Skip Heitzig - Luke 5:27-6:19
Luke, chapter 5. I'm always impressed with and amazed at the people that God chooses to do his bidding, to do his work. I love watching the people, the variety with which God builds his kingdom. Look around at this bunch, how different we are from one another. And, yet, with different backgrounds, different interests, different parts of the country, the Lord saved us and brings us together to do a common work. We are going to see, and begin with actually, the calling of Matthew the tax collector, followed by the calling of the other disciples to become apostles in what is ahead of us. But I open with those remarks, because I think specifically, not only of these disciples, but those disciples.
In my high school annual there was a section in the back of notable people: "Most Likely to Succeed," I was not in that group; "Most Spirited," I didn't make that page; "Most Athletic," I wasn't named there either. And there were several notable people in my class. I wasn't one of them. However, had there been a page that said "Most Unlikely to Succeed," well, then perhaps, maybe I would have been there. And it seems to me as though when we look at the Lord's chosen ones, they seem that they would be in that little slot "Most Unlikely to Succeed." It's as though God went out of his way to select the most unsavory, weirdest characters, especially together. A Zealot and a tax collector in the same group? They would draw blood. Fishermen, some competing groups of fishermen from the same district?
The basis of God's choice, I've told you this on many occasions, is out of First Corinthians, chapter 1. That is the basis of God's choice. Paul says, "You see your calling, brethren, how that not many mighty, not many noble, after the flesh are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise." Ah, now these chapters make sense when I realize that's the basis of God's choice: "the foolish things of this world to confound the wise." Then I say, well, Peter would be a good choice for that. And so would Simon the Zealot, and so would Thomas...and James and John, throw them in, surely unlikely to succeed, foolish things, weak things to confound those things that are mighty. Not just here but throughout Scripture, who was called the Father of faith? Abram, Abraham, "the father of those who believe."
And, yet, he had a lapse of faith. At least two times it is recorded that he got scared and dared not believe. And, yet, God gives him the title "father of faith." To whom or whom was it that God chose to be the vocal representative of the children of Israel before Pharaoh? Yeah, a man with a speech impediment. "Speak my words." "I c c c c can't." "Good enough for me. I've chosen the foolish things of this world, perfect." Because people like that tend to realize their deficits and tend to depend more, not on their strength, but on God's strength. That's the beautiful thing. Another one that comes to mind is a guy by the name of Gideon who was one of the judges of Israel. He was so scared of the Midianites, he wouldn't thresh wheat on the threshing floor which was on top of the hills where the winds would blow and separate the chaff from the wheat.
He was too scared that the enemy would see him, so he threshed his wheat down below in the valley where the winepress was. The problem with that is there's no wind where the winepress is, so you throw the stuff up in the air, and it just sort of falls back down. So you can see poor Gideon, foom, "Well, that didn't work," hoping that he would create some kind of wind. It was...it was crazy. And to make it even funnier, the Angel of the Lord comes and sees Gideon too scared to thresh out in the open and calls him a "mighty man of valor." I don't know if that was a joke or he was seeing the potential in him. But that is like the Lord, is it not, to see not who we are now, but what we can become once he gets a hold of your life, and breathes into you, and inspires you, and uses you by his Spirit for his glory?
That's what he sees. Any great artist does that. A great artist doesn't see a block of wood or a block of stone, he sees the finished product, what that can become once his hands touch it. So I believe, like the one we're about to read, Matthew the tax collector named Levi, as we'll see in the text. He goes by Matthew in his book Matthew, but he is called by his birth name here "Levi" probably because he was from the tribe of Levi. And Jesus comes and calls him. Chapter 5, verse 27, "After these things"...you say, "What things?" Those are the things we read last week. "After these things he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And he said to him, 'Follow me.' And so he left all, rose up, and followed him. Then Levi gave him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them."
He was a tax collector, which meant he was hated. Do you like the IRS? You don't. I mean, those three initials don't ring...you don't hear them and go, "Ah, I have such fond thoughts when you say those three letters, IRS." You don't. You go, "Ooh, tax season. Oh my goodness." In those days it was much worse because they operated under the Roman system of tax farming. You could go to the Roman government, and you could apply to be the local tax collector. If you got it, you were able to extract the amount that Rome required, which was pretty hefty, a lot worse than we have it even today. But anything you got extra, however means you got that, you could keep and line your own pockets. So because of that, tax collectors were considered the scum class. Lucian, a Greek writer, put them in the same class as adulterers.
