Skip to main content

The Gospel of Luke, chapters 8 & 9 - The Power of Jesus, the Word

Luke 8:4-9:20

Introduction

Luke, like a master story-teller or persuasive lawyer, is building his case.  He is guiding us into an essential and life-changing discovery.  There is something about this man from Nazareth.  There is something profoundly beautiful and good and powerful in Jesus.

In fact, all that Luke has been telling us through the first eight chapters of his gospel will come to a head in chapter 9.  There Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, will declare what we’ve been waiting to hear:  Jesus is “The Messiah of God.”  Jesus is the One.

Luke 8:4-9:20 steadily shows us why Jesus is deserving of this title.  We have a continuation of Jesus living out powerful demonstrations of his role as prophet.  But, it goes beyond that.  Luke is – piece by piece – building a picture of Jesus’ truest identity as Lord.

It begins with Luke linking Jesus’ actions with his words.  In fact, it is more than that.  Like John, the other gospel writer, Luke begins showing us how Jesus is The Word.  Throughout the Bible, we know that the clearest path to God is through the words of God.  What God says matters.  What God speaks defines and orders life.  What God commands is what leads to true peace and right living.  If we want to draw near to God, we only have to hear what God is saying and to give our full heart and mind and attention to God's ... words ... to us.

Jesus, so Luke is telling us here, is the new and full embodiment of God’s Word.  If we listen to Jesus, we will find our way to God, and God’s life and love and power and healing will find its way into our life.  It will even spill into the life of others. 

Therefore, Luke 8:4-21 contain three stories about the power and importance of taking Jesus’ words to heart.  The Word of God transforms our lives and brings us into the “light” (Lk. 8:17).  And Jesus’ true family is defined not by blood-lines or association, but by our ability to hear and obey God’s Word (Lk. 8:21).

Next, Luke begins to show us the power present in Jesus as The Word.  He gives us four demonstrations of the power at work in Jesus:  the calming of a storm, the healing of a demoniac, the healing of a woman with a long-term illness, and the raising of a dead girl (Lk. 8:23-56). 

We are meant to see that this Word can unleash healing for those places in our lives that we feel are unmanageable or beyond hope.  We are meant to see that this Word has the ability to squelch the storms that invariably pop up in our lives and to deal with the sicknesses and struggles that seem to invade us in multiples.

We are menat to see clearly:  Staying close to Jesus and leaning into his words transforms us.

This good news isn’t just meant for us, though.  Luke goes on beginning in chapter 9 by reminding us of our call as disciples.  Discipleship means striving to stay close to Jesus and his ways.  Doing so not only transforms us.  It leads to us being missionary disciples who impact and transform and heal the lives of others who are also open to God’s Word (Lk. 9:1-6).  But, also takes willingness to receive the Word.  It is not automatic.  Some resist.  More than that, some like Herod, openly seek to punish and persecute the life-giving, truth-telling Word of God.  They are bent on suppressing the Word, driving the disciples out into the wilderness and into lives that must find new alternatives to overcome the powers of this world.  Jesus, though, will not leave us abandoned.  He will always be with us, especially when we get spit out by the world or marginalized.  He will feed us in the desert, just as his Heavenly Father took care of the Israelites in their wilderness years.  Again, what is most important is not our circumstances.  It is staying close to Jesus.  It is clinging to Jesus during the storms and pleading to him when we are hungry.  He sees our needs.  He will provide.  

As disciples, we are called and commissioned to take up the task of feeding the hungry (Lk. 9:10-17).

All of this leads to Peter's confession.  There is no other name in heaven or on earth like the name of Jesus.  He alone is worthy of our confession:  He is the Messiah of God.

The Power of The Word

The Parable of the Sower

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you,but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’[a]
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Jesus speaks to us where we are.  He speaks in a language we can understand.  So, we shouldn’t be surprised to find him speaking to his followers about things they would have known almost since birth.  As farmers and men and women who tended to the land, Jesus’ followers would have known a lot about seeds and finding the right soil. 

His point here is that there is one thing alone that can reveal to us God’s will for our lives:  God’s Word.  Life’s truth, meaning and purpose isn’t found in a list of many things that we can try out and scroll through - like a bunch of post feeds on Facebook.  Life’s deepest truth is crystalized in the Kingdom of God, and God makes His Kingdom known through his words.  That word is like a seed that longs to be planted in our hearts.  God longs to share this message with everyone.  Thus, the prodigious way “the sower” spreads the seed.  It falls all over the place.  The question is not about God’s love.  God desires to bestow grace upon all. 

