Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 5/7/1995
Luke 12:1 Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of the multitudes had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, he began saying to his disciples first of all, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 3 Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. 4 And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: Fear the One who after he has killed has the authority to cast into Hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 8 And I say to you, everyone who confesses me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God. 9 But he who denies me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say. 12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
Everyone admires a person who has the courage of his convictions. Even if we do not agree with him, we respect him for standing up for what he believes--especially if it costs him something to do so. Yet, on the issue that matters the most, and about which we ought to have the strongest feelings, we often choke, and all our convictions evaporate. You know what I am talking about: opportunities to take a stand for the Lord or to share the Gospel. Well, Jesus knew it was not going to be easy. That is why he had said before, "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you for my sake." The disciples probably did not pay that much attention then, for then they were popular. But now, while the crowds are still big, they are increasingly hostile. And as for the Pharisees, well, they were as mad as a flock of wet hens. Therefore Jesus addresses his disciples again: "Beware . . . be ready . . . be encouraged . . . be prepared . . . be sober . . . be confident." Let's see if we can hear him saying these things in the seemingly confusing welter of parables we have just read, which I believe actually hang together when we put ourselves into the place of the disciples. For the Lord is discussing three issues relevant to the confidence he wants to give them. And the first is . . .
"Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Normally, we think of hypocrisy as pretending to be something we are not. It can also be pretending not to be something that you are. The disciples don't think they have a problem with this, but they are going to, all but one of them fleeing from the Cross and Peter going so far as to deny that he even knew the Lord--pretending not to be a follower of Jesus when he really was. Nobody has captured the scene better than Thomas Hardy:
"Man, you too, aren't you one of these rough followers of the criminal? All hanging hereabout to father how he's going to bear Examination in the hall." She flung disdainful glances on The shabby figure standing at the fire with others there, Who warmed them by its flare. "No, indeed, my skipping maiden: I know nothing of the trial here Or criminal, if so he be. I chanced to come this way, And the fire shone out into the dawn, and morning airs are cold now; I. too, was drawn in part by charms I see before me play, That I see not every day." "Ha Ha!" then laughed the constables who also stood to warm themselves, The while another maiden scrutinized his features hard, As the blaze threw into contrast every knot and line that wrinkled them, Exclaiming, "Why, last night when he was brought in by the guard, You were with him in the yard!" "Nay, nay, you teasing wench, I say! You know you speak mistakenly. Cannot a tired pedestrian who has legged it long and far Here on his way from northern parts, engaged in humble marketings, Come in and rest awhile although judicial doings are Afoot by morning star?" "Oh, come, come!" laughed the constables. "Why, man, you speak the dialect He uses in his answers; you can hear him up the stairs. So own it. We shan't hurt ye. There, he's speaking now! His syllables Are those you sound yourself when you are talking unawares, As this pretty girl declares." "And you shudder when his chain clinks!" she rejoined. "O yes, I noticed it. And you winced, too, when those cuffs they gave him echoed to us here. They'll soon be coming down, and you may then have to defend yourself Unless you hold your tongue, or go away, or keep you clear When he's led to judgment near!" "No! I'll be damned in Hell if I know anything about the man! No single thing about him more than anybody knows! Must I not even warm my hands but I am charged with blasphemies?" . . . His face convulses as the morning cock that moment crows, And he droops and turns and goes.
I'm afraid the scene is all too familiar. For in less extreme and dramatic forms, we have all stood there in that courtyard. We may not have denied the Lord quite so blatantly, but we have all swallowed our testimony out of shame, we have all let blasphemy against our beloved Savior pass unchallenged, we have all let opportunities to take a stand for Christ pass us by, as if we found the Lord of Glory to be an embarrassment! We have all, more quietly and less dramatically, but just as culpably, pretended not to be Christians when we were. It might be too strong to say that we are all hypocrites, for sometimes we do speak the truth in love and with integrity regardless of the cost. Some of you do so consistently. But we have all acted hypocritically in the past, and we all have the potential to do so again. And so we all need to take to heart the teaching that our Lord is giving us here.