So that's Matthew. Matthew is a tax collector. But because he's called Levi, we can only infer that he had a religious background. I'm guessing from the tribe of Levi. So that maybe he was slated to go into the ministry as a Levite perhaps. But he took a wrong turn somewhere in the road. I don't know, maybe college, maybe high school, maybe later, maybe earlier? He just decided, "Forget the ministry; I want to make a lot of money. And the quickest way I know to do that is to sell out to the Roman government, and I can get my share." But one day Jesus came into his life and, no doubt, Matthew had already seen and heard of Jesus. Jesus was headquartered where he lived in Capernaum. And there on that road Via Maris, the Way of the Sea, that connects Egypt with Mesopotamia was the tax booth set up.
In fact, if you ever come with us to Israel, allow me to take you to Capernaum and show you a stone that was part of the tax collector's booth that was on the Via Maris, probably the very stones that Matthew was next to or behind, collecting taxes. But Jesus came by and he saw him, Levi, and he said, "Follow me." Now he's called Matthew, now get this, I believe it's a name Jesus gave to him. It means "a gift." Would any of the people of Capernaum call him "a gift," the IRS tax guy? Would they have just said, "Yeah, you're a gift to us." No, "You take gifts from us. You are not a gift to us. You're a thief. You're a scoundrel." But Jesus, like a good artist, saw the potential, what he was going to make him into. "I'm going to remake you and give you as a gift for my glory."
Now this is a typical practice of Jesus to do. He liked to rename people. James and John the sons of Zebedee, he renamed them "Sons of Thunder." You know the story. He calls Simon, "Peter," renames him. He calls Levi, "Matthew," "a gift." He sees what he is going to make him into. He says, "Follow me." He does. Immediately he gets up, and he follows him. But notice this, and we just read it and didn't comment on it yet. Verse 29, "Levi gave him [gave Jesus] a great feast," a party. He threw a party in his own house. It must have been a large house. As a tax collector he made a lot of money. There seems to be a great gathering in this house, so he probably had an opulent lifestyle. "And there were a great number of tax collectors," he was a scoundrel who invited all of his scoundrel buddies, "and others who sat down with them.
"And their scribes and Pharisees complained against his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'" Now, honestly, I don't quite understand why the scribes and the Pharisees are at the party. I'm guessing they're either at the party or outside watching this happen. But it just seems by the reading of it that they're at the party, and I don't know why they're there. If I were Matthew, I wouldn't have invited the religious dudes. Maybe he wanted to have a little fun. Maybe he wanted to mix it up a little bit, because he knew that they hated the tax collectors, so he thought, "Let's just have a real fun time tonight. I'm going to bring the Pharisees from the local area in with the tax collectors." Don't know, but the fireworks certainly happened.
Now, to the Jews the act of eating a meal connoted real intimacy. You know the Scripture in Revelation chapter 3 verse 20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will open the door, I will come in and sup with him," eat with him, have the most intimate kind of fellowship together. "Because we believe that if you eat some food, and I eat some food, and you digest the food and I digest the food, it's becoming a part of our body. We're actually becoming a part of one another." So to eat a meal together meant to share the deepest kind of an intimacy. "Why is your Master and are you disciples eating, sharing intimate contact and fellowship with the worst of the worst, with the scum of the earth, tax collectors, people that sold themselves out to the Roman government?" And so it says, true to form, they complained.
So why did Matthew throw the feast? Well, it says he threw it for Jesus, for him. It's sort of like a farewell deal, a farewell meal and dinner for the sake of evangelism. It seems to me that Matthew wants to show his faith and show off his Lord to his friends. He's leaving this lifestyle. He's leaving the area. He's going to be following Jesus wherever Jesus goes, even though headquartered at Capernaum, they're going on some adventures. So he throws this final meal to introduce his friends to Jesus. Again, this is a good friend. The Pharisees and the scribes, they wouldn't have done this. In fact, compare Matthew's style of evangelism, which was "invite people into my house, share my meals, share my life with me. Oh, and by the way, here is Jesus. Let me introduce him to you." That's his style of evangelism.