The question is about our receptivity to God’s truthful love and loving truth.  The seed so often gets choked out and trampled.  Sometimes it’s the unhealthy and destructive forces aiming to undermine God’s mission in the world.  Sometimes it dies before it can really take hold within us because we get too attached to only that which is exciting or new or tantalizing.  We crave style over substance, like children who end up fixated on sweets and snacks rather than truly life-giving food.  Or, in perhaps the most stinging critique, we let the trials, temptations, and snares of this world choke out the life of this Word.  We trade the living Word for a fixation on the death-dealing matters of money, provisions and security.

However, there is one other option.  We can seek to cherish and nurture and develop Jesus’ life-giving words within our hearts and lives.  God will give us the gift, but Jesus is looking for those who will take the time to feed and nurture these living words.  Like my wife does every early spring, he is looking for those who will tend to this seed – paying careful attention early in the morning to water it, making sure it doesn’t get too hot or too cold during the day, making sure it is brought in from the elements at night.  Likewise, a love for God’s Word must be developed and protected.  If it’s going to matter to us, it’s got to matter to us.  We must make time daily and weekly to read, love, and cherish God’s Word.

Application:  Are you taking intentional time in your life to nurture and cherish God’s Word?  How can you say that you love God without longing to hear what He has to say to you?

A Lamp Under a Jar

16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”

Jesus also pictures his words in another way.  His teaching is light.  It gives direction.  It reveals and points the way.  Like a lighthouse, Jesus’ words and teachings are meant to keep us from shipwrecking and to point out the harbor we are seeking.

The True Kindred of Jesus

19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
Following Jesus doesn’t come down to whether or not we’re part of the right family or denomination or religion or even if we are going to church.  It comes down to whether we are willing to listen to God’s Word and God’s truth.  It comes down to actively obeying and putting into practice those things God commands and longs for us.  Are we praying?  Are we loving others?  Are we living lives of humble simplicity and generosity?  These are the characteristics of those in Jesus’ family.

Demonstrations of the Word’s Power

If we are going to really hold to Jesus’ Words, if we are going to keep coming back to reading our Bibles, if we are going to want to spend time with God in prayer, we must know and believe that God cares for us and can help us in our times of need.  This is why Luke gives us four stories of just how life-giving and life-altering Jesus, as the Word, can be.

Jesus Calms a Storm

22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Life has this funny habit of giving us storms.  Sometimes the storms are literal.  The recent tornadoes near Kokomo, Indiana remind us that we’re just one storm system away from our lives being seriously altered, and our peace of mind taken from us.  Sometimes, the storms are figurative, but no less destructive.  A diagnosis reaps havoc in our life or family.  A financial blow leaves our bank account faltering, and we find it hard to sleep at night.  We are guaranteed to go through these storms.  Perhaps this is why Luke chooses to begin his portrayal of Jesus’ power here at this moment of crisis on the water.  Will Jesus respond?  Will he be able to calm their storm?  Can he deal with our storms?  He can and he does!  Not surprisingly, it is Jesus’ words that stop the storm.  Luke is making it clear.  What Jesus says holds power.  If the waves and seas obey his command, shouldn’t we?  Where is our faith?

Jesus Heals a Gerasene Demoniac

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,[b] which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them,because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
When we come to these stories in the gospels of healing, especially in regards to demonic possession, the evil one can drive us into endless discussions about splitting hairs and getting into "science vs. spirituality" debates.  Let us be aware not to get caught up in this storm of controversy and endless point-making!  The point of this story is that there are things in our lives that move in to steal our peace, our security, our faith.  Anxiety and depression are significant factors in our culture, and there are many around us who struggle with the reality of mental illness.  Some of us suffer these demons.  We don’t know precisely how or why our human psyche can be disturbed, but if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, we know that many of us have either personally felt some of what this poor man experienced, or we have known those close to us who have.  Whether we call it mental illness or demonic possession, we know that the effects are so damaging.  That which is aligned against God (and I’m of the belief that mental illness is precisely this) leads to internal feelings of division, of doubt, of even longing for death over life.  Mental illness and being possessed by ungodly things lead us to a place of deep enslavement.  It is precisely like living in chains.  Drugs and addiction issues force many into such a place these days.  They are filled with many troubles that wreak havoc on their souls and cause their families deep pain.  The families have to watch as their children and loved ones are driven further out into isolation and personal deprivation.  The afflicted are overtaken with a whirlwind of feelings, everything from rage against others to self-injury.  It is a wicked spiral. 

