Recognizing the times. Part 2: What are you afraid of?

Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel is about getting prepared for the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus started the conversation by addressing the first obstacle that gets in our way, namely, the leaven of hypocrisy: Claiming with my lips to love God but living and believing the opposite in my heart. The next obstacle he is going to address is fear. Are these two obstacles connected? Yes. The Pharisees are the proof.

The Pharisees stand out in the gospels because Jesus is constantly at odds with them, even publicly rebuking them for their hypocrisy. Yet, we know the sin of hypocrisy was not exclusive to them. Lots of people in this world live by a double standard. They judge themselves by their intentions but judge others by their actions. When they make mistakes, they give themselves a lot of slack but when it comes to the mistakes of others, they are hard-liners. Have you ever met people like that?

Yep, again, look in the mirror.

So, why did Jesus single the Pharisees out for this sin? And why did he do it so harshly?  With most of the people, we could call Jesus’ approach to their sins a gentle directness. With words and actions, he simply let them know, ‘you know this is wrong, so what are you going to do about it?’ But not so with the Pharisees. Why?

(1) They knew better. And, (2) they had authority; they influenced other people.

As lifelong students of the Law, they knew the Truth. The Law has always taught that what God cares about is the state of my heart. They knew that God is Spirit and that, as David says in Psalm 51, what He seeks is “truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden [part] wisdom… because what He wants is not really Temple sacrifice; no, the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart. That, He will not despise.”

The problem with that being the standard is that for me to be true, deep in my heart, requires that I admit to God that I have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We have to accept that we are broken, and let that reality lead us into repentance. (Remember, blessed are they that mourn.)

But the Pharisees were too proud to accept that. And so, they deluded themselves. They lived their lives pretending that God could not see their hearts. It’s like when toddlers play peek-a-boo. They close their eyes and because they cannot see you, they think you cannot see them. Yes, it’s silly. But that’s precisely what we do… because God is invisible: I cannot see Him looking at me, so it’s not so far-fetched to pretend, to hope, to gamble that He is looking the other way when I do wrong.

Ahh… but the world around us is not invisible. We see it and all the people in it. And if I can see them, then they can see me. The Pharisees knew the world around them could see their every move. So began the masquerade: Fearing the judgment of the world around them, more than God’s judgment, they became experts at appearing to be super-righteous on the outside.

Jesus challenged them on this, many times…

John 5:44 How can ye believe, [you] who receive glory one of another, and seek not the glory which [comes] from God alone?

Matthew 23:1-5 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have set themselves down in Moses’ seat: all things therefore, whatever they may tell you, do and keep. But do not after their works, for they say and do not, but bind burdens heavy and hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of men, but will not move them with their finger. And all their works they do to be seen of men: for they make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders [of their garments] …

There is a touch of irony here: The Pharisees went to all this trouble to appear righteous before men, and yet, the way Jesus speaks here to the people, matter-of-factly, makes it clear that they all could see right through the façade. They too knew the Pharisees were hypocrites.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”

In their zeal to pretend God is blind, the Pharisees blinded themselves, not only to the realities of God but also the realities of people. And these were the very people they were supposed to teach about God and righteousness! How effective do you think they were? Blind guides indeed.

Hypocrisy is most dangerous when it is found in a leader, a teacher, a supposed person of God. This is the reason Jesus was so harsh with the Pharisees. Hypocrisy is not just a lie; it is a lie impossible to hide. And if the people you are trying to impress with your righteousness, know it is all a sham, if they know you are lying about yourself, why shouldn’t they assume that what you are teaching is also a lie?

When Fear becomes deadly

Fear of man is the root of hypocrisy. If all that meant was that I live my life as a lie, that would be bad enough. But not only does that leaven spread throughout my soul, it also contaminates everything I touch. And as a leader, that consequence is deadly:

Matthew 18:6-7 (NASB) “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”

You see, I can lie to others about myself all I want. In the end, I am the only one I will destroy. But if I lie to others about God, mislead them, and they believe me, I have become a destroyer of lives… the lives of the children of God. Their Father in Heaven will not stand for that.

