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Warnings and encouragements
Luke chapter 12, verses 1-12
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 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.
“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 the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
“When you are brought before 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.”
Jesus had spoken out without fear against the Pharisees and experts in the law. By doing this, Jesus knew that he was risking his very life. The descendants of those who had killed prophets in the past would not hesitate to kill prophets themselves in the present. And what was true for Jesus is also true for his disciples. The bold witness risks persecution and death.
This fact dare not keep the disciples from bearing witness to Jesus. There are so many who need to hear. In chapter 11, verse 29 Luke notes that “the crowds increased.” Now a crowd of many thousands presses in upon Jesus. Here is impressive evidence of the need for fearless witnesses.
The danger for the disciple is to follow the course of the Pharisees. They appear to be genuinely religious, but this is pretense; there is spiritual deadness within. This hypocrisy is like yeast, which permeates the entire loaf. One will not function well as a disciple and witness of Christ if he is not genuine.
To back up this warning against hypocrisy, Jesus again quotes a saying that was used earlier (chapter 8, verse 17). Hypocrisy can only be hidden for so long; it will be disclosed in the end. The disciples are challenged to speak what Jesus had made known to them in his private teaching; they are urged to proclaim from the housetops what during the earthly ministry of Jesus they had only whispered to one another in closed rooms. The disciples put this kind of bold witness into practice beginning with Pentecost.
If the disciples are to confess their faith despite persecution, Jesus knows that they will need encouragement. They are reminded that the most other human beings can do to them is kill the body; on the other hand, God is able not only to kill the body but to throw it into hell. The word “hell” is a translation of the Greek word gehenna. This was the name given to a valley just south of Jerusalem that served as a rubbish dump and where fires often burned. The name became a symbol for the place of eternal torment after death.
Jesus is contrasting hollow fear (to be afraid of men) with true fear (awe and respect for the Almighty). To fear God is also to trust him who cares about the little sparrows and knows the number of hairs on one’s head. Nothing will happen to the fearless witness without the permission of the heavenly Father.
The disciple who is tempted to disown his master should take into account the eternal consequences: the Son of Man will disown him on the day of judgment with the angels of God as witnesses. On the other hand, the disciple who courageously witnesses faith in Jesus will be acknowledged on that day. Here is added incentive to be fearless.
Verse 10 might better be included with 11 and 12 as a new paragraph rather than being joined with verses 8 and 9. Jesus is here speaking about a possible response that the witness of the disciples might elicit. As the Son of Man, Jesus was spoken against many times during his earthly ministry. There is the possibility of forgiveness for such hostile words against Christ. But people who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, who would speak through the disciples, would not be forgiven. Such people who persistently and stubbornly refuse the message of the gospel as proclaimed by the representatives of Christ (see Acts chapter 7, verse 51) have no hope of salvation.
This section closes with the assurance to the disciples that when they are brought before religious or secular authorities, the Holy Spirit will lead them in what they should say. We have several examples of this in the book of Acts (chapter 4, verse 8; chapter 6, verse 10). Human inarticulateness will give way to the strength and eloquence that comes from God’s Spirit. Here is the final encouragement to speak up for Jesus despite opposition and persecution.
The parable of the rich fool
Luke chapter 12, verses 13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
There are any number of obstacles which may keep a disciple from being a faithful witness to Jesus. A most serious temptation is to become attached to worldly possessions. Jesus has the opportunity to warn against greed and covetousness when someone from the crowd makes this request of him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” In chapter 15 Jesus will tell a parable in which a son makes that same request of his father.
Jesus refuses to be drawn into this dispute between brothers, just as he did not intervene when Martha wanted his support to get her sister’s help. Rather, Jesus uses this request to warn against the underlying problem: greed. So easily people imagine that the worth of life is measured by the abundance of possessions. One of Jesus’ charges against the Pharisees was their greed (chapter 11, verse 39). Disciples need to be especially on guard against this sin.
To illustrate the point he is making, Jesus tells a parable. The rich man had an abundance of possessions. No doubt his neighbors considered him to be very successful in life. His barns quickly became too small to hold all the grain his fields produced. Larger ones were built. He had no worries about the future as he looked forward to a retirement filled with leisure and good times.
But the rich man had not taken God and his judgment into consideration. Far from being wise and resourceful, this man was an utter fool. Like the Pharisees who busied themselves with externals, proving that they were fools (chapter 11, verse 40), so this man was ill prepared when God’s summons came. For the sake of earthly gain, he had forfeited his life (chapter 9, verse 25).
Jesus is not condemning riches here; he is rather condemning a wrong attitude toward riches that hold them as the most important thing in life. He is warning against greed and the failure to use riches properly. He had urged the Pharisees to “give what is inside the dish to the poor” (chapter 11, verse 41). This is one way of being rich toward God. The theme of viewing life in terms of God’s coming judgment is one that runs through the following portions of Luke’s gospel.