Compare that with the Pharisees method of evangelism. How did they do it? Not...they did not do it. They did not think that Gentiles, and especially tax collectors, even Jewish tax collectors who sold out to the Gentile world system should be in your home. So these religious folks, I guess you might say they did their evangelism by pointing the finger at the bad people. "Those are bad people. You shouldn't be with them." Can I just say, that's not a very effective method of evangelism: pointing the finger, getting angry, getting all uptight, and religious, and stiff. Besides being an absolute bore, nobody will want to hang out with you. No one will be attracted to anything you would have for them. I mean, why would anyone want to be a prune like that? What is attractive about that kind of lifestyle? Nothing.
It's not like you look at a Pharisee and go, "I want to be one. I really want to be narrow minded and bigoted just like that guy." Matthew, on the other hand, I like that. I love his bringing people in and around and having a feast and introducing Jesus. I think it's a beautiful method and beautiful style of evangelism. So, "Jesus answered"...he had some words to say with them, for them. "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of [a doctor] a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.'" It's an obvious point, is it not? People who are healthy, they don't go to a doctor. People who are sick, they go to a doctor. Sinners and sick people, they have a lot in common. They know they have a need.
And you get saved like sick people get better. You admit to a doctor that you have a disease and he prescribes something for you. As a sinner, you admit to Dr. Jesus the Great Physician that you are in need of forgiveness and salvation, and he will dispense it to you freely by faith in him. But then there are some people, and I bet you can think of one or two perhaps, they're the kind of that never like to admit they're sick. Right? They never..."How you doing?" "Fine." "Are you feeling"..."No, no, no, no." They never, even if they are, they never like to admit that there's something wrong with them. We have a name for these people. They're called "dead people" eventually. And we have a name for people who never like to admit their need to God. We call them spiritually dead.
Paul said, "And you were dead in trespasses and sins." Before there was a regeneration that took place that came through an act of faith, a work of God in your heart, and your faith cooperating causing regeneration, you were spiritually dead to that. Those who are sick, they don't need a doctor, only those...or well, only those who are sick who admit that they have a need. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." See, the gospel is not for people who think they are good; the gospel is for people who know they are bad. Ever meet someone who goes, "Oh, I don't know if I can come to church, I'm not really worthy." Well, that's perfect. You fit the bill. "Oh, no, no, no. I can't really come to God. I gotta clean up my act first." Oh, no, no, no. Come all messy.
You're the one that Jesus is looking for, the people who think they're good enough, they never admit they have a need, only those people who know they are bad enough. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of God." They admit they have a need. They mourn over that. There's an admission. "Then they said to him"...now that they have Jesus' attention, these religious folks, the elite, the Pharisees and the scribes. "They said to him, 'Why do the disciples of John,'" that is, John the Baptist, "'fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees,'" our guys, our dudes, our sect, "'but yours [party hardy]?'" That's a little loose translation here of "yours eat and drink?" In the Jewish belief system, fasting was not required except for once a year.
There was one mandatory day when fasting was required, and the Bible refers to the act of fasting as "afflicting one's soul." That was on the day of Yom Kippur, the High Holy Day of Atonement that was required. The traditional rendering of the text "afflict your souls" was to eat no food, to fast. However, some of the more religious folks believed that they should fast more often than once a year. In fact, they did it twice a week, on Mondays and on Thursdays, which are interesting days, because, in Jerusalem especially, those are the busiest market days in the city so there will be more people out and about. And so what some of these guys would do is paint themselves up to look pale and sickly. And they'd stand on the street corner, and there be kind of like in their supposed fast, praying with their hands out, and people would notice them.
They would do it to be seen by men. The three pillars of Judaism back then were prayer, fasting, and alms giving. But, again, fasting was not required but once a year. However, know this: fasting is a good practice. But it has to be voluntarily. It's not required. It's not like, "You know what? You aren't going to heaven and you can't be a part of this church unless you fast whenever." We never do that, because it's not required. And Jesus has a great answer. "Now's not the time for fasting," he's going to say, "now's the time for feasting." But the time for feasting will be over and there will come a time for fasting. Both are needed. "But I am the bridegroom," Jesus said, "and my bride are my people, and we're together, so we're going to have a little fun here. But the day will come when men ought to fast."
Now fasting is good for a number of reasons. One of the things I notice about our Western lifestyle is because we have such an abundance and we can...you know, our problem usually isn't food, our problem is too much food, to be quite honest. We figure out how we can lose weight, and when we see food, to say no to it or to say no to the right kinds of food. We have so many options, so what happens is our palate becomes a little dull. And it's interesting when you fast, and when you do fast, you see all the things you can live without, and you go, "Boy, you know, I've gone a couple days and I haven't keeled over. I'm not dead. I can do without a lot." It reminds you about that. It also gets you in touch with those people who don't have very much in this world.
