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Luke 5:1. To hear the word of God.—“His preaching in the synagogues had excited so much attention that the people followed Him to the shore of the lake to hear Him” (Speaker’s Commentary). Lake of Gennesaret.—St. Luke alone uses the name.
Luke 5:2. Standing.—The technical word used for vessels at anchor or fastened to the shore. Washing their nets.—As if their work for the day were over.
Luke 5:4. Launch out.—The verb is in the singular; addressed to Peter, who was steersman of his boat: “let down” is in the plural; addressed to all the fishermen in the boat.
Luke 5:5. Master.—Not “teacher”: a title of respect. All the night.—The usual time for fishing (cf. John 21:3).
Luke 5:6. Their net brake.—Rather, “was breaking” (R.V.), was on the point of breaking.
Luke 5:8. Depart from me.—Lit. “Go forth away from me,” i.e. “Go out of the boat and leave me.” The presence of one possessed of Divine power or knowledge overawed him: he felt, too, that in Jesus there was also a Divine holiness; and he was overwhelmed with the thought of his own unworthiness. Yet he addresses Jesus as “Lord,” a term of greater reverence than “Master” (Luke 5:5). His request that Jesus should leave him is the expression of a very different feeling from that of the sordid Gadarenes, who desired Him to depart from their coasts (Luke 8:37). A sinful man.—It is his own individual guiltiness that he confesses, and not simply the depravity of human nature: the word he uses implies this—it is ἀνήρ, and not ἄνθρωπος.
Luke 5:9. Astonished.—Lit. “amazement possessed him.”
Luke 5:10. Thou shalt catch.—Or, “thou shalt be catching”—as a permanent occupation. “It must be remembered that this was the second call of Peter and the three apostles—the call to apostleship: they had already received a call to faith. They had received their first call on the banks of the Jordan, and had heard the witness of John, and had witnessed the miracle of Cana. They had only returned to their ordinary avocations until the time came for Christ’s full and active ministry” (Farrar).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 5:1-42.5.11
A Parable in a Miracle.—There are three stages in this incident: the sermon from the fishing-boat, the draught of fishes, and the call of Simon.
I. The sermon from the fishing-boat.—The narrative is vivid and picturesque. We can fancy the little crowd on the beach in the fresh morning; their unmannerly jostling; the singular inattention of Simon and the others; the wet, slimy boats drawn up, in token that fishing was done for the day; the crews busy cleaning the nets; and stretching from the strip of busy beach the glittering waters, shining in the early sun as it rose over the eastern hills. Though the fishermen had not lifted their heads from washing the nets to listen to Jesus, they were all His disciples; but they had not been summoned to forsake their callings, and Jesus had been going about preaching alone. They did not know how far He wished them to swell the crowd of listeners, and so they went on with their work. The patient doing of common duties is as true a service as any other. Who looked likest disciples—the eager listeners, or the knot of fishers? The light-minded crowd shows us that open ears and shut hearts often go together, and the true sign of discipleship was dropping the nets and pushing off just because He wished it. Let us learn to stick to our small secular duties till Jesus asks other service, and then to drop them immediately and cheerily, like these men. What a pulpit for such a preacher the rough, untidy fishing-boat was! How willingly He shared the lowly lot of His friends, and how little He cared for comfort, or what people call dignity! The gospel for all men, poor as well as rich, was fitly preached from a fishing-boat; and its power to exalt all secular work into Divine and priestly service was plain from the very place of its utterance.
II. The draught of fishes.—“At Thy word I will” is the very essence of obedience. Never mind though use and wont say “Folly”; never mind how vain the night’s work has been, nor how weary the arms with rowing and hauling; if Jesus says, “Down with the nets,” then down they should go, and he who truly calls Him Master will not stop to argue or remonstrate. Swiftness is part of obedience. The reward is as swift. The load threatens to break the nets. The miracle is remarkable, in that it was not done in answer to any cry of distress, and in that it had not for its purpose the supply of any sore need. Its value is didactic and symbolical. In the former aspect it reveals Jesus as the Lord of nature, and as fulfilling the ancient psalm (Luke 8:8), which ascribes to man dominion over “the fish of the sea.” The incident shows how the original and forfeited glory of humanity was restored in Jesus. “We see not yet all things put under” man, but “we see Jesus.” This teaching is equally clear whether we regard the point of the miracle as being our Lord’s supernatural knowledge of these passers “through the paths of the seas,” or as His sovereign power bringing them to the nets. It teaches, too, His care for His followers’ material needs, and prophesies the blessing which crowns obedient work in secular callings. If we are sure of what is duty, we are to stick to it, come failure or success. Then, too, we learn the need for prompt, unhesitating obedience to every command of Christ’s, however it may break in on our rest or contradict our notions. If all our common duties have this motto written on them, “At Thy word,” the distasteful will become pleasant and fatigue light, and success and failure will be wisely alternated by Him as may be best for us; and whatever the outward issues of our work, its effects on ourselves will be to bring us nearer to Him; and though our nets may often be empty, our hearts will be full of perfect peace.
III. The call of Simon.—The miracle heightened Peter’s conception of the Worker, for “Lord” is a loftier form of address than “Master.” It had also flashed upon him a sudden consciousness of his own sinfulness, which was altogether wholesome. It is well when great mercies reveal the Giver more clearly, and when the glimpse of the gracious Giver bows us with the sense of our own unworthiness. To know ourselves sinful and Christ as Lord is the beginning of deliverance from sin and of fitness for apostleship. But Peter was sadly wrong in his “Depart from me.” The disease is a reason for the coming, not for the going, of the Healer. He would have understood himself and His Lord better if he had cried, “Never leave me, for I am sinful.” He did understand matters better when, on the occasion of the second miraculous draught of fishes, he flung himself into the water to get close to his Master. A partial sense of sin and surface knowledge of Jesus drive from Him: a deeper understanding of ourselves and of Him drives to Him. Christ knows what Peter means by his foolish cry. What he wants to get rid of is, not Jesus, but the sin that separates him from Jesus. “Go away,” said Peter. “Come to Me henceforth permanently, and leave all else to be with Me,” replied Jesus. Christ knows our hearts better than we do, and often reads our wishes more truly than we put them into utterance. “From henceforth” indicates the change in Peter’s calling and relation to Jesus. The moment was an epoch, making a revolution in his life. Our sight of our own sinfulness and of His holiness ever makes a turning-point. Well for us if “henceforth” we are nearer Him, and lifted above our old selves.
The fisherman’s trade is the symbol of evangelistic activity, and the points of resemblance are very obvious. There is need for the same patient toil, the same persistent bearing up against discouragement. There will come the same apparent want of success, and there should ever sound in the servant’s ears the Master’s command to launch out into the deep—to push boldly into untried ground, and to ply his task, undaunted by discouragements and unwearied by the long night of toil. The conditions of success are diligence, obedience, hope. The preliminary is to leave all and follow Him. We may have little, or we may have much; but whatever it be, we have to give it up; and he who surrenders an “all” which is little is one in motive, and will be one in reward, with him who gives up an all which is much.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 5:1-42.5.11
Luke 5:1-42.5.11. First Studies in Christ’s College.
I. Thrust out a little from the land.—Peter is first asked to lend his boat for the preaching of the word. For the first time the instruments of his ordinary life are turned to the use of his new calling: his boat, his oars, his strength and skill. What a lesson is here for every disciple—to be ready to give his house, his field, his shop, his seat at the receipt of custom, not to any mere selfish purpose, but to further the preaching of the word! For thus disciples are first taught to thrust out a little, in a venture to which they are new and timid.
II. Launch out into the deep.—That first lesson is followed by a second, and all the more suggestive that their life-long skill now finds a Master. For themselves they have toiled all night in vain; but they learn to begin anew at His word, and now they are astonished at their success. How often would this scene and its teaching come up to memory in aftertimes, with other lights and other applications! How often would Peter think in other waters of his partners in the ship, of fellowship in work as well as faith, of the joy of drawing men to the shore when the Master watches and directs, and of the wonder of nets unbroken under the heavy strain!—MacColl.
Trust in Christ taught by the Miracle.—Peter learnt from this miracle that it was best to trust Christ. He might say to himself, “I never felt more convinced that we should take nothing by letting down the nets than I did on that morning on the lake; but I let them down, and found I was wrong.” A memorable act is not done with educationally when it is over. The recollection of it is an attendant monitor, always pointing the same way; and so this miracle may have done much towards accustoming Peter to look to the Lord’s prompting, and to be ready at His word to give up that about which he felt most sure.—Latham.
A Miracle of Instruction.—The early miracles were mostly wrought in the sight of the multitude; but this miracle of the draught of fishes was performed when few but the disciples were by. It was a miracle of instruction: it lent great impressiveness to great lessons, it emphasised in a way never to be forgotten the call to become “fishers of men,” and it gave good augury of success. The thought of this draught must have come back to Peter at many a juncture in his life—a notable one being the morrow of the feast of Pentecost, when “there were added to them in that day about three thousand souls!”—Ibid.
Christ the Ruler of our Lives.—In this incident Christ unfolds Himself to His disciples as Lord of their lives and of their lives mission. He shows that their mission will be among men whom they are to seek to win; He gives them a glimpse of a kingdom which is moral rather than material; and at the same time He shows Himself as Lord of their lives.—Boyd Carpenter.
I. The scene.—Here you have week day ministry, open-air preaching, a quite extempore service, an occasional and entirely singular pulpit.
II. The sign.—The deed which followed when He had “left speaking” is a good illustration of the mutual influence of every-day religion and every-day work.
III. The purpose and effects.—A general impression of astonishment, a spiritual crisis in Peter’s case, and a complete and immediate decision on his part and on that of the other fisher-apostles. The crowning purpose of the miracle was to be a sign and seal of the calling of these converts as preachers of the gospel, messengers of the kingdom, fishers of men.
IV. The symbolic meaning.—It was an acted parable. The analogies between the work of fishers and the work of Christ’s servants are many.—Laidlaw.
Luke 5:1. “The people pressed upon Him.”—The presence of a large crowd of men and women eager to hear the word of God lends additional significance to the spiritual meaning of the miracle now wrought, and to the call now addressed to these fishermen to leave their trade and become fellow-workers with Christ in the task of saving men. The multitude gathered together upon the beach were ready and waiting to be enclosed in the gospel net.
Luke 5:2. “Were washing their nets.”—It is interesting to notice how often in the Gospels Christ is revealed to men while they are busy in their worldly occupations, and how those very occupations are made the means of giving them truer knowledge of Him and of their relations to Him.
1. The shepherds at Bethlehem, while tending their flocks, receive tidings of the birth of Him who was to be the Good Shepherd.
2. The Magi, while engaged in watching the heavens, see the star that guides them to Christ, who was Himself the Star which was to arise out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17).
3. The fishermen of the Galilæan lake, Simon and Andrew, James and John, while engaged in their trade, are called to join Him and to become fishers of men. The figure of Christ as a fisherman was common in the early literature of the Church: it is based upon this passage and upon the parable in Matthew 13:47-40.13.50. Various refinements upon the figure were current, e.g. the mystical symbol of the ἰχθύς (i.e. an acrostic upon Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour), the idea of the soul, like the fish, being born in the water (of baptism), etc.
Luke 5:3. “Entered into one of the ships.”—An old writer fancifully says of Christ in the boat and the people on the shore, “Behold the Fisherman upon the sea and the fish upon the land.”
