The Lord's Day Morning

August 1, 2010

Luke 12:1-3

“The Leaven of Hypocrisy”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 12. We’re going to look at a brief passage this morning, just the first three verses of Luke chapter 12. As you turn there you may want to allow your eyes to roam back over Luke 11. The last three times we were together in Luke we were looking at what started as a very awkward dinner conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee.

A Pharisee had welcomed Jesus into his home for a public dinner. At the very outset, apparently, the Pharisee had let it be known that he was somewhat stunned and shocked and dismayed and disappointed that Jesus had not gone through the man-made Pharisees’ rites of ritual hand washing before the meal, which was considered by the Pharisees something that every truly godly, truly holy person would do, though it's not commanded in God's Word. And the Pharisee had at least with his heart, and maybe with his tongue, judged Jesus for Jesus’ not doing this. And Jesus lit him up in conversation. If we had been sitting around the dinner table we would have all be looking down into our plates, moving food around awkwardly, hoping not to be drawn into the conversation. And that conversation begins an extended discussion of the problem of the religion of the Pharisees. And after that conversation, you remember, Jesus takes His disciples aside and He begins to pronounce woes or curses upon the Pharisees and then upon the scribes or the lawyers – not those who practice law for a vocation, not attorneys, but scribes or lawyers, those who were experts in the Torah, the law of the Hebrews, who were responsible for interpreting it and explaining it to people. And so Jesus pronounces a series of woes on both Pharisees and lawyers.

Now that actually continues into Luke chapter 12. You’re going to see it in this exchange. Jesus has now left the setting of a dinner and He's out getting ready to engage in public ministry and they’re actually a bunch of people around Him but He's still zeroing in on the conversation that started with the Pharisee. And it has to do with the essence of the problem of Phariseeism, which He identifies here as the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy. So He's still on the subject of hypocrisy. Well, we’ll read God's Word and ask for His blessing on it in prayer. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, we come before You now and we ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word. Especially Lord as we read Your Word and as we mark it and pay heed to it and hear it proclaimed, we ask that You would give us the grace today, by Your Holy Spirit, to apply this Word to ourselves, to not think about how it applies to other people, but to think about how it applies to us and then to seek the Savior and His grace, who alone can forgive us and enable us to walk in the ways of righteousness. These things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is God's Word. Luke 12 beginning in verse 1:

“In the meantime, when so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, He began to say to His disciples first, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Did you catch how Luke introduced this little exchanged between Jesus and His disciples? Did you catch the setting? Jesus is readying for public ministry; He's in a large space; there are thousands of people there to hear Him. There are so many people there to hear Him that they’re trampling one another. Does that prompt you to ask a question about why Jesus, looking at a vast multitude trampling on itself, so desirous are they to hear what He says, does it prompt you to ask the question — What in the world could have been so important to Jesus that He would have ignored that multitude and spoken to His disciples first? Did you catch how Luke said that? Look at verse 1 again — “He began to say to His disciples first.” The multitude's there, there’re thousands of them, they’re on top of one another, they are ready to hang on His every syllable, and He “says to His disciples first.” Does that set you thinking, “What in the world was so important to Jesus that He didn't address that vast multitude but first turned to His disciples and said something?”

Well I’ll tell you what was so important to Jesus — hypocrisy. Hypocrisy was on Jesus’ mind. He had just been engaging with the Pharisees and their colleagues, the scribes, the lawyers, very respected religious leaders in Judaism, and He had said among other things that at the very heart of their practice of religion was hypocrisy. And Jesus is deeply concerned that His own disciples not be infected by the same spirit. And so even with a vast multitude around Him, He zeros in on His disciples, who themselves are going to be shepherds. They’re going to do things like write the New Testament, pastor the first generation of Christians, become ministers in local churches, apostles for whole movements of church planting, and at the very outset Jesus is concerned that they not be infected with the same religious problem that the Pharisees are infected with.

And so if you look at the first three verses of Luke chapter 12, Jesus addresses very directly this problem. He deals with the fruit of hypocrisy, the future of hypocrisy, and the failure of hypocrisy. You see this in verses one, two, and three. The fruit of hypocrisy is that it spreads — “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” The whole point of the illustration, of the fermented dough being incorporated into the next bunch when you’re making the batch of bread is that it's designed to spread throughout the whole. And He's saying, “Don't be infected by the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, because their kind of religion infects everything that it touches. It infects the body.”

