Jesus’ Ministry and the Help of Women
8:1 Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 8:2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, 8:3 and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.
The Twelve were with him, and also some women – This is the only instance, prior to the crucifixion, where there is mention of a group of women following and supporting Jesus. On the one hand, women are distinguished from the twelve apostles (Lk 6:12-16 lists only men). But, on the other hand, men and women are linked quite closely in the present passage as supporters of Jesus’ mission (according to Edwards, the Gk construction implies, ‘both the twelve who were with him and certain women…’. Names women were present at the crucifixion (Lk 23:49; Matt 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41; John 19:25) and resurrection (Lk 24:1–12; Matt 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; John 20:1–18). According to Mt 27:55 and Mk 15:41 women had followed Jesus from Galilee. In Acts 1:14 women disciples are mentioned in the same breath as the Twelve. In Lk 8:3 the word translated ‘support’ was a technical word for ‘deacon’ (cf. Acts 6:1–7; 1 Cor 12:5).
All of the above testifies ‘that women disciples belonged to the nucleus of Jesus’ ministry and the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. The chief responsibility of the early church was to “be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), and women, as Nolland notes insightfully, constitute the only group to witness all four essential components of the early church’s confession of 1 Cor 15:3–5: the death, burial, empty tomb, and resurrection of Jesus.’ (Edwards)
Ryle observes: ‘It was not a woman who sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. They were not women who forsook the Lord in the garden and fled. It was not a woman who denied Him three times in the high priest’s house. But they were women who wailed and lamented when Jesus was led forth to be crucified. They were women who stood to the last by the cross. And they were women who were first to visit the grave “where the Lord lay.”‘
Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out – As Harper’s Bible Commentary points out, ‘Only popular legend has made her a prostitute by assimilation to the previous story.’ (Lk 7:36-50)
Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager) – ‘One of several women, healed by Jesus, who assisted in maintaining the Lord’s itinerant company. Her husband, Chuza, was a responsible official of Herod Antipas: whether in the household (‘a steward of Herod’s’, NEB) or in government (‘the chancellor’, Moffatt) is uncertain. (Lk 8:1-3) She sought also to share in the last offices to the Lord’s body, and became instead one of those who announced the resurrection to the Twelve. (Lk 24:1-10) Luke’s notes may indicate personal acquaintance with, and possibly indebtedness for information to, these women.’ (NBD)
When we read, in Matthew 14:1f, that Herod consulted his servants about John the Baptist, we may assume that it was this connection that led him to do so. See note on that passage.
Cuza – ‘Godet conjectures that this man may have been the officer whose son Jesus healed (John 4:46ff.). If so, it would explain why Joanna was numbered among Jesus’ followers and allowed to go with him on this tour.’ (Morris)
According to Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) an inclusio is formed by Lk 8:1-3 and Lk 24:6, marking these women out as important eyewitness sources.
Ian Paul notes that ‘mixed male-female groups were not uncommon in first-century Judaism, thus contradicting [the] popular argument that Jesus was a nice egalitarian on the side of women, in contrast to the nasty patriarchal Jewish culture of Jesus’ day—a stereotype in an opposite direction which is equally unhelpful, and which was seriously undermined some years ago by Bernadette Brooten’s study of inscriptional evidence for women as synagogue leaders.’
The Parable of the Sower
8:4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from one town after another, he spoke to them in a parable: 8:5 “A sower went out to sow his seed.
A large crowd was gathering – ‘Let us note, in this expression, a strong indirect evidence of our Lord’s faithfulness and honesty as a public teacher. So far was he from flattering men, and speaking smooth things to procure popularity, that he speaks one of the most heart-searching and conscience-pricking of his parables, when the crowd of hearers was greatest.
‘Faithful ministers should always denounce sin most plainly, when their churches are most full, and their congregations most large. Then is the time to “cry aloud and spare not,” and show people their sins. It is a snare to some ministers, to flatter full congregations and scold thin ones. Such dealing is very unlike that of our Lord.’ (Ryle)
All the gospel accounts agree that this was the first parable spoken by Jesus. Indeed, here begins a phase when the parabolic method became Jesus’ primary means of teaching, Mk 4:33-34. Accordingly, the disciples expressed their surprise and puzzlement over this new form of teaching, Mk 4:10.
It was springtime by the Sea of Galilee. Great numbers came enthusiastically to hear our Lord preach, v4, but would they remain faithful? The seed was being faithfully sown, but what would the harvest bring? We can picture Jesus sitting in the prow of a boat, pointing his hearers to the fields where the green corn shoots a promising a rich harvest. But how much of the seed scattered by the sower would be fruitful?
Our Lord, knowing that many who thronged to him would, sooner or later, neglect, or misunderstand, or reject his message, gives a solemn word of warning in the form of a parable. Cf. Lk 8:18
The elements: the seed (representing the word of God, Lk 8:11); the Sower (representing Christ, Christ, cf v37, and by extension his ministers, 1 Cor 3:9); the soil (representing 4 types of human heart with 4 different responses to the word of God). The main thought: the growth of the seed depends on the quality of the soil. That is, the results of the hearing of the gospel depend upon the condition of the human heart. Not all hearers of the word profit by it.
‘So intent is the farmer on a harvest that he sows in every corner of the field “in hopes that good soil might somewhere be found,” said Justin Martyr in his retelling of the parable over a century later (Dial. Trypho 125.1–2). Even so, rocks, thorns, and adverse elements render three-quarters of the labor lost.’ (Edwards, on Mark)
It should be noted then, that the effectiveness of the gospel does not depend (only) upon the efforts of the preacher, but upon the disposition of the hearers. The pulpit is criticised often; the pew seldom. It is good for ministerial students to be taught how to preach, but also good that our congregations be taught how to hear. The preacher is called to sow the seed of the word indiscriminately, and does not hold sole responsibility for its effects. There is a common call of the gospel to the many, and an effectual call to the few, Mt 22:14. We should be be surprised by a relative lack of success: three types of soil were bad, and only one good, cf Isa 53:1.
And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled on, and the wild birds devoured it. 8:6 Other seed fell on rock, and when it came up, it withered because it had no moisture. 8:7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up with it and choked it. 8:8 But other seed fell on good soil and grew, and it produced a hundred times as much grain.”
1. THE PATHWAY HEARER – THE UNRESPONSIVE HEART
The seed just remained on the surface and was gobbled up by the birds.
This is a picture of the unresponsive heart, in which the word of God takes no hold. The heart has been trampled over by the traffic of many things, and the evil one has no difficulty in snatching the word away before it has any effect on the heart. The hearer sees no importance in the great issues of eternity. He sees neither hisown sinfulness and danger, nor the suitableness of God’s grace offered in Christ.
Hearts may be sin-hardened – especially hardening are those self-sins which freeze the heart over with an impenetrable layer of ice: self-interest, self-advancement, self-esteem. Habitual sin tramps over the heart until it becomes as hard as pavement. Truth has no more chance of taking root there than a seed of corn has of sprouting in the middle of a busy road. Think of Judas: how tenderly the Lord spoke to him on the night of his betrayal; but covetousness and dishonesty had crusted his heart over, and he went out, coldly and callously.
Hearts may also be gospel-hardened – it is possible to sit under the sound of the gospel week after week, becoming more and more impervious to its overtures. In the words of Billy Graham: they have just enough religion to innoculate them against the real thing. For this reason God sounds a warning note in Scripture: ‘today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ The preacher can do much to prevent this happening, but seeking fresh ways of presenting age-old truths. But hearers too can take steps to neutralise this tendency, by thoughtful prayer and preparation before attending the means of grace, by engaging our attention during, and by meditation afterwards.
To be specific, what are the ‘birds’ which can gobble up the seed before it takes root in the heart? (a) Wandering thoughts; (b) Idle chatter; (c) Weariness.
‘It is not enough to sit under the means; woeful experience teacheth us that there are some no sun will tan; they keep their own complexion under the most shining and burning light of the Gospel.’ (William Gurnall)
2. THE ROCKY GROUND HEARER – THE IMPULSIVE HEART
The seed falls on soil which is just an inch or so thick and underneath is a shelf of rock. The seed appears to flourish and to show exceptional growth, but because it cannot put down roots it is scorched and finally killed by the hear of the sun. Note: that energy which was meant to strengthen and ripen the seed, scorched and destroyed it.