Luke 5:4-42.5.5. “Launch out into the deep.”—The faith of Simon Peter is now tested. The night-fishing had been utterly unsuccessful, and the idea of renewing the attempt that day had been abandoned: the boats had been drawn up on the shore, and the nets were being cleaned and dried. The fisherman is now told to launch out into the deep, and cast the nets again. Simon’s knowledge of his craft, of the habits of fish, of the weather, etc., would have led him to refuse; but his deference to Christ and reverence for Him disposed Him to obey. To labour at the command of Christ, and to do so with alacrity and pains, is proof of a docile and implicit faith. Simon’s obedience was perhaps not very severely tested by this command, but it must be remembered that his faith in Christ was as yet only in an early stage of development, and therefore more easily shaken: he now manifested deference to a Teacher, where afterwards he showed ardent obedience to a Lord and Saviour.
Luke 5:5. “Nevertheless.”—Two feelings predominant in Peter’s words:
(2) discouragement. “Nevertheless.” Here is the correction of the two feelings. “This or that is against it, yet it shall be done.”
I. Life as a whole is one great “nevertheless.”
II. Each act of the life is a little “nevertheless.”—A “though” and a “yet” in perpetual conflict, the “though,” being the plausible thing, and the tempting thing, and the half-truth; the “yet” less apparent, but the manly thing, and the courageous and the right. There is a “though” as well as a “yet” in the simplest action. Though it is pleasant to sit still, I must be up and doing. It is irksome to perform this particular duty, but it must be done.—Vaughan.
Failure a Proof of Want of Faith.—Every failure is a proof of the want of faith. If faith were present, failure could not be. But there is such a thing as faith, after defeat, returning to the charge; and it is in that returning to the charge that the test of our Christianity lies.—Ibid.
“At Thy bidding.”—This is the disciple’s “nevertheless,” and finds its place in the disciple’s daily duty and service. And by the faithful use of it the disciple is trained and prepared to meet other and higher demands. Humbly recognising past failure, and feeling the full weight of the disappointment, not ignoring the pressure of difficulty and the sting of pain, yet trusting in His grace, we set against the stream of indifference and unbelief the whole force of our will consecrated to Him, and say, “Nevertheless, at Thy bidding we will let down the net.”—Nicoll.
Luke 5:6. “A great multitude of fishes.”—It seems unnecessary to inquire minutely whether this miracle was due to Christ’s omniscience or to His omnipotence, i.e. whether by supernatural knowledge He was aware of the near presence of a shoal of fish, or whether by His Divine power He brought together a multitude of the fish of the lake. Perhaps the former supposition would commend itself to most of us; but in favour of the latter we have the passage in Psalms 8:8, in which the ideal son of man, who finds his true representative in Christ, is described as having supreme authority, not only over cattle and beasts of the earth, but over the fish and all creatures that live in the sea. In either case the miracle was equally stupendous.
Luke 5:7. “Beckoned.”—Perhaps because of the distance they were away from the land, or because fishing operations are best carried on in silence. The noise of shouting might only drive the fish to struggle to escape, and add to the risk of losing them by their breaking through the nets.
The Miracle a Parable.—With this miracle we may compare the second of the kind wrought after the Resurrection, and also the parable in Matthew 13:47-40.13.50. We shall do well to keep in mind that these miracles were also parables and prophecies: everything connected with them is symbolical. The fishermen represent apostles and ministers of Christ, the ship is the Church, the net is the gospel, the sea is the world, and the shore is eternity. One part of the figure is inappropriate: the fish die when drawn out of the water, while the souls of men are taken captive to be introduced to a higher life. Perhaps this latter idea is conveyed in the words of Christ (Luke 5:10), “Catch men,” lit. “take alive men,” i.e. catch them for life eternal, instead of catching fish for death.
Luke 5:8. “Depart … for I am … sinful.”
I. An important fact.—Peter saw himself a very sinful creature. When we stand near Jesus, we see ourselves:
1. Without moral beauty. Sin has taken away our comeliness.
2. Without moral purity. Sin has robbed us of our integrity.
3. Without moral utility. Our usefulness has gone.
4. Without moral prospect. The future is dark.
II. A mistaken impression.—
1. “Depart from me”: no, because there is something there besides sin. The Saviour beheld the man and the apostle there.
2. “Depart from me”: no, because there is a great service to be rendered. Peter became a fisherman to catch men.
3. “Depart from me”: no, for nearer Thee we have more light, more holiness.
The Repulsion and Attraction of Christ.—“Depart from me”: “To whom shall we go?” (John 6:68). The speaker of both texts is the same; the person addressed is the same. Yet the one utterance is the direct negation of the other. Whence comes this paradox? It is a paradox inherent in the religious life. This contrast of repulsion and attraction is the true attitude of the devout spirit towards God. Side by side they have their place in the heart—the awe which repels, the love which attracts. We thrust God away, and yet we run after Him.—Lightfoot.
Peter’s First Impulse.—An oppressive sense of sin had come over Peter in a moment. The eyes of God were looking from that heavenly face down into the depths of his heart. This wrung from him the cry of fear. So must it ever be when we come face to face with God. Observe Peter’s first impulse when he realises how sinful he is. “Depart from me.” The desire is to get away from God. Many do not like to think about God. But for Him to depart would be to leave the sinner helpless and hopeless. What we need is not less but more of Him. What was Peter’s final impulse? To “forsake all, and follow Him.”—Gibson.
Mixed Elements of Character.—This exclamation opens a window into the inner man of Peter through which we can see his spiritual state. There is in him that characteristic mixture of good and evil of which we have so many reappearances. Among the good elements are reverential awe in presence of Divine power, tenderness of conscience, and unfeigned self-humiliation—all valuable features of character, but not existing without alloy. Along with them were associated superstitious dread of the supernatural, and a slavish fear of God, showing how unfit, as yet, Peter is to be an apostle of a gospel which magnifies the grace of God even to the chief of sinners.—Bruce.
Self-humiliation.—With the self-humiliation of Simon Peter compare the confession of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5) and that of St. Paul (1 Timothy 1:15). Note, also, how utterly inappropriate his words would have been, if Christ had been a mere man—even the holiest of men. They express a self-loathing which is excited only by the contemplation of infinite holiness, and by the thought of the near presence of God.
“Depart from me.”—The exclamation of St. Peter was wrung from a heart touched with a sense of humility, and his words did not express his thoughts. They were the cry of agonised humility, and only emphasised his own utter unworthiness. They were in reality the reverse of the deliberate and calculated request of the swine-feeding Gadarenes. The dead and profane soul tries to get rid of the presence of the Divine. The soul awakened only to conviction of sin is terrified. The soul that has found God is conscious of utter unworthiness, but fear is lost in love (1 John 4:18).—Farrar.
A Strong Plea for Christ to remain.—Simon doth not greedily fall upon so unexpected and profitable a booty, but he turns his eyes from the draught to himself, from the act to the Author, acknowledging vileness in the one, in the other majesty: “Go from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” It had been a pity the honest fisher should have been taken at his word. O Simon, thy Saviour is come into thine own ship to call thee, to call others by thee, unto blessedness; and dost thou say, “Lord, go from me”? as if the patient should say to the physician, “Depart from me, for I am sick.” But it was the voice of astonishment, not of dislike—the voice of humility, not of discontentment; yea, because thou art a sinful man, therefore hath thy Saviour need to come to thee, to stay with thee; and because thou art humble in the acknowledgment of thy sinfulness, therefore Christ delights to abide with thee, and will call thee to abide with Him. No man ever fared the worse for abasing himself to his God. Christ hath left many a soul for froward and unkind usage; never any for the disparagement of itself, and entreaties of humility. Simon could not devise how to hold Christ faster than by thus suing Him to be gone, than by thus pleading his unworthiness.—Hall.
The Deepest Thing in Man’s Heart.—At moments like these all that is merely conventional is swept away, and the deep heart utters itself, and the deepest things that are there come forth to the light. And the deepest thing in man’s heart under the law is this sense of God’s holiness as something bringing death and destruction to the unholy creature. Below this is the utterly profane state, in which there is no contradiction felt between the holy and the unholy, between God and the sinner. Above it is the state of grace; in which all the contradiction is felt, God is still a consuming fire, yet not any more for the sinner, but only for the sin. It is still felt—felt far more strongly than ever—how profound a gulf separates between sinful man and a holy God; but felt no less that this gulf has been bridged over, that the two can meet, that in One who shares with both they have already met.—Trench.
Luke 5:8-42.5.10. A Strange Prayer and a Wonderful Answer.
I. The prayer is a strange one, when we think by whom and to whom it was offered. This is a familiar gospel story. The prayer sounds like that of the Gadarene demoniacs; but no two cases could be more dissimilar. This prayer is wrung from a human soul by the sudden revelation of a Divine presence, of which it feels itself unworthy. Very strange must this prayer have looked to Peter in the retrospect—this prayer for separation from the Saviour, and that because he is a sinner. Here is a conversion of the converted, and that not the last or most memorable conversion. There will always be in heroic souls an experience, or many such, analogous to this of Peter. For lack of it we are ineffective, trifling, confident, wavering, unimpressive. Oh for the grace of reverence!
II. The answer.—Jesus does not blame the fear which He comforts. He first calms and then transfigures it. “There is a more excellent way; there is a Divine remedy for the fear that would shrink from Me: I will give thee work to do for Me.” Two words are prominent in the commission.
1. “Men.” Great stress is laid upon it. The object of the ministerial work is men, not “souls” merely, but “men.”
2. The other word, “catch,” speaks of a living capture, of a taking alive in the great net of the gospel. It might be said of some evangelists that they are satisfied to catch a piece of the man, and to catch that piece itself dead! How unlike this to the gospel of St. Peter! How is it that men, even religious men, must always dismember, never unite, the compound being to which they address themselves? There are those who despair of a gospel to the whole man. Not so Jesus Christ.—Vaughan.
Luke 5:10. “Thou shalt catch men.”—Those that were wandering, restless and at random, through the deep, unquiet waters of the world, the smaller falling a prey to the greater, and all with the weary sense of a vast prison, he shall embrace within the safe folds and recesses of the same gospel net, which if they break not through, nor leap over, they shall at length be drawn up to shore, out of the dark, gloomy waters into the bright, clear light of day, so that they may be gathered into vessels for eternal life (Matthew 13:48).—Trench.
The Fisherman and the Shepherd.—The figure here used does not set forth the whole work of the Christian minister, but only two aspects of successful work He may accomplish, viz. that of securing within the net, and that of landing safely upon the shore. These are the first and last stages in the salvation of the soul. The intermediate stages are those in which the soul is ministered to, and fed, and encouraged, and guarded from harm; and these are represented under the figure of a shepherd caring for sheep. Hence the two figures mutually supplement one another, and show us the offices of a Christian minister as an evangelist and pastor respectively. Other thoughts in connection with these two figures are suggested by Jeremy Taylor: “In the days of the patriarchs, the governors of the Lord’s people were called shepherds. In the days of the gospel they are shepherds still, but with the addition of a new appellative, for now they are called fishers. Both of the callings were honest, humble, and laborious, watchful and full of trouble; but now that both the titles are conjunct, we may observe the symbol of an implicit and folded duty. There is much simplicity and care in the shepherd’s trade; there is much craft and labour in the fisher’s; and a prelate is to be both full of piety to his flock, careful of their welfare, and also to be discreet and wary, observant of advantages, laying such baits for the people as may entice them into the nets of Jesus’ discipline.”
The Significance of the Miracle.—The physical miracle was to be superseded by miracles of a higher kind, inasmuch as success in the spiritual labours of apostles is a greater proof of Divine power than mighty works that appeal to the bodily senses. The miraculous draught of men which Peter was at a later time to secure (Acts 2:41) was more wonderful than the miracle now wrought. The purpose of the miracle seems to have been to deepen and strengthen the faith of those whom Christ now called to engage in spiritual labours, to secure obedience to that call, and to give intimation of splendid success in pursuing that higher work. Observe that Jesus calls these men to have more than faith, to give up their secular employment and to engage in work of a sacred kind. As they are not yet appointed to be apostles, their status is very similar to that of the Christian minister.—Godet.
