The Lord's Day Morning
December 27, 2009
“Are You Laughing or Amazed?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 8 as we continue to make our way through the gospel together. This is the next set of miracles in a series of miracles that Luke has been telling us about since at least chapter 5. There are three things in particular I want you to note about the passage before we read it.
The first thing is this — you need to understand, as a background to the two miracles that are recorded in this passage, the laws of uncleanness in Israel. In Israel, if you came into contact with someone with a skin disease, especially leprosy, or into contact with someone with a discharge, a bodily discharge, especially a discharge of blood, or if you came into contact not only with a dead body yourself, even with something or someone else who had come into contact with a dead body, you became ceremonially unclean. In fact, it was required in the book of Numbers that if you came into contact with someone who was unclean or something that was unclean, you yourself had to be removed from the camp. You could not travel in the camp of the people of God until you had gone through a purification. That law of uncleanness is in the background of the story that we are going to read in Luke chapter 8 today. It's also, by the way, in the background of a story that Luke has already told us about the healing of a leprous man back in Luke chapter 5. So you need to understand something about the laws of uncleanness.
The second thing you need to understand is Luke's interest in telling you about how people respond to Jesus. Do you notice the different ways that people respond to Jesus in this passage? Take a look at verse 40 — “The crowd welcomes Him.” He's been across the lake; He comes back; the crowd welcomes Him. Then in verse 41, we see a ruler of a synagogue, this is an elder in a local Jewish synagogue, imploring Jesus. So the crowd welcomes Him and this synagogue elder implores Him, begs Him, asks Him importunately to do something for him, and Luke is interested in that. Or down in verse 42, where the crowd of people “press in” on Jesus. So you have the crowd welcome Him, the synagogue elder imploring Him, and the people pressing around Jesus.
Further on down, if you look at verse 53, when Jesus goes to the synagogue elder's home to deal with his daughter who is gravely ill, and in fact by this point in the story has now died, the people who are there mourning her death laugh at Jesus when He says that she is only sleeping and that she will be well.
And then finally the story ends, if you look in verse 56, with the parents being amazed at Jesus. So in this story, Luke shows us crowds welcoming Him, a synagogue elder imploring Him, people pressing around Him, some people laughing at Him, and others being amazed by Him.
Now why do you think Luke keeps drawing your attention to the way that people react to Jesus? Because Luke knows that the way you respond to Jesus is the difference between life and death, and so he is very interested in how people respond to Jesus and he wants you to be interested in it too.
But here's the last thing I want you to see before we read this passage — Luke tells two stories here. Notice that the first story gets interrupted by the second story. The passage starts out with Jairus, this elder from a local synagogue, asking Jesus to come heal his gravely ill daughter. And the second story interrupts that story. Before Jesus can even complete the errand, the second story enters in. In these two stories, Luke is addressing the bafflement of the Jewish people about Jesus. I mean very frankly, they’re not sure about His person, about His claims, about His deeds, or about His teaching. I mean, they’re just scratching their heads about Jesus. Some of them are skeptical of Him. Some of them even laugh at Him in the story. Luke knows that, and Luke wants to tell you something about Jesus in this passage that is designed to address those doubts that Jesus’ contemporaries had about Him.
Doubting Jesus is not a recent thing. It's been going on for two thousand years. It happened in Jesus’ day. And Luke is interested in addressing those doubts about Jesus, that skepticism about Him. In this passage it's interesting, even Peter is a little baffled with Jesus in this passage. And then later the people who are mourning in the household of Jairus are baffled with Him to the point that they laugh at Him. This is brought to our attention because Luke wants to put before us a truth claim about Jesus that flows out of something that He actually did, something that would have been indisputable to the people who saw it in that town, that is designed to address the doubts that they have about Jesus.
Bear those three things in mind as we read this passage. And before we do, let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing.
