(A) Introduction. Read: Luke12v1to12 See also Mt23v1to38.

The passage consists of comments Jesus made that arose from his encounter with the Pharisees dealt with in the preceding exposition.

The Pharisees were fearful of being found out by their fellow men. They were a bit like modern British Members of Parliament who have done everything possible to hide from the public the extent of their expenses claims. Thanks to the free press the rascals have not succeeded. Jesus addresses the utter foolishness of fearing men rather than God.

Fear can make hypocrites of us all. Gordon Brown claims to be in favour of openness and transparency yet vast sections of his published expenses claim are blacked out and the inquiry into the war against Iraq is, at the time of writing, going to be conducted in secret!! Worst of all fear can keep us from acknowledging Jesus. If we fear anyone at all, it should be God - but we don't even need to fear him. John wrote in his first epistle: Perfect love casteth out fear. 1John4v18.

Jesus taught his disciples:

(B) The truth will out. See verses 1 to 3.

(1) Hypocrites conceal the truth.

Jesus said: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy." v1.

The Pharisees, like all hypocrites, acted a part and pretended to be what they were not, in order to conceal the truth about themselves from others. There is a lot of hypocrisy in our society. Recently an engineer came to Brockley chapel to repair our electricity meter. This was the fourth visit from the firm contracted by EON to deal with problems of this sort. The engineer confirmed what the problem was and then said he couldn't deal with it because he needed to use a step ladder. "It's a two man job - health and safety regulations." He would never have been more than two feet off the ground! I offered to stand on his step ladder! "Sorry - not allowed." The engineer was being a hypocrite - he was trying to cover up the fact that he - like the other three engineers - hadn't got the part to do the job. There is just so much of this about. Local counsel officers justify the removal of notices publicising carol services from staff notice-boards by saying they don't want to offend religious minorities. The truth is rather different. People who act in this way have a deep and spiteful hatred of Christianity and all it stands for.

(2) The truth will be revealed.

Jesus said: There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." v2.

Jesus exposed the Pharisees for the men they were; he revealed what lay behind the mask of false piety: greed, corruption, egotism, legalism and pettiness.

One of the great functions of a free press is to expose hypocrisy in high places. During the summer of 2009 the Daily Telegraph has drawn the public's attention to the greed of Britain's MPs who have milked the benefits system for all its worth.

In that final great Day of Judgement all the sins we have successfully covered up will be revealed. Everything we have hidden to protect our reputation will be made known.

(3) The truth must be proclaimed.

Jesus urged his disciples: "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." v3. See also Mt10v27.

The church isn't a secret society - or it shouldn't be! The deliberations of any group of Christians should only very rarely be confidential. We should be open with one another and the world. However, I am very much afraid that Christians can be secretive - particularly over controversial matters. For example, I received a letter from the Grace Baptist Mission recently saying that the Mission can no longer support a particular missionary and his wife. No reason was given! Occasionally a church leaves the Association to which my own church belongs. Doubtless reasons are given for the departing churches decision - but these are never made public. Each year an article is written for inclusion in our Association's handbook. When it is discussed at the Annual Business Meeting of the Association the author is asked to leave the room! Now, I don't think such behaviour is peculiar to Grace Baptists. I am sure the same tendency is found amongst other Christian denominations.

Jesus did teach his disciples behind closed doors and in the darkness of the Mt of Olives - but he expected his disciples to proclaim the truth revealed in the upper room from rooftops.

Christian leaders are called to preach and teach fearlessly regardless of the consequences. I am at present reading the not terribly sympathetic biography of John Westley by Roy Hattersley. Notwithstanding Westley's faults, which Hattersley faithfully records, the little evangelist - like Paul before him - preached the gospel even at great danger to his life.

William Barclay has a telling illustration about Hugh Latimer in his commentary on Matthew. Once Latimer was preaching when Henry the king was present. He knew that he was about to say something which the king would not relish. So in the pulpit he soliloquised aloud with himself. "Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! he said, "be careful what you say. Henry the king is here." Then he paused, and continued, "Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! be careful what you say. The King of kings is here." The man with a message speaks to men, but he also speaks in the presence of God.

(C) The antidote to fear. See verses 4 to 7.

(1) The fear of men might well inhibit our witness.

Christians might fear:

    (a) Ostracism. When I went to the London Institution of Education in the early 1960's there were about 50 Geography postgraduates in my year studying to be teachers. We all enjoyed a wonderful carefree field trip to the South of France. On the Sunday I was the only one who attended church - 'le temple protestant' in Tarascon. The rot had already set in so far as Christianity was concerned in Britain! My Christian profession made me something of an outsider at college - although I cannot say I was ostracised. Things have certainly got worse. It was not so long ago that University College London's Student's Union refused to recognise the Christian Union as a bona fide organisation. Evangelical Christians are portrayed by some in the media - particularly the TV companies - as a threat to society. We are beginning to experience the same treatment as Jesus who during his life time was despised and rejected of men. Such was the malign hatred of the establishment that in the end he was crucified like a common criminal. Christian's shouldn't be cowed or distressed by their unpopularity - it is only to be expected as secularism takes hold in our country.

    (b) Ridicule. There is no doubt that in all sorts of ways Christian belief is increasingly ridiculed in Britain whether it be in virulent letters to the press or the portrayal of rather wet clergymen in TV comedy. I have sometimes been asked about Christian belief. After I have tried to explain some aspects of the Faith the usual response is, "I didn't think anyone believed that stuff anymore." It can be embarrassing to make a stand for Jesus and it is certainly difficult to do so without sounding shrill, aggressive and bad-tempered.

    Jesus was mocked by just about everyone as he hung on the cross - by the thieves, the soldiers, the priests and the passersby and yet he never retaliated but retained his dignity. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent. Is53v7.

    (c) Discrimination. Once again we are seeing believers discriminated against in what used to be a Christian country because of their beliefs about homosexuality. This morning the Daily Telegraph reported that a second Christian registrar has suffered at the hands of Islington Council because she is unwilling to take gay weddings. This is the second registrar the militant labour council of Islington has discriminated against. It is a pity their zeal on behalf of gay rights is not matched by a zeal to protect vulnerable children from chronic physical abuse. I am not saying homosexuals shouldn't be able to enter into a civil partnership. But surely Islington council can find someone who is not a committed Christian to do these ceremonies while leaving the rest for Christians to do.

    This country is slowly becoming like some Asian countries - such as India - where Christianity is very much the minority religion and Christians marginalised. In Britain this is not happening because Christians are outnumbered by members of another religion but because of the growing influence of militant secularists.

    (d) Persecution. Christians through the centuries have suffered imprisonment, pain and death for Jesus' sake. They have shared the same fate as their blessed master. If believers had given in to their fears it would have been very easy for the enemies of Christ to suppress the Faith. But, thanks be to God, many have stood firm - not counting the cost - and in the future others will follow in their footsteps.

(2) Two antidotes to fear.

Jesus prescribes two antidotes to fear:

    (a) Fear God more than man. "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 killing the body, has power to throw you into hell." v4and5.

    Sometimes a boy is pressured into doing wrong by his mates. He certainly fears their ridicule and contempt but the boy may be kept from temptation because he fears his teacher or his father more.

    Jesus reminds his hearers that:

  • Mans power is limited but God's power is limitless

  • At worst man can kill the body but God can destroy both both body and soul - the whole life.

  • Man can shut us out of society but God can close the door on eternity.

    The repercussions of falling out with God are infinitely more far reaching than the consequences of falling out with men.

    (b) God cares for us. Jesus reassures his followers that they have no need to fear God. "Are not five sparrows sold for 2 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." v6and7.

    I have three observations to make on these well known words:

  • God knows us intimately and cares about us intensely. God know us better than we know ourselves. His knowledge is so detailed and up to date he is aware of the number of the hairs on our head. Each day my head sheds hairs! If God cares about the fate of each individual sparrow - even the one the butcher throws in free of charge - he surely cares about us.

  • Does God's knowledge make any difference? He sees the sparrow fall - but it still falls after all! There is no doubt that very bad things happen to Christians - things that we would spare our brothers and sisters. It is very hard to see how Alzheimer's disease serves any useful purpose to the sufferer.

