Thus far in his gospel, Luke has made clear that his focus is Jesus, who he is and what he is doing. After piling up testimony after testimony as to the identity of Jesus, climaxing in the Father’s statement, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22), Luke introduced us to Jesus’ public ministry in our last section as he declared that he is God’s anointed King and then demonstrated his power over the enemy by casting out demons and healing. But there are still questions to be answered: How will people respond to God’s King? Will they accept him or reject him? Will he have followers? How will the religious community respond to him? If people do follow him, what kind of people will they be? And how clearly will Jesus state and demonstrate exactly who he is and the range of his authority before those who may follow him? These questions are addressed in Luke’s next section of his gospel, our text this morning, Luke 5:1-6:16.
The section we will look at this morning is somewhat of an odd section in Luke’s gospel. He brackets the section together by beginning with the calling of Peter and ending with a summary of the calling of all of the apostles. This should not be a totally surprising way of doing this. After all, Peter was a leader among the disciples, displayed by his actions and by the fact that every listing of the disciples puts Peter first (even as every listing puts Judas Iscariot last). Therefore, in a section where Luke wants to highlight the apostles it would make sense to begin the section talking about Peter and end the section speaking of the twelve. However, what makes this section odd is what comes between these two accounts.
First, immediately after the calling of Peter you have two texts that deal with Jesus healing individuals. He first heals a leper and then a paralytic man whose friends lower him through the roof where Jesus is speaking. By the same token, right before the summary of the calling of the twelve you have three controversy stories where Jesus’ actions are challenged by the Pharisees. The first deals with why his disciples do not fast and the latter two with Sabbath regulations. And if the inclusion of these sets of texts in our section isn’t confusing enough, right in the middle of the text we have the calling of Matthew (referred to as “Levi” in the text). What’s odd about this is that there’s nothing particularly special about Matthew among the disciples. Peter, James, and John become Jesus’ closest associates as they follow him. Judas Iscariot ends up betraying him. But Matthew never seems to stand out. Yet just as Luke highlights Peter by placing his calling separate from the others at the beginning of this section, he highlights the calling of Matthew by placing him at the center of this section.
Why would Luke do that? What is he doing? I think the reason he does it is to highlight a declaration that Jesus makes in the events surrounding Matthew’s calling as he declares that he has not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). By placing this event at the center of the section in which Jesus calls the disciples to himself, I think Luke is showing us that this unit in his book is pieced together as it is to show us again who Jesus is and what is the heart of those people who follow Jesus.
Therefore, as we look through this section in Luke’s gospel this morning I want us to look at each section noting the events of the narrative, what the narrative tells us about Jesus, and what people’s responses to Jesus reveal about their hearts. Then, I want us to turn to examine our own lives and responses in light of who Jesus is and see if there are areas we need to repent and grow. Therefore, let’s begin by looking at the calling of Peter in 5:1-11.
The call of Peter is somewhat of a simple story. Jesus was standing by a lake ready to teach when the crowd presses in on him. Therefore, in order to get some room and distance he gets into the boat of a man named Simon (later, Peter) and asks him to put it out a bit from land. Simon does this, and Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat. But the memorable event for Peter, no doubt, happens after Jesus finishes speaking.
As Jesus finishes teaching he says to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (5:4). Peter points out the futility in such a practice. Luke has told us that the fishermen were washing their nets. Peter now tells us (and Jesus) why. They had fished all night and caught nothing. Therefore, Jesus’ suggestion had two strikes against it. First, it was better to fish at night than during the day. Second, these fisherman had just spent all night fishing right in this very place and had caught nothing. Nevertheless, Peter tells Jesus that he’ll let down the nets.
As Peter does this, he realizes that they’ve caught so many fish that the nets are in danger of breaking. So they (probably Peter and Andrew) signal to the others to help, and when they come both boats are filled so full of fish that they begin to sink. Jesus had performed a miracle, demonstrating his authority over the animals, by bringing the fish to this place.
And Peter knows instantly that Jesus is so much greater than he’d realized. He knows that Jesus is from God and is working by the power of God. Therefore he says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (5:8). Luke tells us that the reason Peter felt his sin so clearly is because he and all with him were astonished at the catch of fish. They had not believed Jesus was able to do what he did and that his request was futile. And now he feels so guilty he asks Jesus to leave, knowing he is not worthy to have Jesus’ presence.
