Luke 5: Free Food – God’s Holy Party

Introduction: the Party of Heaven

Who likes parties?[1]
Who likes parties with lots of food? – Even better.
Who likes parties with lots of free food? – Best of all!
Did you ever really want to go to a party like that, but you weren’t invited?
Everybody else went, but you weren’t wanted.
Or have you been to a party, where you don’t know anybody?
They are all talking and laughing with their friends and having a great time.
You are left on the outside, feeling lonely, nobody talks to you.
Have you felt an outsider like that?  Not welcome.  Nobody loves me…
It can hurt, but it is mostly not the end of the world.[2]
But there is one party that you absolutely must not miss out on.
the Old Testament of the Bible describes it:
The Lord will spread a wonderful feast
      for all the people of the world.
   It will be a delicious banquet
      with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat….
He will swallow up death forever.
The Lord will wipe away all tears
Isaiah 25:6-9
A wonderful feast, a delicious banquet.
What’s your favorite food?
Pizza, pavlova, mooncake, kimchi?
It will be there – this party is the best!
Who’s invited?  It’s free, for everyone in God’s family – all the people of the world. 
Wow!  I want to go – when is it?
At the end of time, when God comes to live with his people.
even at the best parties in this life, the time comes when the food runs out, the music stops, and it’s all over.
But this party in heaven will last forever – no more sadness and tears.
no more death!
So how can I be part of God’s family?
How can we get into this everlasting party?
That’s our big question for today.
This is God’s party, and he has expectations about how the guests should behave.
the Bible has lots of commands about how to live – you could call them party rules!
Who was here three weeks ago?
A religious leader asked Jesus:
of all the party rules of the Bible,
what is the big idea, the main thing we have to do?
what is the greatest commandment?
the week after that, Mike talked about the Good Samaritan.
At the start, someone asked Jesus, “what must I do to get eternal life?”  (Luke 10:25).
What must I do to get into the everlasting party of heaven?
In both cases, the answer was the same:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Love your neighbour as yourself.  (Leviticus 19:18)
The party is all about love.

Holiness as Separation From Sin

Today we are going to look at another great command of the Bible, another central party rule.
how do we get into the party of heaven?
We need love, and we also need holiness.
“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2).
“Holy” is a little word with a big lot of meanings.
Today we will explore some of them.
Firstly, holy means separated, or set apart.
separated from normal, common, everyday life, to be special, set apart, given to God.
In the Old Testament, the holiest place was the temple in Jerusalem
the priests who worship God in the temple are holy.
God told the priests. 
“Be holy, for I am holy…
 You are to make a separation between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean”  (Leviticus 10:10, 11:44).
in the New Testament, at the time of Jesus, there was a group of religious leaders, the Pharisees.
the name “pharisee” probably means “separated”,
and they got right into this command.
They tried to stay away from anything or anyone that was spiritually impure or unclean.
Don’t touch!  Don’t even go near!
Or you’ll become unclean yourself.[3]
In the Old Testament, there are lots of rules about what foods are clean and unclean (e.g. Leviticus 11)
the Pharisees followed these rules very carefully,
and wouldn’t eat with anyone who didn’t.[4]
for the Pharisees, holiness means separation from sin, and staying away from sinners – most of all, when you eat.[5]
Remember that as we read.
Luke 5:27-32 (page 785)
27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth.
“Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
 29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum – tax collectors and sinners?”
 31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.
32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”
Levi was a tax collector.
In the time of Jesus, tax collectors were often dishonest, and stole from people
Everybody hated them – maybe like corrupt politicians today.
And of course, they didn’t keep the Bible’s food laws very well.[6]
They were very unclean – you don’t want them at a party.
But here Jesus is, eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners – people who are spiritually dirty.
So the Pharisees complain about Jesus.
Doesn’t he want to be spiritually clean and pure?
The Pharisees really care about holiness, so they stay right away from those sorts of people!
Why doesn’t Jesus?
What do you think?
What’s the real problem here between Jesus and the Pharisees?
Maybe Jesus has a different definition of holiness.[7]

