“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
8 ‘I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11 ‘When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’” (Luke 12:4-12)
This passage in Luke 12 is rather sobering. The reason that I say that is that it appears to be a collection of sayings by Jesus on the theme of how to cope when persecution heats up.
And who wants to contemplate such an eventuality?
Luke offers five strategies for coping with the dark days when troubles come. It begins with an “encouragement” that physical death is not to be feared so much as spiritual separation.
1.A realistic view of death
Since physical death was often the outcome of being arrested for being an adherent of a proscribed religion (and -paradoxically- branded an “atheist” for not believing in the civic deities!), such a contemplation was closer to being practical advice rather than hypothetical philosophizing.
Then Luke takes the consequence of arrest in two directions.
2. A positive appraisal of your own value
The first is the reminder that your inherent value is not dependent on your circumstances. “You are worth more than many sparrows” sounds like a joke – a deadpan statement of the obvious. But as such, it underlines the necessity of looking at your situation from God’s point of view and not gettting trapped by your own fear.
It’s a perspective that emerges in Acts 4, where the disciples have been arrested and face (probably) the same kangaroo court that only a few weeks previously condemned their master to death. But, empowered by the Spirit, and knowing who they are in God’s sight, they are bold and resilient. “Should we obey God or man?” is a gutsy reply, even if it is not calaculated to win friends and influence people!
3. An understanding of God’s sovereignty
The second encouragement is to consider the wider ethos of being “on trial.” If we are indeed called to obey God rather than man, then our real trial is before God, right? “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.”
4. A decision to stand in the place of power
And so just as death must be considered in a different way, so must the trial itself. The word translated “disown” means to cast off or disinherit. If you stand up for Jesus, then despite all appearances, you are standing in the place of power. But if you move from it, then you move out of covenant.
And if your trial is ultimately before God and not man, does it not follow that the people who arrested you are also in the same position? So Luke adds this: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” That is to say, anyone who sets themselves up against the God whom you represent is -in the final analysis- blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
5.A confidence in God’s supply
The last sentence in the passage gives helpful practical encouragement to those in the middle of it all. If you are standing up for Jesus, then you stand in covenant with him and because of that, you are in a position of favour. Consequently, ‘When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’
God’s work done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply (to misquote Hudson Taylor). It’s going to be alright. God has it in hand.
And it was in this awareness that the disiples in Actrs 4 were able to pray:
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’”