Study 5 – Luke 12:1-34

The Fear of God

Context

Jesus was challenged in Chapter 11 as being in league with the devil. He responded over many verses to highlight how terribly wrong his accusers were and that, in fact, his actions proved his innocence. However, their actions reveal where their hearts are and that they have not entered the kingdom of God. His accusers were not only outside of the kingdom but they were also blocking the entry for others.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law hardened their hearts more as they increased their opposition to Jesus, trying to catch him out. How will Jesus respond to the opposition? When given an audience of thousands, what would Jesus say? That’s what we’ll find in this weeks reading!

Read

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. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 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.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 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. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 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.

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Observation

Another large section to study. Choosing to focus on a smaller piece this week would work. Either the first half of verses 1 to 12 or the second half of 13-32, or even focus on 13 to 21!

Structure

  • 1-12 Be clear on who to fear
    • 1-3 – Don’t be deceived by the size of your support.
    • 4-5 – Don’t be deceived by the threat you can see.
    • 6-12 – The small and unseen things matter.
  • 13-34 – Be clear where your treasure is
    • 13-21 – Boofheads build bigger barns
    • 22-34 – Reset your heart to eternal treasure

1-12 Be clear on who to fear

1-3 – Don’t be deceived by the size of your support.

“…when a crowd of many thousands had gathered…” The description from Luke must not be overlooked. Imagine gaining a following of thousands! In this day of YouTube ‘likes’ a number of thousands is impressive. Jesus had his subscribers! But what he says next could only come from a kingdom-minded person. He doesn’t puff up and address his peeps like a saviour of the world! He reacts like the real saviour of the world and warns his close disciples not to be deceived by what they see now.

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” This huge fan-filled crowd will be easily swayed by the lies and double standards of the Pharisees. Like yeast spreading through a whole batch of dough, this crowd will easily be turned. And they do turn against Jesus to cry out ‘crucify him!’ The size of a church or group is not necessarily the reality of its strength. Jesus will go on to teach his disciples where to put their trust and hold fast to the One who is not a hypocrite. But we must ask ourselves where we stand? Are we truly living for Christ or are we swaying with the influence of the crowd? As our nation and the western world moves rapidly away from Christ, will you move with it? Is popularity and safety more important than serving the living God and keeping your soul?

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Jesus is most likely referring to judgment day when the hypocrisy that the Pharisees possess will be exposed. Both the righteous and the hypocrite will have their deeds shouted from the rooftop. The “plotting” (11:54) of the Pharisees will be exposed one day. It is striking that Jesus comments on this while staring at a crowd of thousands. The disciples are about to enter the heated town of Jerusalem where the small but fierce hatred of the Pharisees will grow through the whole town against Jesus and his disciples.

4-5 – Don’t be deceived by the threat you can see.

“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.” Jesus is quite emphatic in these two verses that there is a thing worse than death. Notice the word ‘fear’ used three times. There is no escaping the enormity of Jesus’ words here. Forget those with knives or harsh words or prison cells. God has the authority to throw people into hell. How lightly we treat the choices of our day and how often we err toward avoiding confrontations and offending others.

“Hell” Jesus used this word more than anybody else in the whole bible. Matthew especially picks up Jesus’ commentary on hell (Matt 5:22-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 33). The word is gehenna and refers to a historic valley (AKA Ben Hinnom) near Jerusalem where evil sacrifices took place during wicked times in Israel (Jeremiah 7:31; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10). An evil place which Jesus uses to refer to what can happen to a person after death. In Luke 16, Jesus depicts it as a place of torment. While some scholars attempt to show that God’s judgment comes in the form of annihilation, using images from the bible to make their point, the point is that there are a number of images that the bible uses to describe judgment. As Jesus has said three times in this verse, it is a place to be feared worse than death!

But the God who has the authority to cast into hell is also described as the God who cares…

6-12 – The small and unseen things matter.

