Sermon preached on Luke 8:16-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/12/2021 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
After Lighting a Lamp
Today’s passage is very much a part two from last week’s passage. Remember, that’s when Jesus went around preaching the word from town to town and city to city, verse 1. His word was the good news of the coming kingdom of God. We then heard Jesus give that famous Parable of the Sower that described the differing responses to the word of God. Jesus then explained to his disciples that the parable teaches how only some people have been given by God to know the secrets of the kingdom. He said that only some people have been given the ears to truly hear and the eyes to truly perceive these truths. As Jesus said in verses 8, those who do have ears, are indeed commanded to hear the word. So then, today’s passage continues to develop these ideas. Jesus gives a parable about a lit lamp to teach how we need to make use of what God gives us in his word. And then the interchange with Jesus’ mother and brother further illustrates this point.
So then let us begin to consider this parable of the lamp. In our first point, we’ll see how it calls us to make use of the revelation God gives us. So then, the parable is there in verse 16. Jesus describes a lamp that has been lit. Jesus points out the obvious, that you don’t light a lamp and then cover it up or hide it. Maybe before it is lit, it might be covered up or put away somewhere. Maybe before it is lit, you keep it stored under the bed. But once you light the lamp, you will make sure to put it somewhere out in the open so that the light can shine forth. Why? Because that’s the purpose of a lit lamp. You light the lamp so as to make light. It’s the function of a lit lamp. You need to illuminate something and so you can use the lit lamp to do so. It would make no sense to activate the usefulness of the lamp and then not use it. You just wouldn’t do that.
In verse 17, Jesus then makes a bit of connection between the lit lamp and the word that he’s been giving his disciples. Back in verse 10, Jesus describes how he had not only given them the word in general, but has explained it to them so as to reveal the secrets of the kingdom of God to them. Now, in working with this parable, Jesus speaks about secrets being made known and hidden things being revealed and coming to light. Jesus had brought the word to them and he has brought it to them for a purpose.
But here’s where Jesus really applies the idea of the lit lamp to them. It’s the exhortation he gives them in verse 18. “Take care then how you hear.” The point of the parable here is that things have a right use and you should use what you have the way it was made to be used. The lit lamp has a right use. If you have a lit lamp, you need to put in a place where it can shine. Well, Jesus’ disciples have been given the word. That word has a right use. It is meant to be used in accordance with its purpose. I might note that that application might be a little different than what you were expecting to hear here. Elsewhere, such as in Matthew 5:16, Jesus speaks of not hiding a lit lamp as a way to exhort his disciples to shine their good deeds before others. Well, that’s a different passage making a different point. Here, in Luke’s account it’s very clear he is making a point about utility. Things have a use and a purpose and you need to make use of that use and purpose. The analogy of the use of a lit lamp is to getting them to think about how to rightly use the word of God. There is a right way to use the word of God, even as there can be a wrong way to use it.
Again, that’s what verse 18 tells us is the application. “Take care then how you hear.” By the way, the Greek for “take care” is actually a word literally about “seeing”. I could translate this as, “See then how you hear”. I love that because back in verse 10 Jesus had been talking about really seeing and really hearing when it came to receiving the word of God. So, Jesus uses that same language of seeing and hearing to again point us back to the word. Remember, the Parable of the Sower said there were lots of places the word fell that didn’t take root and didn’t bear fruit. In such places, the word didn’t get uses the way the word is intended to be used. But Jesus here says they need to make right use of the word. See in verse 18 that it is a question of “how”. He wants to them to think about how to make use of the word. To ask how is to consider in what manner or way is the word to be used?
Much could be said about how to hear the word of God. It is much more than just simply having God’s words pass through our ears. No, the manner of how we really hear God’s word is so important. We need to carefully and attentively listen to God’s word. We should try to closely observe all the details. We need to then consider what the words mean. Then we need to think about how those words apply to us. We ought to meditate on these things and look to lay them up on our hearts and minds. We don’t want to forget them or ignore them. Ultimately, we want to look to do what God’s word is saying to us. We want to heed the word as doers of the word. This is a brief reflection on what it means to consider how we are hearing and receiving God’s Word. This parable of the lit lamp is telling is that we need to think about this. We need to actually make use of God’s word in the way God intended it to be used. The word is not some magic spell that just does something when it’s read over you or in your presence. No, it is a great gift God has given to us, but it must be made use of in the way that God intended it to be used. So, my first point today is to draw us to see the utility of God’s word. There is a utility, a right use, a proper purpose, for God’s word in your life. Jesus says we need to use the word aright.