It causes you to really feel for them and pray for them and get in touch with them. And that's what Isaiah, chapter 58, is all about. God says, "Let me tell you the fast that I get behind. Here's the fast that I see as a good thing; and that is, you afflict your souls that you might be conscious to help your brother who is in need and satisfy the hungry." But I was, I was brought to this awareness one time when before I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I lived in Southern California, and I was praying about coming here, I thought, "I shouldn't just pray about coming here, I should pray and fast." So I went out to the desert for a few days of prayer and fasting. And, listen, by like day three, I'm smelling food that isn't even there. I'm dreaming of food at night that isn't even around for miles. I was ready to eat.
And so I went to break my fast at this little Indian reservation close to where I was, the Morongo Indian Reservation. And I had...there's this little kiosk there called Hadley's. I don't know if you're ever familiar with the Palm Springs area. No, I wasn't in a hotel in Palm Springs, by the way, fasting. I was out in the desert. But I went to Hadley's and I had what's called a date shake. Oh my goodness. I've had them before, but on that particular occasion when I had that date shake, it's like my head exploded with flavor. It's like, it never tasted as good as that day. "What's in this thing? This is a miracle drink." "No, it's just a date shake, dude. Have a good day. Don't know what you're on, but see ya." But my palate, which had grown dull, was now very alive.
And had I had chile, I probably wouldn't have survived, just to have something mild like a date shake was enough. Anyway, fasting gets you in touch with some of those sensations. "He said to them," this, his answer, verse 34. "He said to them, 'Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.'" That is a hint of the cross that is coming. That is a hint of his suffering, his death, and his ascension into heaven when he would leave his chosen and not be with them any longer. That will be a time when there will be mourning and there will be fasting...joy, because of the resurrection, but mourning, because Jesus will ascend and be taken away from them.
The analogy that Christ uses here is that of a husband and wife at a wedding. Happiest week of a couple's life typically was their wedding week. That's when the community chipped in. That's when the best food was enjoyed. That's when they sat around with their friends and talked and partied it up for one solid week. It was a happiest week of a couple's life. And so he uses that analogy of: "We're together now. And fasting is good, but feasting is good too. And we're enjoying each other's fellowship and comradery and company. A day will come when they will fast." "And then he spoke a parable to them: 'No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.'"
Now, some of you will not be able to relate to this. When I grew up, I don't know if they still sell these things, but they used to sell patches for pants that you would sew on or you would iron on. And my mom was not a fan of shopping for us; she was a fan of buying patches for us. You know, "Why buy you a new pair of pants? There's a rip in it, I'll just put a patch on it." Now today the pants with the rips cost more. It's just gone crazy. It's like, "Two hundred bucks if you want a rip in it, dude." "Oh, okay." For some reason that should make sense, but it doesn't. So in those days when you had a rip, you patch it up. Well, if you have a piece of cloth that has never been washed and it's going to shrink and the pants that you wear are already...have been washed several times.
When you put that on, back in these days that we're reading about, when you wash it, if you wash it in hot water, that little patch is going to shrink and make the tear that it is sewn to much worse. Now, he has a point to make, and he'll make it with yet another analogy. "'And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskin will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, both are preserved.'" They would store wine in actual hides, sometimes stomachs of animals. Now why is that important? Because wine ferments. It gives off gases causing the skins to stretch. Right? The fermentation process requires flexible wineskin, so it begins to stretch and swell up and get bigger.
Now, if you drink that wine and keep pouring in new wine, eventually the elasticity of that animal hide will reach its limit. It has a breaking point. It will crack, it will burst, and the new wine that you want to store will be spilled out. Jesus is making a reference to the very system he is confronting, or I should say is confronting him; and that is, the religious Judaistic system, the legal system, as represented by the scribes and the Pharisees. And what he is saying is this: "I, as the Messiah from the Father, did not come...though I have come not to break the law but to fulfill it. I have not come to patch up the old legal system of Judaism. It has become like a brittle, old, unelastic wineskin. God the Father wants to do a new work, to pour the gospel new wine into something fresh.
