Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Luke 8:1–21

Luke 8:1–21 (ESV): The Parable of the Sower, A Lamp on a Stand, Jesus’ Mother and Brothers


In this passage Jesus is traveling about with the apostles (“the twelve” (verse 1 (ESV))), as well as some women who have been cured of spirits and diseases. Interestingly—and this is a complete sidenote—one of the women is Mary Magdalene, “from whom seven demons had gone out” (verse 2 (ESV)). No mention of prostitution, just a healing of demons; why is she known as a prostitute?!? The answer below, and it might surprise you. (Actually, it probably won’t. It’s not at all surprising.)

In verses 4–8 (NIV), Jesus tells a crowd the famous parable of the sower, which I won’t summarize here (click the link). His disciples then ask him for the meaning of this parable, and before doing so, he tells them that to them “it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God” but not to the general public, so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (which is a quote from Isaiah 6:9 (ESV)). Then in verses 11–15 (ESV) he explains the meaning of the parable, which I still won’t explain, because he did it for me.

Then, in verses 16–18 (ESV), he says some very interesting things:
  1. No one lights a lamp and then hides it; when you light a lamp, you put it on a stand, so that the light can get around
  2. Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, or concealed that won’t be brought out into the open
  3. Therefore, we should consider how we listen. If someone “has” they will be given more; if someone “has not,” even what they think they have will be taken from them.
And finally (for this passage), Jesus’ mother and brothers come to see him, but they can’t get to him because of the crowd. Someone tells Jesus that they’re there, but he responds, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (verse 21 (ESV)).


Above I wondered aloud why everyone thinks Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and luckily the ESV Study Bible has the answer:
Mary was called Magdalene because she was from Magdala (a city on the western shore of Galilee, identified with modern Migdal). Later writers in church history connected Mary Magdalene to the sinful woman of 7:37, calling her a former prostitute. There is no evidence for this in the biblical text or in early church history. This mistaken identification arose from erroneously combining the two separate accounts found in John 12:1–8 and Luke 7:36–50 with this passage in Luke 8. On the other hand, heterodox Gnostic writers from the late-second century and afterward promoted their own interpretation of Mary (along with other minor NT figures such as Thomas, Philip, and Judas), considering her a special possessor of secret knowledge from the Savior. Contrary to various popular media accounts, no ancient source (whether orthodox or heterodox) says that Mary was married to Jesus, let alone had a son with him. In fact, there is no source anywhere that says that Jesus was married to anyone. The NT simply informs readers that Jesus healed her of demonic possession, and that she gratefully followed him to the foot of the cross and the empty tomb (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1; Luke 24:10). …
So that’s that. No evidence, whatsoever, that she was a prostitute. But… I doubt people will stop believing it any time soon.

Aside from this (which doesn’t really have anything to do with the passage), Jesus tells the parable of the sower, which is probably one of the most famous parables he told. I don’t think I even need to talk about it because Jesus already explained the whole thing for us.

But that’s followed by a few very cryptic verses, which he doesn’t explain at all. Some of it even sounds like double-speak; whoever has will get more, and whoever doesn’t have will lose even what he thought he had? What’s that all about? Let’s break it down:
  • No one lights a lamp and then hides it; when you light a lamp, you put it up on a stand so that the light can get around: If you’ve received the gospel like the person in verse 15 (ESV)—if you received the word “with an honest and good heart,” if you hold it fast, then you won’t hide it, you’ll share it with others, and “bear fruit.”
    • Incidentally, notice that Jesus isn’t commanding people, “please put your light up on a stand so that people can see it”—he’s making a statement: Those who light a lamp put it on a stand. Christians will share their light; it’s not a command, it’s a fact. A “Christian” who doesn’t share the light… well, that’s a sign of a major problem, isn’t it?
  • Nothing is hidden or concealed that will not be disclosed or brought out in the open: we—all of us—have a lot of secret sins, known only by us and by God. (Sometimes we fool ourselves and think that even God doesn’t know, or foreget that little fact, but He does.) If people could see my true heart they probably wouldn’t like me very much, and if I could see theirs the feelings would probably be reciprocated. But there will come a time when all of these things will be out in the open; and I think Jesus probably has two meanings in mind when he says this:
    1. Of course, there is the day of judgement. All secrets will be laid bare at that point, and I don’t think any of us are looking forward to it. (If we are, we shouldn’t be.) It’s true that I’m going to hear something along the lines of “well done, good and faithful servant” from my God, but it’s also true that I, in and of myself, will not deserve it. He’ll be saying that to me because of the work of Jesus on the cross, and because Jesus has paid the price for all of those sins—but there’s a lot of sins that He had to pay for. Having them all out in the open is not something I’m looking forward to.
      • Perhaps I’m stating it too strongly when I say none of us should be looking forward to the day of judgement; for those of us who believe, the end result will be joy. A joy greater than anything we’ll know in this life. So yes, in the end it will be a good thing, but, without knowing anything about the logistics of that day, I can’t help but think that I’m not going to enjoy seeing all of my sins laid bare.
    2. I think Jesus is also talking about people coming to initial faith in Him. The moment when they realize how sinful they really are, and it all comes out in the open—at least in their own hearts—because the light of the Word has revealed it to them. You can’t and won’t come to faith in Jesus until you see the need for it, and that means taking a realistic look at your own sinfulness. And this would continue on beyond the initial coming to faith, as well: as a Christian, we can’t pretend we don’t know how serious our sins are, the Holy Spirit won’t let us get away with that.
  • Because of all of this, we should be careful of how we listen. And again, you could look at this from the point of view of initially coming to faith, as well as an ongoing thing—when we read the Bible, we should always be prepared to read what’s really there, and not just look for the meanings we want to see. For, “whoever has will be given more”—if you come to faith, and believe the Word, you will always be growing in your faith, and understanding more and more of the word—but “whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them”—if you don’t listen carefully, you’ll misunderstand, or ignore, and whatever you think you’ve taken from the Word will be incorrect and probably forgotten.
The passage ends with an incident that could feel kind of heartless: Jesus’ mother and brothers come to see him, and he seems to be rejecting them. I don’t think that’s what’s really happening, though; for example, right at his death on the cross, Jesus is found asking John to take care of his mother (John 19:25–27 (ESV)), so we know that yes, he in fact cared for his mother. I see speculation sometimes that the reason Jesus’ mother and brothers were coming to see him is that they think he’s gone nuts, and they’re coming to drag him off so that he can come to his senses; I don’t see that here in the passage (nor in Matthew 12:46–50 (ESV) or Mark 3:31–35 (ESV)), so I don’t know if there’s a real basis for that, or if people are just speculating, in an effort to explain this story. But, as I say, I don’t think this story is Jesus rejecting his family; it’s Jesus stressing the importance of believing in Him. As a Christian, I have a stronger relationship with Jesus than even his blood family did (other than those who came to believe), and my relationship with Him is stronger than my relationship with my own family. Regardless of what Jesus’ family wanted at that moment—good or bad—it was more important for him to be teaching the crowd than for him to leave the crowd and go see his family.

After all, some of the people in the crowd might have been about to come to faith, because they were listening properly to the Word.

1 comment:

David Hunter said...

Accidentally started reading this passage in NIV instead of ESV, and I just realized that I left in the NIV section headings instead of the ESV section headings. Oh well.