Let me begin by asking you this. What's the most common command in the Bible? Well the answer is fear not. Do not fear. Who needs to hear that this morning? And the message of Luke 12:1-12 is beware of hypocrisy or pretence - do not fear men (v4, 7 & 11) but rather fear God (v6). Whom do you fear? OFSTED? Your employer? Your colleagues? Your family and friends? Or God? We can be tempted to be fearful of what other people think of us and that can make us fearful of accepting Christ in the first place and can paralyse us in our Christian life and ministry during the week rather than being more concerned about what God thinks. Look at v4: "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do i.e. don't fear those who tease you or persecute you or even kill the body because after that there's nothing more they can do. Why? Because in Christ, disciples of Jesus have eternal life. V7: Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows. V11: "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not be anxious. Why? Jesus says 'Do not fear men' because God is very powerful - he's sovereign and in control. And He cares about you very much. Jesus wants to address our fear of others and what they might say and do. He wants us to examine those fears and replace them with a confidence in His Father's power and love, faith in him and be his witnesses in the power of the Spirit (v12). He wants us to be genuine disciples, full of faith in him rather than full of hypocrisy and denial of him and then having to face the judgment of God.
So let me ask you this. How do you react when an opportunity arises to stand up for Jesus, to talk about Jesus or to invite to Carols? Do you take it? Or do you fear what others might say? When Graham Daniels was with us he was sharing that he now seeks to get Jesus into a conversation and then follow up with a question. Mention Jesus - ask a question. For example, 'I was at church on Sunday hearing a really good talk about Jesus. Have you ever heard a talk about Jesus?' If there's no response then he leaves it there but there can be and often with people he's not had much contact with. Wise boldness, in the power of the Spirit, who will teach us what to say (v12), is what's needed rather than a fear of man, which won't do anybody any good. And where does the motivation for wise boldness come from - from both a right fear of God and the love of Christ, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. You see Paul was motivated in his evangelism by a healthy fear of the Lord - he knew he would have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account - and by the love of Christ which compels us to be his ambassadors.
So we're to fear (or respect or revere) God (v6), the one who has the authority to cast in to hell. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees - of hypocrisy - of all outward show but no inward reality, of pretence, unwilling to count the cost of discipleship, and so not willing to confess Christ as Saviour and Lord when it comes to the crunch. Of not truly fearing God but man. God knows your heart. You can't fool him. If anyone here this morning is really trusting in their self righteousness and not in Christ, refusing the offer of forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift through faith in Jesus, and refusing to confess him both in our heart and publicly as Lord, then be warned because Jesus tells us here that refusal to do so has serious and eternal consequences.
1. The right kind of fear is for God, not men v1-7
Back in chapter 11, Jesus confronted the religious leaders, saying that dead religion is self-centred and defiling, that it hates the Word of God and its proclamation. Despite arousing the anger of the religious leadership Jesus continues with ever larger crowds. He knows the authorities will attack any who stand with him. So in the midst of the large crowd, Jesus warns his disciples about them. And he says the only way to be free of dead religion and hypocrisy is to have the right kind of fear – fear of God and not man. And so today his disciples, you and me, are to acknowledge Jesus publicly and not fear the authorities in the power of the Spirit.
Indeed the opening words of chapter 12 are very striking. Luke tells us that a crowd of many thousands had gathered, a crowd so large they were trampling on one another. But Jesus doesn't pander to the crowd. In the hearing of these thousands he delivers warnings to his disciples first, and so to disciples today, against false teachers and denounces the sins of the times, unsparingly. Jesus tells his disciples straight and provides the crowd with what they need to hear if they're to know God and live for him and have eternal life rather than eternal death in hell. Surely this is true care. This is the work of a physician who wants to get to the heart of the problem and provide the necessary radical solution. And gospel ministers today need to follow him in this. V1-3
He began to say to his disciples first, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
Jesus reminds us that a day will come when the inner life of men and womenwill be exposed. This is what the Pharisees haven't understood; everything they do has been contaminated with the leaven of hypocrisy or literally play acting, so that provided the outward appearance is all right, the inward state doesn't matter. A play actor, of course, is fearful of what other people think and desperate to look good to them. But they're wrong, says Jesus. What you're like inside matters very much, and will one day 'be proclaimed on the housetops.' On the day of judgment, all hypocrisy will be revealed! There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed. So be warned - if you're living a double life now, be sure it will be revealed one day.
The important thing, therefore, is to consider the welfare of your soul rather than of your body. Be prepared, not for the judgment of any earthly tribunal, but for the judgment of the One who 'has power to cast into hell', Almighty God. Let it be your preoccupation to be, through and through, the kind of person of whom he will approve when that day comes - one who is trusting in Christ for salvation and living in response to what he's done. Look at v4&5:
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
The fear of man is one of the greatest obstacles which stand between the soul and heaven. "What will people say about me? What will they think of me? What will they do?" If the fear of man has such sway today, how much greater was its influence during our Lord's time on earth. If it's difficult to follow Christ today because of ridicule, think how much harder it was in Christ's own day when so many were beaten, imprisoned, and killed. Jesus knew all about these things. No wonder he cried out, "Do not fear."
