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Sermons

Faithfulness in the Face of Trials

November 1, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 12:1–12:12

Faithfulness in the Face of Trials

In the face of increasing opposition, will we remain faithful to the Lord Jesus? That’s the question of this passage and it’s the question that the church must answer in every age. In the face of increasing opposition, will we hold fast to the truth, not being tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of doctrine? Will we pass on to the next generation what we have received from our fathers and mothers in the faith – the undimmed, undiluted gospel of our Lord? Will we remain faithful to Christ?

You can see this question in the context of our passage. As we saw at the end of ch11, opposition from the Jewish religious leaders is increasing. At this point, that opposition is directed toward Jesus, but very soon, it will turn toward Jesus’ disciples. Even after Jesus is gone, the persecution will continue. The religious leaders will come after Peter and James and John and the rest.

Knowing that, Jesus does what any good Shepherd would do. He prepares his disciples ahead of time for what is to come. That’s what this passage is about – preparation for faithfulness. “Beware,” Jesus says, v2. “Don’t fear,” Jesus counsels, v4. “Acknowledge me,” v8, “don’t be anxious,” v11. Do you see the preparation? Jesus knows what’s coming, so his aim here is to equip his disciples for faithfulness.

Brothers and Sisters, that’s why I say the question of this passage is, “Will we remain faithful?” – because while the context has changed, the challenge remains the same. This is what Jesus’ disciples face in every generation – opposition from the world and from those who are secure in their self-made religion. What the disciples endured in their day, we face in our own. And so, the question driving Jesus in this passage is also the question we must answer – will we remain faithful to the Lord?

Of course, faithfulness is costly, isn’t it? We know the history of Jesus’ disciples. Ten of the eleven faithful apostles gave their lives for Christ, the apostle John endured exile for the name of Jesus, and Paul faced hardship everywhere he went. You don’t have to read much further in the NT to understand that faithfulness is costly.

But that’s where the real value of this passage is found. Here in these verses, Jesus doesn’t deny the difficulty of faithfulness. He doesn’t sugarcoat the trials. Jesus is very clear in this text. But at the same, Jesus also doesn’t leave his disciples on their own. He doesn’t say, “It’s going to be hard. Good luck, hope you make it.” No, it’s just the opposite. With great care, Jesus gives his disciples clear encouragement that sustains faithfulness. This is the kindness of Christ, brothers and sisters – he gives us what we need to live in the way he commands.

And Jesus does this by drawing our attention to some key truths regarding the character of God. That’s where the encouragement is found – in seeing who God is, and then seeing how God’s character produces in us what we need to stand firm.

In terms of an outline, there are three sections in this passage, which means there are three encouragements that sustain faithfulness. Each encouragement begins with a warning, you might say, but each one is also rooted in some aspect of God’s character. With the aim of being faithful to the end, let’s note these encouragements together.

 

The Judgment of God Reveals Every Heart

The first encouragement is found in vv1-3 – the Judgment of God reveals every heart. Again, Luke tells us the crowds are increasing, but Jesus’ focus remains on his disciples. And Jesus begins with a warning. Notice v1 – “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Now, if you remember our passage last week, then you’ll recall how thoroughly Jesus eviscerated the hypocritical religion of the Pharisees. Jesus held nothing back – the religious leaders are two-faced, more concerned with appearances than substance, more interested in their own position than in serving others. They are hypocritical leaders.

But now, Jesus adds to that warning. He says hypocrisy is like leaven. It appears small, but soon it spreads through your entire life. It infects everything that it touches, so that just like the Pharisees, you wind up living a double life. The appearance of your life doesn’t match the reality of your heart. And so, Jesus is very clear here in v1 – Beware of such hypocrisy. Don’t assume you’re above this temptation. Be on guard against the leaven of a hypocritical heart.

But Jesus then adds a new piece to the warning about hypocrisy, and it has to do with God, particularly God’s judgment on the last day. Notice v2 – “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Now, it helps to ask some questions in response to Jesus’ statement. Who is revealing things that were covered up? God is, since God sees all and knows all. And when will God make these hidden things known? On the last day, when God brings everything into the light, and every person gives an account for every word and action. In fact, that’s what Jesus anticipates, v3 – “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.” The last day is in view – the day when God brings all things into the light. 

