Though this chapter, like the previous one, deals with the start of Christ’s ministry, we can see the murmurings of the religious set coming to the fore already. The scribes and Pharisees could tolerate John the Baptist because his ministry was Old Testament in character, though he talked of the coming of the Messiah. Talk of godly things is fine, but actual practice makes religious people nervous!
The scribes and Pharisees were the supposed ‘experts’ on God’s word to the Jews, yet they could not see the obvious: that the Messiah had come. Today, there are many who claim to be Christian, possibly the majority who say so, but whose beliefs and lives deny it. Today, as then, religious legalists reject truth and keep to their traditions, even in reformed churches, and fondly think they are Christians.
We again see a man, Levi, being called from his work to be a follower of Jesus. This he did without question, unlike those today who mutter under their breath if they are called to be true disciples. They do not mind leaving all, so long as they can put their bank book in their bag, drive alongside Jesus in their car, and eat fine foods on the way! As for blood, sweat and tears – forget that. And as for associating with men who preach truth, well, better to forget that, too, just in case there is trouble.
As with all parts of scripture, this chapter is real, speaking of real people, a real God- made-man, and the reactions of religious people to genuine preaching and teaching. Some who read this are not yet Christians. Let them understand that the Jesus we speak of is real and lives. He is the Son of God; God Himself! His life was hard and his death was wicked. But, it saved the elect. Read carefully, for the words could lead you to forgiveness by God, and your salvation. When He speaks to you – listen and act.
And again he entered into Capernaum, after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.
And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.
After some days, Jesus and His four disciples went back to Capernaum. But, news of his arrival was again spread far and wide. We are not sure what house He stayed in, but it seems reasonable to suppose it was the same one – Simon Peter’s home.
Within minutes many people had gathered around, and in, the house. There were just too many! Jesus then “preached the word” to them. They “gathered together”, synagō,(a component of synagogue; the term is only used in the Gospels).
Jesus “preached the word”. To preach, or laleō, is to speak one’s thoughts. We see that He preached “the word”. For all those who think ‘word’ should always be prefixed with a capital ‘W’… when word has a small ‘w’ it refers to what God says (as logos properly declares); when it is shown with a capital ‘W’ in scripture, it refers to Jesus Christ. So, Jesus preached God’s utterances. Note that there is no specific formula for preaching: it just means to talk. This can take any form, and need not follow the structure found in churches or taught in colleges! When a man is called to talk about God and His word, he is preaching. Simple as that.
The word or logos, is rooted in lego. Lego means to say or to speak. It also means to affirm something and has the authority of a command. There is also the idea in some cases of calling out loudly… though this depends on how many people are listening. Logos carries on this theme, and includes the idea of talking about the ‘sayings of God’. If we take this at face value it must mean everything God says, in all of scripture, because what we find in the Bible is what God says, or what He has directed men to say on His behalf.
So, though the commands of men are meaningless in terms of spiritual authority, the speech or writing of men called by God, who teach from God’s word, have the same effect as God’s commands. The most basic example is the simple repetition of biblical text. But, it also applies to valid extensions of God’s word, theology, that are based on, and are true to, scripture. Again, this gives no power or authority to the one preaching, for any authority is attributed directly to God.
This is because the logos presents the precepts of God; His sayings; the prophecies, and so on. The logos also refers to doctrine; all teaching from scripture is doctrine, whether it is narrative, history, poetry, etc.
It could be argued that ‘word’, with or without a capital, can refer to Jesus Christ. This is true, but it can also lead to misunderstandings and inappropriate treatment of scripture. There should be differentiation between Christ the person and what He/God says. Jesus Christ IS the very epitome of the ‘word’, but to always use a capital ‘W’ is to confuse the issue. This is why I always distinguish one from the other, for reasons of lucidity.
Jesus preached the word. Therefore, He could have said almost anything concerning God and His work. We may safely assume that a greater part of what Jesus said was the Gospel. Though we can rightly acknowledge that everything said by God is the Gospel, we may again assume that in this text it would refer mainly to the fact that Jesus came to fulfil prophecy and to give salvation to all who believe (who, by definition, must be predestinated; the elect). All else centres on these facts.
And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
The main reason so many people flocked to see Jesus, was that He had already healed large numbers during His last visit. Even so, Jesus preached the Gospel to them anyway.