O Lord, this is Your Word, and because it's Your Word, we know that You mean to point us to Your Son, the Savior, Jesus. Some come today with doubts of Him, doubts about His person, doubts about His work, doubts about His claims, doubts about His teaching, doubts about the salvation that He offers to all those who trust in Him. Lord, by Your Spirit, work in our hearts to receive Your Word humbly, and make our prayer the prayer of Your disciple — “Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.” This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word:
“Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around Him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, ‘Who was it that touched Me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround You and are pressing in on You!’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched Me, for I perceive that power has gone out from Me.’ And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before Him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’
While He was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.’ But Jesus on hearing this answered him, ‘Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.’ And when He came to the house, He allowed no one to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but He said, ‘Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at Him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand He called, saying, ‘Child, arise.’ And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And He directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Luke knows that many of his initial hearers or readers of this story are going to have their doubts about Jesus. One of the things that we have said consistently in our study of this book is that he is addressing those doubts systematically as he tells the history of Jesus, as he shares key points in His life and ministry as he elucidates things about who Jesus is and what He did and what He taught and what He was here for, because skeptics of Jesus have been around for a long time. We have skeptics of Jesus in our own day. C. S. Lewis was a skeptic of Jesus. Did you know that? He was born into a Christian family, reared and baptized in the church of Ireland, but at the age of fifteen, C. S. Lewis decided that he was an atheist. He even tells us that he was angry with God for not existing.
How did it happen? Well, there were a number of factors. For one thing, Lewis tells us that for him, religion started to feel like a chore and a duty. The other thing is he began to read in the Occult, but he also started reading great literature and the philosophers of the past. And he came into contact with classical skepticism. For instance, there was one particular couplet from Lucretius that he read that got deep within his heart. It goes like this: “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.” You hear the objection. It's an objected that skeptics have brought for many years against God, against Christianity, and against the Bible. It's simply this: If there really were a God and He were good, would He have created a world like this, a world filled with inexplicable pain, incalculable suffering, unimaginable misery? Can you really believe in a God when the world is like it is? And that doubt got into C. S. Lewis’ heart, deep, and the darkness came down and he turned his back on God, then he rejected Him.
And that story could be told over and over in the last century and ours. You think of great names like A. N. Wilson or Antony Flew or even my friend Mark Dever who was reared in a believing Baptist home, but at the age of ten, read consecutively through all of the Harvard Classics. And having read the classics found the same kinds of questions troubling his heart, and so for a season, rejected the existence of God. There are lots of skeptics of God and of the Bible and of Christ, and Luke in this story is addressing some of their own in their own time.
I want to draw your attention to both of the stories in this passage today to see how Luke does this. The first story is the story of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. By the way, the story itself is another proof to you, isn't it, that the Bible is true. The Jews were enemies of Jesus and of His followers in the days in which Luke was writing, and so you would expect every Jew to be portrayed as evil, as an opposer of Christ. That's not how you find it in the gospels. The closest followers of Christ were Jews. His disciples were Jews. And even this man not numbered among the disciples, a man who is actually the leading elder of a local synagogue, has enormous respect for Jesus, and Jesus has a very evident love and concern for his wellbeing and life and family. It's just one of a myriad of testimonies that this Book is not made up. You wouldn't have written it like this if you were making up the story. This story only makes sense if it's actually recording what happened.
Well, this synagogue elder comes to Jesus and he's clearly a loving father. He has one daughter, one child, and she's a daughter, and he loves her very much. And she is dying; she is gravely ill. And he is the first of two people in this story who find themselves spread eagle before the Lord Jesus Christ, imploring Jesus to come help him. Jesus’ response is not recorded, but Jesus immediately begins to make His way towards Jairus’ house. That's when the second story interrupts the first story. As He's on the way to the house, a crowd of people is pressing in around Him and following Him and a woman who has had a discharge of blood for a dozen years, who has spent all of her living on physicians, and Luke, a physician, is interested to draw attention to this fact. She had sought all the medical help she could possibly seek, she had spent the whole of her livelihood on it, and no doctor had been able to help her. This happens to the best of doctors. Sometimes diagnoses elude them and sometimes the treatments they prescribe do not work. They want their patient to be healed and well and living a full life, but there is a limit to what they are able to do.