The Training of the Apostles.—“Christ selected rough mechanics—persons not only destitute of learning, but inferior in capacity—that He might train, or rather renew, them by the power of His Spirit, so as to excel all the wise men of the world” (Calvin). No one need imagine that want of learning and ability are not drawbacks in the case of those who wish to become Christian ministers. Only a gross and ignorant fanaticism could foster such an idea. These fishermen were not called to teach, but to be trained to teach. What they learned from the example and teaching of Christ, from knowledge of human character and society as they went up and down the country with Him, prepared them for their great work. The various kinds of training our theological students are exercised in, are the best and most efficient substitutes which can be found for the methods employed in the case of the apostles.
Luke 5:11. “Forsook all.”—They returned again to their occupation as fishermen after the Crucifixion, and were again called to abandon it and devote themselves to spiritual labours by a second miraculous draught of fishes and by the direct precept of Jesus. After Pentecost they never resumed their former secular calling. Probably in their going back to it we have an indication of their belief that with the death of Jesus all the hopes they had cherished were overthrown, and His call to them to become fishers of men nullified. The example of Simon Peter suggests the duties of
(1) prompt obedience to Jesus,
(3) and complete devotion to Him (“leaving all to follow Him”).
“Thou hast the art on’t, Peter, and canst tell
To cast thy net on all occasions well.
When Christ calls, and thy nets would have thee stay,
To cast them well’s to cast them quite away” (Crashaw).
Luke 5:12.—St. Matthew gives a distinct note of time and place when and where this miracle was wrought: it was after the Sermon on the Mount, and as Jesus came down from the mount, that the leper met him. Full of leprosy.—A term of medical accuracy describing the severity of the disease. The leprosy had spread over his whole body, but not in the manner described in Leviticus 13:13, for he was still unclean (Luke 5:14). It is to be specially noticed that when the disease had attained a certain stage the man was pronounced ceremonially clean, and was allowed to mingle with others. Thou canst make me clean.—His faith was wonderfully strong, as there was only one case of a leper being cleansed by miracle—that of Naaman.
Luke 5:13. Touched him.—A violation of the letter of the Mosaic law, but an action prompted by the higher law of compassion (Mark 1:41).
Luke 5:14. He charged him to tell no man.—The reason of the prohibition probably was our Lord’s unwillingness to allow the attention of the people to be diverted from His teaching to His miracles, and an excitement to be aroused which would interfere with His work. The mischievous effect of disobedience to His commands on this occasion is noted in Mark 1:45. Shew thyself to the priest, etc.—See Leviticus 14:1-3.14.32. For a testimony unto them.—I.e. to the priests that a miracle had taken place.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 5:12-42.5.16
“Be clean: be silent.”—The Mosaic law, which banished the leper from camp and city, which compelled him to go with bare head and rent garment, as one who mourned his own death, and to cry, “Unclean, unclean!” so often as he approached the haunts of men, was not a sanitary precaution, but a dramatic religious parable setting forth God’s hatred for the various forms of disease and death which spring from sin. Those afflicted by this disease were doubly burdened—they were the prey of the most loathsome of all physical maladies, and were living emblems of the disastrous effects of sin and of God’s anger against it. Hence we can understand the intense longing with which this leper entreated to be cured, and the compassion of the Saviour for one in his pitiable condition. Note:—
I. The astonishing and sublime faith of the leper.—“Full of leprosy,” he draws near to Jesus with the cry, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Jesus had not long begun His public ministry. He had only just delivered the Sermon on the Mount. He had not fully showed Himself unto Israel. The leper could not possibly have heard many of His words, or have seen many of His works. He may have sat on the mountain, apart from the the groups which gathered immediately round Jesus, and may have heard the divinest words which ever fell from human lips. But a great multitude had also heard them. Yet none but the leper seems to have felt that He who spake as never man spake must be more than man—the Lord from heaven. He does not hesitate to address Christ as “Lord”; nay, he worships this “Lord” as God. He kneels down, and falls on his face before Him, as though seeing in Him a divine and ineffable majesty. He has no doubt of Christ’s power to heal a disease which was yet beyond the scope of human power. But he is humble; he refers himself solely to the pure and kindly will of Christ, leaves the decision to Him, and is prepared to accept it, whatever it may be.
II. The compassion of Christ.—“Moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41), “He put forth His hand and touched him.” To touch a leper was to become a leper in the eye of the law and of the priests. So that to heal a leper Christ became a leper, just as to save sinners He who knew no sin became sin for us. What comfort was in that touch, and what promise! For how should Christ take him by the hand and not heal him? how bid him rise, and lift him from the dust, without also raising him from death to life? The touch of Christ was His response to the leper’s worship: the words He speaks respond to the leper’s prayer. “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” “I will: be thou clean.” Word answers to word: the response of Christ is a mere echo of the leper’s prayer. And so when we cry, “Make us clean,” God always answers, “Be thou clean.” But that is not always the answer we hear or seem to hear. We often ask God to create a clean heart within us when He can only cleanse our hearts with a torrent of affliction or with bitter tears of repentance.
III. Our Lord’s command.—“To tell no man, and to show himself to the priests.” We should have thought that the man’s first duty was not to hold his peace, but to tell every man he met what a great Saviour he had found, and to urge them to repair to the Healer, in order that they too might be made whole. Perhaps after all, in spite of the opinion of many good men in the present day, it is not every convert’s first and great duty to bear verbal witness to the Saviour who has redeemed him. One of the reasons for this command was, doubtless, that our Lord did not as yet wish to draw on Himself the public attention. It was perilous to the higher objects of His mission that the people of Galilee, ignorant and sensual in their thoughts, should crowd round Him, and try to make Him by force the sort of king He would not be. And, therefore, for a time He set Himself to repress the eager zeal of his converts and disciples. Another and more special reason was, that He wished the leper to discharge a special duty, viz. to bear “a testimony to the priests.” He cared for the absent priests in distant Jerusalem, no less than for the leper’s immediate neighbours in Galilee. As yet the priests were prejudiced against Him. They thought of Him as a zealot, a fanatic, who in cleansing the Temple had swept away corruptions at which they connived, by which they had profited. The testimony He wished to send them could hardly have failed to make a deep and auspicious impression on their minds. Jesus would fain have brought them all to a knowledge of the truth and a better mind. And then, too, His deference to their priestly authority could hardly have failed to propitiate them, and to convince them that He was bent on establishing the law, not on making it void.
IV. The leper’s blended obedience and disobedience to the command.—By lingering on the way and prating to every man he met, it is likely that confused and misleading rumours concerning the miracle would travel before him, and his message would lose much of its value. Till the priests have pronounced him clean, he was a leper in the eye of the law, and had no right to enter the cities and talk with men. If he assumed that he was clean before they pronounced him clean, they would infer that both he and Christ were wanting in respect both to them and to the law. All the grace, all the courtesy and deference, of our Lord’s act would be cast away, and the special value and force of the testimony to the priests would be impaired, if not lost. Obviously, he thought to honour Christ by “much publishing” what He had done. Yet to what good end did he honour Christ with his tongue, while he dishonoured by disobeying Him in his life. Let us take the warning, and be “swift to hear, slow to speak.” Much talk about religion—and especially about the externals of religion, about miracles and proofs, about ceremonies or the affairs of the Church—so far from strengthening the spirit of devotion, is perilously apt to weaken it. There are few who are strong enough to talk as well as to act. A great faith such as this leper’s is not always a patient, submissive faith. No doubt he would have found it much easier to lay down his life for Christ’s sake than to hold his tongue for Christ’s sake, just as Naaman would have found it easier to “do some great thing” than simply to bathe in the Jordan. Yet we need not think too hardly of him because he could not refrain his tongue. The man who can rule that member is a perfect man, for his faith covers his whole life down to its lightest action.—Cox.
The Leper and the Lord.
I. The leper’s cry.—There is a keen sense of misery. This impels him to passionate desire for healing. How this contrasts with the indifference of men as to soul-cleansing!
1. Note his confidence. He was sure of Christ’s power to heal.
2. Note his doubt. He is uncertain as to Christ’s willingness. He has no right to presume on it. Therefore he comes with a modest prayer, breathing entreaty quite as much as doubt. The leper’s doubt is our certainty. We know the principle on which Christ’s mercy flows.
II. The Lord’s answer.—Show Him misery, and He answers with pity. Christ’s touch accompanies His compassion. Those who would heal “lepers” must “touch” them. Christ’s word accompanies His touch. A word of dignity and conscious power, curt, authoritative, imperative.
III. The immediate cure.—“Straightway.” The healing of the leprosy of sin may be equally immediate. Forgiveness may be the act of a moment, though the conquering of sin be gradual and life-long. Do not suspect, but expect, immediate conversions.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 5:12-42.5.16
Luke 5:12. Leprosy is Typical of Sin.
I. In virtue of its repulsiveness.
II. As suggesting impurity or defilement.
III. As leading to isolation or separation.—Laidlaw.
Leprosy a Symbol of Divine Anger.—Leprosy was the most frightful of all diseases, and was regarded by the Jews with special horror, as a symbol of God’s wrath against sin. In Jewish history we read of it as having been directly inflicted by God in punishment of
(1) rebellion (Miriam—Numbers 12:0),
(2) lying (Gehazi—2 Kings 5:27), and
(3) presumption (Uzziah—2 Chronicles 26:19). The sufferings of the leper arose
(1) from the physical malady, which gradually and slowly consumed the body, and could neither be cured nor alleviated by human skill, and
(2) from the ceremonial defilement which it involved, and which both excluded him from the Temple and imposed upon him separation from human society. We read of these unhappy outcasts as gathering together into companies outside towns (2 Kings 7:3; Luke 17:12). Leprosy is taken as a symbol of the depth of spiritual defilement and death in Psalms 51:7 and Isaiah 1:6. “Leprosy was nothing short of a living death, a corrupting of all the humours, a poisoning of the very springs of life, a dissolution little by little of the whole body, so that one limb after another actually decayed and fell away (Trench).
Leprosy and Death.—The leper was the type of one dead in sin: the same emblems are used in his misery as those of mourning for the dead; the same means of cleansing as for uncleanness in connection with death, and which were never used except on these two occasions.—Alford.
Human Nature typified by this Leper.—Leprosy was to the body what sin is to the soul. Christ heals the leper by His touch. Human nature was typified by this leper. Christ healed us all by His touch. He touched us by taking our nature (Hebrews 2:16), and thus cleansed us.—Wordsworth.
“Fell on his face.”—By this act of reverence we should not necessarily be led to suppose that this sufferer knew Jesus as a Divine being; but taken in connection with his belief in our Saviour’s omnipotence, and his use of the title “Lord,” it indicates that genuine worship was now offered to Christ and accepted by Him.
“If Thou wilt, Thou canst.”—He was convinced of Christ’s power, but not sure whether He would cleanse this sickness, as evidently this was the first case of leprosy which our Lord had been asked to cure.
“Make me clean.”
I. The prayer of faith.—No doubt of Christ’s ability to heal him. The only question is—Is Christ willing to help him? The prayer shows acquiescence as well as humility.
II. A prayer for physical blessing.—In such things we never can know what is really best for us. Threatened death, or loss of property. Are we to pray to have these averted? We are never sure. We must in such temporal emergencies ever say, “If Thou wilt, Thou canst.”—Miller.
