Now I want you to turn in your Bible, if you have one with you, to Luke's gospel chapter 12. About a week and a half ago, in a rather unusual way, I was directed to one verse within this chapter - and it will become clear what it is in a moment or two, but let's read a few more verses than one from Luke 12.
Beginning to read at verse 22: "And he", that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, "said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?", or that could be translated, 'Could add to his life', "If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you". Here is our verse: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom".
Just before the verses that we have read together, we have what is commonly known as the parable of the rich fool. Of course you know all about it, this businessman who stored up goods, and was so successful that he had to knock down his barns and build bigger. He was expanding, things were going so well for him. Really the Lord was teaching in that story a warning against greed, and in verse 15 He makes that clear: 'He said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth'. Then again He emphasises that sentiment in verse 21: 'So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God'. Now He follows on from verse 22 to teach against the sin of worry - you heard me right, the sin of worry. He advocates that we should have faith in God.
Let me ask you: do you think of worry as a sin? It was John Wesley, the great Methodist evangelist, who said: 'I would no more worry than I would curse or swear'. He saw worry as much a sin as any other transgression of the ten commandments. What the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ - that we so easily skate quickly over - tells us, is that worry is a great sin against God. Yet we are all so good at it, aren't we? But the Lord Jesus' teaching, put to a very low common denominator, could be summed up by saying: if we worry, we can't trust; but if we trust, we can't worry. It's so simple, and yet so profound. If we worry we can't trust, if we trust we can't worry.
Now let's look at our text tonight, verse 32, the Lord Jesus says: 'Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom'. First I want you to notice the reason for those words, the reason is given in the first word of the verse: 'Fear'. Of course, it says 'Fear not', but the implication is that the disciples were perhaps going to fear. The reason why the Lord Jesus needed to speak these words was because of fear, it was public enemy number one just then as it is today. Now I know everybody thinks that terrorism is the greatest threat to humanity in the 21st century, but I think rather that the fear of terrorism is perhaps greater than terrorism itself - indeed the fear of everything. Our fears, when we analyse them, are so irrational, and yet they are so comforting to many of us.
Let me give you an example of how irrational our fears can be. Ordinary accidents kill nearly as many people per week in the United States alone as did terrorism, with 2527 fatalities worldwide, in the whole of the 1990's. Let me repeat that: ordinary accidents kill more people in a week in the United States alone, than were killed in the whole world during the decade of the 90's by terrorism - and yet our world, at least in the West, is paralysed by the fear of terrorism. Not only are our fears irrational, but we tend to fear what is immediate rather than things that are in our distant future. What I mean is, for instance, if you've ever been in an airport you will often see people who have a fear of flying. They're maybe biting their nails, they're maybe in a pub getting a drink, or they could be smoking several cigarettes. When you think about it, we're told by the medics that to be an habitual smoker you're subtracting five years off your life - and here are people smoking because of the worry of getting into a plane that, effectively, their journey in the car to the airport was more dangerous than getting on the flight. We have irrational fears, and they are usually about what is immediate - what is happening today, or tomorrow, or the next day - and we tend to forget about things that are in the distant future.
Now let me pause for a moment. Let me direct your eyes to verses 4 and 5, and if you're in our meeting tonight and you're not converted, you're not saved, I'm sure you're a worrier - but I wonder are you worrying about immediate things and not things in your distant future? Jesus says: 'I say unto you, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him'.
Now there are legitimate fears. We all ought to fear God as our Creator and our Judge. We all ought to fear that we might die and go to hell because we are under the judgement of God. Yet so many people don't think of those things that are truly fearful, worthy of our fear, and they while their way down here on Earth worrying about trivialities. I wonder is that you tonight? You do need to fear God. You need to fear eternity. But I want to speak primarily to Christians here this evening, and I want to think just for a moment of verse 22, these words: 'Take no thought' - believer, what are you thinking about as you're about to enter a New Year? What are your thoughts? Are you worrying? E. Stanley Jones said: 'Worry is the interest we pay on tomorrow's troubles'. We're already paying for things that we think are going to happen, and of course most of them never materialise - yet we worry about them nevertheless. The Lord Jesus said: 'Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on'. We worry about food, putting it on the table - men in particular worry about job security, and about breadwinning, paying the bills. We worry about the body if we're a fitness fanatic, or just getting on and starting to fret about disease and frailty. We can even worry about clothes. But the Lord Jesus knows what is in the hearts of men and women, and He knows that anxiety, worry, fear is a destroyer of men and women's souls.
Literally: 'Take no thought', here in verse 22, means 'Do not worry'. The Greek could be translated like this: 'To worry is to be pulled apart', that's the sense, that's exactly what worry does to us. I remember reading an illustration, and it described worry like 'wringing out a wet rag' - that's what your insides feel like, all twisted up and taut and tense. Now before I go on any further, I have to say to you that I certainly have not arrived as far as worry is concerned, and not doing it. I do struggle a great deal - and if there's a besetting sin in my life, and I'm sure there might be more than one, this certainly is one. As I set this forth tonight, I know I'm condemning myself - but the message is greater than the messenger. Let God be true and every man a liar, there is something in this for us all, and we must preach it - and as the old saint of God said: 'Thy will be done, though in my own undoing'.
We need to declare this tonight: worry is a sin, and often Christians can be the greatest sinners when it comes to worry. Yet here the Lord teaches in verse 23: 'The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment'. There's a great danger as Christians that we live for food, we live for clothing, we live for material existence in a materialistic society - and that can become the foremost aim of our existence. Yet the Lord Jesus says that those things should be relegated to second place, and the Lord Jesus Christ should always be at the first place - verse 31: 'Seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you'.