This describes those who readily receive the Christian message, and show great enthusiasm at first, but when trouble or temptation arise, they forsake their Christian profession and return to their former lives. They are the superficial and the impulsive hearers of the gospel. They go so far: they hear the gospel; they receive it readily. While some others are still pondering, and wondering, and questioning, these have already made their decision. But there is no root, no staying power: they are attracted by the peace, the joy, and the security which Christ offers; but they do not reckon that faith in Christ also involves self-denial and possibly persecution. So it is a case of ‘easy come, easy go’. Such people fail to count the cost, Lk 14:27-33, and so became too easily discouraged. Examples: 8:19f; 19:16-22; also Judas, 26:14-16; and Demas, 2 Tim 4:10. Christ had ‘fair-weather’ friends who shouted ‘Hosanna!’ and then just few days later, ‘Crucify!’ Think too of the relatively small proportion of those who ‘make a commitment’ at evangelistic rallies, who remain faithful.
In these people, the very hardships which are designed by God to promote Christian growth and fruitfulness, prove to be the undoing of what had appeared to be real signs of life. That which causes constancy in some, causes apostasy in others. See 1 Jn 2:19. The cross of Christ, which is the fragrance of life to some, is the smell of death to others, 2 Cor 2:16.
These hardships are identified as ‘affliction’ and ‘persecution’. Remember: true discipleship – the way of the cross – involves sacrifice and suffering. Fair winds of opportunity are quickly followed by storms of affliction, and we must be able to keep afloat in both.
We are too apt to misjudge others: we prefer the enthusiastic convert to the calm and cautious disciple, cf Mt 20:16.
We should beware of announcing to soon the results of evangelistic activity. ‘It is a serious injury to a person to receive him into the number of the faithful unless there is good reason to believe that he is really regenerate…What mean these despatches from the battle field? “Last night fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification.” I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable.’ (C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner, 2)
People without principles are like ships without ballast: they travel faster at first than those laden with cargo, but soon capsize when the weather turns stormy.
3. THE THORNY GROUND HEARER – THE PREOCCUPIED HEART
Here the seed falls on ground which has been imperfectly weeded: the roots of thorn bushes have still been left in the ground. The thorns grow up with the seed, depriving it of nourishment and preventing it from reaching fruitful maturity.
Here is a partial, incomplete, or half-hearted response to the gospel. The hearer goes just so far in Christian things, but stops short of real fruitfulness. He does not cast off his profession, but the promise of faith is killed off by preoccupation with other things.
The cares could be those of a Martha, whose world does not extend beyond her home; the riches those of a young man, too in love with his money to give it up for Jesus; the ambition that of a Pharisee, more eager for the approval of others than for the approval of the Lord; the pleasures those of any one of us in this hedonistic age: and how can true Christian faith be combined with the fashion frivolity that characterises so much of this world?
Note that these things are like ‘thorns’: they came in with the fall, and are a result of the curse. ‘They are entangling, vexing, scratching’ (Henry); they distract and divert us, they sap our energy. They do not have eternity in them, and the land that produces them will be burned, Heb 6:8; cf 1 Cor 3:11-15.
‘Whatever things pertaining to this life go so near to a man’s heart as to take up the room, time, travel and affections which heavenly things should have, they are but thorns which choke the seed of God’s word.’ (Dickson)
‘Open sin is not the only thing that ruins souls. In the midst of our families, and in the pursuit of our lawful callings, we have need to be on our guard’ (J.C. Ryle).
How many of us need to be delivered from ‘gnawing anxieties and delusary fantasies’? See Pr 30:7-9; Isa 26:3; Mt 6:19-34; 19:23-24; Lk 12:6-6,13-34; 1 Tim 6:6-10; Heb 13:5-6.
The ‘climactic focus…remains on the astonishing impact of those who are faithful. Jesus provides his followers with an important reminder of God’s continued blessings on their work, even as large numbers of people become increasingly hostile to the gospel.’ (Blomberg on Matthew)
The very idea of ‘harvest’ hints at OT imagery about the breaking in of God’s kingdom, Isa 9:3; Ps 126:6. A harvest of a hundredfold would have been regarded as remarkable, and a sure sign of God’s blessing (cf. Gen 26:12).
Edwards notes: ‘The parable of the sower, like the parables of sowing to follow (4:26–29, 30–32), reports astounding results in spite of inauspicious beginnings.’
4. THE GOOD GROUND HEARER – THE RESPONSIVE HEART
Such was Cornelius, Acts 10:23, and the Bereans, Acts 17:11.
According to Calvin, ‘these three gradations are tortured by Jerome in an absurd manner, as if respectively the indicated virgins, widows, and married people.’!
The responsive heart is characterised by:- (Lk 8:15)
(a) Attention: he listens to the word; he refuses to be distracted. How often our Lord and his ministers urge their hearers to ‘listen’, Mk 4:2-3; Lk 19:48; Acts 8:6; 10:33; 13:16; 16:14; Rev 2:7. Attend especially to the Scripture itself as it is read and explained; to those words which speak to your own spiritual condition; and to those things which the preacher declares with special warmth and conviction. Resist especially wandering thoughts and drowsiness.
(b) Retention: there is an inward digestion of what was heard. 1 Thess 5:21 Jas 1:21. As the seed must be able to germinate in the soil, so the word in the heart. Let both the reading and the hearing of the word be followed by thoughtful meditation. This is a neglected duty. Ps 119:97,148. Cf. Deut 4:9 6:6-7 Lk 24:32 Acts 17:11 27:29. Ask the Lord to help you in this, 2 Tim 1:14.
(c) Production. They ‘produce a crop.’ ‘To hear without obeying is to harden the heart.’
See Acts 16:14: ‘One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.’
On spiritual fruit-bearing, see Ps 1:1-3; 92:14; 104:13; Mt 3:10; 7:17-20; 12:33-35; Lk 3:8; Jn 15; Acts 2:38; 16:31; Rom 7:4; Gal 5:22; Eph 5:9; Php 4:17; Col 1:6; Heb 12:11; 13:15; Jas 3:17-18.
Let preachers and congregations remember that it is not the number of hearers which is the important thing (cf. v2), but their response.
Note, every believer is fruitful, although not all in the same degree. Let us all be enrolled in Christ’s school, even though not all in the same class. We are members of his body, though not all equally prominent parts of it. But let us aim for the highest degree of fruitfulness of which we are capable, Jn 15:8.
What sort of soil are you? How has the word of God taken root in your heart?
As he said this, he called out, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”
8:9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 8:10 He said, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that although they see they may not see, and although they hear they may not understand.
Many scholars doubt the authenticity of the verses which follow. Blomberg (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels) summarises the reasons for such doubt: (a) as a skilled teller of parables, Jesus would not need to explain them, just as a skilled comedian does not need to explain his jokes; he would have been especially unlikely to have given a detailed allegorical interpretation, such as we have here; (b) this interpretation, focusing as it does on the different kinds of soil, misses the main point of the parable, which stresses the scale of the harvest from the seed that fell in good soil; (c) the language of the interpretation is unlike the language of Jesus, and more like the language of a Hellenistic church. In response to (a), which Blomberg describes as the most forceful of these objections, it should be stated that rabbinic parables usually ended with explanations, and often with quite detailed allegorisations. Whereas subsequent interpretations of Jesus’ parables have sometimes engaged in allegorisations that would not have been comprehensible to their first hearers, there is nothing in in the interpretation attributed to Jesus of that nature. In fact, Jesus’ interpretation would have been readily understood and appreciated by the people of his own day.
Although initiated into the mystery of God’s Kingdom, they were still slow to understand. If they cannot understand this parable, all the others will remain obscure to them also. The Parable of the Sower is a key to all parables, because it describes the different degrees of receptiveness of the human heart to the word of God, which different degrees it is the general design of the parables to expose.
The quotation is from Isa 6:9. Scarcely any passage in the Old Testament is so frequently quoted in the New Testament as this. It is also found in Mt 8:14-15; Mk 4:2; Jn 12:40; Acts 28:26; Rom 11:8.
“Others” – ‘Mary Ann Tolbert correctly states, “Judging by the varied opinions and continued controversies that mark the study of the parables of Jesus…it is undoubtedly true that most modern parable interpreters fall into the category of the ‘others'”‘ (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral)
8:11 “Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God. 8:12 Those along the path are the ones who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 8:13 Those on the rock 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 a time of testing fall away. 8:14 As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 8:15 But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance.
