Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Again our Lord returns to this theme of the emotional life of the Christian, and having forbidding worry Jesus now forbids fear. Why? Fear has consequences. Fear makes us weak. A man who is afraid will tell lies; he will run away; he will deny what he believes; he will affirm what in fact he rejects in his heart. A fearful man is unstable and unreliable. The enemy would make us afraid. The Christian life is not to be characterized by cowardice or funk; the believer is not to be a person who easily afraid. He is not to lack courage, or lose his nerve in times of threat, danger and difficulty. The Christian is not a defeatist; he is not someone unable to handle whatever it might be that God decrees shall come into his life, panicking, despairing and frozen stiff with fear. “Do not be afraid,” says our Lord. It is a sin for the Christian to be afraid.
IT IS TRUE CHRISTIANS WHO ARE BEING ADDRESSED BY CHRIST.
We learn the identity of these people from this chapter. See how they are described from the very first verse, the disciples of Jesus; in other words, they are the pupils in his school; he is their teacher and this entire address is directed at them. This passage is not preached to unbelieving men and women. These are the people who are further described as not being afraid of those who can merely kill their bodies but cannot kill their souls. They fear God alone. Again, these are people conscious that they are beloved by God, why, even the hairs of their heads are all numbered by him. Again, they are those who are ready to acknowledge Christ before men. When they meet a hostile reaction, and they are summoned to appear on trial for what they have said about Jesus then the Holy Spirit helps them to speak. They are the people who know that life consists of far more than gaining many possessions. Their goal in life is not to build bigger and bigger barns. They trust their heavenly Father to provide all their needs, and so they don’t worry about trivia, or about things which God has promised to provide for them. They don’t worry about the future. They know that their heavenly Father will care for them. They are seeking first the kingdom of God. These are the people to whom Jesus is speaking the words of our text. So you see that these words of comfort are not being addressed to the men who hated Christ, to the Pharisees, and to the Sanhedrin, and to Herod. No. These words are not general words; they are spoken to his own followers. You will see how Jesus addresses them in our text. He calls them, “little flock.’ In other words, he is their Shepherd, the good Shepherd, the best of all Shepherds. What do we know of this little flock?
i] The little flock has been found by the Shepherd. He sought them out, choosing them, a Samaritan woman by a well, a tax collector up a tree, some fishermen repairing their nets, a tax official at his desk, a zealot, two sisters and their brother and he gathered them together into a flock. The good Shepherd laid down his life for these sheep. He walked all the way from heaven to Golgotha to give his life for this flock, for sheep who were completely unlike himself, those who were far from God. Of course he was never far from God. He was always close to God. He and his Father are one. They have loving communion, but Jesus lay down his life for those who were separated from God. Remember the words of Isaiah, taken up by Handel in his oratorio, The Messiah, “all we, like sheep, have gone astray.” That’s how we were. We’d wandered from the fold, and like sheep, we’d followed one another into the paths of sin, far from God. But this shepherd came and he found us. This colossus of the universe even laid down his magnificent life in order to save his little flock. Isn’t that what Jesus in the parable of Luke 15 taught so movingly? The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to search mountain and moorland for one lost sheep. It can’t just wander back as it wandered away, or make its way into the fold as it made its way out of it. It is lost; it does not know where to turn, but there is a shepherd here. There is one who gave his life precisely in order to reclaim lost sheep. In other words, if you are one of Christ’s flock it is because Jesus came looking for you and found you. Of course there is a sense in which we must discover the treasure that is Christ, like a man digging a hole in a field and finding a chest of jewels, but in an even deeper sense the Lord of glory comes searching and finds us. The hymnist said:
“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Saviour true, No, I was found by thee.”
This shepherd searches out and finds the lost sheep. What is he doing in the Gospel? Why has Jesus commissioned the preaching of the Gospel? Why does he send out preachers? He supplies the answer: the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost! That is why he came, and it is what he is still doing. That is why the gospel is so glorious. There is nothing more wonderful than to be where Jesus arrives to search out the sheep that are lost. That is what Jehovah had said in the Old Testament: “I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezekiel 34:11). That note of grace sounds throughout the whole Bible. Why does this little flock exist? It is not because of anything they have done, or their righteousness, or their good works, or their knowledge. It is simply because of the amazing grace of God; ‘I once was lost, but now am found.’ That is the testimony of each lamb in Christ’s little flock, how they were brought into the glory of his presence. They will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who came to search for them and find them.
