Sermon preached on Luke 8:40-56 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 01/16/2022 in Novato, CA.
Each of the three scenes from today’s passage could warrant study on their own. Yet, Luke clearly has woven these three scenes together. The first scene is Jesus sending out the twelve apostles in verses 1-6, but it’s not really until verse 10 that he finishes that scene when he tells us of their return and reporting to Jesus. And so that means that the second section about Herod in verses 6-9 interrupts the story about Jesus’ sending out of the twelve. That gives us reason to consider why Luke does that and how the two scenes relate. And then by bringing up the sending of the twelve at the start of the third section with the feeding of the five thousand, we see its close connection between those two scenes. That also invites comparison between those two scenes. All in all, we’ll see that all three scenes tell us something about the continued proclamation about the kingdom of God.
Let us begin then in the first scene in verses 1-6 of Jesus sending out the twelve apostles. I love how this follows so well from last chapter where we had been showing forth Jesus’s power and authority. Here that continues to be the case as he sends out his twelve disciples to be apostles sent in his name. He endues them not only with the same message of the kingdom that he’s been proclaiming, but he also endues them with the power and authority that he has been exercising. That’s where he’s been curing people of various illnesses and casting out demons. What authority for Jesus for him to not only been doing such miraculous healings, but even able to bestow that same power now on his twelve disciples.
So then, while we read here about Jesus sending out the twelve we can imagine the wonderful things that God will do through their ministry. But we should not lose focus that this scene is still ultimately about Jesus and his ministry. The twelve’s ministry is that of apostleship. An apostle is a “sent one” – someone who is sent and commissioned as an authorized messenger for someone. These twelve are apostles of Jesus. Their endowment with Jesus’ power and authority is proof of their apostleship. Their ministry as apostles is Jesus’ ministry and message.
In terms of that message, we see Jesus instruct them on that in verse 2. They are being sent to proclaim the kingdom of God. Based on what we’ve seen Jesus himself proclaiming of that kingdom in the gospels, we have a pretty good sense of what all Jesus was expecting them to communicate. In it very broadest terms, it’s that God is king over all and we should submit in our hearts to his rule. But more specifically, it’s God’s redemptive kingdom that is coming to save and reclaim God’s chosen people out of their sin and misery and to bring them into a place of blessing and glory under the rule of his anointed Messiah King. In Matthew 4:17, Jesus begins his teaching ministry calling people to repent of their sins in light of this coming kingdom of God. He taught people about how they could be a part of this coming kingdom. He spoke of ways in which that kingdom would be growing and advancing even now before it came in its fullness. He spoke about what that kingdom would be like ultimately. Typically, his various parables were teaching different aspects of the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ message of the kingdom that he wanted his disciples bring would be good news to those who received it. But it would also mean God’s judgment upon those who didn’t receive it. That is reflected in verse 5 when Jesus instructs them to shake the dust off their feet as a sign against any town that doesn’t receive them. This is said explicitly that it would be a testimony against them. That is legal language describing how they were under God’s judgment for their rejection of Jesus and his kingdom message. The imagery of the dust shaking was especially telling. My understanding is that this was something Jews would have done when they left Gentile towns on their way back home. It was a symbolic gesture that basically said you Gentiles are unclean outsiders and we don’t want to be carry back your heathen uncleanness to our homes. So, for these apostles to do that to a Jewish town that rejected Jesus’ message is essentially to say that you are no longer part of God’s covenant people. It’s to basically say that in rejecting God’s kingdom you have forfeited your place in it. You are as good as a pagan Gentile.
But Jesus also envisions that many would receive the message of the kingdom of God. And so he instructs his disciples to not carry extra supplies for the journey and instead to expect that there will be hospitality shown to them in a town. That would have been common that when an itinerant preacher comes through town that someone houses them and feeds them while they are there. That practice is still often done today. And Jesus also tells them in verse 4 that when they are in a town, they shouldn’t jump around from host to another; you could imagine the temptation to insult your first host if someone else comes offers better accommodations. But this rule of Jesus will keep that from happening. All in all, Jesus is calling his disciples to trust in God’s provision for them. Because there could theoretically be places that don’t receive them and if they don’t have extra supplies that could hypothetically mean some hungry nights and maybe even colds night sleeping under the stars until they come to the next town that does welcome them. So, they would have to trust Jesus that God would provide in this circumstance. In fact, later in Luke 22:35, Jesus has Peter acknowledge that they didn’t lack anything when Jesus sent them out like this.