But this system, your system, is brittle and nonelastic. It can't take it. It can't handle it. It can't stretch any further." So for God to do a new work, he has to select a whole new system, vessel to pour it into, and that was the church. That was his elect that he would call around himself in the gospel message. The old wineskin, you can't patch that up. You can't reform it. I know that in history there was the Great Reformation, but essentially Martin Luther left the established church. He couldn't reform it from within; he had to leave it and let the wine be poured in a new vessel. The old can't contain it. There's been a split ever since. John Wesley tried to reform the church of England (he did not want to leave it) with his Methodist system. But eventually he was forced to leave it. They wouldn't tolerate it.
The wineskin was breaking. The cloth was causing a bigger tear, so he went outside to a group of people that were open and hungry and willing to bend and to flex and did his work through them. Now, think of your own life. The Lord wants to expand you personally. Are you done stretching? "I'll stretch up to this point, no more." Okay, don't be surprised if God bypasses you and finds those who are open. "Lord I'm willing. Send me. Stretch me. Use me. Do something fresh in and through my life." Now, sadly, I meet people who are doing exactly what Jesus was referring to primarily, not secondarily. They actually are trying to patch up the Jewish system. They've become believers, but then their friend invites them to a seder feast, and there's a star of David, and a shofar, and Jewish words being spoken.
And they get so enamored with Hebrew and Israel and they...as cool as that is, because been there, done that...they think it's important for all believers to go back to the Law, you have to keep the laws of Moses, you have a keep all the festivals of Israel. No, you don't. Read the book of Galatians and get a clue. You don't. The law was a schoolmaster to point us to Christ. He's not about patching up the old system; he's done with the old system. There's the new system where anyone, anywhere, with any background can call on the name of Jesus and he'll pour new life into that person. And get two or three of those gathered together, you got a church, you got a work of the Lord moving and spilling new wine through new people, new vessels.
As much as I appreciate the old covenant and I appreciate reading and understanding...as you know, we've done it, even the laws of the Old Testament...I don't live under them nor am I enamored and want to go back to a Judaistic kind of Christianity. Paul was never about that and Jesus certainly was not. He said, "You know what? Love you guys. See ya." "Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that he went through the grainfields. And his disciples plucked heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, 'Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?'" Now this is going to get old, perhaps, because you've heard me ask this question every time, no matter what gospel: What on earth were the Pharisees doing out in the cornfields?
You know, it's like, "Okay, I can understand that you guys were invited to that feast, but now it's like, it's just alone time. We're, like, walking from point A to point B, from one village to another village. We're out in the countryside. Nobody's here. We go through fields of grain, all of a sudden poop, Pharisees pop up. "Hi. It's us." "What, are you following us?" "Sort of." And they say, "'Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?'" Were they doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath? Absolutely not. In Deuteronomy 23, I believe it's verse 25, it's the last verse in that chapter, we're told, they were told that when you go through a grainfield of standing grain, you were allowed to pick and eat anything you want. It's a good system. I like it. It's a good welfare system.
God's welfare system was: leave a little bit of the vintage and the grapes and a little bit of the grain in the fields, a little bit of the fruit on the trees. Don't harvest it all, leave some of it for the poor. If you're walking from point A to point B and you see your friend has a tree with fruit, eat some. That was perfectly...isn't that a great system? I had a friend in SoCal that had a lemon tree, and half of his tree branches were on my side, and California state law said I owned them if it's over the property lines. So, I had lemonade all the time and just thanked him, "Thanks for the lemons, appreciate it." You know, it's law, he knew it, so he's not going to cut the tree down so I couldn't get them. But so you were allowed to go through the grainfields and just...this is what you do: you pluck it with the hand, you'd rub it between your hands, you'd blow away the chaff, and you'd eat it.
And it gets kind of gummy inside. Hard at first, but eventually the saliva breaks down. It's a gummy, nutritious thing to do. The only thing you could not do was go into the grainfields with a sickle, a threshing, reaping instrument, and cut down the grain, because now it means you're after it for a commercial benefit, not for personal use. If you just go in there and eat it, no problem. That's just for personal satisfaction. If you do it with a sickle, it means you're harvesting for commercial use. Same with the vintage, the grapes. Go in there, have some grapes, but don't, like, bring a basket when you go into your neighbor's grapes and take it home for the next week or sell it. However, here is the problem, please listen carefully to this: Why would they say this is unlawful?
