Tucked away in quite a short book towards the end of the Old Testament is a well-known little verse. At some stage in your life you have all probably come across this verse even if you have never opened the Bible in your life.
The message it contains is so important that Christians have, over the years, put it on posters and carried it on placards and sandwich boards.
The unbelieving world doesn’t like this verse and has tried to dismiss its message by poking fun at it and by laughing at Christians who have taken it seriously and tried to make it known. Indeed some of you may only know this verse because of cartoons or pictures designed to make it look ridiculous.
I wonder if you have any idea of which verse I am referring to. It is found in Amos 4:12 and in the language of the old Bible this is what it says:
"Prepare to meet thy God".
The world has done a pretty good job in turning a solemn thought into something light and frivolous. We have a laugh and we smile and then we think we just can get on with life – after all who will take this seriously if it can be laughed at so readily?
Well, Jesus took it seriously. He believed this message and he endeavoured to encourage those to whom he spoke to take it seriously too. That is what we find him doing in the verses we are going to consider together this morning.
What did Jesus think?
Before we turn to think about the specific instructions that Jesus gave that day it will be helpful for us to notice a few of his fundamental beliefs that lay behind what he would teach.
Jesus did not believe that this present life is all there is.
Jesus did believe that after death there was a judgment to be faced.
Jesus did believe a man’s life was determined by who he served, by whom he feared.
Jesus believed that God was good.
These beliefs motivated Jesus to speak to his friends. What he told them would enable them to prepare. There were steps that were necessary for them to take if they were to avoid making a complete catastrophe of their lives and they would need consciously to act upon what he told them. And the same is true for us too.
What did Jesus say?
Jesus knew that his friends were faced with important choices to make in life. He knew too that the consequences of these choices could not be overstated: it was their entire destiny that hung in the balance.
Some of the choices we make in our lives have similar consequences. What will our destiny be?
Jesus spoke to his friends about what might motivate them in life and he did so by talking about fear.
Now fear is a great motivator. We may be frightened of another person or we hold him in great esteem and treat him with great respect. In either case we are very likely to modify our behaviour in an attempt to try to secure his favour if possible.
As Jesus spoke about "fear" it quickly became clear that the question was not whether we should fear someone but rather whom would we fear. And for Jesus there were basically two options and only two:
Those who could kill the body and then do nothing more
God who could not only kill but also cast into hell
If this life was all there was to be concerned about then we would have no need to think about hell at all. At that point we would simply have to weigh up and decide what was the best way of securing happiness and enjoyment in this life.
We could well come to the conclusion that we need to worry most about other men who are highly visible and obvious to our present experience. If men can determine whether I live or die I would do well to find out how best to appease them so that I can live as long as I can. Choosing God could well prove to have a negative effect upon my relations with other men as a man’s choice to follow God rarely wins him friends in the unbelieving world.
As the apostle Paul later put it:
1Cor.15:19 "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
But Jesus knew that this life was not all there was! So he urged his friends not to allow their lives to be dominated by the thoughts and influences of mere men. Indeed how foolish it would be to allow our behaviour to be shaped and influenced for fear of mere men when they would have no influence over our eternal destiny. Should they kill the body they had nothing else they could do to us.
How foolish it would to live our lives without heeding God who has the ability to consign us to hell forever!
So Jesus says as the complement to "do not fear those who kill the body, and after that they have nothing more that they can do" "Fear him who, after he has killed, has the authority to cast into hell."
It should really be a no-brainer but unless and until God shines his light into our lives by the Holy Spirit we will go on and on choosing darkness rather than light for our deeds are evil.
Has he shone that light into your life yet?
How glad you should be if he has and you have gone tin faith to Jesus Christ to be saved!
But if you haven’t yet seen the light you should go to God earnestly asking him to show you the truth before it is too late for you.
Do you remember the context and what it was that had been in the forefront of Jesus’ thinking at this time? He had just been warning his followers to be careful when they came into contact with religious hypocrites. In particular he had highlighted the pernicious and pervasive influence of the teaching of such folk. Did Jesus have this type of person in mind now as he warned about those who killed the body?
