Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel repeats many of the words and themes from the Sermon on the Mount. But, at the beginning of His ministry, the Sermon taught me how I am called to live as a child of God. Now, later on in the ministry, as the end draws near, when I have heard Him more than once say, “count the cost”, the same words acquire a different meaning. I have to face the question, why have I been called to live as a child of God?
The passage in Luke 12: 22-31 is essentially the same as the corresponding one in the Sermon, talking about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
There, in the Sermon, the emphasis has been on the difference between living in the Kingdom of God and living in the world. The key question that reveals which kingdom I have chosen is: “Whom do I trust?” But, really, this question has been implicit throughout the Sermon:
Can I really ‘turn the other cheek’? Can I really humble myself and seek to bring peace into a broken relationship (when it was not my fault that it got broken in the first place)? Can I really live content with the little I have when I see all sorts of people in the world enjoying the benefits of their lies or their abuses? Can I really leave anger behind and give mercy when no one else offers it to me? Can I love when I am not loved?
I don’t think any of the things Jesus asks of me in that Sermon are possible unless I trust that my Father in Heaven is always here with me, taking care of me. Here in Luke, the message is very much the same:
Luke 12:22-31 And he said to his disciples, For this cause I say unto you, Be not careful for life, what ye shall eat, nor for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than food, and the body than raiment. Consider the ravens, that they sow not nor reap; which have neither storehouse nor granary; and God feeds them. How much better are *ye* than the birds?
But which of you by being careful can add to his stature one cubit? If therefore ye cannot [do] even what is least, why are ye careful about the rest?
Consider the lilies how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I say unto you, Not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these. But if God thus clothe the grass, which to-day is in the field and to-morrow is cast into [the] oven, how much rather you, O ye of little faith?
And *ye*, seek not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, and be not in anxiety; for all these things do the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that ye have need of these things; but seek his kingdom, and [all] these things shall be added to you.
The message is indeed the same but it concludes more forcefully: “Fear not.” That admonition is a difference from the Sermon on the Mount. Yet it is repeated here in Luke 12 several times.
Luke 32-34 Fear not, little flock, for it has been the good pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom.
Sell what ye possess and give alms; make to yourselves purses which do not grow old, a treasure which does not fail in the heavens, where thief does not draw near nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
What am I afraid of? And Why?
That phrase, ‘little flock’, has always stood out to me. It brings up the image of a small flock of sheep, out in the fields, where all sorts of dangers could arise and all sorts of enemies could attack. But as Darby points out in his translation of this passage, the Greek is awkward to translate directly into English. The best way would be to say it like this: “you who are the little flock”. In other words, Jesus is saying, you who are MY little flock.
These words are being addressed to the flock that knows the voice of the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd that has guaranteed He will give His life for His flock. And it is because of that guarantee that the Father has already given us the Kingdom. And if we are living in that Kingdom then we can defer the benefits that we could reap from our worldly treasures and instead use those treasures to sow kindness and mercy all around us. (But if we are not living in the Kingdom, then the uncertainty of the future, the fear of how things can go wrong, will lead us to cling tightly to all that we have in this world, because in them lies our security.)
Throughout the Sermon, Jesus repeatedly urged us to abandon placing our hopes in the rewards this world and its people can offer. We can only do that if our heart is in the Kingdom.
And the more we do it, the more our heart stay fixed on the things of that Kingdom; the more we seek the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Like all habits, it builds up within us through a feedback cycle.
But if I already have the Kingdom, aren’t I done? Haven’t I already done all that He required?
The answer is “no”, and we knew that already from the Sermon. Because so many of those attitudes of life that He wants to see in my life, only become real (as opposed to theoretical) when we live our lives in this world among the rest of the world. That is, as we say, where the rubber meets the road.
And so, Jesus continues…
Be ready, to give it your all
Luke 12:35-40 Let your loins be girded about, and lamps burning; and *ye* like men who wait their own lord whenever he may leave the wedding, that when he comes and knocks, they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those bondmen whom the lord [on] coming shall find watching; verily I say unto you, that he will gird himself and make them recline at table, and coming up will serve them. And if he come in the second watch, and come in the third watch, and find [them] thus, blessed are those [bondmen].
But this know, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be dug through. And ye therefore, be *ye* ready, for in the hour in which ye do not think [it], the Son of man comes.
The children of God are here to be servants of the Lord. And it is a job with responsibilities, with tasks to be done. It is for the sake of doing those tasks that we are called to abandon seeking rewards from this world. But seeking a reward is “built into” our psyche. We use that reality to train our children, and even to help us develop disciplines as adults. God knows that. And so, Jesus reminds us that there is a reward in the end.
If we really believe that, then the time we would spend seeking and courting the favors of this world can all be devoted to doing the work of the Kingdom. But what Jesus is asking of us here seems even more stringent. He wants us to be on watch continually, all the time.
