Jesus—His Life and Message: Six Sayings (Luke 12:1–10)
October 30, 2018
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Six Sayings (Luke 12:1–10)
In the beginning of Luke chapter 12, we read that thousands of people were gathered together to hear Jesus. In their presence, He gave instruction to His disciples in the form of six sayings. While others could hear what He was teaching, and the message was applicable to them, He directed the lesson to His closest followers.
He began with a warning about hypocrisy:
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.”1
As people in Jesus’ time made their own bread, they were familiar with the effect leaven had on dough, and how just a small amount would slowly permeate and transform the dough. Likewise, the leaven of hypocrisy had penetrated and affected the Pharisees’ lives. They made claims of holiness, they strove to keep the law, but it was for show. Elsewhere, Jesus likened them to whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.2 They claimed to have moral standards and beliefs, yet their behavior didn’t conform to those moral standards.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus described this hypocrisy when He said:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”3
This first saying warned His disciples to be true to their beliefs, to practice them with the right motivation, and to not live a life of falsehood, like many of the Pharisees apparently did.
The second saying is a promise:
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.4
Jesus pointed out that hypocrisy is short-sighted. It requires that some things remain concealed, as if they come to light, then the true character of the hypocrite is exposed. But all things are already exposed to God.
Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.5
At the time of judgment, everything will be brought to light. We should recognize that the things we do and say, our true inner selves, will one day be revealed, and therefore we should strive to align our words and actions with who and what we claim to be. God is omniscient; He knows all of our actions and thoughts, both the negative and the positive. For those who have much to hide, Jesus’ statement is a warning that all will be revealed. If our goal is to live in alignment with Scripture, we have nothing to fear from God knowing everything.
Having touched on the topic of judgment, Jesus’ third saying spoke of the importance of being ready for martyrdom:
“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!”6
Jesus indicated that His disciples could face martyrdom, and He didn’t guarantee that they would be kept from it. But He pointed out that the power of persecutors is limited, in that they can do no more than kill the body. Rather than fearing them, the disciples were to fear God, whose power extends beyond death. Repetition in Scripture is generally used when a point is being emphasized. In this case, Jesus uses the word fear three times in two sentences, stressing the importance of the fear of God.
So what does “fear God” mean in this context? Bible commentators explain it in different ways.
Author Leon Morris commented:
The fear of God is rather out of fashion these days; we much prefer to stress the love of God. But, while there is a sense in which perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), there is another in which fear is quite compatible with love. This kind of fear is continually regarded in the Bible as a necessary ingredient in right living. It is an attitude compounded of a recognition of the greatness and the righteousness of God on the one hand and our readiness to sin on the other. Fear of this kind guards against presumption and must find its place in a right faith.7
Darrell Bock wrote:
The empathic contrast to not fearing people is noted in the threefold repetition of the call to fear God. Following the initial command not to fear (12:4), Jesus now says to fear God because He has authority to cast someone into Gehenna [hell]. … It is better to fear the Judge than those with no real authority. … Several NT texts warn of responding now, lest one meet judgment from God and be cast into fire.8
Some of those verses are:
If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell … And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.9
As Morris wrote, most of us generally think about God’s love more than His judgment. Yet judgment comes up throughout the New Testament.
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.10
We will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.11
The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.12
Jesus’ fourth saying was:
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.13
The Greek word translated as “pennies” is assarion, which in those days was a small coin worth one-sixteenth of a denarius, having very little value. Apparently, for two assarion, five sparrows could be purchased. Yet despite the insignificant monetary worth of a sparrow, each one of them receives God’s attention.
Jesus implied that if God cares for the sparrow, how much more will He care for those who follow Him? He stressed the point by saying that God knows the number of hairs of our heads, implying that God loves us so much that He knows the tiniest details about us. Earlier, Jesus told His disciples to fear God, since He controls what happens to them after death. Now Jesus tells them not to fear, as God knows everything about them. He uses the “lesser to greater” argument to show their value. If the lesser (sparrows) are important enough for God to care for them, how much more will He care for the disciples?
I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.14
In this fifth saying, Jesus makes the point that commitment toward Him is crucial. Those who confess Him will receive acknowledgment before the “angels of God.” The phrase “angels of God” is a circumlocution, a Jewish way of avoiding specifically referring to God Himself. In the book of Matthew, we find the direct saying:
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.15
This is wonderfully reassuring. We find other similar statements elsewhere in the New Testament.
If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.16
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.17
One author comments:
This “acknowledgment” involves more than simply a verbal confession. It involves a witness of both word and deed; i.e., this public confession is to be accompanied by a life of obedience to God’s commandments. The Pharisees were criticized because their inner selves did not correspond to their outer profession. In contrast, believers are challenged to integrate their outer and inner selves.18
Of course, none of us is perfect, and there may come times when we don’t properly acknowledge the Lord in our lives. Does this mean that He will no longer acknowledge us? The answer can be found in the difference between the apostle Peter and Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus, and in doing so, denied his allegiance to Him. After denying Him, Judas was tormented about his action, and took his life. Peter denied Jesus in public three times. According to the gospel, Peter should have been denied by Jesus in heaven. However, he regretted his actions, repented, and subsequently made numerous public declarations for Jesus. Peter lacked conviction for a time, but he regretted his denial and became a great witness of Jesus’ divinity. The concept Jesus put forth is that those who live a life of denial, who consistently deny Him, and die in that denial, will be denied before God in heaven, as it specifically states in the book of Matthew:
Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.19
Jesus then made a very sobering sixth statement:
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.20
He differentiated between speaking against Himself and blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. He makes the point that there is a sin that is so serious that it cannot be forgiven. So what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? In this case, blasphemy is understood to mean more than just speaking against the Holy Spirit; rather it is the persistent rejection of the work of the Spirit in regard to salvation. It is the hardened attitude toward God which results in a person obstinately rejecting and refusing to receive the message of salvation which puts them beyond forgiveness of sin. It is understood as a permanent decision of rejection that develops into a hardness of heart against God. As one author wrote:
God’s power to forgive is not abated. But this kind of sinner no longer has the capacity to repent and believe.21
As Christians, we are called to share the gospel with others. When we do, we participate in the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing people to a decision. Of course, the choice of whether to believe or not is theirs. Considering the potential consequences for those who completely reject the witness of the Spirit, we can pray that even though they may not accept Jesus at this time, at some point in their lives they will accept the wonderful gift of God’s love through salvation.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Luke 12:1.
2 Matthew 23:27.
3 Matthew 23:2–5.
4 Luke 12:2–3.
5 Luke 8:17.
6 Luke 12:4–5.
7 Morris, Luke, 227.
8 Bock, Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53, 1136.
9 Mark 9:45, 47.
10 2 Corinthians 5:10.
11 Romans 14:10–12.
12 Matthew 16:27.
13 Luke 12:6–7.
14 Luke 12:8–9.
15 Matthew 10:32.
16 2 Timothy 2:12.
17 Mark 8:38.
18 Stein, The New American Commentary, 348.
19 Matthew 10:33.
20 Luke 12:10.
21 Morris, Luke, 229.