The Miraculous Draught of Fishes and the Call of the First Disciples. Luke 5, 1-11.
Preaching on the shore of the sea: V. 1. And it came to pass that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, v. 2. and saw two ships standing by the lake; but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. V. 3. And He entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Jesus had left the city of Capernaum on o certain day, with the intention of walking along the shore of the lake, Matt. 4, 18; Mark 1.16. But it was impossible for Him to avoid the crowds that gathered whenever His presence was announced by some one that saw Him. Here a multitude pressed upon Him, whose eagerness for the Word of God is mentioned. They wanted to hear this man speak that preached with such authority. If they had but been as eager for the salvation which He offered in His preaching! Jesus was standing on the shore of the lake, but the growing crowds were hemming Him in on all sides, making it impossible for Him to address the people in an effective manner. As He then looked around for some way of meeting the situation, He saw two fishing-boats standing along the shore. They may just have come in and had barely been fastened by the fishermen who, after having disembarked, were washing their nets. Jesus, having known the men before, did not hesitate to enter into one of the two boats, the one belonging to Simon. He then asked the owner to put out to some distance, a matter of a rod or so, from the shore. And then, having sat down, Jesus taught the people from the boat. From this elevated position He had command of the audience and could speak to all of them without difficulty. Jesus was ever ready and eager to preach the Gospel of the salvation of mankind. Not only in the schools, but out under the open sky, wherever He stood or walked and had opportunity of any kind. He preached the Word of God. God's Word fits in all places and at all times. Nothing is more necessary for men, nothing more urgent than, the preaching of the Word.
The miraculous draught: V. 4. Now when He had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. V. 5. And Simon, answering, said unto Him, Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing; nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net. V. 6. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their net brake. V. 7. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. The discourse of the Lord may have taken up the greater part of the forenoon. But now He made a pause in His speaking, and addressed Simon, who was probably at the helm, with a peculiar request, which sounded like an arbitrary demand. Peter should launch out far, he should take his boat out to the place where the sea was deep, away from the shore. These first words were addressed to Peter alone, as the master of the vessel; but the second part, describing the manner of taking the fish, is directed to all the men in the boat. Jesus thus took charge of the boat and directed its disposal, as though He were the owner. It was a test of Peter's faith and trust in the Lord. The answer of Simon indicated the greatest respect for the Man who thus unceremoniously took charge of his affairs. He calls Him Master, the Greek word being used of a prefect or of one that is set over certain persons or affairs, a title of respect which did not imply a personal relation. He does not register an objection, but merely states as a fact that they have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. They had plied their trade at the time and under the conditions which experience had shown them to be the most favorable, at night, and on the benches of the lake not far from the shore. But all his fisherman's experience and theory Peter is willing to bring as a sacrifice to his faith in the words of Jesus. There are several lessons to note here. "Therefore thou must learn these things well that thou mayest work and hope, even if He should delay the matter for some time; for though He lets thee wait and labor in perspiration, and thou thinkest thy work is lost, yet thou must be prudent and learn to know thy God and to trust in Him.... For we see in this gospel how God cares for them that are His, and keeps them both in body and soul. If we but get to the point that we freely trust Him, then things cannot be wanting, then God pours us full of bodily and spiritual goods, and with such an abounding treasure that we may help all people. That surely means making the poor people rich and feeding the hungry." 39) Luther also shows that disappointments and failures in the work of our calling should not discourage us entirely, whether it be in the training of children, if we have but been faithful, or in positions of authority, or in the government of the Church. "And, to summarize, the entire human being and life is constituted thus, that one must often have worked long and much for nothing, until God finally gives the increase; and therefore the work shall not be omitted, nor any person found without work, but expect the increase and blessing from God, when He wants to give it, Eccl. 11, 6. 40)
Simon's faith was richly rewarded. For when they followed the directions of Jesus, their net enclosed a great quantity of fish, and it began to tear. Pulling with all their might, they had no breath to waste in calling, so they anxiously waved to their companions in the other boat that they should come and help them. And so great was the catch that both boats were filled with fish to such a point that there was danger of their sinking under the load; they were all but submerged. It was such an obvious miracle that they all were astounded.
