Of Healing and Fasting
[Luke chapter 5, verses 17-39]
Last week when we left off at verse 16, we got down to details about the calling of Jesus’ first disciples as well as one of the earliest healings of his 3 ½ year ministry. Today we will be moving on to the second half of chapter 5, where we will explore the reasons Jesus needed no justification or validation for his ministry in the eyes of the religious establishment of that time. Jesus then makes a comparison between the Law of Moses (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and himself as the fulfillment of that Law, as we studied back in chapter 4. Interestingly enough, he uses “wine skins” as a way to compare them to each other, but I’m going to try and use a more modern example. Bearing that in mind, let’s do the second half of chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel beginning at verse 17.
“One day when he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village in Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came there carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’. The Pharisees and teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins – ‘, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take up your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’” (Luke 5, verses 17-26)
“ And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” Let’s read in between the lines here. The supernatural power of healing is real within the realms of Christianity, but it is not present all the time unless God allows it. Even Jesus had to wait for an appropriate time to use this power, so even the Son of God was no exception to this Spiritual rule of thumb. This is exactly the reason why I have always maintained that so-called “faith healers” who profess the ability to heal anyone, anytime, anywhere is dubious at best and fraudulent at its absolute worst. I would advise a great deal of caution when encountering one of these individuals.
Moving right along, we should also note here that if there’s a second thing Jesus appreciates (both past and present tense) right behind faith, it is determination. The men who carried the paralyzed man could not gain entry into the private home where Jesus was teaching. It was evidently ‘standing room only’ inside that house, so they scaled the side of the house and climbed onto the roof before creating a makeshift hole in the roof. As you can see, people in those days were a bit smarter and more creative than they’re sometimes given credit for. Jesus, noting this at the time, said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven”. Immediately those from the religious establishment took issue with our Lord and Savior, as if to say to Jesus, ‘You can’t forgive sins! Who do you think you are?’. Jesus gives his classic response to them as he says, ‘I tell you, get up, take up your mat and go home’.
Whether Jesus could forgive sins or not, he said to the synagogue leaders and the equivalent to seminary professors of today, is besides the point if you will only believe in the healing I just performed. So the newly healed former paralytic gets up and takes his mat and starts heading for home while the Pharisees and teachers are still sitting there grumbling among themselves. “Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.” ‘Don’t tell me’, Jesus was saying to the leaders of organized religion, ‘how to do my job!’ Only Jesus never came right out and said he was the Son of God because he didn’t need to. He knew the Pharisees and teachers of the law would never have believed him anyway. Let’s hold that thought as we continue forward to the second half of today’s study, beginning at verse 27.
“After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me’, Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ They said to him, ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking. Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’ He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it onto the old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wine skins. If he does, the new wine will burst the old skins, the wine will run out and the wine skins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wine skins. And no one drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The older is better’”. (Luke 5, verses 27-49)
When Jesus told Levi, “Come, follow me”, the Bible reads, “Levi got up, left everything, and followed him”. Levi didn’t hesitate, and so neither should we when the calling of God is on our lives. All of us are called to be witnesses and ambassadors for Christ. How this is accomplished varies from person to person. Sometimes all we can manage is one person at a time, but there is no shame in that at all. Not everyone can fill stadiums or establish mega-churches anyway. Since I am disabled and currently without a car, getting out and witnessing is a bit harder for me than most, so I do so on the Web instead. Let’s all pause and ask ourselves, what have we been doing lately for the cause of Christ? This is what Jesus was talking about when he taught, and I’m paraphrasing, “Those who wish to follow me must take up their own cross”. Are we taking up our cross for Christ? Reading our Bibles and attending church every Sunday (or Saturday for some) doesn’t count. There is still that something extra that all believers are called to take part in. Make Jesus your cause in life! I can’t think of anything or anyone more worth living for!
“But the Pharisees and teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’.” To say the least, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were accusing Jesus of a conflict of interest. At worst, they accused him of hypocrisy. The religious establishment of that time envisioned the Jewish messiah to be a conquering hero who would retake Jerusalem and all of Judea from the Roman Empire and reestablish the Jewish homeland as God had promised Abraham and Moses. As we have already seen, the Jewish Messiah was exactly the opposite. He was born of a peasant woman, and as an infant Jesus had only a manger filled with hay to sleep in. The religious leadership of Jesus’ time simply couldn’t wrap their heads around that.
But it goes even deeper than that. These leaders of organized religion fancied themselves as being the first in line to inherit the blessings of God. In short, these people were elitists. They thought they were better than most others because they viewed their religious beliefs as being superior in some twisted and self-centered sort of way. They were very similar to the religious snobs of today, the self-righteous who look down their noses and talk in a condescending manner to everyone else except for their peers. So, they were greatly offended when Jesus chose to associate with people that the Pharisees thought were inferior to themselves. ‘I’m not here for jerks like you guys’, Jesus was saying to them at the time. Jesus disdained the high and mighty folks in favor of those from the humblest of circumstances. We would all do well to consider ourselves as such so that we might be closer to the Lord in spirit and in truth.
“….no one pours new wine into old wine skins. If he does, the new wine will burst the old skins, the wine will run out and the wine skins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wine skins.” Bottles as we know them today hadn’t been invented yet, so people used mainly the skin of goats and sheep, but the skins of an ox or a camel have also used to store liquids in. Once the contents were consumed, the skins would dry out, becoming brittle and unusable. One modern example would be the tires on your car or truck. If you’re driving down the freeway and you suddenly have a blowout, would you try to put more air back into the blown out tire? Of course not, you would buy a replacement and put the air in the new tire instead! Our faith and trust in Jesus Christ is a lot like that. The difference is that, with human beings, the entry into our hearts and minds of our Lord Jesus Christ transforms the old self into the new. We don’t have to kill off our old selves in order to be filled with Jesus. He has already allowed himself to be killed in our place, only to rise again on the morning of the 3rd day! We are the new wine skins and the blood of Jesus is the new wine! On that note, let us all focus on the new wine that is within us all. And next time we’ll move on to chapter six.