An Exemplary Prayer.—Whether the leper consciously meant it or not, his words, “If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,” are quite in the spirit of prayer as Christ has taught it to us and exemplified it Himself. It was a prayer for a temporal blessing—the restoration of his health, and is made conditional upon the will of the Lord. So is it with all temporal blessings. We may desire them earnestly and ask for them from God, but leave the bestowal or withholding of them to His gracious will. We accept this as the condition of prayer, because we feel that God in His wisdom knows better than we do what would be best for us. But no such condition attaches to prayers we offer for spiritual blessings, for we can be perfectly sure that all such are good for us. And we see that Christ Himself, in offering the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to be saved from death (Hebrews 5:7), left the granting of His request to be determined by the will of God (chap. Luke 22:42). The same recognition of the Divine power to fulfil the prayers of the afflicted, together with an equally calm resignation to the will of God, whatever it may be, are to be found in Daniel 3:17-27.3.18, and 2 Samuel 15:25-10.15.26.
Christ’s Omnipotence.—Christ’s omnipotence is the first attribute that impresses a spectator of His life and work: His calm bearing and air of authority produce a deep impression; His infinite goodness and compassion can only be fully realised as He becomes better known by us. Both anxiety and faith are manifest in this leper’s words.
Luke 5:13. “Jesus touched him.”
I. None of the Jews would have done this.—He was a leper. They kept lepers afar off, for fear of defilement. Jesus was not afraid of defilement. He could have healed him without a touch. But the man needed the touch of a warm hand to assure him of sympathy. Many wish to do Christian work from a distance—through agents and committees. It is much better to come close to those we wish to benefit. There is a wondrous power in a human touch. You put something of yourself into your gift.
II. The touch left no taint of defilement on Christ.—It left the leprous body clean without making the Healer leprous. There is no danger in touching the lowest outcasts, if you go to them with God’s love in your heart, and yearning to do good. Do not slip your tract under the door and hurry away as if you were afraid or ashamed. Go inside these homes. It will not soil your hand to clasp the hands of the poor. You will both bless and be blessed in the deed.—Miller.
Christ’s Union with our Nature.—When He took upon Him our flesh, He did not only deign to touch us with His hand, but was united to one and the same body with ourselves, that we might be flesh of His flesh.—Calvin.
“Be thou clean.”—“Such an imperative as the tongue of man had never hitherto uttered. Thus has hitherto no prophet healed. Thus He speaks in the might of God who speaks and it is done” (Stier). Contrast with Christ’s words those used by St. Peter in Acts 3:6; Acts 3:12.
Answers to Prayer.—The leper had known that Christ was able to heal him; now he knew that Christ was willing to do so. In his case there was no delay between the offering of the prayer and the gift of the blessing asked. But in our experience there may be delay in our receiving the blessing we crave. There may lie between the majestic and merciful words “I will” and the visible result sometimes weeks and years. The prayer of faith our Lord hears at once, and He gives the soul assurance of having been heard through the Holy Spirit; but the fulfilment of the prayer He often accomplishes only after a long time, and by the delay He would prepare us for a greater benefit than that for which we asked. In the holy sacraments which appeal to our senses we have Christ stretching forth His hands to touch and cleanse the soul.
Luke 5:14. “To tell no man.”—The soul that has received blessing from God, and is conscious of it, is apt to lose the freshness and beauty of its spiritual life by talking too freely to others of its secret experiences, just as a rose sprinkled with dew loses something of its freshness when it is plucked and passed from hand to hand. We are instinctively slow to speak of the things that touch us deeply, and a certain hardness and coarseness are observable in the character of those who are ready to speak of their deepest spiritual experiences to those who are willing to listen to them. No one can, indeed, receive great spiritual benefits from God without revealing the fact to others, but the unconscious testimony of a humble, devout life is often far more eloquent than words that come too readily from the lips.
“To tell no man.”—Besides the reason suggested above in the Critical Notes, Christ may have intended that the man who had been cleansed should lose no time in proceeding to the Temple—should go on this errand “without saluting any by the way” or pausing to tell about his cure. The reasons for the journey:
1. Obedience to the Mosaic regulations concerning leprosy.
2. The expression of gratitude to God for the benefit received.
3. That the priests might learn, and by their examination of the person cleansed attest, that a mighty work had been wrought by the power of God.
“Testimony.”—The priests and people of Jerusalem were inclined to be hostile towards Christ: the effect of this miracle notified to them should have been to produce faith in Jesus. It was now a testimony to them; it might, in case of persistent unbelief, become a testimony against them.
The King’s Touch.—This King’s touch cures all sorts of diseases. It did so while He walked in a low, despised condition on earth; and it does so still by that virtual Divine power now that He is in heaven. And although His glory there is greater, His compassion is not less than when He was here; and His compassion always was, and is, directed much more to souls diseased than to bodies, as they are better and more valuable.—Leighton.
Superstitious Inferences from the Narrative.—The use made of this passage by Roman Catholic theologians in support of confession to priests and the observance of penance seems farfetched. It is not the priests who heal, but Christ: they merely attest the fact, and their doing so is simply because of their administration of laws partly ceremonial and partly sanitary, which are now abolished. There is no record of powers corresponding to theirs being instituted in connection with the ministers of the Christian religion.
Luke 5:15. Grateful, but disobedient.—St. Mark informs us that the man who had been cleansed disobeyed the strict injunction of Christ and “blazed abroad the matter.” His disobedience was culpable, though natural. His joy at recovering health must have been very intense, and his instinctive feelings must have led him to say, like the psalmist, “Come ye and hear, all ye who fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul” (Psalms 66:16). As a result, however, of his impulsive conduct, Christ was incommoded in His work by the multitudes that thronged to Him to be healed of their infirmities.
What the Miracles of Healing were.—Our Lord’s miracles of healing may be regarded—
I. As proofs of His Divine mission, His Messiahship, and His divinity.
II. As a means of disarming prejudice, and thereby securing a favourable reception for His teachings.
III. As encouragements to believing prayer under the ordinary trials of life.
IV. As emblems of the spiritual blessings which He bestows.
V. As examples to be copied by His disciples in all time.—Johnston.
Luke 5:15-42.5.16. “Great multitudes came together … and He withdrew Himself.”
I. The first cleansing of a leper was a trumpet-call to all sufferers to flock to the Emmanuel presence.
II. But He, whose praise was on all lips, and who was Himself the holy centre of all these activities and all these mercies, “withdrew … and prayed.” It was not one withdrawal, one wilderness, one prayer (all is plural in the original): the withdrawals were repeated, the wildernesses were more than one, the prayers were habitual. Solitary prayer was His custom. Is it ours? Does not the question humble us? Prayer divided His life with teaching and healing. We too need the desert. It is not safe to have the world always with us.—Vaughan.
The Prayers of Christ.
I. How different from ours!—No confession of sin. That topic was a blank to Him. No need of forgiveness.
II. How real His prayers!—For strength. How often is it said, “He looked up to heaven”! “Father, I thank Thee!” There was no acting, no feigning, in His devotions. He really prayed, and was really answered. Prayer was no luxury, no self-indulgence.
III. How continual His prayers!—He was ever withdrawing Himself from human sight and contact. Do we not need like withdrawings, and more of them?—Ibid.
Luke 5:16. “Withdrew Himself into the wilderness.”—By solitary communion with God and by holy meditation even Jesus was strengthened. It is a proof of the completeness of His assimilation to us that He sought and found help by those means of grace which are at our service. Could any argument for the duty of prayer to God be stronger than this which is afforded by the example of Christ? If He found prayer a necessity of His life, how much more should we!
A Testimony to the Truthfulness of the Gospels.—The insertion of this reference to Christ’s prayers is a testimony to the truthfulness of the Gospels. Had the writers invented the stories of His miraculous powers, and aimed at representing Him as altogether a supernatural being, the ideas of humility and dependence upon God, which prayer implies, would have seemed to them foreign and contradictory to their purpose.
Luke 5:17.—The scene of this miracle was a house in Capernaum, either in a house belonging to his family (John 2:12) or in St. Peter’s house. Pharisees and doctors of the law.—They had probably come to see and hear the prophet whose fame was now becoming widespread. There is no reason to ascribe to them any malignant purpose at this stage of their relations with Jesus. The power of the Lord.—I.e. not of the Lord Jesus, but of the Lord God working through Jesus. Present to heal them.—R.V. “the power of the Lord was with Him to heal.”
Luke 5:18. Men.—Four men (Mark 2:3).
Luke 5:19.—St. Mark says that the crowd was so great that they could not get near the door. By an outside stair they reached the flat roof of the house, and by removing some of the tiles were able to lower the mat or mattress on which the sick man lay into the presence of Jesus, who was evidently in the upper room of the house.
Luke 5:20.—Though Jesus repudiated the principle that suffering is in every case the proof of previous sin (John 9:3), He did at times draw attention to the fact that suffering often follows from sin, as in John 5:14, and apparently here.
Luke 5:21. Blasphemies.—“In classical Greek the word means abuse and injurious talk, but the Jews used it specially of curses against God, or claiming His attributes “(Matthew 26:65; John 10:36)” (Farrar).
Luke 5:22. Their thoughts.—Rather, “their reasonings” (R.V.).
Luke 5:23. Whether is easier, etc.—“He does not ask, ‘Which is easier, to forgive sins or to raise a sick man?’ for it could not be affirmed that the act of forgiving was easier than that of healing; but, ‘Which is easier, to claim this power or to claim that?’—to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? And He then proceeds, ‘That is easier, and I will now prove My right to say it by saying with effect, and with an outward consequence setting its seal to My truth, the harder word, Rise up and walk’ ” (Trench).
Luke 5:25. Took up that whereon he lay.—An indication of the reality of the cure. He had been carried by others to the presence of Jesus, but now is seen to depart carrying with him the mat or mattress on which he had lain.
Luke 5:26. Fear.—A feeling akin to that described in Luke 5:8.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 5:17-42.5.26
Christ’s Claim to forgive, and its Attestations.—The important part of this story is not the miracle, but the forgiveness preceding it, and the teaching as to the relation between the invisible and perpetual work of Christ on men’s consciences and His visible work on their outward condition.
1. The first thought suggested is—that our deepest need is forgiveness. Christ’s answer to the faith He discerned here seems irrelevant and beside the mark. “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee,” was far away from the wishes of the bearers; but it was the shortest road to their accomplishment, and goes straight to the heart of the case. Probably the sick man felt that, whatever his friends wanted for him, what he wanted most for himself was pardon. And forgiveness is our prime need. A man’s relation to God is the most important thing. If that is wrong, everything is wrong. The consciousness that we have sinned is the source of all sorrow; for the most of our misery comes either from our own or others’ wrong-doing, and the rest is needful because of sin, in order to discipline and purify. Hence the profound wisdom of Christ and of His gospel in not trifling with the surface, but going right to the centre. The wise physician pays little heed to secondary symptoms, but grapples with the disease. Christ makes the tree good, and trusts the good tree to make, as it will, good fruit. The first thing to do, in order to heal men’s misery, is to make them pure, and the first step towards that is to assure them of Divine forgiveness. All other attempts to deliver men will fail if this deepest wound be not dealt with first.
II. Forgiveness is an exclusively Divine act.—Those who now in their hearts accused Christ of blasphemy were quite right in believing that forgiveness is God’s prerogative. “Sin” has to do with God only; vice has to do with morality; crime has to do with human law; and the same act may be regarded in any one of these three aspects. When regarded as sin, only He against whom it has been committed can forgive it. Forgiveness is mainly that the love of the offended shall flow to the offender, notwithstanding the offence. It is love rising above the dam which we have flung across its course, and pouring into our hearts. The essence of forgiveness is not the suspension of penalty, but the unchecked and unembittered gift of God’s love to the sinner. This is what we need, and we need to have a definite Divine declaration of it. A vague trust in the possible mercy of a silent God is not enough: we need to hear with infallible certitude the assurance of forgiveness.
