Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jesus on Discipleship (Luke 12:1-12): Six Goads from our Wise Teacher

Note:  Below is the manuscript from last Sunday morning's sermon at CRBC:

Jesus on Discipleship
Luke 12:1-12

CRBC August 18, 2013

We noted last Sunday in Luke 11:49 how Jesus refers to “the wisdom of God” and how there is some debate as to whether he was referring to the Old Testament or to himself as the personification of wisdom.

In our passage today we are going to continue to see Jesus as the great Teacher of his disciples.  He gives to them words of wisdom as a father gives to his son.

This brought to my mind a passage from Ecclesiastes, on the wisdom books of the Old Testament:

Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

The verse combines or mixes two metaphors for the teacher of wisdom.  He is first like a master carpenter or master builder (the “master of assemblies”) who drives in goads or nails to build a structure that will stand the test of time and storm.  He is second like a shepherd who is feeding and tending and guiding and protecting his lambs.  Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth is the Great Builder and the Good Shepherd.

As we look at our passage today I want us to consider the following six nails or goads from our Wise Teacher and Shepherd:

1.      Beware of hypocrisy (vv. 1-3);
2.     Fear Him who has ultimate authority over both your body and your soul (vv. 4-5);
3.     Know that you are highly valued by God (vv. 6-7);
4.    Understand that your eternal destiny depends on how you respond to Christ in this life (vv. 8-9);
5.     Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit (v. 10);
6.     Be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach you how to respond when you are persecuted (vv. 11-12).

The first nail:  Beware of hypocrisy (vv. 1-3):

The introduction to the first nail provides us the setting or occasion of Jesus’ teaching in v. 1.  Luke says that there were “gathered” (episynago, assembled) “an innumerable multitude of people.”  The phrase makes use of the word myrias, the root for the English word “myriad.”  So, it might be rendered that there was assembled before Jesus a crowd of thousands or even tens of thousands.  Imagine a scene like some we have seen in places like Egypt where thousands have thronged to a square for a political protest.  Luke even says ‘they trode one upon another” (katapateo, to trample or walk over).  In this case they were thronging not in protest but to hear the great teacher of Nazareth.  So, we might imagine a scene where a pop star or celebrity athlete is mobbed by a crowd who wants to be near him.  What a contrast will appear by the end of this narrative when Jesus will be utterly abandoned by the crowds and even by his disciples as he will go to the cross.  This is a reminder that crowds can be fickle; the human heart can be fickle.  Truth is not determined by numbers, though at this point many throng to hear Jesus.

Notice also that this teaching is aimed first at Jesus’ disciples:  “he began to say unto his disciples first of all (the adverb proton).  Some take all the teachings of Jesus as evangelistic, but here the teaching is explicitly identified as being discipleship.  It is instruction to Jesus’ followers, to insiders.

The first thing he says to them is a warning against religious or spiritual hypocrisy.  This might well be the overall theme for all six of the nails.

Jesus says, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v. 1b).  Jesus has previously announced “woes” upon the Pharisees and the lawyers (11:42-44, 46-52).  And he has identified their besetting sin as “hypocrisy.”  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “hypocrisy” as:  “a feigning [pretending] to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially: the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”  They were publicly claiming to be something that in reality they were not being.  To do something (obey and reverence God’s Word) that they were not doing.

The metaphor that Jesus uses here is that of “leaven,” the rising agent that is mixed in small measure into a larger lump of dough to make the loaf as a whole rise.  Sometimes Jesus uses leaven in a positive sense.  Compare:

Matthew 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened (cf. Luke 3:20-21).

But here he is using it in a negative sense.  The hypocrisy of a few if left unaddressed can work its way into the whole and ruin everything.  Paul makes a similar usage in 1 Corinthians 5:

1 Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Jesus then expand on this by saying that there is coming a day when the true thoughts of a man’s heart and his mind will be exposed (vv. 2-3).  I have heard some take these verses and use them as a prooftext for things like open air preaching and evangelism but that misses the point by wrenching these words of out their context.  Rather, Jesus is saying that what has been covered, hidden, or spoken in the darkness of our conscience or in the closet of our private thoughts will one day be revealed, made known, and publicly proclaimed from the housetops as it were.  What he is talking about here is the final judgment.  Compare:

Matthew 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

We may play the part of dutiful believer publicly but privately we may scorn Christ.  Jesus’ point is that one day that which is in darkness will be brought into the light.