‘It is naive to say Jesus spoke [parables] so that everyone might more easily grasp the truth, and it is simplistic to say that the sole function of parables to outsiders was to condemn them. If Jesus simply wished to hide the truth from the outsiders, he need never have spoken to them. His concern for mission (Mt 9:35–38; 10:1–10; 28:16–20) excludes that idea. So he must preach without casting his pearls before pigs (Mt 7:6). He does so in parables—i.e., in such a way as to harden and reject those who are hard of heart and to enlighten his disciples. His disciples, it must be remembered, are not just the Twelve but those who were following him (see comment on Mt 5:1–12) and who, it is hoped, go on to do the will of the Father (Mt 12:50) and do not end up blaspheming the Spirit (Mt 12:30–32). Thus the parables spoken to the crowds do not simply convey information, nor mask it, but present the claims of the inaugurated kingdom and so challenge the hearers.’ (Carson, EXBC)
‘Whether the people are meant to correspond to the seed or to the soils is more a problem for us than for Aramaic speakers. Soil sown with seed, as a whole, is in view in each case.’ (Blomberg, on Matthew)
“The seed is the word of God” – And there was never anything wrong with the seed! The outcome depended on the reception given to the seed. So it is with the word of God. There is no deficiency in it; its variable effectiveness depends entirely on the receptiveness of the heart.
“They believe for a while” – ‘Though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgement they do not in any way differ from the elect. (cf Acts 13:48) Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts (Heb 6:4-6) – and Christ, faith for a time; (Lk 8:13) not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption.’ (Calvin, Institutes, I, 555)
Showing the Light
8:16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand so that those who come in can see the light. 8:17 For nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be made known and brought to light. 8:18 So listen carefully, for whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
Jesus’ True Family
8:19 Now Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not get near him because of the crowd. 8:20 So he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 8:21 But he replied to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Mark puts this story before the parables, and ties it to the Beelzebub dispute, an event Luke places later. Luke’s arrangement may well be topical. He has placed it after the parables in order to illustrate how people should respond to the teaching of Jesus.
Jesus’ mother and brothers – Joseph is never mentioned after the nativity narratives, and it is usually assumed that he had died. See also Jn 19:27, where the dying Jesus commends his mother to the care of John.
‘It is almost certain that Joseph was not alive during the ministry of Jesus. There is no direct mention of him, and it is hard to explain otherwise the word to John from the cross (Jn 19:26-27) and the reference to Mary and his brothers seeking Jesus. (Mt 12:46; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19) It is natural to assume that the brothers of Jesus were subsequent children of Joseph and Mary.’ (NBD)
English (BST on Mark) asks why, with her unforgettable experiences, as recorded in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke, demonstrated such little insight into Jesus’ ministry and mission. However (suggests English), once we set aside the church’s presuppositions about Mary, and accept that she was a relatively unschooled Hebrew maiden who had been embraced by God’s grace, then the difficulty diminishes: ‘How could she understand all that was involved? Why should she not have shared the view of those around her about who Jesus was, and be equally upset at the unexpected turn of events, with such crowds and teaching and healings and exorcisms, and the pretentious claims implied—and occasionally blurted out at the height of excitement or controversy—about who he was? How could she have known that he would be in opposition, as it seemed clear he now was, to the religious leaders of the day whom she regarded with deep respect and awe? And if Joseph was now gone, how much more anxious about Jesus she would be. (If only his father had been here!) This attitude, of itself, neither detracts from the authenticity of belief in a virgin birth, nor shows Mary as in any sense unworthy or out of character in her behaviour. Many mothers can no doubt identify with her, if at a lesser level, in the anxiety and disappointment when a son’s life does not go as expected.’
The brothers were Mary’s later children by Joseph, cf. Lk 2:7; Mt 1:25. Joseph himself is never mentioned after the birth narratives; it must be assumed that he had died.
Jesus affirms his kinship with those who hear and do the word of God. His brother James later took this message to heart, Jas 1:22-25.
As English (BST on Mark) remarks, there are no grounds whatsoever here for the practice of some cults in taking children away from their parents. ‘That,’ he says, ‘is unscriptural, since God placed human beings into families, and there is much New Testament teaching on the importance of the family unit. It is also inhuman and contrary to God’s creative purposes.’ But, English adds, ‘it is a warning that even so deep, precious, and basic a relationship as that of human family is superseded by the fellowship of the new family of God, which will continue into eternity.’
Stilling of a Storm
8:22 One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 8:23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. Now a violent windstorm came down on the lake, and the boat started filling up with water, and they were in danger.
The disciples have been taught the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Truths had been unfolded to them that had been hidden not only from the Scribes and Pharisees, but even from the prophets of the OT. But knowledge and understanding are insufficient by themselves: they must be tried and tested in the crucible of life’s challenges and emergencies. This is the difference between academic truth and active truth. Satan does not care how much of the former we have, for it is only the latter which can topple the powers of evil and help to build the kingdom of God.
Here is a notable example of a miracle in the realm of nature. Leon Morris comments: ‘Many who are ready to accept the healing miracles (feeling perhaps that these fit in with our knowledge of functional disorders) find difficulty with the nature miracles and look for other explanations. In the present narrative, for example, they prefer to hold that Jesus calmed the disciples rather than the waves. This kind of approach is completely subjective. If we are to trust our sources Jesus did sometimes perform miracles in the realm of nature. The great miracle is the incarnation. If God became man in Jesus, then we need not boggle over such narratives as this. If he did not, then the question scarcely arises.’
“Let’s go over to the other side of the lake” – The voyage was made at Jesus’ request, so that he could deal with the demonised man on the other side. The disciples could well have thought, when the storm was at its height and Jesus was asleep, “But he got us into this mess!”
Remember that Christ’s service does not exempt us from the storms of life; indeed, it may lead us right into them.
‘If we are true Christians we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven. We must count it no strange thing if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other men. Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way, and glory at the end, -all this our Saviour has promised to give. But he has never promised that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that. By affliction he teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn. By affliction he shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from the world, makes us long for heaven. In the resurrection morning we shall all say, “It is good for me that I was afflicted.”‘ (Ryle)
He fell asleep – As France remarks, the reader might think of Jonah here, who also fell asleep during a storm at sea (Jon 1:4-6). But, adds France, any connection between the two stories is one of contrast, rather than similarity: ‘Jonah is the guilty fugitive and helpless victim, Jesus the one who controls the elements.’
Incidentally, this point provides strong evidence in favour of the truthfulness of the account. Had the story been confected, in order to exhibit Jesus’ divine power, then he would scarcely have been represented as sleeping wearily in the back of the boat.
A squall came down – This description is more precise than those of Mark and Matthew – the Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below the level of the Mediterranean; the wind would rush down from Hermon, through the Jordan Gorge, and onto the sea of Galilee. Matthew Henry comments: ‘Those that put to sea in a calm, yea, and at Christs word, must yet prepare for a storm, and for the utmost peril in that storm.’ And again: ‘Perhaps the devil, who is the prince of the power of the air, and who raiseth winds by the permission of God, had some suspicion, from some words which Christ might let fall, that he was coming over the lake now on purpose to cast that legion of devils out of the poor man on the other side, and therefore poured this storm upon the ship he was in, designing, if possible, to have sunk him and prevented that victory.’
8:24 They came and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are about to die!” So he got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they died down, and it was calm.
The disciples went and woke him – ‘It is comforting to know that an outcry of human distress awakens the one whom a most violent storm cannot awaken.’ (Hendriksen)
“Master, master” – The double vocative is an indication of emotional intensity, cf Lk 5:5; 8:45; 9:33,49; 17:13.
He…rebuked the wind… – A reminder that all of creation is entailed in the curse arising from human sin, and equally that all creation will share eventually in redemption from that sin and its evil effects, Rom 8:20-21.
The expression used here is similar to that used when Jesus was dealing with demons, Lk 4:35,41; 9:42. It has been suggested that Satan was behind this unusually violent storm, seeking to destroy Jesus, or at least to thwart his plans to reach the demonised men at Gadara. ‘Thus Christ showed that, though the devil pretends to be the prince of the power of the air, yet even there he has him in a chain.’ (M. Henry). France, however, notes that ‘the same verb is used of a fever (Lk 4:39). It is the narrator’s vivid way of portraying Jesus’s authority over inanimate forces.’
