Luke 5:33-6:11 – Fasting & Sabbaths

Luke 5:33-6:11 – Fasting & Sabbaths


Sunday, September 19, 2021  Brad Barrett

Luke 5:27-6:11 

The Physician of our Souls

Series: Luke

Sermon:  The Physician of our Souls  Luke 5:27-6:11

Verse:  Luke 5:32 ESV  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”


If someone is familiar with the Bible and you want to stab them in their heart, there is one word that will do it:  Call them a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were a Jewish religious order in the first century, and the NT does not speak well of them.  With few exceptions, they consistently went toe-to-toe with Jesus.  Arguing with him.  Despising him.  Trying to trick him into trouble.

They were proud, arrogant, and self-righteous.   And eventually they, along with some others voted to put him to death.

So for me to call you a Pharisee is a wounding word. 

This morning we are continuing in our series reading through the Gospel of Luke.    Take your Scripture journals out this morning.  Page 42.   Luke 5:27.   Take notes in your journals, if that helps you to learn and remember. 

Last week we read the first part of Chapter 5.  We will read four stories this morning.  The two main players:  Jesus and the Pharisees.  (And Matt read a fifth story last week that included the Pharisees.)  These five stories may not be in overall chronological order in Luke’s Gospel, or they may not be in the same timeframe.  Luke may well have bundled these stories together with the theme of the Pharisees. 

Vs. 27-32

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”

28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.

30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

First, who were the Pharisees?

Let’s look at the Jewish leadership in general.  Four groups you will read about in Luke.

Pharisees and Sadducees were the two main religious leadership parties among the Jewish people.  Sort of like Democrats and Republicans, except these were religious parties.

Pharisees were the smaller group, but highly influential.   Later on, the Apostle Paul was a Pharisee. 

Sadducees were the larger group.  Most priests were Sadducees. 

These two groups had very different political and religious views (which we won’t dive into now). 

Scribes were lawyers, focused on interpreting the Law of God from the Scriptures.  Most scribes were in the Pharisee party.    Perhaps comparable to an attorney general. 

Then there is the Sanhedrin.  This is a governing body of ~70 men from the Pharisees, Sadducees, the high priest, and some elders.  Luke calls them, “The council.”   Comparable to the Supreme Court in one way.  This council eventually voted to put Jesus to death.

The Jewish leaders as a whole, with a few exceptions, were proud and arrogant men.  They were not godly.  And they hated Jesus.

Now back to our text. 

Levi, whose other name was Matthew (the author of the Gospel by that name), was a tax collector.  Tax collectors were hated by most Jews.  They collected money for the Roman government, so they were considered traitors to the Jews.  And they were known for their greed, demanding more $ than they should.  They were at the bottom of social classes, except they had lots of money due to their greed and extortion.

But Jesus asks Levi to follow him.  To be his disciple.  This is shocking in itself.

But then Jesus does something more shocking.  He goes to Levi’s house for a great feast.  A huge party.

And not only is Levi there, he invited all his other sinner friends.  A large crowd of them.  Perhaps dozens of them. 

Well, the Pharisees, the religious elite were ticked off.  They asked the disciples, “How could Jesus possibly do this?  What is wrong with him, associating with all these low life?

Jesus, always full of courage and wisdom, replied with this:  “Those who are well need no physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  What does he mean?

Is he saying some are so righteous they don’t need to repent?  Do some not need forgiveness and grace?

No, that is not his point.  His point is that he is going to reach out to the sick and bring healing, but not healing to the body.  That would be amazing enough.   But Jesus came for something greater.   He has come to heal the soul.  [PAUSE]

He has come to call people to repent and find forgiveness, the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed back in Luke 3 to introduce the Messiah, Jesus.

Jesus is the Physician of our Souls.

So Jesus is willing to hang out with the worst sinners of his day.  The kind that the religious elite wouldn’t be caught dead with.  But it’s not simply to show that he’s tolerant and nice.  It’s to heal their souls.  They are spiritually sick.  That’s what sin is.  And these sinners needed someone to heal them.   

Think of a doctor opening a clinic in an underprivileged neighborhood.  The doctor compassionately welcomes anyone and everyone.  Diabetics, cancer patients, people with STDs, even drug addicts.  He is tolerant of anyone who comes.  Come one, come all.  He is tolerant in the sense of all coming to him with all their disease.  But he is not tolerant in the sense of letting them stay sick and dying.  For when the people come to his clinic, he has one goal in mind:  to heal them.  After all, he’s a doctor, isn’t he?  But if the people refuse treatment, what can he do?  If they deny they have cancer or a drug problem, what can he do? 

Think of Jesus in that way.  He welcomes all to come to him.  Anyone.  But he welcomes them to heal them.  To heal their sin.  To forgive.  And graciously to pull them out of a life of sin, which leads only to death.

This is important for us to understand in two different ways.

  1. We can be like the religious elite, the Pharisees.  We disdain all the sinners out there, and we feel unclean when they come too close to us.  That is one extreme
  •  The other extreme is from our modern culture of tolerance.

