The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 8:1-21 (Luke 8:1-21)

The evangelistic circuit.


I. THE PLAN OF CIRCUIT . ( Luke 8:1 .) "He went," or "went about," or "kept journeying." Hitherto Capernaum had been the centre from which short excursions were taken, the Lord always returning to it. Now he moves steadily on from place to place, "passing in patience until his work is done." "Through cities and villages." He will not omit any abode of man. If social influence and power had been the aim, this Prophet would have limited his operations to the chief centres of life; but his meat is to do the Father's will, and where there is even one soul waiting for the message, there is he. To the Father, to him, there is the same value in the soul of the. peasant as in that of the prince. "Preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God." The distinction between the words, "preaching and showing the good tidings"—or, to give the exact English rendering, "evangelizing"—is not to be pressed too far; but the latter word seems to mark an advance of thought on the former. The "preaching" was the more general proclamation, and the "evangelizing" was the presentation of the gospel thus proclaimed to the diversities of experience and need, the opening up of its several aspects of blessing, so that men from their different standpoints might realize the great love of God and behold the glories of his kingdom. Kings grant pardons, but they only send them; this King comes himself with the pardon, and deals personally with the sinner. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him thus bringing good tidings, and publishing peace; bringing good tidings of good, publishing salvation, saying unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"

II. A NEW STYLE OF DISCOURSE . One which thenceforth becomes a marked feature of the teaching. He had frequently used comparisons, traced likenesses between the natural and the spiritual. But what had been an occasional trait now became a characteristic mode of conveying truth, and for the reason given by himself ( Luke 8:10 ). To us, familiar with the sound and meaning of the parable, nothing can seem more apposite and happy as a means of communicating thought. By it the highest and deepest mysteries of the kingdom are most gently infused into the apprehension of the mind, whilst there is always a reserve of meaning on which we can draw. But the gamble was not all this to those who heard it. It stimulated inquiry rather than imparted knowledge. It brought the disciples to Jesus, saying, "Expound to us;" "What might this story be?" Those who did not wish to learn were sent away with the feeling, "A dark saying has been uttered: who can hear it?" Jesus says that this defined his purpose in adopting it. He meant it to be a test of the spirit of the mind. Thus he laid his hearers in the balances. May we be of those "to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven"!

III. THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER . This is the only one of the famous seven given in Matthew 13:1-58 . which St. Luke places in our view. It falls more naturally to be considered at length in connection with the former of the accounts. Observe here—on this St. Luke is explicit—the point to which the discourse of Jesus looks (verse 18), "Take heed therefore how ye hear." In this connection recall the four kinds of place in which the seed is sown: the wayside, where the seed is trodden down and devoured by the fowls; the rock, or stony places, where the seed springs up, but soon withers through want of moisture; the thorny ground, where the seed and the thorns grow together, and the thorns choke the seed; and the good ground, where the seed springs up and bears a hundredfold. These places are identified (verses 12-15) with classes of hearers. There are the wayside hearers—those in whom there is no mental exercise on that which they hear, whose minds are thoroughfares for all sorts of thought. And what follows? As soon as they hear, the devil comes—some impish fancy or distracting influence, and takes away the word. "I never heard a sermon," said a man, who for years attended church, "I attended, but, whilst you were speaking, I reviewed the last week's task and arranged for the next." There are the rocky-place hearers— those who hear with interest, with emotion; you can see the response to the word in the animation of the countenance, in the tokens of lively feeling. But the message does not grasp the character, the centres of the life remain unchanged, and thus "in time of temptation they fall away." There are the thorny-ground hearers— those who have heard and yielded to the truth, but the busy, care-crowded, or pleasure-seeking world is waiting for them; the seed is not altogether lost, but the mind is choked with alien interests or pursuits. The poet Robert Burns compares himself to a lonely man walking where fragments of marble columns lie on the ground, overgrown by rank, tall weeds. There are the good-soil hearers— those in whom the earnest longing to know, to do, God's truth is a preparation for the word; who, having heard, hide the word in the heart, and patiently and habitually submit to it-, and, through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, bring forth fruit abundantly. To which of these types of hearers does each of us belong? Oh the responsibility of hearing! Note the distinction, in verse 18, between those who have and those who seem to have, or think they have. What is the warning? Whoso only thinks that he has, or is content with the appearance of having, is losing his possession. The life is really moving on other lines than those laid down in the word. The power of reception is diminishing: "Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he thinketh he hath." "Take heed therefore how ye hear." It is the manner of hearing that is the main thing—the motive, the desire, the extent to which the heart and the soul are engaged whilst hearing. Persons are apt to blame the speaker, to lay the want of effect at his door. It may be so; no doubt it often is so. But what of these persons themselves? Let each examine himself. Eloquence, it has been said, is in the audience; and, undoubtedly, the sympathy of the audience has much to do with the power of the utterance. Christ reminds us that, where there is failure, the hearer at least divides the blame. He reminds us, too, that the life declares the quality of the hearing. Verses 16, 17, "For nothing is hid, that shall not be made manifest; nor anything secret, that shall not be known and come to light."

