Questions for the Crowd
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Questions for the Crowd

Luke 12:54  (ID: 2201)

Despite the obvious signs, the Pharisees refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Although they could predict a storm by simply observing the wind, these religious leaders—who Jesus called out as hypocrites—suspended their powers of deduction when it came to matters of faith. Alistair Begg warns us against the danger of such willful blindness and implores us to settle our case with the ultimate Judge before it’s too late.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 8

Signs and Parables along the Way Luke 11:14–14:35 Series ID: 14208

Sermon Transcript: Print

God our Father, we acknowledge humbly our need of you as we turn to the Bible. It’s routine for us to do this—both to open up its pages and to pause in prayer. We pray that there will be nothing routine about our study this morning, save that we are once again focusing on the truth of your Word. Come by your Spirit, we pray, and take your living Word, and bring it to bear upon each of our lives in such a way that we will not be the same again. Only you, O God, can do this, and to you alone we look as we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As we come to the end of chapter 12, you will notice that we are halfway, now, through the Gospel of Luke, given that there are twenty-four chapters. I was staggered, however, to realize that we began our studies in Luke’s Gospel in 1998. And it makes me smile every time I think about the publishing company in Scotland that asked if I would write a brief commentary on the Gospel of Luke that could be used for home Bible studies. And I wrote back to them and said, “Well, yes, I think I’ll be able to do that. We’re going to study Luke’s Gospel. It shouldn’t take me too long. And once we finish it, then I can give you a brief Bible study.” I can’t imagine the size of the book that would handle the first twelve chapters. That would be one thing if it was going to be a great book, but it wouldn’t even be that good of a book, so I have a dilemma.

Also, as I look at my notes this morning, I am reminded of the Puritan preacher who had spoken extensively in the morning sermon and had had a tremendous number of points to his sermon. At one point, he’d been heard to say, “And now, twenty-seventhly…” And so he opened his evening sermon by saying, “Since my sermon this morning had so many points, my sermon this evening will be pointless.” And I thought of that because I have no peculiar headings under which I have gathered my material. It’s unusual for me, and yet I hope that there will be some sense of progression that has become apparent not only to myself but will also become obvious to each of us as we go through these verses.

The twelfth chapter, we discovered, opened with a large crowd that was so big that people were trampling on one another—a variety of people that had come from different places, expressing their interest in this Jesus of Nazareth, some of them wondering just who he was, others having heard things that he had already said, each of them bringing their own particular perceptions and also, at the same time, their needs; in much the same way that a congregation such as this, this morning, is made up of a variety of individuals at various points, as it were, along the continuum of what it means to have living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And as that crowd assembled, Jesus, we’re told by Luke, began to speak directly to his disciples. And in a way that would have been overheard at least by those immediately around the disciples, he issued a warning that they would be on guard against what he referred to as “the yeast of the Pharisees,”[1] which he said was nothing other than hypocrisy. And so the chapter begins with a vast crowd and Jesus addressing the matter of hypocrisy. If you were paying careful attention, you would see that the chapter ends in much the same way. Jesus is addressing the crowd, says Luke in verse 54, and he is actually charging them with hypocrisy.

In our previous study, in verses 49–53, we have noted that Jesus has been teaching his listeners about a fire that is already flickering, about a baptism that was beckoning him—namely, his death—and about a division that he said was pending (indeed, was actually going to be going on from that point in his ministry). Jesus said as a result of the decision that men and women made about him, they would discover division even within their immediate family circle. There is a book by F. F. Bruce that is entitled The Hard Sayings of Jesus.[2] (There is, perhaps, two books by that title, as I think about it.) But he wrote a book entitled The Hard Sayings of Jesus, and if you go to it, you will find a number of New Testament passages in which some of the words of Jesus that come across with almost chilling and striking impact are addressed by Bruce. And one of the sections is from verse 49 to 53. What is this fire? What is this baptism? And what is this Jesus saying about the matter of my family life even being divided as a result of my discovery of who Jesus is and why he came?