III. Jesus claims and exercises the Divine prerogative of forgiveness.—Had He been a mere man, His critics would have been justified in bringing the charge of blasphemy against Him. And he would have been bound, as a religious teacher and as a devout man, to disdain any intention of usurping the Divine prerogative. But He recognises their premises, and then asserts that He, the Son of man, has the power which they and He agree in acknowledging to belong to God only. “No man can forgive sins, but God only. I forgive sins. Whom think ye that I, the Son of man, am?” Surely we are here brought face to face with a very sharp alternative: either Jesus was an audacious blasphemer, or He was God manifest in the flesh. The whole context forbids us to take these words, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” as anything less than Divine love wiping out the man’s transgressions; and if Jesus Christ said them, no hypothesis can save His character for the undiminished reverence of the world but that which sees in Him God revealed in manhood, the Son of man, who is the Son of God, the Judge of men, and their Pardoner.
IV. Jesus Christ brings visible facts to attest His invisible power.—The sentences, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” and “Arise, and take up thy couch,” are equally easy to pronounce; the fulfilments of them are equally impossible for a man to bring about; but the difference between them is that the one can be checked, and the other cannot. He will do the visible impossibility, and leave them to judge whether He can do the invisible one or not. Of course the miracle was a witness to His right to assume the Divine prerogative, and to the efficacy of His announcement of forgiveness, only if He did it (as He assumed to give pardon) by virtue of His being in an altogether unique way the wielder of Divine power. If He did the one as a mere minister and recipient of that power, as a Moses or an Elijah, He must do the other in the same way, i.e. merely declare that God had forgiven the sinner. But the very stamp on all His miracles is that they are His in a fashion which is perfectly unique. True, “the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works”; but that dwelling of the Father in Him was unexampled, and pre-supposed His own divinity. Note, then, that our Lord here teaches us the power of His miracles as evidences of His Deity, and sets forth lucidly the relative importance of the miracle and of the inward forgiveness which it attests. The miracle is subordinate to the higher and the permanent work of bringing pardon and peace to sinners.
The subsidiary, visible effects of the gospel constitute very strong evidence of the reality of Christ’s claims to exercise the invisible power of pardon. Men reclaimed, passions tamed, homes made, instead of pandemoniums, houses of God, are proofs that the forgiveness which He gives is no mere delusion.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 5:17-42.5.26
Luke 5:17-42.5.26. Christ forgiving Sin.
I. Sin and disease.—Christ forgave the sin first, showing that He regarded it as having come first, the disease being in some measure the result of sin. There is punishment for sin in this life. If not seen in the physical frame, it is seen in the deadened conscience, the hardened heart.
II. Faith and forgiveness.—The man knew that he needed healing, and believed that Christ could and would heal him. If he did not yet fully admit that sin was at the root of his ailment, Christ’s words settled that, and he confessed it in his heart. Sin injures not only man, but God. David said, “Against Thee only have I sinned,” though he had sinned against others, and against himself. This sin entails the burden of guilt. This burden can be cleared away. Sin’s worst effect can be, and at a great cost has been, removed. It is as easy to say, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” as to say, “Rise up, and walk.” But the first is harder to accomplish. Nature never forgives—is merciless to those who get in her way. Man cannot forgive completely: only God can so forgive as to restore love and confidence. But it is not easy even for God to do so. Should we not value forgiveness all the more? It is a blessing greater and better than bodily healing.—Hastings.
Luke 5:17. “Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by.”—I.e. occupying places of honour and pre-eminence; seated as critics to judge the teaching and actions of Jesus. Their want of sympathy with Him and their prejudices soon brought them into collision with Him. We can only truly learn of Christ and understand Him by abandoning the attitude of critics, and taking up that of humble, childlike faith. The power to heal was present with Christ, yet it was only faith that could give it free scope. Such faith was manifested in the incident that follows.
Luke 5:18. Bearing one another’s Burdens.
I. This is the kind of help we ought to render to each other.—There are many all around us needing such aid.
II. There are many ways of doing this neighbourly duty.
III. There was co-operation in this work.—One could not have done this work. It needed four. United, they had no difficulty. So it is in helping sinners to Christ. There is strength in the union of hearts and hands, when one alone cannot take his friend to the Saviour.—Miller.
Intercession for Others.—It is clear that the faith of those who carried him was helpful to the sick man and specially moved our Saviour. It is true that the wise virgins cannot lend their oil to those who have it not—that no one is saved through the faith and prayers of another, if he does not himself believe. But there is a place for intercession for others. A believing heart can by prayer and supplication prevail with God to give another a new heart and faith. The words of Ambrose to Monica, grieving over the sins of her son Augustine, beautifully express this truth: “It is impossible that so many tears from a believing heart should be in vain. You will see that God will melt the heart of the son of thy tears, and bring him to repentance and faith.” And it happened as the bishop had said.
Luke 5:19. “Let him down through the tiling.”—A fine illustration of the saying, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
Luke 5:20. Their Faith.—Which persisted in spite of obstacles until the sick man was brought into His presence. The holy boldness manifested could not but please Him. It is interesting to observe that the faith of the bearers is of a kind Christ approves and rewards: this fact should encourage us in making intercession for others. So far as appears the sufferer was entirely passive, and offered no petition for himself. In answer to the question, How far do men derive benefit from the faith of others, Calvin says, “It is certain that the faith of Abraham was of advantage for his posterity when he embraced the free covenant offered to him and to his seed. We must hold a similar belief with regard to all believers, that, by their faith, the grace of God is extended to their children and their children’s children, even before they are born. It is also beyond all question that earthly blessings are often, for the sake of the godly, bestowed on unbelievers.”
Faith seen in Works.—The efforts of the sick man’s friends told of—
I. A very strong faith.—The best evidence of faith is the effort we make to obtain faith’s prize. There is no need of words or protestations where acts of faith attest its existence.
II. Christ sees faith.—He sees it in the heart where it is exercised, before there has been any expression of it in word or act; but the emphasis here lies on the fact that He sees it in act, and is pleased when it is evidenced by works. He hears wordless prayers; but where possible prayer should embody itself in act. God wants to see our faith.—Miller.
“Thy sins are forgiven thee.”—It is evident that while the thoughts of his friends were bent upon the cure of his physical malady, the man himself was chiefly concerned about his spiritual state. He seems, too, to have been despondent, if not despairing, since Christ’s first words to him, as St. Matthew says (Luke 9:2), were, “Son, be of good cheer.” From the word “son,” (lit. “child), we understand that he was but young in years. Probably the reference to his sins before the cure is wrought is to be explained by the disease being the consequence of sinful courses.
A Declaration of Forgiveness.—The absolving words are not optative only, no mere desire that so it might be, but declaratory that so it was: the man’s sins were forgiven. Nor yet were they declaratory only of something which passed in the mind and intention of God; but, even as the words were spoken, there was shed abroad in his heart the sense of forgiveness and of reconciliation with God.—Trench.
Forgiveness of Sin and Remission of Penalty.—An interval took place, therefore, between the forgiveness of sin and the remission of the penalty which sin had brought. In this case it was but a short interval. In many other instances men have to bear for long, and perhaps while they live, the penal consequences of their sins, even though they have obtained forgiveness. But in their case there is this compensation, that the displeasure of God being removed, their sufferings are no longer punishments.
Luke 5:21. “Speaketh blasphemies.”—From their point of view, since they regarded Christ as a mere man, the objection raised by the scribes and Pharisees was perfectly justifiable. Their fault lay in the culpable spiritual blindness which hindered their recognition of His Divine glory.
Blasphemy.—Profane antiquity was unacquainted with the profound Biblical meaning of “blasphemy.” In the sense in which they viewed it, it only signifies, first, to speak evil of any one; and secondly, to utter words of evil foreboding. Monotheism alone leads to the true notion of blasphemy, which denotes not only imprecations, and injurious words against God, but more especially the assumption on the part of the creature of the honour belonging to the Creator (John 10:33).—Olshausen.
Of what this Sin consists.—Blasphemy is when
(1) unworthy things are ascribed to God,
(2) when the honour due to Him is withheld, and
(3) when that which is specially His is conferred upon those to whom it does not belong.—Bengel.
All Sins are against God.—They are against God only (Psalms 51:4). They may be injuries and cruelties to others, but, as sins, they are relative to God only. And hence God only can forgive them.—Morison.
Absolution.—The belief in a human absolving power retains a pertinacious hold upon mankind. The savage believes that his priest can shield him from the consequenćes of sin. There was not a people in antiquity who had not dispensers of Divine favour. That same belief passed from Paganism into Romanism. It was exposed at the period of the Reformation: the whole idea of a human priesthood was proved baseless, human mediation was vehemently controverted, and men were referred back to God as the sole absolver. Yet still now again, three centuries after, the belief is as strong as ever. The question is not solved by merely denying the error. The heart craves human assurance of forgiveness, and can only be satisfied by positive truth.
I. The impotency of the negation.—“None can forgive sins, but God only.” The Pharisees denied the efficacy of human absolution: but what did they effect by such denial? They conferred no peace; they produced no holiness. They were startled at hearing a man freely announcing forgiveness. It appeared to them licence given to sin. If this new Teacher were to go about the land telling sinners to be at peace, to forget the past and to work onwards, bidding men’s consciences be at rest, and commanding them not to fear the God whom they had offended, but to trust in Him, what would become of morality and religion? What remained to restrain them from sin? For to dread God, and not to love and trust Him, was their conception of religion. Another class of men, the scribes, also denied human power of absolution. They were men of ponderous learning and accurate definitions. They could define the exact number of yards that might be travelled on the Sabbath day without infringement of the law; they could decide the respective importance of each duty, and tell which was the great commandment of the law. The scribe is the man who turns religion into etiquette; his idea of God is that of a monarch, transgression against whom is an offence against statute law; and he, the scribe, is there to explain the prescribed conditions upon which the offence may be expiated. And there are scribes in the present day, who have no idea of God but as an incensed judge, and prescribe certain methods of appeasing Him—certain prices—in consideration of which He is willing to sell forgiveness. What wonder is it that many should cry, “You have restricted God’s love and narrowed the path to heaven: you have terrified me with so many snares and pitfalls, on every side, that I dare not tread at all. Give me peace; give me human guidance: I want a human arm to lean on.”
II. The power of the positive truth.—What is forgiveness? It is God reconciled to us. What is absolution? It is the authoritative declaration that God is reconciled. Authoritative—that is, a real power of conveying a sense and feeling of forgiveness. It is the power of the Son of man on earth to forgive sins. It is man, God’s image, representing by his forgiveness on earth God’s forgiveness in heaven. Absolution is the conveyance to the conscience of the conviction of forgive ness; to absolve is to free—to comfort by strengthening—to afford repose from fear. The Saviour emancipated from sin by the freeness of absolution. The moment the sinner’s feelings changed towards God, He proclaimed that God was reconciled to him. Hence came His wondrous power with sinful, erring hearts; hence the life and fresh impulse which He imparted to the being and experience of those with whom He dealt. The absolving power is the central secret of the gospel. Salvation is unconditional: not an offer, but a gift; not clogged with conditions, but free as the air we breathe. And the power Christ exercised of declaring forgiveness He delegated to His Church: “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted.” An example of the use of this power is given in 2 Corinthians 2:10. The apostle absolves a man because the congregation absolved him; not as a plenipotentiary supernaturally gifted to convey a mysterious benefit, but as himself an organ and representative of the Church. The power of absolution, therefore, belonged to the Church, and to the apostle through the Church. It was a power belonging to all Christians: to the apostle, because he was a Christian, not because he was an apostle. A priestly power, no doubt, because Christ has made all Christians kings and priests. By every magnanimous act, by every free forgiveness with which a pure man forgives, or pleads for mercy, or assures the penitent, he proclaims this truth, that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins”—he exhibits the priestly power of humanity—he does absolve: let theology say what it will of absolution, he gives peace to the conscience—he is a type and assurance of what God is—he breaks the chains and lets the captive go free.—Robertson.
