If you had asked one of the Scribes of the Pharisees what it would take for the long-awaited Messiah to come, chances are the answer would have been: “For all of you to shape up and live righteous lives.” That is one way several scriptures about the Messiah were interpreted: The sins of Israel were the obstacle that kept holding back His arrival. It explains the zeal of the Pharisees for obeying every little law and even explains why they were so harsh with the sinners all around them. But Jesus, addressing the same subject of the coming of the Messiah, starts his discourse by pointing out the error of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees had become obsessed with the appearance, the external observability, of righteousness; to the point that they obeyed the Law, not because it was in their heart but as a result of the fear of man, the fear of being judged by the people around them (and forgetting about the real Judge).
Externality became the key reality to them. It was the root of their hypocrisy. It is a risk we all run. (Otherwise, why did Jesus begin this discourse by warning us against this leaven of the Pharisees?) The danger is that if we live that way long enough, focused only on what can be seen, only exercising and believing our physical senses, our spiritual senses will atrophy. And without those senses we are truly blind.
This is why, in another place, Jesus has this exchange with them:
Luke 17:20-21 And having been asked by the Pharisees, When is the kingdom of God coming? he answered them and said, The kingdom of God does not come with (careful) observation; nor shall they say, Lo here, or, Lo there; for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.
The reality of the Kingdom of God cannot be perceived by human physical senses, the way we perceive and interpret the things of this world. But that doesn’t mean it is not real or that it cannot be perceived by humans. The Pharisees could not perceive it – even though it was right in their midst – because, to them, externality had become the only reality; and, therefore, they had blinded themselves and deafened themselves to the voice of God. As Jesus told them in John…
John 8:43-47 Why do ye not know my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of the devil, as [your] father, and ye desire to do the lusts of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks falsehood, he speaks of what is his own; for he is a liar and its father: and because I speak the truth, ye do not believe me.
Which of you convinces me of sin? If I speak truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God hears the words of God: therefore ye hear [them] not, because ye are not of God.
You would think that once we travel long enough on this road of blinding and deafening ourselves to spiritual reality there would be no hope… Because the real damage done would be spiritual, which by definition we have chosen not to see. But it turns out there’s hope because the consequences of the damage are still detectable. That’s the point of Jesus’ illustration about the sparrows in Luke 12:4-7.
The first thing to die under the veil of this self-induced blindness is our faith in God.
Think about it. How can I trust God if I only trust that which I can see? But the consequence of losing trust in the God who made me is fear of the future. And even though I cannot see that fear either, I can feel it.
Jesus’ illustration of the sparrows points out that we know that fear, and we can tell that it is unreasonable. After all, if I (like the Pharisees) still claim to believe in the Almighty God who made me, how can I possibly doubt that He cares about me? That fear of the future serves as a warning sign. Even if I have stepped down the Pharisees’ road and blinded myself, I can tell something is wrong with me because I still have the ability to reason.
There are two realities, and each has its place
The Pharisees’ key error was that they bowed to the reality of this world at the expense of the reality of the Kingdom of God. But it would be as much an error to focus on the reality of the Kingdom of God to the point that we miss the purpose of the reality of this world.
The disappointments, the pains, and the evils of this world can hit us so hard that we can tempted to “check out”, leave it all behind. We could retreat into a hermit-like existence, focus only on our lives (and a future in “heaven”), and let the world take care of itself.
But that’s not why we are here.
Yes, it is a fact that we do not belong to this world…
John 15:18-19 If the world hate you, know that it has hated me before you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on account of this the world hates you.
Nevertheless, we are here, according to God’s will. Jesus made this clear in the last hours he had with his disciples. As He says to the Father in His prayer of John 17:
John 17: 14-19 I have given them Thy word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world. I do not demand that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them out of evil.
They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world; and I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified by truth.
Jesus could have asked the Father to take us out of the world; and the Father would have granted it. (This is implied by the Greek word eroto translated as “demand” here.) But He didn’t. Why? Because we have been called to be like Him.
He didn’t belong to this world and yet He willingly took on flesh and blood to enter it. Similarly, once we accept Him as our Savior, at that very moment – with the forgiveness of our sins – we receive eternal life. So, from that point on we are in the Kingdom of God. We no longer belong to this world. But just like He chose to enter this world, we are called to remain in it.
