The Father’s Care
Reading: Luke 12:22-34
Do you ever watch nature documentaries on TV? If you do you won’t need me to tell you just how interesting they can be as they describe the wonderful world that God has made.
A recent survey has found that religious people who watch programmes such as BBC’s Planet Earth, presented by the self-professed agnostic Sir David Attenborough, are more likely to have their faith in God reaffirmed by the beauty they see on screen. This is certainly not intention of the presenter who refuses to see a Creator’s hand behind it all.
The Bible teaches us that it is:
"By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." Heb.11:3
Men like Attenborough and Brian Cox don’t have such faith: they prefer to present their theories as science and are dismissive of views that conflict radically with their own. And yet if you listen to their descriptions of the natural world without at the same time swallowing their explanations you will be drawn into considering in ever more minute detail the glorious handiwork of God.
And Jesus tells us there are many lessons that we can learn for our own lives if we look carefully at the natural world and if we draw the appropriate conclusions.
"Reasoning from Ravens" and "Lessons from Lilies"
Jesus had just been talking about the importance of being rich not in terms of this world’s possessions but in being spiritually rich toward God. Such a reordering of priorities in life would have consequences for the way in which his followers thought and behaved in this world.
Jesus told his disciples that they were no longer to live as though the affairs of this life were all-important. If they were then his followers might be justified in spending all their time and energy worrying about their next meal and their next set of designer clothes but Jesus taught that there was more to life than that, much more!
In order to help his disciples think clearly about these matters Jesus then drew upon a couple of easy to understand examples from the natural world that was all around them. Let’s look at them.
Jesus was teaching his followers in the open air and it may well have been the case that he drew their attention to a flock of young ravens passing overhead. In any case Jesus spoke about something that was very familiar and easy to understand for his followers.
v.24 "Consider the ravens (he said): they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them."
The rich fool, in the parable Jesus had just told, had large crops to harvest and focused all his attention on building bigger and better barns so that he could store up his wealth for the future. That was the focus of his energies, all his energies. The ravens on the other hand did nothing of the sort and yet God provided for them the food they needed to survive.
The Bible refers several times to ravens. A raven was the first living thing to leave Noah’s ark when the flood began to subside. Ravens were used to miraculously supply the prophet Elijah with food. And this reference here in Jesus’ teaching is actually the third time that we are told that God takes care of ravens and gives them what they need to eat. This is perhaps all the more noteworthy when we realise that ravens were considered to be unclean!
Yeah, but so what? What’s the point, Jesus?
The point is this:
v.24 "Of how much more value are you than the birds!"
God cares for the birds but the Bible tells us that it is mankind which is the climax of God’s creation, his pièce-de-résistance, his masterpiece. In other words mankind is of much more value that other aspects of God’s creation – the disciples are worth much more than that flock of ravens flying by!
If God cares so well, so carefully, so regularly for those ravens, then surely he will care for the disciples too.
God knows their needs and he will not fail them. God knows your needs and he will not fail you. The disciples have no need to fill their lives with anxious worry and neither do you. Like those first disciples of Jesus’ you too must trust our Heavenly Father – this is the only appropriate attitude for the disciples to adopt.
One author expressed these thoughts of the appropriateness of trust in the form of a short poem. Here it is:
Said the robin to the sparrow,
"I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so."
Said the sparrow to the robin,
"Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me."
I wonder: does the way in which we habitually conduct ourselves lead others to think that we have no heavenly Father?
Elsewhere of course Jesus does instruct his followers to pray for their daily bread but they are to do so calmly and trustingly:
Mt.6:8 "for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
Having addressed the mundane matter of food and pointed out why the disciples shouldn’t allow their lives to be filled with worry about that Jesus moved on to a couple of other areas where the people of this world restlessly focus their efforts: length of life and clothing or beauty.
The flock of birds may have flown on gone but the flowers are still growing on the hillside so Jesus now uses them to illustrate the next truth he wants his followers to understand. I suppose the truth is fundamentally the same it is rather the application of that truth that differs somewhat as Jesus directs his listeners to consider the lilies.
Men and women find so many things to worry about. Jesus has told his disciples how inappropriate worry is when it comes to the necessities of life now he addresses other worries and there is such a modern ring to it all.
Length of life and beauty. And how often our modern media loves to combine the two if at all possible!
We’re used to the televised visits to care homes to celebrate the latest person who has reached the age of 156 or whatever it is! We know the question will eventually be put: what is the secret of your long life? We are interested to know, we all want to live longer. Our papers tell us what the latest advice is – the foods to avoid and the foods to seek out – what vitamin supplements to swallow. Oh the effort we will go to in the attempt to add to the length of our days!
You’ve heard too about the schemes and plans some rich folk have to have their bodies frozen in the hope of being able to be thawed out and to live again at some time in the future when the necessary improvements in health care and medical science have been made.