Holiness as Wholeness and Healing

For the Pharisees, holiness is about separation – separation from sin.
And separation from sinners – so people are divided: clean or unclean, holy or sinful.
Remember three weeks ago – the greatest commands.
God is one, whole, undivided,
so he wants our hearts to be whole and undivided in loving him,
And he wants one, whole, undivided family.
So I think Jesus is more into holiness as wholeness.
He is a spiritual doctor (5:31).
He wants to bring wholeness and healing.
Healing to individual sinners, making broken hearts whole again.
And healing the divisions between people, making broken relationships whole again.
What good is a doctor who stays away from sick people?
So Jesus often touched people who were physically and spiritually unclean with different diseases.
He partied with the people that no one else would go near
For the Pharisees, spiritual uncleanness is contagious, it is catching, it spreads easily.
In their thinking, Jesus would catch the disease of sin, and become unclean himself.[8]
But for Jesus, love is stronger than fear.
Life is stronger than death.
His holiness is more contagious, more catching, than sin.
I just read a book about it:
“Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals With Sinners” (Craig L. Blomberg, 2005)
Great title!  When Jesus ate with unclean people, he didn’t catch their sin –
they caught his holiness, and their lives were changed.
Jesus ate meals with all sorts of people:
tax collectors and Pharisees, clean and unclean, rich and poor, men and women.
For Jesus, food brings people together.[9]
In the Gospels, Jesus spent a lot of time eating, and telling stories about eating – especially in Luke.
I even found a book on Amazon, “Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel” (Robert J. Karris, 2006)
And here’s a deeper meaning to Jesus’ meals:
Remember that verse from Isaiah?
The Lord will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world.
Isaiah 25:6[10]
A free party, with the best food!
When Jesus calls people to follow him, he is inviting them to this everlasting party.[11]
when Jesus ate with all different people, he was acting out this verse, like a real-life parable.
when someone who is lost comes back to God,
when a spiritually sick and broken person is made whole and well again,
it’s time for celebration![12]
It’s a sneak preview of the party of heaven.[13]
later in Luke, Jesus said:
People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.  Luke 13:29
Sounds a bit like us here at Global: people from many different countries eating together. [14]
It’s great, but not everyone experiences that freedom and open friendship that Jesus brings.
Some people are still separated by religious holiness rules. 
Three years ago I went to India. 
the Hindu priests in India have similar food rules to the Pharisees.
I met a Christian couple, who told me about their next-door neighbour.
She was a priest’s wife. 
For years, she never touched them or ate with them, because it would make her unclean. 
She had a bad eye disease, and didn’t know what to do.
They took her to a Christian missionary hospital, and a visiting doctor saved her sight.
she was so touched, that she hugged their daughter. 
They were amazed.
­that is Jesus doing the same thing today as 2000 years ago in our reading:
breaking through purity rules that separate people, and bringing healing and wholeness. 
For you, are there any people you wouldn’t want to touch or eat with or be friends with?
How do you think Jesus would treat them?
When it comes to broken, sinful people,
the Pharisees say, “go away!  You’ll make me unclean!” [15]
Jesus says, “Welcome home!  Free food!  Come to me, and I will make you clean!”[16]

Two Sides to the Christian Life

Let’s think a bit more about the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. 
Look at this list of words:
Holiness, Purity.
Righteousness (doing what is right to God).
Discipline, Self-control.
Do you want these words to describe you?
I do.  In the Bible, all of these are things God wants us to be.
Here’s a second list of words:
Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness.
Celebration, Joy.
what about these – who wants to be like that?
Beautiful words, also in the Bible.
Which of those two lists do you think describes the Pharisees more?
Probably the first.
That’s what the Pharisees were best at.
Hard self-discipline.
Holiness as separation from sin
Which list do you think describes Jesus?
The second?  The first? Or both?
The Pharisees were afraid Jesus was only into the second list,
they thought he was soft on sin, and didn’t care about holiness
But they were wrong.[17]
Jesus was absolutely both.
In fact, he was even bigger on the first list of words than the Pharisees:
I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!…
Matthew 5:20 [18]
the Pharisees, the holiness experts themselves, are not good, holy, righteous enough to get into heaven’s party
 – then none of us can make it!
That’s why the first list isn’t enough.
We really need God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness – the things on list two.
The Christian life needs both those lists of words. 
Holiness and love, discipline and freedom, truth and grace.[19]
As they say, we should hate the sin, but love the sinner.[20]
On one hand, separating from sin, rejecting false teaching.
Disciplining ourselves to be pure and holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2).
On the other, drawing close to sinful people – “love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). [21]
Inviting everyone to God’s free party.
That’s the two sides of the Christian life.
Both describe the party of heaven.
Jesus welcomed sinners freely, and he called them to repent, to turn away from sin (5:32). [22]
Doing both of these, keeping the balance between holiness and love, can be difficult.
Many of us will be better at one than the other.
For me, that first list of words is often more natural.
I’m a fairly organised and disciplined person, and sometimes get impatient with people who aren’t.
I grew up in a Christian home, and I haven’t done any big dramatic sins!
So I maybe more tend to be a Pharisee.
which one do you find easier?  Which side is harder?
both hating sin and loving people is not only difficult, it can be painful.
Say I have a close friend, who is doing something really bad
– maybe looking away from his wife to another woman.
If I don’t mind sin, or I don’t care about him, it doesn’t worry me much.
But if I love my friend, and I hate what he is doing,
it tears my heart, it really hurts.
Have you experienced that?
How do you react when a friend falls into bad sin?
Do you reject them?
Do you say it doesn’t matter what they do?
Or do you keep on loving them, while hating their sin and helping them to stop.