Amongst those hoping for a miracle were four friends of a man suffering from palsy. They had carried him from his home to see Jesus. ‘Palsy’ refers to someone paralysed. More specifically it refers to one who is paralysed on one side, probably due to a stroke. (Thus, it does not refer to other forms, such as Bell’s Palsy, affecting the face). This is found in the various roots of the word, which speak of a loosening or a weakening.
The four men could not get near the inside of the house because of the “press” or crowd, so they “uncovered the roof”. Many homes at that time had a stairway built into the outside wall, that led to the flat roof. So, the resourceful men began to dismantle the roof! The root of stegē/roof further defines the roof structure: thatch or a wooden ‘deck’. The expensive houses had a solid roof made of planks with waterproofing of some kind, perhaps pitch. The men took away whatever the roof was made of.
When they had “broken (it) up” they lowered the portable bed used by the paralytic on ropes, until the bed landed near Jesus. Jesus “saw their faith” and the first thing He did was to tell the sick man that his sins were forgiven. Why? Because both he and his bearers had faith enough to seek out Jesus, and salvation is greater than healing of the body. They even overcame the obstacle of the roof in order to get the man close to Jesus. They truly trusted that their hard work and trust was not in vain… so He forgave the man his sins. The capital ‘S’ for ‘Son’ implies a meaning of a ‘son of God’ or child of God (as one who is saved). This was because forgiveness can only be given by God, to those who are accepted. The word ‘forgiven’ in this text means to send the sins away, or to give up a debt.
But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)
I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.
And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
Of course, wherever Jesus went, the religious authorities followed, not because they agreed with His preaching, but to catch Him out. In many ways these clerics (scribes and Pharisees, and sometimes the Sadducees) were ‘thought police’ who wanted to control every aspect of life. They took the commands of Moses and applied them rigidly and rigorously, making them more of an hindrance to faith than an help.
In this text we read that the scribes were in attendance. The scribes were the grammateus. As the word implies they were legalistic because they adhered to every word they had written themselves, as law. Though they based everything on the Old Testament, they continually added to it with their own definitions and explanations.
Scribes were well-taught in the Mosaic law and other ancient writings of scripture. They were familiar with dealing with hard problems arising from scripture, but their answers were very often their own interpretations. These they paraded before the Sanhedrin as ‘religious lawyers’, and they were very much the ancestors of modernist Higher Critics. Thus, they attended Jesus’ meetings to listen carefully and to pick over every word He said, hoping to find fault. It is a mistake to think of scribes as only those who were legalistic and hostile. Other scribes taught well, and were good teachers of the people, teaching truth. Probably the closest we have today to genuine scribes are saved theologians, who examine the minutae of texts as well as the generality.
When a person has in-depth knowledge of a subject he tends to listen with greater interest to those who claim to know more, or who talk on the same topics. As they listen, their minds automatically categorize and analyze each statement, to see if it ‘fits’ what they know and accept. This particularly happens when listening to preaching or theological debate. I do it all the time! It is not my intention, but it happens anyway… and if something triggers my suspicions I will listen even more intently, to see if it was just a rogue statement, or if it has a pattern of unbelief about it.
These scribes were not interested in just listening, or even in finding paths of agreement. They only wanted to find fault. That is why, though everything Jesus said was perfect and theologically astounding, the scribes were waiting for any angle to accuse Him of or with. They were “reasoning in their hearts”. Their necks must have stiffened as Jesus told the sick man he was forgiven. Their minds raced as they blustered within their own thoughts: ‘Who does this man think he is? God? Nobody can forgive a man except God!’ And they were perfectly correct: only God can forgive sin. Jesus was and is God, so He can certainly forgive whomever He wishes!
The problem was that the scribes did not know Jesus was the Messiah, God incarnate. Many warlike guerrilla fighters were running around Israel at that time, and each thought he was the Messiah, or others thought of them as Messiahs. So, this was nothing new. However, Jesus spoke with authority and power, and this was why the scribes were present… they were expecting some kind of anarchic battle cry against the Romans, not theological truth from a mere carpenter builder! For the scribes and the rest of the Sanhedrin, theology was of greater potential trouble than any fighter against Rome, because it could topple their safe haven of superficial religion.