The call of Simon: V. 8. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. V. 9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken; v. 10. and so was also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. V. 11. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all and followed Him. Peter was most deeply affected by the miracle, of which he had been not merely a spectator, but a partaker and recipient. It was the first time that Peter had been brought so close to the almighty power of Christ that he could judge as to its greatness and majesty. It belonged to his calling, it took place on his vessel, with his own fishnet, after his own fruitless endeavors, in his immediate presence. And so he utters his cry of confession and faith: Depart from me!, This evidence of the almighty power of Jesus was evidence of His divinity. And the divine Christ is a holy, sinless Christ. Peter felt too utterly unworthy to remain any longer in the presence of the Master, before whom he always felt his sinfulness. For a stupor had fallen upon him, so great was his astonishment. And the others of the party that were Simon's partners in the fishing business were in the same condition. They almost feared to trust the evidence of their senses. They were also seized with fear, which encompassed them, especially James and John, the sons of Zebedee. But Jesus addressed a special word of comfort to Peter, bidding him not to fear. And they all from henceforth should be fishers of men. This should be their permanent occupation; their life should be spent in casting forth the net of the Gospel and drawing redeemed hearts into the kingdom of Christ. "As though He should say: Now thou hast a calling that thou art a fisherman, but I want to command a different one to thee, that thou shalt go into a different water and catch people, make the heaven full of fish, and fill My kingdom in the same way as these fish now fill thy boat. For this draught I will give thee «, different net, namely, the Gospel; with that thou shalt catch the elect that they permit themselves to be baptized, believe, and live eternally." 41) The call of Jesus was an effectual call. They brought their ships to the land, and, leaving all, they followed Him. They were formally enrolled as His disciples. When Christ calls and shows the way to His service, there must be no consulting with flesh and blood, but a cheerful following of His voice and a happy bowing under His will. There can be no doubt as to the blessing that attends such obedience.
The Healing of a Leper and of a Paralytic. Luke 5, 12-26.
Healing a leper: V. 12. And it came to pass when He was in a certain city, behold, a man full of leprosy, who, seeing Jesus, fell on his face and besought Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. V. 13. And He put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. V. 14. And He charged him to tell no man; but go and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. V. 15. But 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. Luke does not, as a rule, tell the Gospel-stories in the order in which they happened, except in a general way. This usually, as here, appears from the words with which he introduces the story. Jesus was at one time in one of the little cities of Galilee, where there was a man full of leprosy. The loathsome disease had reached its full virulence in his case, and he was suffering in proportion. When this poor man saw Jesus, he fell down upon his face in the attitude of abject supplication, as an unworthy slave might ask a favor of a mighty king. His earnest prayer was a model for all times. For, since he is asking for a temporal gift, for a thing concerning this life only, he makes no demand, he sets no time, but places the fulfillment entirely in the hands of Jesus: Lord, if Thou wilt. Thou canst make me clean. It is a prayer in the form of a statement, the strongest possible form. It throws the burden upon the Lord and pleads more effectively than a delineation of symptoms could possibly do. And since the matter was left to the will of the Lord, the Lord chooses to exercise that will and the almighty power behind that will in hearing the prayer of the sick man: I will, be thou cleansed. And the almighty words had the effect that the Lord intended: the leprosy immediately departed from the man. Jesus then gave him the earnest order not to speak of the matter, but above all to hurry to the priest, in order that the latter might make the proper declaration of cleanness, and accept the sacrifices which were prescribed at such a time, Lev. 14. The Lord did not want the matter published abroad, in order that the news might not reach the priest before the former leper arrived and a spiteful examination refused to declare him clean. And Jesus at all times wanted the people to understand that the miracles were only secondary manifestations of His ministry, His chief work being the preaching of the Gospel. But the word concerning this miracle done to the leper went out all the more, with the usual result. Great crowds gathered to hear Him and also to be healed of their sicknesses, the latter reason being the more urgent for their coming to Jesus. But Jesus took the first opportunity that presented itself, and retired for prayer and spiritual communion: V. 16. And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed. He asked and received strength from His heavenly Father to carry on His work according to the divine will. This constant communication with God was the secret of His being able to perform so much work; a hint that might well be applied in the case of all His followers.