Holiness as the Presence of God

That’s the tension between the two sides of holiness we’ve seen so far:
separation from sin to stay spiritually clean
wholeness, healing broken hearts, bringing people together.
The Pharisees were more into the first,
Jesus reminded them about the second.
But there is a third big idea about holiness, maybe even more important.
Holiness describes God and the presence of God.
The closeness of God.
that’s what really makes the party of heaven![23] 
Let’s keep on reading, as the Pharisees keep on complaining. 
 33 One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly,
and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?”
 34 Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not.
35 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Luke 5:33-35
Jesus’ followers were eating and drinking, celebrating like at a wedding party when the bridegroom comes.
That’s interesting – in the Old Testament, God is called the husband or bridegroom of Israel.
Your Creator will be your husband…
God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Isaiah 54:5, 62:5
Here, in Luke, it seems like the bridegroom at this wedding is… Jesus himself.
In Jesus, we meet the holy presence of God.
Before Jesus was even born, the angel said to his mother Mary, “the baby to be born will be holy” (Luke 1:35).
The evil spirit called Jesus, “the holy one of God” (Luke 4:34) [24]
Look at the start of today’s chapter in Luke, when Peter first met Jesus.
Peter fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.”          Luke 5:8
Peter saw something of God’s holiness in Jesus.[25]
He was amazed and afraid (5:9-10)
he saw he was sinful and didn’t deserve to be Jesus’ friend.
Yes, Jesus was perfect – totally separated from sin.
But Jesus is also the doctor and the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34)
so he didn’t say to Peter, “go away”
he said, “come.  Follow me.  I will make you clean and whole”
but did you notice that strange last verse:
Someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast (5:35).
What’s that about?
On the human level, the Pharisees will get more and more angry about Jesus breaking their purity rules.
The time will come, when they do much more than just complain.
Fasting or not eating is a sign of sadness when something bad happens.
Like when somebody dies…
But on the spiritual level, remember our two lists of words.
Holiness, purity, truth, justice…
love, mercy, forgiveness, grace…
if we really hate sin and really love sinners,
if we hunger for holiness and care about people, it can hurt.
God is much, much more holy than I am – he totally hates sin.
He is a God of truth and justice, who has to destroy sin.
On the other hand, God is much much more loving than I am.
He is a God of grace and mercy, who so much wants to forgive.
So when people God loves become unclean, it must hurt him much, much more than it does me.
In a way, God himself is torn between holiness and love,
between separating from sin and healing sinners.[26]
I think that tension, that tearing, is part of what we see on the cross.
Jesus died, ripped apart by love and holiness.
At the same time, something else was also torn in two:
the curtain in the temple.
It was the barrier that separated God’s presence in the holy place from a sinful broken world.
When Jesus died, that separation was over.
God’s holy presence flooded out everywhere, to everyone.
Now God’s contagious holiness is spreading all over the world, bringing wholeness and healing.
As we know, on Easter Sunday, the bridegroom Jesus came back to life.
And one day he will return to marry his bride – all his people.
the party of heaven is a wedding celebration!
 Let us be glad and rejoice,
      and let us give honor to him.
   For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
      and his bride has prepared herself…
God’s home is now among his people!
God himself will live with them.[27]
Revelation 19:7, 21:3
In the meantime, 
are you hungry for holiness?   are you thirsty for love?
are you an outsider – nobody loves you
do you feel spiritually dirty and unclean?
Jesus says, “Come to me.
I will heal you and make you whole
come to the party of heaven – it’s got the best free food!
There’s enough for everyone, no one will miss out[28]
Everyone is welcome
Please come home!”
 “Is anyone thirsty?
      Come and drink—
      even if you have no money!
   Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
      it’s all free!
 Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
      Why pay for food that does you no good?
   Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
      You will enjoy the finest food.
Isaiah 55:1-2 [29]