ii] The little flock is being fed by the Shepherd. That is what this chapter is all about, the Shepherd feeding his flock with breath-taking promises and warnings. That is the pledge the Lord made; he said that he would gather the sheep in order to feed them: “I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them into their own land, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:13). He feeds his sheep on the food that he secured for them when he laid down his life. He bought eternal life from them by his royal death, and now he feeds his sheep on these atoning glories. He brings them into covenantal security, out of the wilderness and into the fold. He makes them part of his flock; he provides for them the best of fare, all that their souls need. He feeds them constantly in green pastures and beside still waters. He makes sure they are nourished and provided for. There is nothing that these sheep need that he has not secured for them through his death on the cross. They safely sleep.
iii] The little flock is being protected by the Shepherd. This flock is exposed to all kinds of dangers and enemies. There are wolves and bears about, and the sheep are so vulnerable. They are not fleet of foot; they have no thick hides; they cannot climb trees; they have no wings to ascend into the sky; they have no sharp fangs. A little lamb is helpless but what a mighty omnipotent Shepherd the lamb has. He has never lost a sheep yet! The good Shepherd will lay down his own life rather than the poorest lamb in the flock – a three legged, one-eyed sheep – should be killed.
Not a sheep is going to be in any danger as long as he is watching them. They can commit their all to him. His sheep may graze in peace. We were like sheep going astray, says Peter, but now we have returned to the shepherd of our souls. We have come to the one who keeps his eye on his sheep. He has this pastoral function – the word ‘pastor’ is just the Latin word for a shepherd, and Jesus is the pastor of his little flock. He protects them. If we are in his flock we have every assurance than nothing at all will eternally harm us, either in this world or in the world to come. Nothing coming out of hell will harm us, nothing at all, because his eye is on his flock.
iv] The little flock is cared for by the Shepherd. These sheep are not all at the same place. There are not all on the same level. Some are strong, others are weak. Some of them are straying. Some of them will test his patience. Some are timid, some are fearful; there are all kinds of sheep here. Jesus cares for them all. Isn’t it glorious how God puts it? “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak . . . I will feed them in justice” (Ez 34:16). The prophet Isaiah also says it beautifully: the shepherd leads all his flock, but he knows some need intensive care, and so he carries the lambs in his bosom, and he looks after those who are heavy with young. He knows all about the situation they are in, and he knows them personally. He gives them all his undivided attention, and lavishes on them the personal care they need.
When he laid down his life, he showed how much he was bound to his little flock. Having shown what a caring shepherd he is, he will continue to show his people the riches of his grace. When you need him, he’ll be there for you. In all the different situations of your life, he will play the part of the shepherd, and you will be able to say “I shall not want.”
v] The little flock is being led by the Shepherd. This is Luke chapter 12; in all this mighty sermon that is set before us here of almost 60 verses, what we are seeing is Jesus leading his sheep. “Believe this! Behave like this! Let your emotions be these and not these . . .” He goes before them leading them on. He has a destination in view, “and in God’s house for evermore my dwelling place will be,” and this is the way to get there. It is the way of Luke 12. This shepherd takes his little flock home. He is not taking them to a barn or a little outhouse next to his farmhouse. He is going to take them home. He laid down his life for them to secure them an eternal portion in his Father’s house.
What a contrast there is between what this little flock once were, lost and astray, and what they are going to be when he takes them all the way to glory and makes them like himself. Are we part of that journey? Are we following the shepherd, listening to his voice? He says none will pluck them out of his hand. Are we on that journey? Do we know the shepherd? There is nothing to compare with having him as our Lord and Saviour. Am I in his little flock? Do I know his voice? Am I in his hand? He gave his life for the sheep. Did he give his life for me? May God grant that I will return to him as to the shepherd and bishop of my own soul.
So Christians are Christ’s little flock. They are little because when the men of the world hear the cost of following the Lord they say “No way!” They love the world’s values and they love themselves too much. They refuse to leave the broad road to walk the narrow path. They remain a little flock because the cost of following Christ is too high for many to join them. Their peers would mock them for becoming Christians. They would marginalize them; they would become unpopular. They would be rejected and persecuted. They love the world too much to endure such contempt. The price is too high and as a result the flock is always little. Narrow is the way that leads to life, and only few find it. The Lord Jesus tells us that, but when one of his disciples asked him whether there would be many saved then his only answer was that they were to strive to enter through the narrow gate. Make sure you are one of the sheep in Christ’s flock whether it’s a large flock or a small one.
