[August 9, 2009] On the way to the cross as Jesus made His last journey to Jerusalem, He sends out seventy disciples, Luke gives us thereby a foreshadowing of the apostolate in the Acts of the Apostles and for today (10:1-24). Jesus then tells the parable of the Good Samaritan about Himself as the Savior (10:25-37), and gives lessons on humbly listening to His word (10:38-42) and on prayer (11:1-13). This is the foundation of the Christian life. After that (11:14-32), Luke gives us Jesus’ teaching in view of opposition, foreshadowing the opposition of some of the Jews to the church’s mission to the Gentiles, and the historical judgment of Jerusalem that their exclusive attitude will bring about. The only sign for Israel will be the sign of Jonah, which is the preaching of salvation to the Gentiles. Then (11:33-52) with this opposition to Jesus’ mission in the background, Luke shows Jesus opposing their hypocrisy (implying that the church should avoid the same). Hypocrisy is the result of living in the eyes of others, trying to impress them and win their approval in order to gain power, rather than living in the sight of God and wanting His approval alone.
Beware of Their Hypocrisy (Luke 11:53—12:3)
Jesus abruptly stops His attack on the hypocrisy of Pharisees and scribes and attempts to leave, but the furious Pharisees and scribes start shouting all at once, demanding that He answer them. In the meanwhile, the crowd hearing the commotion gathers, and starts to grow in number. Chaos breaks out until they are trampling on one another. Jesus and His disciples get away.
He tells His disciples to beware of their corrupting influence (the leaven; see 13:21). They are pretenders, pretending to others and even to themselves, going along in denial of their true motives—which is to win each other’s approval and the approval of others, and to have power over others. They disguise their motives, but in the light of God’s judgment, this will all be revealed and made known.
No one can get away with such a double life: a hidden life in private rooms where we speak one way in the darkness, and a life out in the open where we pretend to be another way. In the light of God’s judgment, our true colors will come through.
The followers of Jesus ought to be humble before others and open and honest. What we really are is how we ought to be before others. We ought to avoid living pretentiously. We also need to watch out that we are not self-righteous, judging others and unconsciously comparing ourselves to them. It is difficult to accept that we all tend to live in denial, seeing in others what we are guilty of ourselves, thinking we know the secret motives of others and not realizing that these are things that we do. We are unconscious of what we deny! This takes great vigilance and honesty to overcome.
Of Whom Should We Be Afraid? (12:4-5)
The opposition of others (in the days of Luke it was the “zealous” Jews who opposed the mission to the Gentiles) may cower us so that we hide the Gospel in the cellar under a bushel (11:33). Just as the pretenders should not hide the baseness of their true motives out of a desire to please people, we ought not to hide the Gospel out of our fear of people’s opposition to us (see 12:8).
In either case, by paying too much attention to others we reveal that the reality of God does not impress us as much. Neither the reality of God nor—which is much the same thing—the reality of God’s judgment, weigh much for us if we either depend on having the approval of others (like hypocrites do) or are afraid of what others might do to us in their disapproval.
Indeed, the way of discipleship is the way of the cross. The way we must take in the world is the way that Jesus took before us. As always in Luke, Jesus is our exemplar whom we must follow. If the world (society) opposed and crucified Him, we ought to be prepared for the same treatment. But as fear of others and what they might do to Him did not deter Jesus from His path of faithfulness and from His willingness to speak out with the Gospel, it ought not to deter us from acting faithfully to Him and sharing the Gospel with others.
What others can do to us is a small thing compared to the judgment of God. They can torture and kill the body. This can be a real threat to Christians in different places and at different times. Do not be afraid of this. For us, we are more afraid of the emotional and social consequences of ridicule and rejection. People all around us are very angry at Christians and their idea of what Christianity represents. They are, in truth, much less angry with you as an individual, and would be less angry if they got to know you as a human being. But let us say that the humility and peacefulness of your demeanor does not win them over. Let us say that it cannot overcome all their anger at Christianity or religion or “God,” and that they take it all out on you and hate you and end up hurting you. Let us say that they cannot see the real you through all the expectations that they have about “religious” people. Or let us say that they do see you as you are and you unnerve them, you expose their own hypocrisy or bring out their own failure, and they hate you for it. Jesus says do not be afraid of them. What can they really do to you?