A Delayed Cure.—It seems hard that the “doctors of the law” should be permitted to interpose.
I. But it was good for them that the cure was delayed till they had fixed on a test by which they would try Jesus, until He had reduced their doubts to a single, definite issue, and then triumphantly encountered it. And—
II. And it was good for the paralytic himself.—It gave him time to reflect on the gracious words, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”—to feel their power, to lay their comfort to heart. God will often delay to grant our prayers, because He loves us, because He wishes to assure us that we are really His.—Cox.
The Inward certified by the Outward.—The Saviour, in the most felicitous manner imaginable, brings the case to the simplest of issues. There was no need for any long discussion. The whole matter could be settled with a few words. The inward could be certified by the outward, without any circumlocution; the upward could be reflected by the downward, immediately; the invisible could be manifested in the visible, just at once. And if, therefore, it would be more satisfactory to them, or would carry more of the evidence of Divine authority, He could speak a few words of fiat in reference to the visible, and downward, and outward; and He would do that just as easily as He had authoritatively said, Thy sins have been forgiven. They might call in question His authority to say, Thy sins have been forgiven, inasmuch as they could not actually see the dismissal of the sins. But if when He said, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk, they could see with their eyes that the fiat was fulfilled, then surely they would have no just reason for calling in question the fulness of the Divine authority that was behind all that He was saying and doing.—Morison.
Luke 5:22. “Perceived their thoughts.”—The supernatural insight of Christ is plainly indicated in this narrative. The secret thoughts of men lie open to Him.
(1) He recognises the penitence and faith of the sufferer, though He speaks no word, and
(2) He perceives and follows out the reasonings of the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees.
Luke 5:23. “Whether is easier,” etc.—That is to utter words which lead to no visible consequences, or to utter words which are meant to disturb the visible course of nature? Our Lord does not compare the acts themselves, but the safety of claiming the power to perform them.—Burgon.
Luke 5:24. “But that ye may know.”—The miracle was meant not only to reward the faith of those who had sought this benefit from Christ, but to convince the unbelieving spectators of His true power and claims. In it we may see His mercy toward even those who were hard of heart and who accused Him of blasphemy. He would give them a sign by which they might be enabled to overcome their unbelief.
Christ’s Consciousness of Divine Authority.—How thoroughly conscious the Saviour must have been of His Divine authority and power! His whole influence in the country and the world at large, in the age and for all ages, lay trembling as it were in the balance, and perilled so to speak on the result of His fiat. If failure had been the result, His humiliation would have been overwhelming and final. The supposed blasphemy of His assumption in reference to the forgiveness of sins would have been demonstrated. The triumph of His censors would have been complete and legitimate. This being obviously the case, He must have known, ere He spoke, that there was really no peril; otherwise, His fiat would have faltered on His tongue, and would, indeed, have been utterly irreconcilable with the lowest degree of prudence, not to speak of the highest degrees of good sense and sincerity.—Morison.
“Power on earth.”—In the words “power on earth” there lies a tacit opposition to “power in heaven.” This power is not exercised as you deem, only by God in heaven, but also by the Son of man upon earth. You rightly assert that it is only exercised by Him who dwelleth in the heavens; but He, who, in the person of the Son of man, has descended also upon earth, has brought down this power with Him here.—Trench.
Strength bestowed.—“I say unto thee, Arise!”
I. A strange command.—The man was paralysed. He was helpless as a corpse. Why did Jesus require of him such an impossibility?
II. As the will obeys power returns.
III. It is the same in spiritual life.
IV. Strength will not come until we try to obey.—Miller.
Luke 5:25. “Took up that whereon he lay.”—A mat or couch. “The bed had borne him; now he bears the bed” (Bengel). There is a touch of triumph in this description of the full strength imparted to the paralytic.
Luke 5:26. “They glorified God.”—Nothing is said as to the effect produced by this miracle upon the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees; but we are told that both the man himself and the multitude gave glory to God. This was, indeed, a fulfilment of the effect Jesus desired to accomplish.
(1) the claim to be able to forgive sins, and
(2) the miracle wrought in support of this claim. The thought must have been excited in many minds that God would not have given the power to work this miracle to one who had really been guilty of blasphemy or infringed the Divine prerogative of mercy to sinners.
Luke 5:27. Saw.—Rather, “observed,” “beheld” (R.V.). Levi.—The apostle and evangelist, St. Matthew (Matthew 9:9). Probably his original name was Levi, and the name Matthew or Matthias was given to him or assumed by him after he became an apostle. Matthew means “The gift of God.” The receipt of custom.—“The place of toll” (R.V.). The dues or taxes were probably connected with the traffic on the Sea of Galilee.
Luke 5:29. A great feast.—This is an indication of wealth, and implies that the act of renunciation (Luke 5:28) was in his case all the more remarkable. A great company of publicans.—As a class they would be deeply moved by the kindness of Jesus to one of their number. They were accustomed to be despised and spoken against by those of their countrymen who laid special claims to holiness. Sat down.—I.e. reclined at table according to the custom of the time.
Luke 5:30. Their scribes, etc.—I.e. the scribes and Pharisees of that place. As from the character of the objection we cannot suppose that these scribes and Pharisees were themselves present at the feast, the conversation may have taken place some time after it. They may, indeed, have seen Jesus leaving the house with the other guests.
Luke 5:32. The righteous.—There does not seem to be any satirical reflection upon the Pharisees in this reply, as persons who considered themselves righteous, but were not really so. “The argument is, the greater a man’s sin, the more need he has of the call to repentance, as, if he were perfectly righteous, he would need no repentance. These words do not, of course, imply that any man is perfectly righteous, nor is such a supposition necessary to the reasoning” (Speaker’s Commentary).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 5:27-42.5.32
The Call of Matthew.—The call of Matthew signally illustrates a very prominent feature in the public action of Jesus, viz. His utter disregard of the maxims of worldly wisdom. A publican disciple, much more a publican apostle, would not fail to be a stumbling-block to Jewish prejudice, and therefore to be, for the time at least, a source of weakness rather than of strength. Yet, while perfectly aware of this fact, Jesus invited to the intimate fellowship of disciple-hood one who had pursued the occupation of a tax-gatherer, and at a later period selected him to be one of the twelve. The eye of Jesus was single as well as omniscient: He looked on the heart, and had respect solely to spiritual fitness. He had no fear of the drawbacks arising out of the external connections or past history of true believers, but was entirely indifferent to men’s antecedents.
I. The call obeyed.—The fact that Matthew, while a publican, resided in Capernaum, makes it absolutely certain that he knew of Jesus before he was called. It was not, however, a matter of course that he should become a follower of Jesus merely because he had heard of, or even seen, His wonderful works. Miracles of themselves could make no man a believer; otherwise all the people of Capernaum would have believed. Christ complained of the inhabitants of Capernaum in particular that they did not repent on witnessing His mighty works. It was not so with Matthew. He not merely wondered and talked, but he repented. Whether he had more to repent of than his neighbours we cannot tell. It is true that he belonged to a class of men who, seen through the coloured medium of popular prejudice, were all bad alike, and many of whom were really guilty of fraud and extortion; but he may have been an exception. His farewell feast showed that he possessed means, but we must not take for granted that they were dishonestly earned. This only we may safely say, that if the publican disciple had been covetous, the spirit of greed was now exorcised; if he had ever been guilty of oppressing the poor, he now abhorred such work. He had grown weary of collecting revenue from a reluctant population, and was glad to follow One who had come to take burdens off instead of laying them on, to remit debts instead of exacting them with rigour. And so it came to pass that the voice of Jesus acted on his heart like a spell: “He left all, rose up, and followed Him.”
II. The banquet.—The great decision was followed by a feast in Matthew’s house, at which Jesus was present. It had all the character of a great occasion, and was given in honour of Jesus. The honour, however, was such as few would value, for the other guests were peculiar. “There was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.” The feast was not less rich in moral significance than in the viands set on the board. For the host himself it was without doubt a jubilee feast commemorative of his emancipation from drudgery and uncongenial society and sin, or at all events temptation to sin, and of his entrance on the free, blessed life of fellowship with Jesus. The feast was also, as already said, an act of homage to Jesus. Matthew made his splendid feast in honour of his new Master, as Mary of Bethany shed her precious ointment. It is the way of those to whom much grace is shown and given to manifest their grateful love in deeds bearing the stamp of what a Greek philosopher called magnificence and churls call extravagance; and whoever might blame such acts of devotion, Jesus always accepted them with pleasure. The ex-publican’s feast seems further to have had the character of a farewell entertainment to his fellow-publicans. He and they were to go different ways henceforth, and he would part with his old comrades in peace. Once more: we can believe that Matthew meant his feast to be the means of introducing his friends and neighbours to the acquaintance of Jesus, seeking, with the characteristic zeal of a young disciple, to induce others to take the step which he had resolved on himself, or at least hoping that some sinners present might be drawn from evil ways into the paths of righteousness. Matthew’s feast was thus, looked at from within, a very joyous, innocent, and even edifying one. But looked at from without, like stained windows, it wore a different aspect; it was, indeed, nothing short of scandalous. Certain Pharisees observed the company assemble or disperse, noted their character, and made, after their wont, sinister reflections. Opportunity offering itself, they asked the disciples of Jesus the at once complimentary and censorious question, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” On various occasions, when the same charge was made against Him, he returned different answers. The answer here may be distinguished as the professional argument, and is to this effect: “I frequent the haunts of sinners, because I am a physician, and they are sick and need healing. Where should a physician be but among his patients? where oftenest but among those most grievously afflicted?” Our Lord’s last words to the persons who called His conduct in question at this time were not merely apologetic, but judicial. “I came not,” He said, “to call the righteous, but sinners”; intimating a purpose to let the self-righteous alone, and to call to repentance and to the joys of the kingdom those who were not too self-satisfied to care for the benefits offered, and to whom the gospel feast would be a real entertainment. The word, in truth, contained a significant hint of an approaching religious revolution, in which the last should become first and the first last; Jewish outcasts, Gentile dogs, made partakers of the joys of the kingdom, and “the righteous “shut out. It was one of the pregnant sayings by which Jesus made known to those who could understand that His religion was a universal one—a religion for humanity, a gospel for mankind, because a gospel for sinners. And what this saying declared in word, the conduct it apologised for proclaimed yet more expressively by deed. It was an ominous thing that loving sympathy for “publicans and sinners”—the Pharisaic instinct discerned it to be so, and rightly took the alarm. It meant death to privileged monopolies of grace and to Jewish pride and exclusivism—all men equal in God’s sight, and welcome to salvation on the same terms.—Bruce.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 5:27-42.5.32
Luke 5:27. “Follow Me.”—The special call to apostleship is recorded in the case of five only of the twelve: Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. No doubt the other seven in like manner were selected individually by Jesus, and called to leave all and follow Him—a call not given to all disciples.
