In the Book of Proverbs we are given this admonition:
Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:5-7)
We look for good teachers to teach us how to play music, increase our skills in a sport, teach us to dance, or help us learn a trade. We seek the advice of a good financial manager. We look for trainers (O.K., you may look for a trainer) to help you get in shape. We go to any number of “specialists” to get advice on how to solve various problems. We know instinctively that good advice is hard to come by.
In our text, Luke 12:1-12, Jesus is giving instruction to his disciples in the hearing of the multitude. We are told, “a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another”. The people knew Jesus had uncommon wisdom. They were eager to hear what He had to say. I suspect He was like a breath of fresh air. He was someone who spoke the truth and did so in a way that people could understand. He was humble yet spoke with authority. He was approachable yet He was a cut above everyone else. His advice was life-changing. I invite you to listen intently as the Master gives us counsel for life.
Guard Against Hypocrisy – Be Real
Jesus, we are told, spoke first to his disciples (but certainly within the hearing of the crowd),
“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (1-5)
Jesus was not one to mince words. He told his disciples to beware of the kind of hypocrisy that characterized the Pharisees. Why were they hypocrites?
- Because they wanted to look holy more than they wanted to be holy.
- They claimed to be devoted to the Lord yet they manipulated God’s truth in order to suit their purposes and advance their own causes.
- They were quick to see the sin in others but seemed unable to see the sin in themselves.
We learn two things about hypocrisy. First, hypocrisy is deception. A key idea of hypocrisy is “hiding”. The word hypocrite came from the idea of playing a part in the theatre. The hypocrite is pretending to be something they are not.
Most hypocrites don’t realize that they are hypocrites. They have convinced themselves that they have things under control. They cannot see their own addictions, weaknesses and failures. They spend their life pretending and trying to keep others from recognizing that they are pretending. They are so convincing that they fool themselves.
The second thing we learn is that hypocrisy is foolish and futile. Jesus said who we really are will be “made known”. The truth will come out. Pretenders will be exposed. Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying,
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”
It is hard to keep living a lie. Eventually the truth will reveal itself.
Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame used to playfully tell a bogus tale about how he sent a telegram to each of twelve friends, all men of great virtue, reputation, and considerable position in society. The message simply said: “Fly at once, all is discovered.” Within twenty-four hours, Doyle says, all twelve had left the country!
You may be here today hiding a truckload of secrets. You may have done such a good job of burying your “other life” that people don’t have a clue. Here’s the harsh reality friend: you cannot keep your true self hidden forever. You will be found out! It is much better to run to Jesus, confess what is really going on, and ask Him to cleanse you and make you truly into a new person in Christ. He already knows the truth about your life . . . and He loves you anyway. The message of the gospel is this: Jesus came into the world to save flawed people like you and me.
The opposite of hypocrisy is sincerity or genuineness. A genuine person admits their failures, struggles, fears and misunderstandings. They ask for help when it is needed. Genuine people tell themselves the truth about themselves. They face the struggles instead of trying to bury them.
A few weeks back an umpire by the name of Jim Joyce made the wrong call on the last out of a perfect game that was pitched by Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers. A perfect game is when a pitcher gives up no hits, no walks, and there are no base runners of any kind during the game. It is very rare. Joyce called the runner safe when replays showed he was clearly out. It was a bad call. Jim Joyce proved himself to be a genuine and sincere person. When the game was over he watched the replay. To His credit he went to the Tiger locker room and apologized for missing the call. He made no excuses. He did not plead any extenuating circumstances. He said he was wrong and he was sorry. He said the same thing to the media. On the other side the pitcher who was denied the record book was equally gracious and kind. This mistake led to one of the finest expressions of sportsmanship we have ever seen. This is the kind of character Jesus encourages us to pursue.
The place to start being genuine is with the Lord Himself. Admit your failures. Seek His grace. Discover the freshness of forgiveness.
Fear God- Be Reverent
The second piece of advice is found in verses 4-7
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Jesus knew the leaders of Israel were plotting to kill Him. Things were going to get rough. Jesus knew that things were not only going to be rough for Him, they were going to be rough for the disciples as well. These followers of Jesus were going to face persecution. Most of these men were martyred because of their faith.
At a time when hostility toward Christians is increasing (especially as Islam aggressively expands throughout the world), these words become extremely relevant. We may not be in immediate danger of execution because of our faith, but we may face economic persecution, legal persecution, and certainly the persecution of public ridicule due to our faith. Acceptable speech no longer allows talk of “sin”, judgment, accountability and even right and wrong. When we stand up for Christ we become a target for many.
Jesus does not guarantee that he will protect our physical life. He does not deny that there may be hardships. God sometimes requires martyrdom of his disciples. Jesus is telling us that we must keep perspective. To compromise what is eternal to maintain what is temporary is foolish. Jesus reminds us that the world can only kill us. They cannot take our true life or keep us from eternity in Heaven. We should live our lives not looking at our enemies but at our Lord!
I think we can expand this even further . . . not only should we not fear the people that can kill the body, we shouldn’t fear diseases that can destroy our body, or fear situations that can make our lives difficult. Paul had the right perspective: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
We have many examples from history. The disciples chose death rather than deny the Lord. Martin Luther feared God more than the august Council who told him to recant of his teachings. His famous words,
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Luther feared God more than the men of power. He knew that he could be burned as a heretic (others already had been so punished). Yet, Luther also knew that He would rather have this life taken from him than forfeit eternal life by denying His Lord.