Gravity, Frivolity, and Hypocrisy

Now, there is a gravity, then, that attaches itself to the words of Christ. And the people that he is addressing were clearly capable of making deductions on the basis of what he said. Indeed, the fact that they were a thoughtful group and able to deduce certain things he identifies for them by pointing it out in terms of the climate and the geography of the circumstances they are facing. “When the clouds are coming out of the rising in the west,” he says, “you immediately say to one another, ‘It looks like it’s going to rain.’ And, of course, you would be right,” he said—fitting the geography of Palestine, where the wind and the weather coming out of the west, bringing the moisture off the Mediterranean Sea, would almost inevitably result in the rainfall coming to those who were in its path.

You would not be able to speak in such definitive terms about other parts of the world—certainly not if you were living in Glasgow, because the rain comes from every direction and falls routinely. And perhaps there is only one place that gets it more, and that’s in the Lake District. And if any of you have ever gone there to find Wordsworth’s cottage or whatever—simply to enjoy the scenery—you will have surely been introduced to somebody who told you, “If you’re unable to see the hills when you come out of your bed-and-breakfast, it’s because of the fact that it is raining. And if, when you come out on your doorstep, you can see the hills, then you may be sure that it is about to rain.” And you don’t have to be a genius to figure this out. The laws of deduction, however elementary, will see you safely to that conclusion.

Perhaps it was that as Jesus was giving these words concerning this fire and this baptism and this division, and as he was pressing upon his listeners the essential nature of their response to him, perhaps one of these clouds had come out of the west. And maybe the group that was immediately before him had begun actually to say, even in light of the grave things that Jesus was saying, “You know, it looks like it’s going to rain.”

One of the great challenges of speaking in public, of course, is being alert to almost everything that is taking place in front of you. And one has to make choices constantly as to what one is going to allow into the forefront of one’s thinking. I remember on one occasion preaching in Charlotte Chapel when I was an assistant there, and the whole congregation’s gaze moved away from me and moved above my head. Since there was nothing above my head except the ceiling, I didn’t know what was going on, but I figured there must be something happening, and I turned around, and in a window high up in the building there was a pigeon that had come in and was just sitting, looking at everybody and looking down on me. And so I had a choice to make: Do I ignore the pigeon, or do I use the pigeon in my sermon? So I used the pigeon in my sermon. I’m not sure it was particularly helpful as an illustration, but at least it acknowledged the fact that I could see that the minds of the listeners had actually gone somewhere else.

It may well be that despite the fact that Jesus speaks in such a striking and forceful and grave way, there is almost a frivolity about the response of his listeners. And he says to them, “You know, I know that you know that when one of these clouds comes, you can nudge one another the way you’re nudging one another, and you can say it’s going to rain. Good work! Indeed, I can see that some of you are already taking off your outer cloaks because you recognize that this breeze that is coming across the back of your necks is a breeze that is coming out of the south, and that’s why you’re starting to say to one another, ‘It’s going to get very hot here, you know. And after all, we don’t know how long the sermon is going to last.’” And if you read the climatology of this region, you will know that even today, the temperature can rise as much as thirty degrees Fahrenheit in the space of one hour as a result of a blast of hot air coming off the desert lands.

And so Jesus says, “You’re very good at your deductions from climate and from geography. But you know what? You’re hypocrites. And here’s where your hypocrisy lies: because while you’re very good at using your powers of deduction in relationship to these things, at the same time you claim that you actually can’t figure out which way the wind’s blowing when it comes to the issue of God’s judgment. You know when it’s blowing from the west, you know when it’s blowing from the south, but when it comes to this matter of fire and of baptism and of judgment and of division, you look at one another and say, ‘You know, we really don’t know what this is about. We don’t have a clue what is going on here.’”

Jesus says, “I want to challenge you to think this out. I think you’re being hypocritical in the way you do things. Your powers of observation are clearly working, but when it comes to a consideration of me and my words, you are apparently suspending your ability to discriminate.” Now, this is not a unique phenomenon to the listeners of Jesus. It has happened all through time, and it happens today, and it may even be happening this morning as I have begun to speak. Many people have rejected the Bible, and particularly the claims of Jesus, not because they have given careful attention to those claims and found them wanting, but they have in point of fact never, ever considered the claims. And yet they feel quite able to dispense with this material just with a cursory statement, whatever it might be. That is a hypocritical posture. And many of them would claim to be scientists and would say that they had set up their lives in such a way to be very empirical in their consideration of truth. So they would be examining things, and then they would be making deductions on the basis of the phenomenon that presents itself to them.

