Luke 12:1-3 “Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
What a scene! Maybe as many as ten thousand people, perhaps more, and consisting largely of men, pressing forward to hear Jesus speak. It was a situation full of danger, of people being crushed by the crowd. Maybe Jesus’ voice would have carried about 200 metres with the wind which would be the only competing noise. There would be few horses neighing, and scarcely any cattle. When William Gladstone would speak to forty thousand people in a big political rally there would be men raised on chairs at the very edge of the range of hearing him, and these men would shout out his message as they heard it to those thousands who stood out of earshot. The crowds in Jesus’ day were very large, pressing in to listen to our Lord and we are told that some people were in danger of being trampled upon. What days they were.
This chapter is most fascinating because it gives to us an inspired summary of what Jesus said to these people. What was the message that drew them to him? Why did they hang onto his words as they did? Did they hear breezy talks full of the ‘feel good’ factor? Was it all very positive about what an ‘exciting life’ it is to be following the Saviour? Was it full of ‘how to’ snippets, how to be happy, how to cope with growing old, how to have a satisfying married life? Not at all. This great sermon of almost sixty verses in Luke 12, (which has so many overtones of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel), has little ‘feel good’ religion in it at all. It is principally about the living God, and it contains the most stringent ethical teaching, an appeal to the consciences of his hearers and to the day of judgment.
However, before it began, we are told that Jesus looked at his own little band of disciples. Some of them had heard his denunciation of the Pharisees and they could well have been very perplexed at his words. He’d been so severe and relentless in his warnings. His tone was stern even though he wasn’t speaking to ‘sinners’ but to the most influential group of religious people in the whole nation. Should he have picked a fight with them like that? Surely they were moral men? It was then that Jesus turned to his 70 disciples and 12 apostles, ignoring the ten thousand people waiting to hear him speak, and he exhorted them not to be intimidated by the frowns of the Pharisees or bought by their smiles.
JESUS WARNS AGAINST UNGODLY RELIGION.
“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v.1). Jesus began with this note of warning, “Be on your guard!” We live in a world full of warnings don’t we? There are criminals who would take advantage of us, mislead us, steal from us, abuse us and destroy us. As a little boy during the Second World War I saw one particular warning which I barely understood posted up everywhere. It said, “Careless Talk Costs Lives.” Be on your guard as to who might be listening to you when you talk, for example, about where your son is serving in the army. Today we wait in line for our turn at the cash dispenser and when we take out our credit card our eyes are confronted with a warning to be on guard lest other people should read our personal code. Perhaps we are flying somewhere and at the airports there are all the security checks that are saying, “We have to be on our guard against terrorists.” There are the announcements not to leave any luggage unattended. Be on your guard! Don’t let anyone cross your threshold without some official notification proving that this man has the authority to enter. Be on your guard for crooks, thieves, false prophets. We tell our children to be on their guard against strangers who invite them into their cars.
The Lord Jesus would have been the most foolish man this world has ever known if he’d told his disciples never to make any judgments at all, to pretend they hadn’t noticed people’s wickedness, to suspend their rational faculties and eschew all criticism, to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil, but simply accept what everybody said. “Believe them all . . . the long and the short and the tall . . . the fantasists – those who believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden, and visitors from outer space, the Satan lovers, the people who are sure the earth is flat, the men who want to bomb the Western World back into the stone age. Don’t judge anyone!” If Christ had spoken like that he would have been a long forgotten simpleton, who never left a mark on world history, but he didn’t think like that. He was a man of steel who made righteous, wise judgments. Certainly he told us never to be harsh when we judged others, not to be censorious, and self-righteous, almost enjoying seeking out people’s failures, putting the worst possible construction on their behaviour, ungenerous towards their mistakes while setting ourselves up as censors. Christ is condemning all of that, but he is not asking us to suspend our critical powers, because that is part of the image of God which distinguishes us from the beasts.