“A publican.”—Probably Matthew was one of the subordinate officers belonging to Palestine, who were in the employment of the Roman publicanus, who farmed the taxes. “These inferior officers were notorious for their impudent exactions everywhere; but to the Jews they were specially odious, for they were the very spot where the Roman chain galled them—the visible proof of the degraded state of the nation. As a rule none but the lowest would accept such an unpopular office, and thus the class became more worthy of the hatred with which the Jews in any case would have regarded it” (Smith, “Dictionary of the Bible,” “Publican”).
A Shock to Prejudice.—The shock given to the prejudices of society by Christ’s choosing a publican to be an apostle must have been very great. It was an illustration of the principle of the Divine action stated by St. Paul—the base things of the world, and things that are despised, being chosen to confound the things that are mighty (1 Corinthians 1:26-46.1.28).
Matthew “the publican.”—It is worthy of notice that St. Matthew, in giving the list of apostles, appends the words “the publican” to his own name, as if to mark the lowly estate he occupied when Christ called him (Luke 10:3).
“Sitting at the place of toll” (R.V.).—There sat Matthew the publican, busy in his counting-house, reckoning up the sums of his rentals, taking up his arrearages, and wrangling for denied duties, and did so little think of a Saviour that he did not so much as look at His passage; but Jesus, as He passed by, saw him.—Hall.
“Went forth, and saw.”—It would seem to have been an accidental passing-by—one of those chance meetings which so often turn the course of a man’s life, and even that of a nation’s history. Yet there was nothing accidental in the life of Christ, any more than there is in our own lives. A long train of circumstances led up to this meeting, and found in it a natural completion. It was in Capernaum that Matthew lived—the headquarters of Christ’s public ministry. Matthew had, no doubt, often seen and heard Christ: he had known of His mighty deeds, and of the authority with which He spoke and acted; and perhaps the publican had been slowly making up his mind as to what his duty towards Christ was. So that when this moment came, and the Saviour paused before him and held up His finger and said “Follow Me,” he was ready to obey. The vague thoughts and feelings took definite shape: the gesture and word of His Lord concluded the struggle. His choice was made—the die was cast, and he arose and followed Him. “Doubtless he immediately made, or had previously made, every requisite arrangement for leaving the affairs of his office, not in confusion, but in order. Jesus was no patron of confusion. It is the desire both of God and Jesus that all things should be done “decently and in order” (Morison).
Luke 5:27-42.5.28. “Rose up, and followed Him.”—That word was enough, “Follow Me”; spoken by the same tongue that said to the corpse at Nain, “Young man, I say to thee, Arise.” He that said at first, “Let there be light,” says now, “Follow Me.” That power sweetly inclines which could forcibly command: the force is not more irresistible than the inclination. When the sun shines upon the icicles, can they choose but melt and fall? when it looks into a dungeon, can the place choose but to be enlightened? Do we see the jet drawing up straws to it, the loadstone iron, and do we marvel if the omnipotent Saviour, by the influence of His grace, attract the heart of a publican? “He arose, and fellowed Him.” We are all naturally averse from thee, O God; do Thou but bid us follow Thee, draw us by Thy powerful word, and we shall run after Thee. Alas! Thou speakest, and we sit still; Thou speakest by Thine outward word to our ear, and we stir not. Speak Thou by the secret and effectual word of Thy Spirit to our heart, the world cannot hold us down, Satan cannot stop our way, we shall arise and follow Thee.—Hall.
The Privileges and Honours conferred on Matthew.—The skill of Matthew in using his pen was afterwards to be employed in writing the first biography of His Lord and Master: his name, which had up till now borne a mark of infamy as that of a publican, was destined to be inscribed on one of the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14).
Luke 5:28. The obvious moral of the story is that we are none of us beyond the reach of Christ, none so base but that He can redeem us, none so hateful but that He would fain save us. The one fatal thing is to despair of ourselves, because we despair of His mercy and its power to recover us. Whatever we may be, whatever we may have done, there is in Christ a grace which can sweep away all our sins, and a saving health which can redeem us into spiritual life and vigour, into heavenly service and rest.—Cox.
Luke 5:29. “Levi made him a great feast.”—The feast in the house of Matthew took place evidently a few days or weeks later, and seems to have been a farewell feast to his former friends and associates. Probably in the meantime he had been making arrangements for the new mode of life he was to follow, and for the proper transaction of the business with which he had been connected.
“A great company of publicans.”—The call of Matthew seems to have been accompanied by, if, indeed, it did not occasion, a great awakening in the outcast class to which he belonged. Many would be touched in heart by the mercy shown by Jesus to one of their number. There is something very beautiful in this mutual fellowship of the disciple and the Master—the one being the host and the other a guest at the same table. When we consider the relations between the two—how Jesus was to Matthew the King to whom he had sworn allegiance, the Redeemer by whom he was to be saved, the Judge by whom his eternal destiny was to be decided, and the Object of his worship—there is something very winning and beautiful in their sitting together at the same table. They were a motley company that met in the house of Matthew: men hated and despised by their neighbours for their trade or for their evil lives—persons on many of whom it was only too evident that the stamp of sin had been set deeply, who repaid scorn with scorn, and grew only more hardened and reckless as they found that they had lost the respect of others and of themselves. Yet along with them the Son of God sat down as a fellow-guest—He whose holiness was so perfect, whose hatred of sin was far more keen than that which any other mortal ever felt. The loathing and scorn of men only hardened those on whom it was spent. But these publicans and sinners were touched and melted and won by the love of Jesus, who treated them as though they were worthy of fellowship with Him, and was hopeful of even the most depraved among them. Is there not here a lesson for us? The hard, Pharisaic spirit that prides itself on its own immaculate virtue, and passes harsh judgments on the faults of others, incapacitates one for recovering the vicious or restoring the outcast and banished. Even if we were justified in cherishing such a spirit, it has no power to cope with and overcome the evils which it condemns. It is by love, by sympathy, by tenderest compassion that the wayward and erring are to be won to a love and practice of goodness. The feast in the house of Matthew is a subject which, strangely enough, has not been treated by any of the great artists. Yet it is one of the most striking and picturesque scenes in the life of Jesus. The Son of God surrounded with publicans and sinners! Imagine Him with His face and mien of holiness, and love, and majestic peace. See the change wrought even in the countenances of those who received Him as their Saviour—the John-like, the Stephen-like expression beginning to show itself in the faces of men who up to this time had been intent only on gain and vicious pleatures—the rapt, Madonna-like air already beginning to transfigure the faces of sinful women! “O happy publicans and sinners that had found out their Saviour! O merciful Saviour that disdained not publicans and sinners!”
Luke 5:30. “Murmured against His disciples.”—The Pharisees and scribes are still restrained by awe of Jesus, and do not attack Him directly, but impeach His disciples with laxity of conduct. The accusation the Pharisees bring is that of undue intimacy with those outside the pale of respectability and of religion. Christ’s disciples need to keep in mind
(1) that their conduct is watched by a censorious world, and
(2) that they need to have a well-grounded reason for the things that they do. If they cannot justify their actions, they run the risk of bringing discredit upon their Master’s name and cause. Association of an intimate kind with the ungodly may arise from having too weak a sense of their sinfulness, or, on the other hand, it may be deliberately engaged in with the view of effecting a change in them from sin to holiness. A complete separation between the Church and the world is not to be desired, if the leaven of holiness is to be allowed to penetrate and transform society.
Luke 5:31. The Physician and His Patients.
I. A complete and unanswerable defence.—Our Saviour does not dispute the unfavourable character imputed to the publicans and sinners. It is true, therefore, the need of visiting them. He is a Physician, and must spend much of His time and ministry on those who have need of healing. To go to houses that other men shun is the honourable mark of the physician’s profession. His answer could not be misunderstood. He referred to spiritual ailments, and to spiritual healing. Instead of being reproached He ought to be praised. And He will be praised for ever by those whom He has healed.
II. A direction to His followers.—It was a word not only to the Pharisees, but to His disciples. As He was, so should they become in His service. His Church was to be a prolonged expression and an active exponent of healing skill and mercy.
1. Christianity is remedial.
2. Christianity is hopeful. The sin and misery of the world call loudly for the enthusiasm and ingenuity of Christian hope and love; and they please the heavenly Physician best who carry the gospel of His salvation to those whom the successors of the Pharisees despair of or disdain.—Fraser.
A Defence of the Disciples.—Jesus takes up the defence of His disciples: probably they were unable to return a satisfactory answer to their critics. There is humour in His words: an ironical acceptance of the Pharisees, on their own estimate as whole and needing no physician, when in reality they were corrupt and self-deceived. But if there is
(1) irony towards the Pharisees, there is
(2) a serious allusion to the state of the publicans and sinners. Whether the Pharisees were whole or not, there could be no doubt that those, for associating with whom they blamed Him and His disciples, were indeed sick. Not only
(1) sickness, but
(2) admission of the fact of sickness, is required before the services of the great Physician can benefit us. This latter condition the Pharisees did not fulfil: the fact that publicans and sinners did fulfil it was the hopeful element in their case. Was it wonderful that Jesus associated with these outcasts? It was still more wonderful that these outcasts welcomed Him. It was the sick appealing to the Physician—a sight that should have made the Pharisees glad.
Luke 5:32. “Not … the righteous, but sinners.”—Again we find irony in the Saviour’s words: “to call the righteous to repentance!” In the fact that Christ thus describes the purpose for which He came as that of calling sinners to repentance, we have an indication of the part we are to play in the work of our salvation. He calls; it is for us to respond, i.e. to obey His call. The call comes to us, for in the work of redemption God takes the initiative. Repentance includes
(1) a state of feeling—godly sorrow on account of sin; and
(2) a course of action—amendment of evil ways. The feeling should not stand alone, or it will aegenerate into barren regret; it should be the source from which the action springs. Godly sorrow is not repentance, but “worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The Scriptures lay more stress upon the action than the feeling. Thus Isaiah says little about the latter in calling the nation to repentance, but much about the former. “Wash you, make you clean,” etc. (Luke 1:16-42.1.17).
Luke 5:33.—St. Luke here omits the remarkable fact, noted by St. Matthew and St. Mark, that disciples of John the Baptist joined with disciples of the Pharisees in putting this question. Fast often, etc.—I.e. follow the ascetical example of their master. Make prayers.—Rather, “make supplications” (R.V.).
Luke 5:34. Children of the bride-chamber.—The groomsmen or friends of the bridegroom: they accompanied him to the house of the bride, and escorted the newly married pair to their new home. This was followed by a feast: hence fasting and mourning would be out of place. The figure is a singularly appropriate one, as the Baptist himself had spoken of Jesus as the Bridegroom (John 3:29).
Luke 5:35. Taken away.—A violent death is here hinted at, as in the earlier conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:14). Then shall they fast.—I.e, have reason for fasting and mourning: outward expressions of grief will be appropriate. Neither here nor in any other part of the New Testament is fasting prescribed.
Luke 5:36.—The R.V. is much clearer: “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.” In the parallel passages in St. Matthew and St. Mark the figure is slightly varied: in them stress is laid upon the idea of patching the old garment with a piece of new, unfulled cloth, which in course of time will shrink and do harm to the hitherto uninjured part of the old. Here a new garment is spoiled in order to get a patch for the old, which does not agree with it. The idea of this and of the following verses is that the new life of Christianity is not adapted to the old forms of Judaism: it will have its own fasts and festivals, but these will correspond to its own distinctive character.
Luke 5:37. Bottles.—I.e. wine-skins. The old skins would be rent, if filled with new fermenting wine.
Luke 5:38. New wine … new bottles.—Rather, “New wine … fresh wine-skins” (R.V.). And both are preserved.—Omitted in R.V.
