Daily Family Worship

Luke 5: Miracles, Healings, and Questions

by | Feb 19, 2024

luke 5

The call of Jesus’ first disciples is regarded by many as the opening of a new period in His public ministry (verses 1-11), for now His work was about to assume a more permanent form. The growing popularity of His preaching indicated that the Gospel was designed for the whole world, and not the Jewish nation alone. And for such a universal proclamation, a definite group of dedicated workers must be prepared.

The scene of this sacred calling is described as being “by the lake of Gennesaret.” This charming body of water brings to mind so many scenes in the life of our Lord! On its western and northern side were the cities in which most of His work was done; the eastern shores were not inhabited, and it was there that Jesus would resort for rest. As for those whom Jesus called, they were fishermen – sturdy, independent, and fearless. They were already familiar with Jesus, and they had not been indifferent to spiritual truths. They had listened to the preaching of John the Baptizer; and by hearing him, they had come to regard Jesus as the Messiah. But they were now called to leave their homes and their tasks, and to become His constant companions and disciples.

On this occasion, Jesus had borrowed the boat belonging to one of these fishermen so that He might use it for a pulpit. From this boat, He had addressed the crowds that were assembled on the edge of the seaside. When He had finished His discourse, He taught a special lesson to the four men whom He was about to call as His followers. It was an impressive object lesson, acquainting them with the character of the work that they were being selected for; and also showing them the great success which would attend their ministry, if they would forsake all and follow the Master. Here He worked a miracle that was especially impressive – for it was in the sphere of their daily calling, which they knew well; and it was at a time and place where they, being expert fishermen, were very sure that it was useless to fish. Nevertheless, by obeying the guidance of Jesus, they were enabled to take such a huge draft of fishes that their nets were strained! And their boats became so loaded that they were on the verge of sinking! This was so plainly a manifestation of supernatural power that Peter felt himself to be in the presence of a Divine Being, and he expressed the fear which all have felt when they realize that they have been face-to-face with God. But Jesus spoke the word which not only removed the terror of Peter, but also gave him and his companions courage for all the coming years: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” In the same way, Jesus is still calling people today to become His disciples. Obedience may involve sacrifice and forsaking even of things on this earth that are perfectly lawful, but it is certain to result in the saving of human souls!

Leprosy (verses 12-16) was regarded as the most loathsome and terrible of diseases. Loathsome, insidious, corrupting, pervasive, isolating, and ceremonially and physically defiling – surely leprosy is a fitting emblem of sin! But Luke’s descriptive narrative presents a parable of the power of Christ to cleanse, heal, and restore. It is a vivid picture which Luke draws: the humble trust of the poor sufferer, his pitiful cry, the sympathetic touch of Jesus, the word of command, and the instant cure.

The plague of leprosy is a symbol of the uncleanness and defilement of sin; but palsy, or paralysis, is an emblem of its helplessness and pain. However, when healing the paralytic in verses 17-26, Jesus did something more startling than merely healing his physical body: He also forgave the man’s sins! The poor sufferer had been carried by his four friends, who were discouraged by no obstacles. Their earnestness is a rebuke to us, who – alas! – often make so little effort to bring our friends and family members within the healing influence of our Lord.

Jesus’ words to this man expressed His claim of Divine power to pronounce pardon and remove guilt. But this claim immediately aroused the bitter resentment of the scribes and Pharisees who were watching; and they began to reason, “Who is this that speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” Their reasoning was actually correct. By speaking the words that He uttered, Jesus was either a blasphemer worthy of death, or else He truly was Divine! And to prove that the latter was indeed the case, Jesus proposed an immediate test: “Which is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?” Of course, both require Divine power. The difference is that no one else present there could see into the paralyzed man’s heart, and know for certain that his sins actually were forgiven, as Jesus claimed they were; but if Jesus physically healed the man and made him rise up as a healthy person, they would be witnessing a manifestation of Divine power that they could see with their own eyes. And since Jesus really was God as well as Man, He could perform a visible miracle of healing just as easily as He could work an invisible miracle of forgiveness. So as soon as He spoke the word of healing, in addition to the word of forgiveness, the man arose and started for his home – “glorifying God!” It is no wonder that “amazement took hold on all” who saw these “strange things!” Thus the miracles of Christ were real proofs of His Deity, as well as expressions of His love; and moreover, they were parables of His ability and willingness to deliver mankind from the guilt and power of sin.