“I will show you whom you should fear: fear God who, after killing, has authority to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, fear this One” (12:5). Gehenna is the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where the garbage is always burning. We ought to fear God for our own sake, because if we are unfaithful to Christ because of our cowardice, we will come to be disciplined by the Father at the judgment seat of Christ (on His return). The fire that will discipline us is the incinerating fire of Gehenna, though we ourselves will be saved (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
But more than this, I think we ought to fear the judgment of God to which the other, with whom we ought to share the Gospel, is exposed. Most people are lost, not having seriously found any spiritual path, but simply conforming to the way of the world and living in a childish or obstinate delusion about their condition before God and the future of their soul after death. As human beings, we are not simply creatures of God, created in His image. We are wayward, living in alienation from God, rebellious against Him though in denial of it. We shall all perish, Jesus says, meaning not simply that we will die, but that we will succumb to the judgment of God. There is no human being who does not need salvation. We ought to fear God for the sake of the other, the very people who ridicule and reject us. These others may either be those who naively or obstinately refuse to seriously consider the idea that they are in need of salvation, or they may be those who feel threatened by the way of salvation that the Gospel offers because it competes with an alternative way of salvation to which they are desperately and insecurely clinging. We ought to fear God for their sake.
That we fear for them is all the more a reason not to hide the Gospel from them. Of course, we should try to present the Gospel in a compelling way and not deliberately try to offend them. The most compelling way is with humility, honesty and openness, as one human being to another without any delusions of superiority.
Trust God (12:6-7)
Of course, if while fearing God for the sake of the other we share the Gospel with them by living unpretentiously before them and being open and honest in our speech with them, it may be that they will ridicule and reject us and they may even hurt us. That is the fact of it. The world we live in, indeed, since the tower of Babel, is a world that tries to seal itself off from God and rejects God’s interference. It deludes itself into thinking that it can get along without God in a kind of artificial mental sphere of its own making. If the light of God actually penetrates this sphere, there is bound to be a reaction of hostility. This hostility comes out of the collective delusions that society buys into, not just the individuals who dismiss, attack and even hurt us. The cross that we see in front of the sanctuary is a stark symbol of this. Jesus suffered death on the cross as our exemplar. It is what we face in the world.
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Whether we consciously realize the reality of God, God is more real than whatever we may suffer at the hands of others. God does not and cannot forget us, and though we may be put to death—literally or figuratively—not a hair of our head shall perish (21:16-19). Obviously, they will perish in one way, but God will preserve us on a deeper plane of reality. If God does not forget one sparrow, He will not forget us. Indeed, not even the hairs of our head fall accidentally, each one is numbered by God. Whether we succumb to the harsh treatment or brutality of other people, even if we suffer great duress emotionally and we are thrown into doubt and depression as a result, God keeps us and will keep us to the end. It helps to remember that this is objectively so even though emotionally we are thrown off our balance and our thoughts tend to follow after our downward spiraling feelings. God keeps us, and when the storm is over, we will find our souls safely in His hands. Persecution tests our faith, and much that is baloney will be burned away in the heat of it, but in the end the little that is real will still be there, not because we so obstinately cling to it as if everything depends on us, but because God faithfully keeps us without our help. Do not be afraid! Jesus says. God is real and He is the One who will preserve us in those times.
The Judgment (12:8-10)
Those who believe in Jesus, who have heard His call and who turn and adhere to Him, these will all appear before the “judgment seat” of Christ when He is manifested at the end of the age. Even though we are redeemed and eternally secure because our sins have been atoned for by the shed blood of Christ and we have been given the gift of eternal life, the new birth by the infusion of the life of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, even though this is true, we cannot escape the judgment of Christ for the life we have lived on earth. This judgment does not determine whether we are forgiven, but rather determines our reward or discipline in preparation for our eternal future.