But what can stop us from fearing men? We must fear God. We must look away from those who can only hurt the body to him who has control over the soul. "I fear God," said one martyr, "and therefore there is no one else that I need fear." One Protestant Bishop, who was urged to save his life by recanting at the stake, said: "Life is sweet and death is bitter. But eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death is more bitter."
If this is your aim, then the revolution of new birth in Christ will be followed by the transformation of your character into one of trust in God and courage before men. And remember it's the Holy Spirit who will accomplish this. We're not on our own. Look at v6-7 - here's Christ's encour¬agement to especially persecuted believers but also to all who trust in him. Jesus reminds us of God's provi¬dential care over the least of his creation and goes on to assure us that the same car¬ing heavenly Father is looking after you and me.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
You see the Judge to be feared is also a Father to be trusted. You can trust God because He cares even for sparrows, the least of His creatures. If God remembers these 'worthless birds', how much more will He care for you the greatest of His creatures? The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Not even the worst that persecutors devise can take place without God's knowledge and care for his people. "In all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). Do you believe that?
2. The right kind of allegiance is to Jesus, not men v8-12
Look first at v8-9. "And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
The image Jesus gives is of the Throne Room of God on Judgment Day with angelic attendants. Jesus is both intercessor (priest/advocate/defence) and prosecutor before the heavenly courts. If we confess him now, He will confess us before His Father, but the converse is also true. You see loyalty to God can never remain an abstract idea. Acknowledge the Son as your Saviour and Lord and be acknowledged by Him before the Father. Perhaps the Lord is dealing with your heart this morning, you've never acknowledged Jesus as your Saviour and Lord - well why not respond now - repent and put your trust in Christ and be willing to follow him whatever the cost.
Yes we must confess Christ on earth if we expect him to own us as his saved people on the last day. As genuine Spirit filled believers we must not then be ashamed to let everyone see that we believe in Christ and love Christ and care more for Christ's praise than for man's praise. And this is not only for martyrs but for all believ¬ers, in every walk of life. It's not just for great occasions but for our daily walk through an evil world, empowered by the Spirit as we live wanting to please the Lord Jesus in response to him rescuing us from darkness.
For us to continually deny Christ and be ashamed of his Gospel may enable us to receive some praise from men for a few years, but it will bring us no real peace. Yet for Christ to disown us on the last day will be our ruin for eternity. Let's throw away our cowardly fears. Come what may, let's acknowledge Christ in the power of the Spirit. And yes there is forgiveness and a fresh start for those who've been denying Jesus as they turn to and trust in him.
But next Jesus warns there is an unpardonable sin. V10: ...everyone 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.
The second half of this verse, especially, has often caused much heart-searching and confusion for some. What is this 'blasphemy against the Spirit' which can never be forgiven?
Did you know that there are certain things which even God finds impossible. When we understand that, we begin to understand the nature of this sin which he cannot forgive. For it's impossible for him to lie, or to deny himself, or to contradict himself, and nothing that he has made (including man) can be at one and the same time both Thus and Not-Thus; which means, among other things, that if we won't be forgiven, then, in this rational world of his, it's a mere nonsense to say that we will be forgiven. It's impossible therefore for God to forgive one who says, 'I will not listen to the Spirit when he brings me the message of forgiveness.' It is impossible for him to save one who says, 'I will not follow the Spirit when he points me to the Saviour.' That's the ultimate blasphemy. It's turning to the darkness in the face of the greatest light. It's refusing and even fighting against the Holy Spirit while He's holding the truth about Jesus right in front of you. The person who is determined to go to hell will certainly get there. They will get what they want.
So Jesus warns us against the unforgiv¬able sin. The Spirit comes to revolutionize our lives, offering salva¬tion in the person of the Saviour Jesus; let's not refuse. He comes to transform our lives into the image of Jesus; let's not refuse that either— refusal is the blasphemy against the Spirit, and can never be forgiven.
Lastly Jesus teaches us that as Christians you don't need to be anxious about what to say when you're required to speak for Christ. V11-12:
And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
No doubt Jesus' promise has a primary reference today to Christians who are brought before the authorities, Christians who are put under pressure to go against the clear teaching of the Bible or lose their lives in some countries or here in the UK their livelihoods. Perhaps you're facing similar difficulties. Well as Peter says in Acts 5.29: you must obey God rather than men; but remember that God is with you, the Holy Spirit can teach you what to say in time of such particular need.
But there's a secondary sense in which this promise is for all believ¬ers, and this must not be overlooked. Christians are asked unexpect¬edly to speak on behalf of Jesus and to give a hope for the reason that is in them. On all such occasions Christ will not fail us or forsake us. We will be given wisdom to speak rightly. "The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say".