So it was on this occasion, before Jesus preached to the ten thousand people aching to hear him, that he called his disciples to one side. They were still startled from listening to his dealing so bluntly with the Pharisees. Yet he made no apologies for his words, rather now he applies all he has said to the Pharisees to his own disciples; you must “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v.1). Do you heed this warning? Do you realise that God has brought you here today first of all to speak to you about becoming more discerning and less gullible, to become more mature and not like a little child. Isn’t that a worthy aim? Think of it, that one day I went to church and I learned that lesson. Please realise that God hasn’t brought you here to become more censorious, and self-righteous. He hasn’t drawn you to this congregation for you to become the self-appointed shop-steward of everything that goes on in the church demanding, “Who gave the young people the right to do those things? Why is the pastor doing this, or going there? Why aren’t the elders doing that?” You have no need to be taught how to do that. Sin will make you an expert in those things very quickly. Rather, be on your own guard! Watch yourself first of all, not others.
So what is this, “the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy”? What was it in the religion and philosophy and lifestyle of the Pharisees which raised such ire in the Saviour? I will tell you six things very simply about how they lived:
i] They displayed a servile adherence to the letter of the law. If the law mentioned ‘tithing’ then they became obsessed with tithing everything they could think of. If the law said ‘Sabbath’ then they spelled out in 65 or so prohibitions and 45 or so precepts as to how the Sabbath was to be observed. If the law said ‘purify yourself’ then there were scores of regulations as to how to wash. If the law said ‘unclean’ then there were hundreds of laws about unclean foods and unclean animals and unclean places and unclean times of the month. That is what I mean by a servile adherence to the letter of the law. Hyper-legalists!
ii] They made sure that the people of the land did what they told them. The men and women of Galilee were hemmed in on every side and burdened in every way with numerous and trifling precepts. The Pharisees were the religious police force or traffic wardens or the CCTV cameras of the nation, checking up on everybody and everything they did. They were the thought police, the K.G.B and the Khomeini of the ancient world. They even had their own special constables whom they could send to arrest someone like Jesus and bring him to their courts.
iii] Their whole emphasis was on form, not substance, on outward appearance, not inward spirit, on small details not on the great rules of life. Jesus spoke of the “weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, faith” which were neglected by the Pharisees. Trifling questions as to how far you could walk on the Sabbath before you sinned took the place of serious inquiry on how we can love God with all our hearts and love our neighbours as ourselves.
iv] The Pharisees sought to draw attention to themselves in the most ostentatious manner, sprinkling ashes over their heads if they were fasting and walking down the street like grey ghosts, praying aloud on street corners, pouring their donations into the Temple funds by emptying bags of noisy small change into the metal ram’s horn receptacles, enlarging the borders of their coats, striving for the best seats in the synagogues, and the top places at meals to which they’d been invited. The whole spirit of humility and unworthiness and repentance for sin was unappreciated by them.
v] They shunned the lower classes, the fallen women, and the broken poor as disreputable people beneath their contempt. There was a snobbishness about them. Instead of showing compassion to such men and women they made them their prey and took advantage of them. They were cold to their feeble aged parents and often gave up any responsibility of caring for them.
vi] They used all their power and influence to make people as narrow as they were. That is how they regarded a true ‘convert,’ he was a person who had become just as legalistic as themselves.
That was the religion and practice of the Pharisees. They combined a complete lack of self-understanding with a yearning to be esteemed, and an unlimited sense of entitlement. Wanting celebrity was enough for them. The desire equalled the deserving. They are us! They are just like the contestants who appear on the X Factor watched by millions. I read that one contestant last week said, “I want the whole world to know who I am. It would be priceless, like Mastercard.” Another said, “I want to be somebody. I want to be someone people talk about.” The worst of the contestants of the X Factor beg, plead and weep to be kept on the show. They don’t want money, the only want recognition. That was the longing of the Pharisees. I repeat to you that they are us.
In the last forty years it has become a trend in the sphere of liberal New Testament writers to put the Pharisees in the best possible light, to consider that they were a good religious influence in the land. I have seen very little evidence for such an assertion, and much that is contrary to it in the New Testament. I have an infallible Teacher who can say no wrong. I trust Jesus’ judgment of the Pharisees. I believe what the Holy Spirit wrote about them in the gospels. I feel that this new sympathetic attitude to them is simply the influence of multi-faith, that it reflects the widespread religion of works and not grace that is the dominant belief system of our civilization. That is the reason for this scholastic reassessment. I stick by those six evaluations of the religion of the Pharisees, and as that is how they lived you can appreciate how earnest our Lord was in warning his disciples about their activities.
