Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
A Good & Honest Heart
As we move into Luke 8 there is a transition. We go from Jesus preaching and demonstrating to Jesus telling stories—fictional tales with a spiritual truth wrapped up in them. We call them parables. But before we go there I want to remind us of two things from where we’ve been.
First, in Chapter 7 Jesus describes the generation, and more particularly the religious leaders of that generation, as children sitting on the sidelines, refusing to engage their minds about the Messiah—to truly wrestle with who Jesus is. As we’re going to see in Chapter 8, Jesus really demands that we think—think about ourselves and our own state of mind and heart—and think about Him and our relationship to Him—and whether we will place the weight of our lives down on Him.
Secondly, Luke ends Chapter 7 with the story of a “sinner”, most likely a prostitute, who came to the house of Simon the Pharisee and showing great repentance, weeps and Jesus’ feet, wiping the tears with her hair and anointing his feet with fragrant oil in preparation for His sacrificial death.
So keeping with that theme, we come to Chapter 8 where we see a group of women who are devoted to Jesus like the prostitute, and we see Jesus call on us all to engage our minds, because to belong to the King and be a part of His Kingdom we have to make an imnportant and eternal decision.
1 – 3
Sadly in that society women were not well respected. They had no authority, were confined to the homes of their fathers or husbands, were considered inferior and the property of their husbands, not much better off than children. A woman could not even leave the house alone without a trustworthy male accompanying her. To say it was a paternalistic society is a gross understatement. However, it was not all bleak. Women in 1st century Israel, and in the Greek world as well, could buy and sell property, own businesses and make their own contracts. How the culture became so paternalistic is beyond this study but what I want to point out is that it is not how it is in the Kingdom of God.
Paul the Apostle would write later in Galatians 3:28 that the distinction between male and female in the church as far as importance to God is non-existent. Here Jesus demonstrates several important truths about women in His kingdom:
- It was a woman who demonstrated true humility and repentance—who somehow intuited who Jesus was and went all in (Luke 7:36-50).
- Three women are noted as being in Jesus’ inner circle and even more than that, at the heart of financial provision for His ministry.
- Notice too that all the women mentioned had received healing from Jesus. They too, like the “sinner” of Chapter 7, saw a need and that need fulfilled in Jesus.
- The four (including the woman in Chapter 7) represent the lowest to the greatest in their society (so socio-economic lines as well as gender are obliterated in Christ)
A couple of notes about these women.
First, just their mention here along with the 12 disciples would have been extraordinary in that culture.
Mary, from the town of Magdala, on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, experienced freedom from 7 demons. The number 7 is often used to represent completeness so you could say she was completely overwhelmed by the presence of demons in her body. But the enemy is no match for Jesus (as we’ll see later in this chapter). Her freedom was so impacting that Mary followed Jesus where no one else would go—to the foot of the cross and the entrance to the grave. It was Mary who first saw the risen Lord (see Matthew 26:61 – 27:8).
Luke 24:10 suggests that Joanna was also at the tomb with Mary. Joanna was married to Chuza who was Herod the Tetrarch’s steward and would have been accorded the same standing as her husband in Herod’s court. This would have made him the financial advisor to the king—an extremely important role. I find it interesting that although Herod was an enemy of Jesus, a member of his trusted advisors had become not only a disciple but a financial supporter of Jesus. No doubt Joanna brought talent for money management to the Lord’s earthly ministry.
Sadly, we know next to nothing about Susanna.
So Jesus traveled around from town to town proclaiming the good news about something He called “the kingdom of God”. As He taught, Jesus began to adjust His teaching style. Up until now we’ve mostly seen Him proclaim the words of Isaiah 61 in Chapter 3—then demonstrate the mission statement of proclaiming healing, light, and freedom by healing, shedding light on sin, and setting people free from death and disease.
Now He moves to a different style of communicating the truth of the gospel: the parable.