Do not worry
Luke chapter 12, verses 22-34
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The rich man in the parable is an example of someone whose barns and storehouses were filled to the brim and yet was not truly prepared for the future. The very opposite of the rich man is the raven. This scavenger is satisfied with leftovers and would not think of storing up food for the future. In ancient times ravens were regarded as careless creatures that even failed to return to their nests. But in Psalm 147, verse 9 we learn that God provides food “for the young ravens when they call.”
Not the rich man but the raven is held up by Jesus for his disciples to imitate. In addition, Jesus directs attention to lilies and the grass of the field. The word translated here as “lilies” may refer to any of the colorful flowers that dot the Palestinian hillsides. Jesus declares that their beauty surpasses that of King Solomon. Even the grass that clothes the fields has a certain beauty, yet that grass is here today and gone tomorrow, commonly used as fuel to heat an oven.
When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles and the 72 disciples, he told them to take no food along. They were to eat in homes along the way. Such a day-to-day existence might easily cause one to wonder where the next meal would be coming from. Jesus, however, urges his disciples, “Do not worry.” Life is more than just eating and drinking. In rejecting the devil’s first temptation, Jesus said much the same: “Man does not live on bread alone” (chapter 4, verse 4). Worrying about anything and everything will not add a single hour to a person’s life.
The attitude that Jesus looks for in his disciples is one of faith and trust in the heavenly Father. This is the very opposite of the pagan world, which runs after food, drink, and clothing for fear of not having enough. Jesus gives his followers the comforting assurance: “Your Father knows that you need them.” The disciples had been taught to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread” (chapter 11, verse 3). God’s answer to this prayer is really all that a disciple needs to live in this world.
Rather than setting one’s heart “on what you will eat or drink,” Jesus urges, “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Once again, as so often, it is a question of right priorities. The Pharisees had their priorities messed up, so did Martha and the rich man. Later we will hear Jesus declare, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (chapter 16, verse 13). Right priorities are essential for the disciples of Jesus.
The kingdom is ever central in the thinking of Jesus. In this world, opposed by mighty forces, the little flock of believers may forget the kingdom and be afraid. Jesus seeks to allay such fears with the reminder “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” This is the kingdom that the disciple must ever seek.
One who has the promise of this kingdom will be much less concerned with the possessions of this world. In fact, Jesus advises, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” The treasure that really matters, the treasure that no one or nothing can take away, is stored in heaven. And if one’s treasure is safely deposited in heaven, then heaven will be the center of one’s thoughts and desires. This will be a remedy for worry and fear.
Throughout the ages, Christians have asked just how literally these words of Jesus are to be understood. Saint Francis of Assisi gave away all possessions including his clothing and lived a life of total poverty. Is this what Jesus wants every Christian to do? Hardly. We need to read these words of Jesus in the context of God’s total revelation. Jesus is saying something here that every disciple must hear and hear often. Jesus says it in a way that is bold, that catches our attention. Disciples of Jesus need to distance themselves from the attitude of the world that glorifies this earthly life and its possessions. The disciple needs to always remember that the end is coming. The first priority in life always must be to seek God’s kingdom. This is to listen to what Jesus is saying.
Luke chapter 12, verses 35-48
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
When Jesus was transfigured, the subject of conversation was his departure, or exodus, at Jerusalem (chapter 9, verse 31). Shortly thereafter, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem with his disciples; on the way, he taught them many things. A truth the disciples needed to learn was the fact that the same Jesus who would depart from Jerusalem was coming again. As servants of the Lord, the disciples were expected to be watchful and to carry out their responsibilities with faithfulness.
Jesus compares his coming again with that of a master who had left home to attend a wedding banquet. The servants are to be dressed, ready for service with lamps burning, waiting for their master’s knock on the door. The NIV translation “be dressed ready for service” is an interpretation of the Greek expression “let your loins be girded” (see the King James Version). At the time of the exodus out of Egypt, the Lord told the Israelites to have “your cloak tucked into your belt,” ready for travel (Exodus chapter 12, verse 11). Servants are ready to serve when their long robes are tucked into a belt around the waist. That’s the state of watchfulness Jesus expects of his servants.
Such watchful servants will be rewarded. In the parable told by Jesus, this reward takes the form of sitting at a banquet and being served by the master (one is reminded of how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper). Here is a role reversal, with the master putting on the apron and waiting on his servants.
One problem for waiting servants is the fact that they do not know the time of their master’s return. It might be in the second watch (9–12 P.M.); it might be in the third (12–3 A.M.). To emphasize the uncertainty of the time of the master’s return, Jesus introduces a different illustration. It is the example of a homeowner who has no way of knowing when a thief might come in the night to rob him. Saint Paul uses this same illustration when writing to the Thessalonians: “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1st Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 2). The Son of Man will come at an hour when he is not expected.