And then He wants to, in verse 2, put before their eyes the future of hypocrisy. He points them to the final judgment and He says that in the final judgment there's nothing that's hidden that's not going to be revealed. So if hypocrisy seeks to what? — cover up what's inside and make the outside look better than the inside is, Jesus is saying, “Let me tell you what the future of hypocrisy is — everything's going to be revealed. Nothing's going to be hidden that's going to stay covered up. It's all going to be revealed. That's the future of hypocrisy.”

And therefore, see it in verse 3, here's the failure of hypocrisy. It lets you down when you need it the most. It fails to deliver what people who practice it want to get out of it. It fails to achieve the ends of its user. Because there will be no secrets in the end, all hypocrisy will be in vain because hypocrisy operates on the principle that “I can cover up what's worst about me, and minimize to myself what is worst about me, and put on a good exterior to fool others, and then I can get by with nobody knowing what I'm really like.” And Jesus says in the end everything is going to be opened up and so that strategy will not work.

I. Leaven and hypocrisy.

Well let's think about this just a little bit together. Why was Jesus so concerned to talk about hypocrisy with His own disciples? Well, let me zero in on three words in verse 1 — first, leaven, and hypocrisy. As we've said, vast multitudes are around Jesus but He wants to address His disciples primarily. Why? Because Jesus didn't care about the hearts and lives of the multitude around Him? No, no, no. Because the temptation of the Pharisees is not unique to them. Jesus didn't put Luke 11 in so that we could come to church on Sunday morning and say, “Thank God I'm not like the Pharisees.” You remember the Pharisee who went into the temple and he looked over at the tax collector and he said, “Thank God I'm not like that tax collector”? Well, Jesus didn't put Luke 11 in so that we could say, “Whew, glad we're not like those Pharisees!” One of the things this week I've been wrestling with is, I've been wrestling with giving illustrations of prominent, especially religious, hypocrisy. And I ran into two problems. One is, there are so many illustrations of that I don't have enough time to illustrate it. Two is, some of the illustrations I give you are so shocking in nature that your response would be to them, “Well, I've done a lot of bad things, but at least I haven't done that!” And that is not what Jesus wants you to get out of His engagement with the Pharisees. The very reason that He turns to His disciples first is because His disciples are perfectly capable of this hypocrisy and so, and so are you and me. We are capable of this kind of hypocrisy. And that's why it's important that Jesus addresses this.

Second of all, notice the word leaven. He is concerned that this kind of hypocrisy cannot simply be contained in the heart of one person, especially when that person is a religious leader. It always infects the rest of the body. So one reason Jesus pauses and doesn't engage the multitude but the disciples first is He knows that their lives will have an effect on the lives of His people. They’re shepherds and their lives are going to affect the lives of the sheep. A religious leader whose life is fundamentally a hypocrisy has nothing to commend to the people of God but hypocrisy. The very core of that person's religion is hypocritical. He has nothing real or genuine to offer to the people of God. And so Jesus pauses and He says, “Disciples, it is vital that you get this.”

And then the last word of course is hypocrisy itself. Hypocrisy deals with the problem of sin by downplaying it. It does not adequately understand how serious and pervasive sin is. And so it attempts to deal with sin by ignoring and covering up our own sin and then minimizing it and then putting on a good exterior so that others don't see it. And thereby it thinks that it has dealt with the fundamental problem. And Jesus says, “You understand that I want nothing to do with that kind of religion. I don't want disciples or shepherds that are fostering that kind of religion because that kind of religion doesn't deal with the fundamental problem.” You see, underneath all religious hypocrisy, underneath all religious hypocrisy, and especially religious hypocrisy that happens in the context of the Christian church, is idolatry. We are worshipping some desire – there is some desire that is greater for us than God and we want to worship that desire while looking like we worship God. On the inside we want to continue worshipping that desire while on the outside other people think that we're worshipping the same God that they’re worshipping. That is the heart of hypocrisy. And you can't get at the problem by covering it up. Hypocrisy is not a solution to the problem of sin. It is delayed failure and it is delayed judgment. You may get by with it for a long, long time, but in the end Jesus says it's going to show up. And there's no “plan B” when you get to the final judgment. And so Jesus is very, very concerned that His disciples not fall into this hypocrisy. It spreads like an infection in the body and therefore we are to be on guard against it. Listen to His words — “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