And some of you are like that! You spend your days in these realms, and you may even be well-known within your immediate circle of colleagues in your particular discipline. And yet here, for whatever reason, you come to worship routinely, and when it comes to the issues of the claims of Jesus Christ, somehow or another, your willingness to make the connection between one point and another abandons you completely. And you’re able somehow or another to turn your brain into neutral and then go out the door saying, “Well, frankly, I really don’t have a clue what that is about at all.”

A man or woman’s knowledge of nature and their wisdom in earthly affairs have no necessary connection with their making right judgments about spiritual matters.

Now, Jesus is going to have none of that. He knows that the reason that they cannot see the signs is because they persist in their unbelief. The reason that they cannot see is because they will not see. They will not make the connection that would lead them to believe in him. “I do not want to believe in this Christ; therefore, I’m going to be obtuse when it comes to hearing about the claims of this Christ.” I’ve had people with whom I have an ongoing relationship tell me straightforwardly, “I listened to what you had to say, I heard you clearly, and I walked out of the door saying no to it, because I recognize that if I were to bow my life to that truth, it would radically change me, and I do not wish to be changed.” Now, I can appreciate that kind of honesty. It’s harder to deal with this kind of hypocrisy: “Oh, sorry! I don’t understand this at all.”

When Jesus drove the demon from the man, for example—and you can find this in Luke chapter 11—somebody in the crowd shouted out, “Oh, it’s just black magic he’s doing! He’s doing this courtesy of Beelzebub!”[3] These are the same people who wanted signs from heaven.[4] And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, says to them, “Listen, I’m not going to do any special signs for you. You have all the signs that you require. If you are simply curious, I’m not about to reward your curiosity.”[5] It’s interesting, isn’t it? In other words, “If you are honestly seeking,” says Jesus, “then if you pay careful attention to my words and if you look at what I’ve done, then you will find sufficient here to lead you to belief. If, however, you simply want me to do something special for you, unfortunately, I’m not going to.” And you can read all of that in Luke 11.

And you hear people say all the time, “You know, well, I think I would believe in Jesus if, you know—if he met me at Starbucks tomorrow at nine, you know?” They say all of these stupid things. Or, “I think I would believe in Jesus if, you know, if something happened in a special way for me out in my back garden,” as it were. How pompous! How dreadfully arrogant! How bereft of a serious consideration of the ways in which he has made himself known!

You see, these people who were in the crowd to whom Jesus speaks and makes this charge of hypocrisy had been, many of them, around for the whole totality of what had been going on. What had these people made, for example, of the birth of John the Baptist? And all of the strange surroundings that had taken place? The words of Elizabeth and the experience of John’s father? What had they made of the preaching of John the Baptist? For many of them were aware of it. Some of them had been present at his evangelistic talk. No one would have ever forgotten it! “Well, we went out into the desert not to see a reed blown in the wind, not to see someone dressed in finery, but we went out into the desert because somebody said, ‘Come and hear John the Baptist.’ And we’ll never forget it! Because he started out, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’”[6] No one’s going to forget being invited to an evangelistic talk that begins that way. But what did they make of it?

What did they make of the death of John the Baptist in such bizarre circumstances? His head on a platter? The response of Herod?[7] Don’t you think they talked in the bazaars? Of course they did. Don’t you think that they considered these things as they went through their days? Of course they did. And Jesus says to them, “Here you are, a great crowd trampling on one another and listening to what I’m saying. And you are able to tell when it’s out of the west or out of the south, but you’re hypocritical to say that you cannot read the signs that are confronting you today.” Can I say that this point of application must surely and kindly be made to some in a company like this this morning?

What had they made, for example, of the baptism of Jesus? And the voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”?[8] What had the crowd made of that sign? What did they say to one another when they went home? Was this the work of somebody that had been put over behind the bulrushes somewhere, and it was all a fabrication, and it was all set up, and Jesus had worked it out beforehand with John the Baptist, and he said, “Now, when I get into the water, and after you baptize me, then let’s get a dove to come and alight on my shoulder, and then you, Charlie, you shout out, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’”?