Now, think about how this connects with Jesus’ warning in v1. The connection is actually very powerful. What is the appeal of hypocrisy? It’s the possibility of maintaining an appearance that is better than your reality. That’s the appeal – to appear better than you are. But that’s precisely what Jesus undercuts in vv2-3. There’s a limit to what you can cover up. There’s an end point for even the best hypocrite. There will come a day when God brings all things into the light, and on that day, reality will be made clear, hypocrites will be exposed, while those who are faithful to God will receive the Lord’s commendation.

In that sense, notice how Jesus uses the reality of the last day to encourage faithfulness today, in the present. This is actually a theme throughout the passage – Jesus repeatedly brings the future into the present; the final day into today. He calls his followers to live not for the moment, but for the end.

Jesus’ warning is like a wakeup call. That’s the encouragement, the exhortation. Jesus’ warning wakes us up to the fact that today is not the sum total of our lives. There is a last day, and on that last day, God’s judgment will reveal every human heart. Therefore, be faithful today, Jesus says. Don’t fall for the trap of hypocrisy. You may fool someone today, but on the last day, no amount of hypocrisy will fool God.

SPractically, brothers and sisters, the takeaway here is to live an honest life before the face of God. If there is something you’re covering up, something you’re hiding – Jesus would tell you to listen to his warning. Beware thinking that hypocrisy will protect you. It won’t. The last day is coming, so why not live in the light today? Why not bring things into the light today, trusting that there is mercy and grace for those who humbly come before the Lord?

That’s the real tragedy of hypocrisy. By attempting to maintain appearances, the only thing you accomplish is to miss out on the mercy and grace of God. Live in the light. Hypocrisy won’t protect you, but humility and honesty before God do lead to life and forgiveness. So, live in the light. The judgment of God reveals every heart, and therefore, we ought to live faithfully today in light of that last day.

 

The Fear of God Drives Out Fear

The second encouragement continues with the theme of living for the last day. In vv4-7, Jesus shows us how the fear of God drives out fear. As before, Jesus emphasizes God’s power to judge, but in this section, he does so by drawing a stark contrast between two different types of fear – the fear of man, and the fear of God. And Jesus begins this contrast with a surprising statement, something that sounds almost dismissive to our ears. Notice again, v4 – “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do.”

Jesus is addressing one of the major roadblocks to faithfulness. It’s the fear of man – the fear of what other people might think about me or do to me if I remain faithful to Christ. But Jesus’ point is that we shouldn’t fear man because man’s power is limited. The only thing man can do to Jesus’ disciples is kill them, but after that, there is nothing more they can do.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a rather cavalier approach to death! All they can do is kill me? Really? That’s all? That sure sounds like a lot! What is Jesus getting at? What is his point? Is he really telling us to just pay no attention to other people, that losing our lives is no big deal? Is that what Jesus is saying?

Not exactly. Notice where Jesus goes in v5 – he goes to the reality of God. This is key. When we keep God’s authority in view, all other authorities are put in the proper place. That’s Jesus’ point. Notice how it works, v5 – “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” Unlike man, whose authority is limited, God’s authority extends to eternity. God has the authority not only to take physical life, but also to inflict spiritual, eternal judgment. God has the authority to cast someone into hell. And, yes, hell is real. Take it on Jesus’ word. There is a place of eternal punishment, a place of divine judgment, and those who end up there do so on the authority of God himself.

And that’s why Jesus says, very clearly, that we ought to fear God. Three times in v5, Jesus repeats it – fear God, fear God, fear God. Now, we don’t talk about the fear of God much anymore, but in Scripture, there’s hardly a more important reality for life. But let’s be clear what we’re talking about. To fear God does not mean to cower in the corner, afraid of getting zapped with a heavenly bolt of lightning. That’s not what it means to fear God. Rather, to fear God means to live, every day, in light of who God is, in light of his character. It means to have your daily decisions shaped by God’s authority, his holiness, his power, his goodness, and his mercy. Since God has the authority over all things, including eternity, I aim to live today in a way that honors his name. I order my life today in light of the fact that God will be my Judge on the last day. That’s the fear of God, at least in brief form. It means acting today in light of God and my accountability to him.

