Stories with Luke Week 7:

"Religious Opposition"

Pastor Terry Inman



Sandwiched between two references to Jesus withdrawing for solitude and prayer is a series of confrontations with the Religious Opposition.

The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were investigating Jesus claims. Conflict comes from your own camp. Jesus had already been rejected in his hometown. Now adversaries are coming from the religious hierarchy.


In the early seventies at 24 years old we pastored our first congregation in Western Nebraska. I had a college professor say, “If you were raised in California don’t try Pastoring in Kansas”. Maybe I should have listened.


As our church began to quickly grow we got a lot of resistance from other local churches. I didn’t expect it from our own denomination. They called a meeting of the district presbytery to hear complaints. One Pastor said, “He is a hippie and his wife wears mini-skirts”!


My hair was over my collar and Mary’s hems were just above her knee. That wasn’t the real issue. One guy said, “His church is growing because they will let anyone in”. Wow I thought that was what it was all about!


We started a youth outreach in a closed bar. We called it JC Unlimited. That really offended religious spirits. One Pastor called the sheriff and reported that we were pushing drugs. They investigated and the sheriff became a believer. Over time we gained favor even with our antagonists.


Luke concludes today’s story with Jesus’ parable about putting new patches on old clothes and pouring new wine in old wine skins. It doesn’t work. The truth never changes but our approaches must be flexible.  

News was quickly spreading about this teacher-healer in the synagogues and seashores of Galilee. Pharisees, and religious lawyers (scribes) came from the villages of Galilee, greater Judea and even Jerusalem to check out this man claiming to be the Messiah. They had dealt with frauds before. It was their job to keep the faith and the traditions pure.


In the face of opposition, Jesus forgives and then heals a paralytic. Even worse, He recruits a despised tax collector and parties with his sinner friends! This was ground for stoning. It was blasphemous. Only God could forgive sins. Furthermore no righteous Jew would eat with known sinners.


Let read Luke’s story: One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. (Luke 5.17 NIV)


Your first clue that you might me a religious Pharisee is your failure to recognize the power and presence of God! The power to heal was on Jesus. “The people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Luke 6.19 NIV)


He has given us that power. “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues…they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16.17-18 NIV)


Jesus died for our salvation. This includes forgiveness, freedom and emotional and physical healing. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1Pet. 2.24 NIV)


God has given “gifts of healing” to his church. (1 Cor. 12.28 NIV) This is why we make it our practice to pray for healing. “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” (James 5.14-15 NIV)


Apparently some good friends of the paralyzed man believed in Jesus’ power to heal. He affirmed them for their incredible act of faith!


Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. (Luke 5.18-19 NIV)


When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5.20 -21NIV)


Luke mentions two groups of religious authority—The Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The Pharisees were a religious political party. Unfortunately this is what you get when you mix politics and religion.


The teachers of the law were experts on the Mosaic Law. They interpreted and applied it to daily life. Both groups became rigid, imbalanced, and hypocritical. They came up with thousands of laws that they didn’t observe themselves. Sounds like congress!


Jesus had some pretty choice words for them and their duplicity. Here’s a short list: blind guides, fools, white washed tombs, full of decaying bones, snakes and hypocrites! He said they kept the outside of the cup clean but inside they were full of greed and wickedness.


Here they are assembled in one of Jesus teaching sessions. Also present was “the power of the Lord to heal”. God was in the house! I love how the Lord deals with antagonism. He increases his power and people get healed and forgiven! The best way to respond to critics is with healing power.


This is a healing with a message. By forgiving the paralyzed man’s sins, Jesus demonstrates that he is the Messiah. The house was so full of Pharisees and religious lawyers that the man disabled by paralysis had to be lowered into the room from the roof by his friends.


There’s quite a contrast here between the friends and the foes. Moved by the tenacious faith of these friends, Jesus pronounced forgiveness and performed a healing. This man’s paralysis may have been connected to rejection and guilt. Jesus’ forgiveness him frees him and heals him!


