Don’t Be Afraid
DON’T BE AFRAID
Today, we return to the book of Luke! So go ahead and get your Bibles out and open to the book of Luke, and for now you can turn to chapter 1. Just for the sake of recap.
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. 3 So it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. -- Luke 1:1-4 (CSB)
Luke is working hard here about 50-60 years after Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, to compile all of the facts. He’s met with eyewitnesses, he’s read the accounts people wrote down, and he’s set out to organize it all so that a guy named Theophilus, look at verse 4, would know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. Theophilus has heard the stories, but he apparently lacks some confidence that what he’s heard is true. So Luke sets out to get it for him.
The Dinner Party
Where we left off last time, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Back at the end of Luke 9, we read that Jesus knows the end is coming for him. But instead of running from the inevitable, he determined to work his way toward the cross.
During his trip to Jerusalem, Jesus had been invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s house. I don’t know if you’ve ever been invited to a dinner that became really awkward. I was camping with some friends one time, and after dinner we were playing a game together. Somewhere along the way in the game, a couple started kind of verbally snipping at each other a little bit which at first seemed like just a little harmless banter, but the jabs kept getting sharper and sharper until one of them said something really hurtful which made the other get up and storm off. The teams were now uneven, the night was over, and you could cut the tension with a knife.
The Pharisees, if you don’t know this, were a large subsection of the Jewish people, who were very particular about the code of law. They took the Law of Moses very, very seriously, which wasn’t the problem – that was a good thing. They even added safeguards to the laws to help people keep them, which again started out as a good thing. But the problem was when they started to give their own laws and their own authority equal weight to God’s law and HIS authority. And when Jesus didn’t follow one of their basic hospitality laws at this dinner invitation, they were appalled.
But Jesus knew what he was doing, and he was setting them up for why he was really there. He confronted their pride, their hypocrisy, their greed, and even their history.
When Jesus left the house that night, not only were the Pharisees insulted, verse 53 and 54 of chapter 11: 53 When he left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to oppose him fiercely and to cross-examine him about many things; 54 they were lying in wait for him to trap him in something he said. 1 Meanwhile, (verse 1) a crowd of many thousands came together, so that they were trampling on one another.
So that’s where we left things – Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem knowing he will eventually die at the hands of these Pharisees. But in contrast to the deeply religious who now hate Jesus, there are thousands who are eager to hear him speak or see him perform miracles, trampling each other to get close to him. I’m picturing football fans rushing the field after a big win.
Hey guys, listen up
So before he addressed the crowds, He began to say to his disciples first, “Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
I think this is fascinating. He knows the Pharisees are gunning for him, but he also knows the day is coming when the Pharisees will be gunning for the disciples too. There was nothing like, “you’re going to want to have a safe house; you’re going to want to make sure you have a way to communicate secretly; you’re going to want to avoid streets and stick to country roads”... No.
Of all the things Jesus could have said to prepare his disciples for persecution, He said, the biggest trap you have to watch out for is hypocrisy.
One commentator explains that “A hypocrite, basically, is an actor. It’s a theater word. He wears a mask and performs a role which does not correspond to his real self. So what Jesus is saying about the Pharisees is that they were role-players, wearing an outward mask of piety and religiosity, but the true stuff, the real essence of godliness, was absent from their hearts. They were play-actors of religion, pretending to be something they were not” (Sproul, 256).
Before Jesus turns to the crowd, he pulls aside his disciples and says the biggest threat to your life is not running from the Pharisees – it’s that you’ll be come them! More dangerous than persecution is that you will be tempted to give more attention to appearing godly than you do to actually being godly. Spiritual hypocrisy is that you will wear the mask of religion here in church, you’ll sing the songs, raise your hands, pray the prayers, you might even be somewhat sincere when you do it, but there is no pursuit of godliness in your life. You know a lot about God, but there are no spiritual habits or disciplines where you learn to actually know God.
