The Abyss or the Studio: Which One You Want Ah? or: Jesus Goes On Holiday (Luke 8:22-56)

So one day Jesus gets a wild hair and he says to his disciples, “hey boys!” — and girls, because remember he’s got some ladies travelling with him also — he says, “hey everybody: road-trip! Let’s go out-station ah? We go sight-see, maybe makan a bit!” You know, the usual.

So the disciples say, “ya boss! Let’s go!”

So they all pile into a boat, and off they go, sailing across the lake.

And just like going on holiday in Malaysia — where suddenly there’s a six hour jam on the highway, or the hotels are all booked by Singaporeans — something goes wrong: a terrible storm sweeps down on them.

Now, this is the Sea of Galilee, what Luke likes to call the Lake of Gennesaret. It is surrounded by hills, and wind coming over those hills can create extremely violent storms in an instant, with no warning at all. It happens even today.

So anyway, there they are, caught in one of these instant storms. The boat starts to fill with water, and the disciples freak out. And seeing as some of these guys are professional fishermen and sailors, when guys like that think it’s time to freak out, it’s really time to freak out.

So they look around for Jesus, and they find him…sleeping, of course. So they wake him up: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

— and I have to pause the story for a moment here and point out two interesting things about this:

First, they call Jesus “Master” instead of “Lord”, which in Luke is a bad sign; it is the mark of incomplete understanding.

Second, this word they use when they say “we’re going to drown!” also has connotations of complete destruction, as in “we’re going to Hell!” kind of destruction.

And the reason they think this is because they are literally in deep water. For ancient people, the depths of the sea was inhabited by monsters and demons, things that not only devoured your body but also dragged your spirit down into the place of the dead. This is why dying at sea was perceived as one of the worst ways you could die.

So the disciples are not just concerned that they are going to die; they are worried that their souls are going to be damned: that was the superstition of their age.

So Jesus gets up, in verse 24, and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.

And then he turns to them and says, “dudes! Where is your faith?

Now, to be perfectly clear: Jesus is not rebuking them because they were scared. Jesus is not British; he does not require that we face all disasters with a stiff upper-lip.

No: he is rebuking them for what they were scared of. They thought that if they drowned, their souls would go to the place of the dead, instead of into the presence of God.

But mature faith, in this situation, would have realized that even if they drowned with Jesus in the middle of the sea, they would still find themselves safe in God’s presence.

Some deaths are very panic-inducing. Some deaths are very unpleasant. Jesus does not require that we face all things with stoic resolve. But he does want us to trust him. He wants us to trust that after the storm — whether we live or die — there will be peace, and safety.

But the message is sort of lost on the disciples at this moment. Luke tells us that in fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this guy?”

Which is the right question to ask. Because after all, who can command nature except God?

But Luke leaves this question unanswered for the moment; the disciples are not yet ready for the truth.

Moving on:

They sail across the lake and land in Greek country — non-Jewish country. If you put the Sea of Galilee in the middle, one side is Jewish, the other side is Greek.

So this is, for Jesus and the disciples, unclean country. And, as if to prove the point, an unclean man meets them. He is unclean for three reasons: he is a Greek, he lives in the graveyard, and he is possessed by unclean spirits, which is what demons were called. We know he is demon possessed because he lives alone, naked, in the graveyard. We know he is Greek because he calls Jesus the Son of the Most High God, which is a title a Greek would use, and not a Jew.

So this unclean guy rushes at them. Jesus commands the demon to come out. The demon screams at him just like the demon back in Chapter 4: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

Now, Jesus could have just gotten rid of it immediately. But to help make a point to his disciples, he asks for the demon’s name.

“Legion,” the demon says.

The Roman army was made up of legions — groups of about 5000 men. So for the demon to call itself “Legion” has two implications: first, there are lots of demons here, not just one. And second: these are soldiers, warriors ready to do battle against God’s chosen King.

And yet the battle is over before it is even begun! That is the point Jesus wants to make: even though there are thousands of them, the demons — and their master, the devil — don’t stand a chance.

