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May 5 2024

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 12:1-12

Thank you for reading this sermon from Christ Fellowship. I hope and pray that this sermon will be a blessing of grace and truth to you. With that said, let me encourage you not to use this sermon as a replacement for your local church. Christ Jesus did not establish his Church simply for us to consume content. Instead, He calls us to be part of a real, covenant family. 


Last week, Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the lawyers. And I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about hypocrisy, because that is our topic today. We’re going to do a deep dive into hypocrisy – something that Jesus talks about quite often in the Gospels.

It’s also something that I hear often as a pastor from people who don’t attend church. They will say something like, “The church is full of hypocrites.” But when I ask what they mean by that, they will say something like this: “church people sin just like the rest of us.”

And if that’s what you mean by hypocrisy, then yes. I’ll be the first to admit… I’m the chief hypocrite. I’m just the spokesperson. I’m also a client! We do sin just like people outside the church.

In fact, you can’t even be a true Christian if you’re unwilling to admit that you have a problem with sin. That’s the first vow we take when we join the church – we publicly admit our sin.

But that’s not what Jesus means by hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not Christians who still sin. Hypocrisy is religious people who pretend that they don’t sin. Let’s begin reading Luke 12:

1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 

This sounds like a music festival. People are now trampling one another to get to Jesus. He has become wildly popular because He has placed Himself at odds with some of the most powerful Jewish leaders. Everyone wants to see where this spectacle is headed.

But notice that Jesus is not speaking to the crowds here. He speaks to his disciples first – his faithful followers. And He says Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.

Leaven is the yeast we use to make bread rise. And how much yeast does it take to make bread rise? Not much. It only takes a little.

Jesus is warning His followers to be on careful guard against this type of hypocrisy – the kind that pretends to be godly but doesn’t really love God.

It dangerous because, like yeast, it’s small and hidden, but it will have big consequences later.

He’s really talking here about a culture. That’s the context when we look back at chapter 11. This is a culture of hypocrisy where people are encouraged to hide sin and keep up appearances.

It’s a culture that is highly contagious and can easily permeate an entire church community.

Think about it… if someone comes to church and they have a problem with breaking the 8th commandment – which means they steal things. And they start stealing cell phones and wallets from other people in the church.

At some point, they will probably be caught. And it’s very unlikely that their sin will rub off on other people – that one day we will have a church full of thieves. That’s not a highly contagious problem.

But hypocrisy works differently. When people start to hide their sin from one another and pretend to be sinless, it quickly creates a culture of pride and shame. Pride on the outside and shame on the inside. And that destroys Christian community faster than any commandment breaking ever will.

We have a serious problem when we can no longer identify and admit our sin. Jesus continues:

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

In other words, trying to hide your true self is pointless. The inner life will not stay hidden. Your true colors will be revealed.

In a broader sense, the mission of Jesus will also be revealed soon. The religious leaders are turning on Jesus. Their intentions will be made public when they call for His death. And the disciples will also face persecution and death.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 

But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 

Why does Jesus now begin talking about fear? What does hypocrisy have to do with fear?

The answer is A LOT! Hypocrisy is a problem because we fear what other people think of us. It is driven by a dysfunction in our perception of self… We question our value. Our worth.

Have you ever been attacked by a goose? One of my children was recently attacked by a goose because he walked too close to its nest. But do you know how you can avoid being attacked by a goose? By making yourself look big. The goose is sizing you up and if he thinks he can take you, he will try.

I remember a scene in an old movie where an African boy encounters a hyena in the wild and he puts a log on top of his head to appear taller than he is. The hyena sizes him up and runs away.

We all have this tendency – to try and make ourselves look bigger and better than we feel inside. This is how the Bible describes pride – puffing ourselves up to look bigger. We do this because we are afraid of the opinions of others – easily swayed by them. This is the exact behavior that Jesus is challenging.

But he challenges it in an odd way. He says, basically, the worse they can do is kill you. Which is kind of shocking, right? Wow, Jesus. That sure sounds like they can do a lot! They can kill me… surely that’s reason to fear?

But Jesus clearly doesn’t want his disciples to fear potential murderers – or even death in any form! Instead, He directs their attention to God.

He clearly teaches that God is the only One who should be feared… and the reason is startling… because God can send you to hell!

This is a not a light topic, nor is it a topic I want to brush past. But I need to say clearly, hell is real. And Jesus Himself talks about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. If you have questions about it, please ask. I’ll do my best to explain.

But in this context, Jesus uses hell to get their attention. Wake up! You’re worried about what these other people think of you. The better question – the eternal question – is this: what does God think of you?

And if I heard Jesus say this, it would make me cower. And I would be ready for the hammer to fall. Tell me what God thinks of me… tell me I’m a miserable sinner… tell me why I deserve hell… but that’s not what Jesus says next:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Fear God, Jesus says, the one with the authority to cast you into hell. But two verses later, he says fear not. You have more value to God than you realize.

Jesus warns us of hypocrisy – but then what does he attack it with?

He confirms our value. God sees you for who you really are. And He cares for you.

In other words, stop caring so much what other people think of you. Instead, measure yourself by the promises of the One who knows you best and cares for you most.

You’re in good hands. I’m in good hands. That is the cure for hypocrisy. Attune yourself to God’s opinion of you. But what if you don’t? There is a danger.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 

but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 

10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 

Jesus asks us to acknowledge Him consistently and boldly… to claim Him publicly, without fear of what anyone else thinks… to stand for truth no matter what the world thinks of us.

Notice that Jesus allows room here for failure and doubt in verse 10. We may speak a word against Him. But there is a kind of denial, a kind of rejection of Jesus that will not be forgiven.

What He refers to is not temporary denial, but permanent apostasy. In other places Jesus calls it grieving the Holy Spirit. And the good news is, if you are worried about committing that sin – you’re most likely not! Let me know if you have further questions about it.

Now, these last two verses should always be read together.

11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 

12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Verse 12 by itself has become an excuse for lazy preaching. I’ve heard preachers say, “I don’t write sermons… I let the Holy Spirit guide me.” That’s not godly. That’s lazy. The letters of the apostles encourage careful study of the Word and preparation when teaching. The context here is answering persecution, not preaching.

And the concern of the disciple in that context is not “what if I say something wrong” but “what if I fail Christ”?! Jesus encourages us to trust Him even in those dark moments. He will not forsake us.

Ralph Davis tells the story of a Baptist preacher Cornelius Martens who was arrested by the Communist Party in 1920s Soviet Union. While being questioned, the minister said these words, “I do not fear death, because I would be going home to the Lord. But if God has decided that my hour has not yet come, then you can’t do me any harm.”

As the story goes, they tried to shoot him but the gun jammed and they let him go!

That is exactly the point of today’s message. We are being offered an eternal perspective.

I want you to think back to the first day of school – whichever one you can remember. I’m thinking of first grade. It felt so scary, didn’t it? And now, looking back on it, it wasn’t a big deal. But it felt like a big deal at the time.

I imagine that all of the early Christian martyrs who have been sitting in heaven now for 2,000 years, in perfect union with Christ for all eternity… I bet their death doesn’t feel like a big deal anymore. On this side of it, death feels like a huge deal.

But according to Jesus, it’s not. Not for His people. And that is the ultimate cure for hypocrisy. To not fear what other people can do to you. To not fear even death.

And so, the challenge is to stop the image management and believe what Jesus says of you, what He promises you.

It’s OK to be honest with people. You don’t have to hide. Hiding your sin hurts you and it hurts us! It makes us all more afraid and more ashamed. It makes some of us more arrogant.

Because this is the truth: you’re worse than you think you are, but God is better than you think He is.