Because over time the simple laws of Scripture, tradition was added to them by groups like this. So by the New Testament times it had become unlawful. In the Mishnah there were 39 different tractates about things you could not do on the Sabbath. And the four main things that you couldn't do in the grainfields were: number one, reaping; number two, threshing; number three, winnowing, and number four, with all that, preparing a meal. Technically the disciples had broken all four of those laws: by plucking the grain, they were reaping; by rubbing it in between their hands to loosen the chaff, they were threshing; by blowing away the chaff away from the wheat, they were winnowing; and all together they were preparing a meal, because they did it in order that they might eat. That's how crazy it had gotten.
So they pop up: "How come your disciples are doing what's unlawful on the Sabbath?" Jesus' answer is interesting to me. "[He] said, 'Have you not even read this?'" Oh, I love this, Jesus face to face with a reverend, doctor, bishop, theological giant who deserves respect, and Jesus goes, "Do you not even read your own Bibles? You're Bible scholars, don't you even read it once in a while?" "You haven't even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were him: how he went into the house of God," he went into the tabernacle, you can't do that, "and took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to them with him, which is not lawful," it is against Mosaic law and regulation, "for any but the priests to eat?' And he said to them, 'The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.'"
Jesus takes them back to a text you know, First Samuel 21. David is on the run. He's fleeing from King Saul. He goes to Nob, N O B, on a hill. It was the first Nob Hill, seriously. Nob Hill is where they went. And he went to Nob where the tabernacle was not far from Jerusalem to Nob Hill. And the priest serving at the time, the high priest, was Ahimelech. And Saul was chasing him and he's hungry and he goes, "We're hungry and we'd like to eat." And the priest said, "Well, have you followed a few regulations and stipulations?" He goes, "Yes, I have." So the priest gave him, gave to David the bread, the showbread. Remember the showbread, the twelve loaves of presence they are called that sat in the tabernacle representing the twelve tribes of Israel?
The priests once a week were the only ones who could eat that. They would replace the bread, take the other bread out, and the priests would chomp down on it, scarf it, eat it. David was not a priest. David goes into the house of God. David eats stuff that only the priests, according to the Mosaic law, could eat. It was unlawful. Now, what Jesus did was not unlawful. They said it was unlawful, so Jesus takes them back to an incident that was really unlawful and didn't seem to bother these religious bigwigs. Jesus goes, "Don't you remember that? Don't you read that? David did that. David, your hero, the first king of Israel...or the second king, the rightful king." "'And is not lawful but only for the priests to eat?' And he said to them, 'The Son of Man is also the Lord of the Sabbath.'"
Why I love this passage is it shows the compassion of Christ. It shows that compassion is more important than ritual that the Spirit of God, heart of God to care for the needs of people is greater than the little, picky rules and regulations. Here's a case of human necessity. When I first read this passage as a young believer...I came to Christ when I was eighteen. I know that's...wow! A long time ago. When I read this passage, I stopped and I went, "Thank you, Lord." And that's because I had been bearing guilt. When I was a young boy in a Catholic school during Lent...some of you know what that means, right? You have that background. I was a Catholic boy. I was the altar boy during that season of Lent. Every day we would say Mass. Every day I was the altar boy.
A couple days I didn't bring my lunch with me, and I was so hungry I didn't know what to do. And I thought, "Well, if this is God's bread, you know, the hosts, he wouldn't mind if I had a meal out of them." And I took handfuls of them and I ate them at lunchtime and I felt so horrible. I know some of you are going to tell your friends. It's going to get back to the priests and the bishop and the pope, maybe, who knows? I don't know. But I just felt like, "I've, like, desecrated God's house." And then I read this passage. Can you imagine how I would feel reading this? It's like, "Wow! it's in the Bible. David did it and Jesus said that was okay because he was really hungry." So that's why I said, "Thank you, Lord." It just alleviated years of guilt I had carried around with me."
Now it happened on another Sabbath"...do you see the string of stories Luke is weaving together? Sabbath stories, Sabbath violations. Now, this is important to Luke because he is observing it as an outsider. He's a Gentile; he's not Jewish. He's noticing that as a Gentile physician, a doctor, writing about these incidents how Jesus' greatest enemies came from within Judaism and they will be the ones that will conspire later on against him. "It happened on another Sabbath, also, that he entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered." This is interesting. This is in the other Gospels, with one exception, only Luke mentions it was his right hand. A doctor would be interested in that.
