Luke 5

Luke 5:1-11.11859

Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20.

It will be remarked that the account of the call of Simon and of the rest of his companions, at the Lake of Gennesaret, is given not only more fully in Luke than in any other Evangelist, but in a totally different connection. In Matthew and Mark we find it mentioned immediately after our Lord began to preach, when John was reported to be put into prison. The first thing named then is when Jesus was “walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, cast a net into the sea, for they were fishers; and He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Both in Matthew 4 and in Mark 1 the account is given in general terms. We have far more detail in Luke. Is this an accident? Contrariwise, it is the fruit of a gracious design of God. Luke had the task confided to him more than any other of bringing out God’s grace toward man and in man. Along with this he had also to lay bare the working of man’s conscience and heart, especially under the operation of the Spirit of God.

The Lord, then, is shown us calling Simon, not at the time when it actually occurred, but in connection with the development of this great purpose — calling men to be associated with Himself. Hence this notice of their call, which had taken place some time before, (John 1:40ff.) is reserved till the opening and character of His own ministry have been fully set before us; His reading at Nazareth with grace and nothing but grace to man — not judgment as yet, for He stopped before it; His subsequent comment when they began to show their unbelief, even after their confession of the gracious words which had proceeded out of His mouth; His proof from the law that the unbelief of Israel turns the stream of grace toward the Gentiles, the intimation of what God was going to do now, and their subsequent deadly wrath and indignation; then His course in the power of the Holy Ghost; but above all, His word with power, not nevertheless without mighty works, as in dealing with Satan’s dominion over man and all the physical consequences of it., the healing of all diseases and the casting out of demons. But especially He preached the kingdom of God, and that far and wide, fame among men being only an additional reason for moving elsewhere.

Thus it is Man, by the power of the Holy Ghost, entirely above Satanic working and human weakness, delivering mankind, and ministering the Word of God as the sole means of spiritual strength and association with God, as the Spirit is the source of all that is good and great according to God. But even this is not enough for His grace; He would associate men with Himself in good. Hence in the next scene before us the Holy Spirit shows us the Lord calling others. He rejoices in the habitable part of His earth, and His delights are with the sons of men; He associated them with Himself. It was not only for men’s pardon that He came, but for salvation and all its fruits. Simon Peter, being the more prominent of those now called, is brought into the foreground. If he is to help others, he must be first helped himself; and man cannot be truly helped without raising the question of sin and settling it in the heart, as well as by Christ outside ourselves.

The Lord now effects this. Standing by the lake, He sees two ships60117 there, and the fishermen engaged in washing their nets, when “the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God.”118 So he enters “into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and asked him to draw out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the crowds out of the ship. But when he ceased speaking, he said to Simon, Draw out into the deep, and let down your nets for a haul.”

The work must be carried within. Even the Word may seem to fail, but it may be followed up by some act or way on God’s part in order to drive it home to the heart. He tells Simon therefore to thrust out and let down the net for a haul. A seaman is apt to think that he understands his own business best; and Simon answered saying, “Master,119 we have laboured through the whole night and have taken nothing; but at thy word I will let down the net.” Thus, feeble as his faith might have been at this time, it was real. He bows to One Who naturally could not be considered to know anything of a fisherman’s work, but Peter has confidence that He is Messiah, and learns that He is this and, far more, that He had the mind and grace of God. It would be now shown whether He had all power at His command. Simon had reason to know that He had Divine energy as to men on earth; but now there was a new thing, One Who had dominion over the fish of the sea. Sin had greatly hindered the exercise, and even proof, of the large dominion which was originally granted to them. But here was the repairer of all breaches; in Peter’s ship was the Second Man, the Lord from heaven. “And having done this, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes.” The failure of human resources, as they are to avail themselves of the blessing, is made manifest. “Their net61 was breaking, and they beckoned to their partners who were in the other ship to come and help them. And they came and filled both the ships, so that they were sinking.” The help of man is as vain as man himself, even for the blessing of God. The day was coming when the net should not break, no matter how large the fishes nor how great the variety. But this is reserved for another age, when the Second Man shall reign in righteousness and power. Here we see the feebleness of this age.

