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The parable of the sower
Luke chapter 8, verses 1-15
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 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 the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
In a number of passages Luke includes general summaries of the activities of Jesus. One of these is found in chapter 4, verse 44, where specific mention is made of the fact that Jesus preached in the synagogues. In the summary that begins chapter 8, there is no mention of the synagogues. It seems that more and more, Jesus is doing open-air preaching (see chapter 6, verse 17). His message remains the same as that proclaimed in the synagogue at Nazareth (chapter 4, verse 18): the good news of the kingdom of God.
On this preaching tour Jesus is accompanied by the twelve apostles and some women. For the apostles this is practical training for the time when they would be sent out (chapter 9, verses 1 and 2). Three women are named: Mary, who came from the village of Magdala on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee; Joanna, whose husband held an important position in the household of Herod Antipas; and Susanna. In addition, there are other women not named. The mention of Herod indicates that the message of Jesus was reaching into the homes of some prominent families of the land. These women helped to support the ministry of Jesus with their money. In this they furnish an excellent example for Christian men and women today.
Luke pays special attention to women in his gospel. One thinks of Elizabeth, Mary, Anna, Simon’s mother-in-law, the widow at Nain, and the sinful woman of the last section. The women named here will be important witnesses to the resurrection. They are mentioned as observing the place of the burial of Christ (chapter 23, verse 55); Mary Magdalene and Joanna are named by Luke as being among the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning (chapter 24, verse 10).
The preaching tours of Jesus met with considerable success when judged by the numbers who gathered to listen. But from the parable which Jesus tells, it is obvious that not all who came were truly listening. As Jesus experienced this in his ministry, he wanted the disciples to understand this fact as well.
The parable of the sower is a familiar one and is recorded also by Matthew and Mark. Jesus tells about a farmer sowing seed. The seed fell in various places: along the path running through the field, on rocky soil, among thorns, and on good soil. The seed that fell on good soil yielded a crop a hundred times more than what was sown. The seed that fell elsewhere did not produce a crop, for reasons given in the parable.
When Jesus had finished the parable, he issued a challenge: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This appeal to listen is repeated in chapter 14, verse 35 and is also found in a slightly altered form at the conclusion of each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Jesus knows how hard it is for people to really listen to his Word, how many distractions and temptations there are that keep the Word from bearing fruit. Therefore this challenge is for all those with ears: Listen!
We who have heard the parable of Jesus explained so often might find it hard to understand why his disciples would have to ask what this story of the sower and his seed was all about. Jesus answers by first giving his reasons for speaking in parables at all. To the disciples the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God is given; to others (nondisciples) everything will remain a parable, a riddle. People generally are charmed by the simplicity of the parables told by Jesus. Yet without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, people will not understand. The parable becomes a form of God’s judgment upon listeners who refuse to really listen.
Jesus quotes Isaiah chapter 6, verse 9 to support what he has said about the Word of God that comes in parables. Isaiah was commissioned by the Lord to preach to Israel. But as part of the commissioning speech, the Lord tells Isaiah that people will hear but not understand; they will see but not perceive. The results of preaching the Word are not universally successful, as Isaiah, Jesus, and the apostles found. We make the same discovery today.
In explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus divides listeners into four classes: (1) some have the devil take away the Word they have heard before it even begins to grow in their hearts and lives; (2) some receive the word with joy, but when the time of testing comes, they fall away; (3) in some, the immature plant of faith is choked by worries, riches, and pleasures of this world; (4) some hear the word, retain it, and produce a crop of faith and good works.
Sowing the seed of the Word would be very discouraging work if there were only three classes of listeners. But what keeps the farmer sowing, what keeps the proclaimer of God’s Word sowing, is the fact that some seed does fall on soil that produces a wonderful crop. Jesus did not stop preaching because the response of so many of his listeners was superficial and unfruitful. Jesus kept on preaching because he knew that only by sowing the seed of the Word would a fruitful crop finally come forth. The faithful men and women who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry were the firstfruits of a much greater crop that was to follow. By God’s grace, you and I are included in that number.
