[May 10, 2009] Let us first review. Jesus emerges from the wilderness in Luke 4 as the One foretold by Isaiah: the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah and the Coming of God (the Son of God). He announced His coming, and the Jubilee and Liberation that He brings, and then, after settling in Capernaum, He makes His first tour of Galilee, liberating people and calling disciples. At the end of this tour, in chapter 6, He appoints Twelve of His disciples to be apostles. He then gathers all His disciples and pronounces them blessed, giving them instructions on how to be His disciples. This section closes, in chapter 7, with the faith of a Gentile in the Word of Jesus and the raising of a widow’s son, both signs speaking of bigger things than themselves—namely, the church among the Gentiles and the salvation of Israel.
These two miracles also reveal Jesus to be “a great prophet raised up among us” (7:16), evoking images of Elijah and Elisha, the prophets Jesus compared Himself to in 4:25-27. These stories therefore transition Luke’s gospel to the next section, which eventually climaxes in the revelation of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, where a voice from heaven announces that, “This is My Son, the Chosen One” (9:35).
This is the answer to the question that this section continually poses, namely, “Who is this?” In 7:16 the people say, “A great prophet has been raised up among us and God has visited His people!” In 7:19, John asks Jesus, “Are You the Coming One?” In 7:39 a Pharisee questions Himself, “If this Man were a prophet …” In today’s reading the disciples ask, “Who then is this?” (8:25), though the demons seem to know and are terrified that He is “Son of the Most High God” (8:28). In 9:9 King Herod also asks, “Who is this?” Finally, before the Father Himself speaks on the mountain, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answers, “God’s Messiah.”
Several things take place in this section to prepare us for the climax, for Jesus does not come according to anyone’s expectations. For one thing, He comes in power, but not with the power of force to overcome His enemies (for example, to deliver John from prison; compare 6:27, 35). Instead, He comes in compassion to gather and restore the lost and the hopeless, and to bring them forgiveness and the fullness of satisfaction (the feeding of the five thousand).
His power is the power of the Word. We saw this when He healed the centurion’s slave and raised the widow’s son. We see it today in His stilling the storm and freeing the man of his demons. But His is also a Word that we must hear and take to heart. In His discipleship sermon in 6:46 he warned against those who “do not do the things that I say” and in the middle of this section Jesus tells a parable about the Word and warns, “Take heed therefore how you hear” (8:18), and says, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.” The section concludes in 9:35 when the voice from heaven that announced that Jesus is God’ Son, then says, “Hear Him!”
The Son of God comes with compassion, in the power of the Word, to gather and restore the lost, not only among Israel but also among the Gentiles. It is imperative that we listen and take heed.
As I have pointed out before, Luke presents Jesus not only as utterly unique and special (“God’s Messiah”; “My Son, the Chosen One”), but also as our Exemplar and Model. In this section, after having chosen Twelve to be apostles in 6:13, He sends them out to do as He has done and will continue to do (9:1-2). This sending—which is a miniature of the mission of the church in the Acts of the Apostles—is what provokes King Herod to pay attention to Jesus, as in Acts the apostles are brought “before kings and governors for the sake of My name” (Luke 21:12).
The miracle stories in 8:22-56 belong with the sending of the Twelve in 9:1-2. As the sending of the Twelve is a picture of the mission of the church, so also these miracles are signs—enacted parables, if you would—that point in the same direction.
The Motherly Compassion of God
One of the main characteristics of Jesus’ ministry that the church is also called to demonstrate is compassion (see 1:78; 7:13; 10:33; 15:20). Literally this word means to be moved in the inward parts, namely, the belly (the word is used in Acts 1:18 when Judas’ bowels gushed out). It translates the Hebrew word rāham, which is both the word for womb and for compassion (see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 12:12; Deuteronomy 4:31; Job 3:11; 10:18; 38:8; Psalm 22:10; 58:3; 78:38; 86:15; 103:8; 110:3; 116:5; Isaiah 49:15; Jeremiah 1:5; 20:17-18). To have compassion is related to a mother’s womb. It is a mother’s feeling for her children. This is what Jesus feels when He has compassion for the sinful, the lost, and the hopeless.
The Storm on the Lake (Luke 8:22-25)
Jesus begins another journey in 8:22 and He gets in the boat with His disciples to cross to the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee, to what is now Syria. Biblically the sea (usually the Mediterranean) typically symbolizes the Gentile world. The Acts of the Apostles looks out on the Gentile world of the Roman Empire as the world on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and so the journeys of the apostles that Luke relates to us take place by boat. As in the Gospel according to Matthew, the disciples’ journey across the lake is a picture of the church as it launches into the Gentile world to proclaim the Gospel.
In this story, Jesus is in the boat but He is asleep. A windstorm comes and threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples are terrified. The storm does not disturb Jesus, so the disciples awaken Him. He rebukes the wind and the water; there is calm, and He says to the disciples, “Where is your faith?” Apparently, there was never a need for concern.
The church experiences storms, constantly, and sometimes we feel as if we are cast out alone in the world. It seems like Jesus does not care. But Jesus is in the boat with us. He is just not disturbed by the situation the way we are. One kind of storm that assaults the church is persecution. In 21:16-19 Jesus says that, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.” That sounds like a storm. We may even die. But then He continues, “Yet a hair of your head shall by no means perish. In your endurance you will possess your souls.” As long as we endure, even if we have to die, we are fine. Not a hair of our head will perish. Obviously our definition of “not a hair of our head perishing” is different than Jesus’. Yet the meaning is clear. Terrible things may happen, but God is in control and will always protect us in the way that matters. If He protects us in the way that matters, then we have nothing to be afraid of.
Our eye is on the storm, so we are afraid. We forget what matters, and we forget that Jesus is in the boat with us. As long as we are in the same boat with Jesus, we can count on Him to take us under His wing and protect us. It is because we are afraid of what might happen to us without His protection that we give in and cave in. We become cowardly, afraid of what people might do and afraid that we might offend someone or hurt their feelings, and so we make bad decisions. We go along with people when we should not.
Jesus takes care of us. This is an example of His compassion.
Victory over the Demonic (8:26-39)
When Jesus gets to the other side of the lake, a man with a legion of demons comes out to meet Him. Gerasa is a large Gentile city about twenty-two miles inland. They are on the edge of its territory. The man who meets them is terribly insane. He apparently came from the city (verse 39), and because we are told that many demons had entered him, we can assume that his sickness is the result of the idolatry of that place. In Jesus’ time, idolatry characterized the whole Gentile world. Idolatry is a manifestation of the delusion that results from our alienation from God. Our devotion (or investment, or attachment) to our delusions not only alienates us from God, but isolates us from one another. Thus this poor man, because he was lost in his delusions and became terribly deranged, was seized and bound with chains and shackles and kept under watch. He became “inconvenient.” In his raging, he would break free and escape into the wilderness. He is himself, in a way, the manifestation of the Gentile world, and he is utterly, utterly miserable.
The reason he recognizes Jesus as the “Son of the Most High God” when the disciples do not (verses 28, 25) is because the demons within him react to Jesus. Jesus is reality and is completely in touch with reality, and the world of the demonic depends on delusions, so Jesus is very threatening to it. Yet in a fractured sort of way, the insane can sometimes see more clearly than those who live safe and mediocre lives far away from the margins. The psychoanalyst William James explains this in his book Varieties of Religious Experience.
Jesus has compassion on this unhappy man and through His Word frees him so that he becomes sane and sits at the feet of Jesus, the way a disciple would. Jesus can also free us from our delusions and demons; He can heal our mental diseases (which does not mean that we can dispense with experts.) The man who was thus healed became a witness to Jesus in the very city where he had become insane. We also ought to become witnesses of “what great things God has done for us” in our homes and in the Gentile neighborhoods where we live.
The people are disturbed by this healing. They lost money when this man was healed, and that mattered more to them than the poor man’s happiness. In today’s world, we are often more concerned about our profits and economic advantage than about the plight of the poor and of the environment. This is wrong.
The experience that Jesus and the disciples had is similar to Paul’s experience when he was in Philippi, the first city in Europe. A slave there was under the influence of a demon who recognized that Paul and Silas were “slaves of the Most High God, who announce to you a way of salvation” (Acts 16:17; same title for God as Luke 8:28). Paul freed the woman from her demon with the authority of Jesus. This caused a loss of profits from those who took advantage of her and the people in the town threw Paul and Silas into prison, and when they were released, the people begged them to leave town.
The similarity of the two stories shows again that Jesus is a model for the church in the Gentle world. He is in the boat—the church—with us and in the name of Jesus Christ we can undo the works of the devil and free people from the influence of the demonic and bring healing to those who are deranged because of world’s idolatry. We all suffer from the powers of the “age of the world” but Jesus “rescues us out of the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). This is the power of the Gospel which we proclaim. This is His compassion.