The second nail:  Fear Him who has ultimate authority over both your body and your soul (vv. 4-5):

Note how Jesus begins:  “And I say unto you my friends (philoi)….”  Here “friends” is used as another term for the disciples.  To be a follower of Jesus is to be a friend of Jesus. Indeed, it is to be changed from one who was an enemy into a friend of the Lord.  Compare:

John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

With this intimate bond established, Jesus proceeds to offer another goaded warning:  “Be not afraid of them that kill the body….” (v. 4).  Jesus is here preparing his disciples to be ready to pay the ultimate price for their faith.  He is preparing them to be martyrs for the faith.  We know from Acts 12 that James will be the first apostle to die for his faith in Christ.  Christian tradition tells us that all or nearly all of the apostles met a similar destiny.  This is another proof for the truth of Christianity.  Men do not lay down their live for myths.

Notice how different the Christian view of martyrdom is than the Muslim view.  In the Muslim view one become a martyr in Jihad in order to gain assurance of entry into paradise.  For the Christian it is because one has assurance of his salvation that he is willing to lay down his life for Christ.  The Muslim is a martyr to get something he lacks.  The Christian become a martyr because of something he has already received!

Notice as well Jesus’ encouragement to the martyrs that any pain or suffering than can be inflicted by the enemies of the gospel will have a temporal ending. It has a finite duration.  It will end at death.

This leads to v. 5 where Jesus points out that the one his disciples ought to fear is not those who can only inflict temporal punishment but on the one who has authority over both body and soul for eternity (read v. 5).  The word “hell” here in Greek is gehenna.  You may know that it refers to a place near Jerusalem in the OT called the Valley of Ge-Hinnom where pagans sacrificed children to the god Molech.  Good King Josiah put an end to this pagan practice (2 Kings 23:10), but the site remained a garbage dump where all kinds of refuse was discarded and where there was a perpetual fire to consume the trash.  This became a symbolic name for the Jews for a place of eternal conscious punishment.  It has been said that Jesus taught more about hell than any other person in the Bible.  Here he warns his disciples to fear not those who could take away merely their physical lives, but to fear the one who can inflict upon men the “second death” spiritual death and cast them body and soul into hell for eternity. 

The third nail:  Know that you are highly valued by God (vv. 6-7):

This goad certainly seems related to the last and indeed it might even be considered as a continuation of it.  Jesus is telling the disciples that even though they may be little regarded or even hostilely regarded and reviled by men, they are highly valued by God.

We sometimes rightly stress the sinful state of man apart from Christ.  In Job 25:6 man is called a “worm.”  Even after conversion the believer remains a sinner, though he is a redeemed sinner.  Paul can say in Romans 7:18:  “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.”  And yet we also need to balance this with the proper understanding of how God values mankind, in general, as his image bearers, and Christians, in particular, as bearers of the image of Christ.  Do not forget Psalm 8 which both ponders “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (v. 4) but also notes that God has made him “a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (v. 5) and given him dominion over all creation.

Jesus draws two illustrations to describe God’s care over his disciples in particular.

First, he speaks of God’s providential care over the birds of the air (v. 6).  Jesus speaks of five sparrows are sold for two farthings (pennies; the Greek word is assarion, a Roman copper coin worth 1/16 of a denarius).  A denarius was one day’s wage (8 hours labor) so an assarion would be worth one half hour of work.  The point is that it was cheap to buy five sparrows.  They were not highly valued, and yet, Jesus says, “and not one of them is forgotten before God.”  Can you imagine a mind so great and so complex it makes our most sophisticated computer look like a stick and stone?  The God of the universe knows the life of every creature that has ever lived.  I read the other day of the discovery of a mammal species called the olinguito [ah-lingh-ee-to], a reddish brown 14 inch, 2 pound South American creature not to be confused with the larger olingo.  We don’t know even all the species of creatures that exist on this planet, while God knows not only every species but also every distinct creature that has lived, is living, or ever will live.  The point is not the overwhelm us in our smallness but to magnify the care of our Maker for us.

