Luke 12: 1 – 12 Warnings and encouragements

Luke 12: 1 – 12 Warnings and encouragements

[When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say. Luke 11: 53 – 54 ]

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

‘I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

‘I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

‘When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’

*       *       *

If we are to set the scene properly for Chapter 12 we have to look at the last two verses of Chapter 11. I’ve put these at the top of today’s study passage in square brackets.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another…

Jerusalem used to become very crowded during religious festivals, as all pious Jews tried to attend worship in the temple. But at this time, Jesus and his disciples weren’t in Jerusalem; they were travelling around Galilee, telling people about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had attracted a massive crowd. It was disorderly, too; they were trampling on each other.

Furthermore, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were besieging him with questions. Doubtless, the crowd was becoming polarised between those who saw Jesus as sent by God, and those who hated him and rejected his message. It would have been a threatening environment. It would be very understandable if the disciples found it frightening.

Jesus knew this polarising of opinion was going to get worse, until eventually he would be seized, tried and crucified. He knew, too, that his disciples would be persecuted and killed. And, as they stood surrounded by this crowd of thousands, they were starting to realise the danger of Jesus’ ministry,

Rather than addressing the crowd immediately, Jesus speaks to his disciples.

Firstly, he warns them against hypocrisy, which he describes as the yeast of the Pharisees. He encourages them to be straightforward in their actions, because “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.”

The Pharisees were hypocrites because they hid their desire for status and influence behind a façade of religious ritual. Surely Jesus does not need to warn his disciples against this? Sadly he did – and does. Followers of Jesus still hide their sin in an attempt to retain their reputation.

However, the most insidious temptation for the disciples was going to be to deny or downplay their faith in Jesus.

Knowing that all but one of the Twelve will be martyred, Jesus says ‘I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.’ Reading that with verse 8 is, indeed, quite encouraging. ‘I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.

Unfortunately, between verse 4 and verse 8 comes teaching that baffles me.

But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

There are two things that cause me painful confusion about this teaching.

Firstly, it reads as though “humans have a stick to beat you with, but God has a bigger stick, and can go on beating you for ever”. I find it hard to reconcile that with a God of mercy. I can tell myself that of course God has that authority but wouldn’t use it – but there’s nothing that even hints at that here or elsewhere.

Secondly, Jesus seems to be making some sort of equivalence between God and those humans who will martyr the saints. Surely, though, God’s nature is radically different?

Now, I really wish to understand this, and I pray that God will open my eyes to see the truth and my heart to believe it.

The final piece of this encouragement is ‘When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’

Now this really is encouragement. It’s saying that when you’re facing hostility because of your witness to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be with you, and will tell you what to say. That’s great reassurance. God will give us the words we need for the situation.

There is just one tiny fly in the ointment. It’s “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities,” not “If…”. If we’re witnessing to Jesus, we can expect opposition, criticism, mockery – and in some parts of the world even today, martyrdom.

By this standard, my witness is not very effective.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

I’m sorry for my lack of understanding, for my lack of faith and for my lack of zeal. Please help me to know Jesus better, and to witness to him more powerfully.

In Jesus name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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