In October of 1972, a plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team, along with some family members and supporters of the team, crashed in the middle of the Andes Mountains of western South America. Due to the way the plane crashed, a large number of those on board actually survived the crash, and those survivors found themselves stranded without proper supplies in the midst of sub-freezing temperatures. They would eventually spend 72 days trapped on the mountain before two of the team members were able to hike 10 days through the mountains and find help. While the group was stranded on the mountain, there were a number of times that crucial decisions had to be made. Naturally, with the stakes so high, many people had strong opinions regarding some of these decisions. Interestingly though, a number of the survivors were in such shock that they simply refused to make certain decisions. Rather than making themselves responsible for a plan that could fail and dash any remaining hopes for rescue, these survivors chose to hold a more “neutral” stance. The problem with this stance during that crash was that it was not a logical stance. A number of the survivors tried to convince this “neutral” party that neutrality was not an option. By choosing not to make a decision, they were choosing to die. The decisions during that crash were critical and they were also unavoidable. Everyone had to choose to do something.
In many ways, this is the sort of situation Luke presents us with in our text today. Many of the themes that Luke has been driving home throughout his gospel come up again in this text. But the focus of this text, much like the text from last week, is the response that should accompany the ministry of Christ and the declaration of the gospel. Like the survivors of that plane crash, Luke wants to make clear to his readers that response to Jesus Christ is critical and unavoidable because of who He is. He wants his readers to understand the great blessings that accompany a positive response to Christ, and he wants his readers to understand the dire consequences that accompany a negative response to Christ. So with that in mind, let’s look at our text. With each section of our text, Luke adds a bit more to the theme he wants to make clear.
I. A person’s response to Jesus Christ is critical. (8:4-21)
This point seems to be the driving theme of the first chunk of our text this morning. And it seems that Luke lays out this theme with two different emphases:
1) Response is unavoidable (8:4-15)
Luke gives his readers Jesus teaching of the parable of the sower. This is a well-known parable that is also present in both Matthew and Mark. The point of the parable, at least in Luke’s gospel, is that everyone responds to the word of God, specifically the Gospel, in some way. Jesus makes clear that some do not even hear it before the enemy snatches it away from them. Some hear it and accept it with joy, but when trials come about, they abandon what they had previously so joyfully received. They are not willing to persevere. Others also hear the Word of God, but there concern for it is overcome by their concern for others things of this world: its cares and riches and pleasures. Others, however, hear the word and receive it with an honest and good heart, and these people bear fruit in keeping with repentance. They are patient, and they persevere.
The point here is that everyone responds in some way; response cannot be avoided. Even if someone refuses to think through what Jesus has declared and who he is, they are choosing to respond by rejecting him. There is no neutral ground here. In the parable, something happens to every one of the seeds that is sown. In light of Jesus’ explanation, this means that something always happens when the word of God is proclaimed. It is either accepted or rejected. In fact, Jesus makes clear in verses 9 and 10 of chapter 8 that the very reason he speaks in parables is to bring about such responses as will come. He tells the disciples that the secrets of the Kingdom of God are given to them, but to others they come in parables. Jesus gives the reason for this as being the fact that parables reveal the response of people’s hearts. He wants his disciples to understand that negative response to the Word of God is to be expected – it was even prophesied by Isaiah. The Word of God inevitably brings response and for a person to think that they can avoid such a response is foolish and naïve.
2) The correct response is to hear the word of God and do it. (8:15-21)
After explaining to his disciples the meaning of the parable, Jesus makes a series of statements meant to make clear what the right response to the word should be. Having made clear that response is inevitable; he does not want to leave his hearers in the dark regarding which response is the correct response. He uses another common illustration to make the point to them: no one lights a lamp and then hides it so that it cannot give off light. In using this image of a light, Jesus is drawing on a common theme Old Testament theme that the Word of God – the seed mentioned in the parable – is a light (Ps. 119:105, 130; Prov. 6:23). This light, by very nature of its being the word of God, is going to shine; there is no question about that. The key in Jesus’ statement here is the response to that light. Do we seek to hide it, or do we seek to let it shine as much as possible? If someone rejects the revelation of Jesus Christ, if they reject the incarnate Word of God, Jesus wants to make clear that they are responsible for that. One commentator has said it this way, “If the light is hidden, it is because of the soil on which it falls, not because revelation is unavailable.”1 The right response is to receive the Word of God with a faithful heart (like the good soil).
Jesus drives home the critical nature of this response by pointing out that there will come a day when all that is hidden will be revealed. The secrets of every human heart will be revealed, and the true attitudes of those hearts will be made clear. No excuses will do for not having a right response to the Word of God and a right response is commanded. It is the only proper response. Jesus then uses this thought to issue a warning to his hearers to be careful how they hear. The implication is that the one who hears and obeys will receive even more. On the other hand, the one who hears poorly (illustrated by the first three soils in the parable) will have even what little they thought they had taken away from them. We need to be careful how we hear, because everything is riding on that very faculty.