Second, Jesus says, “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (v. 7).  Do you know how many hairs are on you head?  God does.  Jesus then says, “Fear not therefore.”  He uses the same verb (phobeo) here as in v. 5 when he urged fear of God.  Christian, Jesus is saying, have reverence for God but do not be afraid of him. You are dear to him. You are precious to him.  You are beloved by him.  He ends v. 7:  “ye are of more value than sparrows.”  This is another example of an analogy from the lesser to the greater.  If God does not forget about sparrows what does that say about his care for human beings and, especially, for believers?  He will not forget us.  This is a battle many face:  the battle of self-loathing and self-hatred.  I read just the other day a review of a new book by Frank Page, a leading SBC Pastor, titled Melissa, A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, in which he describes how his 32 year old daughter took her life in 2009 after a struggle with despair.  Oh disciple of Christ, friend of Jesus, do not ever think that your God forgets you.

The Fourth Nail:  Understand that your eternal destiny depends on how you respond to Christ in this life (vv. 8-9):

Jesus sets up two theaters of activity here.  One is the theater of this life that is played out before men.  The other is the theater of the final judgment.  It is played out before the Son of Man (Jesus’ reference to himself) and before the angels of God which shall accompany him at his second coming (cf. Matthew 13 where in the parable of the wheat and the tares Jesus explains that the reapers are his angels who at the end of the ages will cast the tares to cast into the furnace and the wheat into is barn).

Jesus describes a reciprocal action that takes place at the end of the ages.  Those who confess Jesus are confessed by Jesus.  Those who deny Jesus are denied by Jesus.  Notice that there is no post-mortem evangelism.  There is no after-death second chances.  I heard the Mormon radio host Glenn Beck say the other day that if he found out he was wrong about the Trinity after death he would just change his mind, but that is not how the Bible says it works.  See Jesus’ account of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Some have protested that it is not fair for God to punish for all eternity those who deny him in the short span of this life.  But who are we to judge the wisdom of God.  This is his revealed truth and we must be submitted to it.  The question is, Where do you stand in your response to Jesus?

The Fifth Nail:  Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit (v. 10):

This is a teaching that has been much discussed.  It is sometimes called the “unpardonable sin.”  What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Here Jesus suggests that there is the possibility of forgiveness for those who speak against him [the Son of Man] but not for those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in Luke 11:15 we heard men blaspheming Jesus by saying that he cast out demons by Beelzebub.   The unpardonable sin, however, is to persist in rejecting the Holy Spirit’s witness to the Lordship of Jesus.  Those who reject the Spirit’s witness to Jesus will indeed never be forgiven for this cardinal sin.

One of the commentators (Geldenhuys) makes the point that Jesus gives a similar teaching in Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 13:28 ff.  but the audience on those occasions were Jesus’ opponent.  Here he speak to his disciples.  Why then did Jesus give this teaching to them?  He suggests that Jesus did so to remind them that those who were blaspheming him and the Spirit would one day be punished.  And:  “So they must not allow themselves to be intimidated by hardened and wicked opponents of this type, for these already fall under God’s judgment” (p. 352).

When spoken to non-believers this is a warning that calls for repentance.  When spoken to believers it is an assurance of God’s justice and a comfort.

The sixth nail:  Be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach you how to respond when you are persecuted (vv. 11-12).

Again, this teaching had immediate application for the first disciples (Jewish Christians) who would be brought before synagogues, magistrates, and powers, because of their stand for Christ.  Jesus says they are not to worry or be anxious about “what thing ye shall answer [apologeomai, cf. the noun from apologia in 1 Peter 3:15:  “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”).

Jesus assures the persecuted brethren that the Holy Spirit will teach them spontaneously “in the same hour” what they ought to say.  The point is that he will not leave his people alone.  He will provide his Advocate to speak to them and for them in their defense.

Consider that we are one of the first generations of Christians for whom this teaching is not immediately relevant.  Most of us are not facing arrest and imprisonment for our faith.  We have been the recipients of his care and his protection.  But we are to be prepared to lay all on the line for Christ.  We are to be ready to lose all in order to gain all.

The master-builder, the shepherd has spoken to his disciples through his word.

Let these nails be driven into our consciences as Christ builds us up in the faith.

Do not be a hypocrite.

Fear God as the one who has ultimate authority over where we will spend eternity.

Know that you are known and cared for by the Lord.

Know that whether you confess or deny Jesus will be the tipping point for whether you are acknowledged or denied before the angels at the end of the ages.

As a believer know that no matter what men say or do now to most wickedly blaspheme Christ, one day the Judge of all the earth will do right.

Know that the Holy Spirit will be there to teach you if you ever must stand and give an answer before men for the hope that is within you.  He can give the simplest and humblest believer better than a PhD in apologetics and make us an able and faithful witness to himself.

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