Thus, they thought Jesus was preaching “blasphemies”. Blasphemy is one of those terms much maligned or misunderstood. It is something that brings God’s name into disrepute, a kind of slander of God. It can be defined as a ‘detraction’, because anything that is not true of God detracts from His truth and Person. It can also refer to something said about God that injures His name. Blasphemy is also impiety and speaking in derogatory terms about God/Christ/the Holy Spirit (‘evil speaking’). This can even take the form of ‘railing’, when a person shouts wicked things about God. The aim is to injure or harm by voicing something publicly (to one or more persons).
We can see that much of what happens in modern society can be called ‘blasphemy’. It includes all false religions, and religious teachings based on scripture but designed to turn people away from it. Few Christians understand the importance of this. They allow many blasphemies to be taught by people claiming to be Christians. A major example is the Alpha Course. Charismaticism tends to be blasphemous, along with Roman Catholicism and many other sects and cults. Of course, religions that direct men away from truth are also blasphemous: Islam, Buddhism, Mormon, and so on. We may even argue that unbelief in the continuance of miracles is a blasphemy for it detracts from God’s whole nature, as given in scripture. Bad behaviour by Christians is another form of blasphemy, for it brings God’s name and faith into disrepute. We can see, then, that many things are covered by the term ‘blasphemy’.
Whilst it is true that the unsaved can blaspheme God in so many ways, we tend to forget that Christians can themselves be blasphemous, in any of the ways described above. What else is it when they believe in doctrines contrary to scripture? Or, when they speak ill of God in trying circumstances? Or, when their behaviour is bad and others think ill of God and His word as a result?
Jesus is God! Even as the scribes juggled their thoughts in their heads, Jesus knew about it! He demanded ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Is it easier for me to say your sins are forgiven, or to heal the man?’ In reality, only God can do both. Thus, Jesus hit the scribes in their very hearts, striking at the core of their doubts. To put it another way, He was telling them bluntly that He was indeed God!
To prove His point, Jesus said ‘So that you know the Son of man can forgive sins…’; as He spoke He then turned to the sick man and continued, ‘Pick up your bed and walk!’ The man got up immediately and walked amongst the crowd. If nothing else, this proved beyond doubt that Jesus could heal! In itself, healing would have been acceptable to the scribes. But not calling Himself God!
The people were amazed. They had come for this very purpose, and saw Jesus heal in their midst. As the scribes muttered inwardly, the crowd praised God for showing such mercy and grace. They all said ‘We have never seen anything like this before!’ Throughout their history the Jews experienced mighty miracles, as a nation and as individuals. They had the same God as Moses, yet they lived with a religion sanitized of anything miraculous, because the scribes and others deadened faith by their legalistic ways and teachings. They had exorcists. They had healers. But none of them were effective, because their hearts were far away from God. Now, along came Jesus, who could heal swiftly and with great numbers. But, He also claimed to be God, and this caused problems with the religious men who ran Judaism.
Today, even if we do not consider miracles, most Christians live with a faith that is no faith. They believe God exists, or so they say, but their lives deny it. They say they believe in God’s word, but when a teacher teaches God’s word in reality and in depth, he is shunned or not believed. This is because modern Christians only want easy-believism, something that does not require their full attention or heart. But, how can Christians NOT believe in miracles? Do they also NOT believe in angels? What about Heaven? Or, demons? Or, God’s word itself? Many prefer their own interpretations (which are usually casual or ill-conceived), rather than listen to truth taught by men called by God. The Church is in a desperate state.
And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
After preaching in the home, Jesus went to the shores of Lake Galilee, and the crowds followed Him as He spoke. How many preachers would be uncomfortable with that? He taught as He walked! He was not confined to a church building, or to a formal setting!
As He walked along, Jesus came across Levi the son of Alphaeus, “sitting at the receipt of custom”. He is thought to be Matthew the Apostle (though some deny this). The “receipt of custom” means Levi was a tax collector, a much-hated person in any neighbourhood. As he did with the other four disciples, Jesus simply told Levi to follow Him, and he did, without question. This is the sheer power of God, instructing a man deep in his soul, so that he could not resist. It is the very same call from God that saves a man in this life: the man cannot resist in any way, but must be saved. The time, day, place, and person, are all determined in eternity by God, and MUST come about.