‘Why did Christ rebuke the elements? The word appears to me the language of one who either sees moral guilt; or who, in his affection, is indignant at something which is hurting those he loves. The elements, in themselves, cannot, of course, do a moral thing. But is it possible that the prince of the power of the air had anything to do with that storm? Was there some latent fiendish malice in that sudden outbreak of nature upon Christ and his Church? But however this may be, there is another aspect in which we ought to see it. We know that to the second Adam there was given just what the first Adam forfeited perfect dominion over all creation. Accordingly, Christ was careful, one after another, to assert and show his supremacy over the whole natural creation over the fishes, as when he made them crowd at his word to a given spot; over the swine; over the fig tree; over the earth, opening at his will; over the seas, unlearning their usual law, and making a pavement for his feet. In this light the present hurricane was like a rebellion, or Christ treated it as such, that he might show his mastership. Hence that royal word, he rebuked them, and hence the instant submission.’ (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
All was calm – What a deafening, stunning silence that must have been! Usually, after a storm has died down, the sea remains rough for some hours. It is part of the miracle that both the wind and the waves were stilled in an instant.
How unpredictable and uncontrollable the weather is, even in our own technological age! But Jesus is the master of the elements just as he is their maker. When we think of all the storms of life, we can know that he who is for us is greater than all those who are against us.
‘A woman said to D.L. Moody, I have found a wonderful promise! and she quoted Ps 56:3, When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
Let me give you a better one, said Moody; and he quoted Isa 12:2, Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.’
8:25 Then he said to them, “Where is your faith?” But they were afraid and amazed, saying to one another, “Who then is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!”
The event leads to two exclamations, one from Jesus, and the other from the disciples.
“Where is your faith?” – France comments that in Luke ‘faith’ is often linked to miraculous power, especially in the expression “Your faith has saved you” (Lk 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). ‘It is not, of course, faith that actually saves, but rather Jesus (or God [see 17:5–6]), in whom that faith is placed. For Luke, faith is not an intellectual conviction so much as practical reliance on supernatural power.’
Note that there is wonderment in Jesus’ words. We wonder at his grace and power; but we give him cause to wonder at our stupidity and lack of faith. All of our problems as Christians stem from these deficiencies on our part, not any lack of ability on his part. Yet our Lord does not threaten to reject them because of their lack of faith; he only offers a gentle and encouraging rebuke. We need to have faith to believe that Jesus is present with us to help us, even when he seems distant and unconcerned about our plight.
Referring to this question, Donald MacLeod says, ‘How pertinent that often is! We can have the beliefs and we can have the convictions and we can quote all the great promises of the Bible and thrill to the sound of the words and yet, when we are struggling away down in the seaweed with Jonah, where is faith? The Lord does not deny its existence or its reality or its availability. But is it being applied in our current situation?’ (A Faith to Live By)
“Who is this?” – A grand, sublime, life-transforming question.
‘Luke leaves the query unanswered here. The reader is to ponder the question, taking into account, perhaps, those psalms that speak of God’s mastery of the elements (see especially Psalm 107:23-31). ‘What Jesus has just done has displayed divine power over the created order.’ (France) But the topic of Jesus’ identity keeps popping up in the Gospel and in Acts.’ (Lk 9:7-9,18-20; 20:41-44; 23:49; Acts 2:30-36; 10:34-43) (IVP Commentary)
One answer to this question, as illustrated by this miracle, is that Jesus is both human and divine. As a man, he was weary, and slept. ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.’ Heb 4:15. But he demonstrates his divinity by his power over the elements of nature. Who but God can command the wind and the waves, and they obey? Ps 89:8-9; 93:3-4; 106:8-9; 107:23-32; Isa 51:9-10.
‘Of course these miracles are audiovisuals of deeper realities. The Gospel of John makes this connection very clear (for example, Jn 6), but the Synoptics show this pictorial dimension as well. The miracles all raise one question. That question cannot be any more clearly stated than it is at the end of this first miracle where Jesus calms the storm: “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”‘ (IVP Commentary)
Edersheim notes that ‘it is characteristic of the History of the Christ…that every deepest manifestation of his Humanity is immediately attended by highest display of his Divinity, and each special display of his Divine Power followed by some marks of his true Humanity.’ (Jesus the Messiah, 276). There is a wonderful unveiling of the two natures of Christ in this narrative. In this respect, it reminds us of the beginning of his earthly life, when the child in the manger is worshipped by angels and men as ‘Maker, and Monarch, and Saviour of all’; and of the end of his earthly life, when the crucified one in his resurrection and ascension is owned by God as Lord and King. Here, it is the weary man, asleep in the back of the boat while the storm rages. He seems unaware, unconcerned, unable to help. And there is the Christ who commands the wind to cease and the waves to be still. We do well to remember this in the storms of life. We feel that Jesus has sent us into a situation in which we are out of our depth, unable to cope. And he himself is unable, or unwilling, to help! But he still has his ancient power. He is still the Ruler of the winds and waves. They only rage with his permission. They always subside at his command.
Jesus is no longer subject to weariness and hunger. But he still is fully human, and able to sympathise with our weaknesses.
(Ray Stedman, adapted)
When tempted to lose faith and to give up, remember that ‘no temptation (test; trial) has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’ 1 Cor 10:13.
He commands – ‘Authority for Jesus is not a matter of a raw exercise of power; rather, it is a natural resource that is put to positive use as he shows compassion to those with all kinds of needs.’ (IVP Commentary)
‘Much that is wrong on earth can be corrected. There are mothers who dry tears, repairment who fix machines, surgeons who remove diseased tissues, counsellors who solve family problems, etc. But it takes deity to change the weather. It is Jesus who commands the elements of the weather, with the result that even the winds and the water obey him!’ (Hendriksen)
Healing of a Demoniac
8:26 So they sailed over to the region of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
Lk 8:26–39 = Mk 5:1–20
The region of the Gerasenes – There is some uncertainty about this location, compounded by the fact that Matthew refers to the Gadarene region, while Luke and Mark refer to the region of the Gerasenes. It could be that two overlapping regions are thus identified, just as a person could be described as living in Norfolk and in East Anglia.
‘The problem of the city’s name is a classical one and goes back at least to Origen’s time. The city of Gerasa lies approximately thirty miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and as one commentator somewhat sarcastically states, “The stampede of the pigs from Gerasa to the Lake would have made them the most energetic herd in history!” (Fitzmyer).’ (Stein, NAC)
The story is also told, with variations, by Matthew and Mark. The former mentions two demoniacs. (Mt 8:28,33)
This story is the 2nd in a series of four demonstrating the power of Jesus. The seriousness of the situation is indicated by the fact that (a) the man was oppressed by multiple demons; (b) he is naked and has been so for a long time; (c) he is homeless, living alone among the tombs.
8:27 As Jesus stepped ashore, a certain man from the town met him who was possessed by demons. For a long time this man had worn no clothes and had not lived in a house, but among the tombs.
A demon-possessed man – the Gk is plural: ‘a man who had demons’.
Matthew Henry remarks that, according to this passage, demons:-
- are very numerous – this man was demonised by a huge number of them
- have an inveterate enmity to man – they had rendered this man naked and homeless
- are very strong and fierce – they gave the man supernatural strength, so that he even broke the chains in which he had been put for his own safety and that of others
- are enraged by our Lord Jesus Christ – they dread him and his power
- are entirely under the power of Christ – he can send them to their own place, whenever he pleases
- delight in doing much mischief – when the see that they must leave the man, they wreak havoc among the pigs
- put a man out of his right mind – and when they are cast out, the man is put back into his right mind, and sits calmly at the feet of Jesus
Lived in the tombs – indicating the man’s isolation, and perhaps his (and the demons’) preoccupation with death.
‘The man appears dehumanized in a number of ways. He is naked, as a beast would be; he does not fit in human society; and he keeps company with the dead, not with the living.’ (Evans, WBC)
8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before him, and shouted with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I beg you, do not torment me!” 8:29 For Jesus had started commanding the evil spirit to come out of the man. (For it had seized him many times, so he would be bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard. But he would break the restraints and be driven by the demon into deserted places.)
One demon speaks for the multitude through the man’s own voice. The fact that the demons are real, and that this is not merely a case of mental disorder mistakenly ascribed to demons is evidenced in this confession. (cf Lk 4:34,41)
“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” – ‘In ancient magic, one could try to gain control over a spirit by naming it. The attempt at magical self-protection is powerless against Jesus.’ (Keener)
Note the irony: in v25, the disciples were asking, “Who is this?” The demons know exactly who Jesus is – and tremble.
“Don’t torture me!” – Mt 8:29 adds, “before the appointed time.”
It is made clear that all human attempts even to restrain the man, let alone to improve his condition, had failed.