Then, in order to heighten the critical nature of this right response even more, Luke gives us a brief story in which Jesus’ family attempts to reach him but are unable to do so because of the great crowd that surrounds him. Having received word that his family is outside wishing to see him, Jesus responds with what seems like a quite harsh response: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.” The point of this passage is not primarily to insult Jesus’ family; it is – as we have been saying – to highlight the importance of a right response to the Word. Those who hear the Word rightly and obey it are those who are truly a part of Christ’s family. Many today speak of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. While there is a sense in which we all share a great deal of human dignity simply by virtue of our position as human beings created in the image of God, the Scriptures are clear that the true family of God – those who are sons and daughters of the living God and brothers and sisters with Christ – are only those who have faith. “This family is not defined by biology, by blood-lines, by nature. It is defined by grace.” 2
So, in this first section of our text, Luke is making clear that our response to Jesus Christ is critical. It is unavoidable and the correct response is to hear the word of God and do it.
II. The reason right response is so critical is because of who Jesus Christ is. (8:22-56)
Having shown that a person’s response to Christ is critical, Luke lays out a series of four stories that demonstrate why this is the case. Each of the stories is a miracle that demonstrates Jesus’ power over a particular realm of life. The point is that our response is not critical simply because Luke says so, but because there is definite authority being dealt with here. We all have heard a child say something like, “You’re not my parent.” And we have all heard other people say things like, “You’re not the boss of me,” and “You can’t tell me what to do.” And I’m sure we have also seen that child have a completely different attitude when their parent tells them to do the same thing. And we have all seen that person have a completely different attitude when the boss arrives and tells them to do the same thing. What is the difference? The command is the same in both instances but one time it is disregarded and another time it is obeyed. Why? The difference is authority. In one instance, the person does not have the authority to command obedience, and in the other instance, the person (be it the parent or the boss) does have that authority. Luke is making clear with these stories that Jesus is the person who has the authority to demand from us a particular response.
The stories are different in a number of ways – each of them deals with a completely different realm. And each of them includes a variety of response. In the first story, Jesus demonstrates his authority over nature by calming the raging waves of the Sea of Galilee. In response, his disciples are fearful and they stand in awe of this one who can even command the winds and the waves and they obey. In the second story, Jesus demonstrates his authority over the spiritual realm by exorcising demons from a man in the country of the Gerasenes. The response here is twofold: the people of that region are afraid and they ask him to leave, the man who was healed recognizes Jesus authority and begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus commissions him to a different task – declaring to that fearful and unbelieving region what God had done for him. In the third story, Jesus demonstrates his authority over sickness by healing a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years. She had spent all of her money on doctors and none of them had helped her. She is miraculously healed simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. After finding out who had touched him, Jesus makes clear to her that her faith in his power to heal has made her well. So we see from what Jesus says that this miracle brings about the response of faith – at least from the one who had been healed. The last story Luke gives demonstrates Jesus ultimate authority even over the power of death as he raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. The responses in this story vary as well as we see the mourners laughing at Jesus’ naivete, but then we see the parent’s amazement that their child has been restored to them.
While at first glance, these differences make it look like this passage is nothing more than a jumbled mish-mash of random miracles; it is these differences that actually serve as the foundation for Luke’s intentional placement of these stories in this particular place. The fact that the four miracles deal with four different areas of life is Luke’s way of making clear that this Jesus he is speaking of has authority over every area of life. Luke wants his readers to understand that this is no mere man or even a prophet; this is the promised Son of God who is bringing and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God as that Kingdom’s rightful King.
Another thing Luke wants us to see is that each of the problems in these various stories are things that hold dominion over us as human beings; they are things that we all have to deal with and that none of us can control. They are all things that can master us. There was nothing the disciples could do about the storm. It had mastered them. The demon-possessed man was often made to do horrible injury to himself by the demons that possessed him; other accounts tell us he would often throw himself on a fire. The demon had mastered him. The woman’s hemorrhage was something that nobody, not even the best doctors, knew how to heal. The illness had mastered her. And the little girl’s death is a grim reminder of something that every human being faces: death. There is not a person on earth who can avoid its clutches; death comes to all men. And death had mastered this little girl. But Luke gives us these stories for that very reason: to demonstrate that Jesus is the master of that which masters us as human beings. All of us know the experiences of the people in these stories: we know the helplessness of not being able to control nature, we know that we cannot control demons, we all know the horrible effects of terminal illness that has no cure, and we all know the inevitability of death. Luke knows this about us, but he also wants us to know that these things are not the final authority. There is one who has authority even over them and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.
III. Christ will care for those who hear the Word of God and do it (9:1-17).
Having laid out the fact that a person’s response to the Word of God – to Jesus Christ – is critical because of who Jesus’ identity and inherent authority, Luke closes our section with a series of stories that make clear Jesus’ faithful care and provision for those who do rightly hear the Word of God and do it.