The power at work in Jesus, though, has power to confront and overcome these death-dealing forces.  There is hope in his name.  There is light that can begin to drive out the darkness.  His is a singular voice of authority and love that can begin to drown out the “legion” of voices that conspire and work against God’s desire for a whole life for us.

This is the second demonstration of God’s powerful Word at work.  It can restore human beings caught up in the downward spirals of emotional distress, of addiction, of mental illness.  Let us pray Jesus’ life-giving Word would break through to those who most need to be set free and released from their demons!  Let us also give thanks and pray for the pastors, counselors and other mental-health providers who seek to be like Jesus in bringing others out of a bondage to darkness and into new, restored life!

A Girl Restored to Life & a Woman Healed

40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,[c]but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”
50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her.“Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
This final story about Jesus’ power to heal gives us two distinct experiences of pain, both very real, although very different.  The first story of pain is a dramatic and very sudden accident or illness.  Jarius’s daughter is a sick child.  Nothing is worse than this.  Our hearts go out to family’s where a young life is on a death bed.  Such tragedies cause huge pangs of fear, of sorrow, of pleading.  As we will see with Jarius’s daughter, the worst will happen.  This girl will die.  Her life will come to an end much too quickly. 

Is there anything harder than this?  What do we say when a child dies?  It seems so hopeless and awful.  For our grandparents, we can minimize the pain by assuring ourselves that they’ve had a full life.  Even for those who die in mid-age, we at least can take some solace that they’ve been able to have partially the life God longed for them to have.  But, with children, it is crushing. 

Jarius’s story and experience is Luke’s way of reminding us that some of life’s hardest struggles are with the unexpected moments of tragedy.  Whether it be 9/11 or a personal family crisis, these trials rip our world apart, and – often – they can tear families apart. 

By healing Jarius’s daughter – again with his words! – Jesus is showing us his ability to overcome even the worst tragedies this world can through at us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.  Nothing in this life, including the worst tragedies.

Then there is the woman with the hemorrhage for 12 years.  This story gives us another experience of pain.  This one can be just as harsh, although we carry it and experience it in a different way.  This woman has been dealing with a personal place of pain for twelve years.  It isn’t something that is a public matter.  It isn’t something that a community can rally around like when parents lose a child to a tragic event.  It is something that she must carry on her own.  Some of the pain we must carry in life is like this.  We must suffer it alone, either because it seems too shameful to tell it to others, or – perhaps – because it’s a medical condition that is hard to define or diagnosis.  Some of you are beginning to walk this road with diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimers.  It’s an illness to be endured.  It requires trying as best as you can to move forward, knowing you’re not the same, but wanting nothing else than to be healed. 

Such is this woman here in Luke’s story.  She has done everything to get healing.  She would try anything.  So, here comes Jesus.  She is desperate for help. 

In healing this woman (because she drew near to Jesus the life-giving Word), Luke is giving us one more piece of encouragement.  For those places in our lives that we must carry alone and that we know are broken and in need of healing, Jesus is able to bring healing even there.

None of this means that we get these miracles automatically.  As someone who watched his step-father succumb to the death-dealing ways of cancer, I know that not all ills are healed in this world.  Luke is not trying to say that Jesus will provide physical healing or exorcisms in every situation.  This is why we must lean in with faith.  Faith is holding onto the belief that no matter whether we see physical healing or deliverance in our life or in a loved one's life, we know that Jesus can and does choose to overcome all of life’s hardships, illnesses, and trials with his redemptive love.  We may have to wait until the time when Jesus comes in full with his kingdom, but it will happen.  When we lean in with love and faith towards Jesus, when we keep trying to “touch him”, Jesus will heal us.

Missionary Disciples:  Going Out with the Power of the Word

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.
Our lives as disciples don’t stop the moment we are healed.  No.  Let us take our most recent community celebration:  Caroline Grace Gooch's baptism.  This wasn't the last step for her.  This is just the beginning!  

The power of Jesus’ Word in our lives is meant to raise us up to new life SO THAT we will go out into our world and release this powerful, healing, life-altering Word into others. 