Tolerance in our day can mean that you accept everyone just as they are, whatever they are like and whatever they are doing, and tell them they’re OK.  To affirm them in all things. 

Jesus has a third way.  The way of a merciful and forgiving God.  Jesus openly welcomes anyone, even the worst lowlife sinners.  But he welcomes them to heal and forgive their souls.  To set them free from the slavery of sin.  To cleanse them so thoroughly that they can be ushered into the presence of a holy God.

This is a shock and a disgrace to the highly religious but self-righteous Pharisees.  This is a powerful, startling moment here.

Vs. 33-39

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?

35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.

37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.

38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.

39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’ ”

In vs. 33, Luke records “they” came to Jesus and asked about fasting.

Who is “they”?  Luke is not clear.  Matthew’s parallel story says that John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus to ask this question.  Mark’s parallel story says simply, “The people came to ask Jesus.”

Regardless of who is asking, it seems to me that it’s a valid question.  Why are Jesus and his disciples not fasting like John’s disciples?

Jesus answered, as he does so often, with metaphors. 

The first is a metaphor of a wedding.  While the bridegroom (representing Jesus) is still there, the bridegroom’s friends don’t fast.  But when the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast. 

Jesus is declaring himself to be the bridegroom.  Jesus is the focus of the story and the reason the disciples aren’t fasting with him.  Jesus’ words, “When the bridegroom is taken away”, this may refer to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

So Jesus is not against fasting. He fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry.  He is merely waiting for the appropriate time, that is, after he is gone from the earth.

The second metaphor or parable is about garments and wineskins.  (Wineskins are containers made of leather to hold wine.)  Everyone knows, Jesus says, that you don’t combine new with old.  It’s destructive.  It doesn’t work.  That’s his point. 

Jesus is the new.  The new is the kingdom of God that he is announcing.

The new is the New Covenant of God.  Jesus mentions this later in Luke 22 when he institutes the breaking of bread. 

For 1400 years, Israel has been under a covenant…a contract… with God.  God gave it to Moses to give to the people of Israel.  But that covenant wasn’t working well because the people kept failing.  They continually rejected God through idolatry and false worship.

So in about 600 B.C. through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised a New Covenant.  A new agreement with people.  And that covenant pointed to Jesus.

Jeremiah 31:31–33 ESV “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.  

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jesus is essentially saying here in Luke 5 that he is the New Way.  And it cannot be combined with the old.  We cannot hybridize the new with the old.

Then in vs. 39, Jesus speaks ironically, I believe.  In the end, many will find Jesus unpalatable and so would not accept him, saying, “I think I’ll stick with the old.”  Their tastes will not change.  And so they reject Jesus. 

Now we turn to Chapter 6.  These next two stories are about the Sabbath. 

Vs. 1-5

1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.

2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”

3 And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:

4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”

5 And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

The OT law did command Israel to rest on the Sabbath, but that did not prohibit preparing food and eating.  So as Jesus and the disciples plucked grain and ate, they were not breaking the Law of Moses.

To make his point, Jesus talks about David from 1 Samuel 21.  David and his men were running for their lives, and they had no food.  So they asked the high priest if he had any food for them.  The only food was the Holy Bread in the tabernacle, which was to be for the priests to eat.  Yet it was not forbidden that someone else eat it, especially in times of need.  David was in need.

The Pharisees were so focused on the letter of the law, especially all their additional manmade rules, that they missed the obvious:  That the Law was designed to bring good, not harm to the people.  They were obsessed with rule-following but had no compassion.

Then Jesus says something fascinating.  And bold.  “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus so far in Luke’s Gospel has revealed himself as an authority

  • in his teaching (Luke 4:32),
  • demons (Luke 4:35 casting them out).
  • over creation (Luke 4:39 healing people) and
  • Now he reveals himself as the authority over the law and its scope.  

Jesus is the one who interprets the law and its scope.  This is an audacious claim.  This would imply that everyone—including the Pharisees and the scribes—were answerable to him. 

And then Luke records another Sabbath-related event in vs. 6: 

Vs. 6-11

6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered.

7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.

8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there.

9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”

10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored.

11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

It was not against the law of Moses to do good on the Sabbath.   But the Pharisees had long lists of manmade laws that they viewed equal to or even surpassing God’s law.  Jesus somehow knew what they were thinking.  That’s fascinating. 

So he asked a very basic yet probing question:  “Does the Law ask us to do good or to do or to do evil on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ call to do good on the Sabbath is a hint of the coming proclamation of the greatest law, the summation of the Law…. the law of love.  (like in  Matthew 22:37-40)

Matthew 22:37–40 ESV  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Law flows out of God’s heart of love.   We– like the Pharisees–can be tempted to make the Law only about the rules.  And we stop there. 

So Jesus asks them if it’s lawful to do good or to do evil.  The answer is obvious.   But they wouldn’t admit he was right. 

