Luke XLIV: Lk. 12:1-12
Leaven is the principle of growth. Jesus says here to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Lk. 12:1). Hypocrisy is the way of the City of Man, but the Kingdom of God is built on the power and truth of the Spirit. No secrets: no fear.
All hypocrisy begins with countenancing certain sorts of “small” sins, justifying them, and when consequences don’t seem forthcoming, graduating to the celebration of them. This is the same sequence David asks God to guard him against in Psalm 19:12-14. David is outlining a certain sequence of how sin usually works: as secret sins are ignored, hidden, and justified, presumptuous sins cannot be avoided, and those in turn invite the great transgressions. This is why Jesus immediately begins talking about secrets being revealed: nothing covered up will be hidden; whatever you whisper in the dark will be heard in the light (Lk. 12:2-3). The reason followers of Jesus should not participate in the leaven of the Pharisees is because it ultimately doesn’t work. It might look like it works for a time, but eventually Wikileaks will publish all your emails on the internet. Ultimately the reason why it doesn’t work is because there is a God in heaven. Sooner or later everything is going to come out. Everything is going to be revealed: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must given an account” (Heb. 4:13, Eccl. 12:14, cf. Acts 1:24, Rom. 8:27).
The Fear of the Lord
Another way of saying this is that God is not mocked: whatever a man sows is what he will reap (Gal. 6:7). If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life (Gal. 6:8). Sowing to your flesh is folly, while sowing to the Spirit is wisdom. This is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Much of Luke 11 was about wisdom and folly: Jesus said, “something greater than Solomon” is here (Lk. 11:31), He called the Pharisees “fools!” (Lk. 11:40). The “wisdom of God” sent Israel prophets and apostles (Lk. 11:49). Even the repeated command: ask, seek, knock, find (Lk. 11:9-10) echoes the urgent pleas of the father in Proverbs: get wisdom, seek wisdom, find wisdom (Prov. 4:5-7, 8:17). The Spirit is God’s Wisdom (Ex. 35:31).
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it begins to understand that you can’t live by immediate results or consequences. This is what “the flesh” does. Jesus teaches that living by the flesh fills people with fear. It’s actually a vicious cycle: You hide your sin because you’re afraid of what people might think (or consequences), and then you live in fear of what people will think (or do) if they find out. But Jesus says that the worst thing they might do to you is kill you (Lk. 12:4), but that’s not the worst thing that can happen to you (Lk. 12:5). This is why the fear of the Lord and His wisdom is freedom from fear: it teaches us not to sin in the first place since God sees all and knows all, but secondly, it teaches us to confess sin and repent of sin as fast as possible because you can’t really hide sin. It takes faith and wisdom to remember, but if God cares about sparrows and knows the minute by minute number of hairs on our head, then He knows all of our sin already and we can trust His Fatherly care (Lk. 12:5-7). If we have no secrets, then we have no fear.
Acknowledging the Son of Man
When Jesus speaks of acknowledging Him before men, He at least has the apostles and disciples in mind who will be brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities (Lk. 12:8, 11). But Jesus is also addressing the other side of hypocrisy: on the one side, people may hide sin, but on the other side, people can hide their commitment to Christ, refusing to speak up and be identified with Jesus. If we pray in secret, that secret will get out eventually (Mt. 6:6, Lk. 11:1-4). If we pray for the Kingdom of God to come (and mean it), that secret will be seen as a direct threat to any pagan state or culture (cf. Dan. 6). But the crucial thing to see here is how these two forms of hypocrisy are two sides of the same coin. We need to understand how acknowledging Jesus before men is directly tied to having no secrets. The courage it takes to confess Christ is the same courage needed to confess sin. Or to put it the other way around: you will not have the courage to confess Christ before men if you do not confess your sins. This is because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (Jn. 14:17, 15:26, 16:13), and the truth is that Jesus died for our sins, God has forgiven us, and now we have a glorious inheritance in Him – all of which is sealed to us by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). This is why refusal to confess our sins and/or forgive one another grieves the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:30). This is why confession of sins to God and those we have sinned against is a normal part of the Spirit’s work in a believer’s life (Jn. 16:8, Mt. 5:24, Js. 5:16). Confession of sins and forgiveness is the most fundamental way we acknowledge Christ before men or deny Him. If you ignore your sin, cover it up or refuse to forgive, you are denying Christ.
There are varying interpretations of exactly what is meant by “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 12:10), and people sometimes worry that they have committed the “unforgiveable sin.” But the point seems to be that while the Jews could (and did) reject Jesus and kill Him, they would have one more chance when Jesus sent His Spirit at Pentecost on the Church. But then, if they rejected the Spirit in the Church, Jesus would judge the nation of Israel. And He did. An analogous application of this same principle would apply to all those who continue to persecute the Church today. They are blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and Jesus takes that personally (cf. 9:4-5).
Confession of sin and confession of Christ go together. You cannot have one without the other, and the latter will ring only as true as the former is actually practiced and experienced. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the announcement of the end of hiding in the shadows, covering up, lying, pretending, and all hypocrisy. We are people of the truth, and therefore we are people who are unafraid of the truth because our sins have been forgiven. This is the leaven of Christ, the leaven of the gospel, the leaven of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:8). It is the power of the Holy Spirit, and by that power God makes men and women fearless.