But notice that Jesus talks of their ‘yeast’ or their ‘leaven.’ He doesn’t leave us guessing. He tells us in our text that by ‘yeast’ he was referring to their hypocrisy. What does he mean? The particular wickedness of the Pharisees was this, that they themselves didn’t put into practice what they preached to others. They preached all the old virtues, but they practiced all the old vices. They told others to be meticulous in keeping the law when they themselves were anything but careful in obeying God’s commandments. They seared the consciences of the simple folk of the land who were made to feel guilty about many details of perfectly ordinary behaviour. When the common people saw those swaggering Pharisees walking down the road in their religious costumes and then praying long loud prayers on street corners then they would sigh and they’d say, “We’ll never be religious like that. We will never get to heaven. We’re not pleasing God by what we are doing.” Now if you feel like that you can go one of two ways; you can say, “Who cares about any rules? I’m going to enjoy life” and throw all morality aside, or you can sink into black depression. That is the yeast of the Pharisees. That is the impact it had upon the land. So, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v.1). If there are signs of it you might spot in this congregation you point them out to an elder. There is a tendency towards encouraging the yeast of the Pharisees in every gospel church.
Notice that Jesus did not think that simply for his disciples to have been with him for the past two years, and hearing his teaching and seeing his life, that that was sufficient. He didn’t feel that he would never need to warn these boys of false prophets and urge them to be on their guard. They had heard the Sermon on the Mount, and they had seen the miracles, and they felt loved when they were in his presence, and yet he still felt it necessary very often in his ministry to take them apart and speak a serious word to them, “Before I say anything to these crowds of people I have a few words to say to you. The Pharisees have a bad religion, and what is pernicious about it is this. They lay burdens on others that they do not carry themselves. They are hypocrites. That is the leaven of the Pharisees. I don’t want you to develop attitudes like that. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v.1). Let us lay these words to heart and beware of hypocrisy. It will take us to hell; but there was another solemn warning to his disciples before Jesus addressed the eager crowds.
2.JESUS WARNS THAT THE LIVES OF ALL MEN WILL BE EVALUATED.
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (vv.2&3). The Pharisees were hypocrites. They largely succeeded in disguising the state of their hearts from most people, but not from the living God. They could not do that. They could hide nothing from him; all would be revealed. Now there are a number of strands here, and I want to separate them for they are all important.
i] God is an omniscient God, one who knows everything. There are people who have gone to church regularly for years and, can you believe it, they have never heard a sermon about God. You would think that that is impossible, but alas, all too often, the preacher never speaks about God; he just mentions him en passant. The following words are from a preacher who did speak and write about God, and this is what he said about God knowing all it is possible to know:
“God is omniscient. He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, of the past, the present and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth and in hell. ‘He knoweth what is in the darkness’ (Dan. 2:22). Nothing escapes his notice, nothing can be hidden from him, nothing is forgotten by him. Well may we say with the Psalmist, ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it’ (Psa. 139:6). His knowledge is perfect. He never errs, never changes, never overlooks anything. ‘Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do’ (Heb. 4:13). Yes, such is the God with whom we ‘have to do’!
“‘Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue but, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether’ (Psa. 139:2-4). What a wondrous being is the God of Scripture! Each of his glorious attributes should render him honourable in our esteem. The apprehension of his omniscience ought to bend us in adoration before him. Yet how little do we meditate upon this divine perfection! Is it because the very thought of it fills us with uneasiness?
