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PETER, JAMES AND JOHN CALLED AS DISCIPLES
It is good to read in verse 1 that by the Lake of Gennesaret (or Sea of Galilee) the people pressed upon the Lord Jesus, not to see miracles, but to hear the Word of God. Two fishing boats were nearby, the fishermen taking time to wash their nets. We elsewhere read of Simon and Andrew "casting a net into the sea" (Mark 1:16), typically the labor of evangelists in fishing for men; then of James and John "mending their nets" (Mark 1:19), picturing a restorative, pastoral work, to revive one's energy for effective service. The washing of nets speaks of keeping one fitted for service by the washing of water by the Word (Ephesians 5:26), similar to feet-washing (John 13:1-43.13.38), for defiling contacts will hinder our service.
To avoid the pressure of the crowd, the Lord used Simon's boat, anchored just off the shore. There He sat down to teach the people (v.3). The sea speaks of the Gentile nations, and it is symbolically from a Gentile viewpoint that He spoke, as in Luke generally. His message is one of grace that in its essence includes Gentiles as fully as Jews. His sitting down reminds us of His present sitting at God's right hand while proclaiming grace through His servants on earth.
When the Lord finished speaking, He called for action, telling Simon to launch out into the deeper water and let down the nets. Simon protested that he and others had worked all night (the most likely time for catching fish) without success. Yet he accepted the Lord's word in measure at least: he let down one net, though the Lord had said "nets." Too often, sadly, our obedience is only partial. The fish were too many for the net and it broke (v.7). This account is in contrast toJohn 21:11; John 21:11, where the Lord in resurrection gave orders that were obeyed and the net was dragged to land rather than the fish gathered into the boat and the net did not break. In Luke two boats were loaded to capacity and were near to sinking. The blessing that God is willing to give is more than our limited vessels can accommodate.
Such results from the Lord's simple words astonished Peter and the others with him at the greatness of this Man of lowly, gentle character. Peter felt his own sinful unworthiness in His presence and confessed it in falling at His knees. But while he says "depart from me," yet he does not himself depart. Indeed for his own sinful condition he needed the grace of this faithful Son of Man. While we too are utterly unworthy to be near to Him, yet it is the only place in which our wretched condition can be met, and the grace of His heart delights in the fellowship of those who trust Him as Lord and Savior.
More than this, the Lord's words to Simon Peter assure him that he is not only loved by the Lord, but he will be useful to Him and of blessing to others. Simon was not to fear, for he would catch men (v.10). This experience with the fishes, together with the Lord's words, has such an impression on Simon, James and John that they leave behind their former employment and follow the Lord. It is the Lord's word that is authoritative, yet in grace He often supplements it with evidence of His power on our behalf, to encourage our hesitant hearts.
THE LEPER AND THE PARALYTIC HEALED
In a certain city a man full of leprosy implored the the Lord Jesus to heal him (v.12). The name of the city is not mentioned, for leprosy is a type of the corruption of sin that is found in every city. In verse 5 Peter's toiling all night depicts the energy of the flesh, which required the grace of God for correction. The corruption of the flesh now required the same grace. The man, falling on his face, expressed his confidence in the Lord's power to heal him, but was not sure as to His willingness to do so. Lovely is the grace of the Lord's heart that promptly responded, "I will." This word, with the touch of His hand, a close contact, produced immediate results. While other people would be defiled by contact with a leper, His touch removed the disease with its defilement.
The Lord charged the man to tell no one (v.14), for he does not want advertising. But as the law instructed, the former leper was to show himself to the priest and offer a suitable sacrifice for his ceremonial cleansing. This would be an unquestionable testimony, which priests could not honorably ignore.
In spite of the Lord making no display of His marvelous work, His fame was spread through the whole region and large crowds were attracted, both to hear and to be healed. It may seem to us that this was a great opportunity for preaching: indeed how many preachers would be excited by such a prospect! But He withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (vs.1-16). How profitable a lesson for us if we tend to think much of "numbers"! He was not influenced by the excitement that was awakened. The presence of God is much more important than crowds of people. He was guided fully by God, not by the apparent interest of the people, which, as He knew, could as easily turn into hateful rejection, for it was the crowd later that cried out for His crucifixion.
Another case is told us now, not necessarily in chronological order, but in moral sequence. The Lord was teaching in a house, with many Pharisees and doctors of the law present, not only from the towns of Galilee, but also from Judea and Jerusalem. The healing power of the Lord was evident at the time, as it was not in Nazareth (Mark 6:5).
A paralyzed man was brought in a bed -- a picture of the helplessness of the flesh, which is our sinful nature inherited from Adam. Those who carried him were not thwarted by the crowd in the house, but took him to the housetop, there breaking up the tiling of the roof to let the man down before the Lord (vs.18-19). Let us not be too dismayed by whatever formidable difficulties there may seem to be in the way of our bringing helpless people to the Lord. Persistent, believing prayer will accomplish true results. Their faith was immediately rewarded.
However, the Lord does not first heal his body. He assures him of something much greater: his sins are forgiven. Certainly only one who knew the heart of the man could say this. The Scribes and Pharisees reasoned in their hearts along this line, that God alone can rightly forgive sins. This was true, but how ignorant they were of the greatness of the person before their eyes! Not only did He know the man's heart, He knew their hearts and their thoughts and answered them in such a way as ought to have convinced them that, while He claimed the title "Son of Man," He was more than this: He was the omniscient God, the Son (vs.21-24).