Then Luke says (vs. 10) that Jesus looked at them.   Interestingly, Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” Jesus was angry at their stubborn refusal to believe. 

So Jesus healed the man.  He showed mercy to a suffering man on the Sabbath.  A remarkably powerful and kind moment that should have amazed the Pharisees and softened their hearts. 

How did the Pharisees respond?

Were they happy for this man?  Did they have compassion?  No, they were furious at Jesus.  And they began discussing what they should do with him.  “We can’t let him continue with these audacious, evil claims, can we?”

This is a turning point for the religious leaders.  And their anger culminated a year or two later with their murder of Jesus on the cross.

That these Jewish leaders would completely miss the point is remarkable.   A sane man would know the obvious answer to Jesus’ question.

Summary of the passages

Let’s step back and consider what we’ve read.

This section of Luke we’ve read has two main players:

  1. The Pharisees.
  2. Jesus Christ.

The Pharisee’s understanding of the law (and the traditions they raised up around it) were all off base.

This is illustrated through three examples:

  • They criticized Jesus eating with “sinners”, completely missing the point that they themselves were sinners.  They were full of pride and arrogance.  And self-deceived.  They simply didn’t understand that Jesus came to heal souls. 
  • Because of pride and disobedience, the Pharisees missed what was “new.”  They missed what God was doing through Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  God was doing something new, but the Pharisees were in love with the old.
  • They were so focused on the letter of God’s law and the letter of their own non-biblical traditions that they callously missed the law of love.

The men who should have been leading the way to help the people see that Messiah were misleading them. 

But we can’t point to the Pharisees and judge them only.  In the end, virtually no one in those days really understood Jesus.  No one believed.   All abandon him at the cross, even his disciples.  Each one of us would have done the same.

Surely Paul’s words are true, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Yet even though these Jewish leaders are major players in the story of Luke’s Gospel,  the main actor is Jesus (obviously, for Luke’s record here is the Good News of Jesus, not the Bad News of the Pharisees.

And here in these passages this morning: 

  • Jesus reveals his heart to be the Physician of the Soul. 
  • He is the new way, not the old.  He is the King in the Kingdom of God, and he is the centerpiece of the New Covenant. 
  • He compassionately heals out of love. 
  • He has authority not only over creation and demons but even over the Law.

Jesus is remarkable.  Shocking.  There has never been anyone like him.  There never will be anyone. 


That’s our text for this morning. 

So what do we do now?  What is some significance and application for us today from Luke’s message??

  1. Worship Jesus.

We’ve said this multiple weeks, but this is the obvious conclusion.

From every chapter of Luke we read, our increasing response ought to be, “Wow.”  Jesus Christ is amazing. 

He faced the best intellects of his day…the most religious of his day…and he fought not with swords and political sway. 

He fought with his spoken authority and compassion.  With power and kindness. 

He came to associate with the most vile of sinners and heal them. 

Read Luke’s Gospel every day.  As you do, pray for God’s help to read it for understanding and appreciation.  Not to read it out of duty or for entertainment.

Pray for humility, lest we miss the heartbeat of God due to our pride like the Pharisees.

When we see Jesus for who he is, can our response be anything less than worship?  No one has ever loved like Jesus. 

No one has ever spoken like Jesus.  No one has ever brought forgiveness and healing  to our souls like Jesus. 

Worship him. 

A second takeaway from our passage today: 

  • Approach Jesus with confidence.

Personally, when I read about the Pharisees, I can harshly judge them and think, “Wow, how stupid can they be?”

But I am more like the Pharisees than I care to admit.  I have pushed Jesus away in my self-righteousness. .

I have turned away from Jesus when I’ve sinned, and I’m wracked with guilt and shame…when I think, “I did it again.”  When I think, “I can’t undo the hurt I’ve done.”

If we can, with God’s help,  read Luke’s Gospel with a clear mind and pray for humble hearts, we will see our only rational conclusion is to trust him and draw near to him.

For the very reason Jesus came was to heal our souls.  He did not call even the worst sinners to clean themselves up before they came.  He invited them to come to him, and HE would cleanse them.

I think about this verse every week.

Hebrews 4:16 ESV  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus’ grace is so remarkable that instead of moving away from him, we are to move toward him with confidence.

And as we do, he will show mercy and give grace no matter what our need is. 

When the Old Covenant was given to Israel through Moses, the people were told to stay away from the holy mountain lest they die.  The Old Covenant was a covenant of distance.

But the New Covenant is a covenant of nearness.  Though our human tendency is to pull away from Jesus out of guilt and sadness and shame, Jesus beckons us with his incredible love to come to him. 

I love these sweet words from Jesus: 

Matthew 11:28–30 ESV  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

There is no one like Jesus.

May we draw near to him and find grace and mercy.  May we come to him and find rest for our weary, burdened souls. 


As we close here, let me appeal to all of us…To open the Scriptures with humble hearts.  To gaze upon Jesus, and receive him for who he is.  To believe him.  To love him.  To worship him.  The Physician of our Souls who alone can make us whole.