Dec 15, 2013

Fearing God

Luke 12:1–7

On the day of judgment, everything that has been hidden in this life will be revealed. Should this fact bring us relief—or dread? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke and considers how we should respond to the warnings and promises that Jesus makes about the last day.


We will continue this morning with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We will start a brand-new chapter, chapter 12. I will be reading from Luke 12:1–7:

In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

This teaching from our Lord Jesus Christ may be numbered among the expressions He made that are called the “hard sayings.” They are hard because He asks us to consider the painful consequences we may face on the day of judgment. This is a warning that few people heed or care about at all, but it comes with the authority of almighty God, and I urge you to receive it as such. Let us pray.

Our Father, when we come to this sacred text that You have been pleased to give Your church through the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, we hear things in it that are sometimes frightening, things we are not inclined to receive with joy. But every word that comes from Your mouth is life itself. So, what You say is a delight to our hearts when we receive it in and by Your Spirit. Give us understanding and hearts receptive to the truthfulness of Your Word. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Trampling Crowds to See Jesus

The chapter divisions and verses that we find in the Bible were not in the original manuscripts. I sometimes wonder if an itinerant preacher riding around on horseback put the chapter divisions in, because they do not always make a lot of sense. Certainly, the beginning of chapter 12 could fit very nicely in the conclusion of chapter 11. But when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, He did not say, “That’s the end of chapter 11; let’s start with chapter 12.”

Chapter 12 begins with what flows naturally out of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees, by which He gave them the oracle of woe and pronounced judgment upon them, principally because of their hypocrisy. After He left the Pharisee’s house in that encounter, we pick up the history in verse 12, where Luke says, “In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another.”

Everywhere Jesus went, huge thronging crowds followed Him, people who wanted to see every miracle He performed or hear every word from His lips. Perhaps word got around that Jesus was eating at the home of the Pharisee, and as word of mouth spread, the crowds came in greater numbers to await His appearance. They were so eager to see Him, and the multitude was so great, that people began to trample one another to get to Him. That is how excited people were to come and see Jesus. Would that we had such a problem on Sunday mornings, that our crowds were so great we had to institute safeguards to keep you from trampling each other. By the grace of God, nobody, to my knowledge, has ever been trampled to injury by rushing to hear me speak. In any case, that was what happened when they wanted to hear from Jesus.

Dangerous Leaven

Jesus first addressed His disciples and then, consequently, the crowds. The first thing He gave was a warning, saying to His disciples—presumably not merely the Twelve but the larger number of disciples He had—“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

This was not the only time our Lord used the metaphor of leaven as an example of something that can have destructive power. He was speaking of a little thing that, when applied to a substance, can be pervasive and fill it up. He was saying that just a little bit of hypocrisy, when it enters your life, is like the camel who puts his nose into the tent and, before you know it, occupies the tent to such a degree that he expels the owner.

Jesus was saying, “Just a little bit of leaven, just a little bit of Pharisee-ism and play-acting, of pretending, of deceitfulness—if you allow it in your life, you will not be able to contain it. It will spread like a cancer. It will fill your soul and destroy your character.”

All Will Be Discovered

Jesus said to be careful of living a deceitful life and spoke of the consequences: “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” Any attempt to hide ourselves from the world and maintain an inauthentic facade of righteousness, at some point, will certainly be exposed, “for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed.”

Think back to the very first sin committed by human beings. As soon as Adam and Eve transgressed the law of God, they immediately experienced awareness of their nakedness. It was an awareness of shame, and their natural response to their shame was to hide, to flee from the presence of God and hope that even God would not be able to know and see what they had done.

There is an old story of a small town where somebody sent a letter to the men of the town and said, “Flee, all has been discovered.” Twenty or so men fled from town. That is not really funny, because all of us have things about ourselves, about our lives, of which we are ashamed and do not want anybody else to know. So, we like to pretend those things are not part of our character.