And when we live that way – when we fear God – do you know what happens? We don’t fear other people. We don’t fear man, whose power is limited to only this life. Do you see the connection between v4 and v5? One of the great enemies of faithfulness is fearing man, and the great remedy to fearing man is to fear Someone Greater, namely, God. Mark it down. An essential ingredient for faithfulness to Christ is a robust sense of fear – not fear of man, but the fear of God. Therefore, if we want to remain faithful, brothers and sisters, we need a heavy dose of the glory, the majesty, and the holiness of God.

Listen, church, this is why our preaching at Midtown puts such an emphasis on knowing God – his character, his attributes, his word, and his ways. We’re not simply trying to sound intellectual or high-minded. We’re not interested in theology as a means of making ourselves look better. No, we care about knowing God because that’s the path to faithfulness. The more we see him, the more we fear him, in the biblical sense. And the more we fear him, the more faithfulness will take root in our lives.

Think of it this way. If I have the last day firmly in view – the day when I stand before the One who has the power over eternity – when I have that last day firmly in view, there’s not much you can do to me today that scares me. There’s not much you can do today that will turn me from the Lord. Why? Is it because I’m tough and able to stand firm? No, it’s because the God whom I know and fear is far greater than anything you can bring against me. That’s how faithfulness is born. That’s where Christian courage comes from – not from Christians who are tough on their own, but from Christians who know their God.

But you’ll notice in the text that Jesus is not finished discussing fear. He’s got one more thing to say, and it completes the biblical picture on fearing God. V6, Jesus highlights God’s commitment to care for even the smallest aspects of his creation – “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.”

Now, sparrows were the among the cheapest things sold in the marketplace in Jesus’ day – so cheap, you really wouldn’t think much about them. And yet, God thinks about them. Even though you can buy five sparrows for two cents, God knows each one. He provides for each one. Again, notice how Jesus puts the character of God at the center of his teaching. What is God like? He’s good, so good that he cares for even the small parts of his creation.

But Jesus’ concern is not with sparrows. It’s with his disciples, so in v7, Jesus makes an argument from the lesser to the greater. Notice v7 – “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” That is an incredible statement. If God cares for sparrows with purposeful attention, how much more will he care for you, his children? The answer is much more! He even numbers the hairs of our head. You might call that excessive, but Jesus calls it love – the love of God for his children.

And therefore, Jesus’ disciples shouldn’t fear what this world might do to them. “Fear not,” Jesus says. Do you see what’s happened, brothers and sisters? The fear of God has driven out the fear of man. Because we know God’s commitment to his children, we can orient our lives toward him – we can fear him – even when it is costly. We can remain faithful to Christ, regardless of what that faithfulness entails. Our lives are in God’s hands – the same God who cares for sparrows. And if cares for a few sparrows, how much more, brothers and sisters, will he care for us? The answer is far more than we can ask or imagine.

We need courage, brothers and sisters. As we face the pressures of this world, we need courage, far more perhaps than what we’ve thought in the past. And what Jesus is telling us here is this – courage flows from your theology. Courage is more about your view of God than it is about your inner resolve. The bigger your vision of God, the more courage will take root in your heart. God’s authority is greater than anything this world can muster, so we should fear him. And God’s goodness is far deeper than anything we can fathom, so we can trust him.

Fear not,” Jesus says, “your Father is both mighty and good.” Who says doctrine isn’t practical? Right here is a stunning application of God’s character to our daily lives. The fear of God drives out fear.

 

The Spirit of God Sustains Our Confession

As we come to v8, we find Jesus’ final encouragement, which puts faithfulness most clearly in view. From vv8-12, Jesus encourages us that the Spirit of God sustains our confession. Now, these verses have a very specific focus in the life of Jesus’ disciples. What Jesus anticipates here is the history of the early church, when both Jewish and Gentile authorities opposed the ministry of the gospel. Think about Peter and John before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, or the apostle Paul before Felix in Acts 24. That’s what Jesus anticipates – the history of the early church, persecuted for the sake of Christ.

But at the same time, we know that opposition to the gospel did not stop with the early church. It has continued through the ages, so that we are here this morning because brothers and sisters before us remained faithful to Christ. And that means Jesus’ words, while directed to the disciples, also have bearing on our lives. What Jesus teaches his disciples, he also teaches us, so that we might carry on in faithfulness as well.

