Luke 12:1-53

Luke 12:1‑53  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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(Suggested Reading: Chapter 12:1-53)
The crowd had heard that Jesus was present in the Pharisee's house 11:37. Whether they overflowed into his house or Jesus came outside it to address them, is unimportant. What is important, is to understand the background to His sayings and the great teaching He was bringing out. The background is that the religious leaders of the people had just rejected Him. Since the people themselves were now present, the Lord begins by warning them about their religious leaders. This warning went unheeded, for it was the religious leaders who later stirred up the crowd to crucify Christ. Knowing that this was to befall Him, the Lord next takes up the theme of how His own are to carry on His testimony after He has left this world and gone to His Father. He leaves no stone unturned to let us know the path He has marked out for the faithful. Also He warns us about unfaithful servants, who should profess His Name without really having been born again.
The Secret Evil Working Against Those Who Would Follow Christ—12:1-3
The Lord now goes to the root of things— the secret evil of the Pharisees. They washed the outside of the cup and saucer, but inside they were full of plunder and wickedness. It was all covered up by the deceit of a supposedly clean outward walk— religious externals. The reason they hated Christ was that He exposed the inside— the true condition of things— and ignored the externals on which they prided themselves.
Leaven was a substance the ancients used to make bread rise, much as we use yeast today. Scripture uses leaven in figurative language for the working of the human mind or the flesh in the things of God. Knowledge puffeth up and so the mind of man, without the new birth, merely intrudes into divine things and produces evil. Religious man uses the knowledge he acquires from the Scriptures to make himself important. He denies his true condition as lost, and when this is exposed by the light, the hidden evil working within explodes like the cone of a volcano, erupting in violence against those who bear the light of God's witness.
Open Hatred Expressed Against Those Who Would Follow Christ—4:12
Open hatred produces fear if those hated are in the minority, as Christ's disciples are. So the Lord points out that the fear of man is one thing— the fear of God is another. How much emphasis we place on the body compared to the Lord, who says, "be not afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do." The nature of fallen man is expressed in hidden evil— the unfruitful works of darkness in 12:1 and violence 12:4. The nature of God is light and love. The light exposes the darkness 12:3; His love cares for those who fear Him more than the sparrows— in fact, He numbers the very hairs of our head.
In spite of the warning to fear God, not man, some will think only of their bodies. So encouragement is given to those who confess Christ; warning to those who deny Him. There is forgiveness for those who speak against Christ, but not for those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. This is the last mention of "forgiven" in Luke's gospel. For here we have the unforgiveable sin— attributing the works of Christ— all of which were done in the power of the Holy Spirit— to Satan. Those who committed the unforgiveable sin are found in 11:15. The Apostles, in a way that is not true of other Christians, did mighty works in the Spirit's power, the record of which is given to us in the opening chapters of Acts.
Worldliness—the Trap of Satan—12:13-34
The love of the world is deep in the heart of each of us, and it is something we must judge if we are to be faithful. We might not be guilty of hypocrisy like the Pharisees or be afraid of the world, but, like Achan, we may covet something here. So we find a man asking the Lord to act as Judge between himself and his brother to divide a worldly inheritance. He was probably the aggrieved one or he would not have asked the Lord to arbitrate his case. For His judgment is true. Now a day is coming when the Lord will judge earthly matters, but now He is concerned with men's souls— not their material possessions. It is not that material possessions are wrong in themselves, for they can be used for God. It is the tendency of the human heart to turn them into idols and so shut out God from our lives. The Lord illustrates this with the parable of the rich fool who pulled down his barns to build greater. In Luke 6:2424But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. (Luke 6:24) the Lord had pronounced a woe on the rich— here He begins to spell out the reasons for the woe. Only self-enjoyment was before the rich fool. He abused God's bounty in nature, appropriating it all for himself. He thought of the future in terms of his enjoyment in the body and gave no thought to his eternal soul. In that parable, the curtain hiding our gaze from the unseen world was only partly pulled back. But, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we see the force of the Lord's words— "fear Him who after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.”