Isn’t that too much to ask? Why must we? What about my needs?
A question of worldview
I think the fact that we all ask that last question means that we all need to take a step back and consider where it is coming from? We all do and say certain things almost instinctively, without preparation; they are already at the tips of our fingers or our tongue. But it is not that they occur without thinking; but rather, that we have already thought about them and chosen an answer. In other words, they come from our worldview: the way we have settled on to look at the world and interpret all that happens in it.
The Sermon on the Mount, comes from a very clear worldview: There are two realities co-existing in this world, indeed competing for our allegiance: The kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God. They are opposites, yes, but they are not equal and opposite. Yet, that claim of equality or equivalence is one of the powerful delusions that the world uses to lure us to its side.
The world will claim that what it has to offer is just as plentiful and satisfying as what the Kingdom of God offers us. Therefore, it will tell us: ‘Really, making a choice is not that big a deal… six of one, half a dozen of the other… Why don’t you taste both? Hey, we don’t mind if you pick and choose a little of each one…’
So, the world doesn’t ask you to work, work, work all the time. Of course, it tells you that if you do, you’ll get to buy, buy, buy whatever you want. But at the same time, it will tell you: ‘but you deserve a break today… You deserve a vacation… why stress all the time about your kids? They’ll grow up fine… you did, didn’t you? And why are you stressing so much about what your wife is feeling or what she is going through…? She’s an adult, just like you. If she needs something, she can get it, she can take care of herself… and if she needs your help, she can ask for it. Hey, you do you! Those people at Church said they needed help… well, God helps those who help themselves.’
You see, the kingdom of the world’s primary tool to enslave us to its ways is to tell us: ‘Life is all about you.’
But that is precisely the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that Jesus warned us about at the beginning of this discourse: To claim to love God above all, and yet, in reality, to love myself even more. That is not possible in the Kingdom of God, because in the Kingdom, the definition of Love is God:
1 john 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God, and every one that loves has been begotten of God, and knows God. He that loves not has not known God; for God is love. Herein as to us has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
In the Kingdom of God, God is Love and Love is God. This is why Kierkegaard said:
“To love God is to love oneself truly, to help another person to love God is to love another person, to be helped by another person to love God is to be loved.”
The world wants to tell us that self-love is to love ourselves, and that it is reasonable, necessary, even mandatory. It is that voice, that all of us have heard growing up in the world, that – faced with the requirement to watch continually – gives rise to the questions:
Isn’t that too much to ask? Why must we? What about my needs?
But the world is wrong. Self-love is not about loving me; it is about choosing God’s love for me. Because of that, self-denial and sacrificing myself for the good of others is part of Love. That is the way Jesus lived:
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…
John 10:17-18 On this account the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it again. I have received this commandment of my Father.
John 15:13 No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.
If that is the way Jesus lived, and He told the Father He is sending us the same way He was sent, then isn’t that the kind of life we should expect, a life of self-sacrifice?
And the question comes up again, but what about me? When do I get a break?
Who knows my heart better than God?
Now, I am aware that in Psychiatry, the tendency to self-sacrifice is considered a schema, that is, a fixed pattern of thought and behaviour through which we interpret the world, a pattern that is at heart negative; a maladaptive pattern stemming from early childhood trauma of some sort.
So, who is right? Jesus or the Psychiatrist? The problem is, again, one of worldview.
Jesus doesn’t ask me to sacrifice my worldly well-being for the sake of other people’s worldly well-being. If that were so, Psychiatry would be right, it’s a losing proposition… because how can someone else’s well-being in this world matter more than my own? It is a matter of logic, of simple justice, that I am not worth less than that other person nor is that other person worth less than me.
BUT… what Jesus is certainly asking me to do is to sacrifice my worldly well-being for the sake of my Heavenly Father’s plan. And there lies the difference. To the Psychiatrist of the world, God does not exist, His will is not part of this equation. But to a child of God, God’s will is the supreme reality and the reason for all things.
That’s the way Jesus lived:
John 5:19 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself save whatever he sees the Father doing: for whatever things *he* does, these things also the Son does in like manner.
John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 12:49 For I have not spoken from myself, but the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what I should say and what I should speak…
John 14:31 but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me…
This requirement of watching continually, of living our lives first for the sake of the Kingdom, is as challenging, as impossible, as all those requirements Jesus placed regarding our attitude in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a radical requirement for all of us.
The answer to the question, “what about my needs?” is straight-forward but not necessarily comforting (to the world): We must ask: What about Jesus’ needs? Did He pursue them first? Or, did He put them in the hands of the Father?
John 13:13-17 Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord, and ye say well, for I am [so]. If I therefore, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet; for I have given you an example that, as I have done to you, ye should do also.