It is the same power that causes a man or woman to enter into service for God; the same power that leads a person to act on God’s behalf; the same power that casts out demons; the same power that heals… when a man is truly led by God, whatever he does will be successful and true. It cannot fail, because God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Jesus was invited back to Levi’s house for a meal, perhaps the same day. Friends of Levi were also invited, to hear Jesus. Because of Levi’s past, most of those invited were “publicans and sinners”. This tells us that ‘publican’ and ‘sinner’ were synonymous terms, because tax-collectors were despised by everyone, because of their greed and harsh treatment of the people.
Jesus was with his disciples, and as he walked to Levi’s home, crowds (including scribes and Pharisees) gathered around him and went with Him to the house. The scribes and Pharisees tersely asked the disciples why Jesus was eating with publicans and sinners. Jesus, hearing the questions, said, ‘Someone who is not sick does not need a doctor; only those who are sick need one. I did not come to call those who are already acceptable to God, but I came to call sinners to repentance… those who need salvation.’
Apart from the obvious in this statement by Jesus, there are also other issues it touches upon. Though Jesus preached to everyone, there were already Jews who knew God intimately, and who obeyed Him. But, Jesus was not preaching to the converted! He came to save lost souls, those who were still sinners and who had not repented… including publicans and others despised by the people. Another facet is that Levi was probably giving a feast to his former friends because he was about to leave both his job and his circle of sinners (as did Elisha).
The statement also indicates how we should act in our churches. Almost all local churches preach the Gospel every Sunday, even though a church is not the place to do that. A local church is a meeting place for the saved, not the unsaved. Meetings must be aimed at teaching those already righteous… the unsaved should be left to evangelists and to witnesses; church meetings should not be designed around the unsaved.
Another fact about this situation is that Jesus did not just arrive to eat. He was there to preach the Gospel. This is inherent in his statement. None of us is free to mix freely with sinners, unless we do so with an holy purpose. No Christian has a mandate to mix freely with those who sin, and especially not with those who express hatred for God, or who blaspheme His name. There is no excuse for such liaisons, and none can be found in this situation. Jesus told them the Gospel. He did not attend as a social event, but as an opportunity to preach the truth. If YOU mix with sinners, is your intent to witness to Christ? If not, you should not mix with them, because, as we have noted before, the holiness of those who are saved does not ‘rub off’ on sinners, but the sins of sinners certainly do ‘rub off’ on the saved! If you are in the same barrel as rotten apples, be assured that your spirit will suffer degradation and God will not be content with you.
What is meant by ‘mixing’? There are many texts in scripture, warning against this mixing of saved and unsaved. By ‘mixing’ is meant the regular social gathering with sinners, for any reason, where you easily mingle with sinners as friends. We must all associate with sinners on a daily basis, such as shopping, attending work and courses, or functions we cannot escape, and so on. But, this is very different to keeping such people as friends and regular associates, who we meet with deliberately. Before long we will do what they do: drinking in pubs and clubs, going to ‘unsaved’ parties, going to see films we ought not to see, talking the same language (sometimes foul), doing the same kinds of things. Overall, our spirits degenerate. God warns against all this. We have no excuse for such mixing.
And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?
And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.
Another argument arose, though we cannot be sure if this was on the same day. Disciples of John the Baptist used to fast, and this was a part of Jewish activity, also practiced by the Pharisees. But, Jesus and His disciples did not normally fast. Someone (Pharisees?) therefore asked why this was so. Jesus gave a reply that was pertinent not only to His own time, but also to our time.
Jesus said that there was no need for them to fast when He, the Master, was with them. He likened it to a marriage ceremony, when those who attended the wedding used to fast until the bridegroom arrived. But, Jesus was still with them! They had no need to wait or to fast!
Many legalists want everyone to adhere to what they do and think. Jesus came ignoring all this, because, as God, He acted wisely in all situations. He had no need to watch His every move. But the Pharisees did! The joy of Christ is in His life. We are to live joyously as if He were present, because He really IS present with us. Too many Christians are dour and sad-faced because of some odd idea they have about life.
We must live life to the full, as determined by Christ, not by the rigid beliefs of others who see no joy in Christian living. No doubt, said Christ, when I am taken from them, they will fast… but that would be up to them. Fasting is not a command for us today, but is an activity undertaken by personal and individual conscience at particular times. Like any other activity, if it is undertaken regularly it then becomes a repetitive duty and not a love… and this is what it was like for the legalistic Pharisees.