The demons know they’re no match for God’s Son. They were sent to fight; instead they negotiate their surrender: they beg Jesus not to send them into the Abyss.

— and I have to pause the story here again to point out how ironic this request is: just a few minutes ago, the disciples begged Jesus not to let them go into the Abyss. The Abyss was the underworld, the place of the dead while they wait for Judgement Day. One major gateway to it was through the grave. Another major gateway to it was…through the sea.

So this is ironic because the demons fear what the disciples feared: God’s judgement. The difference, of course, is that Jesus offers forgiveness to mankind. He does not make this offer to demons.

Anyway, it turns out there is a large herd of pigs nearby. So the demons continue the negotiation in verse 32, begging Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. [33] 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.

And some of us hear this and think, “oh, those poor pigs! What did they ever do to deserve that?” But the question we should ask first is, “what did this poor Greek dude ever do to deserve what he’s been going through?”

See, when Jesus allowed the demons to enter the pigs, he was making several more points. First, what the demons do to the pigs is just what they were doing to the man; it just happens a lot faster in the case of the pigs.

Second, this is a stark and rather shocking demonstration of what redemption costs. Remember, these are unclean spirits inhabiting an unclean man who lives in an unclean land inhabited by unclean animals. For Jews like the disciples, this is the kind of situation that would make them throw up a little bit in their mouths. Its really gross, physically and spiritually.

So Jesus’ command here results in physical cleansing and spiritual cleansing. The unclean spirits leave the man; now he is clean. They rush into the unclean animals. The unclean animals leave the unclean land; now the land is clean. They rush into the unclean sea where their unclean bodies descend into the Abyss. And what, do you think, happened to the unclean spirits that inhabited those bodies?

That’s right: Jesus, just like the United States, does not negotiate with terrorists — I mean, demons. Their defeat here is total, and this foreshadows how Jesus’ greater war against Satan is going to end.

Anyway, the pig-herders are having a bad day, as you can imagine. They freak out and run for help, and people from town come out to see what’s going on, and in verse 35, 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.

The man had been possessed; now he is clean. He had been naked; now he is dressed. He had been out of control; now he is in his right mind. He had been alone, in the desert, among the tombs; now he has joined Jesus’ disciples: he is part of a new, living community, a new family. We know this because Luke says he was sitting at Jesus’ feet. In those days, sitting at a teacher’s feet means that you are listening to them, learning from them: that you are a disciple.

And then the pig-herders, who saw what happened, basically preach the gospel to the townspeople. They tell the whole story of how Jesus cleansed this man and brought him back whole from the place of the dead.

And the people just rejoice at having their brother back! Praising God, they also sit down at Jesus’ feet! They want to know more about this Jewish teacher, they want to become his disciples too — !

No, they don’t, do they? Instead, they are terrified and they chase Jesus off.

So, he gets back into the boat. The man begs Jesus to let him come along, 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.

— and again I have to pause here and point out something: remember Mary Magdalene, at the beginning of this chapter? She was cleansed of demons, and her act of love for Jesus was to follow him. This Greek man is also cleansed of demons, and he wants to follow Jesus too. But Jesus gives him a different job: he’s supposed to go and talk about what God has done for him. So Luke wants us to understand that there are many different ways to love Jesus; some are called to leave their homes and follow him; some are called to stay home and preach to their relatives.

Moving on:

Now when Jesus arrives back in Jewish Galilee, a crowd is waiting for him. Why? Is it because they’re eager to hear what he has to say? or because of what he can do for them?

Hmmmm…let’s find out:

So Jesus lands, this crowd meets him, then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue — most likely the worship director — 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.

— and we have to pause and notice that Jairus is a religious leader: the worship director of the community; Jesus is just some random wandering preacher, the son of a migrant construction worker. Jairus is upper class; Jesus is lower class. For him to fall at Jesus’ feet would have been very unusual.

But when your only daughter is dying, suddenly questions of status just don’t matter anymore. Jairus is acting just like that leper who broke society’s rules by coming into town to find Jesus; just like that woman who crashed a dinner party so she could thank her Saviour. Jairus’ humility here is a good sign that he is already on the road to faith.

So Jesus goes with him. But as Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.

The narrative tension is rising here: a little girl is dying. Time is running out! Jesus needs to hurry! So…of course he gets caught in a jam! It happens to all of us.

And then, in the middle of this crush, Luke zooms in on one person: a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.

— and that means menstrual bleeding, by the way. For twelve years. In other words, this woman has been suffering for the same amount of time that Jairus’ daughter has been alive.

Is that significant? Yes it is.

On the one hand we have a little girl on the verge of womanhood: she is about to begin menstruation, which in the culture of that time was the beginning of her adult life. For her to die at twelve would be our modern equivalent of having a daughter die just before she graduates from uni and starts a career.

On the other hand, we have a young woman who, even though she has grown into womanhood, is unable to have children. She is barren. And in that culture, for a woman to be barren was considered a curse from God.

So here, again, Luke is turning up the narrative tension: which situation is more urgent? Which one should Jesus heal: the little girl, with all her young life ahead of her? or this woman, cursed by God, her biological clock already half-spent?

So this is the scene: Jairus pushing forward desperately through the crowd, pulling Jesus behind him, but the harder they press the thicker the press becomes — ! Meanwhile, this woman slips her way up through the crowd, reaches out, and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak — and her bleeding stops instantly.

And then…Jesus stops. He looks around. He wants to know, “Who touched me?”

And everybody’s like, “…?” And Peter says, “ahem, Master (notice how he calls Jesus ‘Master’ again?), uh, everybody’s touching you, dude.”

And you can imagine what Jairus is going through at this moment: his daughter’s life is hanging by a thread, and now Jesus wants to stop and talk about who’s touching him?

But Jesus insists: “Someone touched me; I know, because power has gone out from me!”

Basically Jesus is saying, “yes, I know everybody’s touching me; but only one person here has touched me believing that I can heal them. And I did! So now I would like to know who it was!”

Now, obviously, Jesus knows. But he wants the woman — and everyone else — to know that he knows. And we’ll see why in a moment.

So Jesus stands there, waiting, while time runs out for Jairus’ daughter. And finally, the woman, realizing she’s not going to get away with it, comes forward trembling and falls at Jesus’ feet.

And why is she trembling? Because, as I pointed out before, she has been bleeding menstrually for twelve years. That makes her unclean, according to God’s ancient Law. She is unclean — and anyone she touches is unclean until sunset. If Jesus had just kept quiet, she could have slipped away and no one in that crowd would have known they had just been defiled!

But Jesus refuses to stay quiet. So now she has to admit, in front of everybody, her very private problem and all the rules she has broken to find healing. She has to admit that she — an unclean woman — reached out and touched a holy man, technically defiling him. She knows that many in that crowd would have been horrified to hear this; not just because she touched a holy man, but because no one can know for sure whether she might have touched them! So now they all have to count themselves unclean until sunset, just in case!

But actually, the joke is on them all. Because where has Jesus just come from? An unclean land full of unclean animals, unclean people, and unclean spirits. Jesus himself is technically unclean. And anyone who has touched him is also unclean. From Jairus, who touched his feet, to this woman who touched his cloak, to this crowd that has been pressing in on him since he landed — Jesus has been defiling them all, according to God’s Law!

So this woman didn’t defile Jesus by touching him. Actually they defiled each other.

But that’s not quite true, is it. We have already discovered, haven’t we, that Jesus cannot be defiled. His holiness is so great that whatever he touches becomes clean. Whoever he speaks to is forgiven.

That’s the reason he stopped everything until the woman came forward: he wanted everyone there — including the woman herself — to prove that this clean/unclean thing becomes complete nonsense when he is around.

So he says, in verse 48, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

And some of you will remember that this is almost exactly what he said in Chapter 7 to the woman who anointed his feet. That time he said, “your faith has saved you.” This time he says, “your faith has healed you.”