Verily, verily, I say to you, The bondman is not greater than his lord, nor the sent greater than he who has sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.
Who is then the faithful and prudent servant?
Luke 12:41 And Peter said to him, Lord, sayest thou this parable to us, or also to all?
This is an interesting question. We can’t tell what Peter has in mind. Is he perhaps still thinking in terms of the apostles being the inner circle when Jesus is manifested as Messiah? Remember, how they had been discussing among themselves who would be the most important in the royal court of the new Kingdom? Maybe he is thinking that this is the price, that this is what will prove the mettle of those who deserve to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus.
I speculate like this because on another occasion, when Jesus taught them how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom, baffled, several of them said, ‘then who can be saved?’ it was Peter who spoke up…
Matthew 19:27-29 Then Peter answering said to him, Behold, *we* have left all things and have followed thee; what then shall happen to us?
And Jesus said to them, Verily I say unto you, That *ye* who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit down upon his throne of glory, *ye* also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit life eternal.
Jesus finished that answer then by saying: “But many first shall be last, and last first.” In a sense, that is how Jesus answers here.
The way into the Kingdom is open to whomever will…
Luke 12:42-44 And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and prudent steward, whom his lord will set over his household, to give the measure of corn in season? Blessed is that bondman whom his lord [on] coming shall find doing thus; verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he has.
Who is the faithful servant?
The one who serves.
That’s how I can tell whether or not I am a child of God. It’s not what I say, it’s what I do. Isn’t that what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount?
Matthew 7:16-18 By their fruits ye shall know them. Do [men] gather a bunch of grapes from thorns, or from thistles figs? So every good tree produces good fruits, but the worthless tree produces bad fruits. A good tree cannot produce bad fruits, nor a worthless tree produce good fruits.
My mettle, my measure, the truthfulness of my claim to be a disciple is measured by the fruit of my life. And, bearing fruit is not optional… It is mandatory:
Matthew 7:19 Every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Jesus adds here, in Luke:
Luke 12:45-46 But if that bondman should say in his heart, My lord delays to come, and begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken, the lord of that bondman shall come in a day when he does not expect it, and in an hour he knows not of, and shall cut him in two and appoint his portion with the unbelievers.
Luke 12:47-48 But that bondman who knew his own lord’s will, and had not prepared [himself] nor done his will, shall be beaten with many [stripes]; but he who knew [it] not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. And to every one to whom much has been given, much shall be required from him; and to whom [men] have committed much, they will ask from him the more.
We have heard similar words before in some of His parables.
The end is near
This repetition of words and images from the Sermon and the Parables is intentional. It is as if Jesus placed all these threads of doctrine throughout his ministry, and at this moment, in Luke 12, He is drawing them all together to make one point: time is running out, you need to make your choice:
‘If you choose the Kingdom of God, then know that you are rejecting the ways of the world. There is no need to fear because My Father will then watch over you. But, you get stay in this world because you have a mission. And that mission is the same as Mine: to save the world. And the labor is the same as Mine: a labor of love, every day, without pause. Why? Because that is what it will take to save as many as we can…’
That is why He went to the cross:
Luke 12:49-50 I have come to cast a fire on the earth; and what will I if already it has been kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened until it shall have been accomplished!
And when He triumphed at the cross, the arrival of the Kingdom of God into this reality was fixed forever. It was a collision with the kingdom of the world. They are incompatible, and the world and the devil know it. And they will fight back, seeking to destroy as much as they can:
Luke 12:51-53 Think ye that I have come to give peace in the earth? Nay, I say to you, but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided; three shall be divided against two, and two against three: father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
That is what happens when two kingdoms collide. The lines are drawn. And everyone gets to make a choice of where they stand. If the final battle were far out in the future, there would be plenty of time to hem and haw. But time is running out. The final battle is already going on. And everyone has to make a choice.
Luke 12:54-59 And he said also to the crowds, When ye see a cloud rising out of the west, straightway ye say, A shower is coming; and so it happens. And when [ye see] the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it happens. Hypocrites, ye know how to judge of the appearance of the earth and of the heaven; how [is it then that] ye do not discern this time?
And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? For as thou goest with thine adverse party before a magistrate, strive in the way to be reconciled with him, lest he drag thee away to the judge, and the judge shall deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.
I say unto thee, Thou shalt in no wise come out thence until thou hast paid the very last mite.
His point is: If we know how to “count the cost” when it comes to earthly things, and we do whatever it takes to avoid disaster (be it the ruining of our crops, or the losing of a lawsuit), how can we ignore the greatest potential disaster of all?
No one knows when they will face that final battle. But all of us know that it is coming. Because it should be clear to all of us that this world is headed for destruction… as clear as the fact that my life is winding down.