And Jesus pours cold water on it all! You can’t add "a single hour to your span of life by being anxious about it" he said cf. v.25. And we readily recognise the wisdom of that; after all, we talk colloquially about someone "worrying themselves to death" but we never talk about anyone "worrying themselves to life."
And as for beauty – what an industry that is whether it be in manufacturing "the body-beautiful" with diets, exercise routines or cosmetic surgery or whether it be with the adorning of the body we’ve got with extravagant garments.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that Jesus calls for his followers to make themselves as dowdy as possible but when our outward appearance dominates too much of our time and effort it’s a sure indication that we’re getting our priorities wrong.
This question of beauty is probably more of a temptation for the fairer sex as might be deduced from Paul’s advice to Timothy concerning Christian women in the church:
1Tim.2:9-10 "women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."
But men are not to imagine that this is solely a matter for the ladies. Jesus gives no indication that what he has to say is for the women – he speaks to all who would follow him.
The lilies: we don’t know exactly what flowers Jesus was speaking about neither does it matter all that much for the point he makes is simple and straightforward. Plants can’t do much in the way promoting their beauty – they simply grow as God intended they should. They don’t concern themselves with spinning or weaving – the very idea is ridiculous and we are meant to realise that.
But what wonderful beauty adorns the flowers as they grow! Take a little time the next time you’re in a supermarket or garden centre or park to come up close to a bloom and look at it, really look at it. Flowers are terrific – and they are temporary and ephemeral. Jesus compared them to the grass of the field – here today and gone tomorrow. God has made so many flowers and so many different types of flowers each with their own particular beauty.
How many millions germinate, grow and flower without ever even being seen by a human eye! God cares for them all even though they are destined for the furnace or the compost heap.
Don’t you realise says, Jesus, you are worth more than them and your Father who cares for them will certainly care for you!
So don’t worry but trust God. He knows all about these needs and will meet them there are greater, more important things for you to occupy yourself with.
Don’t worry but seek...
Life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a distinctive life. It is no small thing to be a Christian man or woman and consequently it should be fairly straightforward to distinguish a Christian from other types of people.
The Christian must differ in:
the inner yearnings of his heart
the things he sets his heart upon
being motivated by a different love
Could one of the reasons why the cause of Christ is seemingly at a low ebb in the UK today be due to the fact that we Christian believers are really so much like the unbelieving world? Do we share their joys, their passions and their priorities so much that there is precious little in us that speaks of God and the wonders of being in a right relationship with him?
Jesus tells his followers where they are to direct their efforts and into what they are to pour their energies. The world says into the tangible things of this world and Jesus says into the Kingdom of God!
When you think about your own life for a moment, when I stop and think about my own, do we find any evidence that we are taking Jesus’ seriously? Is there anything in our lives that looks like we’re "pouring our energies" into the Kingdom of God? Or are we somehow trying to freewheel, as it were, to heaven?
The Christian is saved only and always by grace and not by any merit he might think he can conjure up and yet when grace is imparted to the human heart it is powerful, effective, transforming grace. If you like it is energetic grace and it is to be worked out in our lives.
Jesus reorients the direction of the lives of those who come to him for salvation and who so become his disciples. Our interests are now to be bound up with God’s kingdom, that is, with his rule and reign in our individual lives but also in the wider world at large. And this is not intended to be passive, the interest of a spectator alone; this is to be the interest of an active participant.
Listen again to how Jesus puts it and notice too the encouragements he adds to the instruction he gives:
vv.29-31 "And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.""
Jesus assures his followers of the Father’s loving care and provision – he will make sure they have the things that are necessary for life. At the same time he doesn’t send his disciples off on a spiritual wild-goose chase with precious little hope of success. He tells them (and us) that the very thing we are to seek is exactly what the Father delights to give!
If you are a young Christian then set your sights high as Jesus tells you to – don’t set off on the Christian life aiming to keep one foot in the world, trying to hedge your bets as it were when it comes to pleasures and enjoyments Half-heartedness is a hopeless dynamic for life. You will have too much of religion to be happy in the world and too much of the world to be happy in Christ. A worldly Christian (if such be a Christian at all) is a desperately sad person and you really don’t want to become one of those.
But for you who have been Christians for some time, for many years perhaps, is the flame of spiritual passion still burning in your heart and is it burning brightly? How easy it is once a number of initial changes have been brought about in your life to settle down into a comfortableness in your Christian life. Perhaps past failures have led to you lowering your sights and to settling for something less than you ought. Perhaps you are tempted to think that that is all you are cut out to be.
Well let me remind you that Jesus doesn’t give up on his people and nor does he change his plans for them. The Christians in Laodicea weren’t up to much even though they thought they were doing fine. Jesus called for them to repent and to become zealous, to aspire to own the spiritual riches they hadn’t taken possession of. It wasn’t over for them because of past failure – they too had a future. And Jesus urged them with further promises and encouragements. Do you remember what he said?
Rev.3:20-21 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne."
But the words must not just be heard they must be heeded. And may we hear and heed them too:
Rev.3:22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."