How would you describe “Holiness”?
Of these words, which is easier for you?
Which do you most need to grow at? 
·    Holiness, purity, truth, discipline, justice – rejecting sin
·    Love, grace, mercy, freedom, forgiveness – accepting sinners
Where do you need to reject sin more?
Who could you welcome more into your life? 
How have you experienced the holy presence of God?

[1] For more on Jesus’ open table fellowship in Mark 2, see my earlier sermon “Is God’s Kingdom a Fortress or a Feast?” at
[2] Some of us spend all our lives trying to get inside, afraid we will be left out in the cold.  CS Lewis wrote a great essay on the topic, “The Inner Ring”.
[3] they would certainly have agreed that, “bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33), and Psalm 1 – don’t associate with the wicked.
[4] In Bible times, eating with someone was a sign of friendship and trust and unity.  Meals marked the divisions between people.  Maybe a bit like when I was teaching English in Korea a few years ago, there was a separate dining table in a separated part of the room for the university academic staff, while the blue-collar workers ate with the students in the mass-dining hall.
[5] Sharing food was a “delicate barometer” of social relationships (Blomberg).  The Pharisees have been called a “table fellowship sect”.
[6] They didn’t tithe their foods rigorously like the Pharisees did, and were sometimes close to Romans – people who weren’t even Jews.
[7] “One might say that the Jesus movement and the Pharisaic movement were both holiness movements, but they disagreed on the proper approach to creating a holy people of God” (Witherington, 2001, 227)
[8] That’s what the Old Testament said.  in the story of the good Samaritan, the priest was likely afraid the man could be dead – a corpse is one of the greatest sources of uncleanness.
[9] An article applying Jesus’ open table fellowship to Christians sharing the Eucharist together: “Table manners: Christ’s lavish hospitality” at  Many of Jesus’ followers, like Peter, were fishermen.  Levi was a tax collector near the Sea of Galilee. It is possible he was collecting tax on fish.  In which case, the others probably knew him, and hated him.  But Jesus brings them together!  Paul put it like this: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28.  No longer kiwi or Australian, Korean or Japanese, Indian or Pakistani – all are one family in Christ Jesus.
[10] in “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey notes an increasing rejection of the Gentiles among some Jews.  The later Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, the Targum, turn Isaiah’s welcome of all nations into a plague on the nations, and by the second century BC, the banquet hall is running with Gentile blood.  The written Law of Moses had five sources of defilement, of which the first is contact with a corpse.  The later oral Law added four more, of which the first was contact with a non-Jew.  See the Letter of Aristeas, 139, 151:
[Moses] fenced us around with impregnable ramparts and walls of iron, that we might not mingle at all with any of the other nations, but remain pure in body and soul, free from all vain imaginations, worshipping the one almighty God of the whole creation…. [Jews have been] distinctly separated from the rest of mankind
In Acts 10-11, Peter and the other Christian leaders in Jerusalem take a lot of convincing that it is okay to go into the house of Gentiles and eat with them.  In Galatians 2, we find Paul condemning Peter for again refusing to eat with Gentiles.  For Paul, this not only breaks the unity of the Church, but insisting on keeping the Jewish law effectively denies that we are made right with God and brought into his family by faith in Christ’s work alone.
[11] the Greek word for “call” in Luke 5:32 is also used for inviting to a banquet – Levi is the literal physical host here, but Jesus is the spiritual host.
[12] "Let one child consent to be dressed in righteousness and begin the journey home and heaven pours the punch, strings the streamers, and throws the confetti." (Just Like Jesus, by Max Lucado, p. 143)  "When a soul is saved, the heart of Jesus becomes the night sky on the Fourth of July, radiant with explosions of cheer." (Ibid, p. 145)
[13] “Wherever Jesus dined, the messianic banquet lay somewhere in the background.”  (Dennis Smith, 2003, 253)
[14] cf Martin Luther King’s goal of the “beloved community”.  Jesus extended the definition of family: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  Mark 3:33-35.  In Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet, the crippled, sick, blind, lame are invited – the outcasts, outsiders, losers of society who were ritually unclean and unable to serve as priests in the temple.  Luke 14:15-24.  Note especially verse 15, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
