pray that I might have victory or be delivered from this evil habit.” But they do not seem to realize that our Lord Jesus does not specialize in merely fixing people up, but in giving them pardon for their sins and imparting a new life.
Jesus looked at the man and said, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Surely that was good news. Did you ever hear Him say that to you? You would not hear an audible voice, but we find it in His “Word. He says to you who believe in Him, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” The only way you can be sure of this is by taking Him at His Word.
How did this man know his sins were forgiven him? Because Jesus said so. If people asked this man how he knew this, he could have replied, “I rest in His Word, and I trust Him.” Have you trusted His Word? But my! How this angered the legalists! They thought that one had to buy and pay for everything. They thought that God does not do anything for you unless you pay for it, and that salvation has to be earned by something that you do for God. They did not understand grace, and asked, “Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” What they didn’t know was that it was God in flesh standing in the midst of them who had said, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” If Jesus had been only man, then it would have been blasphemy, but because He was God manifest in the flesh, He could say that and not blaspheme. No one needed to tell Jesus what these men were thinking, and so He answered them saying, “What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?” One was as difficult as the other. There was no use for them to say to anyone, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” for they had no such authority. Neither could they give strength to palsied limbs.
Jesus said, “But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power upon earth to forgive sins,” He saith unto the sick of the palsy, “I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.” He did this that they might know that He was not speaking lies; that they might know that He had the authority to forgive sins.
The Lord Jesus met the spiritual need first, and then demonstrated His divine power by healing the man’s bodily disease. He forgave him first and then healed him. We read, “And immediately he rose up before them and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.” I don’t believe he walked like an ordinary man. I can imagine him leaping for joy as he hastened to demonstrate what Jesus had done for him. I think I see this man going to his home and saying, “Oh, friends, what do you think? I have been to Jesus and He has forgiven all my sins and healed my disease.” What a testimony! What a living proof of the Deity and compassion of the Saviour!
The Call And Response Of Matthew -- Luke 5:27-39
“And after these things He went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He said unto him, Follow Me. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. And they said unto Him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but Thine eat and drink? And He said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. And He spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better”- Luke 5:27-39.
We have really three distinct narratives in these verses but they are all linked together; the last two spring out of the first. The Lord Jesus passing by the custom office saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He said unto him, “Follow Me.” Levi is the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament and in that record uses his other name, “Matthew.” The author of this Gospel gives him his Hebrew name.
They use the word “publican” in Great Britain for one who keeps a tavern. In the Bible, it refers to a tax-collector, one who was enriching himself by oppressing his own people. Under the Roman Government in Palestine, the chief publican was generally a Jew who purchased the office from the Government and farmed the taxes for his own benefit. Matthew belonged to this group. Someone has said that he was probably the man who taught Peter to swear! I cannot say this was true, but I can understand people saying that. Twenty per cent of all the fish which were taken out of the lake were collected as taxes at the port of Capernaum. How that would rile Peter to have to give up the best of his catch, and so it possibly did start him swearing! Matthew was therefore of unsavory reputation among his own countrymen.
I do not know how frequently he saw and heard Jesus and beheld His works of power, but he was familiar with His ministry, and so when the Lord Jesus called him, saying, “Follow Me,” Matthew left all, and rose up and followed Him. That does not mean that he left everything immediately, but that he turned over all the accounting and satisfied the Roman Government and said to them, “I have heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth, and henceforth I give Him my life and all that I have.”
For Matthew, following Jesus meant that he must give up all dishonesty and selfishness. Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” What is your response to this call? When Matthew heard the call, he wound up his business and recognized Jesus as the Lord of his life. Then, ere he left all for good, he made a great feast. I suppose he was a comparatively wealthy man, and he called a big company of those whom he knew well, and they all sat down at the feast together. He invited Jesus and His disciples also, and they came. To the Pharisees it seemed strange that Jesus would accept such an invitation.
They were more concerned about the details of the law than they were about the souls of men. They found fault with the Lord because He healed on the Sabbath day, and associated with publicans and sinners; but these despised people were the very folk that He came from heaven to save. Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
There is a Saviour for you if you are lost. If you are not lost, if you have always done the best you could and obeyed the law and kept the Golden Rule maybe you can get along without Jesus! But if you are a poor sinner, and if your heart is black from sin, you are the very one that Jesus is seeking. He longs to have you know Him.
One thing of which you may be sure: He was not having a jolly time with them. One of the great curses today is the devil’s mission of amusement! Have you ever thought of what the word “amusement” means? Muse means “to think,” and the a is “the negative,” so amuse means “not to think.” David said that while he was musing the fire burned. The devil finds all sorts of things to amuse the people in order to keep them from thinking and facing the realities of eternity.
Jesus did not meet with Matthew’s friends in order to amuse them. He was speaking faithfully and earnestly about things pertaining to the kingdom. Always serious, He was there to save them and bring them to God. These scribes and Pharisees looked on to criticize. They were just as bad as those whom they despised, in the sight of God. The Lord heard them murmuring and said to them, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
There are some folk who are never happy without a doctor, but ordinarily people do not want the doctor if they are well, only when they are sick. So when people know that they are sinners, thank God, there is a Saviour to save them!
Someone may say, “I am too great a sinner to be saved.” But you can never be too great a sinner for the Lord Jesus to save. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” The chief has already been saved and is in glory, so any other sinner may be saved if he wills. “Whosoever will may come.”
I was having a meeting for boys and girls and I held my New Testament up and asked, “Who would like to buy this for $1.75?” No one had the money to buy it. Then I announced, that “whosoever” would come up and claim the New Testament might have it freely. A little fellow looked up and finally came out in the aisle and said to me, “I will take the Testament, please.” I said that I would give it to “whosoever” will, and the little fellow realized that “whosoever” included him.
If you are ready to take your place among the “whosoevers,” there is salvation for you. Levi took that place and trusted Jesus before he followed Him. You are not saved by following Jesus, but you are saved by trusting Him. That is what Levi did.
The scribes and Pharisees could not enter into the joy of the feast. They said, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but Thine eat and drink?” In other words they were saying unto Jesus, “Your disciples are too happy, and John’s and ours are more sober.” Jesus replied, “Can you make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?” That is, as long as He was there, why should they not rejoice?
Then He spoke a parable unto them in order to show them that they should not piece things together which are not suitable. “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon the old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.” You would rather find a piece of cloth that is similar. The piece that was taken out of the new is not in harmony with the old. You are not to try to mix the grace of the gospel with the cold legality of Judaism.
The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The law comes from God to man, and says “This do” and “Thou shalt not do.” Grace declares the salvation of God which is apart from human merit.
“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles, else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.” He was speaking of leather bottles made of the skins of animals. You put new wine into new bottles and when fermentation begins, the bottles will give. You can’t take the living truth of the gospel and put it into the ordinances of the law. If you try to confine it in them it will burst all bounds. “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” And so these Pharisees would go away saying, “We are satisfied with the old wine,” and legalists and worldlings are like that today. They are apparently content with what they are trying to enjoy down here and do not care for that which God offers them in Christ Jesus. You remember that fable of Aesop’s, in which he tells of an eagle flying in the heavens, who looked down into a well and saw a stork feeding on frogs. The eagle asked the stork why he did not come up there where he was, and the stork asked him if there were any frogs up there. The eagle replied that there were no frogs there but told him how beautiful it was to fly up into the open heaven. The stork replied, “You can keep your heaven, and I will keep my frogs.”
Men say today, “You may have your Christ and your heaven, and we will keep the things of the world.” These poor legalists said the same thing. Is that what you are saying? God give you to rest in Christ as your Saviour if you have not done it before!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 5". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24