Jesus follows his warning about hypocrisy with an analysis of it. And his first point about it is its futility. "There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." Whatever we are trying to achieve by pretending to be something different from what we are, the attempt will eventually not only fail but come back to haunt us. It will do so first in this life. If we try to live with a foot in each of two worlds, sooner or later those worlds will collide, resulting in a greater embarrassment than the one you were trying to avoid in the first place. Then you will have to decide: which of the two faces you have been wearing is the real you? Do not presume that you know which it is in advance of that moment! The only safe course is to have only one face, be only one person whose heart is not divided. For the double minded man, as James reminds us, is unstable in all his ways. How could he be otherwise? You can never trust him, for the part of his divided mind that made a promise to you may not be the part that is in the forefront when the time comes to keep it. Doublemindedness always gets exposed in the long run. But not only is there the great probability that this will happen even in this life, there is also the certainty that it will happen in the next. "There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." These are sobering words indeed.
Why do weak human beings who actually do love the Lord sometimes pretend that they don't? The Lord's brilliant analysis continues by explaining the source of hypocrisy. The motive for hypocrisy is misplaced fear. "And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: Fear the One who after he has killed has the authority to cast into Hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!" The "One" in verse 5 that we are to fear is God. It has to be God, for Satan has no authority over Hell. He is destined to be an inmate of that prison, just like unrepentant human beings, not its warden. Therefore, the point is that a two-faced testimony always comes from misplaced fear--from fearing men more than God. How supremely foolish! It is not that we are to live in fear of God or of what he might do to us if our testimony or our walk is not perfect. It is confidence in his love for us, trust in his grace, that gives us the courage to stand for him without compromise, not that kind of fear. The Christian life as modeled by Jesus is hardly one of constantly looking over our shoulder. But the true love of God is kept from turning into presumption by godly fear, which is a respect and awe so strong that it causes us to tremble before his majesty and holiness. That trembling, knees trembling like that which are straightened and strengthened by our faith in his love for us, is the true biblical picture of how we are to relate to our heavenly Father. When we have learned this kind of fear, then we will be able to say, "Because I fear God, I need fear no man." That is the place to which our Lord is trying to help us come in this passage.
In order to help us come to that place, Jesus now gives us three reasons for boldness, three reasons why we need not fall into hypocrisy. We can stand for Christ with integrity when we remember:
If you wish to put your fear of the opinions of men back into perspective so that it can no longer overwhelm your fear of God, the first thing to remember is the Providence of God the Father. He is sovereign; he is in control of events. "Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows." If not a sparrow can fall off a branch without the Father's knowledge, concern, and permission; if not even a hair can fall out of your balding head without that same awareness, concern, and permission on his part; then how much more valuable to him are you yourself! How much more is it true that nothing can happen to you which is not part of his plan! This truth has two implications that are relevant to the boldness and integrity the Lord is trying to give us here. First, God is in control of events. Nothing can take him by surprise. He will not allow anything to happen that will keep a person who truly wishes to reach him from doing so. Second, even though he allows difficult times to come into our lives, when they do come we can know that he knows about them, he cares about us in them, and he will be with us through them. He is greater than anything or any one we might fear. And therefore we can safely commit the outcome to him.
Not only can we rest in the surety of the Father's utterly competent providential love in the present, but we have the even greater motivation for faithfulness of the Son's astounding promise for the future. "And I say to you, everyone who confesses me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God." Can we possibly comprehend what this means? The very Son of God himself will put his arm around your shoulder and stand with you before all the angels of God and say, "This is my disciple _______. He confessed me before men when it was hard to do so. And so I want all of you to know what he did, and to know that I am very pleased with him." I am abashed into silence at the prospect. I can hardly continue. Can we grasp this promise? It is not the promise of an easy road, but it is the promise of an inestimable reward at the end of that road. Let us be journeying, moving forward always and never taking another step backward. We are going to see the King!
