THIS CHAPTER OPENS with another work of power that took place in a private house, when after some time He was again in Capernaum. This time faith of a very robust type comes into view, and that, remarkably enough, on the part of friends and not on the part of the sufferer. The Lord was again preaching the Word. That was His main service; the healing work was incidental.
The four friends had faith of the sort that laughs at impossibilities, and says, "It shall be done," and Jesus saw it. He dealt instantly with the spiritual side of things, granting forgiveness of sins to the paralysed man. This was but blasphemy to the reasoning scribes who were present. They were right enough in their thought that no one but God can forgive sins, but they were wholly wrong in not discerning that God was present amongst them and speaking in the Son of Man. The Son of Man was on earth, and on earth He has authority to forgive sins.
The forgiveness of sins however is not something which is visible to the eyes of men; it must be accepted by faith in the Word of God. The instantaneous healing of a bad case of bodily infirmity is visible to the eyes of men, and the Lord proceeded to perform this miracle. They could no more release the man from the grip of his disease than they could forgive his sins. Jesus could do both with equal ease. He did both, appealing to the miracle in the body as proof of the miracle as to the soul. Thus He puts things in their right order. The spiritual miracle was primary, the bodily was only secondary.
Here again the miracle was instantaneous and complete. The man who had been utterly helpless suddenly arose, picked up his bed and walked forth before them all in a fashion that elicited glory to God from all lips. The Lord commanded and the man had but to obey, for the enabling went with the command.
This incident which emphasises the spiritual object of our Lord's service is followed by the call of Levi, afterwards known to us as Matthew the publican. The call of this man to follow the Master exemplifies the mighty attraction of His word. It was one thing to call lowly fishermen from their nets and toil: it was another to call a man of means from the congenial task of scooping in the cash. But He did it with two words. "Follow Me," fell upon Levi's ears with such power that he "arose and followed Him." God grant that we may feel the power of those two words in our hearts!
What a wonderful glimpse we have been granted of the Servant of the Lord, His promptitude, His authority, His power, His dependence, His devotedness, His compassion, His refusal of the popular and superficial in favour of the spiritual and the abiding; and lastly, His mighty attractiveness.
Having risen up to follow the Lord, Levi soon declared his discipleship in a practical fashion. He entertained his new-found Master in his house together with a large number of publicans and sinners, displaying thus something of the Master's spirit. He exchanged his "sitting at the receipt of custom," for the dispensing of bounty, so that others might sit at his board. He began to fulfil the word, "He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor," (Ps. 112: 9), and that evidently without having been told to do so. He began showing hospitality to his own set in order that they too might meet the One who had won his heart.
In this he is an excellent pattern for ourselves. He began to expend himself for others. He did the thing which most readily came to his hand. He gathered to meet the Lord those who were needy, and who knew it, rather than those who were religiously self-satisfied. He had discovered that Jesus was a Giver, who was seeking for such as should be receivers.
All this was observed by the self-satisfied Scribes and Pharisees, who voiced their objection in the form of a question to His disciples. Why did He consort with such low-down and degraded folk? The disciples had no need to answer, for He took up the challenge Himself. His answer was complete and satisfying and has become almost a proverbial saying. The sick need the doctor, and sinners need the Saviour. Not the righteous but the sinners He came to call.
The Scribes and Pharisees may have been well versed in the law but they had no understanding of grace. Now He was the Servant of the grace of God, and Levi had caught a glimpse of this. Have we? Far more than Levi we ought to have done so, inasmuch as we live in the moment when the day of grace has reached its noontide. Yet it is possible for us to feel a bit hurt with God because He is so good to folk that we would like to denounce, as Jonah did in the case of the Ninevites, and as the Pharisees did with the sinners. The great Servant of the grace of God is at the disposal of all that need Him.
The next incident-verses 18 to 22-discloses the objectors again at work. Then they complained of the Master to the disciples: now it is of the disciples to the Master. They evidently lacked courage to come face to face. This oblique method of fault-finding is very common: let us forsake it. In neither case did the disciples have to answer. When the Pharisees maintained the exclusiveness of law, He met them by asserting the expansiveness of grace, and He silenced them. Now they wish to put upon the disciples the bondage of law, and He most effectively asserts the liberty of grace.
The parable or figure that He used plainly inferred that He Himself was the Bridegroom-the central Person of importance. His presence governed everything, and ensured a wonderful fulness of supply. Presently He would be absent and then fasting would be appropriate enough. Let us take note of this, for we live in the day when fasting is a fitting thing. The Bridegroom has long been absent, and we are waiting for Him. At the moment when the Lord spoke the disciples were in the position of a godly remnant in Israel receiving the Messiah when He came. After Pentecost they were baptised into one body, and were built into the foundations of that city which is called "the Bride, the Lamb's wife" (Rev. 21: 9). Then they had the place of the Bride rather than that of the children of the bridechamber; and that position is ours today. This only makes it yet more clear that not feasting but fasting is fitting for us. Fasting is abstaining from lawful things in order to be more wholly for God, and not merely abstinence from food for a certain fume.
The Pharisees were all for maintaining the law intact. The danger for the disciples, as after events proved, was not so much that as attempting a mixture of Judaism with the grace which the Lord Jesus brought. The law system was like a worn-out garment, or an old wine skin. He was bringing in that which was like a strong piece of new cloth, or new wine with its powers of expansion. In the Acts we can see how the old outward forms of the law gave way before the expansive power of the Gospel.
Indeed we see it in the very next incident with which chapter 2 closes. Again the Pharisees come, complaining of the disciples to the Master. The offence now was that they did not exactly fit their activities into the "old bottle" of certain regulations concerning the sabbath. The Pharisees pushed their sabbath-keeping so far that they condemned even rubbing ears of corn in the hand, as though it were working a mill. They contended for a very rigid interpretation of the law in these minor matters. They were the people who kept the law with meticulous care, whilst they considered the disciples to be slack.
The Lord met their complaint and defended His disciples by reminding them of two things. First, they should have known the Scriptures, which recorded the way in which David had once fed himself and his followers in an emergency. That which ordinarily was not lawful was permitted in a day when things were out of course in Israel because of the rejection of the rightful king. 1 Samuel 21 tells us about it. Once again things were out of course and the rightful King about to be refused. In both cases needs connected with the Lord's Anointed must be held to override details connected with the ceremonial demands of the law.
Second, the sabbath was instituted for man's benefit, and not the reverse. Hence man takes precedence of the sabbath; and the Son of man, who holds dominion over all men, according to Psalm 8, must be Lord of the sabbath, and hence competent to dispose of it according to His will. Who were the Pharisees to challenge His right to do this?-even though He had come amongst men in the form of a Servant.
The Lord of the sabbath was amongst men and He was being refused. Under these circumstances the solicitude of these sticklers for the ceremonial law was out of place. Their "bottles" were worn out, and unable to contain the expansive grace and authority of the Lord. The sabbath "bottle" breaks before their very eyes.
|« Previous chapter||Next chapter »|