Now the Lord does not tell us how much money makes a man rich, any more than He tells us how short a man's hair should be or how long a woman's. Why should this be, seeing He is a God of measure? Well, the answer is that He wants these things to be a matter of exercise in Christianity. In Judaism, there were innumerable regulations on all aspects of daily life. But we are not under law, but grace. This does not justify loose walk. We form moral estimates of things. It is not how much money you own but how highly you value what you have, and whether you use it to exclude God from your life, which determines whether or not you are rich toward God.
Many years ago, I worked in a large engineering organization which had just such a rich fool. True, he probably possessed only a fraction of the wealth of the rich fool in our parable. But his principles were the same. He had a good position in life and plenty of money, which he selfishly used only for his own enjoyment. And he scoffed at all thought of God and his accountability to Him when his life was over. I had just received delivery of a new dictating machine, when in walked this official.
“Let me see how that machine works," he said.
I explained it patiently to him, including the device to play back dictation. He picked up the microphone and began cursing, swearing, and shouting blasphemies into it. Next, with great satisfaction, he turned on the playback switch and listened to his filth. Then he walked away. The last time I saw him, he had had a stroke and was dependent on his wife and daughter. Then he was gone— out of time and into eternity. God, too, has a playback switch, and all that this man said will be played back to him in the Day of Judgment. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened ... and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Rev. 20:1212And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12).
After taking up the folly of ignoring life after death, the Lord would have us not to be overly concerned with this present life. He had already told His own they were more valuable than many sparrows. Next, He reminds them of the ravens. Unlike the rich fool, they have no barns, but God takes care of them. They are much better than the birds— more valuable than sparrows, more cared for than ravens. They couldn't increase the height of their bodies. Why be concerned, then, for the rest— the things that trouble other men, such as pride of race, language, color of skin, etc.? Consider the lilies. God has given them a distinctive color and beauty. We admire and enjoy them, yet they are completely dependent on God for rain and sunshine to grow, and He does not fail them. Now what is the end result of dependence on God? Is it that He fails us? No. The lilies are the apex of dependence. Unlike the birds, they cannot fly elsewhere if food is lacking. "Yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
The Lord now ties together His parable and text from nature's book. His mission was not to divide an inheritance, for He came not to direct men to this world, but to the next. Because they lived here, He held up a mirror to man to expose his worldliness and lack of confidence in God. "If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will He clothe you, O ye of little faith?" Peter, who heard these words, must have thought of them when he wrote later, "for all flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away. But the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you." 1 Peter 1:24, 2524For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. (1 Peter 1:24‑25).
The Lord's sentence on His own is that they are of little faith. How withering! Faith is believing God because He has spoken on any subject— be it the way of salvation or His teaching on how the disciple should conduct his life, as here. Instead of behaving like the nations of the world, which only sought pleasure in worldly satisfaction, they were to seek the Kingdom of God— which is moral— and God would add whatever was necessary for this life. Now the use of the word "faith" in Luke's gospel indicates that the Lord well knew just how far short we would fall from His mind to us. In the opening part 5:20, 7:9, 50; 8:25, 48 we are given an insight into faith as the saving and justifying principle, rather than the law. From "O ye of little faith" on, we are given various pictures of just how feeble our faith is. Reading all this might make us despondent— we of little faith— were it not for the great heart of our God. Those of little faith are called “a little flock," to whom the Father would give the kingdom. The Lord had taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come" 11:2. But Satan's kingdom had intervened. Now they are told “fear not" for the kingdom will be theirs in spite of all Satan's interference. There are seven "fear not's" in Luke's gospel. The first three give us the introduction of Christ into the world— since He is perfect love, He casts out all fear. The last four give us the delivering power of Christ, for the godly remnant— the "little flock"— ending with them having the kingdom. Here they are:
1:13— Fear not Zacharias for thy prayer
1:30— Fear not Mary
2:10— Fear not for behold I bring you
5:10— And Jesus said unto Simon, fear not
8:50— Fear not, believe only
12:7— Fear not, therefore ye are
12:32— Fear not, little flock.
