Read Luke 5:33 – 6:11
Over the last few weeks, we have had a series of stories about sick people. Some were physically sick – the leper, the paralytic lowered through the roof. Some were spiritually or morally sick. Peter was convicted that he was a sinful man and asked Jesus to depart from him. The paralytic’s sins were forgiven. Matthew was a greedy traitor and was seen as the lowest of the low. Yet Jesus called him to follow Him.
When we have a series of similar stories, and when Jesus makes a comment such as “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” then we can see the theme that is being emphasised.
But, as those stories are being told, another theme emerges. When the paralytic was lowered through the roof, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law started objecting. They thought to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
When Matthew was called, they questioned why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinner. Then they questioned why Jesus disciples didn’t fast like John the Baptist’s disciples did and the disciples of the Pharisees did. Then they spotted Jesus’ disciples plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath and they questioned why they were breaking the law.
This must have been very confusing for the disciples. Why all this growing tension? On the one hand, the religious leaders said that Jesus was a rebellious law-breaker. Should they follow Him? On the other hand, the disciples saw the miracles He performed and heard His amazingly authoritative teaching.
Then, on another Sabbath, they were in the synagogue, and Jesus was teaching.
Look at Luke 6:10: the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal on the Sabbath
They had made up their minds. They had already decided. They had chosen to be Jesus’ opposition. They were already predisposed against Him. They were looking for a reason to accuse Him. Their attitude to Him was negative.
Jesus knew what they were thinking! So, what did He do? Was He on His best behaviour, so as to give them no reason? Did He shrink back from healing this man because there was opposition? No! He knew what they were thinking so He told the man with the shrivelled hand to stand up in front of them. Jesus deliberately confronted them very publicly.
The man stood there and Jesus asked them a question: Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? And then He waited. Tense moment. The man was standing there; Jesus has asked the question. What is the right thing to do? Shall we do good for this man or shall we do evil? Shall we bring life or shall we bring destruction?
Mark’s account gives us a little more information. The Pharisees remained silent. Jesus had challenged them but there was no response. Mark tells us Jesus looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed by their stubborn hearts. They had this so wrong but they were stubborn in their wrongness. Jesus wanted to see people restored and healed. Jesus wanted to see the Kingdom of God coming. He wanted to see people set free; people finding new life. But the Pharisees would rather see this man continue to suffer.
Why? Because they said that it was illegal on the Sabbath. You cannot heal on the Sabbath. That would be work and God has said “thou shalt not work on the Sabbath”. Do you see the inconsistency here? They were declaring what God wants but God was saying, “No, that is not what I want at all.” Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath but they were telling Jesus what was right and what was wrong. They thought they were speaking for God; they thought they knew what God wanted; they had it all sorted out and written down. But they actually had it all wrong. They were opposing God and in the process people were hurting and people were missing out on what God wanted to do in their lives. That is why Jesus was so angry.
Do you remember how, after the calling of Matthew, when Jesus was criticised for eating with tax collectors and sinners, He said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’”? The Bible says ‘offer your bodies as living sacrifices’ (Rom 12:1). We are to sacrifice but Jesus was not talking about that. He was talking about the sacrifices offered in the Temple, which were often done simply as a matter of ritual with no sincerity of heart. The Pharisees were brilliant at the ritual; at the routines of religious practice. But here was an example that called for mercy but they were stuck in questions of ritual. His question remained unanswered. Which is right: to do good or to do evil?
They couldn’t answer. Clearly they couldn’t say it was right to do evil on the Sabbath. But neither could they say it was right to do good because they would then be agreeing with Jesus healing on the Sabbath – and they couldn’t possibly agree with Jesus.
How long did Jesus wait? Eventually, He turned to the man and said, “Stretch out your hand”. The man was completely restored. They watched to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. He healed on the Sabbath.
They could have said, “Whoa! We were wrong. The answer to His question was obvious. Yes, this was the right thing to do. Clearly the power of God is upon Him. We need to listen to Him. A man has been miraculously healed. God has come amongst us. We thought we had God sorted out but we had it all wrong. We need to radically revise our thinking and our lives. We repent of our misrepresenting God, our stubbornness, and our lack of love for people. We will follow this man.”