CHRIST’S LITTLE FLOCK MAY FEEL AFRAID.
Why is it necessary for our Lord to say to them, “Do not be afraid”? It is, of course, because this is a fallen world in rebellion against its Creator. This world’s system seeks to operate without God, without any reference to him regarding origins or purpose or consummation. It does not want to be confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ, and yet the Christian is under a divine obligation to acknowledge our Lord before men, and only those who do acknowledge him will our Lord acknowledge before his Father in heaven. The Christian must speak, but the world says, “Be silent.” There is tension. It is far easier to say nothing, but that results in a guilty silence. “Don’t be afraid, little flock,” says Jesus. What are we afraid of?
We could acknowledge that we are afraid of militant anti-Christian religionists and their desire to bomb us back into the Stone Age. That threat is taken very seriously by all the governments of the western world. We also fear secular humanists and their hatred of the Christian faith; there are those who suffer in our nation today for standing by Biblical principles. We also fear the seduction of materialism, and how we’re not immune to being bought by money and fame and pleasure. We also fear our own hearts, knowing their weakness, how prone we are to doubts and going away from God once again like wandering sheep. We see much that causes us fear, but I think that the main cause of Christian fear is having to face old age, feebleness and death. How are we going to survive the loss of health, and loved ones, and loneliness, and the grave? All of these things lie before us all. I believe that that is the primary reason our Lord urges us not to be afraid. Hasn’t he been impressing this upon us throughout this sermon? “What if this should happen . . . or that . . . or that . . . ?” So Christ speaks firmly; we are not to fear anything in the future. Now he is telling us that we are his precious flock and he is our good Shepherd, but he has something else, equally glorious to tell us to reassure us.
OUR FATHER HAS BEEN PLEASED TO GIVE US THE KINGDOM.
They were all Jews listening to Jesus and they knew that God had given them the kingdom in which they were living. He had spoken to their father Abraham and he had covenanted this land to him and his seed. This was their inheritance, their privilege and their boast, even though this kingdom had been ruled by Rome for decades. Now Jesus is saying to this little flock that it was the purpose of God the Father to give the kingdom to them. They were young men; they were untried, confused and volatile men; they had had little experience of running a fishing business let alone running a kingdom; they had not had pastoral and ministerial authority, and yet our Lord says to them that Almighty God had been pleased to give them the kingdom. In other words God had made them kings; God had given them rule and dominion. How could this possibly be? What does this mean that he has been pleased to give us the kingdom?
i] God has given them an understanding of the kingdom of God. This is the great theme of the Lord Jesus’ preaching, that the kingdom of God had come to them because he, the King, had come to them. He showed he was a real King by ruling over everything, – the creation – the winds and waves obeyed him, the devil, disease, even death itself. Men obeyed him and became his disciples and they kept his commandments because he was their King. We serve our Lord by doing his will. We are loving husbands and patient wives and sweet children; we live obeying our King. We work at our jobs with all our might, not just pleasing men but pleasing our King. Our churches are kingdom gatherings of his people doing the things our King has commanded – preaching his message, baptizing, celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Our families are kingdom homes which operate under his laws. We take care of our environment because the earth is the King’s who created it. This is our Father’s world. The kingdom of God is God’s rule in power over his creation and in grace over his own redeemed people.
ii] God has given us a means of entering his kingdom. It is by a radical new beginning, a new change of direction and values and ambitions. It is called a new birth, and unless a man is spiritually born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God; it is only by the hidden work of God the Holy Spirit in his life that kingdom entrance is achieved. Without it a man is always on the outside, maybe religious, and maybe moral, yes, but not inside the kingdom of God. By this new birth he enters this world of light; he is delivered from the womb of darkness and unbelief; he can perceive the kingdom of God, that it is no longer a geographical area, containing holy rivers and holy mountains and holy cities and holy buildings. No, now it is a powerful governance of God in grace over his born-again people who live new God-like lives. So that wherever these people are in the world they are its salt and light. Jesus told Nicodemus that he must not marvel at being told that he must be born again because unless he knew a new birth he would never enter God’s kingdom. So God has given us an understanding of his kingdom, and also he has given us a means of entering his kingdom.
iii] God has given us the rights of membership of his kingdom. What are these rights?