Whoever he interviewed about the story, Luke would have said, "Which hand was it?" "Oh, let me think... it was his right hand." "Okay, right hand," and he mentions that detail. Being a doctor, he would be interested. He's the only one that does. He noticed that his hand was withered. It was paralyzed. There was a paralysis for whatever reason. "So the scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely, whether he would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the paralyzed hand, 'Arise and stand here.' And he arose and he stood." Some commentators, some scholars believe that he was a plant, that the Pharisees put him there. I don't know for sure if that is.
Some believe strongly that the Pharisees placed this man there knowing Jesus was compassionate and would heal him. And they were looking for something to accuse him. I wouldn't doubt that. They were dead right. He does have compassion. He sees this need. He is going to respond. But he had a withered hand, so he knew what they were thinking, and so he had him stand up there. Now maybe the man stood up thinking, "He's going to embarrass me. I do not want to stand up." You know, he's kind of...he's already...it's an embarrassing stigma to have a paralyzed hand, have a paralysis on one side. So to be stood up in a public meeting...how would you feel if right now I called on you and had you come up? Some of you, most of you wouldn't like that. Most people don't. They have a fear, a phobia of being in front of people.
So he stands him up, maybe thinking, "I'm going to get rebuked." Because the Jewish thought was if you have a disease, it's tied to some sin in you or your parents' life. "Here goes, I'm gonna get chewed out by Jesus." "Jesus said to them, 'I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?' And when he looked around at them all, he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' And so he did, and his hand was restored as whole as the other." That surprised the man. Jesus asked him...no, told him, commanded him to do something he had been unable to do his whole life. He couldn't stretch forth his hand, he's paralyzed. What would it look like if I brought a paralyzed person up on this stage and I said, "Stand up and walk."
You'd say, "Man, you are...you've reached a new low of cruelty. That's so low, telling a guy who can't walk to walk, to tell a guy who can't stretch out his hand, 'Hey, stretch your hand out.'" And rather than saying, "I can't, Mr. Rabbi, I'm paralyzed. I can't do that. How cruel. It's impossible," have any excuse, he just did it. Because with the commandment comes the enablement. God's commandments are his enablements. If God says do something, you can never say, "I can't." He would never say, "Do it," unless he knew you could. "Peter, you want to walk on water? Do it." "Okay." He starts doing it till this thought comes, "I can't walk on water," foom! So whenever you read a command of Scripture, a promise in the Bible, know that there is power in the very Word of God itself.
It's not just paper and ink and chapters and verse covered in leather for you to peruse and mentally research, get all the facts and figures together, it's the powerful Word of God where you find the principle, the precept. Grab a hold of that. "'Stretch out your hand.' And he did, and it was restored as whole as the other. But they were filled with rage." Now, really, really, really? A guy got healed: "I am so mad!" I would be so amazed. I would be like so, "Whoa! Did you see that?" When was the last time they saw that? When was the last time they were able to pray or say something and a guy was healed? Never er er. They just saw a healing, and they're angry instead of joyful, instead of amazed, instead of awestruck? They're angry.
You know what I have noticed: religious people can be the most narrow minded and hardest to be around people in the universe. When we were in Tbilisi, Georgia, with Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham Association doing a crusade, the greatest enemies we faced were the organized religion, Christian churches of the area picketing. There was a little...to get into this meeting place, there was a little walkway you had to go through. It was filled on either side with church representatives with the plaques that said "SHAME." It was called "the walk of shame." "Shame of you if you walk through this line and get into this stadium to hear the gospel. Shame on you. We'll kick you out of our church." Filled with rage, instead of joy that people are hearing about their Christ that they claim that they serve.
And I find in sending missionaries out around the world, usually the greatest enemies are religious folks. Give me honest heathens any day, they're just a lot easier to work with. My wife didn't grow up in a church, she grew up an atheist, and I found her so refreshing, no baggage, none at all, just open. Once she got converted to Christ, "I'm all in," 100 percent, no playing games, no religious facsimiles, just the real stuff. They are angry, "filled with rage, and discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus." They should've fallen down and worship him and said, "You're God." "Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray, and he continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples to himself; and from them he chose twelve whom he named apostles [or disciples]."
That means "learners," "followers." They're apostles, ones that he would send out. "Simon, whom he called Peter, Andrew his brother; James, John; Phillip, Bartholomew," also called Nathanael. He was the guy who said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" "Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor." There are four lists in the New Testament that have these guys listed. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts have them. In all of those four lists, there are three things that are always constant: number one, Peter is always mentioned first; number two, Judas is always mentioned last; and number three, James is always before his brother John, because he was the older.
