Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Persecution and Popularity
Today we explore the topic of: what happens if no one likes you and what happens if everyone likes you. Both can be problematic when it comes to the gospel.
We start our journey through Luke Chapter 12 by looking back to the end of Chapter 11. Jesus has let the Pharisees and Scribes have it with both barrels-leveling them with a total of six “woes” which was a term meaning “Alas!” and involved either extreme grief or denunciation. The “woes” brought Jesus’ opposition to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders right out into the open.
He told them that they acted good and pure and holy but inside were filled with death and evil. Not only did they create an impossible burden for people to carry in order to please God, but they didn’t subject themselves to the rules they created. Above all, they acted like they honored God’s prophets but opposed the most important prophet ever to arise—God Himself, Jesus Christ. They refused to listen to the truth He spoke and the centrality of who He was. By this they blocked others who wanted to understand and believe in Jesus because they were the authority figures in Israel. They were the gate to understanding God, and they’d closed the gate.
The leaders didn’t take these “woes” very well. And in Chapter 11 verses 53 and 54 we find their reaction. They “opposed” Him which means they “held a grudge.” And this opposition wasn’t minor, it was “fierce” which means: “excessively -- grievously, vehemently.” The excessive opposition took the form of scheming. They wanted to “cross-examine” which means: “to attack with questions”. They looked for opportunities to attack him as a hunter would seek his prey. They laid traps with questions and watched to see if He’d fall into their traps so they could spring out and decry Him in front of the crowds.
Given that environment, it’s no wonder that His disciples began to fear for their lives. In fact, back in Chapter 11 verse 49 Jesus as much said that these same religious leaders would “kill and persecute” the apostles (which means: an envoy or messenger).
So Jesus makes sure to set some things straight for His people:
- Why fearing the religious leaders is unfounded
- Who you really need to fear and what that means
1 – 3
Jesus’ popularity was never higher. Large crowds gathered so much so that people were jostling each other to get near to Jesus. So mixed with the fear of the plotting religious leader now we have the temptation of popularity. May I just say that popularity rules much of how we form opinions and the actions we take—even in the church. We use the size of our buildings, the size of our congregation, and the size of our budgets as proxies for whether or not we’re doing what God wants us to do. Studies have shown that popularity greatly influences our behavior. In a recent study, groups could listen to and download music. One group did this alone; another could share their song tastes. You guessed it: the group which shared tended to listen to and download the same songs.
The problem with popularity is that you’ve got to maintain and enhance it to remain feeling successful. Sometimes that leads to behaviors that are more “the ends justify the means” oriented. One pastor of a large church in our region said that once their church grew to a certain size, maintaining that size ran the ministry, not what was necessarily on the Lord’s heart.
The Pharisees worried that their popularity was at stake with this new teaching and the Rabbi at the head of it (John 11:48). So too, the disciples could be prone to the same hypocritical behaviors of the Pharisees in order to maintain the crowds. Jesus, of course, knew that every single of them would abandon Him in the end, and that was okay because He was going to die for them and earn salvation for them alone. He didn’t need anyone in order to do that.
But in the meantime He warns them of hypocrisy like “yeast” which, once introduced, spreads quickly and thoroughly. The disciples needed to understand that there are no secrets with God. If you do something with fleshly motivation and cover it with a spiritual veneer God will not only know but eventually will proclaim it openly. We mistakenly think that just because we can “get away” with something that no one will know. That’s simply not true. And the secret plottings of the leaders, and the evil it revealed, would not remain a secret for long.
So the disciples shouldn’t revere the Pharisees and Scribes, nor should they fear their plots and attacks.
4 – 7
There is both warning and hope in this paragraph. We humans fear physical suffering and death more than anything else. Though as a disciple of Jesus we might suffer (one person put it this way: “God promised a safe landing, but not a calm flight”), death is not the end of existence, merely a change of scenery.
Hebrews 9:27 says: “it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” After death we stand before God. He’ll have two books before Him. One book contains a 4k ultra high-def record of every thought word and deed you have ever done that is contrary to the holiness of God. The other book is the Book of Life. If God finds an entry for you in the Book of Life, your entry in the Book of Deeds is empty. You get your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life by trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you aren’t in that book God separates Himself from you. That’s hell.
