Warnings to the Saints, Luke 12:1-12
In a sermon from Hebrews 12, Martyn Lloyd-Jones advised us to not go the Bible only for comfort. Go to the Bible expecting God to confront you and argue against false belief and false peace. David wrote as much in Psalm 119:75 I know, LORD, that Your judgments are just and that You have afflicted me fairly. Our passage today is such a place. The focus of this passage is warning the saints against errors; Luke did not make a record here of how to be saved; these warnings are not given to those outside the family of God. The warnings build up the doctrine of the humility of the saints, reminding us in Whom our sufficiency lies. The video hymn was selected to put this fact in front of us: “Why was I made to hear Thy voice, And enter while there's room; When thousands make a wretched choice, And rather starve than come?” The only answer is God’s sovereign choice; we deserve nothing good from Him.
In last week's sermon we learned about the hypocrisy of the false, external religion, which could be summed up as, "Do what I say, not as I do" as shown in Luke 11:46 - And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. That exchange with the religious leaders caused a stir and many people clamored to see more from this prophet we confronted the Jewish leaders, but Jesus wanted to use the lesson to teach His close disciples something deeper.
1. Warning against hypocrisy. Luke 12:1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
As we have been seeing in our walk through Luke’s gospel, there were often large crowds following after Jesus. As we sometimes read about in our news, in large crowds it’s not uncommon for people to knock others down and trample one another. This is the common disregard for fellow man that is displayed in the perceived anonymity of a large mob. Jesus does not address this crowd in this scene – He turned to His close disciples and warned them about the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was their self-righteousness. Recall the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: one prayed publicly, in superficial terms; the other humbly cried out for mercy, knowing he needed mercy. This problem is ours as well – we tend to think of ourselves too highly and think of sin too lightly. Self-righteous church-folk are modern Pharisees: comfortable in their traditions and not wanting to be confronted with the truth of God's Word.
Perhaps this is why our prayer life is superficial, virtually overwhelmed with physical concerns – about many who are not even part of this fellowship. Do we spend our time and attention praying and asking for prayers about physical to crowd out the nagging suspicion that we need the grace of God today, to be broken over our own sin? When we pray together, how seldom do we pray for, or ask for prayers, about spiritual matters, for the salvation of loved ones? Physical matters are not unimportant, but they are secondary. If our souls be unhealthy, that is far more critical than our physical bodies. “If your eye offend you, For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Stark teaching such as this is meant to show us how the spiritual is more important than the physical.
In Matt 16 we see His close disciples in a boat with Jesus, as He warns them about the leaven of the Pharisees. They thought He was griping about the fact they had not thought to bring any bread on the trip. Those closest to Him while He walked this earth had trouble understanding the danger of the false teaching among them – doctrines they were taught from their youth, things they had taken as truth all their lives. Just as countless Baptists do, having been brought up in “church-life” and “knowing” what is true. How much of what we know is mere tradition, just as it was with the Pharisees? In our passage Jesus accuses the Pharisees of hypocrisy – claiming to be someone you ain’t and leading others astray with false doctrines. This is a common problem in our day, as we can be deceived and not know it. This is why we are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith; this means to make sure we are resting in the finished work of Christ, not trusting in our works. This is why God gives us to one another in the local fellowship so we can live together to the degree we can know one another well. This is important, as we learn in the next piece of our text.
2. Second Warning against hypocrisy. Verses 2&3 There is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered, nothing hidden that won’t be made known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.
A hypocrite who is not self-deceived will say one thing in public and another in the quiet darkness he shares with a very few. We all think we can get away with stuff (we don’t call it sin) and there’s no harm or foul if we don’t get caught. Perhaps the most common example of this is seen in how we drive. I can drive 5 MPH over the speed limit and be safe. Most of the time you can travel 10 MPH over the speed limit and not be pulled over. As long as you aren’t stopped for speeding, no problem! Yet we are otherwise very much in favor of laws – against murder, robbery, and such. Yet God has said, 1 Peter 2:13-15 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Ya gotta love Peter’s pen – it is God’s will we silence foolish people by doing good. We don't earn God's approval by obedience, but we have no excuse for disobedience to God or to human authorities, because they are established by God.
