Summary: In Luke 12:1-3 Jesus warns us that spiritual hypocrisy is a sin that will be exposed.
Jesus had completed his ministry in Galilee and was on his way to Jerusalem during the final few months of his life before his crucifixion. During this time Jesus gave his followers some very important teaching regarding discipleship. Commentator William Barclay says, “When we read [Luke 12] we are reminded again of the Jewish definition of preaching – a Charaz, which means stringing pearls. This passage, too, is a collection of pearls strung together without the close connection which modern preaching demands. But in it there are certain dominant ideas.” Jesus’ unifying theme was to call his disciples to trust God at all times, regardless of circumstances.
Let’s read about Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the Pharisees in Luke 12:1-3:
1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the 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. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12:1-3)
A beach near Perranporth, Cornwall (in Great Britain) is unlike any other stretch of coast in the world. It is not known for its breakers or sand, but for what washes up in the surf: Tens of thousands of toy Lego bricks.
Back in 1997, a wave hit a container ship called the Tokio Express, which had 62 containers on board. The ship sank, and as a result all 62 containers onboard the ship went overboard, and sank to the bottom of the ocean. One of those containers had nearly 4.8 million pieces of Lego bound for New York.
No one knows exactly what happened next, or even what was in the other 61 containers, but Lego pieces – and only Lego pieces – started washing up on both the north and south beaches of Cornwall. And in a quirky twist, many of the Lego items were nautical-themed, so locals and tourists alike have found miniature cutlasses, flippers, spear guns, sea grass, and scuba gear.
A U.S. oceanographer named Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who studies ocean currents and has been studying the story of the Lego pieces on the coast of Cornwall, offered a simple lesson. He said,
The most profound lesson I’ve learned from the Lego story is that things that go to the bottom of the sea don’t always stay there. . . . They can be carried around the world, seemingly randomly, but subject to the planet’s currents and tides. The incident is a perfect example of how even when inside a steel container, sunken items don’t stay sunken.
Certain things in our spiritual lives – especially our sins – don’t stay sunken forever. Like the Lego pieces, these spiritual realities will eventually rise to the surface. The question is what we will do when we come across signs of them in our lives, sticking up out of the sand?
Jesus routinely exposed sin in people’s lives. He even exposed hypocrisy in the lives of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. Jesus had just had dinner at the home of a Pharisee and pronounced woes upon the Pharisees and lawyers. Jesus’ pronouncement made the Pharisees and lawyers so angry that they wanted to catch him in some mistake so that they could kill him. This is the context for Jesus’ warning about spiritual hypocrisy.
The analysis of the concept of hypocrisy as set forth in Luke 12:1-3 warns us that spiritual hypocrisy is a sin that will be exposed.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. The Example of Hypocrisy (12:1)
2. The Exposure of Hypocrisy (12:2-3)
I. The Example of Hypocrisy (12:1)
First, let’s look at the example of hypocrisy.
Luke said in verse 1 that in the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, Jesus began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
I find it astonishing that many thousands of people came to Jesus. I assume that some wanted to hear his teaching and others wanted to see him do some miracle. Nevertheless, there were so many people that they were tramping one another in their effort to see and hear Jesus.
In the midst of this mob scene Jesus first addressed his own disciples. A little later in chapter 12 Jesus addressed the crowds. But, first he spoke to his own disciples.
Jesus told his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. You probably know that leaven is yeast. It works its way throughout the whole batch of dough. It is leaven (or yeast) that causes bread to rise. It describes something small that spreads silently, almost secretly, but ultimately pervasively. Sometimes the Bible uses leaven in a positive way, like the kingdom of God, for example (Luke 13:20-21). However, leaven is more often used in a negative sense in the Bible, and it often refers to sin. In this instance, in verse 1, Jesus used leaven to refer to the sin of hypocrisy.