In 9:1-6, Luke tells of Jesus’ sending out his twelve disciples to proclaim and bring the Kingdom of God (i.e. preach the gospel and heal). Interestingly, the focus of the story is neither the teaching done by the disciples nor the miraculous healings they did. Instead, it is Jesus’ instruction to them not to take extra provision for their journey alongside Jesus’ instruction for how they were to carry out their task. Why is this Luke’s focus? It seems that the purpose hear is to highlight two things: 1) God will care for those who do what he commands and 2) to refuse the message Jesus sends (the gospel) is to reject Jesus. Jesus wants his disciples to understand that He is commissioning them to carry out this task. He wants them to know that if they respond to His Word with faith and obedience, as they are doing, they will not be disappointed by Christ. He will meet their needs and provide for them. In turn, they will be his ambassadors. To reject them will be to reject Christ. Luke recounts this story so that his readers will understand not only that Jesus Christ is worthy of being followed because of his authority but that He is worthy of being followed because He cares for His people. The disciples knew that they would lack nothing, and they knew that they carried with them the authority of Christ himself.
After the recounting of the twelve being sent out, Luke inserts a brief aside in 9:7-9 in which he recounts Herod’s struggle to understand who Jesus’ identity. Because of all the miraculous things that Jesus is doing, word has made it back to Herod’s court that unusual things are happening. There are reports that John the Baptist, whom Herod beheaded, has risen from the dead as well as reports that Elijah or one of the other prophets of old had returned from the dead. Herod is perplexed by these reports and Luke says that he sought to see Jesus for himself in order that he might figure out the truth on his own. Why does Luke include this hear? Honestly, the answer is not explicitly clear, but the most appropriate answer seems to be that Luke includes this detail for two reasons. First, Luke seems to be demonstrating that word of Jesus’ ministry is penetrating even the highest levels of authority in the region. Everyone is hearing of what Jesus is doing and, based on what we saw earlier, everyone is without excuse in regards to their response – even Herod. The second thing that Luke seems to be doing is holding up Herod as a bit of a foil to the positive response that surrounds this brief aside. To those who hear the Word of God rightly and do it, more understanding, authority and responsibility is given. To those who do not hear rightly – like Herod who beheaded the very messenger sent to prepare Christ’s way – confusion and misunderstanding is given.
At the end of our text today is Luke’s account of the only miracle that appears in all four gospels – the feeding of the five thousand. Like the parable of the sower that began our text, this is a well-known story that Luke places here for a specific purpose. And that purpose seems to mirror the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the sending out of the twelve that began chapter 9. Luke wants to make clear that Jesus is more than capable of meeting the needs of everyone who hears the Word of God and does it. While this miracle affects a vast number of people, the focus is not so much on those who are provided for as it is on the one who does the providing. Jesus’ purpose in this miracle is to engender deeper faith in his disciples and in those present. The disciples had demonstrated a reception of the Word of God and a willingness to do it, so Jesus reveals himself to them even a little bit more. It is as if Jesus wants to make clear to them once again – as he did when he calmed the seas and as he did when he sent them out – that He is more than capable of providing for them, so their trust in Him and obedience to Him will not be in vain. This Jesus is not only mighty and worthy of being followed; He is good and cares for the ones who follow.
1. Be careful how you hear, because your response is critical.
a. If you are not a believer, know that your response to this point is rejection and that rejection carries grave consequences. You are responding because response is unavoidable and your response is the wrong one. The wage of your response, the payment it is due, is wrath and eternal punishment. But the end is not yet here and you can still repent. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Receive the Word of God with a right heart, persevere with patience and you will be saved.
b. If you are a believer, be sure that you are one who not only hears but hears and does. Jesus makes clear that the one He commends is the one who does the Word of God, who obeys it faithfully. Hearing must be accompanied by doing. Be careful that what you have is not taken from you because of your lack of obedience.
2. Recognize Jesus’ unique authority.
a. If you are an unbeliever, recognize that Jesus is unlike anyone else in history. This is not a good teacher from whom you can glean the things with which you agree and simply discard the rest. This is the Son of God, the King of the Kingdom of God, God himself – the only One who rightfully can exercise over you absolute authority in all things. Submit yourself to Him and you will find the greatest ally you could ever have in the One who has the authority not only to destroy the body but both the body and the soul. Reject Him, as you have to this point, and you have the greatest enemy you could ever know – One into whose hands it is a terrible thing to fall if you are not His child.
b. If you are a believer, live as if this authority is a reality. Do not worry that the struggles of this life and this world will overwhelm you or master you because you know the One who is the Master of this world. Let Him be your Master in all things and you will not be mastered by anything, be it nature, demons, sickness or even death.
3. Trust in the provision of the Lord.
a. If you are an unbeliever, do not think that you must wait until you are good enough to come to the Lord. If you tarry until you are ready, you will never come at all. All you need to do is repent of your sins and trust the glorious work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If you place your Him – the One who died, was buried and rose again – then you will be saved. You will no longer need to fear death for you will know the Master of death.
b. If you are a believer, trust the One who has saved your soul to provide for you as you walk through this life. The One who bought you is powerful enough to preserve you, and He has said that He will do so. The One who was powerful enough to save your soul is powerful enough to meet your needs. And He has commissioned you to be His ambassador. Go and make disciples knowing that you go with the Spirit of God within you and the authority of Christ behind you.