It’s a blasphemy to even almost think in those terms. And yet that’s what people want us to believe! “Oh, this Jesus stuff is a fabrication, you know! It’s all worked out according to plan. Jesus was a smart person. He read the Old Testament, and he’d figured out certain pieces of the Old Testament, and then he went out and lived his life to try and fulfill all the Old Testament pieces.” Are you telling me you’re a sensible individual and you want me to believe that kind of codswallop? You’re not as bright as you think if that’s what you’re hanging your hat on.

What did they make in the crowd when they stood and heard him at the baptism? What did they make of the way in which Jesus healed all these kinds of sickness? When they brought to him all of the ailing and the sick, and the people went out to him, and he laid his hands on each one, and he healed them? And the demons were coming out and shouting, “You are the Son of God!”[9] What did the crowd make of that when they went home? As they were having their evening meal and the husband said to his wife, “What was that that was going on down there? Do you know that Mrs. Levi is actually walking?”

“You mean Mrs. Levi, the one that’s been on that bed for so long?”

“Yes, she’s walking! And do you know that that boy that has been dumb as a post for the whole of his life, I actually saw him in an animated conversation with his mom and dad.”

“What! What happened? Jesus?”

What did they make of the compassion of Christ when he stops a funeral procession, as Luke records it in Luke chapter 7, and as the procession comes down the road, and it is followed by a mother who is a widow, and on the funeral bier is her only son? And Jesus stops the procession, and he puts his hand on the dead boy, and the pallbearers stand in amazement—but not as amazed as they’re about to be as he speaks to the boy and as he raises him to life and as he gives him back to his mom! What did the crowd make of that?

“Oh, you’re good on the west winds. You’re good on the hot south breeze,” says Jesus. “But what about the signs?”

And what about the occasions when he had finished teaching in a way that was so masterful and so clear and so unequivocal and so unlike the scribes and the Pharisees, whose sermons were long and boring and dull? And the people were “amazed at his preaching,”[10] and they said, “Who is this, you know? And how does he speak with such authority?”[11]

Now, this is the crowd that is around him! Do you see why it’s justifiable for him to say, “You know, you’re being hypocritical in the way you approach things. ’Cause you’re bringing all of your powers of deduction to bear upon the issues that are marked ultimately by frivolity, and yet you do not bring the same power of deduction to bear upon that which is a matter of gravity. And your failure is an evidence of hypocrisy.”

Incidentally, there’s three points, just as I think about it, but I missed them myself: gravity and frivolity and hypocrisy.

Anyway, look at the question in verse 57. And incidentally, I think 57 fits with 56. You say, “Well, that’s a brilliant deduction.” No, what I mean by this is that I think the paragraph break in the NIV sends me in the wrong direction. I think 57 finishes the thought that is begun in 54; I don’t think it starts a new thought in relationship to 58. The more I’ve thought about it (I may be wrong; it’s my best attempt at it), I have to say to you—but Jesus is saying that the conclusion to be drawn from all these signs that relate to himself and to his gospel is so direct and so plain that the observers should have been expected to make the connection for themselves when they’d heard all of the things that he’d said. And so he says, “How is it that you can interpret this, you can understand that, but when it comes to this, you can’t? Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? One paraphrase puts it, “You don’t have to be a genius to understand these things. Just use your common sense.”[12] I think that sets us in the right direction. It may not be a perfect translation—I know it isn’t—but I think it gives us the inference.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t play the game of living your life in a laboratory, conducting scientific experiments in relationship to understandable natural phenomena, make deductions on the strength of that by which you make prognosis in relationship to people’s lives and futures, and then come to the matter of Christian faith and to my words and say, ‘You know, I can’t see any connection here at all.’” Jesus says, “I don’t think you’re being honest there. I think that’s hypocritical.”

Earthly Wisdom and Spiritual Wisdom

Now, here, if you like, is the boulder on which I’m going to rest the seesaw of the balance of what I have to say to you. That is—to translate into American—here is the fulcrum point on which we’re going to rest the teeter-totter. All right? So as we’ve said… We’ve said so much here. We’re about to try and bring it back straight here, and what is the big stone, if you like, upon which we’re building, hopefully, these balanced thoughts?