And the first thing Jesus does is remind us of the eternal stakes at play in one’s response to Christ. Notice vv8-9 – “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Once again, Jesus has the last day in view – I hope you’re picking up that theme. And his point here is strikingly clear: the person who confesses faith in Christ will receive Christ’s commendation, but the one who rejects Christ will himself be rejected. Those are the eternal stakes. As we’ve noted time after time in Luke’s Gospel, there is no neutrality in response to Jesus. You either submit to him by faith, persevering in your confession to the end. Or you deny Christ, receiving the judgment of God for that rejection. Those are the stakes. Eternity lies before us whenever we hear the gospel.

But you’ll notice that Jesus then issues what is perhaps the most alarming warning in all of the Gospels. He speaks of the unpardonable sin. Notice again, v10 – “And 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.” These are serious matters. What is this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus says is unforgivable? Many Christians have feared this passage, worried that they have somehow mistakenly committed this sin. I once worked with a man who routinely would come to my office in tears, afraid he had blasphemed the Holy Spirit in his heart. What is Jesus talking about?

There are some interesting parallels in the other Gospels, but for the sake of time, I just want to focus on Luke’s Gospel. And you’ll remember that in Luke, the Holy Spirit is connected, quite clearly, with Jesus’ ministry. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism, Luke 3. The Holy Spirit was fully with Jesus during his temptation, Luke 4. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus at the outset of his ministry, also Luke 4. Jesus even rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, Luke 10. All throughout Luke’s Gospel, it is clear that the Father works by his Spirit in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the key. To confess or affirm the Holy Spirit is to confess and affirm God’s work in and through Jesus.

And that connection of the Spirit with the Son helps us understand what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the persistent and final rejection of God’s work in and through Jesus Christ. It is to hear who Jesus is, to see what Jesus does, and then attribute his work to something other than the Holy Spirit. Such blasphemy is not so much a one-time act as it is a wholesale rejection of the Father’s work in the Son by the Spirit. When a person rejects God’s work in that way, there is no forgiveness. Why? Because that person has cut himself off from the very means through which forgiveness comes – namely, Jesus Christ. In other words, no one accidentally blasphemes the Spirit. It is a definite, purposeful rejection of God’s work in Christ.

Now, there’s one more curious thing here. Why does Jesus say that those who speak against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but those who blaspheme the Spirit will not? What’s that about? I think an illustration helps. Think of the difference between Peter and Judas. Peter denied Christ, three times, and yet, by God’s grace, Peter was restored from his denial. Peter repented, and by grace, he was forgiven. Judas, on the other hand, wholeheartedly rejected Christ. He saw what Jesus did in the power of the Spirit, and Judas chose to betray God’s Son. Unlike Peter, then, Judas was not forgiven but condemned. One man, in a moment of testing, denied the Lord, but found grace in repentance. Another man, in a decision of hard-hearted rebellion, blasphemed God’s work in Jesus, and suffered eternal condemnation.

All of that to say, there are eternal consequences to how you respond to Jesus Christ. That’s the big takeaway here. If you are not a Christian this morning – if you are not repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ alone to save you, this is the message you need to hear. Turn from sin, and trust in Christ, for eternity is before you.

Now, as you think about Jesus’ disciples, these eternal realities are weighty to consider. We want to remain faithful to Christ, and yet, we know that faithfulness is costly. What’s more, we know that trials and persecution will come. Jesus even anticipates it here in v11. What’s our confidence that we will remain faithful to the end? Where do we find the strength to confess Christ before men, and thus honor our Lord? Notice the powerful encouragement Jesus gives in v12. There’s no reason to be anxious, “for,” Jesus says, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” That is a remarkable assurance. The same Spirit at work in and through Jesus will also be at work in Jesus’ disciples to the very end. Instead of opposing the Spirit, disciples can expect to receive from the Spirit the help they need to stand firm.

That’s the final confidence when it comes to faithfulness, brothers and sisters. Our confidence is that the same Spirit who gave us new life in Christ will also sustain us in faithfulness to Christ. From beginning to end, in other words, faithfulness to Jesus is a work of the Holy Spirit in those who believe. And therefore, we do not have to fear what this world might do. We do not have to worry about whether we will stand firm in the end. For those who belong to Christ, when the trials come, the Spirit himself will give us what we need to make the good confession.

And so, armed with those encouragements, I can think of no better way to conclude and come to the table than with the words of our Lord. “Fear not,” Jesus says, “you are of more value [to God] than many sparrows.” Amen.

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