In Luke chapter 12, we jump from Jesus, giving warnings to the Pharisees and scribes, to his warning his disciples of the dangers they face in their spiritual life. He tells them to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (v 1, NASB) What is this leaven? We know that leaven is the substance that makes dough rise, most typically yeast. In other words, it is that thing that causes the dough to change its very character. So too is the leaven of the Pharisees. It is those things that change the very character of the spiritual life. In this case, it carries the implication that these changes are negative. Jesus points out that even those small things that we keep to ourselves, those inner thoughts and opinions, those actions that we believe no one knows about, will become evident known. This is what leaven does. Even the smallest amount will become evident as the dough begins to rise.
His next warning applies to our motivations. He says, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Vv 4 – 5) We often feel motivated fear. It is normal, but there are those things we should be afraid of and those things we should not. Now, most people would tell us that someone who can kill you is someone to fear. But Jesus tells us that death is not the worst thing that can happen. I do not think that he is saying that we should invite death, but he is pointing out that anything involving this life is transient. What matters most is the state of our eternal souls. Jesus then reassures them that we need not fear. God cares what happens to the sparrows, which are sold for very little. If he remembers them, how much more will he remember us. As such, we need not fear.
Jesus’ next statement is “I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Vv 8 – 9) I think this is not as confusing a statement as it seems. We can ask, “Is he saying that God’s acceptance of us is conditional upon our profession of him?” This can lead us down a rabbit trail of debate. I think what Jesus is saying is that those who accept him and follow him will have a place in with him in eternity. Those who do not will not.
Speaking of rabbit trail debates Jesus’ statement, “he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him” (v 10) Certainly can do this. What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Are there really things we can not be forgiven for? While these are things to think about, the point is that if we are following Christ and confessing him before others, then we are most likely not guilty of such a sin. What is more, if we are walking in such a manner, then the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say as we profess him before others.
While Jesus is teaching, a man “said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.'” (v 13) Jesus’ reaction is straight forward. He tells the man, it is not his job to settle such disputes. He says this because he realizes that it is not equity that is driving the man, but greed. So he tells that parable of a farmer who built new barns for his abundant crop. He believed he was set for life but did not realize his life would end that night. I think Jesus’ point is clearly that we need to keep temporal things form occupying our minds when our focus should be on eternity.
Jesus again returns to his disciples and tells them “I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (Vv 23 – 24) Jesus emphasizes his point by speaking of the ravens who are fed without planting lilies that are clothed in beauty without spinning or sewing. If God does this, then how much more will he care for his people.
Jesus sums up by telling his disciples to let go of their earthly possessions to build up treasure in heaven that will not fail. The reasoning Jesus gives is that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v 34) If our treasures are in this world, this is where our heart will be, but if our treasures are in heaven, our hearts will be there.
Here we find Jesus transitioning to a warning of the need to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. To make his point, he uses both the imagery of servants awaiting the return of their master and of a homeowner protecting his home from a thief. In each of these, the importance of being ready is connected with not knowing the exact time of the persons coming. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” (v 41) Jesus’ answer, while not direct, is telling. His parable is for those who will hear and are ready for his coming. Those who make wise decisions will be entrusted with their “master’s possessions,” that is to say, God will bless them.
As we come to the end of the chapter, Jesus’ warning grows darker. He starts with, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth.” (v 49) A fire he wishes had already begun but had to wait until his second “baptism,” that is, His crucifixion and resurrection. Like I said, this sounds very dark, and Jesus does not leave it at that. He goes on to say, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on, five members in one household will be divided, 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.”” (Vv 51 – 53) Jesus does not specifically expand on this division here, but I see this division as that which occurs so often when people choose to follow Christ. In the west, it is not as evident, though it is growing. But when you look at many other places around the world, the division that is created, even within families, when someone chooses to follow Christ is evident.
Jesus’ final two points are that just as a person can judge the coming weather by looking at the sky, we should be able to see God’s truth through the evidence around us. And second, we should be wise enough to settle our disputes one on one, and avoid the repercussions of letting them grow.
My takeaways from this chapter are 1) We need to be careful of those things, big and small, harm our walk with Christ. 2) We need fear nothing as God cares for us. 3) We need to be wary of greed for things of this world, but rather desire heavenly things. 4) Christ may come at any time. And 5) following Christ can create wedges with those in our lives who do not.