It is this: We must acknowledge—and it seems to be that we do so on the strength of what Jesus is saying here—we must acknowledge that a man or woman’s knowledge of nature and their wisdom in earthly affairs has no necessary connection with their making right judgments about spiritual matters. In other words, the hypocrisy which Jesus identifies should be obvious to us. Here is an individual who is possessed of the ability to make certain deductions on the strength of material that is presented to him or to her, and yet when it comes to this issue, somehow or another there’s a complete disconnect. I find that quite remarkable, in one sense: that friends and neighbors who are able to see very clearly connections and relationships in many of the natural phenomena in the world around them just simply fail to do so when it comes to the claims of Christ. One commentator says they “are rank hypocrites when they look at Jesus Christ and pretend that they can make nothing of the remarkable facts of his life, [his] death, and [his] resurrection.”[13]

Would it be wrong for me to suggest that there may be such hypocrites here this morning? That your powers of deduction are well-known both to you and to those who are your friends and your neighbors, but you constantly claim that you are unable to really make any sense at all of the issues of the life and the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus—despite the fact at the breakfast table you make logical and helpful observations from the natural sciences? You may go to school and teach children mathematics, you may be very adroit in the affairs of politics, and yet you can’t seem to bring enough of your mind to bear on spiritual things as would be necessary to comprehend the first principles of the Christian faith. Why is this? The issue is not intellectual. The issue is moral. The issue is spiritual. And the issue has to do with men and women by nature.

Turn for a moment, if you’re turning in your Bible, to Romans chapter 1, and let me just give you some material which you can use for homework as you think these things out. Romans chapter 1, as Paul begins his great theological treatise, building up to a conclusion in 3:20—that all men are accountable before God, irrespective of their lineage or their theological background—and in a section that begins at verse 18 (but I’m not going to read all of it for want of time), in which he speaks of the way in which God has made himself known, revealed himself, he then says in verse 21, “For although” these individuals “knew God,” in the sense that they knew God was God, “they neither glorified him as God,” and they did not “[give] thanks to him … their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened,” and “although they claimed to wise, they became fools,” and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” This, you see, is the great exchange, the great divide.

And this worldview is all around us. I don’t want to be tedious with cross-references—they can be a nuisance, looking them up—but Ephesians chapter 4, Paul says it in a very similar way in Ephesians 4:18. He says, “I don’t want you to be like the gentiles, ’cause they are absolutely futile in their thinking.”[14] You might read “pagan” instead of “gentile.” The futility of their thinking is revealed in this: that they’re “darkened in their understanding,” they’re “separated from the life of God,” and let me tell you why: “because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”[15] In other words, here is a man or a woman who has grown up, and they have understood something of God in creation. They have benefited from the instruction and tutelage of those who have introduced them to the things of the Bible. They have gone on to college or to university, and they have become adept in their own particular discipline. And yet today, they have no interest whatsoever in the things of Christ or the Bible at all.

Now, lest we should be found wandering and wondering regarding this, the Bible gives us the explanation: such individuals have allowed pride and passion and prejudice and, yes, the love of sin to blind their souls. And so while their powers of deduction are intact, their powers of deduction are impaired, because sin settles on their ability to see. Their powers of deduction—to make the connection that Jesus is referring to—can take them so far but can’t save them. It’s not as if we could somehow set out the logicality of faith and then say, “Now, on the basis simply of logic alone, you have the power within yourself to believe in this truth,” because you don’t.

But your ability to make deductions, which is a real ability as a result of God’s common grace, will take you far enough to know, “I need the help of God to take this final step. I need the light of God to shine into the darkness of my soul. I need the ability of God to illuminate the darkness and the blackness of my mind. In other words, I need a Savior.” “For the natural man doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness to him!”[16] says Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14. In the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians, he says, “Where is the wise man? And where is the scholar of this age? Step forward!” he says. “Let’s talk. Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? And has he not revealed the might of his power and wisdom in the apparent foolishness of the message of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ?”[17] In other words, he says, “I want you to think the issue out. Don’t be hypocritical.”

