IN THE PREVIOUS chapter we saw the Lord Jesus coming forth in the power of the Spirit to announce the grace of God, and being confronted at once with man's rejection. We saw that nevertheless He pursued His way of grace unmoved by it. This chapter now presents us with a series of lovely pictures, illustrating what grace accomplishes in the case of those who receive it. Four men come before us-Peter, the leper, the paralytic, Levi-and a different feature marks each. They follow one another in an order which is moral, if not strictly chronological.
Both Matthew and Mark tell us how the Lord called the four fishermen to be His followers, but only Luke informs us as to the miraculous draught of fishes, which made so profound an impression upon Peter. The Lord had used his boat and would not be his debtor, but grace it was that poured so abundant a recompense back upon him. It was made the more striking by the fact that they had just been spending a laborious and wholly fruitless night. Now there was not merely abundance but super-abundance. Where futile labour had abounded, there rich results did much more abound. The only breakdown was in connection with their ability to conserve what grace gave.
Peter's boat went out twice into the lake, once by night, when fish might be expected, once by day when they would not be. The place was the same on both occasions, so were the men, and so was their equipment. What made the difference? One thing, and one thing only. Christ had stepped into the boat. Peter had his eyes opened to see this fact, and it evidently made the Saviour shine before him in a light that was Divine. Finding himself in the presence of God, even though it was God present in the fulness of grace, wrought in Peter's heart conviction of his own sinfulness.
Now this is the first thing that grace brings with it-conviction of sin. It produces it in deeper measure than ever did the law, and it attracts while producing it. Herein lies the wonderful contrast. The law of Moses, when given at Sinai, wrought conviction of unfitness on the part of the people, but it repelled them and sent them afar off from the burning mountain. Grace in the person of Jesus so convicted Peter that he confessed himself to be full of sin, and yet casting himself at Jesus' knees, he got as near to the Saviour as ever he could.
The next incident, fittingly enough, is about a man, not exactly full of sin, but full of leprosy, which is a type of sin. So full of leprosy was he that he felt himself to be too repulsive an object to count with confidence upon the kindness of Jesus. He was confident of His power but rather dubious as to His grace. So he approached with the words, "If Thou wilt . . ." revealing himself to be wholly filled with leprosy and partly filled with doubt. The grace of the Lord instantly rose to its full height. All power was in His word, yet He put forth His hand and touched him, as if to wipe out of his mind for ever the last lingering doubt and set him perfectly at ease.
Now here we see that grace brings cleansing, a cleansing which the law did not bring though it made provision for the recognition by the priests of any cleansing which should be at any time effected by the power of God. Here was the power of God at work in the fulness of grace, and it was a lovely sight indeed! We do not wonder that great crowds came together to hear and be healed, as verse 15 records.
Do not miss verse 16. Jesus has taken the place of Man in dependence upon God, acting by the power of the Spirit. Grace has been freely flowing from Him, and He takes time for communion in prayer, withdrawn from the haunts of men, before further coming into contact with human need.
Next comes the case of the man smitten by paralysis and reduced to a state of utter helplessness. Nothing is said as to his faith, though striking and energetic faith was displayed by the men who brought him, and the Lord abundantly answered it. The Pharisees and doctors of the law, who were present, fill in a kind of dark background to the picture. They had plenty of needs and the power of the Lord was present to heal them, since grace brings its ample supplies freely and for all. They were present however to give and not to receive. What they gave was criticism, and it proved to be wrong! They flung out their criticisms and missed the blessing.
The man got the blessing-power was conferred upon him. This was just what he needed. The man full of sin not only needs cleansing from his sin but also power over his sin, and he needs that power in connection with forgiveness. Evidently in the case of this man his paralysis was the result of his sin, and the Lord dealt with the root of the trouble before addressing Himself to the fruit. This is the way that grace ever takes, for there is never anything superficial about its methods. The criticising Pharisees could no more deliver the man's body from the grip of paralysis than they could deliver his soul from the guilt of his sins. Jesus could do both: and He proved His power to accomplish the wonder of forgiveness, which was outside human observation, by performing the wonder of healing right before their eyes.
The Pharisees were quite right in believing that no one save God can forgive. But when they heard Him give absolution they denounced Him as a blasphemer. We deduce from it that He is God. We each have to face this crisp and clear-cut alternative, and happy for us it is if we have made the right decision. The healing the man received was given in God-like fashion. He rose up a strong man, able to shoulder his couch at once and march off to his house. He did so glorifying God, and the beholders were moved in the same way. Grace, when displayed, does lead to the glory of God.
In the fourth place Levi comes upon the scene, and he illustrates the fact that grace supplies an Object for the heart. When Jesus called him he was occupied in the pleasant task of receiving money. His mind and heart was instantly diverted from his money and he began to follow the Lord, with the result that we next see him reversing the process, and dispersing by giving to the poor according to Psalm 112: 9. Levi invited a great company of publicans and others to his feast, showing how at once his thoughts had been brought into concert with his newly found Lord, and that he had caught the spirit of grace. Yet Christ was the real Object of the feast, for it says "Levi made Him a great feast in his own house." The Pharisees were entirely out of sympathy with this spirit of grace, but their objections only served to bring forth the great saying, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
All that we have been saying might be summarized in this:-Grace produces conviction of sin, and then works cleansing from sin. Then it confers power, and also conforms the recipient to the likeness of the One in whom it is expressed. Christ becoming Levi's Object, we can see how he began to catch the spirit of his Master.
From verse 33, and onwards into chapter 6, another thing begins to emerge pretty clearly; and that is that grace conducts out of bondage and into liberty. The Pharisees disliked grace and were very strong as to the fastings and prayers and other ceremonies prescribed by the law. The law generates bondage and grace brings liberty: this is taught very fully in the Epistle to the Galatians. The full truth expounded there could not be made known until the death and resurrection of Christ were accomplished and the Spirit had been given, still here we find the Lord beginning to speak of the things so soon to shine forth clearly. He uses parabolic or illustrative language, but His meaning is clear. Being the true Messiah, He was the "Bridegroom," and His presence with His disciples forbade their being under these restrictions.
Then, further, He was introducing that which was new. In Him the grace of God was beginning to shine out, and like a piece of new cloth it could not be treated as a patch to be put on the old garment of the law. The new will impose such a strain upon the old fabric that it will tear, and also there will be no suitability between the new and the old. They will prove to be wholly incongruous.
Again, changing the figure, grace with its expansiveness may be likened to the action of new wine; whereas the forms and ordinances of the law are marked by the rigidity of old bottles. If the attempt is made to confine the one within the other, disaster is certain. New vessels must be found capable of containing the new power.
In this striking way did the Lord indicate that the grace of God, which had arrived in Himself, would create its own new conditions, and that the "carnal ordinances" instituted in Israel under the law were only "imposed on them until the time of reformation" (Heb. 9: 10). But at the same time He indicated that men naturally prefer law to grace-the old wine suits them better than the new. One great reason for this is that by the very fact of giving the law to men it is supposed that they may be capable of keeping it; whereas grace is proffered upon the assured basis that man is a hopelessly lost creature.
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