That kind of hypocrisy works through the church like yeast in a lump of dough, where it starts with one person, then another, then another, and another, and eventually infiltrates and corrupts the entire church, until all of you look the part, sing the part, preach the part, act the part… but your hearts are far from God.
Can’t hid forever
And Jesus warns the disciples that…
2 There is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered, nothing hidden that won’t be made known. 3 Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.
Just like yeast can’t hide in a lump of dough, your hypocrisy cannot hide forever.
Hebrews 4:13 says “No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.”
One day the Truth will come out and we’ll see people and things for what they really are. Every word said behind closed doors, every whisper, every action that was covered up – for or against Jesus – it’ll all be out in the open.
Author RC Sproul writes: “We all have secrets that would be profoundly embarrassing for others to be aware of. To have our secret sins exposed, our weaknesses [brought out into the open for everyone to see] is terrifying. If I did not know that on that day my nakedness will be covered by the righteousness of Christ, it would destroy me to have to face it. But this is what God promises for his people: in that day of judgment, those who are in Christ will be hidden. His righteousness conceals our corruption. That’s why we cling to Christ” (Sproul, 257).
Cling to Christ
That’s why clinging to Jesus is one of the core commitments of River City. It’s why we cling to Christ in public; it’s why we cling to Christ in private. It’s why we cling to Christ when we are able to meet in peace like we are this morning, and it’s why we can cling to Christ when persecution stands on our doorstep. Jesus not only pointed out the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he warned against the kind of hypocrisy that shows up when we are under duress, where to side with Jesus might mean a loss of some kind. Loss of relationship, or friendship, or loss of reputation or a job, or even loss of life. And Jesus says…
4 “I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. 5 But I will show you the one to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the one to fear!
Of course, in this context Jesus is referring to other humans who will seek out the death of those disciples of Christ. I think the temptation for us this morning is to say, “oh, this passage is talking about people being killed for their faith. That’s not happening in my life, it’s not a real threat at the moment, no one I know has been killed for their faith… just hit the snooze button on this sermon and go to something relevant to MY life today.
Teach us to number our days
Maybe your life isn’t being actively threatened by someone right now, but there is a natural tendency for all of us to be afraid of death at least to some degree. Naturally speaking, death seems to be the ultimate disaster, especially if someone dies, as we would say, before their time. But based on the entirety of Jesus’ message, I think we can safely say we also don’t need to fear cancer or other illnesses or even accidents that can kill the body and then do nothing more.
We do well to eat what is good for us, wear seatbelts, obey the speed limit, do our workouts or whatever here on earth to make the most of our life and be a good steward of the body God has given you, but the death rate is still 100%. It’s the final chapter for every single one of us. In fact, the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs and Psalms encourage us to not push that truth under the rug and try to ignore it, but actually embrace it. Moses writes in Psalm 90, “teach us to number our days, that we would gain a heart of wisdom.”
It’s healthy to remember that you will die someday. I’m not on social media all that often anymore, except for Twitter. And there is an account on Twitter called, Your Daily Death Reminder. And every day for over 2200 days, that account posts only four words: “You will die someday.” It’s probably a good idea to have that reminder show up as you scroll through all the other nonsense.
But Jesus reminds his disciples that death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Your greatest concern should not be how or when you will die or who will take you out, but that the God who created heaven and earth has the authority over your eternity. It is him you should fear.
Fear of God
Another commentator writes this about how we fear God: “The fear of God is rather out of fashion these days; we much prefer to [talk about]the love of God. While [it is true in one sense that in] perfect love [there is no] fear (1 John 4:18), there is another sense in which fear is quite compatible with love. This kind of fear is [talked about often] in the Bible as a necessary ingredient in right living. [The fear of God] is an attitude [that both recognizes] the greatness and the righteousness of God on the one hand, and our [quickness] to sin on the other. Fear of this kind [keeps us from spiritual laziness] and must find its place in a right faith” (Morris, 227).
Jesus tells his closest followers, you need to fear God more than you fear death. But this is not a scare tactic. Jesus is not trying to scare you into the kingdom of heaven. In fact, quite the opposite.