‘Note how the very presence of Jesus is already much more effective in restraining the man than all the efforts of his fellow countrymen.’Evans, C. (1998). Vol. 35A: Word Biblical Commentary : Luke 1:1-9:20 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary (409). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
This verse, together with v27, shows the enormous power which Satan and his agents can hold over people. Even though cases of demonisation as extreme as this are probably very rare, the Devil continues to oppose all that a good and true and lovely with superhuman power and undreamed-of hatred and malice.
Had been driven into solitary places – ‘The being driven into the wilderness has its antithesis in Jesus’ later sending the man back to his home.’ (Evans, WBC)
8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. 8:31 And they began to beg him not to order them to depart into the abyss.
“What is your name?” – This is the only occasion in the Gospels on which Jesus converses with demons.
“Legion” – A Roman legion consisted of some 6,000 soldiers. The fact that more than one demon can occupy and enslave a person is also attested in Lk 8:2 11:26.
‘This passage refutes the common error, which has been borrowed by Jews and Christians from the heathens, that every man is attacked by his own particular devil? On the contrary, Scripture plainly declares, that, just as it pleases God, one devil f540 is sometimes sent to punish a whole nation, and at other times many devils are permitted to punish one man: as, on the other hand, one angel sometimes protects a whole nation, and every man has many angels to act as his guardians. There is the greater necessity for keeping diligent watch, lest so great a multitude of enemies should take us by surprise.’ (Calvin)
They begged him – Showing that, mighty as they themselves were, they confessed the supremacy of Christ over them. They could not even inhabit a herd of pigs unless Jesus gave them permission, v32. Let us recall that demons, however malicious and powerful they may be, are held firmly on a leash, can do nothing without permission, and are in any case doomed.
Recognising the person and power of Jesus, the demons are afraid. The Abyss is the abode of the dead in the OT, Ps 107:26; cf Rom 10:7. It would seem to be the same place that is variously referred to as Hades and Gehenna. See also 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; Rev 9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:18; 20:1,3. The demons know that they are defeated and doomed before Christ, but plead that they might not be banished before the due time has come.
Satan and his evil angels, then, are defeated foes. They may strive might and main to thwart the work of Christ, but they shall not succeed. They may rock the boat, but cannot sink it. They may recommend evil to a person, but cannot compel anyone to sin. They may threaten to cause a believer to forsake his faith, but are quite unable to pluck anyone from the hand of the Saviour. Despite all their ploys, Christians remain more than conquerors through him who loved them, Rom 8:37.
8:32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and the demonic spirits begged Jesus to let them go into them. He gave them permission. 8:33 So the demons came out of the man and went into the pigs, and the herd of pigs rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned.
A large herd of pigs – According to Mk 5:13, about 2,000 of them. In order to escape total and final punishment, the demons plead with Jesus to allow them to inhabit the herd of pigs.
The demons begged Jesus to let them to into them – Only Gentiles and non-observant Jews would keep pigs. They would have been regarded as suitable hosts for unclean spirits. Ancient exorcists sometimes found that evil spirits would ask for concessions when they found the pressure to evacuate their host became intolerable. (IVP Bible Background).
He gave them permission – The Evangelist is at pains to point out that everything is under Jesus’ control.
‘The agreement of Jesus to this arrangement has been a puzzle to many…The account certainly does not suggest that this was the only way Jesus could get the demons out of the man. In the situation he is clearly portrayed as a plenipotentiary. The underlying difficulty is that of any theodicy in the face of the fact of continuing evil (cf. Rev 20:3). Schürmann, 486, points to the continuing activity of the demonic during the gentile mission (Acts 13:6–11; 16:16–18; 19:13–16). Luke 11:24–26 presumes that an expelled spirit will still have the possibility of continuing to work mischief. The perspective of our pericope is that though Jesus is actively engaged in rescuing those who have become the victims of the Devil’s minions (cf. 11:5–22), for whatever reason the time is not yet for bringing to ultimate judgment and destruction these forces of evil. Only in an anticipatory way do the demons come up against, in Jesus, the one who means their ultimate demise.’ (Evans, WBC)
‘Jesus’ agreement to the request has troubled modern readers of the text, especially in light of the fate of the animals. In the (Jewish) perspective of the story, the pigs are of no value: to put the demons there is to put them safely out of the way, at least for the moment. Jesus’ agreement to having the demons remain on the loose to work their mischief is more difficult. But continuing evil is a fact, despite all that has been achieved by Jesus, and this was evident in the early missionary endeavors of the church as portrayed in Acts. The demons meet in Jesus the one who means their ultimate demise, but for whatever reason the time for their ultimate judgment and destruction has not yet come.’ (Evans, WBC)
‘All that can disturb or injure us is under the control of the Christian’s Friend. The very inhabitants of hell are bound, and beyond his permission they can never injure us. In spite, then, of all the malice of malignant beings, the friends of Jesus are safe.’ (Barnes)
The relief of the demons is short-lived. The pigs are startled, and rush over the cliff and are drowned. This indicates the destructiveness of the demons: they have caused untold misery in the man, and now lead to the death of a whole herd of pigs.
Some people object to the idea that a herd of animals should be destroyed in this way (to say nothing of the expense to the owners). In reply, it must be remembered that (a) Jesus did not send the demons into the pigs (he merely gave permission); (b) he did not cause the pigs to be destroyed; (c) one person’s life is worth far more than a whole herd of pigs; (d) the miracle no doubt benefitted the whole community, which was freed from the peril and terror of an uncontrollable maniac, and probably from further interference from the demons who had been expelled from him.
‘Various commentators’ concern for the owners’ economic loss may be due to a greater sensitivity for the property of others than the Evangelists had, but it may also reveal a lesser concern for the spiritual issues involved.’ (Stein, NAC)
‘When the devil at first brought man into a miserable state he brought a curse likewise upon the whole creation, and that became subject to enmity.’Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Lk 8:22). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Whatever else was the significance of the demons leaving the man and entering the pigs, it certainly demonstrated most dramatically and decisively the completeness of the deliverance.
The demons had been very powerful, they had kept this man in terrible bondage for a long time. But the power of Jesus is greater. Satan and in evil spirits are defeated foes. They strive to thwart the work of Christ, but they shall not succeed. They may rock the boat, but they cannot sink it. They may recommend evil to a person, but they cannot compel anyone to sin. They may threaten to pluck a believer out of the hand of the Saviour, but his grip remains secure. Powerful as they may be, they are ever subject to Christ. They are held tightly on a leash. They cannot even go and inhabit a herd of pigs without his permission.
Trench says, ‘If this granting of the evil spirits’ request helped in any way the cure of the man, caused them to relax their hold on him more easily, mitigated the paroxysm of their going forth, this would have been motive enough. Or, still more porobably, it may have been necessary for the permanent healing of the mna, that he should have an outward evidence and testimony that the hellish powers which held him in bondage, had quitted their hold.’
Christ, in his mercy, delays the final judgement that would have finally destroyed the demons, cf. Mt 8:29. And again, in his mercy, he allows them them to destroy an entire herd of pigs rather than destroy a single human being.
8:34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside. 8:35 So the people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus. They found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the man who had been demon-possessed had been healed.
And they were afraid – Yet another instance of fear and awe in the face of the miracle-working power of Jesus.
Sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind – Now adopting the posture of a disciple. What a wonderful contrast with abject misery and torment of the same man among the tombs! Here is a picture of the wonderfully complete transformation that Jesus is able to perform in people’s hearts and lives. He can not only set them on a new path, but heal the damaging effects of past evil. This is power indeed, Rom 1:16-17. Few Christians today will have experienced or witnessed quite such a dramatic transformation, yet our own conversion is, in its own way, no less remarkable than this man’s. Like him, we have been brought out of darkness into glorious light; we have been lifted out of the quicksand and placed on a secure rock. Reflect also that ignorance of Christ always entails a degree of irrationality, not to say insanity. Knowledge of Jesus, however, brings the mind to its full senses.
‘If God has possession of us, he preserves to us the government and enjoyment of ourselves; but, if Satan has possession of us, he robs us of both.’ (MHC)
Cured – From Gk. sozo, to save. Similarly used in Mk 5:23. The word is appropriate, for he had not only been rid of his demons, but restored to his right mind and to a state of well being.
8:37 Then all the people of the Gerasenes and the surrounding region asked Jesus to leave them alone, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and left.