Nothing could further emphasize the sympathy of Jesus than His calling a despicable tax-collector to be His close companion and friend (verses 27-32). These tax-gatherers were despised everywhere for their dishonesty, extortion, and greed. But Jesus chose one of them named Levi (probably better known as Matthew); and he transformed him into an Apostle, an evangelist, and a saint. There is something that is very inspiring in this man’s example; for as soon as He heard the clear call of the Master, “he forsook all, and rose up and followed him.” It is probable that he had a greater struggle to love Christ over this world’s possessions than any of the other twelve men who became Apostles of Christ. It seems that he did possess great wealth; for as soon as he was called by Christ, he made “a great feast in his house” and invited “a great multitude of publicans and of others” to be his guests. Herein we see that he had courage in his new convictions; he was not ashamed of his new Master. He was eager to have his old heathen friends introduced to the One Who had radically changed his own life!

It was while Jesus was a guest at this feast that He was criticized by the Pharisees for eating and drinking with publicans and sinners. But to this objection, He made the most significant reply: “They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” By this statement, Jesus emphasized and vindicated His conduct, and He defined his mission. A doctor does not enter a sick-room because he delights in disease or rejoices in suffering, but only because he desires to cure and to relieve. In the same way, Jesus entered into the company of sinners – not because he approved of sin or enjoyed the society of the depraved; but because, as the Healer of souls, he was willing to go where He was most needed, and to work where the ravages of sin were most severe. He came into this world for the express purpose of saving sinners. Their conduct distressed Him, and their sins pained Him. But to accomplish His labor of love, He sought them out; and He showed His sympathy by His presence and by His healing power.

Are there any among us who do not need the spiritual cure that Christ alone can effect? Alas! It is to be feared that there are many who believe that they are “good people,” and hence they will not be brought to the conclusion that they need the Great Physician to heal their sin-sick souls. Like the Pharisees, those who are least conscious of their sickness are in the most desperate danger. But in regard to those persons who do know Christ’s power, are they willing to imitate their Master and go with the Gospel to the places of greatest need?

The Pharisees were disturbed by this attitude of Jesus toward sinners; and much more were they distressed by His attitude toward the rituals and ceremonies which, to their mind, constituted the very essence of their religion (verses 33-39). This attitude had been expressed by the failure of Jesus to require His disciples to observe the fasts which had become so prominent in the system of legalism that was taught by the religious leaders of the day. The Law of Moses prescribed no fasts; but the rabbis had multiplied them, and thus a Pharisee could boast of fasting “twice in the week.” As for the disciples of John the Baptizer, they had also been taught to fast frequently – not as an empty form; but to express the solemn and self-denying character of the ministry of John, who had come preaching “repentance unto remission of sins.” It was not strange, therefore, that the enemies of Jesus came to Him with a complaint and a question: “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?”

In His reply, Jesus distinctly stated the view which His followers should take – not only of fasting, but also of all religious forms: “Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” Fasting is an expression of sorrow. How absurd it would have been for Jesus’ followers to fast while the heavenly Bridegroom was with them! They might very properly fast in order to express their distress when He would be removed from their presence. And hereby, Jesus declared that fasting, like all religious rituals, may be quite fitting if it is a true expression of religious feeling; but if it is a matter of empty formality just to “check the box,” or if it is regarded as a ground of merit, it is an absurdity and an impertinence.

Jesus added a parable which further indicates His attitude toward all the rituals and ceremonies in which the Pharisees took such delight. He declared that He had not come to regulate the fasts and feasts, or to amend the Jewish rituals. That would be like sewing a new patch on an old garment. This religion of ceremonies had served its purpose, and now Jesus had come with something new and better! The life of freedom and joy which He was imparting to mankind could not be bound up in the narrow formalities and ceremonies of Judaism. New wine cannot be kept in old wineskins. Christianity cannot be exercised as a system of rites and ceremonies. It is not a lifeless set of rules and requirements. It does not control people by rules, but by motives. It is not symbolized by a fast, but a feast; for its pervasive spirit is joy!

In conclusion, Jesus added a phrase which indicates His tender sympathy: “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” Those who have been accustomed to a religion of forms and ceremonies will find it difficult to be satisfied with the religion of faith. We must be patient with them. It is not easy for them to give up the practices of childhood; and it takes time for them to learn the gladness and the freedom of spiritual maturity, which is offered to the followers of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, we rejoice in the assurance that You did not come to call the self-righteous, but sinners to repentance! And sinners are truly what we are. All thanks and praise be to You for graciously making our hearts new, and for renewing a right spirit within us! Amen.

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