The healing of the paralytic: V. 17. And it came to pass on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem; and the power of the, Lord was present to heal them. V. 18. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy; and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before Him. V. 19. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. V. 20. And when He saw their faith, He said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. V. 21. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? The first indication of the systematic effort on the part of the leaders of the Jewish Church to persecute and discredit Jesus. The story is an independent incident, having no connection with the foregoing, since Luke has no interest in exact chronological sequence. The chief men of the Jewish nation had received full information of the preaching and of the miracles of this otherwise unknown Galilean rabbi, who had not so much as asked their sanction for His work. The local men, of the various synagogs of Galilee, the experts in the Law and in all the doctrines as they had been fixed by tradition, were not equal to the situation. So they were reinforced by men from Judea, and especially from Jerusalem, Pharisees and scribes, the most learned men and skilled in the Law. All these were present in a house where Jesus was teaching the multitude. Not that they were eager for the Word of Life, but that they were watching for some opportunity of accusing Him. And the power of the Lord, the omnipotent majesty of the Triune God, was present in Jesus to the intent that He should heal. The other persons of the Godhead were never mere disinterested or neutral onlookers while the work of redemption was going on, but the entire Godhead in its three persons wrought the salvation of mankind. The chance for which the Pharisees and teachers of the Law had been waiting presented itself very quickly. Certain men bore upon a couch or hammock a man that had suffered a stroke of paralysis. "Commonly those who are attacked in all their members by severe nervous debility are quickly taken away; if not, they live, it is true, but seldom recover their health, and for the most part drag on a miserable life, losing, moreover, their memory. The sickness of those who are partially affected is, it is true, never severe, but often long and almost incurable." When these men with their burden reached the house where Jesus was staying, they anxiously sought a way in which they might bring the sick man and lay him before Jesus, for that was the purpose of their coming. They had the conviction of faith that this prophet from Nazareth was the Christ, who could easily cure their friend. But the crowd in the house and before the door was too densely packed; it was impossible to find an opening through which they might wedge themselves into the room where Jesus was speaking. But they were not long at a loss as to further procedure. They climbed the outside stairway to the roof of the house, they took off some of the tiles or material of which the roof was made, and then lowered the sick man on his hammock before the feet of Jesus. Luke's account is influenced by his desire to make the manner of performing this work of love clear to the Romans for whom he was writing. Jesus paused in His teaching at this interruption, and His omniscient gaze swept the faces of the newcomers, including that of the sick man. In every one He read the firm conviction as to His ability to help, and also a voiceless pleading and interceding that He would show mercy. He was satisfied with the results of His scrutiny, and therefore turned to the paralytic with the words: Man, forgiven are thy sins! Note: Sin is the cause of all misery, sickness, and death in the world. By removing the cause, the consequences were, in effect, taken away. The sick man's faith knew this; he knew that the greatest earthly gift became his by these comforting words of Jesus. It was not a case of special punishment for special sins, but one in which the Savior knew where the healing must commence, in the soul. No sooner had Jesus uttered the words of forgiveness than the scribes and Pharisees began to reason, to discuss the matter, either in their hearts only, or in an undertone among themselves. Their Pharisaic conscience was deeply grieved that any one presumed upon remitting sins. Such arrogance they must brand as blasphemy; for surely no one could forgive sins but God only. If Jesus were not God, He could not forgive sins in His own power; and His arrogating this authority to Himself would have been blasphemy against God, in the proper sense of the word. But that these scribes and Pharisees might have the fullest and most absolute proof of His divine power and Godhead, He now worked in their presence three miracles, all of which could be done only by an omniscient and omnipotent Being. These miracles were: the remission of the sick man's sins; the revelation of the secret thoughts of the scribes; the restoration of the paralytic in a moment to perfect health.