All the people asked Jesus to leave them – Mk 5:16 suggests that the economic effect of the loss of the pigs is a factor here. But it is stated here that in addition they were overcome with fear. We are reminded at this point of the difficulty that many people have in letting God’s power and presence get close to them. We might think that the people would have welcomed such a miracle-worker with open arms, but they were too in love with their ordinary lives, and too afraid of change, so they would have nothing to do with the Saviour.
‘It is no uncommon thing for people to desire Jesus to depart from them. Though he is ready to confer on them important favors, yet they hold His favors to be of far less consequence than some unimportant earthly possession. Sinners never love him, and always wish him away from their dwellings.’ (Barnes)
They were overcome with fear – Not with anger, through losing their livelihood,but with fear, through witnessing Christ’s power over the principalities and powers.
‘Apart from a noble and good heart, God’s presence produces only fear. For the believer such fear turns to a holy awe, but to the unbelieving it is only a fearsome dread from which they seek to rid themselves.’ (Stein, NAC)
‘It has been remarked by many commentators, that these Gadarenes are an exact type of the men of this world. They saw the miraculous deliverance of a fellow creature from Satan”s power, and took no interest in it. But they saw the loss of their swine with deep concern. In a word, they cared more for the loss of swine, than the saving of a soul. There are thousands like them. Tell them of the success of missionaries, and the conversion of souls at home or abroad, they hear it with indifference, if not with a sneer. But if you tell them of the loss of property, or a change in the value of money, they are all anxiety and excitement. Truly the generation of the Gadarenes is not yet extinct!’ (Ryle)
8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 8:39 “Return to your home, and declare what God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole town what Jesus had done for him.
But Jesus sent him away – It is remarkable the Jesus granted the request of the demons, but refuses that of this new convert. From this we are reminded that God does not always say, “Yes” to the requests of those he loves, and that refusal in not necessarily a sign of divine disfavour.
“Return home and tell” – Even though Jesus is told to leave, he leaves them with a missionary, one who can testify from his own experience concerning the grace and power of the Saviour. Especially now that Jesus himself was no longer welcome there, it was important that a testimony to God’s work remain. The region was remove from the Jewish crowds, and so there was no risk of misplaced Messianic fervour being inflamed, so Jesus told the man to report everything that had been accomplished. This passage, then, presents us with two related principles: the expulsion of evil and proclamation of good tidings. There are other passages which associate the destruction of the devil’s work with the spread of the gospel: Mt 12:29 Lk 10:17-18 Jn 12:31-32 Acts 26:18.
“How much God has done for you” – We should not miss here the very close relationship between the work of God and the work of Jesus, so that the same miracle can be ascribed to either. This is indicative of a high (if seldom explicit) Christology in the Synoptic Gospels.
In predominantly Jewish areas, Jesus tended to keep his messiahship a secret, because of the danger of it being misunderstood. But this was a largely non-Jewish area, where the danger was that Jesus would be perceived as a magician (note their irrational fear, v37). So here, Jesus makes the man spread the word about what God has done. (IVP Bible Background)
‘While we know that we have to wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in high places, (Eph 6:12) it is heartening to be brought by this story to a fresh realisation that Christ Jesus is the Conqueror of all evil spirits. In the light of his holiness and might they are unable to proceed with their devilish works. And where God still permits them to make assaults upon the faithful, this is only to test and refine us, and he never gives them free play. Ere long an end will be put for ever to their activities, when he comes in power and glory to establish his everlasting and heavenly kingdom upon the new earth.’ (Geldenhuys)
‘Jesus’ mighty works are such that to proclaim them is to proclaim what God has done. “Who is this” (8:25)? He is the Son of God, the Lord of all creation, whether the physical world (wind and waves [8:25; cf. Ps 65:7]) or the spiritual world of demons.’ (Stein, NAC)
‘It is interesting and instructive to remark how differently our Lord addresses different people, and how different are the commands we find him laying upon them according to their characters.
- The young ruler, in Mk 10:21, was commanded to “take up his cross and follow” Christ.
- The leper, mentioned in Mk 1:43, was strictly charged to “say nothing to any man.”
- The man, who was called in Lk 9:19, was not allowed even to go home and bury his father.
- The man before us, on the contrary, was commanded to return home, and show every one what Christ had done for him!
Now how shall we account for this strange diversity? There is one simple”] answer. Our Lord dealt with every case according to what he saw it needed. He knew what was in every man’s heart. He prescribed to every man, like a wise physician, the very course of conduct which his state of soul required.
We should surely learn, from our Lord’s conduct, not to treat all cases of persons needing spiritual advice, in precisely the same way. All, of course, need the same great doctrines, repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and thorough holiness to be pressed upon them. But all ought not to have one precise rule laid down for their particular course of action, and their particular line of duty. We must consider peculiarities of circumstances, characters, and cases, and advise accordingly. Counsel which may be very good for one man, may not be good for another. A parent’s path of duty is one thing, and a child’s is another. A master’s position is one, and a servant’s another. These things are not sufficiently considered. The wise variety of our Lord’s counsels, is a subject which deserves close study.’ (Ryle)
And so this man became the very first missionary to the Gentiles. ‘For Luke this story also prefigured the future mission to the Gentiles. Already in Jesus’ ministry a Gentile was converted, for this took place across the Lake of Galilee among people who raised swine. Even though Luke wanted to maintain his geographical scheme and thus omitted mention of the Decapolis (cf. Mark 5:20), the scene nevertheless foreshadows what we find in Acts. Already in his ministry Jesus had a concern for Gentiles and ministered to their needs (cf. also Luke 7:1–10).’ (Stein, NAC)
Mk 5:20 indicates just how far this man’s missionary activity extended.
The following passages indicate how frequently demon expulsion and missionary activity are linked: Mt 12:18, 29; Lk 10:17f; Jn 12:31f (note context); Acts 26:18.
Restoration and Healing
8:40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, because they were all waiting for him. 8:41 Then a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue, came up. Falling at Jesus’ feet, he pleaded with him to come to his house, 8:42 because he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying.
Background to the next two healing miracles: Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. During the cross there was a violent storm, which he stilled. When they got to the other side, he was met by a severely demonised man, whom he healed. They then returned, and Jesus was welcomed by a large crowd, and he no doubt taught them.
The miracles are flowing so thick and fast at this stage in Jesus’ ministry that there now follows an account of two intertwined healing miracles. The contrast between the two people who asked Jesus for help is notable: one is a named man (Jairus), a wealthy citizen, approaching from the front, asking for help on behalf of his child. The other is an anonymous woman, a lowly person, approaching Jesus from behind, seeking help for herself. Jairus had been blessed with twelve joyful years with his daughter, and now feared he might lose her. The woman had been afflicted with twelve years of misery, from which she now hoped to be relieved. The need of Jairus was open and obvious; that of the woman was hidden. But both came to Jesus, and both received the help they sought. Once lesson arising from this is the essential equality of all before God: none are exempt from the ravages wrought by disease and death; and none are beyond the compassionate help of the Lord.
A man named Jairus – It must have been very hard for him to come to Jesus. By this time the synagogues were virtually closed to Jesus, and the Jewish leaders were turning against him on account of his activities on the Sabbath and his opposition to the Pharisees. For this respected member of the ‘establishment’ to come to an itinerant teacher was a mark both of humility and desperation.
A ruler of the synagogue – whose chief function was the conducting of the service. He determined who would take part in preaching, public prayer or the reading of the Scriptures.
Fell at Jesus’ feet – Though he was a ruler of the synagogue, he acknowledged the greater authority of Jesus. N.B. In all of our troubles we should visit God. Even if he will not change our circumstances to suit us, he will certainly change us to suit our circumstances.
Pleading with him to come to his house – In this respect he was unlike the centurion, who had faith to believe that Jesus could speak the healing word at a distance. But Christ, although he applauds strong faith, does not discourage or reject weak faith, providing it is sincere.
The crowds almost crushed him – This was not the only hindrance Jairus encountered in his attempt to rush Jesus to his daughter before it was too late: there will also be the delay caused by the woman with a haemorrhage. For a while, it would seem that the healing of this woman had cost the father his daughter’s life. This adds more weight and tension to the further delay when Jesus insists on identifying the one who touched him, v45.