A lamp on a stand
Luke chapter 8, verses 16-18
“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
From what Jesus said about his reason for speaking in parables (chapter 8, verse 10), one might conclude that he is not really interested in people understanding the Word. This is certainly a false conclusion, as Jesus plainly indicates with his saying about the lamp on a stand. The Word of God is like a burning lamp. No one lights a lamp and then hides it under a jar or puts it under a bed. Rather, one puts the lamp on a stand so that those who come in can see the light. This saying is repeated in chapter 11, verse 33.
So it is with the Word of God. It is meant to give people light. The followers of Jesus must be serious about letting the light of the Word shine. They should not think of hiding the Word or keeping it just for themselves.
Verse 17 is repeated in chapter 12, verse 2 and helps to explain the statement Jesus made that “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given” to the disciples (chapter 8, verse 10). This knowledge was given to the disciples during his earthly ministry. Jesus told them some things that he did not tell to the crowds. But ultimately the apostles shared this knowledge in their preaching and writing. All the secrets that Jesus revealed to the disciples have been brought out into the open. The apostles did not keep some secret teachings for themselves that are yet to be revealed.
Because of their responsibility in making the Word known, Jesus urges the disciples once more to listen carefully. To this admonition is attached a promise found again in chapter 19, verse 26. Jesus promises that the more one has of the Word, the more one will receive; on the other hand, the person who does not have the Word will lose even what he thinks he has. The disciple has a great responsibility for listening to the Word for his own sake and for the sake of those to whom he will make it known.
Jesus’ mother and brothers
Luke chapter 8, verses 19-21
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
This story of the visit of Mary and her sons to see Jesus probably did not take place on the occasion when Jesus told the parable of the sower. From verse 20 it appears that Jesus was inside a house crowded with people (much like the situation recorded in chapter 5, verses 18 and 19). Luke reports this incident at this point in his gospel because it stresses again the importance of hearing the Word of God.
Some commentators, especially those Roman Catholics who continue to believe that Mary was a virgin all her life, interpret the word “brothers” as meaning “relatives.” There are times when the Greek word can have this meaning, but the more likely interpretation is that Mary did have other children. Mark gives the names of four brothers of Jesus: James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon (chapter 6, verse 3).
However, the point of this brief story is not any kind of blood relationship that Jesus had. Jesus is saying that there is a relationship that is greater than any earthly family tie. That relationship is based on hearing God’s Word and putting it into practice. In chapter 6, verses 47 and 48 Jesus characterized such a person as one who built his house on the foundation of rock. Here the one who hears God’s Word and puts it into practice is called “my mother and brothers” by Jesus. How important to be listeners and doers of the Word!
Jesus calms the storm
Luke chapter 8, verses 22-25
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Luke introduces the story of the calming of the storm with the words “one day.” From Mark chapter 4, verse 35 we learn that it was the same day on which Jesus had told the parable of the sower. Luke does not so much connect this story with the preceding teaching as with the following story, the healing of the demon-possessed man. Crossing the Sea of Galilee took Jesus into gentile territory, where he will be confronted by a pagan man.
As Jesus and his disciples cross the sea, Jesus falls asleep. Suddenly, a squall comes up (something rather common on the Sea of Galilee). The Greek words here are very picturesque: “an intensive sucking of wind.” One thinks of a tornado. This description helps us appreciate the terror of the disciples as they see their boat being swamped.
Fearing the worst, they wake Jesus. The master gets up and rebukes the wind and raging waters; the storm subsides, and all is calm. A miracle! Up to this point in Luke’s gospel, he has reported only miracles that show the power of Jesus over the ills of people. Here is a miracle that reveals a power controlling even the forces of nature.
The disciples are amazed that even the winds and the water obey when Jesus commands. The word “obey” is formed from a Greek verb that includes the word hear. What human beings don’t do so well, the winds and water did: they listened to Jesus when he spoke. Nature knows her Lord!
The fear of the disciples, as understandable as we find it, shows the small size of their faith. They are still learning about the almighty power that Jesus possesses. They are still asking “Who is this?” Only gradually will the complete answer to that question come to them.