“But Simon Peter seeing it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, Lord. For astonishment had laid hold on him, and on all those who were with him, at the haul of fishes which they had taken.” Now comes the deep moral result for Peter’s heart. The greatness of the Lord’s grace as well as His power brought his sinfulness more than over before his soul. A strange moral inconsistency follows. He casts himself at the Lord’s feet, and says, “Depart from me.” But he does not depart from Jesus. Rather does he fall down as near to Jesus as he can; yet he says, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, Lord.” He confesses his unfitness for the presence of the Lord, yet would not lose Him for all worlds — goes to Him, yet feels and owns that He might justly go away from such a sinner. Thus the Lord, Who knew the heart, did that which was eminently calculated to act upon Simon, who knew the powerlessness of man as he is to do what the Lord had done. They had all shown how unable they were; they had “laboured through the whole night, and taken nothing.” But the Lord not only knew all, but could do all; and this brings up sin on Simon’s conscience.120

But, further, the Lord’s answer thereon was, “Fear not, henceforth thou shalt be catching men.” He banishes the fear so natural to the heart where sin is, which is even increased at first by the action of the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost only removes fear by the revelation of Christ, His work, and His word. His operation is to make us know what is calculated to produce fear as well as to lead us to Him Who alone by His grace can banish it. The effect of the state of the first man, when rightly viewed, is to fill with intense fear and horror: as to himself he could not but fear; from Christ he hears, “Fear not.” And who is entitled to be heard? “My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27.) It is blessed to learn from God that our sinfulness, while not only naturally but even spiritually it ought to produce torment, is met, and fear is cast out, by the perfect love of God in Christ. Our Lord, on the ground of that great redemption which He was about to bring in by His blood, was entitled righteously to say, “Fear not.” This was the Divine way of forming one that was afterwards to become a fisher of men. He must be in the experience of the blessing of grace himself before he was fit to be the witness of it to others.

“And having run the ships on shore, leaving all, they followed him.” 120a Such was the power of grace; it made all things little in comparison with Christ, and of what Christ becomes to the man who believes in Him.

Luke 5:12-16.

Matt. 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45.

We have seen that the call — the special ministerial call — of Peter and the rest was taken out of its historical place in order to present the Lord uninterruptedly in the activity of His grace, when He entered upon His manifestation.

Now we find two remarkable miracles, which, I believe, set forth sin in two different forms. The first is under the phase of leprosy. “It came to pass, as he was in one of the cities, that behold there was a man full of leprosy.” Luke particularly mentions this symptom. It was not in an incipient stage or a slight case, but a man full of leprosy, “and, seeing Jesus, falling on his face, he besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou art able to cleanse me.” The man wanted confidence in the Lord’s love and good pleasure to meet his need. The Lord, accordingly, showed not only His power but His goodness. “He stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou cleansed.” This was by no means necessary for healing. Love, however, does not limit itself to man’s necessities, but takes occasion by them to show the great grace of God. Under law it would have been defiling: but we shall never understand the Gospel unless we see that He Who was pleased as man to come under the law was really above law. And we find these two things running through the account of our Lord’s life on earth — dispensationally under law, and in His own person above it. Nothing could overthrow the rights and dignity of His person. But now we find Him displaying both what man ought to be towards God and what God is towards man. In the first case He is found under law, but this course of miraculous manifestation was the display of what God is — God present and active in goodness among men, and this in the reality of a man’s soul, mind, and affections. So Christ stretched forth His hand and touched him, and, so far from defilement accruing to Himself, the leprosy departed from the man. He “enjoined him to tell no man,”‘ but go, show thyself to the priest.” Thus we have in the injunction a man under law, as truly as we have, in the Lord God Who healed the leper, One above man and consequently above law. “Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, as Moses ordained, (Lev. 13:49.) for a testimony to them.” Until the cross, Jesus rigorously maintains the authority of the law. To have been merely under law would have defeated the whole object of the Gospel; it would result in leaving man under his leprosy, under the utter loathsomeness of sin, the hopeless and defiling ruin that sin produces. Therefore if grace was to be shown, Christ must be infinitely above man, must in a human body put forth a hand which is the natural emblem of its work, and touch the man that was lost in sin beyond all human remedy. “I will” — which only God was entitled to say — “be thou cleansed.” Divine power at once accompanies the word. Power belongeth unto God.”

The Lord would make the healing known, but according to law. “Go, show thyself to the priest,” whose business it was to inspect. The priest would have known the reality of the leper’s case, and would be the best judge among men of the reality of the cleansing. “Offer for thy cleansing, [according] as Moses ordained,122 for a testimony to them.”

There was no provision under law for healing leprosy, but there was provision, when a man was healed, for his purification, his cleansing. None but God could heal. When, therefore, the healed leper came and showed himself to the priest with his offering, it was a proof that God was there in power and grace. (Ps. 103:3.) When had such a thing been known in Israel? A prophet had once, with characteristic difference, indicated a cure from God, outside Israel. But God was now present in the midst of His people. The conviction would thus be forced upon the priest that God was there in Christ, above law, but yet not overthrowing the law’s authority. “Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, [according] as Moses ordained, for a testimony to them.” If that testimony were received, they would themselves (and in due time openly) enter the ground of grace. “By grace ye are saved,” as it is grace, too, that enables us to walk according to God. “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14.) This is the Christian’s ground.