Jesus then likened the situation to wine-bottles, which were made of animal skins, and to cloth patches. Nobody, He said, sews new patches onto old cloth. This was because the newer piece would pull against the old established cloth and tear it, making the hole bigger. And, nobody puts new wine into old wine bottles. The fermentation process of the new wine will burst the old skins, spilling the contents. That is why new wine is put into new bottles.
Jesus was thus saying that this was a completely new situation: the Messiah had come. He did not just follow the Law, but fulfilled it, extending its meanings in new ways. The New Testament was different from the Old: it was not just a new patch put onto the old religion. It was completely fresh and new. The Old Testament was the prompter to the New, not a container for it. The disciples were following the Messiah, not a mere shadow of Him; they followed the living God, not a repeated priestly formula about God. All things were new, and so their spiritual life was also new, not to be constrained and strangled by Pharisaical demands.
In our own lives, we, as new creatures, should and must show a completely new life. People should see us as shining examples of Christ and His holiness. Everything we do, say and think should reflect this. Every time we show the opposite, we deny Christ and our salvation, and demean God’s word.
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
Jesus’ words, however, fell on deaf ears. A short while later, He and his disciples were walking through a corn-field. As they walked, the disciples plucked the heads of ripe corn, to eat the kernels. (Which gives us an approximate time for this activity – harvest time). Needless to say, the ever-vigilant Pharisees were watching and demanded to know why His disciples dared to pluck corn on the Sabbath. This was because Judaism at that time was reduced to a long list of do’s and don’ts, making the Jewish religion harsh and arduous. To the Pharisees, picking a head of corn was ‘work’, which was to be shunned on the seventh-day Sabbath. Of course, by lecturing Jesus about His disciples, they were really trying to lecture Jesus.
Jesus patiently took them back to the time of king David. David and his men were hungry and he went into the temple to eat the shewbread; only the priests were allowed to eat shewbread, but David’s hunger demanded food, so he and his men ate it. By repeating this well-known incident to the Pharisees, Jesus was commending David for what he did, though it offended the Pharisees. Hunger took precedence over religious rites and traditions!
That is why Jesus then said “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” By this He meant that God gave the seventh-day Sabbath or day of rest for the sake of man’s well-being… man was not created to serve the seventh-day! This is why men can do certain things on the Sabbath without being tainted. Examples are whatever is necessary to save or maintain life. So, playing a football match is not acceptable, but working as a doctor is. Walking around a shopping mall is not acceptable, but doing good for a sick widow is. Working in a hospital is acceptable but not working in a shop selling ordinary products that could easily be bought another time.
After that, Jesus then added “Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” Once again, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that He was the Son of Man – God Himself. And, because He made the Sabbath, He could do with it whatever He wished. In other words: ‘My disciples were hungry and I give them the right to eat the corn on the sabbath’.
Shewbread: This was bread made with flour and water, then baked. It was an oblong or round cake about two centimetres thick and about the same size as a big plate, and the bread was always broken, not cut. This was more for convenience than for any other reason. The modern bread we use for communion is also torn, as if to mimic the breaking of the more robust, thicker Jewish bread. Really, though, it makes no difference if we cut it with a knife or tear it. In Jewish religion, the shewbread was consecrated to God every seventh-day sabbath
Son of Man: There are a number of meanings for ‘Son’, many of which we may ignore. One major meaning is man as a weak and powerless person, liable to death. But another major definition refers to Christ, as head of mankind. Some believe Christ used ‘Son of man’ because it was lowlier than that of Messiah, which was being misconstrued by the Jews, who made it lofty and military. Note that the English translation uses a capital ‘S’ for ‘Son’. In itself this indicates Christ’s godship. So, though He was the head of mankind, as second Adam, He was also God. The title may also refer to the fact that Jesus was born of man, and as man, but the capital signifies His Lordship.
Interestingly, the word ‘son’ in this text is the masculine noun, huios. The Apostle John uses the word specifically of Christ, as opposed to the similar teknon, which he reserves for an human child. Huios is interesting because it is also used to refer to the ‘sons of God’, re. saved people. There is a subtle link between ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of man’, and both refer to Christ as God.
© February 2010