Luke 8:22-39 (click to display NIV text)
May 26, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
“One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out.”
Jesus took his disciples on an intentional journey that would have a specific purpose in their lives. They needed to experience the authority of Jesus and the peace of Jesus. So he took them to places of fear and anxiety. He took them to the “other side of the lake.” This was Gentile country. It was the only time Jesus went there. It was a fearful place. Joel Green writes, “Jesus is way beyond the boundaries of acceptable Jewish behavior.”
On the way they encountered a storm, and their boat began to swamp and they were afraid they would drown. In the chaos of the powerful storm they temporarily lost their faith. But Jesus calmed the storm. When they arrived they met a man with demons, an unclean person. Jesus cleansed him. Then, on their return to safer country, they meet a woman with a long-standing chronic condition and encounter a young girl who had died. Jesus healed and raised them. So, on this journey, they confront that which makes people most fearful: storms, evil spirits, chronic disease and death.
These four incidents are connected in the text by repeated words. It is a good exercise to underline them and draw a line from one to another, so you can see that this whole section holds together. Some of the repeated words are “lake,” “sailed,” “fell at his feet,” “begged,” and “healed.” Luke intends for us to read this whole section as one, and then see the result that comes next: The disciples are sent out by themselves with authority to teach and heal. Their confrontation with fear leads to their experience of peace and the authority of Christ, so they are able to minister as he directs them.
The first reaction of the disciples to the authority of Jesus is their experience of peace. The Sea of Galilee lies 700 feet below sea level, with steep hills rising in several places. The winds can come up suddenly and with great power. When the storm hit, the disciples were in a place of danger, they were no longer in control. Jesus knew they would be in danger many times as they spread the Gospel throughout Judea, Samaria and beyond. How would they find peace to live in hostile surroundings?
After Jesus calmed the sea, he rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. That seems harsh given the circumstances. But he wanted them to know something. Peace comes through faith in Christ. Faith is the way to peace.
When they get to the shore, they meet a demoniac, a man whose mind was as wild and uncontrollable as the storm at sea. Joel Green writes, “Naked and living in the tombs, he was scarcely even human. Uncontrollable, out of his mind, he was chained and guarded as a societal menace, a wild animal.” The people of the town could not give him peace. They could only offer him chains and isolation. But Jesus brought him peace. When his demons were cast out, he was found clothed and in his right mind. He received peace from Jesus. Paul writes, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1, 2). When we go through times of anxiety or fear, we know that Christ is our source of peace. Will you trust him with your fear?
The second result of these encounters is an experience of cleansing, or holiness, from Christ. The demons are unclean spirits. The pigs are unclean animals. The tombs are unclean places. This was a very significant issue for the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were very concerned about things that were clean or unclean, and very careful to stay away from what was unclean. This was a lesson learned from their years of exile. They had taken on the ways of the nations, turning to idol worship and engaging in immoral and unjust actions, and because of that they lost their land for a time. Now they sought to be holy by becoming very sensitive to what was clean and unclean. Jesus often called them from a purely external focus on cleanliness to true holiness found in a right relationship to God.
We may find this hard to understand. Yet we might question our own cultural obsession with outward cleanliness that leaves out holiness and spiritual life. Our TV ads show a war on bathroom germs. There is one ad that shows a couple out to dinner, fully clothed, and yet with a continual shower raining down on them, as if that is normal or exemplary behavior. This soap makes you feel like you are eternally in the shower. This is bizarre. It is foolish. And yet, why do we think this way? Why so much emphasis on clean and germ free living and yet we neglect holiness of the heart. Would it not be better to spend our time in prayer, to pay attention to what God desires for the way we live, to say “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
The man who was cleansed by Jesus of the unclean spirits was sent home in his right mind. He had a home. He had a family. He came from people who grieved his chains, his uncontrolled violence, the shame he brought to the community. Now they received him back as a brother, a son. He came home to bear witness to what God had done in his life. Holiness leads to discipleship. This man did not become proud or self-righteous. He became the first disciple in a Gentile community. He told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
I remember a time at a Junior High camp some years ago. There was a girl who came dressed in black, with black eye makeup and a very hard look on her face. All week she continued her stubborn non-cooperation. She was far from God. But late in the week, one night all of that changed. After a long session with her counselor, she came to faith in Christ, a cleansing kind of conversion. The next morning she came to breakfast wearing a white T-shirt, a washed face and a countenance that seemed to shine. A life-affirming healing had taken place deep inside. The change in appearance was startling. Holiness leads to discipleship, and the cleansing of our hearts and attitudes and behaviors is far more important than our laundry soap or shampoo or deodorant.
The third result the disciples see is one of obedience. They come to recognize the authority of Jesus over nature and over spiritual power and over disease and over death. When a person understands the authority of Jesus, that person obeys the call of Jesus. The man who was demon-possessed wanted to follow Jesus, wanted to be a disciple. But Jesus sent him to be a disciple at home, and the man obeyed. The twelve disciples, who now see who Jesus is, are able to go out and proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal people as Jesus empowers them.
Jesus speaks with authority over the chaos in our lives. He casts out our fear with his love. Jesus heals our souls. He wins a victory over death and every force of evil on the cross.
The ministry of Jesus was not to change the weather, to calm every storm on the Sea of Galilee. But he calmed one storm there. Why? Because he was concerned about the faith of his disciples, and knew their faith needed to operate in times of storm. He brought peace to them. He showed them his authority. That allowed his disciples to go out and minister and proclaim the Kingdom of God. But it also allowed them to follow him; now to Jerusalem, and to the cross. That is where we meet Jesus. In the cross and resurrection. That is where we find peace with God.
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