This is serious. And this is why the transition to this subject, at the beginning of chapter 12 of Luke is so jarring:

Luke 12:1-5 … He began to say to his disciples first, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy; but there is nothing covered up which shall not be revealed, nor secret that shall not be known; therefore whatever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light, and what ye have spoken in the ear in chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

But I say to you, my friends, Fear not those who kill the body and after this have no more that they can do. But I will shew you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yea, I say to you, Fear *Him*.

If you had been there and heard this, wouldn’t that transition have given you pause? One moment He is talking about the (well-known) hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who thought they could keep their sins secret, and the next moment, just as we are nudging each other and nodding knowingly at Jesus’ words, He is talking about Death and Hell.

But that is the choice that we are all going to face at the coming of the Messiah: Either we accept the mercy offered us and reap life eternal in the Kingdom of God or we reject that mercy and end up where our deeds were leading us all along. Jesus is about to tell his audience that we cannot afford to let fear make that choice for us.

What are you afraid of?

In the Proverbs, Solomon tells us several times: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We know that in that context, the word “fear” means more than just the emotion of being afraid. It means awe. It means reverence. Yes, it is the same Hebrew word used for “terror” but there is a reason for that: To the Hebrews, fearing Jehovah is the proper way to describe the reaction to the reality of God’s majesty, His holiness, His infinite power.

This GOD is not just another god. He is the Only True God, the Maker of the Universe, the One who made us – and everything we need – out of nothing. He is the only One who deserves to be worshiped and served with my life. And to the Hebrews, one word captures that reality and all its consequences: Fear.

In fact, I would say that Fear of the Lord is the one true fear, the only fear we should ever feel; the right kind of fear… because it is the recognition of the reality of GOD and all the consequences that follow from that.

Our human fears are usually our reaction to the unknown, dread at all the ways things could go wrong, because we don’t have control of the future that we cannot see (whether it be immediate or distant, whether it be a catastrophe caused by ourselves or others). But if that is true, if that is the root of our human fears, doesn’t that mean that it arises from assuming that no one is watching over us? Doesn’t human fear arise from not trusting our Heavenly Father’s Love?

1 John 4:16-19 And *we* have known and have believed the love which God has to us. God is love, and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Herein has love been perfected with us that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, that even as *he* is, *we* also are in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has torment, and he that fears has not been made perfect in love.

*We* love because *he* has first loved us.

God’s Love is assured. As John reminds us here, He already proved He can be trusted. He first Loved us.

So, it is no wonder that when other gods, or people, or world powers want to control us, their weapon of choice is fear. It is a double “whammy”; not only does human fear incapacitate us, it erodes our trust of God. But human fear is a counterfeit fear, a puny fear, a worthless fear in comparison. As David says:

Psalm 56:11 In God have I put my confidence: I will not fear; what can man do unto me?

Likewise, Isaiah warned us:

Isaiah 8:11-13 For Jehovah spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and he instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Ye shall not say, Conspiracy, of everything of which this people saith, Conspiracy; and fear ye not their fear, and be not in dread. Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

The point is: No one is more powerful than God. And this is what Jesus is trying to get us to see:

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two assaria? and one of them is not forgotten before God. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore, ye are better than many sparrows.

The assarion was a small copper coin, and a sparrow (any small bird) was about the smallest morsel you could cook over a fire on a spit. In fact, Matthew tells us elsewhere that two sparrows were sold for an assarion. So, the verse here in Luke tells us that if you bought four, they gave you one for free.

If the life of one sparrow, the most insignificant bit of food a man could purchase, is noticed by God, how much more does He notice my life? The Maker of the Universe knows me completely and intimately. And He is omnipresent, all knowing, and all powerful. Nothing that happens to me in my life comes as a surprise to my Father in Heaven.

When a storm of life hits, it may feel like a disaster to me, a shock, an insurmountable problem, a death sentence. But the fact is, my Father saw it all, way before it happened, as clearly and precisely as He sees the outcome that can come afterwards if I put it all in His hands.

All I have to do is trust Him. All I have to do is recognize the reality that He has ALL the power and that He LOVES me, and then act accordingly. If I know He is God, then I don’t need to fear the future, the world, the devil, or any other enemy that comes my way. If I trust Him, that is what my life will declare.

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