Just recently in our own congregation, a man had taken his wife to physician after physician who had not been able to effectively diagnose her and then he began reading and took her to a physician who is a member of our congregation and they together came up with a diagnosis that the other physicians had not been able to come up with and it turned out to be correct. And they've been able to proceed with a plan of treatment. It happens even today with the advanced medicine that's available to us. Luke is interested in this and he comments on it. And isn't this yet another ring of truth to this story — that this woman had sought medical help and yet it did not avail her to give her relief from her condition.
Well, this woman proceeds to follow Jesus into that crowd and she reaches her hand out to touch Him, and she touches Him. And immediately Jesus stops and says, “Who touched Me?” Now you understand the scene is like Nick Saban trying to get off of the field after the Southeastern Conference football championship has been won! There are thousands of people on the field. How many hundreds of them touched Nick Saban that night as he was going off and yet Jesus stops and says, “Who touched Me?” Peter's a little incredulous about this. He says, “Ah, Lord, You want to look around? There’re a lot of people here! What do You mean who touched You?” Now Jesus is not asking this question for His benefit, He's asking this question for her benefit and for your benefit. And you see that in the follow up to it. “Someone touched Me” — verse 46 — “for I perceive that power has gone out from Me.” And when the woman realizes that she is not hidden, she comes and she does what? She prostrates herself before Jesus. This is the second person in the passage to bow before Jesus. Notice that both of these people that bow before Jesus do what? They believe that He is able to cure what ails them. In the case of Jairus the synagogue elder, he believes that Jesus is able to heal his daughter. In the case of this woman, she believes that Jesus is able to heal her, and she's able to give testimony to the fact that she was the one who reached out and touched Him.
But here's what I want you to see — had you been a skeptic of Jesus, sitting among the Jews hearing this read for the first time, what you would have been thinking about is this — well, you need to turn with me to the Old Testament so that you’ll understand why you would have been thinking this. Turn with me to Numbers, chapter 5 — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers. Chapter 5, verses 1-4:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. You shall send away both male and female, you shall send them outside the camp, so that they will not defile the camp, where I dwell in their midst.’ The sons of Israel did so, and sent them outside the camp; just as the Lord had spoken to Moses, thus the sons of Israel did.”
Did you notice that? Three categories of people are to be sent outside the camp — lepers, those with discharges, and those who have come into contact with the dead. They are defiled. They are ceremonially unclean. They cannot even be in the camp. This was designed to show the children of Israel a number of things. It was supposed to show them how sin defiles. It was supposed to show them how sin separates us, not only from God, because those who are unclean couldn't do what? They couldn't come to worship. They couldn't come to the temple. They couldn't come to the tabernacle. If you were unclean, you couldn't come to worship with the people of God when they gathered for worship. And so it shows the separation that sin brings because of its defilement from God, but it even shows the separation that exists among believers. For those who were defiled were even cut off from their people for a time. If you read elsewhere in Numbers and in Leviticus, very often the period of defilement was about seven days and you had to go through a ritual before you would be restored to the camp if you had encountered any of these things which make you unclean.
So as Luke is reading these things out, or someone is reading this for the first time, and they see this woman who is unclean reaching out to touch Jesus, what is going on in their mind is, “No, no, no, no, no! Do not touch Him! He will be unclean!” And then Luke tells you this — “When she touched Him, immediately she was clean and immediately he was healed.” You see what Luke is saying to the skeptics of his day? He (Jesus) did not become unclean; she became clean. He will one day go outside the camp for her, but He was not made unclean by coming in contact with her. She was made clean because she put her faith in Him. That's why He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” He's not saying that somehow faith magically did something for her. He's saying that faith in Him was the instrument, the means, the conduit, of the blessing of His healing grace. He is the one who made her well. God's grace and mercy and love and power made her well, but it was her faith by which she grasped it.