In view of the coming Kingdom, the Lord exhorted the Apostles to sell what they had, give it to the poor, and so lay up treasures in heaven. This they did. When Peter and John were at the beautiful gate of the Temple, Peter said to the lame man, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee." Oh, to have such as Peter had! He demonstrated what he had in the Temple at Jerusalem, but it will be seen even more publicly in the holy city, Jerusalem. "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of My God." Rev. 3:1212Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. (Revelation 3:12)
"Though we pass through tribulation
All will be well;
Ours is such a full salvation,
All, all is well.
Happy still in God confiding;
Fruitful, if in Christ abiding;
Holy, through the Spirit's guiding
All must be well.
“We expect a bright to-morrow;
All will be well.
Faith can sing through days of sorrow
All, all is well.
On our Father's love relying,
Jesus every need supplying;
Or in living, or in dying,
All must be well.”
True and False Servants—12:37-48
In the previous chapter, the Lord had pronounced woes on the Pharisees and lawyers. Here, He pronounces blessings on some of His servants, but not all. In the verses we have just been considering, He has shown the moral features He is looking for in His servants— uprightness instead of hypocrisy, the fear of God, not the fear of man, looking for our hope in heaven, not something in this world. If He finds these things in His servants, well; if not, then He will deal with those who professed that they knew God but in works denied Him.
What the Lord looks for in the faithful servant is a waiting attitude as to His return. He is not concerned with our mental assent to the doctrine of the second coming of Christ, but with our putting the doctrine into practice by a waiting attitude. Our loins are to be girded— the flowing garments of the East interfered with activity unless girded at the loins— and our lights burning— shining here as witnesses in this dark world— for lights do not burn in heaven. This activity and light-bearing was customary at an Eastern wedding before the bridegroom came. Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, will gird Himself and in the activity of divine service will make us rest in all the blessedness and joy of His Father's house. But God has given us no exact point of time as to Christ's return— the second watch or the third watch— which? Who could take anything from that? Even so, a householder would sit up waiting for an intruder if he knew when he would come. With these illustrations as to our being ready to meet Christ without being given a definite point in time as to His return, the Lord concludes His teaching by saying, "Be ye therefore ready also, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”
Peter wants to know to whom this teaching applies. Clearly it applies to those who serve in the Church. If we are faithful and wise stewards, the Lord will make us rulers over His goods. This is a different line of truth from what we have been considering. Those who awaited Christ's return— that is, those who loved Him deeply in their hearts and longed for His coming, are rewarded by Christ's serving them in His Father's house. It is, of course, a service of joy— a ministry of rest. Here, those who have served well in the Church below are rewarded above by ruling over the Master's goods. But again we find servants who only hold the doctrine of Christ's return and with whom it is not an affair of the heart. They do not repudiate the doctrine. They simply say, "My Lord delayeth His coming." This causes them to beat their fellow-servants. Now isn't this the history of the Christian Church? It wasn't the world which burned Christians at the stake once Christianity had been publicly professed. It wasn't the world, but religious leaders who attacked Bible-believing Christians and mocked the inspiration of the Word of life. It was "that servant, which knew his Lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will." Others shall be beaten with few stripes— the nations which professed religions other than Christianity. But the Christian nations and the Apostate Church in their bosom shall be beaten with many stripes. This is the end of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.
However, all things came to an issue among the people themselves, because some had accepted the teaching of their religious leaders, others that of Christ. He is come to send fire on the earth— fire is the symbol of judgment— because, if refused, what else can man's portion be? "I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?" This baptism was the baptism of fire on the cross during the three hours of darkness when the Lord suffered the judgment our sins deserved. He was "straitened" till it be accomplished— that is, His divine affections toward man were pent up like water stored in a dam until the work of redemption He came to do was finished. The preaching of the cross would not unite men but divide them, breaking up families. But those who accept Christ are brought into the marvelous unity of the family of God.