How we live matters! If we waste the gift of life that God has given us and do not strive to mature spiritually and to be faithful to God, then we will have to make up for that waste in the future, only we will regret the loss that we will suffer. For a period of time we will be not be able to enjoy the kingdom of the heavens! Instead, we will suffer. This may be contrary to what we have heard elsewhere, but time and again both Jesus and the apostles warn us of this in plain language.
If we confess Christ before other people, Christ will confess us before the inhabitants of heaven (the angels of God). If we deny Him, He will deny us—“I do not know you”—and we will be cast aside. For Him to deny us—like Peter denying Christ—is for Him to say, “I do not know you.” This does not mean, however (as it did in Peter’s case), that He literally does not know us. Rather, in this context, it means that He does not approve of us. We do not pass muster and cannot enter into the joy of the Lord, we cannot enter the enjoyment of the kingdom of God. Instead of enjoying the Wedding Feast, we will have to go to remedial or reformed school and by a period of discipline come up to the standard. However, if we confess Christ before others, He will confess us, that is, He will put His stamp of approval on us: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”
To confess in Him or to deny Him has to do with whether we hide from others the fact that we belong to Christ and our allegiance belongs to Him, whether we allow our shame and embarrassment to silence us, or whether we are willing to share with others what we have found in Christ—the salvation that we like all others need so much. Whether we present Christ to others, and whether we present ourselves as belonging to Him—in spite of our failures, in spite of our shortcomings, in spite of our shame, in spite of our fear of ridicule, of criticism, of rejection and harm—matters. Christ says very plainly that it matters. Do we believe Him or not? Let us try to hear this.
About those others who reject Christ: Outwardly they may speak against Christ and persecute us. It does not matter. They may turn to Him at any time and He will forgive them. This is outward. However, if they resist Him to the bitter end, this is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit who works on the interior of a person. That kind of inward obstinacy is unforgivable. We are not privileged to know of whom this is going to be true. If we are among those who believe in Christ, then we have not committed such blasphemy, and therefore we do not know what it is like and cannot recognize it in another. However, Jesus tells us that it is the case for some that their resistance to the bitter end is indicative of this blasphemy. For them there is no forgiveness.
I do not think this proves that they will be in hell forever. To be forgiven is to be released from an obligation without having paid it. But one can also pay off his or her obligation (Matthew 5:26). The horror of this is that it may take a very long time. This is what “will not be forgiven” may mean. On the other hand, this does not prove that some others might not be eternally lost. Some may never pay off their debt. What pays off their obligation is not suffering per se, as many Christians are prone to imagine, but true repentance. The (metaphorical) fire will burn endlessly until nothing is left, and without such repentance a person’s entire identity may well dissipate (Jude 13) in God’s never-ending judgment.
God Will Provide (12:11-12)
But you, beloved of God, called of Christ, and desiring to confess in Him before others: do not be afraid of them (1 Peter 3:14). On the one hand, “be always ready to give a defense to everyone who asks of you an account concerning the hope which is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). This does not mean that you premeditate what you will say. This refers to being inwardly and dispositionally prepared. As far as what you will say to them, “do not be anxious about how or what you should reply in defense, or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that hour what should be said” (Luke 12:11-12). If we are willing to confess Christ, we do not need to be anxious. The reality of God exceeds the threat that we may feel from other people (whether real or imaginary). We can put ourselves in God’s hands, and allow God to take care of what comes out of our mouths. We may be able to relax or we may be stressed. But the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh (Acts 2:17) and is active not only within us to give us the right words—we just need to be bravely open and honest with people—but also is working on whomever it is that we are speaking to. The spiritual reality is what matters, not the world of men which we perceive only with our minds. Let us not be afraid of men but rather fear God for their sake, and trust God for our own sake. God can never forget us; we will be okay. And it is Christ who proclaims Himself from within us.