Luke 6:1-11 Lord of the Sabbath

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The issue of what is permissible on the Sabbath has divided Christians down through the centuries.  Some hold a more restrictive position, whilst others take a more permissive approach.  Many Christians are confused, with no standard guiding their decisions.  Some fundamental principles are set down by the Lord himself.  We turn now to consider Luke 6:1-11 Lord of the Sabbath.

1. Confrontation in the fields

The issue of the Sabbath is not a trivial matter.  Exodus 20:8 gives the commandment to observe the Sabbath and v11 states ‘the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy’.  The Sabbath is a divine institution, included in the 10 Commandments, so we may not treat it as unimportant, as many Christians do today.  Some have no concept of the Lord’s Day.

            (i). The Pharisees’ question.  ‘Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ (v2).  The dispute is over ‘pick…rub…eat’ (v1).  The law allowed wayfarers to pick corn by hand (Deuteronomy 23:25), but the Pharisees define Jesus’ actions as reaping, threshing and winnowing grain on the Sabbath.  They again focus on rules, whichthey regard as a means of securing God’s favour.  They are guilty of legalism, thinking rule-keeping is a way of salvation.  They were often also hypocrites, for example loving money (Luke 16:14).

            (ii). The Lord’s response.  Jesus does not provide either more restrictive or more permissive views of the law, but puts the focus on a deeper issue.  He cites the incident recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1ff, when David and his men ate the consecrated bread from the sanctuary – relieving human need was a work of necessity.  Jesus exercises messianic authority as ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ (v5).  He directs how his Sabbath should be kept.

2. Conflict in the synagogue

            (i). The Pharisees’ question.  The question is unspoken yet real.  The man’s disability is serious but not life-threatening – it did not have to be cured on the Sabbath.  They are seeking an opportunity to attack Jesus and discredit him as a law-breaker.  They have no concern for the man and no response of faith to the miracles.  They seek an opportunity to do evil, yet they are supposedly the spiritual leaders of Israel.

            (ii). The Lord’s response.  Jesus ‘knew what they were thinking’ (v8), again revealing his deity.  His response will be as public as possible – ‘stand in front of everyone’ – there will be no doubt about the miracle.  Jesus answers the Pharisees’ unspoken question with his own spoken one – ‘which is lawful on the Sabbath…?’ (v9).  None dares respond.  The answer to the question is clear and indeed made visible – his hand was completely restored’ (v10).  With divine power he provides a messianic sign of life restored, a token of the transforming power of God’s grace at work in and through Jesus.  The miracle also indicates the proper use of the Sabbath.  Note ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (Matthew 12:7, while in the fields).  The Sabbath is a day for works of mercy (as well as necessity) – as stated in Shorter catechism Q60.  This reflects the heart of God himself.

Luke 5:33-39 The Bridegroom is here

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To many people religion is a matter of keeping rules and performing rituals.  They many in the estimation of others be very religious people – that may be their own view too.  When someone presents a different view of religion, treating it as a matter of heart spirituality, not of works and effort, he may be met with considerable hostility, as Jesus was.  We turn now to consider Luke 5:33-39 The Bridegroom is here.

1. Complaint

We again encounter ‘the Pharisees and the teachers of the law’ (v30) in the house of converted Levi.  They now attack Jesus’ style of ministry.  The issue is the observance of set times to ‘fast and pray’ (v33).  The law required fasting only on the Day of Atonement, but some Pharisees fasted ‘twice a week’ (Luke 18:12).  Jesus appeared very lax by comparison.

            (i). John’s disciples.  The issue seems to be their different lifestyle – there is no suggestion that their teaching conflicted at all with faith in the Messiah.  Like John, their lifestyle was apparently ascetic.  There is room for diversity when the gospel is not at stake.

            (ii). The disciples of the Pharisees.  This is a very different case.  They ‘trusted in themselves that they were righteous’ (Luke 18:9).  They put the emphasis on externals, depending on works like prayer and fasting to be right with God.

2. Contrast

Jesus responds using the language of ‘the bridegroom’ (v34), drawing on OT pictures of God married to his people (see Hosea 2:19).  True religion is a living relationship with God through the Messiah who is the source of eternal life.  Regarding fasting, note:

            (i). Present.  The Bridegroom – the Messiah – is present (v34), the Kingdom has come, this is a time for joy, not fasting.  The legalistic fasting of the Pharisees is condemned.

            (ii). Future.  The Bridegroom will ‘be taken from them’ (v35) – at the cross, in fulfilment of God’s plan (Luke 9:22).  That death is the essential climax of his saving work.

3. Conflict

The implications of the Messiah’s presence are spelled out in vivid, down-to-earth terms:

            (i). A new garment.  Old and new cannot be combined.  Jesus does not offer a better version of Pharisaic religion – he brings ‘the new’ – the fulfilment of God’s gracious plan of salvation.  It cannot be combined with legalistic dependence on good works.

            (ii). New wine.  The ‘new wine’ Jesus brings cannot be contained in ‘the old wineskins’ of Pharisaic religion.  The gospel belongs in the ‘new wineskins’ of the church.  Sadly, sinners often prefer the old, depending on their works and resisting the gospel call.