So those who are intellectually capable but who at the same time are spiritually obdurate are without excuse. You’ll find that again in Romans 1 when you do your homework: “So they are without excuse,”[18] says Paul. What are you going to use as an excuse? You’re not going to be able to claim a lack of information, because the light shines all around you. You can’t walk out of there and say, “Oh, but there’s nothing in the Bible that I could read or understand.” Yes, there is. It’s full of material you can read and understand. You may stand outside, as described in one book that I read about Speaker’s Corner in London. And a man stands up at Speaker’s Corner—which is where you can go on a Sunday afternoon and pontificate publicly on a variety of matters—and he stands up on the box, and he says, “They say that there is a God in heaven, but I can’t see him. And they say that there is a Christ who came, but I can’t see him.” And he went on at great length, and then he concluded, to a smattering of applause from the crowd, that as a result of his inability to see God and Christ, there was every reason for him to say, “And therefore, it is logical for me not to believe in him.” He was followed to the box by a man who stood up with some difficulty. He stood and looked without looking out on the crowd, and he said, “They say that there is a sun in the heaven. They say that there is a moon in the sky. They say that there are stars to behold. But I can’t see them. I’m blind.” And then he took his place in the crowd again—and made the point eloquently.

You, Mr. Hypocrite, cannot slip out of here this morning hanging your hat on an absence of information. You know that. You dare not try and leave claiming somehow or another a lack of ability to process the signs as you have them before you, because we all know that you’re clever enough to do it. And we dare not, any of us, proclaim the irrelevancy of these spiritual matters, because we have a strange awareness—and it is a God-given awareness—of the fact that time is a very short thing and that eternity is very long, and that when we heard somebody say, “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul?”[19] that registered within us. And we said, “I need to get out of here and get on, and get on with the real matters of life. Get on with business, you know.” Got to “take care of business, Mr. Businessman … before it’s too late.” Says Ray Stevens in his song, Mr. Businessman,

Spending counterfeit incentive,
Wasting precious time and health,
Placing value[s] on the worthless,
Disregarding priceless wealth.
You can wheel and deal the best of them
[And] steal it from the rest of them.
You know the score. …
You better take care of business, Mr. Businessman.[20]

The Bar of God’s Judgment

Well, what’s the real business? This is the business. You’ve got a court case in your diary. Did you know that? You are going to the bar of God’s judgment.

Says a commentator in an earlier century,

It is a melancholy sight to see a man, in any rank of life, managing his temporal affairs with great shrewdness and success, but neglecting the one thing needful, and allowing all his soul’s affairs to go to ruin. And it is a still more melancholy sight to see a man of genius and … cultivated powers, who can trace the history and philosophy of nature and of mind, and who can, let us not say guess at the weather, but, make solar and lunar observations, and calculate a tide table, or an eclipse; but who is yet practically ignorant of the God of nature and of grace.

It is a melancholy sight to see such an individual “grovelling in low and sensual propensities on the earth, and shutting out, in the vanity of his soul, the light of the Sun of Righteousness.”[21]

Tonight, I suggest to you, in the celebration of this Super Bowl event, you will have America by and large held up before your face. Yesterday, when I went online to pick up the news of the thousands upon thousands who have lost their lives in India, it said some thirteen thousand dead in India, and then immediately underneath it said, “Click on here to see a video of the newest and best Cadillac available.” So we will sell Cadillacs on the back of death. We will invest millions and millions of dollars to sell Pepsi-Cola and beer to our nation. And the nations of the world stumble in darkness.

And the Christian population imports it into the church and closes down the evening service and says, “Let’s just be as everyone else is.” Oh, says the commentator from 150 years ago, “It is a melancholy sight to see a man … ignorant of the God of nature and … grace, grovelling in low and sensual propensities on … earth, and shutting out, in the vanity of his soul, the light of the Sun of righteousness”—that ever a Sunday would be considered for God, that ever this day in seven that the Creator had made for the well-being of humanity would be negated with a stroke of a video button. But there’s no thought of it at all! And this is, of course, the great nation that rules the world. Don’t you kid yourself. We’re out on a line that God has given, and we hang by a narrow thread. It is a melancholy sight.

You’ve got a court case in your diary. Did you know that? You are going to the bar of God’s judgment.

“So,” says Jesus… And I think, you’re saying to yourself, “Well, I thought you’d stopped mentioning the Super Bowl.” Well, I had, but that was earlier. But if they came from another planet tonight, they could make deductions on the strength of what tonight is all about, about what matters to this nation, what makes the world go round, what drives the wheels.