I would note that Jesus’ instructions here to his apostles isn’t normative. He doesn’t say that his missionaries in all times and all places forevermore will need to not take supplies and expect the local people to host them and show them hospitality (just like it’s not normative to expect us to be able to normally miraculously feed five thousand people). In fact, in that passage I just mentioned later in Luke, Luke 22, Jesus goes on to tell Peter than now they should take a moneybag, and a knapsack, and an extra cloak. Jesus said that in light of his impending arrest and suffering on the cross. So while Jesus’ sending the twelve out here without supplies is not normative, it is instructive of how Jesus is at work at this point of redemptive history. He teaches his apostles to trust on him. And he calls the Jewish people to properly receive the message of the coming kingdom, by how they receive and show hospitality to his apostles. And surely, in one form or another, those are applications that still come from this passage today. As we look to evangelize the world, we have to ultimately trust in Jesus to bless our labors so that people do well receive our ministry. And for those being evangelized, this is the ongoing application of the need to receive properly Christ and his kingdom message.
Let us turn now to our second point and consider how Herod is perplexed by Jesus in verses 7-9. I already mentioned that Luke has placed this in such a way as to interrupt the account of the twelve being sent out. I want us to observe a couple related ideas from this interlude about Herod.
First off, notice it doesn’t explicitly mention anything about the apostles here. The context was about the apostles’ ministry. They were going town to town, city to city. Based on the context of Luke so far, we should probably assume they were doing this in the Galilee region. That was the region that Herod the tetrarch ruled. And verse 7 introduces Herod wondering about Jesus after hearing about everything that was happening. In other words, I think we are meant to include the apostle’s preaching about the kingdom as part of what Herod was hearing about. I mean think about it. Jesus himself can only cover so much territory at a time. But if suddenly if he sends out his twelve apostles in groups of two throughout Galilee, suddenly the hills will be alive with the sound of gospel. Surely that is especially what is peaking Herod’s attention here in verse 7. Jesus’ ministry was already noticeable before. But now that single voice just added twelve more voices. Word was getting out and it came back to Herod. But notice how Herod makes the right connection here. Herod isn’t perplexed about the identity of the twelve apostles. Herod is perplexed about Jesus. But that is the right connection for the reason we’ve been emphasizing today. The apostles were but spokesmen for Jesus. So, when they are out and about proclaiming the kingdom, the news that comes to Herod is to draw attention to Jesus and get him to consider who Jesus is. SO that’s the first thing I want you to notice from this Herod scene. The apostle’s ministry is rightly noticed by Herod as Jesus’ ministry.
The other thing I want you to notice about this Herod scene is that as he is thinking about all this ministry, people are proposing ideas for the identity of Jesus, and they are all basically Old Testament prophets. The people suggest he might be Elijah returned, who was obviously an Old Testament prophet. They also suggest he could be some other prophet of old that has risen from the dead. Matthew’s gospel shows us that one such candidate people wondered about was if Jesus was Jeremiah returned from the dead (16:14). But you’ll notice that I’m including John the Baptist in that category of Old Testament prophets. That’s because we see Jesus do that in places like Luke 16:16 where Jesus would say that the “The Law and the Prophets were until John.” In other words, John the Baptist was the last in the long line of essentially Old Testament prophets.
Don’t miss the ramifications of this. What Jesus and the twelve apostles were preaching reminded Herod and the people about all those prophets of old. Don’t take that for granted. If I can be historically anachronistic for a moment, if Confucius or Plato or Aristotle or Buddha showed up in Galilee teaching their ideas, no one would have mistaken them for one of the prophets of old. Understand why they made a connection then between what they were hearing from Jesus and his apostles with the prophets of old. It’s because the message was the same. They all spoke about the kingdom of God and the Messiah of that kingdom. Yes, the prophets spoke more of that kingdom in terms in advance through prophecy and promise. Jesus and his apostles spoke more about its immanence and the way it was beginning to come already – though they too spoke of future elements too. Jesus and his apostles brought greater clarity and light about this kingdom, whereas the prophets often wondered exactly what person or time the spirit of Christ in them was indicating when they predicted the coming of the kingdom and the coming of the Christ. But the message was intimately connected and united.
The application from this second point is to come to the same conclusion that Paul comes to in Ephesians 2:20. There the church is said to be founded on the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus the cornerstone. Today we are talking about the kingdom of God and its proclamation. It’s the message of the Old Testament prophets. It’s the same message as the New Testament apostles. It’s ultimately Jesus’ message, the Son of God, and God’s Anointed King for his people. This is the message that they were heralding back then. We continue to look to evangelize the world with that same kingdom message today.