But the truth is: this is exactly what he said to that other woman. In the Greek, the word for saved and the word for healed is the same word. These sentences are actually identical. To be healed is to be saved; to be saved is to be healed, made clean.

And only now do we discover the dreadful cost of this delay: [49] 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.”

The narrative tension dissolves. Just like that, the story is over.

But then Jesus turns to Jairus and says to him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

He’s saying, “trust me, man. You believed I could heal her of sickness; well, there’s really no difference between sickness and death: I can heal her of this, too.”

So they arrrive. And the crowd arrives with them, and the whole neighborhood is gathered, and everyone is weeping and wailing, this great outcry of grief that was culturally expected at that time.

But Jesus says, “stop it! She’s not dead, she’s sleeping!”

And the crowd laughs. Not with Jesus — at him. See, they know she’s dead: they heard the messenger. The neighborhood people have confirmed, “yeah, she’s dead.” And because of what they think they already know, they can’t hear what Jesus is actually saying. They hear, but they don’t understand.

But Jesus ignores them. He goes into the house with just Jairus and his wife, and three of his disciples. He takes the dead girl by the hand — again, an action that makes him ritually unclean — he calls out to her, “My child, get up!”

And she does. The dead girl hears his words and understands them.

The dead girl hears better than the people outside.

If you are a literary nerd, as I am, you know that is called “irony”.

Then Jesus tells them to give her something to eat. Quite naturally, her parents are astonished, but he orders them not to tell anyone what just happened.

End of story.

And we’re left wondering: why can’t they tell anyone? Jesus told the guy across the lake to stay behind just so he can tell everybody; why does he want the parents to stay quiet now?

Well, the truth is: these four stories — the calming of the storm, the exorcism of the demons, the healing of the woman, and the raising of the dead girl — serve several literary purposes. We’ve already learned that almost everything Luke writes has multiple layers of meaning, and this passage is no exception.

The most obvious layer of these stories, the most surface interpretation, is for us to see that Jesus is really powerful, and that he might actually be God. But…we already knew that, didn’t we? That’s why it’s the obvious layer. And if we stop there we’re bound to be disappointed.

But to access the next layer down, we have to think back to the earlier parts of Luke. If we do that, we realize that Jesus has done all this before: a nature miracle, an exorcism, healing someone at someone else’s request, raising a dead child back to life. The difference now is that each one of these miracles is greater than the previous one.

He helped Simon catch fish; now, he calms a storm.

He cast out one demon from a Jew in a Synagogue; now he casts out thousands of demons from a non-Jew in an unclean land.

He healed a centurion’s servant who had just fallen ill; now he heals a woman who has been sick most of her adult life.

He spoke to a dead boy, and he rose; this time he calls out to the dead girl, and she rises.

So in this second layer we see Luke pushing the narrative forward. We already know Jesus has all these miraculous powers: we’ve seen them before! But now we see that Jesus’ war against the devil, the ancient dragon, is escalating. This is like the Battle for Helm’s Deep at the end of The Two Towers: we already knew that our heroes were heroic, but it’s at Helm’s Deep that all their talents are showcased at once. In the same way here, Jesus’ war against Satan is reaching its peak — and soon one side or the other must break and run.

But there is yet a third layer underneath this narrative; arguably the most important layer. It is in this third layer that we will find an answer to why Jesus tells the parents to keep quiet.

In order to access this layer, we have to zoom out just slightly and remember what came just before these four stories. What happened just before this, at the beginning of Chapter 8?

Jesus told a riddle. This riddle was designed to separate his true friends from those who are just there to use him. Remember that? The four kinds of soil, the four kinds of listeners? Those who listen carefully to Jesus will produce fruit. Those who refuse to listen will soon lose their ability to hear Jesus’ voice or to benefit at all from him.

This is why he lets only Jairus and his wife and three of his disciples witness the miracle: these are the ones who are listening carefully; these are the ones who believe Jesus has the power to raise the dead, make the unclean clean, and forgive the sins of anyone who asks. Because they are listeners, they get to share in this miracle.