Here's another example of hypocrisy. There's a TV show: The Secret Lives of the Super Rich. It shows the outrageously expensive stuff that owns them, trying to make viewers envious. But the news reports show us real world glimpses into some of the debauchery super rich and powerful people engage in. While many witnesses die and these wealthy, powerful people escape the nation's court system, there is a Judge Who sees all and has perfect justice. We might think these people are like the white-washed cups Dexter mentioned last Sunday, full of indescribable wickedness. In fact, those who claim to be reconciled to God and rely on their own efforts to please Him are MORE wicked than reprobates who make no such claims. Such was the standing of the prideful Pharisees. All will be fully revealed on the day Christ Jesus returns to judge the nations; everything done in secret will be made known; every private whisper proclaimed publicly. We need to live as though we believe this.
John 3:19-21 - And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. This is Jesus' commentary on man's natural condition: loving his sin and the darkness that hides it from other men; failing to rightly fear God, from Whom NOTHING is hidden. This is the leaven of the Pharisees from every era - hypocrisy and no fear of God. Such should not be so among us!
3. Warning against fear of man. Verses 4-7 “And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw ⌊people⌋ into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!
If we're honest, we all fear something or someone, just as we all worship something or someone. An author wrote, years ago: There is a God Who is and there is a god we want. They are not the same! The God Who is knows all things and, by His hand of providence, controls all things. He throws unrepentant sinners into hell - they don't choose that destination. Fear Him - not as His enemies do, but as the angels do.
Angels get no mercy or forgiveness for sin; this is why they long to look into these things - how the gospel was preached by ancient prophets for the benefit of those who would come much later (1 Peter 1:10-12). A third of the angelic realm was thrown down from heaven because they rebelled against God. No second chance, no forgiveness; only a fearful expectation of fierce judgment and a fury of fire that will consume His enemies. That same warning of judgment is given to men who continually trample the grace of God (Heb 10:26-27), which ought to give each of us reason to examine ourselves – do we truly trust in Christ?
Since God knows of every bird that falls, knows every hair on our heads; how can we live as though He doesn't know every sin we commit in word, thought, or deed? To fear God means we live in recognition of Who He is – almighty, all-knowing, all-powerful, creator, sustainer, and judge. Since we all stumble in many ways, it is double foolish to think we don’t need one another if we are to walk obedient fear of God. He calls us together, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:12-16)
So with men who can make our lives miserable, we must remember the One Who was made miserable for us. We can fear man and what he can do or we can fear God and what He can do. If we fear man, there is no refuge from God; if we fear God, He is our refuge from man.
4. Warning against shrinking back. Verses 8-10 “And I say to you, anyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God, but whoever denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
This is closely tied to our previous point. One aspect of fearing man is we would be fearful of proclaiming Christ. In our day, so many people have grown up “in church” that they think they are Christian by default. Many know nothing about the Bible, care nothing for things of God or His people – yet claim to love Jesus, despite their gross ignorance of Him. These people are difficult to evangelize because we fear upsetting them. We must bear in mind: it is not our call to convert people or convince people; our calling is to proclaim Him. The word “acknowledge” (used in the ESV) means to confess (as in the KJV and ASB) or profess. It is to be known as His and make His excellencies known, trusting the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do – save wretched sinners.
Jesus Goes out of His way here to establish an important truth: The Christian God, the true God, is triune. The common view in national Israel was that God was one and only one. This is one of the stumbling blocks they had in accepting Jesus as the Son. Also, they had very little understanding of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is pulling back the veil a little to show them God as He is. In these three verses Jesus establishes the personhood of all three members of the trinity. The Son confesses His people to God the Father and declares that, while all manner of sin can be forgiven, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not. Each of the members of the God-head are jealous for one another. The Son proclaimed the Father in His ministry (John 12:49-50 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”). The Father glorified the Son (Matthew 17:5 “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”). The Holy Spirit also glorifies the Son (John 16:14 He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. And in our text, Jesus declares that everything spoken against Him can be forgiven, but blasphemy of the Spirit will not. The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict the world of sin and guide and teach the people of God about the Lord Jesus. He does not seek His own glory. So the Son stands up for the Spirit.