We cannot need, or ask for, greater motivation than what we have just been provided. But in our weakness, there is yet one thing more that we need. And our loving Savior has provided it by sending us his own personal Agent and Representative, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us in those weaknesses. "And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." Note here the assumption of verse 11: you may expect to have opportunities to take a stand for Christ which will occur under pressure, in adverse circumstances, when you have had no opportunity to prepare. But note also the assurance of verse 12: you are not on your own in such times. This verse has been mightily abused as an excuse for laziness by preachers who think it is more spiritual not to prepare their sermons, but just let the Spirit put words in their mouths when they emter the pulpit. I would not want to lay to the Spirit's charge the vacuous nonsense that often comes out of such mouths! The KJV translation here was unfortunate: "Take no thought for what you will say." A more accurate translation would be "Do not be anxious, do not worry, about what you will say." It hardly commands thoughtlessness! This promise only applies to occasions when there has been no opportunity for preparation because of persecution, not because of our own laziness. But when God puts you in a situation for which you have not been able to prepare, he will not leave you high and dry. In such a situation, you can look to his help with confidence that it will be provided. When you stick your neck out for God in the right spirit, he will back you up.
Our Lord has given us every reason to be wary of hypocrisy and every provision we need to avoid it. But for those who do not avail themselves of that provision, there is a stern and sober warning. "But he who denies me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him." What does this mean? It does not mean you have to have a perfect track record in witnessing for Christ in order to be saved. Peter denied the Lord, but he also repented. And for those who repent, there is forgiveness. But it does mean that the two-faced professing "Christian" is in danger of eternal damnation. Why? Because when you have two faces, you unavoidably raise the question of which is the real face and which the mask. Time will tell. When the chips are down, or when you life can be viewed as a whole, you real loyalty will show. You will either be among those who are confessed before the angels in verse 8 or those denied before them in verse 9. But it is horribly dangerous to assume which it will be! For many people fool themselves on the issue. Many will think they belong to the Lord, many of them will even have done great things in his name, only to hear him say, "Depart from me; I never knew you." Therefore, the only safe thing is to have only one face. Therefore, to eliminate hypocrisy, go back to the Lord's basis for boldness and dwell with those truths.
What is the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?" If we look at the context where the Lord first used that phrase, in Mark 3, it is plain that it is a willful and stubborn attribution of Christ's work to Satan by one who ought to know better. It is a persistent, willful denial that Jesus is God, in resistance to the Holy Spirit, by one who knows better, that persists to the end of his life. It cauterizes the conscience. Therefore, if you are worried that you have committed it, you have not. It appears here because it is the ultimate form of the hypocrisy that Jesus is warning us about. If you are concerned that you may have committed this unpardonable sin, you have not. But you need to understand that it is the possible end result of playing games with God. The best way to be sure you never approach it is to be a one-faced, single-minded Christian. None of us has perfectly achieved that goal yet. Fortunately, we are not saved by our perfection, but by our faith in Christ's. How do you know if you have that faith, saving faith? It shows itself by a life that confesses Christ before men in both word and deed. To the extent that we are one-faced and single-minded--perhaps I should rather say, to the extent that we are becoming one-faced and single-minded--we may have warranted confidence that we belong to him. And that confidence is an irrepressible fountain of joy that cannot be contained, for it looks forward to our being confessed before the angels by the Son of God! And from that fountain of joy comes a testimony that is truly not only consistent and sincere, but effective in bringing glory to his name.
Therefore, let us confess Christ clearly and consistently now, if we never have before. For much depends on it. When John Hooper, the 16th century English martyr, faced burning at the stake, he is recorded to have said, "Life is sweet and death is bitter. But eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death more bitter." He was right. If we keep our minds focused on the Providence of God the Father, the Promise of God the Son, and the Provision of God the Spirit, we may not only taste the full sweetness of eternal life, but we may even avoid the momentary bitterness of this one that Peter felt when "the morning cock that moment crows / And he droops and turns and goes." Let it be so for our good and his glory.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams