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“In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, He began to say unto His disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. And I say unto you My friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. And-when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say”—Luke 12:1-12.
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Following the pronouncement of the woes upon the Pharisees and lawyers, we find, in the present chapter, Jesus looking forward to a day when He would be no longer here on earth, but His disciples would be here, and they would be the objects of bitter persecution by those who rejected their Lord and spurned the testimony which He gave. In verses 1-3 He warns against unreality. That is something to which we are all prone. It is so easy to pretend to be more than we are. We may appear to be more devoted than we are and assume a profession of piety to which we have not actually attained. So we may well take these words of our Lord to heart. We are told that an innumerable multitude of people were gathered together. The common people loved to hear the Lord Jesus. Actually it was they who sought Him rather than the religious leaders. We are told elsewhere that “the common people heard Him gladly.” But it is one thing to hear Him; it is quite another thing to receive His words into the heart and turn to God in repentance. How many there were in this great group who truly received Christ as Saviour, recognizing their own sinful state and their need of a Deliverer, we have no way of knowing; doubtless many did. But the great majority were simply interested in hearing His message and seeing His works of power. There were so many, we are told, that they trode one upon another; and He began to say to His disciples, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” In the Old Testament the Jews were forbidden to have leaven in their homes at Passover time. Leaven is a type or symbol of evil. Throughout all Scripture this holds good. In the Gospels we have the Lord referring to leaven in three different ways. Here He warns His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and we are told definitely that it is hypocrisy. Elsewhere He warns His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Sadducees-—that is materialism, or false doctrine. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, neither in angels nor in spirits. In another place He warns His disciples against the leaven of Herod, which is worldliness, political corruption: the failure to give God His rightful place in the government of the land. The Herodians courted the favor of the Romans and in order to obtain that favor they were untrue to the revelation which God had given them.
Leaven then is always a type of wickedness, a symbol of evil. Some think of the parable of the leaven, and say, “Surely the leaven hidden in the meal is not a symbol of evil. Is this not the gospel that is gradually converting the whole world?” But, surely the “three measures of meal” is not a picture of the world. It is the meal-offering, a type of the true and perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that the woman hid the leaven in the three measures of meal indicates that she was doing something which she knew to be wrong. There was to be no leaven at all in the meal-offering. The parable is not a picture of the gospel working among men, but it is error working where truth has been made known, and giving men wrong ideas concerning the Person and work of our Lord Jesus. Leaven is always evil, never good, and so the disciples were to beware of it in any form. How we need this admonition today! As Christians we are to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness. Our lives should be as open books. We should be able to say with the saintly Fletcher of Madeley, “I would that a mirror might be placed over my heart that men might be enabled to look in and see how true it beats toward God.” Would that this were so of everyone of us, because “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed.” We may think we are hiding something; we may think we are covering up something by making bold professions, but all is coming out some day and will be fully exposed. It is better to judge every evil way now, rather than wait and have it manifested at the judgment-seat of Christ. We are told that every man’s work shall be manifested of what sort it is. Jesus says, “Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” If we would keep that in mind I think it would stop a great deal of gossip. If we realized that everything we whisper about another person, every unkind criticism and evil story which we spread abroad concerning others will at last be made known to them and to everyone else, would it not have a tendency to make us very much more careful as to the use of our tongues? It is all coming out some day for, “Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
In the second part of this discourse we have an exhortation for the comfort of the disciples because of what they will have to suffer. Soon He, the Master, after having been rejected and crucified, will rise from the dead and be received back into the glory. His people are to be left in the world to tell others of His grace. He said, “I say unto you My friends.” There is something very precious about this expression—“My friends!” He owns as His friends all who love Him and evidence their love by obedience to His Word. “My friends!” How much is involved in that term! When the Lord addresses His own as “My friends” it is because He has a deep personal interest in everyone of them, and there should be a ready response on our part as we claim Him as our “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
In the fifteenth chapter of John our Lord says, “I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.” The master is not expected to open his heart to a servant and reveal all his secrets to him. But our Lord loves to do that very thing to those whom He calls “My friends.” Three times in Scripture Abraham is honored by being called “the friend of God,” for when He was about to bring judgment upon Sodom, God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am about to do?” In His grace He condescended to “commune with Abraham” as to His purpose. To me it is really thrilling to think that I, who was once a poor sinner on my way to eternal judgment but now saved through infinite grace, am able to look up into the face of the Lord Jesus and say, “Thou art my Friend.”
He said unto them, “My friends, be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you. Fear Him.” After the body is killed the spirit lives on, either in happiness or in misery. Materialists may refuse to believe this, but our Lord definitely affirms it. The soul cannot be destroyed when the body is killed. Matthew reports our Lord as saying, “Fear not them which kill the body and after that are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The word “destroy” is used in the sense of lost, elsewhere in the parables—to be lost in hell. Though men might kill the body they cannot touch the soul. When the body dies the soul of the believer departs from the body and is immediately present with the Lord. Who then would fear death with that glorious prospect in view? On the other hand, if one is not right with God he may well fear Him who, after the death of the body, has power to cast the soul into hell. “Yea,” says Jesus, “I say unto you, Fear Him.” There are men today who do not believe in a judgment-day, men who do not believe in hell and punishment after death. But all the arguments that they may bring against these truths cannot take them out of the Word of God. The Scriptures declare that, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Our Lord had more to say about judgment after death than any other New Testament preacher.
In the next section of His address the Lord comforts His disciples concerning the experiences through which they may be called upon to pass while they live here on earth: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Sparrows were very worthless. People trapped them, took them home and dressed them, and sold them on the market at two for a farthing, five for two farthings. They were bought by the poorest people who could afford no better food. Speaking of the five sparrows, Dr. James S. Brookes used to say, “I think that must be how I got saved: four others were converted, and I was just thrown in for good measure.” Jesus says not one of these sparrows are forgotten before God. “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Somebody has said God goes to every sparrow’s funeral! Jesus said not one falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge. How much more is He interested in you who trust the Father and believe in His Son!
In verses 8 and 9 He speaks of confessing or denying Him, and this is a very serious thing. “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” Observe, it is not a question of whether you believe that Christ is the Son of God, but it is a question of whether you have definitely confessed Him. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” There are many people who have heard the gospel story all their lives and possibly do not for a moment question its great truths, but they have received these truths as they accept any other historical facts, and have never trusted their own souls to Christ and confessed Him as their Saviour. Oh, that you might make that confession today! Put yourself on record by saying, “Yes, I confess Jesus Christ the Son of God as my Saviour; I confess that henceforth I take my stand with Him.” If you will so confess Him, then He says, “I will confess you before the angels. I will say that you belong to Me, that you are Mine, that I have bought you with My precious blood.” But on the other hand, no matter how much you may believe concerning Him, if you refuse to own Him as your Saviour, if you deny Him in this day of His rejection, He will refuse to own you; He will deny you in that day of His manifestation, for, “He that denieth Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” If you want Him to confess you then, it is incumbent upon you to confess Him now. In verse 10 we come to the solemn truth which suggested the heading for this section: The sin that never can be forgiven. Let us pause here for a moment. The Lord Jesus knew how many had spoken against Him; He knew the wicked things that had been said about Him, but still He declared that all would be forgiven if they would turn to God and put their trust in the One against whom they had sinned. All their sins and iniquities would be blotted out. “But,” He added, “unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.” While He was here on earth He cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus attesting His Messiahship. Some attributed this power to Beelzebub—this is the sin against the Holy Ghost. It was because they were determined not to accept His miracles as evidencing the truth of His testimony that they attributed His work to the devil. For that sin Jesus said there was no forgiveness in that age nor in the age to come. To blaspheme against the Holy Ghost in that age was to refuse to accept the Holy Ghost’s witness to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the same today. The one sin that never can be forgiven is the final rejection of the Holy Ghost’s testimony to the Lord Jesus. If you reject Christ there is nothing else for you but judgment. All sin—stealing, murder, drunkenness, evil-speaking, maliciousness, hatred—all these were atoned for on Calvary’s cross, and the Holy Spirit came from heaven to bear testimony to this. But if men reject this testimony they deliberately sin against the Holy Ghost. There is no forgiveness for them. Oh, I beg of you, if unsaved, do not risk the continued rejection of Christ, lest you come to a place where for the last time the Holy Ghost will strive with you, and for you there shall be no forgiveness.
In the last two verses of this section our Lord tells His disciples that the same Holy Spirit would be the power by which they were to proclaim the gospel in the days to come: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” We have illustrations of this in the Book of Acts. When the apostle Peter was brought before the Sanhedrin he did not work out a great discourse which he was to deliver the next morning. The Holy Ghost gave him utterance. He stood before those men and preached Christ, and he did it with such power that they knew not how to reply to him. When Saul of Tarsus appeared before kings and governors, and high-priests, and rulers of Israel, it was no worked-up message that he gave; but in the power of the Holy Spirit he made his defence in an unanswerable way. The only real preaching today is preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not say that ministers of the gospel should not give much time to prayer, study, and to the Word that they may be prepared to give that Word when the time comes, but their dependence must be upon the power of the Holy Spirit of God who alone can make that Word fruitful.
Thus our Lord had shown His disciples where their strength was to be found in the days when they were to go forth in His name to proclaim His message to the world. How wonderfully He has honored that Word down through the centuries! And how we can thank Him that He has been pleased to use it so blessedly in the salvation of men and women everywhere, who have received it in faith and so made Christ Jesus their own Saviour and owned Him as their Lord!