Again, the more the Lord forbade his speaking, so much the more went there a fame abroad of Him: and great multitudes came together “to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.”

The Lord, however, instead of yielding to the applause of the multitude, “withdrew 123 himself, and was about in the desert and praying.” Nothing can be more beautiful than this retirement for prayer between these two miracles. However truly God, He was man, not only in maintaining the authority of the law, but also in practising dependence upon God.

Luke 5:17-26.124

Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12.

“And it came to pass on one of the days that he was teaching, that there were Pharisees “I and doctors of the law sitting by’ who were come out of every village of Galilee and Judea, and [out of] Jerusalem: and the power of [the] LORD was [there] to heal them.62 And lo, men bringing on a couch a man who was paralysed: and they sought to bring him in, and to put [him] before him.” Now we have the other form in which sin is set forth, not so much in its defiling influence, but in the impotence which it produces — in man’s total powerlessness under it. Sinful man is not only defiled and defiling, but also has no strength. The Lord accordingly proves Himself equal to meet this result of sin as much as the other. There were difficulties in the way; but what are these to the sense of need and faith? “And not finding what way to bring him in, on account of the crowd, going up on the house-top, they let him down through the tiles,126 with his little couch, into the midst before Jesus.”

Wherever real faith exists, there is earnestness. Here the difficulties and obstacles only increased and made manifest the desire to meet with Jesus. Accordingly the man submits to all these efforts on the part of those who carried him. He was let down into the very midst of the crowded assembly where Jesus was. “And seeing their faith,126a he said, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Not, Man, thy palsy is healed; but, “thy sins are forgiven thee.” This is very instructive. In order to reach the powerlessness of a sinner he must be forgiven. There is nothing keeps a man feebler, spiritually, than the lack of a sense of forgiveness. If I am to have the power to serve the living God, I must have the assurance that my sins are forgiven. (Cf. Hebrews 9.) Accordingly the first word of the Lord took up his deepest need, that which, if not supplied, would always leave him without strength. “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.”

But forgiveness on earth at once aroused the incredulous opposition of the scribes and Pharisees. They “began to reason, saying, Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins, but God alone?” As God alone could heal a leper, so God alone could forgive sins; so far they were right. The great mistake was that they did not believe Jesus to be God. But then in both these miracles Jesus is man as well as God, and this comes out distinctly here. For, “Jesus, knowing their reasonings, answering, said to them, Why reason ye in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?” One was as plain as the other. He could have said either. He had a true and a gracious spiritual motive for dealing with the real root of the evil first. The deepest necessity of man was not to rise and walk, but first of all to have his sins forgiven. “But that ye may know that the Son of man127 hath power upon earth to forgive sins,128 (he said to the paralysed man,129) I say to thee, Arise and take up thy little couch, and go to thine house.” He did not say, “That ye may know that God in heaven will by-and-by forgive sins”; but “that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” Jesus is God; but here it is in His quality of the rejected Messiah, the Son of man, that He has power on earth to remit sins. He has authority from God, as indeed He is God; but still it is as Son of man, which adds immensely to the grace of His ways. The despised Messiah of Israel had authority on earth to forgive sins. Thus, the strength that is imparted by the Holy Ghost to the believer is not at all the ground of the remission of his sins, nor is to be the proof to himself that he is forgiven, but “that ye may know,” etc. Others sought to know the reality of this forgiveness, and, above all, of the Son of man’s authority to forgive man. This is God’s great object. It is not merely doing good to man, but the display of the rejected Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. God is putting honour on Him, not only in heaven but upon earth. Now He is exalted in heaven; but even as the Son of man, the rejected Christ, He has authority on earth to forgive sins; and this the Gospel proclaims. Then the strength to rise up and walk imparted to the poor powerless sinner is just a witness to others of the forgiveness of his sins; but the great thing for such an one is not merely what others see and judge of, but what pertains to himself alone, that none can absolutely know outside, that which is a word from the Lord to his own soul — “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”

The public fact, however, acts powerfully upon the beholders. “Immediately standing up before them, having taken up that whereon he was laid, he departed to his house, glorifying God. And amazement seized all, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today.”

They had not the sense of forgiveness, but at least they were filled with fear. It was a new thing in Israel.