IV. THE HELPERS AND THE HINDERERS IN THE MINISTRY . The twelve are with him. It is their university curriculum. Would to God that all who pass through universities and seminaries realized this curriculum also—"Eye-witnesses first, and then ministers of the Word"! But he has other companions than the apostles; and the noteworthy thing as to these other companions is that they ministered to him of their substance. "The Son of God," says Godet, "lived by the love of those whom his love had made to live." Who are they? Women. Three names are singled out. Mary of Magdala," from whom seven devils had gone out" (vide previous section), once passionate, perhaps depraved, in her life; but henceforth the most loving and devoted; the one to whom the risen Saviour first appeared ( John 20:1-31 .). And with her are named the wife of Herod's steward, and Susanna, of whom nothing is known. "Many others," we are told. But we do not find, as Farrar has pointed out, the wives of Peter or of the married apostles; nor yet the mother of our Lord. The ministry of woman to Jesus! There is a deep sympathy between the true woman-heart and the Lord; the self-sacrificing love so pure and strong in the true woman-heart being the special attraction. Christianity has exalted woman, has raised her position, and purified her influence. But woman has more than paid back all that she owes to Christianity in respect of this. Who, indeed, that has been blessed by Christian mother, wife, sister, friend, does not know that God has created the ministry of his Word male and female?—giving to the female an even more winning beauty and a more spiritually educative service than the male. The apostles are with, Jesus; but certain women minister to him of their substance. These are the helpers: who are the hinderers ? His mother and his brethren (verse 19). The Lord is compelled to say that, whilst the relation according to the flesh is respected, they are not at that moment connected with him by the affinities which alone are permanent. See how this bears on the idolatrous honour paid by the Roman Church to Mary. She has been prevailed on by her children, not to intercede with Jesus, but to join them in the effort—probably meant in kindness, but showing deficiency of insight—to prevent him from continuance in toils and prayers. And note, he distinctly declines to recognize any rights grounded on the motherhood with regard to his work; only spiritual relationships will he recognize. Even when he looks down from the cross and sees her standing, he says to the beloved disciple only, "Behold thy mother." But, apart from this, is it not suggestive, mournfully suggestive, that the hinderers are the nearest of relations—mother and brethren? So it has been often since. An unsympathetic home and circle of friends sometimes constitute the sorest trial which one must face who wills to have fellowship with the Son of God, "He goeth forth weeping, bearing the precious seed."

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 8:1-21 (Luke 8:1-21)

Incidents in evangelistic work.

We have now to contemplate Jesus as fairly loosed from Capernaum as the centre of his mission work, and as making systematically the tour of the province of Galilee. The "beloved physician" gives to us here just such an insight into the material conditions of Christ's evangelistic work as we naturally desire. Let us, then, notice—

I. THE SPIRITUAL AND TEMPORAL SIDES OF OUR LORD 'S EVANGELISTIC WORK . ( Luke 8:1-3 .) Twelve men and a number of holy women form Christ's band—a choir, so to speak, of joyful evangelists. The substance of the message was "the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." Christ himself was Preacher. None of the others could enter into the nature of this coming kingdom. But it was to be a kingdom of peace and of joy to all who became members of it. Hence the preaching was "glad tidings." The spiritual side of the work was, therefore, joy-inspiring. The temporal conditions of the work are here revealed. Our Lord lived on charity, or, as we should put it, on love. Hospitality, especially to every one who professed to be a rabbi, would supply Christ with much; but it could not cover the whole case; consequently, certain women, who had been delivered from demoniacal possessions, and who were correspondingly grateful to their Deliverer, were proud to follow him and minister to him of their substance. Joanna, whose husband seems to have looked after Herod's housekeeping, transfers her attentions to a greater King,. and becomes chief minister, we may believe, to her Master's wants. The twelve disciples were candidates for the ministry under training; the holy women were the caterers for the college; and so our Lord, as President, received the help of men and women in their respective spheres.

II. THE ELEMENT OF JUDGMENT IN PARABOLIC TEACHING . Before noticing briefly the parable of the sower, we must ask attention to the change m our Lord's method of ministration. It would seem that up to this time he had preached less figuratively, but as the Pharisees had taken up their position of hostility, it was absolutely necessary for him to exercise what may be called intermediate judgment (cf. Godet, in loc. ) . This was by taking to parabolic teaching. While to a docile and childlike spirit a parable sets truth in its most attractive aspect, to a proud, self-sufficient spirit it veils and hides the truth. It is light or darkness according to our spiritual attitude. Hence the change in the Preacher's method heralded a new stage in his work. The common people would still hear him gladly, but the proud would be kept at a convenient distance through the veiled character of the truth presented in parables.