Now this, by the way my friends, shows a proof of the universal tendency in religion for us to attempt to justify ourselves. We think that we can handle sin in our lives and experience by covering it up so that others don't see it, minimizing it so that's it's not as bad as one might think after all, looking good on the outside so that others think that we are right with God, and pretending to be in fellowship with the God whom we profess to believe. That is self-justification. That is one form of attempting to make yourself right with God. This is why Jesus is so deadly opposed to this in His disciples. It absolutely undermines everything that the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation about salvation by grace alone. It undermines what the Bible says about our sin being the fundamental thing that separates us from God and brings about dissension amongst one another. It gives the wrong prescription, the wrong solution to sin. We can't cover it up. Only Jesus can deal with it. And so it inoculates us to the very gospel of grace. This is why Jesus is so concerned to address His disciples about this. This is another religion and so He's saying, “Don't follow the religion of the Pharisees. It's not the religion that I'm teaching. It's an entirely different way of attempting to relate to one another and to God.”

Now, this reminds us of the absolute necessity of heart-work in our religion. All of us can go through the outward motions and most of us can do a good job of fooling one another, even those very close to us, but God sees the heart. He knows our heart. I'm not saying, by the way, that our lives don't matter. Our lives do matter. But our lives are the issue of our hearts, just like our words are the issue of our hearts. And so all of the outward doesn't matter if the heart is not right. Jesus is emphatic about this. You cannot fool God because He sees the heart.

II. The future of hypocrisy.

He emphasizes this in verses 2 and 3. Here's the second thing that He says. He says in verse 2 that everything will be exposed in the last judgment. Look at His words — “nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” You can cover it up for a while but it won't last. Eventually, everything is going to be revealed. That's why cover up is always a strategy of delayed failure and judgment because one day the cover up will be over. Even in this life that principle works itself out over and over, doesn't it? People get by for a long, long time covering things up and then they come out. Jesus is saying ultimately, finally, that is true of every sin. Everything that we do and say in our hearts, it will one day be displayed for all. There will be nothing hidden. Everything will be exposed in the last judgment.

III. The failure of hypocrisy.

And this leads Him to a conclusion for His disciples. Look at verse 3. He says that there are going to be no secrets in the end and therefore all hypocrisy is utterly in vain. It will be a failure. “Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light. What you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” He's saying to His disciples, “If you adopt this strategy of dealing with sin, it will fail you in the end when you need it the most. Hypocrisy will utterly be a strategy of failure because you will be seen to be who you are. So covering up who you are and pretending to be something you’re not,” Jesus says, “is not the religion I am commending. I am commending something far more radical.”

How do you get to a religion like that, though, where you cover up who you really are and pretend to be something that you’re not? Idolatry, because there's something that you desire more than you desire God and you want to be thought of as a person who desires God while at the same time pursuing this desire that is not God. We all know this. We know it of ourselves; we know it of some of the people who are our dearest friends. We've seen this play out in ourselves and in others.

And by the way, I want to make very clear, Jesus is not giving, in verses 2 and 3, His solution to the problem of hypocrisy. He's not saying, “If you’ll just warn people that in the end they’re going to be discovered, that will solve hypocrisy.”

The solution to hypocrisy is far, far deeper than that. Have you ever seen in yourself and in others such a desire to do something that even the knowledge that you will almost certainly be caught does not deter you pursuing that particular desire? Have you ever seen that? You can see that in, you can see it in chemical and substance abuse, you can see it in sexual addictions, you can see it in pursuing illicit relationships. The person will know that, “If I do such-and-such, I am almost certain to be caught.” That person will do it anyway. Why? Because the desire is so powerful they’re ready to run into a brick wall.

A few years ago a friend of mine who was the president of an evangelical institution told his staff, “We are committed to absolute purity in the way we are going to use the internet in this institution, and therefore we have put in filters that will allow us to discover any site that you go to on the internet, and if you visit pornographic sites you will be dealt with.” Now that of course solved the problem. There was no problem at that institution, was there? There was no problem there. Wrong. One of the vice presidents of that institution, within six months of this policy being announced, had been discovered to be visiting child-pornographic sites knowing that he would be caught. Knowing that he would be caught! The desire was so powerful that even the knowledge that he was going to be caught could not keep him from doing it. Do what's the solution to this kind of hypocrisy? What's the solution to a desire so strong in you to worship something other than God while on the outside looking like you’re worshipping God? What is the solution to that?