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” After warning us three times to fear God, Jesus assures us now not to be afraid. As quickly as the wicked will be cast into hell, the righteous who do not fall into the prey of the Pharisees are highly valued by God. Something as worthless as a sparrow is worth something to God and the disciples of Christ are worth so much more than them. When you are on the right side of God, there is nothing to fear. Jesus goes on to define what that means…

“…whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” This is a beautiful contrast between declaring Jesus as Lord before other humans who really ought to fear God and the declaration that Jesus will make of that person before the entire throneroom of the Almighty. We are not to whisper in the ear in the inner rooms but we are to wear our love of Jesus with honour – even if the knife is toward us.

“…everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” There is forgiveness available for those who have spoken against Jesus (the Son of Man was Jesus’ self-title which brings together beautifully the image of a human child and the promised coming of God – see Daniel 7). The implication is that if somebody repents, then there is forgiveness but…

“…anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” See Matthew 12:31-32. It is the Holy Spirit who provokes a person to eternal life and seals them for eternity. Those who oppose the work of God in their life will fall under this description. There is no magic word that will place you in this predicament, rather, the ongoing rejection of God. You can be religious and yet deny the Spirit in you. Jesus spoke of demons being cast out only to return stronger because they found the ‘house’ empty (Luke 11:24-26). If people see the work of the Spirit and declare that it is evil, this could be what Jesus is talking about. This record has followed on from the accusation of Jesus casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul.

“”When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities…” Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the presence of a crowd of thousands. You can hear him preparing his disciples not to get used to this fan-based attention. It won’t last because many in this world reject the Lord and his call to repentance.

“…for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Continuing the theme of not fearing man and being confident in the One you have given your life to. The Holy Spirit himself will not leave the disciples behind. This is not a promise that we will always know the perfect thing to say at any occasion. It is the promise that when the time comes to defend the name of Jesus and publicly acknowledge him before others, the Spirit will lead them.

13-34 – Be clear where your treasure is

13-21 – Boofheads build bigger barns

“Someone in the crowd said…” The statement from the crowd shows how little the crowd were understanding of Jesus’ comments to the disciples. Perhaps the person overheard Jesus talk about being on trial before the authorities and blurted out what was dearest to his heart.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” The man’s immediate need is where the wealth of his father is going.

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” We know that Jesus is Lord of all but Jesus’ question is about why this is his concern right now. He goes on to express how little this should concern us also.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” After being warned to watch out for the spreading hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which is birthed from popularity, Jesus now warns us against material greed. This is just as damaging to the soul. Jesus’ description that follows demonstrates replacing God with money and possessions. Greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” The parable that Jesus tells is quite straightforward. A man took measures to look after his investments and financial growth only to lose it in an instant and be left with nothing. He had the world as his heaven and neglected heaven itself. Being poor toward God is to have little to no interest in God. Jesus expands on this teaching in the next section which concludes with the words: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We will pursue the things that we love the most. Earthly treasure will steal our hearts away from God.

22-34 – Reset your heart to eternal treasure

This section matches quite closely to the passage in Matthew 6:19-34.

“Therefore I tell you…” What Jesus says is a conclusion or application from the illustration that he just ended. Here is the point of the application and the outworking of what you must do in response.

“…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” Jesus clarifies exactly what he wants us not to worry about. Some have said that this passage and the Matthew passage command us never to worry, but this is a misunderstanding of what worry is. He’s not talking about anxiety disorders nor the natural habit of stress and worry. He is telling us to put the universe into perspective and stop placing food and clothing at the top as if this is what life is about. He is also not talking about being trendy or not. He’s talking about the essentials of food and something to wear. It is hard to imagine this kind of worry BUT even in a rich society, how we will maintain our standard of living can consume our minds.

Step back and look at how basic Jesus’ command is. He’s not promising wealth or high living. Yet this is what many of us do have. Our struggle will not be about worry over the basics but worry over not having more than we currently have. We could learn to say no to things. Would it be so bad if we went through life with no ensuite? Or if we had simpler holidays?

