In Luke 11:29 and Luke 12:1 Jesus is at the height of His popularity and the crowds are gathering to hear Him speak. In Luke 12:1-5, Jesus moves from giving the Pharisees the drubbing of a lifetime to talking about hypocrisy and persecution.
Jesus then warns the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1). In saying this, Jesus does not mean for us to start up a spot-it-and-stop-it committee. The point of the warning is not that we simply identify the teaching and hypocrisy of the Pharisees but that we are careful not to adopt it.
At first, it might seem strange for Jesus to warn the disciples not to become like the Pharisees. I mean, the Pharisees are clearly on the losing team right now so why would Jesus’ disciples want to be like them?
The answer lies in the previous passage. There, Jesus says,
Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute…’ (Luke 11:49)
Jesus goes on to tell us that things are going to turn upside down. Right now, the disciples might feel ecstatic to be on the side of local popularity. But that’s going to change.
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 (Luke 12:11)
A cornered snake is a dangerous snake. Disagreeing with Pharisees right now might temporarily silence them, but give it time and they will bare their fangs and seek to kill you!
Peer pressure is subtle, and self-preservation is instinctive. We see a perfect example of this in Galatians 2:11-14 where Peter had stumbled at just this fork in the road.
When no one was looking, he ate with the new Gentile Christians. But when the “circumcision party” turned up he stopped the practice for fear of persecution.
And so Jesus urges the disciples to get their fears in the right order.
I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear the One who, after you have been killed, has authority to throw you into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5)
In effect, He says, “Don’t be afraid of their power. It’s limited”. He then delivers this stunning thought: The best they can do is kill you.
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Jesus then gives the disciples two foundations on which to ground their hope and their endurance.
First, we admit that those who oppose the church have friends in high places. But we need to keep in mind that we have friends in high places too (Luke 12:4).
Do you understand that Jesus has invited you into friendship with Himself?
I’ve written about this before. Many Christians talk as if Jesus is just tolerating them and that really, deep down, He probably wants to smite them, because, let’s face it, we deserve it.
Well, the second part of that equation is probably true, but not the first. The King of kings really likes you and He considers you a friend. And nothing quite brings our unworthiness to mind than being reminded of the fact.
Does that humble you? Jesus is Lord and He has priorities and one of those priorities is you.
This friendship is not incidental or unimportant. It matters because it’s precisely at the point of friendship that peer pressure is applied. (James 4:4)
Secondly, we have a Father who cares.
We see this in the reassuring words with which Jesus ends His thoughts on peer pressure and Pharisees.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7)
Do you sometimes wonder if God has forgotten you?
The one who sits enthroned in the Heavens is not indifferent about you and the pressure you are under to cave into the subtle and crippling hypocrisy within.
When the world and the hypocrite malign you, won’t play golf with you, hound you, exclude you and hunt you down and chase you out of the public square—you need to know that the Spirit of God is with you.
You have a friend in Jesus. Perhaps it’s time for the two of you to get better acquainted.
You have a Father in Heaven who knows and cares. Perhaps it’s time to stretch out your hands to Him and say thank you.
You have the Spirit of God to lead you moment by moment. Perhaps it’s time you trusted His counsel.