Luke 5:29-39 is full of many hard sayings! Three, I think: first, that Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous (v 32); second, that the disciples of Christ shouldn’t fast until He is gone (v. 35); and third, that you don’t put new wine in old wineskins.
On a sidenote, this passage is exactly the reason why I’m studying through all of this so slowly—so much meatiness but it’s also kind of confusing to just read through quickly. I didn’t find anything as difficult to read quickly as the gospels.
1. Jesus came to call sinners.
Jesus replied to them, “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5:32-32, hcsb]
This is to the Pharisees, and explaining why Jesus hung out with sinners instead of people like them. I keep getting distracted by this “I have not come to call the righteous” part—because either Jesus is tongue-in-cheek meaning the Pharisees (who certainly weren’t righteous) or He means the righteous are already called, and not the ones Jesus is primarily ministering to… or maybe He means a little bit of both. Jesus clearly reached out to those who needed repentance as well as those who were already worshipping Him in truth (and who would, of course, realize that they were sinners, as Paul did, and not ask the Pharisees’ question in the first place).
2. Jesus’s presence brings fullness of joy.
Jesus said to them, “You can’t make the wedding guests fast while the groom is with them, can you? [v 34, hcsb]
This is something I don’t think about much—what a glorious thing it must have been to walk with Christ. These same men would nearly all go on to be flogged, tortured, and martyred, often with their families alongside, but for now—they are in the very presence of the Son of God! Soon enough, there would be mourning and fasting, trouble and tribulation, but in this small handful of years, they could see face to face, talk, walk, ask questions, and revel in His presence. What a gift! This calls to mind 1 Peter 1:8 (HCSB):
You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy,
And now we are sober, vigilant, waiting, 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” Once again there will be feasting in our Savior’s presence, where “there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
On a different note, I really appreciated what Matthew Henry pulled out of this passage. What is fasting? He writes:
He insisted most upon that which is the soul of fasting, the mortification of sin, the crucifying of the flesh, and the living of a life of self-denial, which is as much better than fasting and corporal penances as mercy is better than sacrifice.
3. Jesus’s ministry demands regeneration.
Verses 36-39 are very hard to understand, and in fact, Gill and Henry offer different interpretations (and different still is the one I was taught in childhood), although both underscore the impossibility of meshing an old, law-driven self-righteousness, as of the Pharisees, with a new covenant in Christ. Henry emphasizes the graciousness of Christ in gradually drawing the disciples. Both men take the final verse as a condemnation—that the Pharisees were too busy enjoying their error to desire the truth that Christ brought.
The main point to me here, though, is how gracious God is to not just tip grace into us and burst us at the seams, but to make us new and able to enjoy that grace. Christ came with new wine, and the Spirit took the old skins and made them new. Here again we see the working of the Trinity. And here again we see the difference between the disciples and the Pharisees. It should have been completely obvious why the disciples weren’t fasting, but the Pharisees were too blinded to see it. The disciples, though, were “renewed by the Spirit and grace of God,” as Gill puts it.
And we too—so thankful not only for the new wine of the Gospel, but for the transformation of heart that enables us to perceive and delight in it!