Let’s then turn in our second point to see how in verse 18 Jesus tells us why we need to use God’s word as he made it to be used. Jesus gives us the reason there in verse 18 why we need to pay such attention to how we use the word. Verse 18 says, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” This is a matter of stewardship. As Philip Ryken said, there is a “use it or lose it” sort of sense here. We need to make use of what God has given us or we find we will lose even what we thought we had. When we hear this, we should think again about last week’s lesson that spoke of divine election that some people have been given to know the secrets of God’s kingdom, and some have not. Some have this, and some don’t.
So then, there are some who have been given the secrets of the kingdom of God. They have been given ears to hear and eyes to see and minds to understand. As God gives them the word, they are being called to be good stewards of that gift and to put it to use. Wonderfully, we see that God then gives them more and more as they make use of what God has given them. This is what verse 18 says, that more will be given to the one who has. We’ll see a similar idea in Luke 19 in the Parable of the Ten Minas which speaks of the faithful servant with ten minas being given another mina that was taken away from the unfaithful servant. Jesus concludes that parable saying in Luke 19:26, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” So, when applying this concept to God’s word, we realize that we aren’t talking about the quantity of God’s word. We have a complete Bible available to all, and we shouldn’t add to or take away from that. But the idea here is that as God’s word works in our heart and is working spiritual understanding and growth and fruit, God then gives more that of word to work yet further spiritual maturity within us. To be sure, this isn’t some simplistic linear process. But the point is that for us who have ears to hear God’s word, we are to look to lay it up in our hearts and practice it in our lives and see the fruit that it brings and prove that it is powerful to change our lives. God will then give us more and more of that in our hearts as we keep being good stewards of what he has given to us.
But in contrast, Jesus says there are some who will lose even what they thought they had. This is an interesting idea when it speaks of losing something that in a sense they didn’t even have. The idea though is quite simple. There are some who are not God’s elect, who have not been given to know the secrets of God, that have received God’s word in some sense. But it’s like the Parable of the Sower, their hearts are not ultimately good soil, and so while at first it might look like they have the word, they don’t ever really have it rooted in their hearts. So when God ultimately takes away even his word from them, and leaves them to their sin and hard-heartedness, it’s like they lose the word that they thought they had, but hadn’t every really possessed. The example I give you is the same as last week from verse 1. There we found that Judas Iscariot was someone who was alongside the rest of the disciples whom Jesus was giving the secrets of the kingdom of God. But to the rest of the twelve, they truly did receive those words and God continue to grow his word in their hearts. But for Judas, while he did get the same teaching outwardly as the rest, he didn’t truly receive it in faith in his heart. He ultimately lost everything in his eventual betrayal of Jesus and subsequent suicide unto eternal damnation.
So then, this point of stewardship teaches us an interesting dynamic that calls us not to treat the doctrine of election in some hyper way. Whether someone truly has the word taking root in their heart is according to God’s choosing from before the foundation of the world. There who are some who will ultimately have his word take root and bear fruit in their heart. There are others who will not. Yet, we should not take that mean that we can just passively wait for one thing to happen or another. Rather, he calls us to really seek to hear and heed his word. His elect will truly respond to that call and grow through seeking to do so. Those who are not elect, even if they should outwardly interact with God’s word, won’t truly understand and receive it from their heart, not in a saving way, at least. Such a false believer might even go to many church services and Bible studies and ultimately find they never really heard and heeded God’s word. How then are you to know whether you God’s elect then? Well, it is this simple call that is given to us. We are to seek to make our calling and election sure by seeking to hear and heed his word, and so by doing show yourself to be one of God’s elect.