Yet the Lord had come in lowly grace as Man on earth to perfectly represent God. He asked which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven you," or "Rise up and walk." For men to say either would produce no results. To prove His authority as regards forgiving sins, He illustrated visibly His authority as Son of Man over disease. At His word the paralyzed man immediately rose up and walked. Not only was the paralysis healed, but the body, previously in disuse with muscles atrophied, was given strength for immediate activity -- carrying his couch to his home, When such grace and power was so marvelously exercised, who could dispute the grace and power of the Lord Jesus to forgive sins?
The grace of God thus is seen as capable of meeting man's helplessness occasioned by sin, just as it is sufficient in dealing with the flesh's energy and its corruption. The healed man glorified God, while all who saw it were amazed and gave glory to God, being filled with fear and wondering awe.
THE CALL OF LEVI
In verse 27 the Lord speaks only two words to Levi, a tax collector. Such men were Jews having a franchise to collect taxes for the Roman government, and this was obnoxious to the strictly orthodox Jew, specially since many of these would demand more than was due and keep the extra. From the very place of his taking in the money, Levi is called by the Lord, "Follow Me." Grace produces a mighty change in regard to the selfishness of the flesh: the power of the word of the Lord had immediate effect. Levi left his lucrative business, rose up and followed Him (v.28).
In contrast to Levi's previous selfishness, we see in verse 29 his making a great feast for a great company. Levi is called "Matthew" inMatthew 9:9; Matthew 9:9, for it was quite common for one man to have two names. When Matthew wrote of this feast Himself (Matthew 9:10), he neither mentions himself as the host, nor of its being a great feast, but says only, "Jesus sat at the table in the house." Grace had wrought such a work in Levi's heart that he had become genuinely unselfish and seeking no recognition of his unselfishness. His one desire in this was to have others present to hear the word of His Lord and Master. Other tax collectors were present, together with those not designated in any way (v.29).
However, Scribes and Pharisees expressed their haughty criticism, not to the Lord, but to His disciples, for their eating with tax collectors and sinners. Because of their personal feeling against tax collectors, they classed them with the general run of "sinners" who probably did not zealously follow the rituals and regulations of the religious leaders. Such rituals were only a cover-up for their own sins, but their proud self-righteousness did not admit this. This self-righteousness of the flesh is its worst feature. The Scribes and Pharisees were not cured because they would not admit they were diseased: they felt no need of correction. This itself is disease in its most advanced and alarming state.
The Lord answered them in such a way that ought to have made them ashamed of themselves, as well as to have caused them concern about their own sinful condition. Those who are well, He says, have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (vs.31-32). He was Himself the divine Physician, come in grace, to meet the need of those sick because of sin -- not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (v.32). How could they criticize a mission so gracious as this? Why did they not see themselves in their true light as sinners in need of repentance and of the grace of the Lord Jesus?
WHY DID HIS DISCIPLES NOT FAST?
Now that we have been told of the Lord eating with publicans and sinners, the question arises as to why the disciples of John and also the followers of the Pharisees often practiced fasting, and "making prayers," yet the disciples of the Lord Jesus ate and drank rather than fasting. The Lord had spoken of calling sinners to repentance (v.32), and the Jews considered fasting as being repentance, for it was an outward act intended to signify self-sacrifice or repentance, and often accompanied true repentance. But fasting itself was not repentance. John the Baptist had preached repentance to prepare Israel to face the Lord Jesus, but when repentance had done its work in turning people to the Lord Himself, they now had an Object to lift their hearts above their former state. To be occupied with one's own state after having the Lord Jesus revealed to the heart, is not faith. To choose the mere sign of repentance in preference to Christ Himself only proved that true repentance was lacking. The disciples of the Pharisees considered fasting a work of merit, while refusing the Lord Jesus. The Lord answers that the children of the bride chamber would not fast while the Bridegroom was with them. The presence of their Lord Himself was cause for rejoicing, but when He would be taken away from them by way of death, and later ascend to heaven, then they would fast (v.35), not merely physically, but in soul and spirit, in sorrow and self discipline because of His absence.
THE OLD MUST GIVE PLACE TO THE NEW
Such principles of truth as the above must be kept clearly distinct from one another, and the Lord speaks a parable to show this important distinction. No one is so ignorant as to cut off piece of cloth from a new garment to repair an old one (v.36). It would not take long to cause a tear when they are joined, and also the two will not match. The new garment of the grace of Christianity is not intended merely to patch up the old garment of a broken law, that is, to improve man in the flesh. This is a misuse of grace and will be of no help to the law. The two principles are distinct. What people need is the new garment, which means discarding the old one altogether. The four cases in this chapter, Peter, the leprous man, the paralyzed man and Levi all illustrate the receiving of the totally new garment.
Also, new wine, the Lord says, is not put into old wineskins (v.37). Glass bottles were unknown at that time, and containers were made of skins of small animals. Their life was short because of the fermentation of the wine, causing the skins to stretch so as to be useful only once. This is a picture of the vessels (individuals) receiving the new ministry of the grace of God. The vessels too must be new, that is, if they are not born again by the power of the Spirit of God, they are unable to contain the vital reality of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Old vessels (those not born anew) will have no proper appreciation of grace: it will prove too much for their capacity and "burst" them: they will perish. But the new vessel is capable of preserving the new wine. Further, the vessel itself (because it is new) is also preserved. The pure grace of God is perfectly suited to one who has been born of God.
Verse 39 reminds us of the difficulty that many had in leaving Judaism and embracing Christianity. Peter (in Acts 10:1-44.10.48) seemed little prepared to carry the grace of God to Gentiles, for it was unlawful for a Jew to even enter a Gentile's home (v.28). Also in Acts 15:1-44.15.41 we see the mistaken effort of Jewish believers to mix the grace of God with their old garment of law. Only the powerful energy of the Spirit of God in the apostles overcame this grave danger. Many otherwise godly Jews still felt the old was better, though in fact the new was infinitely superior.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 5". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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