The healing of a demon-possessed man
Luke chapter 8, verses 26-39
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
The trip across the Sea of Galilee brought Jesus and his disciples to the region of the Gerasenes. The city of Gerasa (present-day Jerash) is located about 30 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Another city named Gadara lies much closer to the sea, only about five miles away. This is the name given in Matthew chapter 8, verse 28 (and found in the King James Version translation of Luke). Another name, Gergesenes, which appears in some early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, perhaps comes from the name of the village Kersa situated on the east shore of the lake. These various names all refer to the same general region, so the story obviously takes place very close to the lake (see verse 33).
This was an area in which many Gentiles lived. The fact that herds of pigs were being tended indicates this. The demon-possessed man may be characterized by the term pagan. Here Jesus goes into heathen territory, away from the synagogues of the Jews, away from the people of Israel and their land. He brings his healing power to a pagan.
The man who meets Jesus is in terrible shape; he is unclothed and has been living in tombs (perhaps caves). People had tried chaining him up and keeping him under guard, but when seized by the evil spirit, he broke the chains and escaped into solitary places. Because he is under the control of an evil spiritual power, he recognizes Jesus (see chapter 4, verses 33 and 34). He answers the question of the disciples from the previous story: Jesus is the Son of the Most High God. The evil spirits know they deserve damnation, eternal torture in the abyss of hell (see Revelation chapter 20, verses 1-3).
When Jesus asks the man’s name, he replies, “Legion.” In the time of Caesar Augustus, a Roman legion numbered six thousand soldiers. The man is using the term in a general sense, referring to the great number of demons who had gone into him. This legion of devils begged Jesus not to order them off to hell. Instead, they request permission of Jesus to enter into the herd of pigs grazing on the hillside. (Mark chapter 5, verse 13 reports that there were about two thousand pigs.) Jesus gave them this permission, which in turn caused the herd to rush down the steep bank into the abyss of the sea and drown. This is a kind of foretaste of the lake of fire into which Satan will ultimately be cast (Revelation chapter 20, verse 10). The water from which the disciples had escaped by the power of Jesus becomes the final resting place for this herd of demonized pigs. Jesus shows his power over the devil even in pagan territory.
We need to note this man’s total helplessness against the demons. He is powerless to save himself. He is completely controlled by the power of evil. In this condition only Jesus can rescue him. This is a vivid picture of our spiritual condition by nature, under the power of Satan. Thank God that Christ has rescued us from this dreadful power by his life of obedience and his death and resurrection.
Some have suggested that this story shows Jesus as being cruel to animals. One can hardly draw this conclusion considering the fact that the demons are the ones who suggest entering into the pigs and who bring about their death. The permission that Jesus grants serves as an object lesson concerning the destructive power of the devil. What matters to Jesus is the salvation of lost sinners. We need to interpret the destruction of the pigs in this light.
The people of the region of the Gerasenes, when they heard the report of what had happened to the pigs and saw the man dressed and in his right mind, asked Jesus to leave their country. This is a rather surprising request to make of a person who is obviously very powerful and who could potentially do much good for them. Luke twice notes the reason that lays behind their request: they were afraid. The same Greek word is used in chapter 5, verse 26 and chapter 7, verse 16, where the NIV translates it as “filled with awe.” It’s the same feeling that Peter had when he beheld the large catch of fish. Sinful man is filled with terror when confronted with the holy God. This is the fear that these gentile people felt. The good that Christ brought to the demon-possessed man is matched by the judgment that came upon the demons. It is this judgment that the sinner fears. Only in the cross is this fear taken away.
Jesus answers their request: he leaves the same way he had come. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go along. He wants to become a follower. But Jesus has other work for this man: he must be a witness. Even before Jesus sent out his own apostles as witnesses, he sends out this man who has such a wonderful story of salvation to tell. Here is a converted pagan who is ready to share what he has experienced because he has learned to know Christ as his Savior.
A dead girl and a sick woman
Luke chapter 8, verses 40-56
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.” Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.
When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
Luke does not tell us to which city Jesus returned after his trip across the Sea of Galilee. It is tempting to imagine that he returned to Capernaum. This would connect Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, with the building constructed by the centurion whose servant Jesus had healed (chapter 7, verse 5). In any case, Jairus must have had some personal acquaintance with Jesus and Jesus’ ability to heal. This knowledge impelled him to fall on the ground before Jesus and beg Jesus to come to his house where his only daughter was critically ill. The fact that the name of Jairus is recorded may indicate that he was a well-known person in the early church.
