Luke 12:1-21 “Of What Are You Afraid?”
1 In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.
4 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
8 “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. 9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
10 “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.
11 “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. 12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
13 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Introduction: We live in a day and age of popularity. People allow their lives to be guided not by God, not by their consciences, but by what they think other people think and want. If a poll says that everyone approves of something, many people are inclined to think that way, even if it is wrong or sinful. I am not being political, but we have politicians who say that they are personally opposed to abortion, but that they don’t want it to be against the law. That’s like saying you’re personally opposed to murder, but don’t want to make it against the law.
Jesus had become popular in his day. We read in verse 1 that many people were following Jesus, so that people were trampling on each other. It was at this point that it would have been easy to fall into the temptation of accepting the praise of the crowd, and start seeking their approval, and doing things that would draw people to himself.
But instead, Jesus says, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Leaven is what makes bread rise, like yeast in French bread. You only need a little leaven to affect that whole loaf. In the same way, Jesus is warning us that the teachings and actions of the Pharisees were infectious, and had the ability and danger of affecting everyone around them.
And so, he points to the sin of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Again, we live in a very hypocritical generation, where people say one thing and do another. People say that they are Christians, but they don’t do or believe any of the things that Jesus our Lord taught us. This is especially easy in our society, because we live in an urban society. We have one life at work, and another life in our homes and families, and another life outside. I see this especially when I visit the parents of my schoolchildren at their homes, or see them in the market. The kids think that the world of school is a different world from the world of home or stores. It’s this same principal that makes it easy to be a hypocrite in our society, to say and do one thing at home, or in church, and to act and say different things at work or in the community. It used to be that if we did something in school or work or in the community, everyone in our neighborhood, and the people at home, would know it very quickly. But, it is not so any more, and so the danger of hypocrisy is especially great among us.
So the Lord Jesus warns us that hypocrisy really doesn’t work in the end. He says in verses 2 and 3, “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” Those of us who think we’re getting away with something are only fooling ourselves, for as the Saviour says, everything that we do and say in public will be revealed. I believe that he is speaking of the last day, the judgment day, when he comes again. The books will be opened, and all that we have done will be revealed. And God will judge us all.
But the flip side of that is a matter of great assurance for us as well. The Lord tells us in verse 4, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” That is, there is no power that men or demons have that can take away our soul. The part that makes people afraid is when Jesus says, “Do no be afraid of those who kill the body.” That is, there are those who will attack us for being followers of Jesus Christ, and may even kill us. And indeed, both through the ages and up to the present day there are believers in Jesus Christ who have died for his Name. But then our Lord continues and says that after they have killed us, they can do no more. Someone might say, “Isn’t that enough?” But the answer is, NO, because we are more than just our bodies. Yes, the enemies of God, who then make themselves our enemies, may kill our bodies, but they cannot rob us of our souls, of our eternal lives, and of our everlasting relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, who should we fear? Jesus says in verse 5, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Who is this, that has the power not only to kill, but to cast your soul into hell? There are some who wrongly assume that it is the Devil, but the Lord has already told us that his enemies and ours have no power to cast our souls into hell. No, it is none other than the Lord himself. He, and he alone, has power over our lives, and more importantly, over our souls. It is he whom we should fear, not those of this world. And yes, we need to fear him, not just honor and love and respect him, but fear him, as the only one worthy of fear. The Greek work here, phobathate [φοβηθητε], is where we get our English word phobia. It is the common word for fear, and means exactly that. It implies trembling in the presence of someone worthy of fear. And that is what Jesus our Lord is saying—don’t fear those of this world who have no real power over you, but fear him who has the power of life and death, of salvation and of damnation, even God himself.
But this leads us to consider the compassion and care that the Lord has for us. Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (verses 6 & 7). Wait a minute! He has just told us to fear him who can cast both body and soul into hell, and now he says in the very next phrase, “Do not fear.” How can this be? He has just told us to fear God, and now he tells us “do not fear.” Because, as he says, God cares for all of his creation, for the birds of the air, to the point where he even numbers the hairs on our heads. If we were the objects of his condemnation, we would have every reason to fear. But, if he cares for us, then we need not fear, for his care extends to the ends of the earth. So, though we fear God, we have no fear of anything or anyone else.
There are many implications of this, but our Lord makes the most immediate application in verses 8 to 11. He says, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.” That is, if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, he will confess us before the Father who is in heaven. Have you ever had a lawyer, or gone to court in a lawsuit? Some lawyers are bumblers, and can’t find the door to courtroom, but some are very, very, good. If you’ve seen them in action, they know how to defend their clients, even when guilty. But Jesus is more than a lawyer, even the best lawyer. He not only defends us, he offers a payment for our sins, his own life and death. So, when the accusation comes against us, we have a defender who declares us innocent, who justifies us, because he has paid for our sins.