Luke 5:17-26 Healing and forgiveness

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Those who seek to spread the gospel often find that they meet with opposition, misunderstanding or hostility.  This can come even from religious leaders – indeed sometimes they can be the most hostile to telling people they need a Saviour.  This should not surprise us.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus faced constant opposition from religious leaders.  We turn now to consider Luke 5:17-26 Healing and forgiveness.

1. The believing friends

Jesus is teaching in Capernaum (Mark 2:1), possibly in the courtyard of a house roofed with tiles.  Teaching the inerrant Word of God is central to his pre-Calvary ministry.  The impact of Jesus’ ministry is seen in the actions of the men ‘carrying a paralytic on a mat’ (v18) – they are convinced Jesus can heal their friend and will no allow obstacles to prevent their getting him into Jesus’ presence.  Access is barred ‘because of the crowd’ (v19), so they take dramatic steps, removing some tiles from the flat roof and ‘lowered him on his mat…right in front of Jesus’.  Their actions testify to their faith – they believe Jesus can address the man’s need.  Note ‘their faith’ (v20) includes the paralysed man.  Faith does not earn blessing but opens the heart to God’s working and is itself God’s gift.

2. The critical Pharisees

Jesus’ impact is also evident in the hostility of the religious experts, ‘Pharisees and teachers of the law’ (v17), apparently investigating Jesus’ actions and teaching.  John called them ‘You brood of vipers’ (Matthew 3:7).  Their attitude to the law is crucial:

            They added to God’s law layers of their own traditions (Mark 7:9)

            They externalised God’s law, keeping the outward details but neglecting love in the heart such as God required (Deuteronomy 6:5).

            These religious leaders were in fact spiritually blind.  When they witness Jesus’ miracle, their question is both right and wrong – v21 – they know that God alone can forgive sin, but in Jesus God is in fact present among them, but they cannot see that.  Instead of believing on Jesus, they oppose his mission and will eventually bring about his death.

3. The gracious Saviour

            (i). He forgives sin.  ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’ (v20).  Jesus speaks with divine authority as the only one who can forgive sin against God.  It is through faith that forgiveness comes (Acts 16:31).  Dealing with sin is the heart of the Messiah’s work (Ephesians 1:7).

            (ii). He reads thoughts.  ‘Jesus knew what they were thinking’ (v22).  This again is an indicator of his deity (1 Samuel 16:7).  His divine mind conveys facts to his human mind,

            (iii). He heals bodies.  The healing is instantaneous (v25), in response to Jesus’ authoritative command (v24).  The miracle does not just heal the body but is proof ‘that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ (v24) – a sign of salvation.  Bodily healing will be consummated in the resurrection.

Luke 5:1-11 An irresistible call

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If someone offers advice in your area of expertise, it can be hard to accept, especially if the advisor is someone you expect to know nothing about the subject.  We seem to have such a situation when Jesus the carpenter gives advice on fishing to Simon Peter the fisherman.  How will Peter react?  We turn now to consider Luke 5:1-11 An irresistible call.

1. Revelation

As Jesus is ‘standing by the Lake of Gennesaret’ (v1, another name for the sea of Galilee) the crowds press so close that, in order to continue teaching, he must get into a fishing boat and teach from there (v3).  Note the reference to ‘the word of God’ – a phrase closely linked to what we learned last time about Jesus’ authority in teaching:

            It is a word about God – Jesus brings the final perfect revelation about the nature of God and the work of salvation that he will accomplish as Messiah.

            It is a word from God – although his hearers do not understand this, it is God who speaks to them.  John 1:14 states, ‘The Word became flesh’ and Jesus is that incarnate Word.

2. Power

Simon (v4) and several others (v10) are present.  Some had met Jesus before, including Simon (John 1:42), and had got to know him.  Jesus gives Simon instructions (v4) that contradict what he knows as a fisherman – fishing in daylight in deep water, and after a futile night’s effort (v5).  But on account of what he knows of the ‘Master’, Simon obeys, and the result is a miraculous catch.  This is a sign of Jesus’ identity and of the presence in him of divine messianic power over the creation, showing that the King who can transform lives is present.  The ‘kingdom of God’ (4:43) has come in him.

3. Holiness

Peter’s reaction is surprising – ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’ (v8).  Peter understands (at least in part) that he is in the presence of divine power, having witnessed the work of a holy God (without yet grasping Jesus’ deity).  This God is separate from all created and all sinful things.  Peter has a profound sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness.  As sinners come closer to a holy God, they have a deeper sense of sin (Isaiah 6:5) which is necessary if we are to benefit from the work of Christ.  Conviction of sin is a vital first step towards salvation.  Why seek a Saviour if you have no sense of needing salvation?

4. Authority

Jesus does not dispute Peter’s self-evaluation but at once provides encouragement – ‘Don’t be afraid’ (v10, stop what he has begun to do).  It is the voice of divine grace.  The Lord deals gently and lovingly with Peter and, by implication, the others there.  This is the turning point of Peter’s life; ‘from now on you will catch men’ (v10; literally ‘capture alive’, not like dead fish).  Jesus speaks with absolute authority – it is a call (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17) that requires immediate obedience (v11).  He calls us to serve him in the same authoritative way.