There is a difference between the many, who thronged Jesus, and the one, who touched him. ‘Abundance of Christians, as it were, press upon Christ, in hearing his word, receiving the sacraments, and performing the outward part of religion; but few touch him by a lively faith, a true Christian life, the prayer of charity, and the meditation, love and imitation of his mysteries. The numerous assemblies and multitudes of people who fill the churches, and make the crowd at sermons, and yet cease not to go on in their usual course, in following the world and their own passions, throng and press Christ, but do not touch him.’ (Quesnel, Q by Ryle)
A girl of about twelve – She had been a minor until that age. Because of that and her gender she had virtually no social status, in contrast to her respected father.
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds pressed around him. 8:43 Now a woman was there who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years but could not be healed by anyone.
It is interesting that Luke omits the comment, noted by Mark, that the woman had spent all her money in consulting many doctors, Mk 5:26, but to no avail. She would have suffered from chronic anaemia, and would have felt constantly fatigued. Moreover, ‘according to the Jewish ideas of that time the woman was an utter outcast on account of her disease – she was not allowed to take part in any religious proceedings, could not come into the temple, could not touch other persons and had to be separated from her husband.’ (Geldenhuys) She was, in short, a tired, impoverished, despised and lonely woman. She had lost her wealth, her health, and her social standing.
Subject to bleeding for twelve years – Her sickness was reckoned as if she had a menstrual period all month long; it made her continually unclean under the law (Lev 15:19-33) -a social problem on top of the physical one.
We should notice the various obstacles in the way of this woman approaching Jesus: the condition she suffered from made her religiously unclean, Lev 15:19; 25-27; the crowd made her approach to Jesus difficult, even though it seemed to afford her the advantage of remaining anonymous.
She was lost in the crowd: her affliction was such that she was afraid of being noticed. But it is this very anonymity which our Lord later takes up – he makes her identify herself so that she might make a public confession of him.
We have here a picture which is representative of so many people, in so many ages. They are suffering, and are afflicted. They have tried many remedies, but all have failed, sooner or later. Hopelessness sets in. This is true in the physical realm, and it is also true in the spiritual realm.
8:44 She came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and at once the bleeding stopped.
She…touched the edge of his cloak – Jewish men wore blue tassels on their cloaks (cf Num 15:37-40; Deut 22:12. See also Mt 23:5). We can assume that this touch was all she dared do. When the inventor of chloroform, Sir James Simpson, was dying, a friend said to him, you will soon be resting on his bosom. Simpson humbly replied, I don’t know as I can do that, but I think I have hold of the hem of his garment.
‘If she touched anyone or anyone’s clothes, she rendered that person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day. (cf. Lev 15:26-27) She therefore should not have even been in this heavy crowd. Many teachers avoided touching women altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated. Thus this woman could not touch or be touched, was probably now divorced or had never married, and was marginal to the rest of Jewish society.’ (NTBC)
The woman’s bleeding made her ceremonially unclean, so she would have been afraid to approach Jesus openly. However, here faith was strong enough for her to believe that a mere touch of the Master would effect a cure.
We can regard the faith of this woman as weak, and even tinged with superstition. But it is sincere, and – most important of all – it is directed towards the right object, namely the Saviour of the World. Our Lord values faith which is both strong and true, and yet will overlook much if there is a fundamental sincerity of heart.
We ought not to think of healing flowing from Jesus like water from a tap. Her touch did not trigger some automatic current of power. We need to understand Jesus’ question in the next verse as indicating that he did not know who had touched him, but rather that he wished to turn covert faith into open confession.
Still, we can accept that he faith was limited and perhaps even bordered on the superstitious. But she knew that Jesus had healed others and she believed that he could heal her also. So the point is not how much understanding she had, or even how strong her faith was. The point is that she had enough faith to come to Jesus.
8:45 Then Jesus asked, “Who was it who touched me?” When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are surrounding you and pressing against you!” 8:46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I know that power has gone out from me.”
“Who touched me?” – Is this a genuine confession of ignorance, or simply a device to bring out the woman’s hesitant faith?
Bock (Holman Apologetics Commentary), asks, ‘if Jesus is God and God is omniscient, why did Jesus need to ask who touched him? Jesus’ act here was designed to let the woman know he was aware of what took place and to bring out her weak but present faith. His question also had the effect of informing the crowd of what had occurred, setting the context so they could understand the important exchange that followed. So Jesus was not literally seeking information by his question; he was publicizing the woman and her.’
Geldenhuys, similarly: ‘The Saviour knew that she had come to him and had touched his garment. He also knew who she was and that she believed and was healed. For her sake, however, he asks: “Who touched me?”.’
Gill: ‘This he said, not as ignorant of the person that had done it, but in order to discover her to the people, and the cure she had received, as well as her faith.’
Edwards, however, remarks that this is masculine, rather than feminine, in the Greek, indicating that Jesus did not know that it was a woman who touched him. This conclusion is supported, with more or less confidence, by Stein (NAC),
Edwards adds that ‘this is one of the few instances in the Gospels when readers know more than Jesus does.’
We are inclined to think that Jesus really did not know who had touched him. This conclusion is based on the most natural reading of the text. There is no theological objection to it, for just even though we confess Christ as divine, as a man he was subject to psychological limitation as well as to physical weakness.
No doubt she would have liked to have melted back into the crowd, but Jesus would not let her.
‘Two men were walking down 5th Avenue in New York. One said, I hear a cricket. How in the world can you hear a cricket with all this commotion? He explained that he was a naturalist, and trained to hear such things. To prove his point, he reached into his pocket, took out a fifty-cent piece and dropped it on the pavement. 10 people stopped dead.’
“Someone touched me” – ‘Jewish people generally believed that only teachers closest to God had supernatural knowledge. Jesus uses his supernatural knowledge to identify with the woman who had touched him-even though in the eyes of the public this would mean that he had contracted ritual uncleanness.’ (NTBC)
“I know that power has gone out from me” – Gk. dunamis. Cf. Lk 6:19. Note the subversion here: according to the Pharisees, the woman’s touch meant that uncleanness flowed from her to Jesus, contaminating him. But, according to Jesus, the opposite has happened: power has flowed from him to her, healing her.
8:47 When the woman saw that she could not escape notice, she came trembling and fell down before him. In the presence of all the people, she explained why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. 8:48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
She could not go unnoticed – we cannot, and we do not, go unnoticed. Though we may take refuge either in the crowd, or in fleeing the crowd, our Lord knows us through and through. Cf. Psa 139.
In the presence of all the people – If her cure had taken place without the Saviour making it known publicly, she would have had the utmost difficulty in removing from the inhabitants of the town the prejudice and scorn that she had met with for years.’ (Geldenhuys)
‘Confession of Christ is a matter of great importance. Let this never be forgotten by true Christians. The work that we can do for our blessed Master is little and poor. Our best endeavours to glorify him are weak and full of imperfections. Our prayers and praises are sadly defective. Out knowledge and love are miserably small. But do we feel within that Christ has healed our souls? Then can we not confess Christ before men? Can we not plainly tell others that Christ has done everything for us, – that we were dying of a deadly disease, and were cured, – that we were lost, and are now found, – that we were blind, and now see? – Let us do this boldly, and not be afraid. Let us not be ashamed to lell all men know what Jesus had done for our souls.’ (Ryle) See Lk 9:26.
“Your faith has healed you” – This is said partly to make it clear that it is her trust in him as a person, rather than her contact with the tassles of his garment that brought her healing.
‘Lest anyone be permitted to think that the healing had been accomplished by typical pagan magic, operating without Jesus’ knowledge, he declares that it happened in response to “faith”.’ (NTBC)
It was to say this that Jesus had stopped, refusing to go to Jairus’ house until he had reached this point. He did this, (a) so that the woman would not receive a second-class healing: she approached him secretly, from behind, because she felt unworthy to approach him any other way. But Jesus would not allow her to think herself any more unworthy than Jairus, whose approach was direct. (b) so that there would be no misunderstanding as to the cause of the healing: until it was realised that it was his power, and her faith, that were involved, then magic, superstition or even luck could be credited with the cure; (c) so that the woman would not feel guilty through having ‘stolen’ a healing: evidently she felt nervous about whether she was doing the right thing, as her trembling indicates, but Jesus’ words, “Go in peace” settle the matter; (d) her faith would not remain secret or anonymous: faith in Christ is not a purely personal and private thing. It is meant to be confessed, Rom 10:9-11.
There is in this story an illustration of the spiritual principle that faith exercised is faith strengthened. Cf. Phile 6. Her faith was, at first, weak and to an extent misguided. But she exercised what faith she had and found it strengthened and confirmed.