However, interestingly, where one might expect a rebuke or at very least Jesus’ departure, Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (5:10). Instead of rebuking them, Jesus calls these four fishermen to follow him and gather other men to be his disciples. And Luke tells us that “they left everything and followed him” (5:11).
As Luke, therefore, begins this section we see that Jesus has authority over nature and does not turn away those who acknowledge their sin before him.
Jesus has authority over nature and he accepts one who acknowledges his sin before him
Even as in the beginning God places Adam on the earth as king over his creation and gives him dominion over all things, so now we see that Jesus’ dominion and authority extends over nature as well, which is fitting as he comes to deal with sin and undo the consequences of Adam’s sin. Jesus’ greatness and ability is displayed again in this miracle of catching fish. However, what also shows up is Peter’s heart in responding to Jesus.
In this episode Peter does not exalt himself before Christ, try to act as if he is great, or try to cover his sin. He acknowledges his sin. He acknowledges his failure to believe in Jesus’ ability. He acknowledges that he is utterly unworthy even of the presence of Jesus. And we find that Jesus calls him to himself to serve as his disciple.
This must be a lesson for us in a world where the motto in many settings is: “Never let them see you sweat.” In a world where we one-upping the other guy is applauded, showing no weaknesses is heralded, and vulnerably admitting one’s weaknesses and struggles is despised, Jesus brings those to himself who readily acknowledge their sin and unworthiness. Paul will later say that he would rather boast of his weaknesses rather than his strengths. May we take a cue from that, pursuing humility rather than an attempt to appear without weakness before God and man.
In the second narrative of our text a man full of leprosy approaches Jesus. Now, just so we can feel the weight of this, a leper was ostracized from society. But this was not done out of mere cruelty but because he was contagious. Mere contact with a leper meant that you yourself would join him in living with this disease and being cut off from your fellow man. Therefore, you can understand the boldness or desperation of this man as he approaches Jesus.
As he comes to Jesus, he (like Peter before him) falls on his face begging Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (5:12). In the leper’s mind it’s not a question of Jesus’ ability but just his willingness. He knows that if Jesus wants to, he can.
Now, again, even as we might have expected Jesus to rebuke Peter or at least leave from him, here we might expect Jesus to rebuke the leper for approaching him, to jump away from him, or even to run so that he might in no way risk coming in contact with this man. However, Luke writes, “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean’” (5:13). And immediately the leprosy left him. Not only was Jesus himself not made unclean but the unclean man was cleansed.
Then Jesus told him to obey what the law instructed him to do as a man cleansed from leprosy and to make an offering to the priest so that it might be proof that God has healed him. However, Jesus also commanded him to tell no one else, probably because the multitudes would give him no rest. Nonetheless, report got out and many gathered to hear him and to be healed by him. Therefore, Jesus would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
This text as well reveals to us something about Jesus and about his response to men, namely, that Jesus has authority over sickness and does not turn away those who come to him in faith, acknowledging their need of him.
Jesus has authority over sickness and accepts one who acknowledges his need of Jesus and Jesus’ ability to change him
Even as sickness does not come into the world until after Adam’s sin, Jesus shows that he has authority over sickness, demonstrating his ability to undo the curse from Adam’s sin. But who then is it who will know the blessings of Christ? It is those who have faith in Christ and are desperately aware of their need for him.
One the one hand it is surprising that the leper would approach Jesus. After all, he was supposed to approach no one, and to approach someone risked contaminating them. However, on the other hand, it is not surprising because the man knew he had no other hope and that Jesus could cleanse him if he wanted. Even as the author of Hebrews will tell us that God blesses those who diligently seek him, so Luke is showing us that God blesses those who desperately know their need for Christ and look to him in faith.
As we come to the next narrative, we find that the Pharisees and teachers of the law have heard more about Jesus and that he popularity is growing. And as Jesus is teaching on this particularly day the crowd is so thick that no one could get to him. However, we also see one other note in the text. Luke tells us in 5:17 that “the power of the Lord was with him [Jesus] to heal.” This should be a reminder to us of two things: 1) that Jesus did what he did by the power of God, and 2) that as Jesus did these miracles it was God’s way of endorsing him as his anointed Messiah. This is why Peter will later declare on the day of Pentecost, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as your yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).
However, this dense crowd would not thwart certain men who were bringing their paralytic friend to see Jesus. Seeing that there was no way to get to Jesus through the crowd they carried their friend and his bed onto the roof, tore away the roof until they had formed a sizable hole, and then lowered their friend to see Jesus. Surprisingly, though, Jesus did not first address the man’s paralysis but said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (5:20).