It's just the way it is in salvation, isn't it? Faith, in and of itself, does not save us. God's grace saves us. Christ's life and death and resurrection saves us. But we must believe on Him to receive the benefit of His life and death and resurrection — His saving work. Luke wants us to understand that. He wants even the most hardened skeptic to understand that. When you come into contact with Him, He's not made unclean, you’re made clean, and He has the power to heal you immediately, even things that no one else can.
Well, the story continues on. By this time, the servants of the house have come to Jairus and said, “I'm so sorry, your daughter is dead. Don't trouble Him any more.” It's fascinating isn't it? They were confident that He could heal a sick girl, but when she dies there's no confidence that He can do anything about that. Jesus does not waver, and notice what He says — “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” He makes His way to the household. The mourning has already started. They’re weeping in the household, and appropriately so. What a tragic picture. The man's only child, a beloved daughter, and she's dead. She's gone. And Jesus walks in and says, “She's not dead, she's only sleeping. She will be well.” And they laugh at Him. They don't know what to make of Jesus. Jesus enters in just with His inner circle of disciples — Peter and James and John — and just with the mother and father, and He reaches out and He touches a corpse. And every Jewish listener and every Jewish reader is saying, “Don't touch her! Don't touch her! You’ll be unclean!” And He speaks to her like a parent awakens a cherished child in the morning — “Child, wake up.” Do you remember your mother calling you? “Rise and shine! Child, wake up!” Why should it surprise you? He made you. He can bring you back to life.
But He's not unclean! She's alive! And so once again Luke has testified to who Jesus is. He doesn't become unclean when He touches a corpse. He doesn't become unclean when He comes into contact with this woman who has the bloody discharge. No, they become clean, they become alive. You see what Luke is doing? He's telling you who Jesus is and he's saying this — believe Him. You can trust Him. You can stake your life on Him and He will not fail you.
C. S. Lewis went to MaudlinCollege, Oxford, and there he began to wrestle again with the Bible and with God and with the claims of Christ. What was it that got hold of him? Partly was that everywhere he saw truth and beauty and goodness, it was inextricably connected to Christianity. Everywhere in the world, everywhere in literature, everywhere in philosophy that he saw truth and beauty and goodness, he realized that it was not just connected incidentally to the God of the Bible, but necessarily those truths either flowed out of or mirrored the truths that he found in the God of the Scriptures. And then he had a circle of friends who knew that God, who talked to him, who bore witness to him, but he fought mightily against the faith. In fact, he tells us that he was like a prodigal, kicking and struggling and resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a change to escape from God. And then if you've read Surprised By Joy he tells you this — “You must picture me alone in that room in Maudlin, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted for even a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me and in trinity term of 1929, I gave in and admitted that God was God and I knelt and prayed. Perhaps that night I was the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” Now actually he had only come to belief in the existence of God. It would be 1931 before he became a Christian. It's interesting how that happens.
That happened to A. N. Wilson, the famous skeptical biographer of Paul and of C. S. Lewis and the author of the book on the history of 19th century skepticism, God's Funeral. He's recently become a believer. Or Antony Flew, the famous philosopher, or Mark Dever, or John Duncan of NewCollege. All of them went through a stage of doubt and came to believe in God and them embraced the reality of God in Christ Jesus. And every single one of them gave this testimony. It's interesting that A. N. Wilson said, “As I started looking around at my intellectual friends, I found that in my atheist and agnostic friends there was no joy and there was no hope and in the end they all either became bitter or boring or both. But my intellectual friends who were Christians had a vibrancy and a life that I couldn't explain, but it was real, and I had to know where it came from.”
Well Luke is showing you where that life comes from. It comes from a Man, the God-Man, Christ Jesus. And he's showing you the story of who He is and what He can do because he knows that in the end the dividing line of all reality is whether you will believe on Him or not. And notice the two people who leave these stories with their hearts filled with testimony to the glory of God are the two people who were down on their faces before Jesus, believing Him. And that too Luke wanted you to see.
Our Lord, by grace today we would be prostrate before the Lord Jesus, believing Him. Grant this by Your Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
All you who have embraced Christ by the Gospel, receive the Lord's blessing — Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.