Warning and Consolation
Scripture: Luke 12:1-12
Point one: Hypocrisy is a serious sin in Jesus’ view. And, He also thinks it is dangerous, as evidenced by His beginning with a “beware.” “When so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, He began to say to His disciples, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’” The word “leaven” here is used to indicate “spreading,” as putting leaven into dough would make it swell up. They were spreading hypocrisy, in essence causing other people to become hypocrites and Jesus said that was a very bad thing. A formal definition of hypocrisy is, “a pretense of having a virtuous character or virtuous life, and morality or religious beliefs that one does not possess” - a fake, in other words. A simple description is that the inner life does not conform to the outward life. There is a discrepancy there and that is a dangerous thing. A person comes to church every single service, and runs a business that is stealing from stockholders. A person comes to church every Sunday and does not put money or time into the efforts of the church. The drive to hypocrisy is the desire for public praise or trust or reward. One of the reasons Jesus was probably angry about hypocrisy was another characteristic of hypocrisy – hypocrites tend to be continually judging others negatively. The reason for that is, when they judge others negatively, it makes their righteousness look better. Jesus was into truth. He said that the truth would make you free. But, hypocrisy enslaves. He really thought hypocrisy was a terrible thing.
I want to differentiate deliberate hypocrisy from functional hypocrisy. The one is malignant and the other is entirely benign. What I mean by functional hypocrisy is that all of us, on the journey to faith, are less where we are than where we want to be. If we assess our lives in terms of mature sanctified Christianity, we recognize we are not there. So if we look at ourselves truthfully and honestly, we say, “You know, the fact is I am a hypocrite. I’m not as kind or as good or as giving as I want to be.” That is a functional hypocrisy – it is not deliberate, it is not chosen. In fact, one is very disappointed in it. And that is benign, completely innocent. In fact, one is not doing well on the journey if one is not aware of the fact that there are things that need to continue to grow in our lives. God uses that as an instrument. It is the process, really, of sanctification. Every one of us could say there are some things we need to work on. But, what the Bible makes clear is that God is patient. It is o.k. to be who we are, where we are, while God is changing us into what we can become. So there is a big difference between deliberate hypocrisy and functional hypocrisy. We need to clearly understand that in this Bible verse, God is talking about chosen, deliberate, play-acted virtues that have nothing to do with reality.
Point two: All our secrets are known to God. In verses two and three Jesus says, “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 upon the house-tops.” In the eschaton all secrets will be known. Here Jesus is talking about words, about what one says. But the same issue has to do with deeds. What one has done in the dark will be revealed in the light. Basically what Jesus is saying is that the God of the Universe is omniscient and knows every single thing about the world and also about our souls. Our darkness is already known to Him. We may think it is hidden. We may hide it from somebody else, but not from God. If you are aware of that, it’s scary. But when you think through it, there is a positive side to this that I want to emphasize. It is both a threat and a tremendous comfort that He knows. What I mean by that, since He is omniscient, He also knows our secret good, our secret kindnesses, our secret mercies that we are too modest to talk about. We don’t want to brag on self when we have done something kind or good. (Even though there are times when, if it can be done sensitively and modestly, it is good to share things we have done in order to illustrate, to make a witness, make a testimony in order to spread the Gospel.) But God knows our secret good as well as our secret darkness. Jacques Maritain, the existentialist Catholic theologian, wrote about this very beautifully in his book, Existence and the Existent,
“The idea that we are known to Him who scrutinizes the loins and heart dissolves
us at first in fear and trembling because of the evil that is within us. But on deeper
reflection, how can we keep from thinking that God, who knows us in our nakedness,
our wounds, our secret evil, but also knows the secret beauty of the nature He has
bestowed upon us – the slightest sparks of good and liberty we give forth, all the
impulses of good that we drag from the womb to the grave, the recesses of goodness,
of which we ourselves have no notion. The exhaustive knowledge of God is a loving
knowledge. He knows our goodness as well as our sin.”
He is saying we don’t realize how much goodness there is in us. Don’t ever forget that. He knows the best in us and, in the sanctification process, He wants to diminish residual evil in us and build up the goodness which is there. So, Jesus said there are no secrets with God; but properly understood, that turns out to be a comfort because, one of the odd things about people who are not in faith is that they tend to diminish any conception of evil in their lives (excluding giant evil). They don’t worry about not showing mercy or giving. Christians are the other way around. They see all their own faults and fail to see their benevolences. We still have things to work on, but I also don’t want to downplay the sum total of Christian goodness. If we added up all the goodness that has been done in this one church, “it is such to make the angels sing.” We need to remember that.