A) The right of access. Every month the Prime Minister goes to see the Queen and he tells her of her government and the state of the nation and our relation to other nations. He goes representing us, because we cannot go each month into the Queen’s presence, but in the kingdom of God we ourselves go right to the throne room. We speak directly to the King of kings and we do so as his children. A child has the right of access to its father. Its father may be enormously important; of course he may be a pauper, but he may be President Obama; he may be a slave; but he may be Bill Gates. There may be a chasm in status and influence and wealth between the father and the son, but still the child has the right to go and talk to its father. He has his father’s private telephone number and he knows that he can call his father at any time. Time and again in the New Testament that is one of the foremost emphases to be found when the Bible discusses a believer’s privileges: “Being justified by faith we have peace with God:” and furthermore, “We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” We have the right to go to God the King and say, “Abba, Father . . .” We have the comfort and certainty of knowing that we have a Mediator with God, a great High Priest and by him we can go with boldness to the throne.
B) Another right we have in this kingdom is the right of protection. A king must protect his people from invasion and from criminals. Elisha was being hunted by the army of the king of Syria and his servant was terrified as they seem to be surrounded. All was lost. Then Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes and then the servant looked again and saw between the Syrian army and themselves the hosts of God, the armies of the Lord, the chariots and horsemen of God protecting them like a ring of steel. Nothing can touch anyone in the kingdom unless God permits. Not a single hair of Job’s head could be plucked unless God gave the assailant permission. He delights to defend us with his walls of salvation.
C) Another right we have in this kingdom is the right of provision. In famines and floods and at times of pestilence then the king must provide for his suffering citizens. The great definitive word on this theme was written by Paul at the very conclusion of his letter to the Philippians; “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phils. 4:19). “All you need . . .” how mind-blowing . . . how breathtaking that is. “All you need . . .” God will supply it. Not all your desires, not all your imagined ones, but your needs, as God himself will judge. That is why the church father Augustine prayed to God in those marvelous terms, “Lord, give what thou dost command; then command what thou wilt.” In other words, you can send me on any mission . . . you can ask me to bear any burden . . . you can command me to climb any mountain . . . you can set before me any river to ford . . . you can bring any temptation into my life . . . you can ask me to endure any pain, provided that you give me the grace you’re asking me to display; just as long as you supply all my needs for what you have decreed shall lie ahead
D) Another right we have in this kingdom is the right of the rule of the law of God. This divine kingdom is not chaotic and anarchic. It is a ruled kingdom. It is a disciplined kingdom. In the famous chapter twelve of the letter to the Hebrews the writer tells us that we have had fathers of our flesh and some of them chastened their children according to their pleasure. Some of you have been abused; you were beaten when the mood took your father. It was arbitrary; he simply felt like it; he was a short-tempered man; he was sometimes under the influence of drink; he chastised us for the pleasure of it; he enjoyed the power it gave him. It was all his whim! Wicked man! Not God our Father! “But he for our good.” It is good when those times come when God stands in our way and says, “No!” The angel stood before Balaam as he rode on defiantly on the back of his donkey up to no good. The donkey had a better vision of the situation than the prophet. The beast could see the sword and the messenger of the Lord standing in front of them and so he lay down and the prophet smote his animal to drive him on. He was blind to his own folly at not seeing God saying, “No further!” Thank God that the scenes of violence and destruction that we saw on the news last week in London are so rare. We want to live in a kingdom ruled by law.
How wise and simple are the laws of God. How beautiful they are! There is a new musical that has opened in London that celebrates the Nigerian rock musician the late Fela Kuti. Now there are a couple of things that he and I have in common; his father was a minister, and my father’s twin brother was a minister, but more striking than that, we both share the same date of birth. On the 15th of October in 1938 he was born in Nigeria and I was born in Wales. I lived my life under the rule of the law of God, and by the new birth I entered the kingdom of God. I was given grace and a new heart to fear God and to seek to keep his commandments, but Fela Kuti promoted taking drugs, he married 24 wives, he was constantly in collision with the police and army, and he died of AIDS. We do not know the number of the women whom he infected with AIDS. I thank God that he put me in his kingdom and he gave me his commandments and they were not grievous to me. They were good and wise, and he warned me and rebuked me when I broke his laws. What a mess my life would have been in were it not for God ruling in my life. Thank God that he was pleased to give me his kingdom.