8:49 While he was still speaking, someone from the synagogue ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 8:50 But when Jesus heard this, he told him, “Do not be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
We can only speculate on what thoughts and emotions swirled through Jairus as this woman became a roadblock to Jesus’ work on his behalf. It was rather like the frustration of someone in a hurry to get to a destination who is blocked by a traffic jam. Only Jairus is not just late; he is trying to save his daughter. To make matters worse, now a man from Jairus’s home shows up to announce that it is too late. Imagine it: Jesus stops to heal a woman of a nonfatal condition, and as he delays a young life is snuffed out. Where is justice?’ (IVP Commentary)
“Your daughter is dead…don’t bother the teacher any more.” – They believed that Jesus could help while the daughter was still alive. But death, they supposed, put her beyond all help. ‘Once an event had occurred, it was too late to pray for its reversal. For example, the rabbis claimed that it was too late for one hearing a funeral procession to pray that it was not for a relative.’ (NTBC)
A letter from Plutarch (Greek writer, AD 46?-120?) to his wife:- ‘The messenger you sent to tell me of the death of my little daughter missed his way. But I heard of it through another.
I pray you let all things be done without ceremony or timorous superstition. And let us bear our affliction with patience. I do know very well what a loss we have had; but, if you should grieve overmuch, it would trouble me still more. She was particularly dear to you; and when you call to mind how bright and innocent she was, how amiable and mild, then your grief must be particularly bitter. For not only was she kind and generous to other children, but even to her very playthings.
But should the sweet remembrance of those things which so delighted us when she was alive only afflict us now, when she is dead? Or is there danger that, if we cease to mourn, we shall forget her? But since she gave us so much pleasure while we had her, so ought we to cherish her memory, and make that memory a glad rather than a sorrowful one. And such reasons as we would use with others, let us try to make effective with ourselves. And as we put a limit to all riotous indulgence in our pleasures, so let us also check the excessive flow of our grief. It is well, both in action and dress, to shrink from an over-display of mourning, as well as to be modest and unassuming on festal occasions.
Let us call to mind the years before our little daughter was born. We are now in the same condition as then, except that the time she was with us is to be counted as an added blessing. Let us not ungratefully accuse Fortune for what was given us, because we could not also have all that we desired. What we had, and while we had it, was good, though now we have it no longer.
Remember also how much of good you still possess. Because one page of your book is blotted, do not forget all the other leaves whose reading is fair and whose pictures are beautiful. We should not be like misers, who never enjoy what they have, but only bewail what they lose.
And since she is gone where she feels no pain, let us not indulge in too much grief. The soul is incapable of death. And she, like a bird not long enough in her cage to become attached to it, is free to fly away to a purer air. For, when children die, their souls go at once to a better and a divine state. Since we cherish a trust like this, let our outward actions be in accord with it, and let us keep our hearts pure and our minds calm.’-James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited.
“Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed” – Wonderful words of encouragement. Jesus fully understands the agony of the father. Cf. Heb 4:15.
8:51 Now when he came to the house, Jesus did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. 8:52 Now they were all wailing and mourning for her, but he said, “Stop your weeping; she is not dead but asleep.” 8:53 And they began making fun of him, because they knew that she was dead. 8:54 But Jesus gently took her by the hand and said, “Child, get up.” 8:55 Her spirit returned, and she got up immediately. Then he told them to give her something to eat. 8:56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.
He did not let anyone go in with him – ‘When we read this expression, we should remember the words in verse 53, “They laughed him to scorn.” It seems a rule in Christ’s dealings with men not to force evidence upon them, but rather to withhold from scorners and scoffers those proofs of his own mission which he affords to others. And as it was when he was upon earth, so it is now. The scoffing spirit is the spirit which is often left to itself.’ (Ryle)
Peter, John and James – ‘These three apostles, it should be remembered, were three times singled out from the rest of the twelve, and allowed to be our Lord’s companions on special occasions. They were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the occasion of this miracle. None of the apostles had such a clear revelation of our Lord’s divinity, our Lord’s humanity, and our Lord’s power and compassion towards the sorrowful and sinful.’ (Ryle)
‘As they come to the house the mourners have already begun their wailing cry. It was customary in those days to hire mourners to bemoan the death of an individual. There was a terrible frenzy about it. They would actually rip their garments apart, tear out their hair, and cry out with loud shrieks and howls. But even though there was some degree of professionalism about this, it represents the terrible sense of despair which people-even in Israel-had come to in the face of death. There is none of the stoic’s resignation here, such as you would have seen among the Greeks, but this awful, horrible, crying out, this frenzy of despair, this sense of hopelessness at the finality of death’s cold grip.’ (Stedman)
“She is not dead but asleep” – That is to say, it is as if she were simply asleep, for she is about to be revived. But then again, this saying is applicable to all those who die in the Lord, for they will be raised at the last day. ‘He means, as to her peculiar case, that she was not dead for good and all, but that she should now shortly be raised to life, so that it would be to her friends as if she had been but a few hours asleep. But it is applicable to all that die in the Lord; therefore we should not sorrow for them as those that have no hope, because death is but a sleep to them, not only as it is a rest from all the toils of the days of time, but as there will be a resurrection, a waking and rising again to all the glories of the days of eternity.’ (M. Henry) Cf. Jn 11:11; 1 Thess 4:13.
‘We almost feel like joining them as they laugh at him. They thought he was crazy, that he should talk that way. And yet, who has the truer view of death, Jesus or man? Remember that he said the same thing when he was told of Lazarus: “He is sleeping.” Again and again he refers to death as a sleep, when it involves a believer. Death is not what it appears to us, when belief and faith are present. It is merely temporary. It is nothing more serious, as far as the believer is concerned, than going to sleep. What a comfort those words have been to so many who have come themselves to the edge of death and have realized that all they were doing was really going to sleep, as Jesus has said.’ (Stedman)
They laughed at him – but he answered their unbelief not by word, but by deed. The fact that they could shift so readily from lamentation to laughter suggests that their sorrow lacked sincerity.
G. Campbell Morgan said, ‘I can hardly speak of this matter without becoming personal and reminiscent, remembering a time forty years ago when my own first lassie lay at the point of death, dying. I called for him then, and he came, and surely said to our troubled hearts, “Fear not, believe only.” He did not say, “She shall be made whole.” She was not made whole, on the earthly plane; she passed away into the life beyond. But he did say to her, “Talitha cumi,” i.e., “Little lamb, arise.” But in her case that did not mean, “Stay on the earth level;” it meant that he needed her, and he took her to be with himself. She has been with him for all these years, as we measure time here, and I have missed her every day. But his word, “Believe only,” has been the strength of all the passing years.’
‘Jesus urges silence, even though what he has done was obvious. His goal is not to become a traveling Palestinian miracle show. His ministry is not about such displays of power, but about what they represent. He knows that miracles would become the major interest, not new life and the basic issue of who it is who can heal a woman and raise a young girl.’ (IVP Commentary)
‘Let us see in this miracle a blessed pledge of what our Lord will do in the day of his second appearing. He will call his believing people from their graves. He will give them a better, more glorious, and more beautiful body, than they had in the days of their pilgrimage. He will gather together his elect from north, and south, and east, and west, to part no more, and die no more.’ (Ryle)
One lesson from this double miracle is that God does not bless one at the expense of another. We are apt to think that he has limited resources, and he must ration them out. But this is to project our own human limitations on God, and is entirely wrong. Are we sometimes jealous when we see that someone has been richly blessed by God? We need more the attitude of Paul, for whom the blessing of others was evidently a blessing to himself.
‘Rufus Jones lost a son of eleven years who was all the world to him. He wrote many years later about the experience, concluding with this luminous parable of how his own heart was opened to God’s love:
‘When my sorrow was at its most acute I was walking along a great city highway, when suddenly I saw a little child come out of a great gate, which swung to and fastened behind her. She wanted to go to her home behind the gate, but it would not open. She pounded in vain with her little fist. She rattled the gate. Then she wailed as though her heart would break. The cry brought the mother. She caught the child in her arms and kissed away the tears. “Didn’t you know I would come? It’s all right now.” All of a sudden I saw with my spirit that there was love behind my shut gate.
If you suffer with God you will find love behind your shut gate, a love that can lead you through the gate to be at home with all the children of God.’-James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 17.
Three words from Jesus:-
1. A word of encouragement – “Don’t be afraid, just believe,” v50.
2. A word of revelation – “She is not dead but asleep,” v52.
3. A word of love and power – “My child, get up,” v54