As we have seen in recent weeks the religious hypocrite was, and is, concerned with outward appearance and not with matters of the heart. They were concerned with all kinds of rules and regulations. Now these things might look impressive but all it amounts to is a man-made religion. Such a religion was utterly ineffective in dealing with the source of our human problem, the heart. And let me remind you again that it is the heart that interests God as he looks for uprightness and integrity.
If you choose to follow such blind guides and put your trust in adhering to a set of dos and don’ts instead of putting your faith and trust in Jesus as the Saviour God has sent then be aware that you are in great spiritual danger. It is to shake you out of such complacency that Jesus speaks so plainly of the reality of judgment and of hell – he would save you from it but will you call out to him to save you or will you go on refusing to do so or go on putting it off.
It is a widely taught truth in the Bible that there are only two alternatives. We either serve God or we do not. Back in OT times Joshua called upon the people of his day to decide whom they would follow:
Jos.24:14-15 "Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Will you respond in the same way the ose people responded to Joshua?
Jos.24:16, 21 "Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods... we will serve the LORD."
In a similar manner Elijah challenged his contemporaries:
1Ki.18:21 "And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."
Jesus himself, when numbers of his followers were turning back from following him, spoke to his inner core of disciples and asked them whether they too wanted to leave him. Peter acting as their spokesman was emphatic in his reply:
Jn.6:68 "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,"
Earlier in his ministry Jesus had also taught the utter impossibility of trying somehow trying to hedge your bets by fudging the issue and pretending that it was possible to navigate through life without taking a definite decision:
Mt.6:24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Dear friend, it will be no different for you either. You must choose who you would follow, who you would serve, who you would fear. Do make sure that you make the right choice!
How important it is is seen in the way Jesus emphasises it all:
Lk.12:5 "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!"
The Goodness of God – a Wonderful Encouragement
Lest any of us be in any doubt Jesus immediately went on to speak about the goodness of God who is completely worthy of our trust and our confidence.
Just listen to how he continued:
Lk.12:6-7 "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows."
Sparrows were cheap insignificant little birds. They were then, as they are still today in some countries, caught, sold, roasted and eaten. There wasn’t a whole lot of meat on a sparrow – you’d get just a taster, one mouthful and it would be gone. The sparrow was food for a poor man as its price indicates. Matthew tells us that sparrows were two-a-penny so here in Luke we have an early example of a special offer five-for-tuppence. (The word used for penny amounted to about 1/16 th of a worker’s pay.)
And Jesus’ point is that God is concerned about each and every sparrow even though their value is so little. And if God is interested in sparrows then he is certainly interested in us who, Jesus tells us, are worth more than many sparrows!
This God is so concerned about us humans that he is even interested in the numbers of hairs on our heads.
Have you ever stopped to think about that?
I have no idea how many hairs there are on my head and I’m certainly interested in myself. I vainly comb my hair (what there is left of it) every day – I notice hairs that fall out but I’ve really no idea about how many are left. Some of the ladies found a hairbrush on the premises recently – it had a quite a large number of grey hairs in it – but they couldn’t work out who the brush belonged to. But God knows.
According to the internet blondes have some 150,000 hairs while the poor old redhead has to make do with a mere 90,000. Every day we lose between 50-100 hairs though most, I’m told, regrow. (That last "fact" is sufficient to make me doubt the internet as in some of cases it patently isn’t true.)
But God knows exactly the number and for each of us – he doesn’t even work in averages but his interest in us is totally personalised!
This God who knows all about you won’t forget you once you put your trust him. He won’t throw you over on the grounds that he can’t remember you or is no longer interested in you. You can’t say the same for others who might try to influence you and lead in a different direction. These others once they’ve corrupted you with their false ideas, their false beliefs and their hypocritical stances they won’t help you: they’re not able to and they’re not interested enough to in any case.
But God cares for us. In his love towards us he sent his only begotten son into a lost world. We can trust and trusting him, believing in the Saviour the Lord Jesus whom he has commended to us, we will never be cast into hell.
So when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus we can confidently say using the words of the writer of Hebrews:
Heb.13:6 "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?"
Will you go to God and ask him to make Jesus your Saviour and will you go to him today?
Praise his wonderful name!