As Jesus speaks these words to His “friends” they might start worrying that they don’t have a chance with either the religious leaders or God. But Jesus reassures them that they won’t get forgotten in the coming struggles. Sometimes as soldiers we feel like we are expendable in the battle and that our general really doesn’t care for the well-being of each soldier. Not so. If God is aware (and ultimately in control) of every seemingly worthless bird’s death, then the events of your life (“hairs of your head”) are also on His radar.
2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever!
So how does this happen? How do you get in God’s good graces, and avoid hell, and how do you end up on the wrong end of divine judgment? That’s next:
8 – 10
My feeling is that verses 8-9 and 10 are saying the same thing in different ways. Acknowledging Jesus means you declare His lordship in your life openly. Part of that confession is that you acknowledge the work of Jesus as coming from God—that He is the Son of God. As Paul said: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The opposite of that is 1) refusing to follow, trust, and believe in Jesus and 2) ascribing the work of Jesus as not coming from God—that He is not the Son of God. This harkens back to what Jesus said in Chapter 11:17-20. You really have to decide if Jesus is who He says He is: the Son of God, and the Spirit within Him is that of God, or whether what He’s doing is of the enemy.
This brings up a touchy subject: The Blaspheme of the Holy Spirit. I’ve run into a number of people who fear that if they accidently say the wrong thing that they will have committed this sin and be barred from heaven. If we look at the two phrases of Jesus here I think we can understand it better. Public acceptance of Jesus leads to heavenly acceptance of the believer. Public denial of Jesus leads to heavenly denial. So to commit the sin of Blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, one has to forever turn their back on Jesus and His saving work. Matthew’s account (Matthew 12) says that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit you must continually oppose the work of God in Jesus—in essence calling it the work of evil instead of good. It is to refuse to accept His grace. (See this study for more on this)
-- Robert H. Mounce
"The only sin that God is unable to forgive is the unwillingness to accept forgiveness."
11 – 12
Now we circle back to the fear—fear that the Pharisees and religious leaders’ hatred of Jesus will spill over to the disciples. They’ve already conspired to trip Jesus the Messiah up. Even if they can’t be successful with Him, what about us mere disciples? That’s what Jesus addresses in this final paragraph.
Jesus says “whenever” they get dragged into an adversarial setting with those in charge not to worry. The word worry can be translated “to get distracted”. I can certainly understand that. In my experience as a reporter I’ve spent a fair amount of time in courts of law, legislative chambers, with governors and presidents. There is an aura of power that can be very distracting. Couple that with the threat of punishment and it’s likely that you’ll experience what those who study the brain call a “limbic state” which means the logic and thinking centers of your brain go offline and you can’t literally not think straight.
Jesus says that in that situation the Holy Spirit will instruct you in what to say and how to effectively defend yourself as a disciple. He’ll do the thinking for you. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t prepare.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.
2 Timothy 4:2 Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.
1 Peter 3:15 Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
You need to have the information in your brain. But the Holy Spirit helps you put the pieces together and express yourself in a way that brings Him glory in that situation.
He did it for Peter in Acts Chapter 4 and Paul in Acts 24. And He will do it for you too.
So what can we draw out of these two opposites: popularity and opposition?
- Can lead to maintaining popularity over maintaining integrity of character
- Remember: no one gets away with anything—ever. 2 Corinthians 5:10 10 For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless. At that audit Jesus will help us honestly evaluate how we’ve done—those things that are wood hay and stubble (which will burn), and those that are gold silver and costly stones – which will remain (1 Corinthians 3:12).
- The real person to fear is God
- If you are related to God, He is a fierce defender of His kids.
- Your struggles with opposition and trouble in this life matter to God
- Concern yourselves more with making sure you take in God’s Word, rather than focusing primarily on the presentation in the face of persecution.
It is true that though you may not experience the problems with popularity, you WILL experience opposition:
2Timothy 3:12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
John 16:33 “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
Know this: both popularity and opposition can harm your effectiveness for the Lord. The one pulls you away from following God’s way, the other seeks to push you away from trusting God.
But just because you will experience trouble doesn’t mean it should derail your relationship with God or your service for God. God is bigger than the opposition against you and can and will use the forces against you to actually accomplish His will like a divine judo move. All we need to do is enjoy our relationship with Him and be available!