And just like His mission here was under the command of God the Father, our mission here is meant to be under His command. As He was sent, so has He sent us.
There are two realities. And it is the calling of the followers of Jesus to live in both, just like He did, for the same reason that He did. My personal salvation is not enough. There is so much more that I can do with my life here. (Again, this is in perfect symmetry with the choice Jesus made, as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7 (NASB): who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men.)
There are two realities.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live in the eternal reality (the Kingdom of God) so that we can carry out our mission in the physical reality of this world.
Only living that way will we be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. But there is a price to be paid, in this world, for living that way.
It is the same kind of price He paid. He refers to it in those passages from John; and this is why Jesus continues the passage in Luke 12 with these words, familiar from His “end times” discourses:
Luke 12: 8-12 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others 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.”
The undeniable God
In the rabbinical literature of Jesus’ day, the expression Holy Spirit had become the preferred way to refer to the Spirit of the LORD. It was preferred because the latter expression contained the tetragrammaton, the Name LORD that we transliterate into English as Yahwe or Jehovah but which no Jew would ever dare to pronounce.
This Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord, is all over Scripture. It was the expression of God that hovered over the waters in Genesis, at the beginning of creation. The Holy Spirit was the One who infilled the prophets and gave them supernatural power and the ability to hear the voice of the Lord. The Holy Spirit appears time and again in the stories of the Old Testament whenever the Will of the Living God intersects the life of His beloved children in this world.
When God chose to make humanity in His image, He did so by making us living spirits; spirits just like His. And because we were made in the image of God, our spirits have always had the irrevocable power to recognize His Spirit, the Holy Spirit. So, when Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit, He is talking about the undeniable God.
This means that that Pharisee, who in his hypocrisy blinds himself to the omnipresence of God, knows all along, deep inside, he is lying to himself. And it means that every human being in this world knows, deep inside, that God exists and that He is the only one worthy to be worshiped.
But if that is true, how come there are so many that claim they do not believe in God? The answer is: The same way that that Pharisee, expert in the Law, who knows absolutely better, can live a life of hypocrisy. We are all experts at repressing uncomfortable truths. We know how to hide them from ourselves, in deep dark places, and pretend they are not there.
But the good news is that the Holy Spirit is the undeniable God.
This is why, in this context of Luke 12, Jesus uses that Name for God. His enemies could choose to reject Jesus by appealing to the fact that he was a man just like them. They could choose to reject his claims about “his Father” on the same grounds. After all, in spite of all their demands for a sign from heaven to confirm the authority of this “so called” Father, Jesus never produced such a sign.
BUT Jesus knew they could never cast doubt or reject the authority of the Spirit of the Lord and get away with it. Because He knew they knew better. All humanity knows better.
It is for that reason that I do not have to convince anyone about the Truth of God. All I am called to do is shine enough of God’s light to cut through the darkness so that you can see what you knew all along: that God Loves you.
Matthew 5: 14-16 *Ye* are the light of the world: a city situated on the top of a mountain cannot be hid. Nor do [men] light a lamp and put it under the bushel, but upon the lamp-stand, and it shines for all who are in the house. Let your light thus shine before men, so that they may see your upright works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens.
As a follower of Jesus, I am a witness for the Kingdom of God. And to cave in to fear of what a man (or demon) can do to me – that is, to deny Jesus – is not only stupid, it is a deadly choice. I was given life in order that I might reach other people in this world. Wilfully defaulting on that responsibility is tantamount to rejecting God.
Not only is my capitulation to fear of man a waste of my life, it is also a waste of the consequences of my life. For, regardless of what my enemy throws at me, God has my life in His hands. Yes, Jesus said, In the world ye shall have tribulation… But that’s precisely what this is about: That very situation I dread, that very pain I want to escape from, may be precisely the last chance my enemies, or the people of the world observing my life, may have to hear and see the Word of God in action.
I don’t have to come up with a brilliant defense or a devastating argument to contradict my accusers. No, the Holy Spirit Himself is more than happy to work through my life at that moment. In fact, He wants to. Because if there is any way He can save those who are trying to destroy me, He counts it all worth it…
So should I.