God and Sparrows

Commentary On Luke 12:1-12


I. A vast auditory that was got together to hear Christ preach.

Luke 12:1–3 (ESV)

Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees
1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 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 on the housetops.

The scribes and Pharisees sought to accuse him, and do him mischief; but the people, who were not under the bias of their prejudices and jealousies, still admired him, attended on him, and did him honour. In the mean time (v. 1), while he was in the Pharisee’s house, contending with them that sought to ensnare him, the people got together for an afternoon sermon, a sermon after dinner, after dinner with a Pharisee; and he would not disappoint them. Though in the morning sermon, when they were gathered thickly together (ch. 11:29), he had severely reproved them, as an evil generation that seek a sign, yet they renewed their attendance on him; so much better could the people bear their reproofs than the Pharisees theirs.

The more the Pharisees strove to drive the people from Christ, the more flocking there was to him. Here was an innumerable multitude of people gathered together, so that they trade one upon another, in labouring to get foremost, and to come within hearing. It is a good sight to see people thus forward to hear the word, and venture upon inconvenience and danger rather than miss an opportunity for their souls. Who are these that thus fly as the doves to their windows? Isa. 60:8. When the net is cast where there is such a multitude of fish, it may be hoped that some will be enclosed.

II. The instructions which he gave his followers, in the hearing of this auditory.

1. He began with a caution against hypocrisy.

This he said to his disciples first of all; either to the twelve, or to the seventy. These were his more peculiar charge, his family, his school, and therefore he particularly warned them as his beloved sons; they made more profession of religion than others and hypocrisy in that was the sin they were most in danger of. They were to preach to others; and, if they should prevaricate, corrupt the word, and deal deceitfully, hypocrisy would be worse in them than in others. Besides, there was a Judas among them, who was a hypocrite, and Christ knew it, and would hereby startle him, or leave him inexcusable. Christ’s disciples were, for aught we know, the best men then in the world, yet they needed to be cautioned against hypocrisy. Christ said this to the disciples, in the hearing of this great multitude, rather than privately when he had them by themselves, to add the greater weight to the caution, and to let the world know that he would not countenance hypocrisy, no, not in his own disciples.

Now observe,

(1.) The description of that sin which he warns them against: It is the leaven of the Pharisees.

[1.] It is leaven;

It is spreading as leaven, insinuates itself into the whole man, and all that he does; it is swelling and souring as leaven, for it puffs men up with pride, embitters them with malice, and makes their service unacceptable to God.

[2.] It is the leaven of the Pharisees:

“It is the sin they are most of them found in. Take heed of imitating them; be not you of their spirit; do not dissemble in Christianity as they do in Judaism; make not your religion a cloak of maliciousness, as they do theirs.”

(2.) A good reason against it:

“For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, v. 2, 3. It is to no purpose to dissemble, for, sooner or later, truth will come out; and a lying tongue is but for a moment. If you speak in darkness that which is unbecoming you, and is inconsistent with your public professions, it shall be heard in the light; some way or other it shall be discovered, a bird of the air shall carry the voice (Eccl. 10:20), and your folly and falsehood will be made manifest.”

The iniquity that is concealed with a show of piety will be discovered, perhaps in this world, as Judas’s was, and Simon Magus’s, at furthest in the great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be made manifest, Eccl. 12:14; Rom. 2:16. If men’s religion prevail not to conquer and cure the wickedness of their hearts, it shall not always serve for a cloak. The day is coming when hypocrites will be stripped of their fig-leaves.

2. To this he added a charge to them

Luke 12:4–7 (ESV)

Have No Fear
3 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

To be faithful to the trust reposed in them, and not to betray it, through cowardice or base fear. Some make v. 2, 3, to be a caution to them not to conceal those things which they had been instructed in, and were employed to publish to the world. “Whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear, tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; what has been spoken to you, and you have talked of among yourselves, privately, and in corners, that do you preach publicly, whoever is offended; for, if you please men, you are not Christ’s servants, nor can you please him,” Gal. 1:10. But this was not the worst of it: it was likely to be a suffering cause, though never a sinking one: let them therefore arm themselves with courage; and divers arguments are furnished here to steel them with a holy resolution in their work. Consider,

(1.) “The power of your enemies is a limited power (v. 4):

I say unto you, my friends” (Christ’s disciples are his friends, he calls them friends, and gives them this friendly advice), “be not afraid, do not disquiet yourselves with tormenting fears of the power and rage of men.” Note, Those whom Christ owns for his friends need not be afraid of any enemies. “Be not afraid, no, not of them that kill the body, let it not be in the power of scoffers, not even of murderers, to drive you off from your work, for you that have learned to triumph over death may say, even of them, Let them do their worst, after that there is no more that they can do; the immortal soul lives, and is happy, and enjoys itself and its God, and sets them all at defiance.” Note, Those can do Christ’s disciples no real harm, and therefore ought not to be dreaded, who can but kill the body; for they only send that to its rest, and the soul to its joy, the sooner.