The reason for these words is fear, worry, anxiety - but secondly, see the reason for our fears, probing a little deeper. The Lord Jesus said in verse 32: 'Fear not, little flock'. The early apostles, there they are, they have been ministered to by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is fitting them for turning the whole world upside down, and reaching to the four corners of the globe with a message that no one had ever heard before, against the powers of a great Roman Empire - not to mention the paganism that was in many of the nations that were included in that empire...yet Christ had called them to reach out with the good news. Now here they are, little in number, before a multitude of enemies - weak in the face of huge challenges and trials, they are a flock of defenceless sheep or lambs in the midst of a pack of ravenous wolves...and the Lord predicted that this would happen.
Is it not true, had they not cause to fear? Were they not a little flock? The answer is: yes, they were little, little in numbers, weak in the face of the challenges, a flock of defenceless lambs. We've got to face our own weakness - sometimes that's the greatest challenge to some, to see that they are weak and in need, that they cannot face the foe alone, and they cannot face the future alone. But Christian, you've got to be aware: that's only half the truth. We are a little flock, we are weak to face the foe and our future alone - but that is not the half of the truth that the Lord Jesus calls us to focus on in this chapter. 'Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom'. You are little, you are weak, you are helpless, hopeless and defenceless on a human level. I think Luther captured it well when he said:
'Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Pray ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
And He must win the battle'.
The reason for these words in verse 32 is fear. The reason for those disciples' fears and ours, is that they are a little flock: weak and helpless. Let me conclude by the reasons not to fear: do not focus on the fact that we are a little flock, our weaknesses, our foibles, our difficulties; but the Lord, I believe, calls us to focus on three things in this verse. Look at them: 'It is your Father's good pleasure', stop there - your Father! Now we have a great illustration here from nature as to how our Father provides for His creation. Verse 24: 'Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Which of you taking thought can add to your stature?'. Verse 26: 'If you're not able to do that, why take ye thought for the rest?'. Verse 27: 'Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?'. The old hymn put it well:
'The raven He feedeth,
Then why should I fear?
To the heart of the Father
His children are near'.
Christ calls us to focus on the Fatherhood of God. I think that's a very neglected doctrine today. Of course we always want to be Christ-centred, and yet we never want to ignore our Father. The Fatherhood of God, and it's set forth in verse 30, the second half: 'Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things'. Your Father knows your needs, your Father knows your struggles, your Father knows your shortcomings spiritually and materially - and just like if you're a parent and you see a need that your child has, you will race to meet that need, so our Heavenly Father meets our needs. In this very gospel, chapter 11 verse 13, Jesus said: 'If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?'. I love Elizabeth Cheney's little poem:
'Said the robin to the sparrow:
'I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and hurry 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'.
In verse 7 the Lord Jesus had already said: 'Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows' - hallelujah! Are you focusing on the Fatherhood of God tonight as you enter a New Year? Why not focus on it now? Something else to focus on: 'It is your Father's good pleasure', His good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Romans 8:20 tells us that all things work together for good to them that love God. Now not everything that happens to us is good, but God works all things together for our good. We heard yesterday Romans 12 and verse 2, and it tells us that if we're not conformed to this world and we seek to prove the will of God, it is a good, and acceptable, and perfect will. It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, God wants good for us ultimately and eternally. Jeremiah 29:11, and I love this verse: 'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'. He has a plan and a purpose in our lives and in our eternal destiny, and it's good!
Paul said: 'It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure'. Focus on the Fatherhood of God, your Father - but focus on the fact that His future purpose for you is good. Is that what you're focusing on? Boy, that'll push out worry right away! A third thing to focus on tonight: it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom - the Fatherhood of God, His future purpose that is good, and His faithful promise that is guaranteed...to give you the kingdom. You! The kingdom! Whatever you're going through, God's word says: 'I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us'. The kingdom! The future promise! So don't focus on your immediate future, but focus on your eternal future. 'If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth'.
Is that where your focus is tonight? His faithful promise that's guaranteed? Think about it: this bedraggled group of men, these disciples - they are destined to inherit the kingdom with Christ! They would one day reign with Him over all the earth, and that's your inheritance and it's mine in Christ. 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love him'. Focus, as we enter this New Year, on the Fatherhood of God, your Father. Focus on His future purpose that is good, He wants to achieve His good pleasure in your destiny. Third: focus on His faithful promise that is guaranteed. Here's the whole point: if your Father, by His good pleasure, has guaranteed His promise - why worry on the pathway in between? I know it's easy to say it.
Let me finish with this story. I heard a hymn quoted by a missionary by the name of Darlene Diebler Rose, who was in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. If you're interested in reading her story, it's interesting, very informative and challenging - it's written in a book called 'Evidence Not Seen'. This little story goes that she was locked in her prison cell, and she looked out of her barred windows and saw a banana tree. She prayed a very simple prayer to the Lord, emaciated in body, famished, starved, she prayed to the Lord: 'Would You give me just one banana? Just one banana?'. She probably forgot about her prayer, and in the days that came after that petition to God, a friendship brewed between her and one of the Japanese commanders. A couple of days later, all of a sudden the door of the cell burst open, and a whole big bunch of bananas came flying in onto the floor. She wept, and thought to herself: 'O Lord, how full of unbelief I am'. Then, as she gives that testimony, she quotes this hymn by Paul Raider:
'Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,
He enters all rooms, the doors being locked,
He never forsakes; He never is gone,
So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.
Fear not, little flock, He goeth ahead,
Your Shepherd selecteth the path you must tread;
The waters of Marah He'll sweeten for thee,
He drank all the bitter in Gethsemane'.
'Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom'.
Thank You for everything, Lord, and we look to You for everything that is to come - for You are the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, and our hope and our trust is in You alone. Part us now with Your blessing, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at the Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Fear Not, Little Flock" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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