Jesus said, “Be careful.” In the first place, leaven can destroy you. In the second place, all attempts to conceal our sin will ultimately be futile, because everything currently covered will be revealed, and there is nothing hidden that will not be made known.

“Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed,” not on the radio or television, but in that day, by shouting from the housetops. It will not be by rumor that spreads from person to person, but instead a shout so that everyone will hear the truth.

The Judgment Day Disclosure

What was Jesus referring to when He said that all would be revealed? On another occasion, Jesus spoke of the consequences of hiding in the context of the last judgment, where He said that every idle word we speak will be brought into judgment. That includes everything we said in private that we do not want people to know we said, and everything we have done in the darkness of privacy that we do not want people to see. Everything we have ever said and everything that we have ever done will be made manifest on the day of judgment.

Many Christians are under the misguided idea that Christians do not have to worry about this disclosure on judgment day. They assume it is only the pagan, the corrupt, or the Pharisee who must fear the ultimate disclosure of the truth of our character on judgment day. After all, we have passed from judgment to life, and we know that one of the consequences of our justification is that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

If you are Christian, you do not have to worry about being condemned by God on the last day. On the last day, your judge and your defense attorney will be Jesus Christ. However, even though our entrance to Heaven is not based in any way upon our good works and our good works contribute nothing to our salvation, every one of us will be evaluated on that day according to our works. All the things we have hidden will be made clear so that the truth about our obedience, sanctification, and profession of faith will be made manifest before God, the angels, and all people.

Real Character Revealed

I would like to take a moment to read a quote from a theologian for whom I have enormous respect. From old Princeton, Charles Hodge writes these words on the final judgment:

The ground or matter of judgment is said to be the “deeds done in the body,” men are to be judged “according to their works;” “the secrets of the heart” are to be brought to light. God’s judgment will not be founded on the professions, or the relations of men, or on the appearance or reputation which they sustain among their fellows, but on their real character and on their acts, however secret and covered from the sight of men those acts may have been. God will not be mocked and cannot be deceived; the character of every man will be clearly revealed.

Then he makes three points about this final revelation of our character: “The character of every man will be clearly revealed. (1.) In the sight of God. (2.) In the sight of the man himself. All self deception will be banished.” For the first time, we will see ourselves as we really are.

One thing I have often said about God’s grace in the process and progress of our sanctification is that He does not reveal all our sin to us at once. If God revealed to me in this moment all the failures and corruptions of my life, I would not be able to stand it, and neither would you. But so gracious is our God that He slowly and tenderly convicts us of our sin by the influence of the Holy Spirit as He brings us into conformity to Himself.

Hodge goes on to say: “Every man will see himself as he appears in the sight of God. His memory will probably prove an indelible register of all his sinful acts and thoughts and feelings. His conscience will be so enlightened as to recognize the justice of the sentence which the righteous judge shall pronounce upon him.” Let me stop there for a second.

One way that sacred Scripture characteristically describes the last judgment is with respect to the silence of those who receive the judgment of God. Every tongue will be stopped when God reveals my sin. I will immediately know the truth of God’s judgment and the futility of trying to argue about it, rationalize it, or defend it. When God’s verdict comes upon me and my character, that verdict is final, and there is nothing more to be said.

Hodge continues, “All whom Christ condemns will be self-condemned. (3.) There will be such a revelation of the character of every man to all around him, or to all who know him, as shall render the justice of the sentence of condemnation or acquittal apparent,” so that everyone present at that judgment will know our guilt or innocence of the matter.

Perfect Justice, Perfect Knowledge

The reality of what will take place at the last judgment may be an oppressive thought to some, but it is really one of the most liberating thoughts that the New Testament gives, for several reasons.

You might hear the complaint again and again that there is no justice in this world. There are many times where justice is frustrated and not established, but that will not happen at the last judgment. In that judgment, perfect justice will prevail, and there will be no injustice whatsoever. It is a wonderful thought to realize that in the grand scope of things, finally, ultimately, justice will prevail.