III. THE PARABLE OF WARNING . ( Luke 8:4-8 , Luke 8:11-15 .) This, according to all the evangelists, was the first parable. It was breaking ground in the delivery of parables. Hence its character as a warning. Its subject is the hearing of the Word. Its warning is that there are three bad ways of hearing as against one good way. These are:

1 . Careless hearing— represented by wayside seed devoured by the birds before it can fall into the earth and bear any fruit. The devil visits careless hearers, and takes the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

2 . Rapturous hearing— represented by seed failing into rocky soil and springing up suddenly, only to wither away. Hence the danger of hearing with rapture and resting in the rapture. It is the religion of feeling, of happy times, and such superficialities. Something deeper is needed than this.

3 . Careworn and preoccupied hearing— represented by seed falling into soil that is not cleansed of roots and thorns, and where the seed is choked. We cannot hear to advantage if we put anything before the Word. Unless it is put before worldly concerns, there will not be much fruit.

4 . Honest and good-hearted hearing— represented by the seed falling into good and cleansed ground. In this ease there is knit-bearing, in some cases up to an hundredfold. Hence the warning voice, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Unless the multitude hearing Jesus, unless in particular the disciples, took the Word of God ministered by Jesus patiently and honestly into their consideration, they could not bring forth fruit unto perfection.

IV. THE APPLICATION TO THE TWELVE . ( Luke 8:16-18 .) The disciples had received Jesus' explanation of the first parable. And now he further applies it to their case. They are intended, he tells them, to be lights in the world; and he has no intention of putting them under a bushel or bed, where the light would be lost and useless, but on a candlestick to illuminate all who enter the house. In this beautiful and figurative way our Lord indicates the position he means to give them in his Church. Consequently, they must remember that every secret thing is on its way to manifestation ( Luke 8:17 ), and so their lives, no matter how secret and apparently insignificant, are public lives. By this thought all hearing will be intensified with a new sense of responsibility. Besides, he tells them that the law of capital obtains in hearing as well as in everything else This is the law by which the person, who has something to start with, gets something more. For example, if we bring to the contemplation of the truth a "good and honest heart," then its goodness and honesty will be intensified and increased by the truth; whereas, if we bring a vacant heart, an inattentive mind, then our heart will be still more vacant, and our mind still more inattentive. We lose power by indifferent hearing, just as we gain power by attentive and honest hearing. This was a most important lesson for the candidates about him. Doubtless they profited by it.

V. BLOOD - RELATIONSHIP VERSUS SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP . ( Luke 8:19-21 .) We learn from the parallel passages that this incident occurred in consequence of our Lord's enthusiasm. His relatives thought him mad, and that he ought to be put under restraint. His reply to their message is most significant. As Gess says, "He draws his true disciples the more closely around him as the hostility of his own relatives increases, and calls them his family." £ We have thus, as Sanrin puts it, the family of Jesus Christ according to the flesh contrasted with the family of Jesus Christ according to the Spirit. The spiritual relationship is put before the blood-relationship, other things being equal. £ It is not that Jesus loved his brothers and mother less, but that he regarded the Father's will and those who obeyed it as more to him than they can be. His conduct on this occasion most likely conduced to the conversion of his kindred to believe upon him. It enabled them to see exactly the principle of his work. And in this loyalty to members of God's family we must follow our Lord. We must not allow others to usurp their rights under any pretence of relationship or authority.—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 8:4-15 (Luke 8:4-15)

The parable of the sower , and the Lord ' s interpretation of it.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 8:11-15 (Luke 8:11-15)

The Lord ' s interpretation of the parable of the sower.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 8:14 (Luke 8:14)

And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection . There is something very sad in this, the thorn-choked class of believers. Each of them represents the vie manquee ; the beautiful flower just spoiled as it was bursting into full bloom. These hear the Word, and, hearing it, grasp its deep solemn meaning, and for a part of each day honestly try to live the life which that Divine Word pressed home to them. But with these there is another life; side by side with the golden grain has grown up a crop of thorns, which, unless destroyed in time, will choke and utterly mar, as, alas, it often does, the true corn. Such men and women, the double-minded ones of St. James, try to serve two masters—God and the world. Dr. Morrison has a good note on the parallel passage in St. Mark, where, after suggesting that the cares, the riches, and the pleasures of this life in our time are such things as houses, land, works of art and virtue , posts of honour, gaiety of garments, grandeur of entertainments, and in general the myriad appliances of luxury, he goes on to say, "These come more or less in upon all men, but some men lay themselves peculiarly open to their influence, and allow them to twine and twist themselves like the serpents of Laocoon around every energy and susceptibility of their being." The rich young ruler whom Jesus loved is a fair instance of this not uncommon character, which perhaps is more often met with among the more cultured of society than among the poor and the artisan class. There must have been much that was really beautiful and true in that young man, or Jesus never had singled him out as one whom he especially loved, and yet in his case the thorns of riches and luxury had so twined themselves among the real corn that, as far as we know, it never brought fruit to perfection. Ananias and Sapphira may, too, be instanced. They had given up much for the Name's sake, associated themselves with a hated and persecuted sect, sacrificed a large portion of their property to help the poor of the flock, and yet these apparently devoted ones were living a double life; the thorns had so grown up and twined about the corn that in their field nothing ever ripened.

- The Pulpit Commentary