Let us now turn to our third point in verses 10-17 and consider Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. I already noted that this comes in verse 7 with the twelve apostles’ returning from Jesus sending them out. They do their mission trip and come back to report to Jesus. That’s when Jesus withdrew with them to some desolate area near Bethsaida. Jesus is trying to give his disciples some time to rest and recuperate after their evangelism work. So, they get away to some remote place for some R&R. And yet, as so common in Jesus’ ministry, the crowds learn of where Jesus and his disciples are staying and they come and find him.
And so then notice what Jesus does. Verse 11. Jesus welcomes them. And then he preaches to them of the kingdom of God. And he does miraculous healings among them. I hope you are starting to see some parallels here with the sending out of the twelve, but not identically. In some ways there is a reverse or maybe even sort of reciprocal comparison between this and how the twelve had gone out. Let me explain what I’m referring to here. First off, Jesus had sent the twelve apostles out to proclaim the kingdom and to heal miraculously. That’s what we now see Jesus doing. What Jesus sent them to do is what Jesus is now doing. But Jesus sent his apostles to the people where they lived. Here, it’s the people leaving their homes and going out to Jesus. And when Jesus sent his apostles out, he was expecting the people in their towns to welcome them and receive them. And so that is where in reverse or maybe even reciprocally, that is what Jesus does here for the people. When the people leave their homes and come out to Jesus he welcomes them and receives them gladly. Jesus doesn’t send the people away, but he mirrors the response he had wanted from the people when he and his apostles would come to them. He welcomes and then preaches the kingdom and does his wonders among them.
So let’s continue this line of thinking and comparison when it comes to the feeding of the five thousand. The people had come to Jesus and his apostles from all over to this desolate place. Jesus had acted as their host as he welcomes them there. But then the day wears on and the people are going to need to eat something soon. The disciples are trying to be practical by coming to Jesus in verse 12 suggesting that he send the people away to go find food elsewhere back in surrounding villages. But Jesus won’t have that. Jesus wants to show proper hospitality to his many, many guests that he has welcomed. And just as Jesus had told his apostles to stay with the home that first welcomes you in a town and not to jump around from one host to another in that town, so Jesus won’t send his many guests away to find food elsewhere. Jesus instead intends to show hospitality to his many guests and tells his disciples to give them something to eat.
That becomes then the context for this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus as the host takes all the food that they had, just five loaves and two fish, and prays a blessing over the people before breaking the bread and having his disciples distribute the food. The result is that there is way more than enough. At the end of the meal there was twelve baskets of leftovers picked up, more than they would have started with. So, as his apostles didn’t go hungry when he sent them out even without extra provisions, but relied on hospitality, so too Jesus sees that all his many guests did not go hungry but lovingly feeds them. To be clear, this is presented as a miracle. That’s how we should understand this. This was some supernatural multiplication of the food. But such should not surprise us. Jesus was already miraculously healing people that day. Jesus, who was the means for all things being created, could certainly supernaturally multiply bread.
And Jesus’ miracles tended to show something of the coming kingdom of God. Every demon he cast out was a sign of how when the kingdom came there would be no more evil spiritual forces at work any longer. Every human he healed of illness or even raised from the dead was a sign of how when the kingdom came there would be no more sickness or death for our bodies will made anew. And so here, when he feeds these many guests, when he shows them such hospitality, it is a sign of how when the kingdom comes there would be no more hunger but rather there would be abundant sustenance and provision. This meal becomes but a foretaste of what Revelation 19 speaks of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and all the feasting we will do with Christ in the age to come.
In conclusion, I love the complementary picture we get as we take all this together. On the one hand, we see a picture of God’s authorized messengers going out in evangelism and how people ought to welcome those messengers and their message. On the other hand, it’s also a picture of how people ought to come to Jesus to be with him and hear his message, and how Jesus will receive those who come to him in such faith.
We’ve mentioned today the eternal ramifications these things look to. One day the kingdom of God will come in its fullness. If you have received Jesus, he will receive you in that age to come. If you have not received Jesus, then he will not receive you, but you will instead know his threatened judgment. But until that day, Jesus has now authorized and sent the church to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. As in today’s passage, sometimes our evangelism will happen when we go out to where people are at (in our work of missions). When we do, we pray that we be well received and welcomed as Christ’s messengers, and yes, we hope they will even show us some hospitality. And other times, like we see in today’s passage, sometimes people will come to us, even coming as visitors here to our church. When they come to us, let us welcome them and show them Christian hospitality. In either circumstance, whether we go to them or they come to us, the message is still the same. A message of the coming kingdom of God, message founded upon what the prophets and the apostles and Christ Jesus have proclaimed.
So then, let us take application today to both evangelism and hospitality. Let us seek to do both in the name of Christ and by his grace. Amen.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.