Beware of the Heart (Luke 12:1-12

Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Caesar and his friends are encountered by a Soothsayer. Caesar says, “Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music, Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak.” The Soothsayer responds, “Beware of the ides of March.” Caesar responded, “What man is that?” Then Brutus speaks up and says, “A soothsayer bids you beware of the ides of March.”
Caesar called the soothsayer to come to him and asks him again, “What say’st thou to me now?” Soothsayer, “Beware of the ides of March.” After three warnings, Caesar brushes off the soothsayer by saying, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him.”

Julius Caesar was the ruler of the Roman Republic arguably the most powerful man on the planet. He was not concerned with the warnings of an old soothsayer. He did not heed the warnings, but rather mocked them. In Act 3 Scene 1 Caesar encounters the Soothsayer again and says to him, “The ides of March have come.” He was mocking the soothsayer. “The ides of March have come and I am still alive and well. I am Caesar what do I have to fear?” The soothsayer humbly replied, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.” The ides of March had come, but they were not over. Caesar mocked the warning, disregarded the wise words of the soothsayer. His pride allowed him to believe that he was above the warning, but pride comes before the fall. Julius Caesar was assassinated by his closest friends. He did not heed the warning and paid for it with his life.

Warnings are a blessing. Warnings are given to protect people from something dangerous looming in the future. The aim of warning is protection and love. In 1 Timothy 1:3-4, Paul urges Timothy to warn certain people “not to teach any different doctrine, not to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” He then says the aim of our charge or warning is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” We must embrace warnings as an act of love. We do not want to be dismissive of warnings so that we do not become like Julius Caesar whose pride blinded him of danger that cost him his life. This morning, we want to hear the words of love from our great Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus offers three sets of warnings in this text. I pray you will examine your heart and embrace the Lord’s charge of protective love.

Beware of the Hidden Hypocrisy of the Heart
Luke 12:1-3,

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. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 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.

Jesus continues his teaching from the end of Chapter 11 against the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for excellent religious behavior. They lived a godly life externally, but their hearts were far from the Lord. Jesus said to them in Luke 11:39, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform . It is pretense. It is a lie to the world of who you really are when no one is around.

Robert Redford was approached by a fan as he was getting onto an elevator. The woman looked at him and asked, “Are you the real Robert Redford?” As the doors closed, Redford replied, “Only when I am alone.” We can put on a mask in certain company, but our true character is revealed when we are alone. Jesus called out the Pharisees because he knew what was in their hearts. He knew they were hypocrites. He knew they were lying to the world with their strong moral behavior, for their hearts were far from God. They were full of greed and wickedness.

Jesus warns his beloved disciples of the danger in trying to please men. As one writer says, “the desire to impress people may lead to a double life.[1]” Hypocrisy is dangerous because it appeals to the lusts of the heart. We want to be successful and impress others, but if our end desire to impress others rather than God, we may end up living a lie. Look at the context, Luke specifically adds, “when so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were trampling one another.” Jesus had impressed people. He was attracting crowds. There were so many people that they were trampling one another. Jesus had become all that the Pharisees had craved in their hearts with one big difference; Jesus was the same person in public and in his heart. He was not a hypocrite.

Jesus takes this opportunity to both warn and encourage his disciples. He is warning his disciples not to be like the Pharisees who falsely misrepresent themselves to gain a greater following. Jesus encourages his disciples to look to the future, the distant future, the day of Judgment. He says,

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 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 (Luke 12:2-3).

All will be revealed. This is a warning to not be like the Pharisees, because one day their true hearts will be revealed. They will be measured on the scale and be found wanting. God will not be mocked. This is a warning to all Christian disciples to avoid hypocrisy. Does your public life match up with your private life? Do your public beliefs match up with your private beliefs? Take this as a warning that one day all will be disclosed. If you are struggling with secret sins or sins of the heart (bitterness, greed, lust) repent today. We will all face judgment so let us strive to live a life free from hypocrisy.

We see examples of hypocrisy every day in our culture. When we see them, we must take them as a warning to us lest we fall into the leaven of the Pharisees. It is danger, but it is subtle. In 1950, UCLA Football Coach Russell Sanders told a group during a workshop, “Men, I’ll be honest. Winning isn’t everything.” He then paused for a long time before he said, “Men, it’s the only thing!” Our culture believes we should win at all costs. Dr. Beverly Hall, Former Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, believed this too.

Hall was the ringleader of the largest cheating scandal in US History with 178 teachers and principals as a part of the cheating ring[2]. They cheated to have better test scores so they could reap both the financial benefits and as well as the prestige that comes with professional success. Hall eventually was appointed to President Obama’s team as a member of the National Board of Education Sciences. She succeeded…for a while…until the things that were said in secret were shouted from the housetops. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed. Winning isn’t everything. Winning isn’t the only thing, unless winning means loving God with your heart, soul, mind and strength. Americans are obsessed with success, but we need to redefine our definition of success. When we see examples of hypocrisy in our culture, beware of your own hypocrisy.

Jesus also is giving an encouragement to his disciples. As the hypocrites will be revealed, so will those who honor the Lord in secret. Matthew 6:6, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Success is not winning by worldly standards, but true success is winning before the face of God. Paul writes in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Believer, do not be discouraged with silent success or earthly failures, for one day God will reward you. Be encouraged that God sees what is done in secret and will reward you.

Beware of the False Fear of the Heart

Jesus continues his warning to live before the face of God in verse 4-7,

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 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! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your heard are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Again we see Jesus offering a warning and an encouragement. Jesus is more powerful than anything in this world, any government, any leader, any army, any disease, any cancer, anything. Jesus wants his disciples to have the right fear. He reaffirms his love for them by addressing them as “my friends.” Jesus tells his friends not to fear those who can only kill the body, but can do nothing to the soul. Jesus tells us who to fear. We are to fear Him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Oh brothers and sisters, we are to fear Him.