And, for those who presume upon the mercy and love of God, the opposite is true as well. He warns us that those who reject him will be judged. In verse 9, he says “But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” That is, if you deny Jesus Christ, you will be denied by Jesus Christ. Can you imagine a more terrible fate than for the Son of God to deny you before God and his angels? Instead of having Jesus speak and act on your behalf, imagine him speaking and acting against you. Who could survive? There is forgiveness, even for those have previously rejected him, as he says in verse 10, “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him.” That is, if in doubt and fear and disbelief you rejected Christ before, you may be forgiven. But then he warns us at the end of verse 10, “but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.” That is, those who continue in unbelief, and reject the Lord and his word until they die, will not be forgiven. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to reject him, and the illumination that he brings, and those who do so have no hope if they continue in their blasphemy.
And so he assures us in verses 11 and 12, “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Not only do we not have to fear for ourselves, but even more, we have the assurance that he will give us the words to say. And we have those words today, written to us in his word. When people ask us for a reason for the hope that is in us, we can respond with his word, which is the sword of the Spirit, which “is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” [Hebrews 4:12] We don’t have to worry about what to say, because God the Holy Spirit has given us the words to say. It is as he says to us in Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” When we speak of Jesus the Lord before others, not only will Jesus confess us before the angels of God in heaven, but the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say--not our words, but his.
But there are still those standing by who are so self-centered that they do not understand what it means to live our lives in the presence of the living God. Some idiot—and yes, he is an idiot—comes up to Jesus, and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” [verse 13] Jesus has told him about the need to live our lives without hypocrisy, without fear of the world, but fearing God, and this man can only think about his own selfish concerns. There are many people, so many people, like that today. They think only of their own prosperity and happiness, of serving themselves, of getting what they can. And this man is especially greedy, for he is bringing a charge not against an enemy or stranger, not even against a neighbor or friend, but against his own brother. I know it’s easy to think, “What an idiot” when we come across this man, but is he all that different from so many people today? In my community, when I ask why people came to this country, the smart ones say, “to improve my life,” which is not a bad answer. But the idiots say, “to get money.” They are like this man, who even turned on his own brother to try to get more money.
Our Saviour Jesus says, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” That is, Jesus has not come to settle petty disputes, but to save us from our sins. But he uses the foolish request of this man to explain why it is such a foolish request. He says to all of the people, not just the man, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” [verse 14] The point is, of course, that we live our lives in the fear of God, and not to get the things of the world. This was the error of the Pharisees. They thought that by their hypocrisy that they could amass to themselves both the admiration of the people and also the goods of this world. And truthfully, they had succeeded. But what had they gained? Jesus tells by means of the parable.
The rich man had succeeded. He had planned and planted and worked the fields, and now, he had been blessed beyond his wildest dreams. He did think about what to do with his new-found wealth, for we read: “And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’” He could have given thanks to God, or shared his surplus with the poor, or at least sought the advice of his friends and family. But, his concern is only for himself, so he says, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” [verses 18-19] He believes that he can plan his life, and be rich, and ignore God and others, and be perfectly happy. So, “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’”
Look around. I don’t mean around this room, but look around America. In the middle ages, Europeans built church buildings. In the times of the Reformation and after, they built universities and libraries. And the early Americans did the same, both in building church buildings and universities and libraries. But all of the new great buildings of America are dedicated to commerce and amusements. Harvard University was founded by a small group of colonists to prepare men for the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And now? Yes, it is wealthy and large, and has denied the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of the Gospel of commerce and science. Go into the typical American home, and what do you see? A big screen TV, connected to cable or a satellite. And it’s not just the rich. I go into Mexican homes, where the people complain of their poverty, and say they cannot afford to eat right or clothe their children, and I see the same big screen TV. Where are their priorities? Where are our priorities?
To the hypocritical Pharisees, to those who are fearful of men, to those who deny Jesus Christ, to those who covet their brother’s wealth, Jesus is saying, “This night your life may be demanded of you, and what will you do?” The fools are those who pretend to follow God, and those who fear men and not God, and those who deny Jesus our Lord, and those who covet this world’s toys. Those who will live forever are those who trust in Christ, who live their lives in his presence, and who fear God, and God alone. Dear brothers and sisters, your life may be demanded of you tonight. Are you ready to meet your God and Saviour? May the Lord grant us his grace to take our eyes off ourselves and our stuff, and fix them on Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.