Sermon outline for September 7 (though I’m reconsidering my take on Jesus’ “parable” about the wineskins).

Jesus and the Pharisees, Luke 5:1-6:11

Anointed and baptized, Jesus has begun His mission of proclaiming and enacting the year of release, the great Jubilee, only to meet murderous rage from the people of Nazareth. He calls others to share His mission (5:1-11), and with them begins to spread the message and practice of “release” (cf. Luke 5:20-24). The Pharisees object to Jesus’ message and lifestyle, and by the end of these confrontations, the Pharisees share the rage of the Nazarenes (6:11), and are looking for a way of getting rid of Jesus.

“So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing beside the lake . . . .” (Luke 5:1-6:11).

Luke begins a new section of his gospel in chapter 5. It stretches from 5:1-9:50 and covers Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. (After 9:50, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, leading to His arrest, death, and resurrection.) Each subsection of 5:1-9:50 is introduced by a story concerning the disciples (5:1-11; 6:12-16; 8:1-3; 9:1-17). One major theme of the section is the incorporation of the disciples into the mission of Jesus. Jesus is beginning to establish the church, an Israel within Israel.

Throughout the OT, the leaders of God’s people were shepherds; in the NT, they are fishermen. That is not accidental. In the Bible, the land represents Israel, and the sea frequently represents the nations (2 Samuel 22:4-5; Psalm 65:7-8; Isaiah 5:30; etc.). The fact that Jesus selects fishermen to lead His church, and uses fishing metaphors to describe their ministry (Luke 5:10) highlights the fact that they will be sent to the Gentiles, following the examples of Elijah and Elisha (4:25-27). The miraculous catch of fish is a sign of the success the disciples will have in their expeditions into the sea of nations (5:5-9).

In response to Jesus’ miracle, Peter confesses his sinfulness and his unworthiness to be in Jesus’ presence (5:8). Yet, Jesus calls Peter to follow Him, implying that Jesus has forgiven Peter, the sinner. In the next two incidents, Jesus’ power to cleanse and authority to forgive is further illustrated.

First, he heals a leper. Leprosy or “skin disease” was a form of uncleanness in the OT that kept the leper from going to worship the Lord in His house and excluded him from normal society (Leviticus 13-14). Jesus cleanses the leper with a touch and a word, as a sign that He has power also to cleanse sinners. Second, Jesus heals a paralytic, and explicitly says that the miracle of healing demonstrates His authority to forgive sins (5:24). Both the leper and the paralytic are “raised” (cf. 5:24) from uncleanness, death, and sin, anticipating Jesus’ resurrection, the ultimate demonstration of His authority and power.

The Pharisees were an influential renewal movement within Judaism at the time of Jesus. Though they did not necessarily hold any positions of official authority, their devotion to the law and especially their interest in laws of purity gave them moral authority. For the Pharisees, maintaining a heightened form of purity was essential if Israel was going to be redeemed. By their lights, Israel was in bondage because of her uncleanness, and Yahweh would come to Israel’s rescue only when Israel got her act together and cleaned herself up. The Pharisees believed that true Jews had to separate from Gentiles and also from “sinners” within Israel, and the Pharisees (like Paul) were willing to use violence to enforce purity.

The Pharisees are first introduced in the story of the paralytic, silently condemning Jesus for forgiving sins. In the following incidents, they vocalize their opposition to Jesus. In the episodes in 5:27-6:11, we see two of the main obsessions of the Pharisees:

-Table fellowship was especially important to the Pharisees (5:27-39). At the heart of their “holiness agenda” was the idea that every meal was holy, as pure as the meals in the temple. They worried that they would be contaminated by food that had not been prepared properly, or by food that had not been tithed properly, or by sharing a meal with unclean people. As a result, they avoided eating with Gentiles and everyone who had regular contact with Gentiles. For the Pharisees, the bounds of table fellowship were the bounds of the true Israel, the pure Israel that would be redeemed.

-By the first century, Sabbath-keeping was seen as an especially important element of Jewish, especially Pharisaical, piety (6:1-11). Under the Seleucids (2d century B.C.), faithful Jews died as martyrs rather than violate the Sabbath, and Jews considered Sabbath breaking as an insult to their ancestors. Keeping Sabbath was one key way of maintaining holiness, and was a key symbol of Jewish identity. For the Pharisees, you could tell a true Jew from a false one at a glance: True Jews keep Sabbath, false Jews (and Gentiles) do not.

On each of these points, Jesus’ announcement and practice of the “year of release” brings Him into direct and deliberate conflict with the Pharisees. He too is announcing the redemption of Israel, but His redemption looks a lot different, so different that the Pharisees want to remove Him from the scene.

First, Jesus agrees with the Pharisees that the bounds of table fellowship are the bounds of Israel, but He has table fellowship with the very people who are outcasts from Pharisaical society. Just as Jesus enacted the kingdom by healings and exorcisms, so He enacts the kingdom by participating in the feast of the kingdom and inviting repentant sinners to feast with Him. Jesus eats a meal with sinners as a sign that they are forgiven and accepted.

The Pharisees, rightly, see this is a provocative challenge to their vision of a true Israel. If Jesus’ meal practices catch on, Israel will never be the kingdom of priests that she is supposed to be. Jesus stops their objections with the common-sensical observation that He needs to be among the sick to heal them. When the Pharisees object that His disciples do not fast, Jesus reminds them that fasting is inappropriate at a wedding, implying that the meals He celebrates are a wedding feast (5:33-35). Telling a parable, as he does when facing hardened enemies, Jesus says the Pharisees do not understand the times. They are stuck in old ways, while God is doing a new thing and offering new wine.

Second, Jesus points to the true nature of Sabbath-keeping. Jesus compares Himself to David, the true king of Israel, and claims Lordship over the Sabbath (6:1-5). In the second incident, He uses the Sabbath for healing and redemption (6:6-11). These are not violations of the Sabbath laws. Rather, Jesus is showing us what real Sabbath keeping is all about: It is about proclaiming release to captives, breaking the yoke of the oppressed, healing the sick, saving a life. The Pharisees show their understanding of Sabbath-keeping by discussing how to kill Jesus. By their actions, they answer Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath . . . to save a life or to destroy it?”

Catechism for Little Saints

What did Jesus call Simon the fisherman to do?
To catch men by preaching the gospel.

What is the Sabbath for?
For rest and celebration, and for healing and helping others.

For Further Study

1. Read 1 Samuel 21. What is the situation for David, and how is that analogous to Jesus’ situation in Luke 6:1-5? What is Jesus saying about His enemies?

2. Jesus heals a man with a withered hand (6:8-10). Look at Leviticus 21:16-24. What does this tell you about Jesus’ healing? How is this a further challenge to the Pharisees’ agenda for a “priestly” Israel? Compare to 1 Kings 13:1-10. How does that passage shed light on Luke?