There is a marked contrast between Jairus and the man we met in the last story. Jairus is a Jew, learned in the ways of the law and synagogue life. He has a home where he lived with his wife and daughter. But in the case of both men, they are in trouble and only Jesus is able to help. Jesus went to the demonized pagan man to bring help; Jairus comes to Jesus and appeals for help.
As Jesus is making his way to the home of Jairus, the crowds press around him. Several times previously, Luke has mentioned the press of the crowds (chapter 5, verses 18 and 19; chapter 8, verse 19). In both cases, someone who was seeking Jesus was prevented from getting to him. In this story, the crowds serve as cover for a woman who seems too ashamed to request help from Jesus. This woman had been subject to menstrual bleeding for 12 years. Her medical problem began the same year the dying girl was born. This woman had sought a cure from the physicians of the time but to no avail. Now she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak, hoping to be healed (in 6:19 we heard of others who tried to touch Jesus because they knew of his power to heal). Immediately, her bleeding stopped. She was well again.
Jesus was at once aware that someone had received healing by touching him. He says, “I know that power has gone out from me.” This is the power of the Spirit (chapter 4, verse 14), the power of the Lord to heal (chapter 5, verse 17). This is power that cannot be used up. The statement of Jesus that power had gone out from him is an example of God speaking in language that we humans can understand. His purpose in making this statement is to draw out the woman who had touched him and to deepen her spiritual understanding.
Seeing that she could not go unnoticed, this trembling woman fell at the feet of Jesus, and in the presence of the crowd, she told her story. It was obviously not easy for her to talk about something that had so deeply troubled her these many years, something that she had kept hidden from others as best as she could. Now she is put in a position where she must open up and tell all. Jesus wants to correct a wrong notion about this healing—as if the mechanical touching of a powerful person can bring about a cure. Jesus said to the woman in the hearing of the crowd, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” This woman had faith in the healing power of Jesus. Faith saves!
Meanwhile, ahead at the home of Jairus, something tragic had taken place. Before the divine healer could arrive, the 12-year-old had died. Jairus is given the news: “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the teacher any more.” At this point, Jairus may have felt upset because of the interruption that had taken place preventing Jesus from arriving before his daughter died.
Jesus at once speaks a reassuring word to the devastated father: “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” The NIV translation “healed” does not do justice to the Greek word that is used, a word that is often translated as “saved.” That’s what Jesus is saying: even people who have died will be kept safe; only have faith.
Upon arriving at the house, Jesus stopped the wailing and mourning. His statement that the girl was not dead but only asleep brought laughter. This is evidence for the fact that here was truly a raising from the dead and not just a case of rousing someone from a deep coma.
Jesus permitted only the child’s father and mother plus the disciples Peter, James, and John to go into the house. Peter, James, and John were mentioned together when they were called to follow Jesus (chapter 5, verses 8-11). They will be with him on the Mount of Transfiguration (chapter 9, verse 28) and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now they witness the raising of this girl from the dead.
At the command of Jesus, the girl stands up. Jesus asks that she be given something to eat as a demonstration that she is truly alive (see chapter 24, verses 41-43). This is the second instance of raising someone from the dead reported by Luke. In chapter 7, verse 11-17 an only son is restored to his widowed mother; here an only daughter is restored to Jairus and his wife. What joy Jesus brings into the lives of people! Such is the power of the Lord of life.
Why does Jesus order the astonished parents not to tell anyone what had happened? It may not be possible for us to fully understand his reason for this. We must note a couple of things. In the previous story, Jesus sent the man in gentile territory home to tell how much God had done for him (chapter 8, verse 39). And in the next story, Jesus sends out the apostles to preach the kingdom of God (chapter 9, verse 2). In the case of the girl raised from the dead, it is as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t tell people anything. Let them draw their own conclusions. They can see for themselves that she lives.” For anyone who really wanted to see, the power of Jesus was obvious. There was no need of further testimony in that town.