That leads us then to our third point, to consider Jesus’ mother and brothers coming to him, here in verses 22-25. Here Jesus commends not only hearing the word of God but doing the word of God. The setting is that Jesus is again teaching a crowd of people. We find that his mother and brothers are looking for him. According to the parallel passage in Mark 3, we see that they were concerned for his wellbeing as apparently he was so consumed with the crowds and his teaching ministry that he wasn’t even able to eat. So then, his mother and brothers come to find, presumably to try to take him back home. Though Luke’s account doesn’t focus on that detail.
I might take an aside here to mention that this is one of several passages that would suggest that the Roman Catholic teaching of the perpetual virginity of Mary is not founded on Scripture. In trying to cling to that unbiblical doctrine, they might suggest that these are only half-brothers to Jesus; that they are children of Joseph by a different mother. But of course, that would be mere speculation as there is nothing in Scripture that would teach us that. Another very popular suggestion is to say this word here for brothers should be understood as cousins or some other more general association other than actual brothers. Yet, that is such a stretch grammatically when the context doesn’t give you reason to understand it that way. In fact, the context here clearly wants you to think of these labels denoting specific family relationships. Jesus’ whole point is that he’s comparing his actual, physical mother and brothers to a bunch of other people who aren’t that, but could be understood in a sense as such. Jesus’ whole point would fall flat if he compared people who weren’t really his brothers with other people who also weren’t really his brothers.
But I digress. The point of these verses is for Jesus to again emphasize that truly hearing the word means you should look to be actually doing the word. He uses his mother and brothers to help make that point. You see, when they show up, he is about this important task of giving God’s word to the people. We’ve seen him talking all chapter about his proclaiming the word and about what it looks like for those with ears to hear to actually hear. He’s said how special of a position it is for those who have ears to hear. But then you have his family arrive, and you might think they have an even more special position in relationship to Jesus. Yet, Jesus shows that while the physical family dynamic is important, there is a spiritual family dynamic that exists among those who are God’s people. We who have become Christ’s disciples through receiving his word, are spiritually family with Jesus! I would add a side note here that we should not interpret this as Jesus dishonoring his mother. But he does use his mother and brothers’ arrival to make a point about his disciples being his family.
There is a lot of wonderful and exciting application we can take from that point. It is a blessed thing that Christians are family now, through our bond in Jesus Christ. As Paul teaches, we are to treat one another as fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. Wonderfully, Paul teaches that truth in 1 Timothy 5 but then in that same chapter goes on to speak of the obligations we still have toward our physical family members. But there is something of the close bond and duty that we have with our physical family members that is analogous to the special relationship we have as fellow citizens in Christ’s kingdom.
Yet, let me clarify that Jesus’ point about being spiritual family members is really his secondary point here. His main point is about being people who hear and do God’s word. He says that’s how you know who are his mothers and brothers, if they hear and do God’s word. So, really, the primary point he’s making here is about hearing and heeding God’s word. The fruit of that comes blessings like being spiritually family with Jesus. But the call is what we’ve been talking about this whole sermon and so far through Luke chapter 8. Jesus is spreading the word of God like seed. He’s revealing secrets of the kingdom. Those with ears to hear are called to hear. That means they are to receive his word in faith and seek to act in accordance with his word. As they do, they will find God will ultimately bear much fruit in their life.
Let me conclude today’s message then by saying that the secrets are out. The lamp has been lit. In other words, Jesus has given us the gospel of his kingdom and revealed the word of God to us. What will you do with it? Will you heed his message and thus show yourselves to be sons of God? The starting point for heeding his word is to confess your sins and turn to Jesus in faith for forgiveness. Set him as Lord of your life and seek by his grace to follow him. His word is not just lip service. It is not meant to go in one ear and out the other. Do not be a mere hearer of his word but be a doer of his word.
Turn this around, as well. Yes, there is an exhortation here to heed God’s word. But there is also the sweet truth that Jesus reveals his word to us for our good. If we have come to embrace his word, let us be thankful that he has revealed these secrets to our hearts. It means he has effectually called us so that we are enabled from the hearts to believe that he is our Lord and Savior. What sweet love we see Jesus has for us to reveal his word and the secrets of his kingdom to us.
For indeed, the fullness of these secrets will yet become clear to all. When Jesus returns, those who haven’t held his words in their hearts will see them too late and find they are left with nothing. But we who have had these truths, will possess them all the more in the fulness of their consummate glory.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.