Luke 5:39. Straightway.—Omit: omitted in R.V. The old is better.—Rather, “the old is good” (R.V.). This is a very kindly apology, as it were, for those who had become habituated to the old religious system and could not as yet accept and enjoy the “new wine “of Christianity. The old is not better in itself, but better in their estimation.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 5:33-42.5.39
A Lesson in Religious Liberty.—From the question here put we learn incidentally that in the matter of fasting the school of the Baptist and the sect of the Pharisees were agreed in their general practice. As Jesus told the Pharisees at a later date, John came in their own “way” of legal righteousness. But it was a case of extremes meeting; for no two religious parties could be more remote in some respects than the two just named. But the difference lay rather in the motives than in the external acts of their religious life. Both did the same things—fasted, practised ceremonial ablutions, made many prayers—only they did them with a different mind. John and his disciples performed their religious duties in simplicity, godly sincerity, and moral earnestness; the Pharisees, as a class, did all these works ostentatiously, hypocritically, and as matters of mechanical routine. Jesus made reply to the question, remarkable at once for originality, point, and pathos, setting forth in lively parabolic style the great principles by which the conduct of His disciples could be vindicated, and by which He desired the conduct of all who bore His name to be regulated. Jesus does not blame John’s disciples for fasting, but contents Himself with defending His own disciples for abstaining from fasting. He takes up the position of one who virtually says, “To fast may be right for you, the followers of John: not to fast is equally right for My followers.” In His reply He makes use of three beautiful and suggestive similitudes.
I. The children of the bride-chamber.—His reply is to this effect: “I am the Bridegroom, as John said; it is right that the children of the bride-chamber come to Me; and it is also right that, when they have come, they should adapt their mode of life to their altered circumstances. Therefore they do well not to fast, for fasting is the expression of sadness; and how should they be sad in My company! As well might men be sad at a marriage festival. The days will come when the children of the bride-chamber shall be sad, for the Bridegroom will not always be with them; and at the dark hour of His departure it will be natural and seasonable for them to fast, for then they shall be in a fasting mood—weeping, lamenting, sorrowful, and disconsolate.” The principle is that men should fast when they are sad, or in a state of mind akin to sadness—absorbed, preoccupied—as at some great solemn crisis in the life of an individual or a community, such as that in the history of Peter, when he was exercised on the great question of the admission of the Gentiles to the Church, or such as that in the history of the Christian community at Antioch, when they were about to ordain the first missionaries to the heathen world. Christ’s doctrine is that fasting in any other circumstances is forced, unnatural, unreal—a thing which men may be made to do as a matter of form, but which they do not with their heart and soul. “Can ye make the children of the bride-chamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?” He asked, virtually asserting that it was impossible.
II. The new patch on the old garment, and the new wine in old skins.—The design of these parables is much the same as that of the first part of His reply, viz. to enforce the law of congruity in relation to fasting and similar matters—that is, to show that in all voluntary religious service, where we are free to regulate our own conduct, the outward act should be made to correspond with the inward condition of mind, and that no attempt should be made to force particular acts or habits on men without reference to that correspondence. “In natural things,” He meant to say, “we observe this law of congruity. No man putteth a piece of new cloth on an old garment. Neither do men put new wine into old skins, and that not merely out of regard to propriety, but to avoid bad consequences. The good cloth would be wasted, the patchwork would be unseemly and unsatisfactory, and the old skin bottles will burst under the fermenting force of the new liquor, and the wine will be spilled and lost.” The old cloth and old bottles in these metaphors represent old ascetic fashions in religion; the new cloth and the new wine represent the new joyful life in Christ, not possessed by those who tenaciously adhered to the old fashions. The parables were applied primarily to Christ’s own age, but they admit of application to all transition epochs; indeed, they find new illustration in almost every generation. New wine is always in course of being produced by the eternal vine of truth, demanding in some particulars of belief and practice new bottles for its preservation, and receiving for answer an order to be content with the old ones. Without going the length of denunciation or direct attempt at suppression, those who stand by the old often oppose the new by the milder method of disparagement. They eulogise the venerable past, and contrast it with the present, to the disadvantage of the latter. “The old wine is vastly superior to the new: how mellow, mild, fragrant, wholesome, the one! how harsh and fiery the other!” Those who say so are not the worst of men: they are often the best; the men of taste and feeling, the gentle, the reverent, and the good, who are themselves excellent samples of the old vintage. Their opposition forms by far the most formidable obstacle to the public recognition and toleration of what is new in religious life; for it naturally creates a strong prejudice against any cause when the saintly disapprove of it. Observe, then, how Christ answers the honest admirers of the old wine. He concedes the point; He admits that their preference is natural. It is as if He had said, “I do not wonder that you love the old wine of Jewish piety, fruit of a very ancient vintage. But what then? Do men object to the existence of new wine, or refuse to have it in their possession, because the old is superior in flavour? No; they drink the old, but they carefully preserve the new, knowing that the old will get exhausted, and that the new will mend with age. Even so should you behave towards the new wine of My kingdom. You may not straightway desire it, because it is strange and novel; but surely you might deal more wisely with it than merely to spurn it, or spill and destroy it!” Too seldom for the Church’s good have lovers of old ways understood Christ’s wisdom, and lovers of new ways sympathised with His charity. When will young men and old men, liberals and conservatives, broad Christians and narrow, learn to bear with one another, yea, to recognise each in the other the necessary complement of his own one-sidedness?—Bruce.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 5:33-42.5.39
Luke 5:33. “Thy disciples eat and drink.”—The second accusation is still levelled against the disciples: it is that not only do they sometimes feast with publicans, but do not observe either the Jewish fasts or those practised by the disciples of John the Baptist, and do not engage in stated actions of prayer and fasting. The form in which the objection is cast leaves the question open as to whether the disciples of Jesus were inattentive to rules they had received from Him, or acted as they did in accordance with the spirit of His teaching.
Luke 5:34-42.5.35. The Present and the Future.—The reply of Jesus is virtually that these devotional actions (though He mentions fasting only) should be spontaneous—the expression of actual feeling—and not the subjects of legislation and commandment. He does not speak of fasting as an unnecessary piece of asceticism, but as a practice inappropriate for His disciples at that stage of their religious life. While He was with them their joy was complete, and fasting would be out of place: a time would come when He would be taken away from them, and they would be in the mood for fasting. [In like manner He did not impose forms of prayer; but when the disciples, moved by His example, requested Him to teach them to pray, He at once acceded to their desire (Luke 11:1-42.11.4).] The time of mourning to which Christ refers must not be limited to the short period after His death and before His disciples were assured of His resurrection. It is to be understood of the whole period of His separation from the Church—the time during which, in the absence of the heavenly Bridegroom, the Church is exposed to trials and oppression (cf. Luke 18:7). The contrast between the thoughts of Luke 5:34 and Luke 5:35 is very striking: in the one Jesus speaks of the present time as joyous—the Bridegroom rejoicing in the bride; in the other the shadow of death falls upon the scene, and He depicts the grief of separation.
Jesus the Bridegroom.—It is worthy of being noted that Jesus compares Himself to a bridegroom. He thus takes up the representation of His relationship that was made by John himself, and not unlikely in the hearing of those very disciples who were now questioning Him (John 3:29). He also, as it were, takes home to Himself those frequent Old Testament representations which culminate in the Forty-fifth Psalm and the Song of Solomon, and which reappear so interestingly in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Luke 5:22-42.5.33) and the Book of Revelation (Luke 19:7-42.19.9; Luke 21:9). The Church is the bride of Jesus. Jesus is the Bridegroom of His believing people. The love between them is ineffable; but the holy wooing and the winning have been all on His side.—Morison.
The Messianic Consciousness of Jesus.—These verses clearly show that from the very beginning of His ministry Jesus
(1) realised the fact that He was the Messiah,
(2) that He identified His coming with that of Jehovah, the husband of Israel and of humanity (Hosea 2:19), and
(3) that even then He foresaw and announced a death by violence which He was to suffer.—Godet.
Luke 5:36-42.5.39. Garments and Wineskins.—By these illustrations our Lord conveyed a lesson on—
I. The charm of naturalness, and the law of congruity in religion.—Times of transition are critical. Jesus teaches that He had not come to patch up Pharisaism, or garnish Rabbinism, or pour His doctrines into the rigid forms of later Judaism. From Him was to date a new era.
II. A forced junction of the old and the new would be injurious to both.—The new force is disruptive of the old. Let the law of congruity be observed. The Christian life needed its own forms of development.—Fraser.
Luke 5:36. “A piece of a new garment.”—Jesus now contrasts the spirit of the old dispensation with that of the new; and suggested as the conversation had been by the feast in the house of Matthew, the figures He employs, of robes and wine, are appropriate to the occasion. The figure as St. Luke gives it is that of tearing off a piece of a new garment with which to patch an old one. The injury done is twofold:
(1) the new garment is injured, and
(2) the patch does not agree with the old garment, and gives it an odd look, so that no one would care to wear it. St. Matthew gives it under the form of the rent in the old garment which has been repaired in this way being made worse by the new “unfulled cloth” shrinking and breaking away from the material in which it has been inserted. The point of the figure is that the Jewish system was now becoming “old and ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13), and Christ was about to replace it by something new. The Pharisees had multiplied fasts and ceremonies, which were like patches upon the whole system; and even John the Baptist had nothing better to suggest, but had followed the same method in his work of reformation. Christ did not purpose to repair the old garment, but to give a new one. “The whole Pauline system, what the apostle himself calls his gospel, the contrast between the two covenants, the mutual exclusion of the rule of the law and that of grace, the oldness of the letter and the newness of of the spirit (Romans 7:6), which form the substance of the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, are here contained under the homely image of a garment patched with a piece of cloth or of another garment that is new” (Godet). There is something very wonderful in the simple way in which these new and great ideas are thrown out by Jesus—in the ease with which they are suggested—without effort, without elaboration, and yet containing an infinite depth of meaning.
Luke 5:37-42.5.38. “New wine … old bottles.”—From the difference of principle between the old dispensation and the new Jesus passes to the persons representing the two. For in these consecutive figures of the robes and of the wine and wine-skins we have, as in all the double parables, fresh ideas suggested. The robes refer to differing forms of religious life, the new wine to an inward life, and the wine-skins to the persons to whom that life is imparted. Those whom He chose to receive His teaching and to become organs of it were “new men”: they were not those who had grown old and stiff in religious ceremonialism, whose religious life had taken a definite set, and could not be disturbed without being shattered. But they were marked by great receptivity; and if they had much to learn, they had nothing to unlearn. They are indeed “babes,” but to them that is revealed which has been hidden from “the wise and prudent.” The disastrous result of putting the new wine into old bottles is illustrated in the later history of the Church, when “certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed” (Acts 15:5) imported into the Christian society their former prejudices and practices, and attempted to compel all to conform to the ceremonial law of Moses. The history of this controversy and of the course followed by the Judaizing party are a commentary on the words, “The new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles will perish.”
Luke 5:39. “No man … desireth new.”—Jesus here counsels consideration to be shown toward those who are not able instantly to appreciate the worth of the new life and principle. It may be and is better than that to which they have been accustomed, but they will need time to become acquainted with its merits. Often there is something acrid and restless in the enthusiasm of the new convert which is unwelcome to those whose minds are not like his, in a ferment with fresh ideas and emotions. Let him not count those as his enemies, and enemies to the truth, who cannot appreciate his fervour. There are always those who cling to the old ways, just as there are always those who strike out new ways. Both are needed to make up the world—the conservative and the progressive parties. After a little the new wine becomes old—it grows mellow and improved in tone, and will get full credit for the good qualities it possesses. There is a touch of bright humour in the picture of the connoisseur—“for he saith, The old is good.’ ”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent