WHO IS THIS?
Luke 8:22-39, Key Verse 8:25
“‘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.’”
There are two miraculous events in today’s passage: Jesus calming a storm with his words, and Jesus healing an extremely demon-possessed man. One thing they have in common is that they reveal new depths of Jesus’ identity. As we study this passage, it’s very helpful to place ourselves in the disciples shoes, and feel their amazement as Jesus’ divine nature is revealed. Of course, the disciples started following Jesus in the hope that he was the Messiah. But what Jesus revealed himself as much more than they expected.
Some of us might feel that we are very familiar with Jesus and used to all the theological statements about who he is. But this can lead to a fixed mindset that stops us from growing further. A deeper realization of who Jesus is can raise our own life of faith up to a new level. Let’s pray we can realize what the disciples realized when they said to one another in astonishment, “Who is this?”
Jesus calms a storm at sea (22-25)
Jesus’ ministry, as we have studied so far in Luke’s gospel, has been centered around the region of Galilee on the western side of the Galilee lake, and the towns in that region. But in today’s passage, Jesus lets his disciples know that it is time to expand their territory. Look at the first verse of the passage, verse 22. “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.” Many of the disciples were experienced sailors, and by boat was a natural way to get to the eastern side of Lake Galilee.
Shortly after they set out, Jesus fell asleep in the boat (23). Though this is a small thing, it is an enlightening reminder of Jesus’ humanity. Though Jesus is God, in his human flesh he had human limitations. He got tired, especially after serving crowds of people day in and day out. And so, when he had an opportunity, he slept.
Then, as they were sailing across the lake, the disciples encountered an unexpected change of circumstances. Verse 23 says that a squall, which is a small but fierce storm, came down on the lake. I read that the location and geography of Lake Galilee makes it subject to sudden and violent storms as the wind comes over the mountains on the eastern side of the lake and drops suddenly onto the sea. The disciples’ boat, which would have been no larger than about 30 feet long, was being tossed about and swamped with water, to the point that their very lives were in danger. Even though the disciples were experienced sailors, they could not navigate through this storm. Before the storm, their skill, experience, knowledge, strength and were of no use. Their frantic and desperate efforts gave way to panic, as they felt they were doomed to die at sea.
What about Jesus? Amazingly, he was still asleep in the middle of the raging storm. How could he sleep while the boat was rocking and jerking, and while the water was splashing all over the place? He must have been really exhausted. Or maybe his serene sleep is a result of his perfect faith in God. The storm did not wake Jesus, but his disciples did. In their panic, they went and woke Jesus, saying “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” (24a)
This storm on the lake can be compared to the unexpected crises we face in our own lives. In fact, all of life can be compared to a voyage. Herman Melville said, “Life’s a voyage that is homeward bound.” These words sound poetic and beautiful. The problem is that many people don’t know what “homeward bound” means. But when we are in Christ, we know our destiny is the glorious kingdom of God. So our voyage is very meaningful. Along the way we experience many kinds of events through which God reveals himself to us personally. There are many kinds of storms, such as cancer, huge school loans, marital strife, wayward children, negligent parents, miscarriages, accidents, deaths, failures, natural disasters and more.
The real question of life is, how do we respond to these storms? When such things happen, fear and doubt overwhelm us. Our first response may be, “Why me?” Then we doubt God’s love and become distant from God. Yet we should know that God has a good purpose in this kind of storm, to draw us near to himself and that we may experience his presence.
How did God work in Jesus’ disciples through this storm on the lake? When they woke Jesus in their panic, Jesus stood up in the boat, and it says in verse 24, he rebuked the wind and the raging waters. It means he commanded the storm to stop, saying “Quiet! Be still!” Then what happened? The storm did stop! The wind and the waves subsided, and all was calm. Here, Jesus reveals that he possesses the power of the creator God who rules over all the elements of nature. Colossians 1:16 says about Jesus, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things have been created by him and for him.”