Martyrs die every day throughout the world. Missionaries willingly go into countries and neighborhoods that are hostile to the gospel and those who proclaim it. Students take a stand in secular university lecture halls even though they know they may be vilified. Others refuse to compromise their faith on the job even though they know they may be fired….they all do this because they fear or respect God more than the power of men.
Jesus quickly reminds us that God cares about us and loves us. God keeps track of the birds and he even knows how many hairs are on our head (an easier task for some than others). We are to fear and submit to Him because He loves us.
The advice is simple: Don’t compromise your obedience to the Lord of life
- To be popular with your friends
- To make more money
- To keep from being punished
- To indulge a temporary pleasure
- To garner the applause of men
- To save your life
When the Scottish reformer John Knox was lowered to his grave, it was declared: “Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of man.” Oh that this might be said of us as well!
Take a Bold Stand with Christ – Be fearless, Trusting
The third piece of wisdom from Jesus is found in verses 8-10
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
These words are a warning to those who might think of “toning down” their profession to escape persecution. If we are not willing to stand with Jesus on earth . . . we should not expect Him to stand with us in Heaven.
Think about this. If someone pretends not to know you when they are with their friends will you continue to think of them as your friend? No. If a person is not willing to acknowledge your friendship at all times . . . they are not your friend at all. In the same way Jesus says that those who do not stand with Him in public are not truly devoted to Him even in private. These words are meant to make us stop and think.
The words that follow talk about the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”. We are told that people may be forgiven for speaking against Christ but those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. This is obviously a serious sin. It is the unforgiveable sin. Therefore, it is important we understand what this sin is.
There are differences of opinion on what this unpardonable sin could be. Let me give you my conclusion. I believe this sin is a final and persistent refusal to respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin and summons to faith. In order to be forgiven a person needs to be truly sorry; they need to repent. The person being talked about here is the one who has become callous and hard toward the things of God. Their sin is unpardonable because they are steadfastly unwilling to do what leads to pardon.
The good news is: every other sin is pardonable. No matter what you have done in the past, if you are willing to confess that sin with true sorrow and turn to the Lord for forgiveness and a new direction for your life, you can be forgiven. This warning is serious . . . it is possible to pretend for so long, to resist for so long, to be indifferent for so long, that you no longer are able to respond to the summons of God’s Spirit. The fact that you are here today probably means you have not reached that point. Do not take the warning lightly. Turn to Him while you can still embrace God’s pardon.
Don’t Worry: Be Confident
One final word from the Lord,
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” [11-12]
I suspect the disciples were like you and me. As we hear His words we think, “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I will have the courage and I’m pretty sure I won’t have the right words to say.” To us Jesus says, “the Holy Spirit will give you the words”.
Jesus is not saying, “Don’t worry about your test . . . I’ll give you the answers.” He is not saying “Don’t worry about preparing for your sermon or your lessons for Sunday School because I will give you the right words when the time comes.” The Lord does not reward laziness! We have an obligation to “study to show ourselves approved a workman that does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)
What Jesus is telling us that in those times when we are suddenly and unexpectedly called before the courts (like Luther) or suddenly find ourselves standing before opponents of faith, God will give us the words we need. In the times when you have a chance to testify to your faith but you don’t know what to say, Jesus said, “Don’t panic, the Holy Spirit will give you the right words to say”.
One time I was on jury duty and an attorney questioned me about my ability to be “impartial” in a drug case since I was a Pastor. He asked me if my Christian beliefs would impact how I viewed the case. Out of my mouth came these words, “If you are asking me if I can separate my faith from my thoughts and actions – you need to understand: being a Christian is not something I do . . . it is who I am.”
I don’t know where those words came from except from the Holy Spirit. They were so good I wrote them down when I got out to the car!!! (Incidentally, I was dismissed from hearing the case). The Lord promises that in those times when we are put on the spot He will give those who are His true followers the right words.
Jesus has given us some very practical and wise counsel this morning. He’s told us to
- Be Genuine rather than hypocritical.
- Fear God rather than be controlled by people and organizations that cannot impact our eternal destiny
- When you are asked (or forced) to choose . . . stand with Jesus. He is the One who will never leave us or forsake us.
- Prepare faithfully and speak boldly in confident that God will give us the right words at the right time.
Jesus calls us to a radical (rather than a casual) commitment. His words are admittedly a little unnerving. When we are genuine we become vulnerable to those who are quick to criticize. No one wants to be rejected by others. It is threatening to speak up as a believer because we don’t know what the consequences may be. However Jesus isn’t asking us to do these things in our strength, but in His. Ask God to help you to serve Him boldly.
It is important to get good counsel. However, that advice is valuable only if you are willing to take it and apply it to your life. So today we stand at a crossroads. You have heard the advice of Jesus. Now the question is: will you shrug it off (as if you knew better) or will you ask God for the courage to apply it? If we take the path of courageous obedience we will discover a new intimacy with God, a new peace, a new joy, a new beginning, and yes . . . even a new life.