[15] Here they go again, later in Luke:
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people – even eating with them!               Luke 15:1-2
this time, Jesus replies with three stories.  The most famous is the lost son or the prodigal son.  Most of you probably know the story: the son takes his father’s money and runs away from home.  Then he loses it all, he is starving and hungry – physically and spiritually.  So he comes back home.  His father is so happy that he has a big party, a big feast to celebrate (Luke 15:11-32).  Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10).
[16] it’s been said, there are two ways to live life, as a fortress or a feast; viewing others with hostility or hospitality, exclusion or embrace.  In Ezekiel 44, concentric temple walls are plastered with “no entry” signs; in Ezekiel 34, the Shepherd seeks out the weak.  Closed boundaries or open arms.  Walter Brueggemann highlights two major strands in the Old Testament law (*), sometimes in tension: on one hand, ritual purity and cleanness; on the other, care for the poor and social justice.  Corresponding to Holiness as separation from the unclean, or as wholeness and healing.
[17] They confused “gloom with godliness, jollity with Jesus”.
[18] If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away… You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:20, 30, 48
[19] “Freedom and discipline are indeed handmaidens; without the discipline of genuine love, freedom is invariably nonloving and destructive”, M Scott Peck.
[20] To put it another way, Jesus said Christians should be, in the world, but not of the world.  (John 17)
[21] Right now I’m reading a Jewish book about ethics – how we should live our lives.  It’s called “A Code of Jewish Ethics” by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, and has two parts.  Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, see,
[22] “Holiness is an arch that rests on spirituality and ethics as its two pillars, and crashes down the moment either pillar crumbles” (JI Packer, A Passion for Holiness, page 92).  For Richard Burridge (“Imitating Jesus: an inclusive approach to New Testament ethics “, 2007), Jesus’ ministry was characterised by an all-demanding ethical standard, and an-all embracing community; the twin commands “be perfect as God is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and “be merciful as God is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  One Christian Speaker I heard said we should be both hardheaded with tough skins and softhearted with tender hands.
[23] the Pharisees  tried to live all of their lives, whereever they were, by the same standards of Holiness as priests in the temple.  they wanted to bring the Holiness of the temple, the presence of God, out into all of Israel.  The common meal table was to be as holy as the altar in the temple. “Now if you obey me fully… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  Exodus 19:5-6 (cf 1 Peter 1:15-16, 2:9).  In fact, that is exactly what God wanted. the Pharisees had the right goal, but went about it in the wrong way.  They couldn’t see that Jesus was doing what they were trying to do.  In the temple was God’s Holy Spirit, the presence of God. On the day of Pentecost, God’s holy spirit was poured out on all peoples, Later in the New Testament, Paul said to Christians, your body is the temple of the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). And all together, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
[24] The prophet Isaiah often called God, “the holy one of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14).
[25] A bit like how the prophet Isaiah who spoke these words, once had a vision of God in his temple.  (Isaiah 6).  the angels were flying around, crying out, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord” and when he saw God’s Holiness and purity, experienced God’s presence, Isaiah realised how sinful and unclean he himself was. “I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5)
[26] “God is both kind and severe” (Romans 11:22)
[27] see Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25-27
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.
Being made holy, or sanctified, means being separated from sin, and set apart to God.  In a Jewish marriage ceremony, the bridegroom says to the bride, “you are sanctified to me by this ring” – separated from all others, set apart, and dedicated to each other alone.
[28] this is the host who turned water into wine at a wedding banquet (John 2), and fed 5000 in the wilderness with 12 baskets of food left over (Mark 6:43)!
[29] Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20.  Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.  Revelation 22:17