Luke 5:27-39.

Matt. 9:9-17: Mark 2:13-22.

We have seen the grace which both cleanses and forgives. The soul needs both. God is “faithful . . . to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9.) But now it will be found that it is not only grace which characterises the power of God, but the direction in which it works. The cleansing and forgiving might have been solely within Jewish precincts. It is true that the latter of the two — the forgiving is tied to the person of the Son of man (“The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins”), and that the title of Son of man supposes His rejection as Messiah. This, therefore, at length, opens the way for His working in grace among men as such — not merely in Israel. But all comes out far more distinctly in the new scene.

And after these things he went forth, and saw a tax-gatherer, Levi by name, sitting at the receipt of taxes; and said to him, Follow me.”

The Jews had an especial horror of tax-gatherers. They were their own countrymen; and yet they made themselves the instruments of their Gentile masters in gathering the taxes. Their position constantly gave occasion to the improper exercise of their authority, to oppressing the Jews, and to extorting money on false pretences or to an unlawful amount. Hence, as a class, the publicans were peculiarly in disfavour.

But when grace acts, it calls the evil as well as those whom men would count good. It goes out to the unjust no less than to persons just (as far as men could see). The Lord calls the tax-gatherer, Levi (who is named by himself Matthew, the inspired writer of the first Gospel). He was called, is it mere, in the very act, “sitting at the receipt of taxes.” We hear nothing of any antecedent process. There may have been: but nothing is revealed All we know is that, from the midst of this work, naturally odious in the eye of an Israelite, Levi was called to follow Jesus. This was a very significant token of grace, going out even to what was most offensive in the eyes of the chosen people. When God acted in grace, it was necessarily from Himself and for Himself, entirely above the creature; there was no ground in man why such favour should be shown him. If there were any reason in man, it would altogether cease to be the grace of God. Grace means the Divine favour, absolutely without motive save in God Himself, to a good-for-nothing creature, miserable and lost; and the moment that you come down to that which is utterly ruined, what difference does it make what may be the nature of the ruin, or what the means of it? If people are needy and ruined, this is enough for the grace of God in Christ, who calls such that they may be saved and follow Him.

Thus Levi quits all for Jesus: “He forsook all, rose up, and followed him.” But more than this: his heart, gladdened by such undeserved and unlooked-for grace, goes out to others. He “made a great entertainment for him in his house — and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and others who were at table with them.” This was a further carrying out of the same grand truth. God was displaying Himself in Jesus after a sort entirely unexpected by man. It is difficult for us to conceive the light in which the Jews regarded the publicans. But here was a great company of them, and of those who were associated with them; and, wonderful to say, Jesus the Holy One of God, sits down with these publicans and sinners, Jesus was now making known the grace of God. Man never understands this — never appreciates it. On the contrary, he charges grace (implicitly at least) with being indifferent to sin. The truth is, that self-righteousness covers sin, and is always as malignant as it is hypocritical, imputing its own evil to others, especially to grace. There is nothing so holy as grace, nothing which supposes sin to be so very evil. Nevertheless, there is a power in grace which calls and raises entirely above the conventionalities of men. It supposes total guilt and ruin when it comes to deliver; and if it comes to deliver, why should it not work among the neediest and the worst? Were it human, the effort would be unavailing. But it is the revelation of God Himself, and therefore it is efficacious by the gift and in the cross of Christ.

Man, however, objects. “Their scribes and the Pharisees murmured at his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” They had not the honesty to complain to Jesus, but vented their spleen against His disciples. But the Lord answers for His people. “Jesus answering said to them, They that are in sound health have not need of a physician; but those that are ill” — a simple but most satisfactory and impressive answer. Grace always enables even a man, a believer, to speak the whole truth; it is the only thing that does. How much more did He, Who was full of grace, speak in the power of truth! Granted that they were sick; they were just the persons for the physician. It is not even said that they were conscious of their sickness. At least God knows the need, and God seeks the needy, and Jesus was God Himself as man presented in grace. As He said, “I am not come to call righteous [persons], but sinful ones to repentance.”63 130