The religious critics were “thinking to themselves” this is blasphemy. Only God can forgive sins. Blasphemy was a capital offence punishable by stoning. Jesus knew what they were thinking before they expressed it. The bible sys, “He knew the heart of man”.


Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. ” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Luke 5.22-24 NIV)


So far Luke has presented Jesus’ teaching authority, his healing authority and now his authority to forgive sins. He healed paralysis to show he could offer forgiveness. We can forgive but here we are talking about absolving someone of sinful separation from God. Only God can do this. This is evidence that the “Son of man” is authorized by heaven to forgive!  


The gathered locals got it. “Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Luke 5.25-26 NIV)


The man jumps to his feet in faith and obedience and gives God praise. The crowd is also amazed and praising God. They were in awe. They said, we have seen a (Gr: paradoxa) something unexpected or extraordinary.


This really is a paradox. The scribes and the Pharisees are complaining. The friends, the paralytic and all the people are praising God! This mans friends cared about their buddy. They were convinced they needed to get him to Jesus even if they had to tear the roof off. That’s faith in action.


His forgiveness and healing were unexpected. Healing was one thing, but forgiveness of sins—this is totally a God thing. Healing makes life better forgiveness makes life eternal. Our salvation is the greatest miracle of all!


Healing is not just about relieving pain and discomfort. It is a visible demonstration of the good news. He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
(Luke 9.2 NIV)


Next Jesus encounters Levi a tax collector and invites him to follow. After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5.27-28 NIV)


Now that was controversial enough. But Jesus also attends a party with Levi’s fellow tax collectors. The Pharisees labeled them “sinners”.


Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Luke 5.29-30 NIV)


At first these religious leaders were just thinking to themselves, now they are complaining to Jesus disciples. That’s usually how opposition works. It’s never direct. The bible says “speak the truth to one another in love”.


Jesus mission of mercy as stated in his hometown continues. We have seen his grace to demonized man, a cleansed leper, and a paralytic; and now we see it extended to a tax collector and his sinner friends.


Jesus answer to his objectors is consistent with his stated mission. “Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5.31-32 NIV)


Jesus quotes a proverb, making it clear he is not called to those who already considered themselves righteous but to repentant sinners. The religious authorities didn’t consider them selves “sinners” needing repentance. But the bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23 NIV)


From feasting with sinners to the practice of fasting, the religious leaders keep up their criticism. They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”


Pharisees fasted twice a week. It was more out of religious performance.


Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” (Luke 5.33-35 NIV)


Fasting was practiced as an expression of sorrow. When Jesus is present there is joy. Our fasting is not performance but a way of drawing closer.

Jesus who often communicated in parables, let these religious leaders know that Judaism as they knew it was inflexible and not able to stretch and contain the new life that Jesus was bringing to the world.


He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. (Luke 5.36)


Jesus did not come to patch up an old religion. He came with a whole new outfit—one of grace and mercy, not religious duty and performance. He offers a new covenant not an old revised one. Rigid religion was being replaced by something new and effervescent! His teaching, and his miracles would pop the cork off the old bottle of wine.


“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

(Luke 5.37-39 NIV)


Jesus’ last statement simply illustrates human nature. We resist new things because we are so familiar with the old way of doing things.


It is so easy to get hung up on religious tradition no matter how we were raised. People still argue over how to do water baptisms, sprinkling or immersing, how to receive communion, little cups or one cup?


The next time you are out to eat with some friends open the meal by breaking bread together and thanking Jesus for his gift of salvation. That’s Holy Communion. Religion is toxic—Jesus is full of life!


Jesus came to make people well—religion makes people sick! He says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5.31-32 NIV)


Healthy faith is realizing your need for God and humbly repenting and receiving his forgiveness! The power of the Lord is here to heal. What kind of healing do you need?