“How solemn is this fact: nothing can be concealed from God! ‘For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them’ (Ezek. 11:5). Though he be invisible to us, we are not so to him. Neither the darkness of night, the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon can hide any sinner from the eyes of Omniscience. The trees of the garden were not able to conceal our first parents. No human eye beheld Cain murder his brother, but his Maker witnessed his crime. Sarah might laugh derisively in the seclusion of her tent, yet was the laugh was heard by Jehovah. Achan stole a wedge of gold and carefully hid it in the earth, but God brought it to light. David was at much pains to cover up his wickedness, but before long the all-seeing God sent one of his servants to say to him, ‘Thou art the man!’ And to writer and reader is also said, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Num. 32:23).
“Men would strip Deity of his omniscience if they could – what a proof that ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God’ (Rom. 8:7)! The wicked do as naturally hate this Divine perfection as much as they are naturally compelled to acknowledge it. They wish there might be no Witness of their sins, no Searcher of their hearts, no Judge of their deeds. They seek to banish such a God from their thoughts: ‘They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness’ (Hosea 7:2). How solemn is Psa. 90 and verse 8! Good reason has every Christ-rejecter for trembling before it: ‘Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance’” (Arthur Pink, The Attributes of God, Baker distributed, pp. 13&14).
That is the foundation of these words of Jesus, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (vv.2&3). That is why it was important for the disciples to realise the desperate state of the Pharisees. Concerning their religious testimony they could fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time but they could not pull the wool over the eyes of the Ancient of Days for a mini-second. God knew all about them.
But the comfort of knowing that God is omniscient, that he knows everything, is not in order that we wag our fingers at the Pharisees. Of course not! It is to fill us with awe and amazement, to encourage us to put our confidence in the living God. He knows all that his Son has done in redeeming his people from their sins. He knows that the full price for every wrong doing has been paid. The work of Jesus Christ is finished! Such infinite knowledge of God should fill us with thanksgiving. For each sin of our – without exception – the redemption price has been fully paid. Let us put our trust in the blood of the everlasting covenant. God never discovers anything he didn’t know before. He is never surprised and never amazed. He never seeks information. What a curb all this should be to us, if only we meditated upon it more frequently! Instead of acting recklessly, we should say with Hagar, “Thou God seest me” (Gen. 16:13). A glimpse of God’s infinite knowledge should fill the Christian with adoration.
Think of it . . . the whole of my life stood open to his view from the beginning but complete atonement for all wrong doing has been made. God had foreseen what was hidden from all others, what was said in the dark, what was whispered in the ear in the inner rooms, my every fall, my every sin, my every backsliding. He knew us through and through and still he has loved us and reconciled us to himself through the cross. Whom do you know on earth who could know every thought and action of your life and still love you perfectly? No tittle-tattle could inform God of something that would mean certain sins had been unredeemed. The enemy of our souls himself, Satan, could tell God nothing that he didn’t already know. We are known and we are loved. He has fixed his great heart upon me and loved me and pardoned me for everything and saved me. Oh, how the realization of this should bow me in wonder and worship before him! How foolish to try to cover up anything from his eyes. We can come clean to him because the highest court in the universe has declared us pardoned, healed, restored and forgiven
ii] We live in a moral universe. At the end of history the Lord will return and the world will be judged. Isn’t righteous judgment good? Isn’t it essential – that expressed determination that something is good or bad, guilty or innocent, that it is not all grey? What if everyone at every University was awarded a first class honours degree and a Ph.D.? What if everyone who felt like becoming a doctor was immediately made a doctor? What if there was nothing by which knowledge or conduct could be judged? There would be total chaos and anarchy. There would be no games, no sport, and no police or lawyers, and no eisteddfods. Marriage relationships would be almost impossible. They all need judgment, a determination, an evaluation, an assessment of men’s actions or emotions or persons or qualifications or values. We deal with judgments all the time because we are all made in God’s image, and God is the Supreme Judge of the whole world.
Of course human judgments are flawed, political judgments and police judgments are imperfect, sometime they are plain wrong or even wicked. More often they are partly slanted by our own prejudices. Most lawyers and judges are honest and wise men, but a few can be bribed to help criminals go free. Most teachers are skilful and caring. But a pathetic teacher might have it in for you just because he didn’t like your father! Eisteddfod judges can be prejudiced. Umpires or referees sometimes need a visit to an optician. You and I sometimes make wrong judgments about distances, clothing, friends, books, and music. But that does not mean we end up saying, “all judgments are wrong.”