But the people outside, who came to see a miracle but refused to hear what Jesus said — well, they didn’t get to see the miracle, and now they won’t even get to hear about it, because Jesus has told the parents to keep it quiet. They’ve been completely cut out, just as Jesus warned them they would be if they continued in their obsession with health and wealth and power.

The people across the lake? They’re different. They aren’t Jews: they don’t have God’s Law, so they don’t have a reference point. They’re pagans; they see Jesus do a powerful miracle and quite naturally they freak out! As pagans they’ve never heard of a loving God who longs to have mercy on them. That is why Jesus left that man there: so he could begin to preach that good news to his own people.

But this crowd here? These Jews? They should have known better. They have God’s Law. They know there is a forgiving, loving God who longs to restore them completely. They know there is a Messiah coming, an anointed King who will defeat the devil and open every prison door!

They know all this; and yet they laugh. They could be free! but they can’t even get over themselves enough to see that the prison doors are open.

And that’s why they don’t even get to hear the story of what happened in their own kampung.

So, what does this mean for us?

Well…nothing, really, has changed. The devil who imprisoned mankind — spoiler alert! — the devil has been defeated, critically wounded. Still dangerous, yes! like a dying snake. But most of his power has been stripped from him. The prison doors are open; they’ve been standing open for two thousand years. All a prisoner has to do is listen for the voice of the King, and that voice will lead them out of the blinding darkness into the full light of day.

But the devil knows this. He has no power to keep anyone from leaving! but he can fill the air with noise. He can distract and confuse and deceive. Often he uses our natural fear of suffering to turn our natural desires for health, wealth, and comfort up to eleven. That is what Jesus warned his disciples about in his riddle last week: the time of testing is a time of danger for our faith; but so is the time of wealth and well-being. We have seen both at work in these episodes today: the disciples failed their time of testing in the storm; the crowd outside Jairus’ house failed the test of complacency. They thought they had things figured out! — but there was more to the story than they were willing to hear.

Friends, the prison gates are open. If we have recognized our sin and shame, and accepted that Jesus has the authority to make us clean, then we have heard the voice of our King, and we are being led step by step out of the darkness. But still, we too can be distracted. Jesus’ warning is for us when he says, “consider carefully, then, how you listen.”

So…how do we keep from being distracted?

Some of you know that once upon a time I went to school in Hollywood to learn how to produce music. I was taught to work the equipment, of course. But even more important was learning how to listen. Very experienced engineers could hear nuances that were complete blur to me! and I definitely wanted to learn from them.

But just as important as the listening skills of the engineer is the studio space. Studios are heavily insulated from outside noise. If a studio is poorly designed — if it is noisy — then even a very experienced engineer can be led astray in his listening.

Last week we discovered that learning to listen takes concentration, diligence, discipline, training. But the space matters too. Jesus tells us to consider carefully how we listen to him. But from now on in Luke’s narrative Jesus will also be creating a space where we can more easily hear his voice, a space where his disciples can grow. The ultimate design of this space is called the Kingdom of God. On earth, we call it the Church. But when we talk about the Church we aren’t actually talking about physical space, physical buildings. We are talking about the people that make up the Church.

We are the Church. We are the disciples who are learning to listen. We are also the space in which disciples learn to listen.

If that seems confusing…don’t worry about it. Metaphors are, by nature, poetic. Let me simplify it by saying this: as disciples of Jesus, we need to enter regularly into a quiet space with our brothers and sisters so we can listen to the voice of our king. We also need to be helping to build that space, so embody it.

Our church should be like a recording studio. Our worship together is supposed to be a quiet place set apart from the noise and distractions of the outside world. This is why we call ourselves a Slow, Small, Simple, Still Church. We want this to be a space where the voice of our King can cut through the clutter of our lives.

So: let us consider carefully how we listen. Let us continue to make this church a place of rest, and quiet, where Jesus’ voice can be clearly heard. And let us do this not only for ourselves, but for everyone who comes.


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