After calming the storm with his words, Jesus turned to his disciples. In fact, he was not happy with them, and not just because they interrupted his nap. He said to them in verse 25, “Where is your faith?” We may think the disciples’ panic was a very natural and excusable reaction. But Jesus expected better of them. Jesus wanted his disciples to learn enough faith to not fall victim to doubt and fear in the storms of life like they did. Jesus knew they needed to grow stronger in faith to face many more kinds of storms in the future.
I really like how Jesus’ question is phrased, “Where is your faith?” It seems to indicate they had misplaced their faith and needed to search for it until they found it again. Maybe it fell overboard off the boat in the storm. Maybe they forgot faith at home, leaving it hanging on the key hook in the kitchen. We may also lose our faith in the storms of life and need to find it again. Many years ago, there was a TV commercial for a credit card that said “Don’t leave home without it.” It meant that this credit card would be very useful for many situations you might find yourself in. But faith is much more useful than any credit card. So, we could come up with a new motto: “Don’t leave home without your faith.”
Verse 25b shows us the disciples’ reaction to Jesus calming the storm. It says, “In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’” We can say the disciples were overwhelmed by a gut-level realization of the power and authority of Jesus. Just a few minutes before, the disciples had felt totally helpless before the power of a sudden storm, before the power of the forces of nature. Then, they experienced how Jesus was more powerful than those forces of nature. The disciples were struck by the divinity of Jesus in a way that went beyond mere intellectual understanding. Their question “who is this” expresses their shock and awe. Also, though they didn’t say it out loud, it really means “God himself is here in the boat with us, and we didn’t realize it.” My dad calls it having a “Jesus moment.” The disciples’ personal encounter with the almighty power of Jesus made a lasting impression on them. This new level of awareness of Jesus was a vital root of their faith from that point forward.
Have you ever had a “Jesus moment” when you were facing a crisis? Realizing that Jesus’ power is bigger than anything? When we do, it’s our responsibility to take that realization into our heart, and hold on to it, and live in the light of Jesus’ greatness every day, so that our faith will not go missing when we need it most. No matter what storm we face, Jesus can calm it because he is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. As long as Jesus is with us in the boat of life as we journey, we have nothing to fear.
Jesus heals a demon-possessed man (26-33)
After making it safely through the storm, Jesus and his disciples sailed on and landed in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake. This was Gentile territory. It had been conquered by Alexander the Great, who established the region of Decapolis (ten cities) on the model of Greek culture. In the time of General Pompeii (63 B.C.), Rome conquered this area and the 14th Roman Legion occupied it, and still held it in Jesus’ time.
When the disciples stepped ashore, they got another shock of a different kind. They were met by a demon-possessed man from the town, whose condition was indeed frightening. It says that for a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs (27). Luke does not tell us how this man had become demon possessed, but simply states that he was under the demon’s power. The demon’s control of this man made him wild, unpredictable, and violent. I think demon possession is just an extreme case of being a slave to sin. I believe that many of us have felt controlled by sin to the point that it does indeed seem demonic. Maybe this man ended up in this condition because he thirsted after a kind of absolute freedom, with no constraint or commitment on his life at all. That could explain why he didn’t even wear clothes.
People were scared of this man, so they tried to bind him with chains on both his hands and feet and put him under guard so he would not cause trouble. But the demon gave him superhuman strength by which he could break chains. Once he escaped, the demons drove him into solitary places (29), like the tombs where he lived among the dead.
Luke shows us that demons inhabiting this man recognized Jesus immediately. 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!” (28) What a shocking way for the disciples to learn yet more about Jesus’ identity. All demons know who Jesus is. This man may have been the most miserable person on earth. On the one hand, he was spiritually driven to Jesus as the only way out of his desperate situation. On the other hand, the demons, who were subject to Jesus’ judgment, made the man terrified that Jesus had come to torture him. In fact, the man was being tortured already, inwardly, by his demons, and he could not escape from that no matter where he went. Probably, when the disciples saw and heard this man, they wanted to get back in the boat and leave. But Jesus was different.
As this was an extreme case of demon possession, Jesus took a deeper and more personal approach to help this man. In verse 30, Jesus began by asking him, “What is your name?” This is a simple question, but it shows Jesus’ desire to expose his problem and restore him to his true human identity.