The miracle: V. 22. But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He, answering1, said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? V. 23. Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Else up and walk? V. 24. But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (He said unto the sick of the palsy), I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. V. 25. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. V. 26. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today. Jesus, in His omniscience, read their thoughts as easily as though they had spoken aloud, and answered in that sense, promptly calling them to account for their condemnation of His words. He proposes a question to them as to what they believed to be easier, to say: Forgiven be thy sins; or to say: Arise and walk. The scribes and Pharisees naturally thought that the saying of the former would be the easier, since the fulfillment lay in the spiritual field and could therefore not be seen or controlled by men. That this miracle of mercy really happened at the word of Jesus they did not believe. The Lord therefore performed before their eyes what they considered the more difficult, for a testimony unto them, incidentally proving that His words to the sick man could not have been blasphemy. The fact that He, the Son of Man, actually possessed the power on earth to forgive sins, He demonstrated by saying to the paralytic: To thee I say, Arise, and pick up thy hammock, or couch, and go to thy house. And without delay, at once, the sick man got up before them all, took up the bed upon which he had been lying, and went to his home, full of praise toward God for the miracle of healing performed in his case. His faith and trust had been gloriously vindicated. Christ the Lord has power to forgive sins as the Son of Man. Had God not, in Christ, become man and reconciled the world to Himself, He would have the power to destroy the sinners, but not to save them, since His holiness must be preserved at all costs. And Christ, the Head and Lord of His Church, has given the power to forgive sins to His Church on earth. This is the peculiar church power which Christ has given to His Church on earth, which His servants administer according to His command, John 20, 23. When the absolution is spoken by the minister of the church or by any Christian in comforting his neighbor, then we may gladly believe that such word of forgiveness is spoken down from heaven itself and is the merciful sentence of God upon us. Of this fact the people had an inkling on that occasion in Capernaum. The greatest astonishment took hold of them all, even the Pharisees that hardened their hearts against Jesus feeling something of the power of God in the incident. The people in general glorified God, being filled also with reverential awe in the presence of such supernatural evidence. Their opinion was that they had seen strange things, such as appeared contrary to the common run and course of nature, wonders which human reason declares to be impossible.
The Call of Levi and the Discourse Concerning Christ's Ministry. Luke 5, 27-39.
The call and the feast of Levi: V. 27. And after these things He went forth and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom; and He said unto Him, Follow Me. V. 28. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him. V. 29. And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. V. 30. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? V. 31. And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. V. 32. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. After the healing of the paralytic Jesus left the house and went out to the seashore. On His way, which probably led along the great caravan road toward Damascus, He passed by the booth of a publican, a tax-collector or customs-inspector, by the name of Levi. Not by accident, but by design and with full intention, did the eyes of Jesus rest upon the man busy with his reports and the other business of his calling. Cp. Matt. 9, 9. Levi had very probably heard of Jesus, since the city was full of the talk concerning Him, had even attended some of His discourses in the neighborhood of Capernaum. Jesus spoke only a short sentence in the form of a command: Follow Me! This word decided the fate of Levi. He left everything behind, he turned his back upon his entire former life with all its associations, and followed Jesus. In the thankfulness of his heart Levi now made a feast for the Lord. It was a great feast, and he had it prepared in his own house. The guests, outside of Jesus and His disciples, were Levi's former companions, a multitude of publicans and others, the majority such as were regarded with anything but favor by the proud and self-righteous Pharisees; they were mostly such as had been put out of the synagog, with whom the average strict Jew would have no dealings. But here they were at the feast, reclining on the sofas about the tables. And many of them may have even then known and loved the Savior of sinners, being thankful to Levi for giving them the chance to see and hear more of the Lord. The fact that Jesus accepted an invitation into such a mixed assembly again offended the scribes and Pharisees of the Jews. The contrast between the teachings and methods of Jesus and those of the Jewish Church leaders was becoming more and more evident. The latter expressed their disapproval of the whole affair in no uncertain terms by remarking to the disciples of Jesus, probably with the intention of alienating them from the Master: For what reason do you eat with the publicans and sinners? The point of the question was directed against Jesus, for His disciples would hardly have gone to the feast without Him. They want Him to feel that they resented His disregard of their customs. But Jesus answered for His disciples, by stating in the form of a proverb that the healthy people had no need of a physician, but those that are in a bad way, that are sick. And He explains the proverb for their benefit: Not am I come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. Mark: Jesus calls Himself a physician of the soul; He represents sin as a disease of the soul; He states that He is come to cure men of this disease; He implies that those that did not feel their sickness, but believed themselves to be well and healthy, had no need of His services on account of that foolish opinion. Those that cared nothing for a Savior of sinners, He calls righteous or healthy; not as though they were exceptions in a world of lost and condemned sinners, for whose salvation He had come into the world, but because they felt no need of His services, because they did not know that they were wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, Rev. 3, 17 ; John 9, 41. Only he that acknowledges and knows his sinfulness, that realizes, as Luther says, that he belongs into hell with skin and hair, with body and soul, only he has part in this Savior. If we accept this fact with meek hearts and rely upon it as sacred truth that God is merciful to us for Christ's sake, then we can be delivered from the terrible disease of sin.