Jesus gives his disciples three reasons for confidence in the face of death:
6 Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 7 Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. [So] Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Don’t be afraid
Sparrows were sometimes the food of the poorest of poor. One penny will get you two sparrows, according to Matthew’s gospel. Two pennies will get you five. They get even cheaper the more you purchase.
Every person in this room loves themselves at least somewhat. You might say, “no I don’t, I don’t like my nose or my weight or my big ears” but you feed yourself every day and wash and clothe yourself at least once a week. You avoid accidents and sickness if you can at all help it. But even the most narcissistic person among us doesn’t count their hair.
Yet here the God of heaven and earth who created and upholds galaxies and exploding stars, makes himself close enough to us to know the most useless fact about you – how many hairs are on your head. And Jesus’ point is that if Yahweh pays attention to the least valuable bird on the planet, the sparrow, then you don’t need to be afraid of cancer or persecution. You don’t need to be afraid of your children getting sick or in an accident on the way to school; You don’t need to fear that our food supply might run out some day and we all starve. You don’t need to be afraid that our country could be infiltrated by our enemies and life becomes very, very difficult.
Those things might happen. We’re not promised they won’t. Jesus does not say: “Don’t be afraid – I won’t let anything bad ever happen to you. Don’t be afraid – I won’t let you get cancer. Don’t be afraid – I won’t let you die.” No. Jesus says Don’t be afraid – You’re not worthless. You’re not some useless fact of the universe. No one is just collateral damage in the grand scheme of God’s eternal plan. If the tiniest sparrows are never forgotten in God’s sight, how much more will he never forget YOU who are made in his image.
That’s the first thing Jesus wants his disciples to keep in mind when their lives are being threatened by others. You are not worthless. You are seen and known. Here’s the second thing:
The end is coming
8 “And I say to you, anyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God, 9 but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.
He wants his disciples to keep in mind that this life is not all there is. You can say whatever you need to say to keep people from giving you a hard time or defend yourself however you need to in order to save your life, but understand that after your death, you will stand at the judgment seat of Christ one day, and the very person you denied or acknowledged on earth, will in the same way either deny or acknowledge you before the angels of God.
And Jesus warns here in Luke, that fearing people (who at the worst can kill you) more than you are fearing God (who can actually expose you for being a fraud and throw you into hell), that protecting yourself by denying Christ instead of trusting the God (who takes great care for and never forgets about things that are much less valuable than you), is deadly. Persecution can claim your life, but that kind of pride and self-assurance will claim your soul.
And if you’re like me, you’re thinking man – I’ve done that. I’ve been worried about what other people think of me. I’ve tried hard to protect myself from being given a hard time, or looked at a certain way by other people. Just this past week the Holy Spirit convicted me of this.
But here’s the second confidence every disciple can have – You can be confident that if you fear the Lord, even in the face of persecution and death, he won’t hang you out to dry when you stand before the angels! When you trust God instead of yourself; when you fear God instead of what could happen, Jesus will acknowledge you before the angels in heaven! Even if you blow it, like the apostle Peter did, who denied Christ three times in one night, and yet return to Jesus in sorrow over your sin and repent like Peter did, you will find forgiveness like Peter did! That’s what Jesus says in the first part of verse 10…
10 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,
You may have denied Christ in some situation, and even right here in this scripture Jesus is offering you forgiveness! There stands an open invitation to abandon your fear of man, and return to fearing the Lord! There stands an open welcome to repent of your hypocrisy, of wearing the mask that you love Jesus with all of your heart while you’re here at church, but don’t give him the time of day between Sundays. There stands an open invitation to confess and repent of your pride, of trusting yourself to do what’s best and right, to repent of needing to be in control of your home, your kids, your job, your marriage, your life – and return to the King of Kings who knows the number of hairs on your head and never, ever, ever forgets about you!
She/He’s with me!