The man’s answer shows the significance of Jesus’ question. He could not even give his real birth name. He called himself “legion”, indicating that he was inhabited by not just one but a whole array of demons. In those times, a legion of the Roman army would contain from 4,000 to 5,000 men. So it’s no surprise that with that many demons, the man’s identity had almost vanished underneath all that demonic activity.
The demons also knew that Jesus was determined to save this man by driving them out of him. So they began to beg Jesus not to send them into the Abyss. The Abyss is one of the names for what we might call Hell, the place of final judgment for the devil and his demons. Calling it the Abyss represents it as a kind of bottomless pit from which there is no escape. Jesus has authority to send demons there.
The demons tried to negotiate a compromise with Jesus. They knew Jesus would not let them stay in this man. But nearby, on a hillside, there was a large herd of pigs feeding. The fact that it was a herd of pigs, which were unclean animals to the Jews, shows the Gentile presence in this region. Jesus gave the demons permission to go into the pigs. So the demons came out of the man and went into the pigs…with what result? The entire herd of pigs rushed down the bank into the lake and was drowned. It seems like these demons were so horrible that the animals simply could not tolerate their presence.
Why did Jesus grant the demons’ request to go into the pigs? We don’t think Jesus would be the type to compromise with the devil’s agents. Jesus didn’t do this to show mercy to the demons, but to show the price of sin, to show the sacrifice it takes to ransom one person. In fact, the loss of a herd of pigs is a small thing compared to the price that Jesus himself would pay on the cross to free us from our sins.
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 (35). With this event, Jesus could not help drawing a crowd. What did the people see? Of course, they saw all the dead pigs floating in the water. But most importantly, they saw the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind. Jesus’ intervention had indeed saved this man, healing him from the demons’ activity and bringing peace to his inner self. What a beautiful sight it was! Thank God for Jesus’ great compassion and power to heal people from demon possession, even the most severe cases.
Jesus gives a mission to the restored man (34-39)
The people who had seen what happened told the others from the town, and soon all the townspeople came to understand that this was the man who they had formerly heard screaming in the night among the tombs, and that this man Jesus had saved him by sacrificing their pigs. How did they react? Verse 35 ends by saying that when they saw all this, they were afraid. Why were they afraid? They didn’t need to be afraid of the demon-possessed man any more. Why weren’t they happy? I think they were disturbed by Jesus’ spiritual authority and unsettled by the power that had been displayed among them. It seems they just wanted to go on with their lives without confronting the spiritual reality. On a more mundane level, maybe they were dismayed by the loss of income represented by the herd of pigs.
Verse 37 says the people were so overcome with fear that they asked Jesus to leave. How sad that they don’t realize what a great blessing they are forfeiting by not welcoming Jesus, and that they seemingly don’t appreciate the one precious life that has been restored among them. Jesus could have rebuked them for rejecting them, but it seems he prepared to leave quietly. Maybe he knew that the people in this Gentile region were just not ready to accept him yet.
As Jesus was leaving, the man he had healed from demon possession came and begged to go with him. He is so thankful to Jesus and wants to become his disciple. Surprisingly, in this case, Jesus doesn’t let him. Instead, he tells the man, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” Jesus wanted the man to be further restored by healing the broken relationships from his past life. In this way, he could also be used as a witness to his own people, until their hearts might open to receive Jesus at a later time. The man obeyed Jesus’ direction with his whole heart and began to tell all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
Don’t you think people in today’s world are a lot like the people of this town? We are saddened when we see what a powerful hold materialism has on people’s lives, and how people don’t honor the image of God in each other but just see others in terms of the usefulness they can get out of them. Sometimes we want to yell at the world to shake it out of its spiritual slumber. But we learned from Jesus’ strategy that people’s eyes can be opened through the testimony of one changed life.
Today we witnessed Jesus’ divine power, revealed through his command of the very elements of nature. We also saw Jesus’ ultimate authority in the spiritual domain, and how he uses that authority in love to restore one broken life. We need faith to see that Jesus’ power and love protects us and restores us in every way. May God bless you to realize ever more deeply who this Jesus is.