Now, this instantly brought some troubling thoughts in the minds of the scribes and Pharisees, for they knew that only God had the authority to forgiven sins and therefore perceived that Jesus was blaspheming, claiming for himself the ability to forgive sins. But Jesus knew their thoughts and wouldn’t allow their mental protests to persist. Therefore, he asked them why they questioned these things in their hearts and then declared, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? (5:23). Of course the answer would be declaring your sins are forgiven because no one would have evidence of whether that happened or not. Therefore, in order to display that he had authority to forgive sins he said to the man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (5:24), and the man got up and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized the crowd, they glorified God, and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today” (5:26).
So, even as we see that Jesus has authority over nature and over sickness, now we see that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins and extends that to those who place their faith in him.
Jesus has the authority to forgive sins and extends forgiveness to one who has faith in him
And if we follow the argument correctly we see that this means that Jesus is nothing less than God. He is God the Son. Therefore, even as Adam’s sin brought about a curse to nature and sickness (as some of its consequences), Jesus demonstrates his authority over sickness, over nature, and (now) his authority to forgive sins. But we also learn about those to whom he extends this forgiveness; it is those who have faith in him. Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” “when he saw their faith” (5:20).
So, to this point in the text we see more of who Jesus is, expressed in his authority, and we see the heart of those to whom Jesus responds. Then, we move to the centerpiece of our text in the calling of Matthew (called Levi).
In Luke 5:27-32 we find the calling of Matthew. Luke lists Matthew’s call briefly, in verses 27-28, showing this is not the chief focus of this text. Rather, it is the events that follow. Matthew was a tax-collector, a social outcasts, despised for his profession. However, after coming to Jesus, he has a great feast for him in his home, inviting tax collectors to meet with Jesus, and when the Pharisees hear of this they have a problem, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (5:30). They thought that he should not mix with such people, and Jesus responds to challenge declaring, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31-32).
In this centerpiece of our text Jesus reveals those whom he is gathering to himself. He is coming to bring to himself those who know they are sinners, know their need of him, and will repent and turn to him. That’s his call.
Jesus comes to call sinners to himself
Now this does not mean that there are righteous people outside of Christ. What he is saying is that he will not bless those who think themselves righteous. Rather, he comes to bless those who know they are sinners. This, I think, is a summary statement of the first three texts we’ve seen. Jesus is our greatest need, but he meets the needs of those who know their sin, who know their need of him, and who know they can turn to nothing and no one else. And he blesses them, extending to them forgiveness of sin as they repent and place their faith in him.
However, at this point, as Luke has given us a taste of controversy from the scribes and Pharisees, so Luke now moves us to three stories where Jesus is challenged.
First, some come to Jesus questioning him about fasting. They declare, “The disciples of John fast often and offer their prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (5:33). But Jesus responds saying, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those day” (5:34-35).
Now, we have to consider the reason people fasted. Fasting was done as a cry for deliverance. It was a way of declaring to God how desperate people were to have him come and deliver them. God had presented himself as a faithful husband to his people, and they were crying out for the bridegroom to come and get his people to deliver them. Therefore, Jesus’ answer to them is that his disciples don’t fast because the bridegroom, the deliverer, has come and is here with them. He is claiming nothing less than to be God.
Then he tells them a parable to reveal their hearts. He points out that no one tears a piece from a new garment to put on an old because then the new garment would be ruined and it would not match the old. Also, he points out that no one would put new wine into old wineskins, for old wineskins would have already been stretched out, so if new wine were put into the old skins it would ferment and the skins would break. And finally, he says that there are a group who do not want the new but want to stay with the old.
What then is he talking about? Well, he’s obviously relating it to fasting. So, what I think he’s saying is this: “Yes, my disciples will one day fast but it will be not be like the fasting you’re thinking of, for yours is the old fasting which longs for the deliverer to come. My disciples will fast in a new way, realizing that the deliverer has already come. They will long for his completion of salvation, for his return. Therefore, in your longing for the old you are missing the new. You are missing that the deliverer has come, and I am he. However, you will never see it because you love the old. You do not see your need for me, and you do not want to turn from what you know and like.”
Therefore, Jesus shows us that he is the promised deliverer, the bridegroom, and those who refuse to acknowledge that he is the promised one of God will not come to him.