Friends, if you have not trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, please hear the words of God. Jesus Christ has authority to cast people into hell upon their death. We are sinners. We deserve judgment. We know that the judgment of God should rightly fall on sinners. We may not want to think about it, but when we search our hearts and see the things of the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:19-20, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” Have you ever had an evil thought? Slandered or gossiped about someone? Stolen anything? Lusted in your heart? If yes, you are defiled. And you deserve to be punished. I deserve to be punished. I read that list and
I can be undone for I know that I am defiled, but thanks be to God, who has authority to cast into hell as well as the authority to save. You are valuable in the eyes God. You are a sinner and deserve his wrath. This powerful God says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” If sparrows are not forgotten by God, you who are of more value than many sparrows will not be forgotten by God.

Jesus calls his people friends. John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Anyone who turns from their sins and trusts to Christ is called a friend of God. You are no longer defiled, but cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ. He laid down his life for you, he died for you. Do not fear those who can only take your life, but remember that God knows every hair on your head and will bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom. Fear Him. Honor Him. When we fear God more than man we will be fueled to live for his glory.

David Platt shares this story of Romanian Pastor Josef Tson when he was being interrogated by six men. He said to one of them:

What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me. . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God. Every day I saw those six pompous men as nothing more than my Father’s puppets!

As the interrogation went on, they threatened his life. They wanted Josef to fear them who could kill, but do no more. Listen to Josef recounting his interaction with one of his captors:

During an early interrogation I had told an officer who was threatening to kill me, “Sir, let me explain how I see this issue. Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Here is how it works. You know that my sermons on tape have spread all over the country. If you kill me, those sermons will be sprinkled with my blood. Everyone will know I died for my preaching. And everyone who has a tape will pick it up and say, ‘I’d better listen again to what this man preached, because he really meant it; he sealed it with his life.’ So, sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder than before. I will actually rejoice in this supreme victory if you kill me.” After I said this, the interrogator sent me home. Another officer who was interrogating a pastor friend of mind told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.” I stopped to consider the meaning of that statement. I remembered how for many years, I had been afraid of dying. I had kept a low profile. Because I wanted badly to live, I had wasted my life in inactivity. But now that I had placed my life on the altar and decided I was ready to die for the Gospel, they were telling me they would not kill me! I could go wherever I wanted in the country and preach whatever I wanted, knowing I was safe. As long as I tried to save my life, I was losing it. Now that I was willing to lose it, I found it.

Josef was willing to die for the One who died for Him. He placed his life on the altar and decided he was ready to die for the gospel. Are you willing to die for the gospel? Are you willing to die to your comforts? Are you willing to die to sin? Are you willing to die that others may live?

Beware of the Deceptive Denial of the Heart

Jesus continues with another warning and another encouragement. As Josef acknowledge Jesus before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge him before the angels of God. Listen to the promise of Jesus, in Luke 12:8-12:

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 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. 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, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

Jesus warns his disciples about the deadly denial of the heart. If you deny Jesus Christ, he will deny you. You can deny Jesus before men with your words or with your lives. If you believe Jesus is the Son of God, you will fear and honor Him by keeping his commandments. Your words will not be mere lip service, but rather your life will match your confession in public and in private.

Jesus makes a distinction between two specific types of denial, the denial of the Son of Man and the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This can be confusing, but Darrell Bock in his NT commentary clarifies the meaning in saying:

The difference between blaspheming the Son of Man and blaspheming the Spirit is that blasphemy of the Son of Man is an instant rejection, while blasphemy of the Spirit is a permanent decision of rejection…Once the Spirit’s testimony about God’s work through Jesus is permanently refused, then nothing can be forgiven, since God’s plan has been rejected.[3]

During the crucifixion, the Apostle Peter rejected Jesus in a moment, but that rejection was not the pattern of his life. He did not permanently refuse the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus Christ, but in a moment feared those who could only kill the body and do no more.

Jesus is warning people about rejecting Him. He has already warned people about hidden hypocrisy and false fear so that they would not be deceived in rejecting the testimony about the Holy Spirit. The promise of God is that you acknowledge Him before men, then He will acknowledge you before the angels of God. But if you ignore his warnings, and live as a hypocrite, fearing man more than God, rejecting the testimony of the Holy Spirit about God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ, then you will not be forgiven. Jesus is giving grace in explaining the consequences of those who reject him. Jesus is giving grace to Judas who was going to betray Him. Beware of the deceptive denial of the heart for it will bring deadly consequence.

Jesus wraps up this teaching in promising persecution. Verse 11, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities.” Those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Christians are going to be challenged and persecuted by the authorities, but there is no need to fear or to worry for the Holy Spirit will teach us that very hour what we ought to say. As the story of the early church unfolds, this promise becomes a reality as the apostles stand with courage and wisdom in the face of opposition.

Beloved, this is a promise we need to embrace today. Christian beliefs and values are being challenged and questioned each day. Whether in the public square or at the water cooler or the lunch table, we have to remember that God has given His Holy Spirit to speak through us in the very hour we need Him.

Let me close with a scene from the book of Acts 4:7-13 when Peter and John were brought before the authorities to question their actions and beliefs:

And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

In the face of persecution, the apostles preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. They testified that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Their boldness was connected to spending time with Jesus. Beware of the false idols of the heart, spend time with Jesus and rejoice in Him who has the power to save.

[1] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1133). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
[3] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1143). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.