  • I believe that God's comprehensive knowledge of us does make a difference. My poor father suffered from Parkinson's disease for 20 years. It played havoc with his quality of life. But he was able to bear it. God knows what we are capable of. He knew what Moses was capable of in spite of the old shepherd's reluctance to get involved! God's grace sustains. It sustained Paul during his arduous ministry notwithstanding the thorn in the flesh. It has sustained Chinese house church leaders during long prison terms of between 20 and 30 years to such an extent that on their release they carried on from where they were forced to leave off. My testimony would be that God has protected me from disaster on the road, in the classroom and in the church. He has answered my heartfelt pleas to be protected from temptation and delivered from evil.
(3) Fearless disciples.

Jesus encouraged his disciples with the words: "Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. v7.

Christians have witnessed in the strength of the reassuring words of Jesus - not counting the cost. The writer of Revelation could affirm: They overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Rev12v11.

Many, many followers of Jesus have shown great courage in the face of bitter persecution to witness for him. The Saints have suffered with Christ - as Paul did - in the hope of rising with him. Paul wrote to the Philippians: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Phil3v10and11.

Christian forebearance during periods of cruel oppression has been a great testimony to the reality of the Faith.

(D) Four types of conduct that matter. See verses 8 to 10.

(1) Mistakes made out of ignorance, doubt, disappointment and despair.

Jesus said: "And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.

Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers who crucified him in ignorance; Peter who denied him in disappointment; Thomas who doubted his resurrection power and a dying thief who cursed him in despair. There is hope of forgiveness for non-Christians who speak disparagingly of Jesus in ignorance and believers who question him in disappointment and despair. Jesus remains willing and able to pardon anyone who repents of their sins.

(2) Wilful rejection of Jesus. "But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God." v9.

Over the last 50 years the majority of young people who have attended church and heard the gospel have rejected Christ. Some are impolite about it. They dismiss Christian belief as superstition. This is ridiculous! There are good reasons for believing that God exists and that Jesus was his Son. Christianity might be wrong but it is not superstition. Others dismiss the claim of Jesus politely - perhaps, almost regretfully. But nonetheless they have said in their hearts: "We will not have this man to reign over us."

If you are not committed to Jesus - he will not be committed to you. You do not belong to him. You are not of his fold. He has no obligation to you and you are lost and without hope.

(3) Denial of the work of the Holy Spirit. "But anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." v10.

When Jesus healed the blind mute, an event described in Luke11v14to28, the Pharisees attributed Christ's power to Beelzebub the prince of demons. Jesus was able to do nothing to persuade his critics of his God given power. He challenged them to: "Believe me for the miracles sake." John10v38. But the Jews were so blinded by prejudice and envy that they could not even recognise the work of the Holy Spirit.

Today, the opponents of Jesus dismiss the role of the Holy Spirit in transforming lives. Dramatic conversions are explained away as psychological phenomena. Even regular church goers suppress the quickening activity of the Spirit in their own lives lest they become too committed to Jesus.

Men and women with minds closed to the possibility of the Holy Spirit's power or hearts hardened to the Spirit's influence cannot be forgiven because they will never repent.

(4) Profession of allegiance to Jesus. "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God." v8.

If we confess Jesus - stand up for him - he will acknowledge us in heaven. God was pleased to recognise the piety of Job. He said to Satan: "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no-one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." If God said this of Job how much more will Jesus speak proudly of those who belong to him and serve him. Christians are the beneficiaries of a new covenant - sealed with Jesus' own shed blood. The covenant is clearly stated in Romans10v10: For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Salvation is not just dependent upon belief but also confessing Jesus with our mouths.

(E) The counsel for the defence.

Jesus said: "When you are brought before the 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." vs11and12.

This promise of Jesus is not a licence to preach without preparation. In my youth I heard one or two preachers who boasted that the Holy Spirit gave them their sermons verbatim. This was almost a blasphemy of the Spirit! The rambling, incoherent meanderings of these old preachers was torment for the listener.

Jesus was assuring his followers that if they were held to account for their Christian beliefs they shouldn't worry. They had an advocate, a Holy Counsellor, who would teach them what to say. There was no need to fear.