What is, then, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Luke 11:14-18: Now He was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon came out, the man who had been mute, spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons!” And others, as a test, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven. Knowing their thoughts, He told them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say I drive out demons by Beelzebul.
It's not merely speaking against the Holy Spirit that Jesus was warning against; it is ascribing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit. It may be because the Spirit does not testify about Himself that the Son has made it all the more vital that we know the role of the Holy Spirit and honor and worship Him as God.
We are herein warned to not grow complacent about declaring Christ to the world and to be careful to honor God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
5. Encouragement to Trust God. Verses 11 & 12 Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said.”
Again, we see a strong connection with the previous verses: do not fear man; fear God. Here we get a word of encouragement, of comfort. Previously we were told to fear God because He has the power to throw people into hell. Here we are told to trust God (do not worry about those people!) because the Spirit of God will give us the message. This was fulfilled for Paul, as he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:16-17 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. When Paul first came under attack, no men came to his aid. Note this – he did not blame them! His trust was in God and it was God Who gave him the gospel message to fully proclaim the glories of Christ so all could hear.
The context here is explicitly Jewish; this word was spoken directly to His fellow Jews. The application is universal, as we see throughout Scripture that the world will hate the saints and we will be persecuted. The point is not the historical context of synagogues and the intricacies of the Jewish theocracy; the point is to not be concerned about man, including what they think of us. The natural man cannot comprehend why we have the priorities we do; the gospel that is their only hope is foolishness in their eyes. We cannot save them, and keeping quiet so they don’t think us fools is something we’ve been warned not to do.
Trust God (all three persons) to be your wisdom in every circumstance in which you are tested. We are not to trust in our own wisdom or skill when preaching or teaching nor when being attacked on main street for believing on Christ Jesus. Confess Christ as Lord, profess Him as the Savior of sinners. Be consistent, in your prayers and in your public speech: Jesus Christ is Lord and King, come to Him all who are weary!
Application. John came out of the wilderness preaching judgment on his fellow Jews, telling these vipers to repent and flee the wrath to come. He warned them not to put stock in their fleshly lineage, as YHWH is able to raise up children of Abraham from rocks. In the Kingdom he announced, neither having Abraham as your father nor having Christians as your parents grants one entrance. The ax was being laid to the root, as every tree not bearing fruit would be cut down and burned.
After a short sermon, the people wondered if John was the Christ. He told them that water baptism was not the point, but baptism with the Holy Spirit by the Christ was. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
Good news for sinners is not news that comforts them in their sin. The good news from God rebukes the self-righteous man, warns him to flee the wrath of God, and confronts him with the glorious truth of the true Christ.
If you seek to make sinner comfortable, you are aligned with the hypocrites. If you seek to present the glorious Christ, warning people to believe on Him, to repent of their sin, and flee to Him, you are aligned with the humble servants of God. We preach Christ crucified, not a program or a building. Seek to please Him - for He has the keys to eternal life.
Remember David, a man beloved by God. Jumped into horrendous sin with both feet. Was blinded by his own lust. Took what was not his, violated who he took, killed her husband. Yet he was not abandoned by the God who had set His unchanging love upon him. The faithful One sent a man to love David unto the truth. After Nathan confronted David, he wrote Psalm 51, in which we see a contrite man, broken over his sin, pleading with God to have mercy on him, to blot out his sin, wash him, create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in him. He cried out for God to Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
This is the confidence we can have IF we have been born from above by the Spirit of the living God.
That video hymn, written by Isaac Watts around 1700, ends with this prayer to God: “Pity the nations, O our God! Constrain the earth to come; Send Thy victorious Word abroad, And bring the strangers home. We long to see Thy churches full, That all the chosen race May with one voice, and heart, and soul, Sing Thy redeeming grace.” That should be the constant desire of our hearts – may the Lord give His desire to see all of His chosen ones saved and the willingness to declare His gospel to every creature.