They could have said that. What did they actually do? “They were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus” (v.11).
While we have all these stories of sick people turning to Jesus in faith and experiencing God’s mercy and God’s power, we have a different set of stories about people who resisted Jesus and who experienced God’s anger but not His mercy.
What did they do wrong? It is worth identifying where they went wrong so that we don’t fall into the same trap. What do we know from the passage?
We know that they had already made up their minds. They weren’t there to learn; they were there to find fault. They were there to gather evidence against Him.
Some people read the Bible like that. They are looking for evidence to use against God and to use to criticise Christians. Generally, if that is the attitude they start with, they will find what they want to find. Even if it means that they are completely wrong in their understanding, they are delighted to find what they see as evidence against God.
Contrast the two words: submit and resist. James 4:7 uses those two words
James 4:7 Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
We are to resist the devil. We are to actively fight against the devil. When the devil tempts us we are to say, “No, I won’t” But our attitude to God is to be exactly the opposite: not resist but submit. To submit is to say, “Yes, I will. Yes, Lord, I will.” They are diametrically opposed attitudes.
Were the Pharisees resisting or submitting? They weren’t submitting. They weren’t there to learn and to obey. They weren’t humble and open. They would not listen.
The other thing we learn about them is that they were stubborn. Mark told us that Jesus was deeply distressed at the stubbornness of their hearts. They would not change. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had started looking to find fault with Jesus, if they had been willing to change
Some people have read the Bible looking for evidence against God and they have discovered the truth of God. They have started opposing Christians and they have become Christians. I guess that is the grace of God speaking to them through the Bible followed by their willingness to change – in other words, to repent; to say, “I was wrong.”
I was listening to a video the other day which said that the New Testament pattern of discipleship is “put off and put on”. Paul talks about putting off the old self and putting on the new self (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10, 14; 1 Thess 5:8). It is a practice of always changing and growing; leaving behind some aspects of the old life and adopting aspects of the new life in Christ. Put off; put on.
But the Pharisees clung to the old. They had a system of laws; they had an understanding; they had practices and rituals that they clung to. They had prestige that they weren’t willing to give up. They had a whole lot of man-made traditions – human interpretations of the Law rather than the Law itself – and they chose to cling to the man-made rather than be a part of what God was doing.
But could they hold onto the old and add in the new? Can I just put on without putting off? That is tempting. Can I keep all the things I am familiar with and I like and combine that with what God wants?
Jesus said “No”. No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old one. That would be stupid. You ruin the new garment and it doesn’t even match the old. Could the new thing Jesus was doing, be patched onto the old systems of the Pharisees? Could the new wine that Jesus brought be contained in the old wineskins of Judaism? No, it required a radical switch. You cannot combine the new and the old. The new would burst the old and both would be lost.
They had to choose and they chose the old. They rejected Jesus’ way. That is what Jesus said here: They have drunk the old wine and decided that they don’t want the new. “The old is better”, they say. They weren’t willing to put off and put on.
The Pharisees said two things: “I will not listen.” and “I will not change.”
Look at the flip side of that and we are reminded of two attitudes that do lead to experiencing the love and the mercy and the power of God: I will listen and I will change.
We might consider how true they are in our lives. I will listen. Are you frequently reading God’s word with a desire to hear Him speak and to learn from Him? Are you pausing long enough to hear the voice of God? Do you start each day seeking God’s instructions for that day? Is your attitude that of Samuel who said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
I will change. It is one thing to hear God’s voice. It is another to respond and to let Him change us. We too can prefer our old ways. We can say, “Thank you Lord, but I am content where I am. I do not want to go any further”.
The Pharisees are clearly a warning to us. The point is that we choose not to be like them. They are the negative example. We can be different simply by saying “I will. I will learn from you. I will accept what You say. You have authority. I sit under Your authority. You speak truth. I will let your words and Your Spirit change me. As You teach me, I will put off the old and put on the new. Lord, Jesus, I will.”
When Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone”, it was probably very uncomfortable. He probably already felt inadequate and now he was being debated by the religious leaders. But he obeyed Jesus. He said, “I will” and he did. The person who submits experiences the grace and the mercy and the power of God.