Then comes in another truth of immense importance. In reply to the question, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make supplications in like manner to those also of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?”64 131 “He65 said to them, Can ye make the sons of the bridechamber 132 fast while the bridegroom is with them?” They were ignorant of the glory of the person of Him Who was present, as much as of His grace. Had they known the singular dignity of Jesus, they would have seen how incongruous it would have been to fast in His presence. At ordinary times, in view of the evil of the first man, in the sad experience of his rebellion against God, to fast would be appropriate. But bow strange would be His people’s fastings in presence of their longed-for King! His very birth was announced by angels as good tidings of great joy, and the heavenly host praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Certainly, then, His disciples should act in consistency with the presence of such a glorious Person, with such a spring of joy to heaven and earth. Would a fast be in keeping with the circumstances? The Lord therefore answers, Can ye make the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Gladness of heart suits both the grace and the glory of the Lord: “But days will come when also the bridegroom will have been taken away from them, then shall they fast in those days.” The Lord had the full consciousness of what was at hand — of man’s fatal, suicidal opposition to God, and to God above all manifest in Ills person. His rejection would soon come,133 and sorrow of heart for the disciples. “Then shall they fast in those days.”

But He furnishes more light than this. He points out the impossibility of making the principles of grace coalesce with the old system. This He sets forth by two similes. 134 The first is the garment: “No one putteth a piece66 of a new garment upon an old; otherwise, he will both rend67 the new, and the piece which is from the new will not match68 the old.” There can be no harmony between the old thing and the new: law and grace will never mix. But next, He sets it forth under the figure of the new wine. “No one putteth new wine into old skins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be poured out, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine is to be put into new skins, and both are preserved.”69 He shows that there is an energy in the new thing which is destructive to the old. Just as the new wine would burst the old skins, and thus the liquor would be lost and the bottles perish, so would fare that which Christ in the Gospel introduces. Where there is the attempt to connect grace with anything of the law, the old no longer retains its true use, and the new completely evaporates. “New wine is to be put into new skins.” Christianity has not only an inner principle peculiar to itself, as flowing from the revelation of God in Christ, but also it claims and creates forms adapted to its own nature. It is not a mere system of ordinances and prescriptions. It has living power, and that power makes new vehicles for itself. But man does not like it.

Accordingly the Lord adds what we have at the close of the chapter, and what is peculiar to this Gospel, the general maxim: “And no one, having drunk old wine [straightway]70 wisheth for new; for he saith, The old is better.”71 The legal system is far more suited to the fallen nature of man; it gives importance to himself, and it claims his obedience, and falls in with his reason. Even a natural conscience owns the rightness of the law; but grace is supernatural. Though faith sees how perfectly suitable grace is to God as well as to the new man, and how it is the only hope for a sinful man who repents towards God; nevertheless it is wholly above the reasonings of man, and it is constantly suspected by those who know not its value and power. Man’s nature cleaves to its old habits of prejudices, and distrusts the intervention of grace.

59 Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 271-274.

60 “Two ships”: so BD and nearly all later uncials, with most cursives and Old Latin. Tisch, “little ships,” after ACL, 33, and some other cursives.

61 “Net”: so AC ΧΓΔΛΠ, etc., most Syrr. — Edd., “Nets (were)”, as BDL, etc., Syrsin.

62 “Them”: so Blass, with ACD ΧΓΔΛΠ, Syrr., Old Lat., etc. Others (as Revv.) “with Him to heal.” according to BL Ξ, Aeth., and Cyril.

63 It is instructive to observe that in the parallel passage of Matthew and of Mark the best authorities omit “to repentance.” How far from the truth is it that repentance is a Jewish thing! Luke, according to the deep moral design of his Gospel, has these words.

64 “Why . . . drink?”: “Why” ( Διαστί) is in pmCD, etc., Old Lat., Syrr., etc., but Edd. omit, as corrBL Ξ.

65 “He”: so A, etc. Edd., “Jesus” after BCDL Ξ, 33.

66 “No one putteth a piece,” etc.: so AC, later uncials, most cursives, Old Lat., and some other versions. Edd. adopt “No one cutteth a piece out of a new garment and putteth it upon an old one; else he will both rend the new and the piece,” etc., after BDL Ξ, 1, 33, Syrr. “Will rend,” so Edd. with BCDL Ξ, 33.

67 T.R. “rends” is found in AE, etc., Amiat., Syrr., Memph.

68 Will not match”: so Edd. after ABCDL, 33, etc. “Doth not match” is in E, etc., Amiat., Syrr., Memph.

69 “And both are preserved”: so ACD and later uncials, most cursives (69), Old Latin, Syrr., etc. Edd. omit, following BL, 1, 33, Memph. (from Matthew).

70 “[Straightway]”: so ACcorrE, etc., most cursives (33, 69), Syrr. Edd. omit, after BCpmL, 1, Aeth., Arm., Memph.

71 “Better”: so AD Δ, etc. Edd. adopt “good,” following BL, Syrpesch, Memph. The verse is left out by D and some Western copies of Old Latin.