(2.) God is to be feared more than the most powerful men:

“I will forewarn you whom you shall fear (v. 5): that you may fear man less, fear God more. Moses conquers his fear of the wrath of the king, by having an eye to him that is invisible. By owning Christ you may incur the wrath of men, which can reach no further than to put you to death (and without God’s permission they cannot do that); but by denying Christ, and disowning him, you will incur the wrath of God, which has power to send you to hell, and there is no resisting it. Now of two evils the less is to be chosen, and the greater is to be dreaded, and therefore I say unto you, Fear him.” “It is true,” said that blessed martyr, Bishop Hooper, “life is sweet, and death bitter; but eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death more bitter.”

(3.) The lives of good Christians and good ministers are the particular care of divine Providence, v. 6, 7.

To encourage us in times of difficulty and danger, we must have recourse to our first principles, and build upon them. Now a firm belief of the doctrine of God’s universal providence, and the extent of it, will be satisfying to us when at any time we are in peril, and will encourage us to trust God in the way of duty.

[1.] Providence takes cognizance of the meanest creatures, even of the sparrows.

“Though they are of such small account that five of them are sold for two farthings, yet not one of them is forgotten of God, but is provided for, and notice is taken of its death. Now, you are of more value than many sparrows, and therefore you may be sure you are not forgotten, though imprisoned, though banished, though forgotten by your friends; much more precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of saints than the death of sparrows.”

[2.] Providence takes cognizance of the meanest interest of the disciples of Christ:

“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (v. 7); much more are your sighs and tears numbered, and the drops of your blood, which you shed for Christ’s name’s sake. An account is kept of all your losses, that they may be, and without doubt they shall be, recompensed unspeakably to your advantage.”

(4.) “You will be owned or disowned by Christ, in the great day, according as you now own or disown him,” v. 8, 9.

Luke 12:8–12 (ESV)

Acknowledge Christ Before Men
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

[1.] To engage us to confess Christ before men,

Whatever we may lose or suffer for our constancy to him, and how dear soever it may cost us, we are assured that they who confess Christ now shall be owned by him in the great day before the angels of God, to their everlasting comfort and honour. Jesus Christ will confess, not only that he suffered for them, and that they are to have the benefit of his sufferings, but that they suffered for him, and that his kingdom and interest on earth were advanced by their sufferings; and what greater honour can be done them?

[2.] To deter us from denying Christ, and a cowardly deserting of his truths and ways,

We are here assured that those who deny Christ, and treacherously depart from him, whatever they may save by it, though it were life itself, and whatever they may gain by it, though it were a kingdom, will be vast losers at last, for they shall be denied before the angels of God; Christ will not know them, will not own them, will not show them any favour, which will turn to their everlasting terror and contempt. By the stress here laid upon their being confessed or denied before the angels of God, it should seem to be a considerable part of the happiness of glorified saints that they will not only stand right, but stand high, in the esteem of the holy angels; they will love them, and honour them, and own them, if they be Christ’s servants; they are their fellow-servants, and they will take them for their companions.

On the contrary, a considerable part of the misery of damned sinners will be that the holy angels will abandon them, and will be the pleased witnesses, not only of their disgrace, as here, but of their misery, for they shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels (Rev. 14:10), who will give them no relief.

(5.) The errand they were shortly to be sent out upon was of the highest and last importance to the children of men, to whom they were sent, v. 10.

Let them be bold in preaching the gospel, for a sorer and heavier doom would attend those that rejected them (after the Spirit was poured upon them, which was to be the last method of conviction) than those that now rejected Christ himself, and opposed him: “Greater works than those shall he do, and, consequently, greater will be the punishment of those that blaspheme the gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost in you.

Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, shall stumble at the meanness of his appearance, and speak slightly and spitefully of him, it is capable of some excuse: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But unto him that blasphemes the Holy Ghost, that blasphemes the Christian doctrine, and maliciously opposes it, after the pouring out of the Spirit and his attestation of Christ’s being glorified (Acts 2:33; 5:32), the privilege of the forgiveness of sins shall be denied; he shall have no benefit by Christ and his gospel. You may shake off the dust of your feet against those that do so, and give them over as incurable; they have forfeited that repentance and that remission which Christ was exalted to give, and which you are commissioned to preach.”

The sin, no doubt, was the more daring, and consequently the case the more desperate, during the continuance of the extraordinary gifts and operations of the Spirit in the church, which were intended for a sign to them who believed not, 1 Co. 14:22. There were hopes of those who, though not convinced by them at first, yet admired them, but those who blasphemed them were given over.

(6.) Whatever trials they should be called out to, they should be sufficiently furnished for them, and honourably brought through them, v. 11, 12.

The faithful martyr for Christ has not only sufferings to undergo, but a testimony to bear, a good confession to witness, and is concerned to do that well, so that the cause of Christ may not suffer, though he suffer for it; and, if this be his care, let him cast it upon God: “When they bring you into the synagogues, before church-rulers, before the Jewish courts, or before magistrates and powers, Gentile rulers, rulers in the state, to be examined about your doctrine, what it is, and what the proof of it, take no thought what ye shall answer,”

[1.] “That you may save yourselves.

Do not study by what art or rhetoric to mollify your judges, or by what tricks in law to bring yourselves off; if it be the will of God that you should come off, and your time is not yet come, he will bring it about effectually.”

[2.] “That you may serve your Master;

Aim at this, but do not perplex yourselves about it, for the Holy Ghost, as a Spirit of wisdom, shall teach you what you ought to say, and how to say it, so that it may be for the honour of God and his cause.”

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

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