Jesus Christ was focused on truth and the spiritual needs of people. He never allowed these priorities to be sidetracked by human doctrines, opinions, and customs. We will do well to follow His example.
As we set sail on this Wisdom Journey, Jesus arrives back home in Capernaum. Word of His presence has spread. This is the first time that religious leaders have shown up to listen to Jesus preach. They are essentially sitting on the front row.
Luke 5:17 picks up the narrative by telling us Pharisees are there, along with scribes, who are experts in the Mosaic law. They are basically going to write down what Jesus says in order to find some legal error in His teaching.
By the way, the name Pharisee meant “separated one.” During the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew, this group had grown in prominence as men committed to the law of Moses. The problem was, they had added to the law several thousand rules and regulations. For instance, the law required that no work could be done on the Sabbath day. But the question arose as to what exactly is considered work? So, the Pharisees defined work into thirty-nine categories, and each category was subdivided into thousands of manmade rules.
For instance, carrying a burden on the Sabbath was work, but a burden needed to be defined. Was it carrying a child or moving a chair? And how much food was a burden? So, they decided that you could lift to your mouth enough milk for one swallow and food weighing less than one dried fig.
One dried fig probably weighed a lot less than one chocolate-covered doughnut, so I wouldn’t have made a very good Pharisee.
Well, here all these Pharisees and scribes are sitting in this house, waiting to catch Jesus in some small infraction of the law. Jesus is about to give them their money’s worth.
Look at verses 18-19:
Some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.
Now according to the Pharisees, physical infirmity was a sign of God’s displeasure. So as this paralyzed man reaches the floor, the Pharisees and scribes could not care less about him. But Jesus focuses on his faith and says, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (verse 20).
The Pharisees and scribes just about come out of their seats, saying to themselves in verse 21, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
They do not say this out loud, but inwardly. So, imagine the shock when Jesus proves He can read their minds. He addresses them in verses 22-23:
“Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
Obviously, it is easier to tell someone his sins are forgiven—who can prove if they are or not? So, Jesus continues:
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (verses 24-25)
Wow! How do you answer that? Jesus has the divine authority to forgive sin! The physical healing is proof of the spiritual claim that He can forgive sins.
The next incident, recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, demonstrates Jesus’ authority to change people’s lives. After Jesus heals this paralyzed man, He starts walking out by the Sea of Galilee. There He sees a man named Levi, who is also called Matthew. Matthew is a tax collector, basically working for Rome against his own Jewish people.
The Roman government would determine the amount of tax revenue to be collected in a district; the tax collector made a profit by charging more than Rome required. So, a tax collector in these days was considered a greedy, thieving, traitor who had forsaken his people and obviously abandoned his God.
But all three Gospels record Jesus simply saying to him, “Follow me.” Jesus certainly knew all about Matthew—and He invited him to follow Him.
Luke 5:28 puts it this way: “Leaving everything, [Matthew] rose and followed him.” Imagine that. Jesus effectively said, “Matthew, I know who you are, and I know what you have done; but I also know what you can become, if you will follow Me.” And Matthew does just that.
The gospel is the same invitation today. Jesus knows who you are; He knows what you have done; but He also knows what you can become, if you will follow Him.
Now here in verse 29, Matthew throws a “great feast” for Jesus and invites “a large company of tax collectors” to come to dinner. The Pharisees cannot believe this. As one author puts it, they’re thinking, “If Jesus were what He claimed to be, He would have sought their company rather than the company of [tax collectors].” He is having dinner with the wrong people!
Jesus hears their complaint and answers:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (verses 31-32)
The salvation of Matthew has two lessons for us. First, no unbeliever is beyond redemption. Matthew was essentially a hard-hearted criminal. He would be considered a Mafia member today, extorting money from his own people. But he was not beyond the reach of the gospel of Christ. Don’t take that person off your prayer list—no unbeliever is beyond redemption.
Second, no believer is beyond responsibility. It is our responsibility to invite lost friends to meet Jesus. Here is Matthew with a houseful of curious unbelievers. Shouldn’t he go through evangelism training first? Does he know all the answers? No, he just knows that Jesus saved him. And that is a great place to start.
The next event chronologically in the ministry of Jesus, which is how we are studying the Gospels on our Wisdom Journey through the Bible is found in Mark chapter 2. Here Jesus is about to demonstrate His authority over religious traditions. Some people ask Jesus, “Why do John [the Baptist’s] disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (verse 18).
According to the Mosaic law, fasting was required only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement. Voluntary fasts could be practiced, as people focused on prayer, but by Jesus’ time the Pharisees were fasting twice a week.
Jesus answers the question in verse 19: “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” In other words, Jesus says, “Look, I am the Bridegroom. As long as I am here, we are celebrating, not fasting.”
Jesus clarifies His point with an illustration in verse 21:
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.”
Any attempt to sew something new onto something old is going to create a tear once the new material shrinks. So here is His point: Trying to attach the gospel to the old cloth of religious tradition is not going to work.
Jesus illustrates the same principle in verse 22, saying you do not put new wine in old wineskins because the new wine will expand when fermented and tear holes in the old wineskin.
Jesus is bringing the gospel of grace that cannot be mixed with old manmade religious regulations. Jesus did not come to dress up human traditions.
Beloved, Jesus introduced a new dispensation of grace. We do not come to God through sacrifices and ceremonies; we now come to God by faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.