4. GOD’S RULE OF GRACE (HIS KINGDOM) IS HIS GIFT TO US.
Do you see the wonderful comfort of these words of Christ? “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” There are many who would seize British citizenship if they could, but it is not theirs to take like plucking a blackberry. It is not ours to claim; it is a gift of those in authority, and then highly appreciated by those who have gained citizenship! And so is entry into the kingdom of God. God must be pleased to give it to you. But he cannot be pleased with you because he sees your heart and knows your past life and understands that sin has spoiled the best things you have done. He is displeased with you. Then how can he be pleased with you and give you his kingdom? Because he is very pleased with his Son Jesus Christ, with his perfect life and his atoning death. So you have to get close to Jesus. You have to get inside him. You must be joined to him, united to him, by entrusting yourself to him. Then he will only see you in Christ, his righteousness covering all your sins; his death an all sufficient sacrifice which obtains your remission. You receive that kingdom of grace and love by receiving him. The kingdom of God is his gift to all who believe.
At the heart of the Christian religion is this claim that our heavenly Father is reigning over his kingdom as the cosmic King, that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the whole universe and head over all things to the church. The world is under his sway. Sometimes it is hard to believe this. A pastor tells about a time during World War II when he was minister of a church in Germany. One night he came to meet his Bible class. They were going to discuss one of Jesus’ magnificent sayings: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.” There was a great rally going on, and a bustle in the streets, and for this discussion of Christ’s great power only three people turned up, two very old women and one trembling old man.
Outside the church Hitler’s storm troopers marched. Crowds cheered and searchlights crisscrossed. Bands and banners and salutes and marching orders all said, “Hitler is Lord. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Hitler.” Inside the church three pensioners sought to believe, in the face of all that, in the power of Christ. What a challenge to believing in the words of Christ, because everything they could hear and see said to them, “There is no king but Hitler.”
Christians today may struggle with the same problem. The population of entire cities seem to move through each noisy day without thinking of Christ. 24 hour drinking results in the last of the revellers going home at dawn. The universities pack the students in, the vast football and rugby stadiums are filled with chanting fans, TV displays no hint that there is any other kingdom than the kingdom of the media All the busy people in all the busy places work and eat and play and rest. Then they do it all over again and again. How many of them know that Christ is Lord? How many know the kingdom of God is coming? How many care?
Jesus’ disciples were already afraid about the kingdom’s progress way back at the beginning. They believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. They’d believed that with his power he’d make things right in the land and turn people back toward God. But progress seemed so small and slow. Herod kills John and Jesus doesn’t intervene. Every once in a while the disciples would say, “Lord, if it isn’t too much to ask, when will you restore the kingdom?” There was such little evidence of it. The Sanhedrin ran the country through the network of Pharisees, and the last word was always Rome’s. Where was this kingdom? The disciples had their worries. Had they made the right decision to give up everything and follow Jesus? Of course, they knew he’d done some good things. But it didn’t seem half enough! Shaping up a few ragged beggars – that wouldn’t budge King Herod. Healing some sick folks, or befriending a whore, or having dinner with a little weasel like Zacchaeus – that wouldn’t shake up a man like Caesar! Looking at the Roman army and the Roman tax system and all the arrogant Roman legions, the disciples must have struggled hard to believe that Jesus was King. Everything they could hear and see told them there was no king but Caesar, and at times their worries cascaded over them. What did the future hold?
Then Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid.” The kingdom of God, he said, is like a mustard seed. A man reaches with two fingers into his seed pouch and he takes out a tiny seed. It’s so small you can hardly see it. But the man sows this seed into the ground. Slowly, over the months and years, the seed grows and becomes a ten-foot shrub with nesting birds. The kingdom is like that. At the time of sowing, progress may look small and slow. But one day there will be the tree. Do not despair; do not lose heart; the church will reap after our years of sowing. One day God will give the increase. This kingdom Jesus spoke of will last hundreds of years, so that 4,000 miles away in Wales, in 2000 years’ time there would be thousands of men and women who had received this kingdom from God.
That is God’s way in history with his kingdom. Who’d have thought that God could make a great nation out of Abraham and Sarah – two elderly barren old aged pensioners. Who could have known what God would do with one man named Luther – a monk who nailed his protests about the state of the church to a church door and help launched the Protestant Reformation? Who would have thought that one medical student in London in the 1920s would have such an impact on Wales and the world as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was to have?
On Good Friday who could have predicted what God would do with the dead body of Jesus our Lord – a seed sowed in the ground for three days? Only somebody who knows the secret of the kingdom. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
21st November 2010 GEOFF THOMAS