It is also liberating to know that there is nothing we can hide from God, either here or in the future. That is why David said: “Oh God, You’ve searched me and known me. You know everything about me. If I ascend into Heaven, You’re there; if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there. Before a word is formed on my lips, Thou knowest it altogether.” Then David said: “Lord, search me and know me. Cleanse me from my hidden faults. I do not even know the extent of my own disobedience. I do not know the extent of my corruption. Show it to me so I can flee from it.”

While the pagan trembles at the rustling of a leaf and seeks to hide from the all-seeing eye of God, the believer should delight in knowing that God knows us altogether, and even though He knows us altogether, He redeems us altogether.

The Fear of God

Jesus went on to say: “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast you into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”

When we talk about the fear of God in Scripture, such as when the Old Testament wisdom literature says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” we are quick to say that the fear the Bible speaks of is not a servile fear that a prisoner has for his torturer, but rather a filial fear of offending our Father. It has more to do with living before God in a sense of awe and reverence. That is true as far as it goes, but the word in our text is not translated “reverence.” It is not translated “awe.” As important as those elements are, still, the operative word is “fear.” Even the Christian needs to understand a godly fear, what it means to fear God in a righteous way.

Even though we are to come before Him boldly and we can call Him Father, He is not our chum, He is not our pal, He is the Lord God omnipotent. When He appears, we are on our face before Him, trembling before His majesty.

It is said in the Bible that there is no fear of God before the eyes of the ungodly. It is amazing to me how fearless the average person is of God. How is it possible that a creature made in the image of God, who lives impenitently in rebellion against God, has no fear of what he is doing?

God Abhors the Wicked

In over fifty years of ministry, I have only had two people tell me that they came to faith in Christ because they were overwhelmed by a fear of hell. Two persons.

People go through life without believing in hell. If there is a hell, they are not afraid that they will go there. They figure, if there is a God, that Heaven would not be right if we were not included in its membership. Not only that, but you have how many ministers, how many times, telling people in this world that God loves them unconditionally? Who should ever be afraid of a God who loves them unconditionally?

I cannot find anywhere in the Bible that God loves you or me unconditionally. Rather, by nature we are estranged from Him, and we are told in the Scriptures that He abhors the wicked. The Bible says He abhors the wicked, while the preacher says He loves them unconditionally.

If God loves people unconditionally, then you do not have to worry about conditions like repenting or coming to Christ and confessing your sins. There are no conditions. God loves you. But the kingdom of God is not Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The kingdom of God is ruled by a just and holy Creator, for whom we should have fear.

Jesus was saying: “You are afraid of strong people. You are afraid of criminals who might attack, maim, and even kill you and destroy your body. Don’t be afraid of them. The worst that can happen to you at their hands is for them to kill your body. Once you’re dead, they can’t harm you anymore. Rather, fear the One who not only can kill your body, but after you’re dead, can send you to hell forever.” He said, “Fear Him, who after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him.”

Significance under the Gaze of God

After talking about fearing God, Jesus added these words: “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” If we stopped right there, that would be enough to intensify our fear, would it not?

Jesus was saying that God knows every single thing about us. This is the only occasion I know of where some men are glad to be bald, because then they are not under such close scrutiny from their Creator. Every hair on our head is numbered. Every time a sparrow lands on the ground, it does not escape the notice of God.

The very concept of omniscience is a concept we cannot comprehend. How is it possible for God to know everything there is to know about everything there is to be known—every thought, every word, every hair on our head? You would think this was an opportunity for Jesus to compound His charge for us to fear God, but then He added on to it these startling words: “Do not fear.” First, He said, “Fear,” then He said, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Fear God, but in that fear of God, do not think that under the gaze of God you are reduced to insignificance.

Even though God knows everything about you as a believer and as His child, He places a value upon you that is incalculable. On the one hand, we should fear Him. On the other hand, we should not fear, because He has redeemed us in His sight. Do not fear, for you matter to your Father.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.