Point three: Spiritual death is more dangerous than physical death. In verses four and five, Jesus says that people who can kill you cannot thrust you into hell. Who you really ought to fear is God, not religious authorities, not Pharisees. Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation catches this, “I’m speaking to you as dear friends. Don’t be bluffed into silence and insincerity by the threats of religious bullies. It is true they can kill you, but then what can they do? There is nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God who holds your entire life, body and soul, in His hands.” Fear God, not Pharisees or Romans. But, there are in the world true “two-death” people - people that both kill one physically and kill one spiritually. A classic example of that would be drug dealers. They incite drug addiction; they induce it in kids. They get them hooked – all for money. They die in overdoses all the time and often times, simultaneously, they sink into full spiritual depravity which separates them from God. They are “two-death” people, soul killers for money. We need to fear and to fight double death people, not the Pharisees. They may kill you but they can’t do anything to your soul. You worry about the one who has the power to cast one into hell. It is unfortunate the way Jesus’ words might be interpreted here. He is talking about human killing, but it sounds like He is talking about God – who allows us to die, but doesn’t kill.
I’d like to say here a word about Hell. It is clear from the Gospels that there is damnation in the world for humans. Jesus used the word “hell;” He talked about damnation and salvation. It is something we wish didn’t exist, wasn’t necessary; but, I think it is necessary, although we certainly don’t want to be in it ourselves. Peter Berger says, “There are experiences in which our sense of what is humanly permissible is so fundamentally outraged that the only adequate response to the events, as well as the offender, seems to be a curse of supernatural dimensions. There are certain deeds that cry out to Heaven.” (An example he uses is the Nazis and the Holocaust.) “Deeds that cry out to Heaven also cry out for hell. These are deeds that demand not only condemnation, but damnation in the full religious meaning of the word. That is, that the doer not only puts himself outside the community of humans, he also separates himself in a final way from a moral order that transcends the human community and that involves a retribution that is more than human.” He would say that hanging Adolph Eichmann and the Nazis is not enough. A death penalty is not enough for killing six million humans. It demands God’s damnation. The universe would not be fair if there were only Heaven, when we are made free that we can do these monstrous evils. Hell is not intended for minor things, but for monstrous evils that demand justice, which is God’s damnation.
Point four: We should not fear, because God is our watch-guard from the beginning of life to the end. When Jesus had been mentioning the fear in the point before, that somebody might be cast into hell, He realized that’s scary, so He immediately moved to take away our fear. That is characteristic of Jesus - “Well, I’ve just said something that is very scary, so I need to assure you.” “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies and not one of them is forgotten? Why, even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Fear not, you are ultimately safe in the hands of God, the Father. Part of God’s business is getting rid of fear. That was known before the Gospels. A classic example is in the 34th Psalm. “I will bless Yahweh at all times. His praise shall be on my lips continually. My soul glories in Yahweh. Let the humble hear and rejoice. Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh and together let us extol His name. I seek Yahweh and He answers me and frees me from all my fears. Every face turned to Him grows brighter and is never ashamed.” So Jesus moved from the fear statement to the comfort that Yahweh hears and helps us. If He is God of the sparrows, Jesus says, He is much more the God of His children. You are worth a lot more.
Point five: The one unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. “And I tell you everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” It is interesting. He says, “You know, if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Then He says, “That’s forgivable, but it’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that is not forgivable.” Where you start with the idea of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is with the prologue to John. There, in the Logos Doctrine, we are told that the word of God enters the life of every human. The light of the Word is in the life of every single human that has ever been born. So there is, in each of us, what Aquinas would call “a natural law,” an intuitive understanding of what it means to be human – not fully explained, but there is an intuitive nature, for example, to be kind, to take care of your children, etc. There is no one who has not had the influence of God (even before Christ appeared.) As a consequence, this seems to imply that, even in a primitive intuitive state without the written word or church or anything else, you still have to say “yes” or “no.” And if you say “no” to God, that is unforgivable. It means to not be open to the possibility of God. It means to have a hardened heart, that you do not give a possibility to God - and that is an unforgivable thing. This is not verbal blasphemy. This is not saying, “Well, I don’t believe in a god.” This is deed blasphemy. If you are inhuman to other people, that is blasphemy. It is God that is calling one to be human and if you refuse to do that, it is blasphemy and unforgivable. To say “no” to God is deadly in the literal sense. There is a fate for us that depends on what we say intuitively or to revealed teachings of God - an exclusion in eternity from God - which is the definition of hell. James Denny, the great Scottish theologian, in describing this exclusion said,
“The ideas which seem to me to comprehend all that is of faith on the subject are
those of separation and finality. There is such a thing as being excluded from the
fellowship with God. There is such a thing as final exclusion. It is not for us to say
on whom this awful sentence falls or whether there are many or few. We can trust
the Father of our lord Jesus Christ that it will not fall on any who do not freely and
deliberately pronounce it on themselves.”
They pronounce it on themselves by saying “no” to God. Exclusion does not come to anyone who has not chosen that fate themselves. Now, the God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ knows about extenuating circumstances, about poverty, lack of education. He knows about all these things and exclusion will never be administered unfairly. A child who never has had a chance to learn about morals and so forth is not judged in the same sense as those of us who have had every chance to learn. God only excludes from Heaven those people who choose not to be there and who have the capacity to understand the difference. But, we shouldn’t shy away from the fact, unless you want to shy away from what all the Bible and Jesus Himself says, that there is such a thing as damnation – because there are deeds by humans that cannot get justice without supernatural payment.