Luke XXXI: Lk. 8:22-39
Luke has presented the advent of Jesus as the arrival of God’s Word. People respond to that word in various ways, but fundamentally they either believe and obey and are set free or they don’t and they aren’t (e.g. Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, Pharisees, the centurion, the sinful woman). Despite all the doubts and objections, Luke is piling up exhibits that demonstrate Jesus’ claim: “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Lk. 4:18). When Jesus announces freedom, His announcement accomplishes freedom. He speaks to our storms and they cease.
It’s important to recognize that these two episodes stand side by side in all three synoptic gospels as a tale of two storms (Mt. 8:23ff, Mk. 4:35ff, Lk. 8:22ff), and they do so for somewhat obvious reasons. In both, there is a phenomenon beyond human control: in the first, a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee (Lk. 8:23); in the second, a demonic storm no man could tame (Lk. 8:29). In both stories, it is the word of Christ that commands the storms to cease (8:24, 8:29, 32). In both stories the result is a sudden calm (8:24, 8:35) and great fear (8:25, 8:37). Don’t miss the fact that the lake figures prominently in both stories as well (8:22, 8:33). In Biblical symbolism, the sea often represents chaos and evil powers, often because it is full of sea monsters (Job 41, Ps. 18:16, Is. 27:1, etc.). Unlike pagan mythology, the sea is not inherently evil since God created it and the sea monsters (Gen. 1:21), but the Lord alone perfectly rules it. In fact, taken together, these stories remind us of at least a couple famous Old Testament stories that display God’s sovereignty over the sea: the Exodus and Jonah. Jesus reminds us of Jonah sleeping in the middle of a storm (Jon. 1:5) along with the great calm that follows, and when he comes to shore, he comes to a gentile region also like Jonah (many pigs suggests a non-Jewish community). Likewise, Jesus speaks to the waves, and they obey him, like they obeyed Moses centuries before. Also, like the Egyptian armies, Jesus destroys the “legion” by drowning them in the sea (Ex. 14:28-30, Lk. 8:33). Jesus is enacting a new Exodus.
Old Man Adam
Remember the last couple of weeks of Easter, we’ve considered the horticultural image of the word as seed (Lk. 8:4-15) and Jesus our Gardener (Jn. 20:15). While the image has shifted, we see instances of the same thing going on: Jesus asks the disciples, “Where is your faith?” (Lk. 8:25) Which is like Jesus asking, don’t you have ears to hear (Lk. 8:15)? But even more clearly, the man with the demon clearly represents good soil. But of course you might have confused him with a hard-beaten path given his past. First, notice that he is an image of the old humanity in Adam. He is naked and lives among the tombs (Lk. 8:27). He is tormented by many demons, and has been driven into the wilderness by them (Lk. 8:29). This is the old man in Adam: tormented, isolated, lonely, ashamed, unclean, living among the dead. Mark’s gospel says that he was constantly crying out and cutting himself (Mk. 5:5). Of course most people find various kinds of fig leaves to try to cover their nakedness and shame; they find ways to try to hide their sin and torment in the shadows (cf. Gen. 3:7-8). But it’s still there. And we should point out that this slavery and torment really is demonic, but perhaps not always like popular mythology claims. “Satan” means “accuser” and he is the “father of lies” – while demons may sometimes torment people in what looks like split personalities and schizophrenia, they may just as easily appear as “angels of light” suggesting lies with sincerity, nursing guilt and shame beneath nice clothes, the torment of isolation beneath fake smiles. This is no less demonic and satanic, and Jesus came to crush it.
Now Is the Judgment
Who is this that he commands even winds and water and they obey him? The clear and unmistakable answer is that this is the Lord God of the Universe in human flesh. He commands the wind and the waves; he commands Leviathan and all the great sea creatures and they obey him (Job 41). He gives the command, and the demons would depart into the abyss (Lk. 8:31). It’s unclear whether drowning in the sea actually avoided that fate, but the point is that He rules it all. He holds the keys of Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). How did He get those keys? He went down into the abyss; He went down into death and came back alive. He wrestled that Great Leviathan, that Dragon of Old, Satan our Accuser, and He broke his neck and threw him down into the abyss and sealed it over him (Rev. 20:2-3). Jesus said: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:31-32). And when the herdsmen came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind (Lk. 8:35).
Conclusion: The Peace of the City
It’s worth noting the severity of the disaster that has occurred: a large herd of pigs (Mark says about 2000, Mk. 5:13) has drowned in the Sea of Galilee. This is an enormous economic loss. Perhaps some of the herdsman lost their jobs. Perhaps a businessman went into bankruptcy. This likely caused some disruption in the local pagan temples since pigs were often used as sacrificial animals in Greek and Roman worship, not to mention the ecological impact on the Sea of Galilee. No wonder the people from town asked Jesus to leave (Lk. 8:37). But Luke focuses their attention (and ours) on the healed man (Lk. 8:35-36). Apparently they are more afraid of the demoniac healed than they were of him tormented by demons. Unfortunately, the world has not entirely left this sentiment behind. The old world is fine with attempts at rehabilitation so long as it doesn’t disrupt the status quo, but in so far as the status quo enslaves, Jesus came to tear it all down. All too frequently, “gospel presence” and “seeking the peace of the city” are code phrases for cowardice and compromise. On the one hand, Jesus will warn his disciples against destroying men’s lives (Lk. 9:54-55), but on the other hand, the peace that Jesus brings upends the world (Acts 17:6-7). While the people of the city send Jesus away, Jesus has planted a seed that has sprung up with fruit almost immediately, and He sends the man home with pockets full of that same explosive, life-giving seed (Lk. 8:38-39).