A question of fasting: V. 33. And they said unto Him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but Thine eat and drink? V. 34. And He said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bride-chamber fast while the bridegroom is with them? V. 35. But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. The Pharisees had allies, more or less openly, in the disciples of John. Misunderstanding the austere manner of living of their Master and imitating it in a false way, they believed such conduct necessary for a devout Jew. And therefore some of these, representing both parties, came to Jesus with a question concerning some of these strict observances in frequent fasting and the practice of prayer, which the disciples of the Lord in no way observed. The implication was a laxness of morals and a disregard of the proper customs. Note: Observances of this kind are well enough in themselves, are, as Luther expresses it, a fine outward training. But to ascribe any other power and value to them as works of merit in the sight of God is foolish, and therefore the attitude of the Pharisees was foolish. Jesus gives His answer in figurative language. He is the Bridegroom; His disciples are the sons of the bridal feast, the best men at the wedding. The time of Christ's sojourn on earth is the wedding-feast. Now it would obviously be altogether wrong for the chief guests at a marriage-feast to give any evidence of mourning, such as fasting. Only joy and happiness should fill their hearts at this time, and find expression in their actions, John 3, 29; Song of Sol. 5, 1. But in the days when the Bridegroom would be taken from them, when Christ would have to enter upon the path of suffering and be taken from them, as to His visible presence, by death, then they would mourn, John 16,20, then they would give evidence of sorrow.
Proverbial sayings: V. 36. And He spake also a parable unto them: No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the. new agreeth not with the old. V. 37. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. V. 38. But new wine must be put into new bottles, and both are preserved. V. 39. No man also, having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new; for he saith, The old is better. Here are three parabolic or proverbial sayings by which the Lord intends to teach the Pharisees a much-needed lesson. It is foolish to take a patch of a new dress and attempt to make it hold a rent in an old dress. This effort only makes matters worse; for the new cloth, in shrinking, and in accommodating itself to the fit of the dress, draws the threads of the rotten, weak part of the garment, and the matter is made far worse. Besides, the new patch, with its clear colors, stands out too prominently from the old dress, making the patch all the more conspicuous. To put new wine, that has not yet stopped fermenting, into old skins, that have lost the power to stretch, is equally foolish, since the new wine will only tear the bottles. Therefore the new wine is properly put only into new bottles, or skins. The old dress is the righteousness of works, in which the Pharisees believed, the new patch the free grace of Jesus. The piety and self-righteousness of the Pharisees and the doctrine which Jesus proclaimed, the doctrine of the free grace of God in the Savior, do not agree and will never fit in the same person's life and behavior. If any one trusts in his own works, and then intends to put a patch of the Gospel upon this self-righteousness, or wants to cover the one or the other transgression with the work and merit of Christ, he will soon find out that this comfort is not reliable. Such a person in the depths of his heart still trusts in his own merit and will be condemned with this unstable comfort. And the new wine is the sweet Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, of the grace of God. This glorious news does not fit into carnal, Pharisaic hearts; if the Gospel is preached to such as still depend upon their own works, it is wasted, for they cannot and will not understand it rightly and receive no benefit from the Gospel. The Gospel requires all hearts to deny all their own righteousness and believe simply in the merits of Jesus the Savior. And finally: A man that has drunk old wine knows its richness and mellowness and therefore does not desire to change for the new, which may be sharper, less agreeable. So dearly did the Pharisees and the disciples of John love their old, accustomed ways that they did not want to change, although the offering of the new doctrine of the Gospel was salvation full and free.
Summary. Jesus causes the miraculous draught of fishes, calls Simon and his companions, heals a leper, cures a paralytic, calls Levi, and defends Himself and His disciples against Jewish attacks.