If Luke 11 was about Jesus training his disciples in prayer, then today’s is about ‘Fear’! “Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him”. (v5) The ‘Him’ is referring to God himself, and the message is that he is in total control of our destinies and that God alone deserves our utter respect and holy fear (Acts 9:31; Hebrews 11:7; Revelation 15:4). It also demonstrates the existence of continued punishment of the unrighteous after the physical body has been destroyed, which is itself an awe-full doctrine.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (vv11-12). What we should not fear, is the eternally-empty threats of men and human systems. There will come a time when things get very tough across the world for true believers (and in many places it is happening right now); we should not fear or worry about these times of persecution, because he will supply all the grace and power we need at the time. Here in Luke’s gospel (12:11-12), it is the Holy Spirit who will teach us the words to say in defence of our faith; in a similar passage later in Luke (21:12-15) it is ‘…I [Jesus] will give you words and wisdom that …’; in Matthew’s version of this (Matthew 10:20) it is ‘…the Spirit of your Father’, and in Mark’s gospel (13:11) it is ‘…the Holy Spirit’. We see, therefore, that all three members of the Trinity are represented in the different gospels!
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear… for the pagan world runs after such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (vv22, 31, 33). We are not to worry about provision of material things, because the Lord is our Provider. The evidence is that he even provides abundantly for the animals he has created, and he sees us as much more valuable than them. So don’t worry!
In many ways the above paragraphs are a repeat and outworking of the Lord’s (or ‘Disciples’) Prayer in the previous chapter. Once we have prayed for all these things, we can peacefully leave them with the Lord, confident in his love for us and his care over us, his children.
God wants us to go further than reliance on Him: He wants us to trust Him in reaching out to others.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (v34).
Looking ahead to Pentecost and the birth of the Church, Jesus declares: “I have come to bring fire on earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (12:49). But he must first drink the cup of his Father’s will down to its dregs: “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed”. This phrase represents him being ‘immersed’ in the full trials of Calvary and separation from his Father. The consequence of the Passion of Christ is both to unite some things that are divided and to divide some things which are united: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (v51).
DEUTERONOMY 8, 9 and 10
Forgetful people need constant reminding – which is both irritating for them and for the one doing the reminding – but that is the nature of the human condition. Just before examination times, teachers do a great deal of ‘reminding’ (we call it ‘revision’) and sometimes discover that students seem to be learning it for the first time! God, in Deuteronomy chapters 8-10, is having to do just that: reminding and teaching, to a stubborn people who are very slow to learn and think they know it all. Teach-ability is a vital virtue in a person, a key to their growth and progress in life. Those among us who have a ‘know-it-all’ attitude, who cannot acknowledge to your face that they have been taught anything new, are not only highly unattractive as people, but have effectively chosen a life of stagnancy and cynicism. We all know people like that today – and perhaps we are one of those ourselves! – but it appeared to be characteristic of Israel as an entire nation too. Un-teachability leads to loneliness, ineffectiveness and ultimately destruction.
To prevent this, the Lord reminds Israel that He alone brought them for 40 years through a deathly wilderness, testing them and teaching them to rely on his miraculous powers of provision. Forty years of the same diet (school dinners!) may be monotonous, but it kept them alive, and it taught them a lesson: if you can trust the Lord daily for the basic needs of life, this spills over into every aspect of our relationship with God. God was disciplining his people like a father disciplines his child. One of the important aspects of our walk with God is that, as we get older, we should become more dependent upon him on a daily basis; this is the very opposite of human family relationships, where grown-up children work towards becoming less dependent upon their parents.
This miraculous provision was not going to continue once Israel had entered the land, and then they would enjoy a wonderfully varied diet of all the fabulous produce of Canaan. But, God warns, there is a lesson here too: now in a land of prosperity, they would appear to be less reliant upon the Lord for their daily provision and would be tempted to forget that he underpins every part of their lives. Self-sufficiency leads to self-centredness! We too must realise that when, with God’s help, we come through a tough and testing time, maybe in terms of finances, sickness, relationships, bereavement, or work-related issues, the real test is often how we cope with a subsequent period of prosperity and peace. Remember: He brought us here and he still sustains us now! See 8:18: “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth”.
Israel was also tempted to think that they had ‘earned’ their new land with its prosperity, because of something particularly worthy in them or on the basis of good behaviour (see ch. 9). God told them that it was because they were less bad than the nations he was ejecting from the land; similarly, our blessing is not because we deserve it, but because He is gracious and merciful to us (‘grace’ = receiving good things we don’t deserve; ‘mercy’ = not receiving the punishment that we do deserve). See Ephesians 2:1-9.
No-one could accuse Moses of not caring for Israel. He went through two consecutive 40-day total fasts (no food or water) in order to intercede for them. These fasts were themselves miraculous since no-one can physically stay alive without water for so long. Israel survived because Moses prayed for them – which is a lesson in the importance of prayer for others, and in the amount of prayer time that it can sometimes take to achieve a result.
In chapter 10, God’s requirements were simple: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”. Those people who are unwilling to obey God, make faith out to be a very complex and difficult matter but, in reality, it is quite straightforward.
Finally, a word by God about God: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt”. It is significant, in our own time, when there is resentment in some parts about an influx of foreigners to our country, God stressed that he welcomes them and that we should treat them with love and friendship; similarly, as churches, we must make ourselves as welcoming as possible to all who are – at present – foreign to the gospel, loving them and integrating them as fully as they are willing. For at one time, we were foreigners and aliens (Ephesians 2:11-20)!