Here's the list of those that he chose. Any PR consultant would have said, "Bad choice to start a movement with. These guys, really? These guys together? You may want to think twice," except for one. There was probably...there would be one person on that list they would have thought, "Good choice, more sophisticated than the rest": Judas, because he's Judas Iscariot. He was from a village down south in Judea, a very intellectually based, population based, white collar, called Kerioth. And Kerioth is where the sophisticates were from down south. The rest of them were...they were Galileans. You know, they were like, you know, hayseed, straw in the mouth, pickup truck, shotgun in the back, you know, just kind of hicks, unsophisticates. Judas was sophisticated and they trusted him, that's why they made him the treasurer.
He watched the money. Of course, I'm...this is tongue in cheek. You know what happened him. He was a traitor. "And he came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, and came to hear him and he healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him, for power went out from him and he healed them all." And I'm looking at what I have left...impossible. So we will have to get it next time we gather together. But I think, and I think I'm right when I think this, I think that we should all be encouraged looking at the list of these fellows that Jesus chose.
Because I look at the list and I can relate to Peter, I can relate to Thomas, I can relate to Nathanael. I can relate to so many of their activities, the tendencies, even in Judas. I'm encouraged that Jesus chose them. Because I look at his team and I go, "Okay, I think I can be on your team. If these guys could be on your team, I think I can be. If you're all about choosing 'the foolish things of this world,' I think I can do that." Don't you take encouragement from this? You might say, "No, no, no, no, no, I don't. I really would rather join a group that is erudite and brilliant and..." Okay. There are exceptions to the rule: "God has chosen the foolish things." There's "not many mighty, not many noble who are called." He didn't say, "not any mighty, not any noble." There are notable figures throughout history.
Paul the apostle would be high on that list, an intellectual, very erudite. But for the most part, anyone who will say, "Take me, Lord. Send me," he'll say, "Okay, I'll do it." And I just think this: if he can take these twelve guys, really eleven, and change the world, what could he do with 1,100 or 11,000 changed and on fire? What will he want to do through your life this week? Don't know, but it's going to be fun to find out.
Father, we just say to you, "Here I am. Send me. Here we are. Send us." We fit the bill. We fit the description. We are filled sometimes with doubts, we speak ahead of turn, we want to call fire down from heaven, we have all of these tendencies, even many times of the Pharisees and the scribes, but, oh, the patience you have with us. And even those that have sorted backgrounds, you say, "Ah, but I can turn you into a 'gift,' and I can give you to a group, or to a person, or to a neighborhood, or to a nation, or to a city, and I can use you." So we, like the prophets, say, "Here we are, Lord. Send us. Here I am! Send me." Do your work, your will through us. And even as you called Matthew and said, "Matthew, tax collector, you, follow me." Maybe you're saying to some here, "Follow me. Make a commitment and trust in me. Don't have to go the way of religion, just have the way of relating to me, relationship with me. Follow me."
And if Jesus is calling you to follow him tonight, I want to give you an opportunity to respond. With our heads bowed and our eyes are closed in this room if you're here, and you don't personally walk with Jesus Christ, you're not a disciple of his, you don't follow him, you don't walk in obedience to him yet, you may be a religious person, you might have no faith at all, but if you are willing to give your life to Christ, have your sins forgiven, he'll give you eternal life, and he'll give you abundant life, a joy filled life. If you want that, you must receive that. It's a gift.
And if you are willing to do that, I want you to raise your hand up right now as we close this service, so I can acknowledge your hand. Keep it up high just for a moment so I can see it. God bless you toward the back on my right; and on my right; and in the middle on my right side. Anyone else? Raise that hand up. Raise it up high. You're saying yes to Jesus. You're saying, "I want to receive the gift of eternal life tonight. I want to be on your team, Lord Jesus." Anyone else? Toward the back. Father, thank you, strengthen them who are making this commitment. And if you raised your hand tonight, just right where you're at would you say:
Lord Jesus, come into my life. I believe you died for me, and in shedding your blood you will grant me forgiveness. I believe you died, I believe you rose from the dead, and you purchased for me salvation. I turn from my sin. I turn to you as my Savior. I make you my Lord. I want to follow you every day, in Jesus' name, amen.