“And so,” Jesus says, “why don’t you use the kind of logic that you would use if you were facing a lawsuit with a friend and apply it to the fact that you are facing a lawsuit when you stand before the bar of God’s judgment?” That’s the only way I can make sense of verses 58 and 59. I may be absolutely wrong. I freely admit that. But I can’t for the life of me imagine that Jesus, from speaking of the fire and the baptism and the division that is to come, confronting them with the fact of hypocrisy, then says, “Now, just before you all slip off to your houses, let me give you a little insight into how you should settle lawsuits with one another, you know, if you ever run foul of the law with one of your friends.” Does that make any sense to you at all?

You say, “Well, we take the Bible literally, you know. If you take the Bible literally, that’s what it says, and…” Of course we take the Bible literally. We take it literally as Jesus meant to convey it. What is he saying here? Do you think the primary inference, the primary emphasis here is so that we would know that it is a sensible thing? “If you’re going to go to court and you may get nailed in the court, try and settle it before you get there?” Do you think that’s the primary emphasis?

I think that’s the secondary emphasis. I think this is a parable. I think this is a picture. I think Jesus knows that he’s got his listeners so clear now in their minds that they recognize that this division in time is going to reveal itself in eternity, that they are moving towards the bar of God’s judgment. And so he says, “You judge for yourselves what’s right in relationship to this. Use the same kind of logic that you would use if you were confronted by an adversary and you were going to court. Settle it before you get there. Because when you get there, it may go against you; and if it goes against you, you may never get out until you have paid the last penny; and you won’t be able to pay the last penny in the bar of God’s judgment. So what’s the issue? Admit that you’re guilty now.” He’s going to go on and say in 13:3, “If you do not repent, you will all perish.”[22] “Use sound judgment,” he says. “Settle with your adversary before the case comes to court. Seek to have the matter settled today.”

Are you reconciled to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are not reconciled to him in time and you are not bound to him in faith, what the Bible says is that we will face irrevocable suffering and we will be unable to pay off our debt.

There is a gravity about Christ’s words. They’re unmistakable. All lesser considerations are ultimately issues of frivolity. And it surely is a sorry hypocrisy that allows us to read the signs in so many different disciplines while failing to make a sensible decision about the most significant happening in all of human history: the coming, living, dying, rising, ascending, returning of the carpenter of Nazareth. “It is appointed unto [man] once to die, [and] after this the judgment.”[23] Jesus says, “You better settle before you get there. For it will not be possible for you to settle it at that point.”

“Oh, Sinnerman, where you gonna run to on that day?” You going to run to the rocks? They won’t hide you. You gonna run to religion? It won’t hide you. No, there’s only one who will hide you. And Augustus Toplady put him down for us wonderfully: he’s the “Rock of Ages.”[24] Run to the Rock. Run to the Rock.

Let us pray:

Father, help us, then, to be free of the hypocrisy which is able to make deductions about all kinds of matters and yet claims that we cannot make sense of the life or death or resurrection of Jesus. Help us to turn to he who is the Rock of Salvation. For it’s in his name we pray. Amen.

[1] Luke 12:1 (NIV 1984).

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983).

[3] Luke 11:15 (paraphrased).

[4] See Luke 11:16.

[5] Luke 11:29–32 (paraphrased).

[6] Luke 3:7 (NIV 1984).

[7] See Matthew 14:1–12; Mark 6:14–29.

[8] Matthew 3:17 (KJV). See also Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22.

[9] Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34 (paraphrased).

[10] Matthew 7:29 (NIV 1984).

[11] Matthew 7:29 (paraphrased).

[12] Luke 12:57 (MSG).

[13] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Luke: The Saviour of the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1979), 137.

[14] Ephesians 4:17 (paraphrased).

[15] Ephesians 4:18 (NIV 1984).

[16] 1 Corinthians 2:14 (paraphrased).

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:20–25 (paraphrased).

[18] Romans 1:20 (paraphrased).

[19] Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25 (paraphrased).

[20] Ray Stevens, “Mr. Businessman” (1968).

[21] James Foote, “Lecture LXX: Luke XII.54–59,” in Lectures on the Gospel According to Luke, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Johnstone, Ballantyne, and Co., 1849), 2:432.

[22] Luke 13:3 (paraphrased).

[23] Hebrews 9:27 (KJV).

[24] Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.