This is what we see happen immediately after Jesus proves his power to the disciples.  He sends out the twelve as missionary disciples to be agents of the Word in homes, in towns, and in the world.  We are right back to the Parable of the Seed.  Some receive the disciples’ testimony.  For them, there is hope and healing and a new future.  Others reject it.  They are trapped in their fear and egos.  They are addicted to the status quo.  

Luke then lifts up one of the most obvious examples of a soul trapped in fear and ego.  He brings us back to Herod, the one we’ve already met, the man who is more concerned about trying to act healthy and powerful than he is about getting right with God and finding true health and power in relation to God’s truthful love and loving truth.  He is in just as poor a condition as the man we just met:  the guy possessed by all those demons.  Herod needs to be exorcised of his demons, but we already know he won’t be.

One Final Story, One Dramatic Confession

10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God,and healed those who needed healing.
12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Luke gives us one last story of Jesus’ ability to bring and make life.  Out in the wilderness, Jesus shows that we do not live by earthly bread and daily struggle alone.   We live – most importantly – by the bread of God’s Word.  Jesus speaks and makes bread for 5,000.  Then, to reinforce our identity as missionary disciples, he has his team of apostles distribute this living bread.

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
All of this leads to Peter’s confession, a crystal clear, high point right in the middle of Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus is the One we’ve been looking for our whole life, whether we know it or not! 

There is a power at work in this man.  When we draw close to him, as Augustine says, we rise to new life.  When we harden our hearts, ignore, or try to act like we don’t need his saving help, we languish and die.

Application:  What is one thing you are committed to doing to bring you closer to Jesus?  Also, of the four “trials” we see here in Luke’s Gospel, which one describes something you are facing right now?  Are you going through a storm?  Are you or someone you love struggling with anxiety, mental illness or addiction?  Has your family just suffered a tragic loss?  Or, are you dealing with a personal issue that you long for Jesus to heal?  Spend some time in prayer, inviting Jesus to meet you in this situation, and picture yourself, like the woman with the hemorrhage, seeking to press in and get close to Jesus.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Acts 5:1-11 - Questions for reflection & prayer

This past Sunday we looked at one of the more unsettling stories in the Book of Acts:  the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.  As shared by Luke, this couple sold a piece of land and then proceeded to bring only a portion of the profit to the apostles - laying it at their feet for the good of the community.  However, what appeared to be their grave mistake (pun intended) was their collusion in claiming to have brought all the proceeds to the apostles when - in fact - they were keeping some back for themselves.  Peter announces first to Ananias the Lord's judgment, followed by a similar verdict being handed down to Sapphira a short time later.

Seen by itself, this is a strange story, but it begins to make more sense when we see it as "part of the whole."  The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes right after we hear once again of the community's unity and generosity, including their willingness to share their own goods and resources to take care of one another (ch. 4).  Th…

Acts 6:1-6 - Questions for reflection & prayer

As the Holy Spirit empowers the Christian community, new life emerges and new members are added.  This is a beautiful thing, and it is extremely important to point out that this is God's doing.  God is initiating diversity within the Christian community.  However, this also creates new tensions and new challenges.

Acts 6:1-6 gives us our first glimpse of a tension that will extend all the way to chapter 15, until the leaders of the early Church come up with a way to address the growing differences within the Christian family.  Some feel that they are being left out and that others are getting preferential treatment.  The Hellenized Christians feel they are getting the short end of the stick.

All of this is extremely relevant to thoughts and feelings occurring in our own day and age.  Across the spectrum, a majority of Americans feel like they face some form of discrimination.  But, it also points to an ongoing challenge we all face from time to time, the challenges that arise when…

Life in Greencastle: That Greatest Architect

God's peace to all of you on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.  I hope you are enjoying the warm sunshine.  Perhaps you are even still enjoying one last sunset at the beach.
We stayed fairly close to home this Spring Break, taking two short trips, including one to Turkey Run State Park and the other to Columbus, Indiana.  Anna and I had been longing to go to Columbus for quite some time.  Back in the day, we became friends with Emily and Manish Desai in our small apartment complex in Pasadena, both of whom had recently graduated with degrees in architecture from Cal Poly.  Manish would go on to earn his license in architecture and has designed a number of really beautiful spaces, including private residences but also a church out in the desert for a Native American tribe.  Anna and I have always appreciated Manish and Emily's aesthetic, which is why we knew to take note when they started telling us about Columbus, Indaina a number of years ago.  They didn't know much abo…