“…they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.” Jesus pulls in the illustration of the barn builder and compares him with the simplicity of God’s creation. Everything is created to live. Yet we fight and stress and persevere to have abundant possessions. It’s worth meditating on how many barns we possess. How many bank accounts? Superannuation. Work and life insurances. Health insurances? Shares? I am not suggesting that these are wrong or unwise to have. Being able to take care of yourself and others is a burden the NT speaks of elsewhere (1 Tim 5:8; Titus 3:14; 1 Tim 6:17; Col 4:1). But note the emphasis is on where we believe things are coming from and giving thanks for God’s provision. Jesus goes further to the point to talk about why we should not worry about the size of the next paycheque.

“Who by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” The point here is that our days are numbered. We could build the biggest barn ever and we would still have to leave it for someone else to enjoy. We cannot stretch our life to eternity. We will face death and we need to face up to that fact.

“…you of little faith!” He does not say ‘no faith’ but ‘little faith’. Here is the point. How far are we willing to stretch our faith? This is a faith issue. Do we trust God or not? Do we trust him only for our salvation but the rest of this life is up to us? Or is he not the God who created the heavens and the earth? He is either God. Or he is not.

“…for the pagan world runs after all such things…” Jesus gets more pointed. When you stress and flurry over what you have, you are living like the unbelievers.

“… your Father knows that you need them.” Enough said? Remember the Lord’s prayer in chapter 11? Our Father, give us today our daily bread? This is the prayer of faith.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” The gospel is not just “pie in the sky when you die.” It is also “steak on your plate while you wait”. For some it may be beef and reef with a pinot noir, and for others the bread that is just right for the day. Whatever the menu, the priority is to be God’s kingdom. Fear the one who can cast you to hell. Fear not because he give freely his Holy Spirit to all who ask.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” For someone who is so familiar with Matthew chapter 6, this little phrase which is not included by Matthew is a brilliant shining star in the familiar story. I love hearing Jesus call us his little flock! He is the good Shepherd and we are his little flock. Cared for. Nurtured. Protected. Guided. Fed. Clothed. Loved. Saved. Given the keys to the kingdom! So don’t be afraid.

“…a treasure in heaven…” Jesus concludes with this coda: retrain your heart to pursue the future. The kingdom is ours so why get obsessed with today’s trinkets? Do you desire a swimming pool but can’t afford it? A bigger house but it will take all your time and devotion to get it? Give your heart to God and let him be your delight forever.

Meaning

Fear is a the topic of this passage. Know for sure what is worth fearing and what is just vanishing anxieties. The draw of popularity may pull you to hypocrisy but devotion to God will keep you straight. Fear for your life may threaten you but don’t let it dominate the real fear of hell. But take heart and know that God is not just on about salvation but is ready to give you the kingdom of heaven along with the Holy Spirit. The keys are yours if you will be proud to be a friend of Jesus. He will not hold back his adoration of you if you do not hold back your devotion to Him.

Application

Topic A: Fear of men. It is common to want to please people and crave the commendation of others. It can manifest itself by being an overachiever because you fear someone criticising you or you crave as many praises as you can get. It can manifest in needing to say ‘yes’ to everybody. It can manifest too in one’s inability to talk about Jesus even when it feels like this could lead to the end of a friendship. Jesus said not to fear those who can kill the body (or hurt our feelings) but fear the one who has our eternity in his hands. A real part of maturing as a Christian is to stop trying to please others but to please God.

Topic B: Greed as idolatry. How do you manage your bank accounts, your income, your investments and your expenses? If you could draw a pie chart showing how much of your money is directed toward you (and you family) and how much is given away, what would the pie chart reveal? What would happen if you gave more away? Is there anything in your expenses that you could stop spending on yourself? God is generous himself and gives us good things as well as essential things. But examine how you could use your bank account to express your faith in God.

Topic C: Stress and anxiety. This is a stressful world and our day is perhaps more stressful than others. Counseling to talk about ongoing anxiety is a great idea. Mental health and medical help are all real things but so is prayer and being real with God. For general stress and worry, consider where your heart is at and who it is you are trying to please? Find someone to talk to about your frustrations with life and listen to their advice on what you should do next. Our ‘little faith’ in God can be real for salvation but may need some help for us to mature as faithful sons of our loving Father. If you are overloaded with anxiety, it is always a good idea to ask for help with it.

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