In speaking of the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus is referring first of all to his return at the end of the world. When that will be, no one knows. And those who attempt to calculate such things are defying the will of God, who does not choose to reveal this date to us. What is true of the end of the world is to some extent also true of the end of our earthly lives, as the rich fool discovered. The servants of Christ must be ready, watchful at all times for their master’s return.
The question Peter asks prompts Jesus to say more about what is expected especially of leaders in the church. He introduces another example, this time of a manager (steward) who has been given charge of his fellow servants by his master. He has the responsibility of distributing the food allowance and, in general, of managing the household wisely in the absence of his master. If this manager fulfills his duties faithfully, then the master will reward him with greater authority and responsibility.
A manager may, however, suppose that the return of his master is a long way off and exploit his power and authority. He begins to beat his fellow servants, both men and women; he spends his time in feasting and drunkenness. When the master of that manager returns suddenly and unexpectedly, the punishment will be severe. Jesus says that the master “will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” This violent form of punishment might not have been out of character for the times in which Jesus lived. Like Peter and the apostles, leaders in the church receive a stern warning here that the authority given them by the master dare not be abused.
Servants must be watchful and faithful. Yet not all are punished alike when they fail to carry out their duties. Those who know the master’s will very well but fail to carry out what he wants will be beaten with many blows. However, the unfaithful servant who is not well informed of his master’s desires will receive only a few blows. The reason Jesus gives for this variation in punishment results from an unequal distribution of talents and opportunities: the more one has been given, the more will be expected.
Peter had asked if Jesus was talking just to the disciples or to everyone. Certainly, the words of Jesus are meant for everyone. But, obviously, Jesus is directing them especially to his own closest followers. They had been given much. Much would be expected of them in watchfulness and faithfulness. Today also, some Christians receive greater gifts and responsibilities. Jesus looks for them to set an example of watchfulness and faithfulness. And if they fail, they can expect the greater punishment. This punishment may not refer so much to eternity as to the consequences a disgraced leader of the church experiences in this earthly life.
Not peace but division
Luke chapter 12, verses 49-53
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Jesus was expecting much of his followers in the way of faithfulness to their calling. But no disciple has such a demanding role to fulfill as does his master. Of no one is so much expected than of Jesus. After speaking of what he looks for from his servants, Jesus speaks of his own mission in this world. One catches a glimpse of a soul deeply distressed.
Jesus’ mission included bringing fire on the earth. John the Baptist had said of Jesus that “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (chapter 3, verse 16). James and John were ready to call down the fire of judgment on the Samaritan village that would not welcome Jesus (chapter 9, verse 54). The rebuke they received makes it plain that the time for fiery judgment had not yet come. But the day of fire will come. The master will return. Jesus’ wish that the fire “were already kindled” suggests that he would like to get it over with since it is so dreadful to contemplate.
But before the fire of judgment will fall on the earth, Jesus himself must undergo a fiery judgment, which he refers to as his baptism. To compare baptism with death may reflect the great flood, when water brought God’s judgment upon the whole world. Saint Paul picks up on this connection when he writes in Romans chapter 6, verse 4, “We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death.” The baptism that Jesus must undergo is distressing because all the fiery judgment of hell is heaped upon him as punishment for the sins of the world.
As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem to undergo this baptism, it was becoming increasingly clear that many were not ready to accept his message of salvation. The angels had sung of the peace which the birth of the Savior would bring to the earth. God wants peace for the world, but human beings refuse his offer of reconciliation. Families were divided over Jesus and this will go on to the end. What Simeon had foretold, Jesus sees happening. It is all very painful to Jesus; he wishes that his mission were finished.
Interpreting the times
Luke chapter 12, verses 54-59
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
The world is clearly moving toward God’s final judgment. Yet so many fail to reckon with this fact. They are like the rich fool who was busy making money and unconcerned about his impending death.
Jesus tells the crowds following him on the way to Jerusalem that people are able to read the weather signs but fail to read the signs of the times. They are meteorologically sensitive but religiously stupid. Many show a wisdom in earthly matters, like business and weather, but are blind and stubborn in spiritual things.
In applying the word “hypocrites” to the crowd, Jesus hints at a common trait found among people—they act as if they don’t know any better. It is not as if people are unable to see the end coming. They are rather unwilling to face this fact and to make the necessary changes in their lives.
But there is still time to escape. Jesus uses an illustration to make this plain to the crowds. In human affairs if someone brings a complaint against a person, an attempt is usually made to settle the problem before the accused ends up in jail. Jesus is probably referring to a case of failure to pay an outstanding debt. One might be able to get off by paying a lesser amount to satisfy the adversary. But once in prison, the debt must be paid to the last penny.
People should be as discerning about settling their debts with God as they are when it comes to worldly accounts. But unfortunately, as with interpreting the signs of the times, people don’t use wisdom in making sure that they will escape the eternal prison. Jesus wonders why people are so dense, so unwilling to take the opportunities given them to repent before it is too late. It is another example of human foolishness.