The Bible says that at the end of history mankind will be judged, after all the billions of acts of judgment that happen every hour, that there will be a perfect judgment, a last judgment, a final judgment. All those who are then raised from the dead, plus those who are still alive at the coming of Christ – billions of people – will be judged. The judges will be Jesus Christ and God the Father. The God of the universe and the King of history will judge. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matt. 25:31-33).
On that tremendous day there will be no slipups, no bribes, no prejudices, no slanted judgments. In this final, perfect judgment the loose ends of the world will be tied up and the friends and enemies of Jesus Christ exposed. The sheer truth of all history will be publicly revealed. We don’t know exactly how it will go. There are great mysteries here. But the Bible makes one thing clear: people will be judged according to whether they were ashamed of Jesus Christ or not; they will be judged as whether they had done good or evil. Compassion, kindness, fairness, and other things will count for good, especially when done to ‘the least’ of Jesus Christ’s brothers and sisters. The leaven of unbelief, un-repentance, hypocrisy, hard-heartedness, meanness, cruelty, and dishonesty will be judged as evil, especially when done to the least, the poorest, the most vulnerable.
Of course, we are not saved by our good works. We are saved by grace and through faith. But we are judged according to whether our works were consistent with our profession. For works are the evidence of faith. People sometimes have more faith than they think. Their works show this. And sometimes people have less faith than they think. Their lack of works shows this. In other words, we can expect surprises at the last judgment.
iii] What a vindication this will be of God’s suffering persecuted people. I read this in Philip Ryken’s commentary on Luke; “Elizabeth’s story is a profile in Christian courage. She was raised in a small village in south-east Asia, where her parents taught her to trust God for her daily needs and where she dreamed of getting a good education. When she was sixteen, a relative offered to help her find a high-paying job in another country, so that she could help her family and earn the money she needed for college. What Elizabeth did not know, however, was that her relative would betray her into the sex trade. When she reached the border, she was sold into slavery and taken to a house of prostitution, where she was raped by customer after customer.
“Seven months later, by the mercy of God, investigators from the International Justice Mission found Elizabeth and persuaded the local police to raid the brothel where she was being held against her will. When her rescuers arrived, they found the following words written on the wall of her room: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?’ From where does this kind of courage come? How can a suffering young girl, living in Satan-infested squalor, hold on to her fearless hope that God will save her? To apply this more personally, how can we, who are so easily intimidated by even the slightest hostility to our Christian faith, learn to live with the same courageous confidence?” (Philip Ryken Luke, Volume 1, P&R, 2009, pp. 643&644). That little Christian would know that God knew all about her; he hated what was being done to her; he would vindicate her and destroy her oppressors; he would hear her prayers; he would make some way of escape that she could endure this horror; his grace was sufficient there; her faith would not fail. “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?”
That girl will be vindicated in the great day, but so will the thousands who, alas, had never been delivered from such fiendish slavery in this world. Those men and women who lived by their wretchedness shall answer, must answer, in the Day of Judgment. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” They have been abused and accused, tormented and condemned, incarcerated and crucified all utterly unjustly, but in the great day their Lord will cry, “Come ye blessed of my Father,” and he will acknowledge us before his Father’s face. For us there will no fear in the Day of Judgment because the Judge will be the Saviour who died in our place and so there will be no condemnation to those who are in him.
iv] You who continue to keep God at a distance will then be drawn to stand in his presence. There will be no possibility of some distance between you and God, and no place to hide. The books will be open. The secret whispers will then be spoken aloud before God. Tell them to God now! Say to him that you are sorry for what you said, and for what you did, even though no one else saw it, he did. Confess your sins to God now and he will be faithful and just through Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. God knows about your past life. God is willing to pardon you for your past life, and so where is the barrier to forgiveness? It is in your refusal to humbly confess them and ask him for mercy. Ask him today. Confess your sins to him today. Commit yourself to his mercy today and he will graciously pardon. Do not delay. There is no purpose in delaying. Seek his mercy now.
5th September 2010 GEOFF THOMAS