4 – 8
Jesus spoke to an agricultural society. Using what would be familiar to them, He spins the story of a farmer who is planting seeds. The soil in Israel is mostly rocky with a thin layer of soil on the top. Most fields have paths going through them and many of those paths were lined with thorny bushes – just as many of our fields in the Willamette Valley are lined with thorny blackberry bushes. So the picture of a farmer planting among the rocks and not seeing a crop would have been familiar—as the farmer cast the seed about some would always land where it would take root. Similarly, a seed that fell in the bushes would have no hope of growing—the bush already had the light and the soil tied up and was much quicker growing than the seed the farmer had planted. So too if a seed fell on the actual path it would be fair game, sitting there on the surface, for a bird to come along and take it away. Finally, if a seed is planted where it belongs—in good soil—it will produce a crop much larger than the seed itself.
So Jesus tells a familiar story. He ends it by saying “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen.” This suggests that there is a spiritual truth behind the story, but the disciples just can’t seem to get it.
9 – 10
Jesus tells them that the truth behind the story is for those who trust in Jesus or are actively engaged in learning about Him. Others will hear it but it will fall on deaf ears. He quotes Isaiah 6:9.
It’s instructive to look at the verse in it’s context:
Isaiah 6:9-11 “Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed. Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And He replied: Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate.”
So I see two things going on here. 1) to people who don’t want to hear, they get nothing. It’s like when Pharaoh hardened his heart seven times, then God hardened his heart seven times in Exodus. We get what we want. If we don’t want to engage our minds, then the story just goes in one ear and out the other. But if we do engage, if we have “ears to hear” then the story can start to make sense. 2) the prophet is told that this obstinacy will continue until something drastic and dramatic happens – when the people see their way of life and the land they counted on can be laid waste. Sometimes it’s that way with us. We go along our merry way and see no need to understand God until what we counted on for security and intimacy and purpose is taken away.
So then Jesus explains the parable to His disciples. They were to receive the “mystery” which means something hidden that is now being revealed.
11 – 15
There are various interpretations as to what type of soil equates to what type of person. I’ll take my best shot at it but know that good Christians disagree here.
The clearest thing is the seed: it’s the Word of God. This means the gospel. Remember at the beginning of the chapter? Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom. Jesus is the King in God’s Kingdom and the good news is that He’s opened up that kingdom to all who will trust in Him. When that gospel hits a mind and a life, it can find different conditions and bear different fruit but the Word is always the same.
“… so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (Isaiah 55:11 HCSB)
Rom. 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes”
It’s not the gospel (the sender), it’s the receiver (the heart) that’s busted.
- Seed along the path. This is a person so hardened to the things of God, so out of touch with the gospel, that it never has a chance to take root. It could be sin, it could be culture, it could be influence of others. I think even the hardest heart can be reached, but in this case I think prayer has got to soften up the path.
- Seed on the rock. These might be called “make believers”. They seem to get saved but it’s not for real. The soil of their hearts is only skin deep. They take on the surface of a Christian but there is no real repentance and a clinging to Jesus.
- Seed in the bush could either mean a person who initially receives the gospel but has not given their heart to God and it really still belongs to other things in their lives, or it could be a person who becomes a Christian but never really changes very much—they are unfruitful.
- The seed that falls on good ground is a heart that is open to hear, open to be touched. Jesus describes it as “honest and good”. “Honest” is a Greek word that suggests soil that is amenable to change. “Good” is a Greek word that can mean “suitable”. So a person who is saved has a soul that is approachable with the message of sin, repentance, grace and salvation through Jesus Christ. Notice too that this is not a quick thing. Really engaging with the Savior means taking your time, letting it soak in and take root. Only then does fruit occur—which is salvation and a changed character.
- The main question from this study is to examine the condition of the soil of your own mind. Are you in a place that makes you so hard the gospel makes no sense whatsoever? It doesn’t change the truth of the gospel whether you engage or not. But if there is even the slightest possibility that what Jesus said is true, don’t you owe it to yourself to investigate truthfully, to engage thoughtfully?
- Secondly for those of us who already trust in Jesus. Remember that crops take time to grow and mature. Don’t be a weed that springs up and withers away quickly. Grow slowly, in a good growing medium with plenty of light, water, and fertilizer. Allow God to stress you into producing fruit, but fruit that lasts, fruit that is trusting in Him no matter what.