It is around thirty AD. A Pharisee has invited Jesus of Nazareth to dine with him, but he is amazed beyond words that his special guest didn’t go through the procedure of ritualistic washing before He sat down to eat. Jesus turned to him and said that those who went through the ceremony merely cleaned themselves outwardly, but inwardly they were full of wickedness and corruption. He even called them “fools,” because they had no understanding of the God that created them (Luke 11:39-40). He said that they had angered Him by their petty traditions, while ignoring that which mattered…that they were proud hypocrites, likening them to dead bodies in a graveyard. This was all while he was an invited guest at the man’s dinner table.
One of the lawyers then leaned forward to defend the teachers of the Law. Jesus then turned His fiery words to the lawyers and rebuked them for their hypocrisy, calling them the children of murderers, saying that they were accountable to God for condoning the evil deeds of their fathers.
Then He said, “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation.” Abel was the first person to be murdered. Although no physical Law had been given, Cain was the first man to transgress the Sixth Commandment by taking the life of his brother. Zacharius was also murdered. In 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 we are told that when the Spirit of God came upon him, he immediately accused the children of Israel of transgressing God’s Law. That brought about his untimely death. They stoned him in the court of the House of the Lord, and he died between the altar and the Temple.
A similar thing happened when Stephen told the religious leaders of his day that they had violated the Law. They also stoned him to death. The Law of God offends guilty sinners “because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
Jesus then accused the lawyers of failing to do what they should. They were lawyers—those who should have been teaching God’s Law to Israel, and therefore revealing the exceeding sinful nature of sin. He said, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
Jesus stirred up a religious hornet’s nest. He hit it with the baseball bat of rebuke. The scribes and Pharisees began to urge Him vehemently. They provoked Him to say many things, “lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.”
The attacking hornets attracted the attention of an “innumerable multitude.” So many gathered that they were trampling one upon another. This is the scene in which Jesus calls His disciples close to Himself and says:
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:1-9)
Think About What You Have Just Read
Many times I have read that passage and given a thoughtless “Amen” to it. Jesus said it, therefore I believe it. Amen to it. But think about what you have just read (I trust that familiarity didn’t cause you to skip over the verses). He firstly told His disciples to beware of the “leaven” of the Pharisees. Then He reveals that the “leaven” is hypocrisy.
Leaven (yeast) puffs up. That’s its function, and that’s exactly what hypocrisy does. Ask any one who professes to know God (but whose lives don’t match their claims), if they think that they are a good person. No doubt they tell you that they are morally upright. I have had many people say, “I’m a very good person.” One man even said, “I’m the best” (I was impressed that I had found the most moral man on earth). However, each (including him) proved to be liars, thieves, and adulterers at heart. They were puffed up with a sense of their own goodness, until the Law did its work in humbling them by showing their true state before God.
Then (in the above passage), Jesus began to bring in the detour sign. He said that God is the ultimate witness to every crime. He is the witness, the judge, and the executioner. Not even one murder—from Abel to Zacharias will go unpunished. Sin will be punished from A to Z. Even every idle word that men speak, they will give an account of on the Day of Judgment. Nobody is getting away with a thing. Not even a lustful thought will go unpunished (Matthew 5:27-28).
After that He said that we shouldn’t fear him who can kill the body. Think about that for a moment. How can someone kill your body? He could come at you with a fifteen inch stainless steel serrated-edged meat knife, and plunge it into your chest with such thrust it comes out in the middle of your back. Imagine seeing the unspeakably horrific sight of gushing warm blood surge from your chest as the final seconds of your life empties from your body. Thoughts of such a person attacking you are horrendous. But Jesus said not to fear him. What did He mean?
Swallow the Gnat
The Master of teachers often used hyperbole in His teachings. He contrasted love with hate, gnats with camels, hot with cold. Extremes make points. Justified exaggerations paint powerful pictures on the walls of dull minds. This in essence was what He was saying: Does the thought of having a sharp knife thrust through your chest scare you? That fear is nothing compared to the unspeakable horror of facing the wrath of Almighty God on the Day of Judgment. He said it would be better to drown with a millstone tied around your neck, rather than fall into God’s hands (don’t “amen” that without some thought). The Bible warns that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Words are inadequate to describe the terror of that day. Almighty God is going to tear guilty sinners from their graves and the Law will grind them to powder with eternal justice.
Why then doesn’t the world fear Him? Because they have been encouraged in their cultivation of their idols. The seed of idolatry is already waiting to germinate in the imagination, and modern evangelism provides a generous supply of man-made fertilizer to cause it to grow. It has come in the form of another gospel. It is one that runs alongside the true gospel, but it has removed the very elements that produce the fear of the Lord.
Gone is the terror of Judgment Day. It tells sinners the lie that God isn’t mad at them. Who needs to fear God when He has no thoughts of retribution? It has minimized the exceedingly offensive nature of sin by removing God’s Law from its message. Sin has merely become something that separates, rather than what it is—an anvil for the justice of a holy God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18) because we haven’t put it there.