Jesus is the promised deliverer (the bridegroom) and refuses those who do not acknowledge him as such
In other words, you cannot know salvation without acknowledging Jesus as the savior. This is a message many in our world need to hear. And your religious actions, even your fasting, will reveal what you think of Jesus. As believers, we fast because our Savior has indeed come and we long for his return.
Finally, the Pharisees come against Jesus on two separate occasions regarding the Sabbath. First, in 6:1-5, they challenge Jesus, asking him why his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them on the Sabbath. After all, this was considered work (harvesting) on the Sabbath. Jesus answered them by pointing to David, who in a moment of need came into the tabernacle and ate the bread of the Presence, even giving some to his men, though it is unlawful for the priests to eat.
It appears what Jesus is saying is that David, as the King and representative of God’s reign over the people rightly interpreted the law. That is, David knew that the law allowed for meeting human need and rightly interpreted the law. Now, to this that might have been thinking, “But you’re not as great as David.” Therefore, before they could voice such a claim Jesus tells him exactly who he is, saying, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” That is, Jesus is saying, “I know the law. And I know that the Sabbath was not made to keep human needs from being met. It was made for man and not to be a burden against him. Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man.”
Yet another Sabbath brings another challenge. On another Sabbath (we read in Luke 6:6-11), a man with a withered hand was in the Sabbath as Jesus was in the synagogue teaching. And the scribes and Pharisees were watching to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath. After all, they had taught that you could help someone if there was a medical emergency, but a man with a withered hand could wait.
But, again, Jesus knew their thoughts and called the man with the withered hand to come to him. Then, he addressed the crowd, asking, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” (6:9). After all, the scribes and Pharisees were wanting to destroy Jesus, ultimately. And with that question Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand, the man did, and it was healed. Therefore, Luke ends, “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (6:11).
Interestingly the scribes and Pharisees were saying they wanted to uphold God’s law, when really they would rather destroy a man than to save a man’s life. They would rather do harm than good. And, again, Jesus shows them that the Sabbath was not given to keep one from doing good. He rightly interprets the law as the one who is the law-giver and its infallible interpreter.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and will reveal the evil hearts of those who want to appear righteous while having no desire for righteousness
Jesus had exposed the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees. He had shown them that he knew they were evil, and they hated him for it.
And so let us pause now and consider what Luke has shown us in this section. Jesus has all authority, even the authority to forgive sins, for he is nothing less than God. He is the bridegroom and deliverer of his people. And he rightly understands and obeys God’s commands.
Meanwhile, those who know their need of him, know their sin, and come to him in repentance and faith will know forgiveness of sins and the blessings of eternal life while those who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord will display this in their lives, will have their evil hearts revealed, and will not be blessed with salvation in Christ.
I think Luke uses this section to show that Jesus is nothing less than God the Son who has come to call sinners to himself, forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from the curse of sin. However, he also shows us that not everyone will respond positively to his message. Some will see themselves in great need of Jesus. They will see their own sin and their need to be forgiven and cleansed, and they will repent, make everything secondary to Jesus, and follow him. While others will not see Jesus as he is, will not see their need for Jesus, and will not only not follow him but will despise and hate him. And so I would ask all of us this morning, “What is your response to Jesus of Nazareth?”
Will you humble yourself before him, acknowledge your need of him, repent of your sins, place your faith in him, and know eternal life? Or will you refuse to see him as he is and have your evil hearts revealed now and (more importantly) on that final day of judgment? And if you ask, how can Jesus forgive me. The answer is in 6:12-16. He called Judas Iscariot, a traitor, after a night of prayer, to be his follower. That is, it was not accident. He did it because he voluntarily laid down his life to pay for our sin. Therefore, flee from the wrath of God by placing your faith in one who died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead. Delay no longer.
And if you are a believer, are you displaying that in that like Peter you’ve let go of everything you treasure more than Christ or are you trying to hold on to things you love more than him. That doesn’t work. Later Jesus will say to his disciples, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things that I say?” That is, “Why do you say I’m the most important thing in the world and then not demonstrate that in your life? Why do you not demonstrate that before your family? Why do you say that and hold so tightly to your money, goods, and time?” I hope our response today will be to humble ourselves before him, proclaim that he is our Lord, and demonstrate that by living all of our lives unto him. May we proclaim that as our response as we come to the table. Amen.