Well, over a hundred and fifty years ago, a Scottish Presbyterian minister named Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon called, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” And in that sermon he essentially said this – You cannot get at a desire simply by warning against the consequences of pursuing that desire. You cannot root that desire, that illegal, illicit, immoral desire out of your soul simply by warning against the consequences of pursuing that illegal, immoral, ungodly desire. The only thing that can trump, that can beat that desire, is a greater, purer desire. There must be a new desire that is greater and better than the wrong desire. And this is what he calls the expulsive power of a new affection. The new affection, the new desire, comes in and it does what? It expels the draw, the hook, the control, the domination of the old desire, not by saying to the old desire, “Stop it,” but by giving you a greater, right, and good desire.

And you see, that's where Jesus and the Gospel come in. There is no idolatrous desire in your life that can be controlled and expelled simply by someone saying, “Stop it.” But there is no idolatrous desire in your life that Jesus and His Gospel are not bigger than. And when you begin to have in your heart a desire for Christ, for fellowship with the living God through Christ, and that becomes the thing that you want and you crave more than anything else, then eventually every other idolatrous desire must bow before it. You suddenly stop caring, you stop caring to put up a front so other people think highly of you because you’re not worshipping the desire to be thought highly of. You’re worshipping God. You want fellowship with God so you frankly don't care what other people say about you. You stop trying to make yourself look better than you are. You stop trying to hide your sin because you know when that person says to you, “I know what you did all those years ago. I know what kind of person you are,” you can come back and say, “You don't know the half of it. Got a little time? Pull up your chair. Let me tell you some more because I don't care about looking good anymore. I care about knowing God. I care about seeing Him face to face. I care about what He thinks of me and He saw me exactly as I am and He knows what I've done and He knows the desires of our heart, and He knows how I've worshipped things other than Him and people other than Him and He came to me and He said, ‘I bled for you. I died for you. I love you.’ And now there's nothing that anybody can take away from me because I've got Him.”

You see, that's what Jesus wanted His disciples to tell people. That's why it's vital that they not adopt the religion of the Pharisees that deals in a superficial and trivial way with these twisted desires that live in all of our hearts and lives. It simply attempts to cover them up with papier-mâché, when what we need is conversion, the new birth, transformation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a new heart and a new spirit, a new affection. That's why Jesus would hold this crowd, hanging on the edge of its seats as it were, hold them at arm's length while He spoke to His disciples because it was so important they be shepherds who would deal with their own sins and the sins of their sheep really and genuinely and not superficially and trivially, who would get at the root not simply the appearance, who would care more about the heart and what it was like than merely outward reputation.


And of course, what Jesus said is important for you and me because none of us, not one of us, is immune to the temptation of the Pharisees, to the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Without realizing it, we can slip into patterns of playing games with God, of putting up appearances before others, when we know in our hearts there are desires far greater than God. If that's where you are today my friends, if that's where you are today, I beg you, don't play that game. Don't play that game. Own up to the fact that your sin is far worse than you've ever admitted. Own up to it. Own up to the fact that it's far more pervasive than you've ever admitted. Own up to the fact that it's absolutely indefensible before God and that it's so bad that you deserve to be cast into hell.

And then realize this — your Savior knows that better than you do. Your Savior knows you better than you do. Your Savior knows your sin better than you do. He could catalogue it better than you could. And one by one on the cross He said, “Father, I want to bear that sin, and I want to bear that sin, and I want to bear that sin, and I want to bear that sin for him, for her, for all My people.” And He's looking you in the eye and He's saying, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, trying to put up a good front, trying to keep up reputation, and I’ll give you real rest.” That's what Jesus is saying. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for how Your Word hits us all between the eyes and goes straight to the heart, and today we do not want to play games. Too much is at stake. So we ask right now that You would convict us of the places in the depths of our hearts, in the deepest desires of our inner being, things that we work very hard to make sure that others don't know. We pray that You would show us where we're worshipping something, someone, more than You. And then that You would replace that desire with such a burning affection for You, with such a great love for You in Christ, realizing that while we were yet sinners, in Your love You sent Your Son Christ to die for the ungodly, that that old affection, that rotten affection, that infected affection, that leavening infection, that sinful disposition, that horrible habit, that pervasive attitude, would be crucified, would be mortified, would be killed, would be expelled from our hearts, that its power would be broken, that its pull would be reduced and then eliminated, and we would love You only. We really want to be able to sing, “Jesus the very thought of Thee,” and mean it. And to do this O Lord we need Your Holy Spirit. We know that our strongest endeavor, our most vigorous application of our will to this situation is utterly powerless before our own sin but Your Holy Spirit is powerless before nothing. So come Holy Spirit and quicken us. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Would you take your hymnals out and turn with me to 332?

Receive this blessing from the One who has the power to change your heart. Grace, mercy, and then peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.