Readings: Genesis 15:1-6 • Psalm 33:12-22 • Hebrew 11:1-3 • Luke 12:32-40
This week’s theme is Trust in God’s plan, not our own. Abraham tried to fulfill God’s promises his own way—through Ishmael—but God’s plan was different. Abraham came to believe and was counted righteous. The Psalmist reminds us that God sees it all and has a plan—he is the one who works things out. In Hebrews we are reminded that even when we cannot see, our assurance is that God has things under control. The sermon focuses on Jesus telling his disciples to not fear—we don’t need to have all the answers because we know the One who does.
Do Not Be Afraid
Introduction: Have this passage read just prior to the message.
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34 NRSV)
Jesus had been assuring his disciples that God had things under control. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus told the disciples that if God willingly takes care of birds, they can certainly trust him to take care of them. He tells them to not worry because our Father knows what they need. He follows this up with today’s passage. Notice the passage does not begin with a suggestion, platitude or nice idea but a direct command of “Do not be afraid!”
This may sound naïve and simplistic to us today, as we are accustomed to having our fears stoked and inflamed by the many messages around us. We hear fear-stoked messages in the news, in what we read on social media, and even in the church. We are constantly reminded we have good reason to be afraid, and we better take extreme measures to avoid whatever it is that we fear. Usually those “measures” are packaged as the latest product that will keep us safe, a political stance that needs to be defended, or an ideal that must be protected. Shouldn’t Jesus give us a thick “How To…” book on all the ways to settle our fears? Surely, he can’t just say “Do not be afraid”?But there it stands in the text for today. How do we keep such a command in a world as frightening as ours?
Jesus addresses his disciples by affectionately calling them his “little flock”—which by extension is the church today. Jesus’ command is not grounded on the size or strength of the “little flock,” but is grounded on the reality that the flock belongs to the Father. This is the assurance we have—we know who the Father is, and that he is for us. Why should we fear when we know this truth? The passage reminds us that the Father—whom we belong to—is “pleased to give you the kingdom.” This simple, yet profound statement helps us come to know a few things about the Father that can chase away our fears. Let’s look at three:
The Father is pleased to give.
What does that say to you, “Pleased to give?” It tells us the Father doesn’t give out of a sense of duty, or because of promises he made in the past. Nor is he a begrudging giver who deep down would rather not be bothered by his children. Our Father gives out of the enjoyment of giving. It is his pleasure to give himself to us.
This tells us that God’s heart is a heart that enjoys and relishes giving to his children. Let that sink in. Giving is the desire of his heart.
Illustration: Share a time you gave a gift to someone because you were told to give, or out of a sense of obligation. How was the response? You may want to use an example of giving tithes and offerings out of a sense of duty rather than a spirit of generosity.
Have you ever been forced to give something to someone? You can go through the motions, but your heart is not in it. Usually, the receiver can pick this up—making the giving a less than pleasant experience for the giver and the receiver. Jesus is telling us the Father does not give like that. His gifts come wrapped with his pleasure over us.
One reason we enjoy receiving a gift from someone is because it tells us that person takes pleasure in us. When God gives to his children, it is pleasurable because he is pleased to be our Father. Maybe we can, in a small way, understand God’s pleasure in giving as we also can find joy in giving to others. For the Father that pleasure is never tainted in any way. He is pleased to give.
The Father is a giver by nature.
Our Father is not a contractual God who must be bought or appeased. It is his very nature to give. The Father is not obligated to give to us because of our qualifications—and we can certainly praise him for that. He does not need to be conditioned or coerced into giving. We do not need to fear that any strings are attached to God’s good gifts. He is not a conspiring God who only gives to manipulate us onto some agenda.
Illustration: Share a time you were offered or given a gift with strings attached. You may even use advertising as an example. “Get your free TV… if you purchase this long-term contract. Ask for examples from the members.
Have you ever been given a gift that you knew demanded a reciprocation? Or maybe someone did you a favor, and you knew you would have to return in kind. God doesn’t give like that. He’s not demanding anything in return. This doesn’t mean there’s not an appropriate response to his gifts, but even that response is part of the enjoyment of the gift.
God doesn’t need our response, but we are the better for giving a generous response. We experience the joy of giving. Knowing the Father is a giver in his very being lets us know that we can enjoy his gifts without fear or the need to pay up in the future.
The Father is a generous giver.
He does not hold back or give in small portions. In giving us the kingdom, he has given us everything. Ultimately his giving of the kingdom is the gift of Jesus. Jesus is the kingdom that we have been brought into.
In this gift we see that God has given us the gift of participating in communion with Father, Son and Spirit, and with each other. He has given us everything by giving us his very life through Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This gift of communion with the Father enables us to participate in the kingdom—experiencing joy and peace and hope—and inspires our response of loving him and loving others.
We respond by receiving the gift, not out of fear but out of trust in the perfect love of the Father. Our identity and worth is grounded in our belonging to the Father who loves us with a perfect love casting out all fear.
Verse 33 gives us a picture of what does not belong to the kingdom. If it wears out, it’s not kingdom treasure. If it runs out, it’s not kingdom treasure. If it can be carried out, it’s not kingdom treasure. If it can be snuffed out, it’s not kingdom treasure.
We let temporal things go as we receive the kingdom life we have been given. In doing so our treasure and hearts are aligned to the Father just as the Father’s heart is for his children in whom he treasures.
Have you asked yourself lately where your treasure lies? Do you recognize that your treasure is in Jesus? If so, you don’t need to fear.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- How does knowing the Father is pleased to give generously to his children help us obey Jesus’ command to not be afraid?
- Share how knowing God is “pleased to give” affects your experience of receiving from him.
- What are ways we sometimes view God as being not a giver? What are some common misunderstandings of God’s reasons for giving?
- How do we understand the truth that God is a generous giver in our world of “haves and have nots”?
- Share a time you tried to take things in your own hands—like Abraham did with Ishmael—only to realize God’s way was much better.
- Read Hebrews 1:3 and describe faith—in terms of God being a giver—as you would to a new Christian.