And when you arrive at the judgment seat of Christ and everything about your life is exposed, Jesus says there’s one thing that will determine whether or not you were a hypocrite, a play-actor, or you were the real deal: When you faced persecution, or pressure from others in regards to your faith, did you deny me or did you cling to me? When that guy at work gave you a hard time for being a Jesus freak, or a Bible-thumper, did you deny me or cling to me? When you had the chance to stand up for me, when you had the chance to share the good news with someone, when you had the chance to say, I’m sorry I can’t do this with you guys anymore… DID YOU DENY ME OR DID YOU CLING TO ME?
And if you acknowledged Christ every chance you got, and you ran to Christ and repented of the ones you didn’t, when your life ends and you stand before Jesus, he’ll say you could have denied me in front of those friends, in front of those captors, in front of that boss, but you didn’t. You acknowledged me even when it might cost you –listen up angels of heaven: SHE’S WITH ME. Listen up angels: He’s with me.
The only way that will not happen (second half of verse 10) is if you continually and permanently deny or reject the conviction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in those same moments where you had the opportunity to deny Christ or cling to him, you denied him, never repenting of sin, but doubling down in order to save your own life. In that case, no matter how good your life looks on the surface, Jesus will say to you, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
God with us
So the disciples’ confidence is that they are not worthless; they will not be hung out to dry in heaven; and the third confidence Jesus’ disciples have in hard times is that they won’t be hung out to dry on earth either.
11 Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say.
You don’t need to have a plan mapped out ahead of time, you don’t need to have lines memorized, you don’t need to rehearse what you would do in certain situations… 12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said.”
God the provider
Jesus isn’t pulling any punches with his disciples, or with you and me. He’s not trying to sugarcoat what it means to follow him. 2 Timothy 3:12 says anyone who desires to live a godly life WILL face pressure from other people, but Jesus assures us that as his disciples, we can be confident that God is our Father. He sees us; he knows us, including all of the worthless facts about us, yet never for a second considers us worthless. Jesus also assures you and I that one day we will stand before God the Judge. We will give an account of our lives. And again, he gives us confidence for that day, saying that if we are in Christ, we will never be left hung out to dry; there is no bait and switch. He gives us confidence that if we acknowledge him here in front of others, even those trying to kill us, he will acknowledge us in front of the angels. And last, Jesus gives us confidence that God is our Provider.
The greatest of his provisions for us is Jesus, the very person who is speaking – the very person who was on his way to the cross to die for the sin of hypocrisy, the sin of blasphemy, the sin of thinking we’re too busy to pray or too busy to read our Bibles or too busy to develop spiritual habits and disciplines; the sin of trying to control and save our own lives. He provided Jesus who rose again, trampling over sin and death and hell, so that none of them get to have any control over our story anymore.
We should have died for those sins, But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
And not only did he provide Jesus who purchased our salvation, He provided the Holy Spirit to not just live with us but in us, convicting us of sin, giving us wisdom and courage to say no to hypocrisy and fear and to say yes to Jesus; and even teaching us what to say exactly in the moment we need it.
- If you’ve never called out to God for salvation, let today be the day. It’s not even really all that complicated. Just acknowledge that he cared for you enough to send Jesus to live and die in your place. Acknowledge that you will die one day and appear before God the Judge, and that only someone who is hidden in Christ will be able to stand in that moment. And acknowledge that God has provided for you in Jesus everything you need to be able to stand on that day. You don’t have to jump through any hoops, you don’t have to put on a show, there’s no magic prayer you have to pray. Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, so I encourage you to begin the daily practice of calling on the name of the Lord today.
- If you are a follower of Jesus, don’t quit. Don’t give up. Be on your guard against hypocrisy. It’s very easy to say one thing and live another. Don’t be content to just know facts about God – invest in spiritual habits and disciplines this week that help you to know him so that on the day you are tempted to deny him, you can withstand that temptation and cling with all your might to your Savior. His promise is that in those moments, he’ll even put words in your mouth if you’ll but trust him to do so.
- Three reasons for confidence no matter what you face:
- The Father determines your worth
- The Son purchased your eternity
- The Spirit is with you
- Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)
- Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988)
- R. C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)