Fear not, little flock,
for it is your Father's good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.
Things We Are Prone to Fear
Why does the flock of God struggle with fear? Luke 12 implies clearly that we do, and that we don't need to. It points to at least four things that we are prone to fear.
First, in verse 4 Jesus says, "I tell you, friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." So it implies that we are prone to fear death—especially death by persecution.
Second, in verse 11 Jesus says, "And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." So Jesus implies that we are prone to fear public shame. We are prone to be anxious about what others will think of us if we don't have the right thing to say.
Third, in verse 22 Jesus says, "Therefore do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat nor about your body, what you shall put on." So he implies that we are prone to worry about whether our basic physical needs will be met—food and drink and clothing and shelter.
Reasons Not to Fear These Things
In every case Jesus' purpose is to give reasons why his "friends" (verse 4) and his "disciples" (verse 22)—his flock—do not need to fear these things. He wants us to be free from fear. So he says . . .
First, death is not the worst thing, hell is. And God will keep you out of hell and care for you with detailed tenderness—the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Second, he says that the Holy Spirit will teach you what to say in an hour of public testing. You will not be left alone.
And third, he says your Father knows your daily needs and is far more inclined to give you what you need than he is to feed the ravens and clothe the lilies, but look how he takes care of them!
So Jesus does not want us to fear—no fear of death, no fear of public shame, no fear of poverty and want. He wants us to see that God is the kind of God whose people do not need to fear.
The Fourth and Deepest Fear
But there is another thing we are prone to fear that goes right to the heart of God. It is perhaps the deepest fear of all and the one that may lie behind all the others. Perhaps that's why Jesus keeps it for last. We see it in verse 32: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
What fear is Jesus trying to eliminate here?
He is trying to eliminate the fear that God is not the kind of God who really wants to be good to his children. This is a fear that rises up in the hearts of those of us who are prone to feel that God does not want to be gracious to us, that he does not want to be generous and helpful to us. We are prone to think of God as one who is basically irked with us—ill-disposed and angry.
Sometimes even if we believe in our heads that God is good to us, we may feel in our hearts that his goodness is somehow forced or constrained, perhaps like a judge who has been maneuvered by a clever attorney into a corner on some technicality of court proceedings where he must dismiss the charges of the prisoner that he really would rather send to jail.
How Do You View the King on Palm Sunday?
Today is Palm Sunday. We picture ourselves welcoming the King into our city and into our hearts. He tries to make his intentions known by not coming on a great stallion but on a lowly donkey, meek and humble.
But I wonder how many here look upon this lowly Servant-King and feel that this is just a thin veneer, and that really beneath this lowly exterior there is a terrible power and authority which is just waiting to burst out against you if you slip in any way. I wonder how many feel that it is not really the deepest pleasure of this King's heart to serve his people and meet their needs.
I wonder how many feel that he's riding this donkey of lowliness as a kind of camouflage. And once he gains a foothold, he will throw off his rags, pull out his sword, and storm forth to do what he really loves to do, namely, judge and destroy. Of course, some will be saved—the few who somehow could please him. But that is not his heart's desire. He is basically angry—always angry. And the best we can do is stay out of his way, and maybe, if we keep the rules well enough, we could sneak by him when he is in one of his temporary good moods.
Discovering the True Heart of God
This morning Jesus is at pains to help you not feel that way about God. And I want to simply spend the time we have meditating on one verse, namely, Luke 12:32, because every little piece of this verse is intended to help take away the fear that Jesus knows we struggle with, namely, that God begrudges his benefits, that he is constrained and out of character when he does nice things, that at bottom he is angry and loves to vent his anger.
Luke 12:32 is a verse about the nature of God. It's a verse about what kind of heart God has. It's a verse about what makes God glad—not merely about what God will do or what he has to do, but what he delights to do, what he loves to do and takes pleasure in doing.
Fear not, little flock,
for it is you Father's good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.
Let's begin with the phrase "good pleasure." It is a verb in Greek: "to be a pleasure" or "to be pleased by." You could translate it: "it pleased God," or, "God chose it gladly." One of the best places to see the meaning of the word is in Philippians where the noun form of the word is put over against its opposite.
Preaching the Gospel from "Good Will"
In Philippians, you recall, Paul is in prison in Rome. There are professing Christians who do not like Paul and there are Christians who do. Both of them begin to preach the gospel while Paul is in prison. But their motives are very different. In Philippians 1:15 Paul says, "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will"—or we could say, "from good pleasure."
The word "good will" is the word we are concerned with. What is he saying? He is saying: both groups are preaching, but one group is being driven to preach not because they love Paul or because they love the preaching of the gospel, but because they hope to increase Paul's affliction. But the other group is preaching because they really love to preach the gospel and because they love Paul. They are doing what they really love to do. It is out of "good will." It's out of gladness. It is their good pleasure to preach. Their heart is not divided. Preaching is not a cloak for envy or rivalry. It is a real delight.
God's Free and Joyful Act
Now that is what Jesus means in Luke 12:32 when he says, "It is God's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." In other words, God is not acting in this generous way in order to cloak and hide some malicious motive. The word "good pleasure" utterly rules that out. He is not saying inside, "I will have to be generous for a while even though I don't want to be, because what I really want to do is bring judgment on sinners."
The Lord's meaning is inescapable: God is acting here in freedom. He is not under constraint to do what he doesn't really want to do. At this very point, when he gives his flock the kingdom, he is acting out his deepest delight. This is what the word means: God's joy, his desire, his want and wish and hope and pleasure and gladness and delight is to give the kingdom to his flock.
"Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure—not his duty, not his necessity, not his obligation, but his pleasure—to give you the kingdom." That is the kind of God he is.
Second, let's look at the phrase "your Father." "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Jesus does not say, "It is your employer's good pleasure to give you your salary." He does not say, "It is your slavemaster's good pleasure to give you your lodging." He does not even say, "It is your King's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." He chooses every word in this sentence to help us get rid of the fear that God is ill-disposed to us—that he is begrudging in his generosity, or constrained in his kindness. So he calls God "your Father".
Now, not all of us have had fathers who patterned their lives after God. And so the word "father" may not be full of peace the way Jesus means it to be. So let me try to fill the word "Father" with some of the meaning Jesus intended it to carry for you this morning. Two things:
Heirs of God's Kingdom
First, if the King is our Father, then we are heirs of his kingdom. There is something natural about our receiving it—it's our inheritance. In Matthew 25:34 it says that in the last day King Jesus will say, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit [note the word!] the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
From before the world God prepared a kingdom for his children. It is theirs by the right of inheritance. And God does not begrudge his children coming into their inheritance. It is his good pleasure to give them the kingdom.
Free from Being Taxed
Second, if the King is our Father, then we are free from being taxed. In Matthew 17:25 Peter wondered if the disciples had to pay the temple tax. Jesus says, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?" And when he said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free."
God does not levy taxes against his children. It is those outside the palace who feel the burden of law, not the children within. The children are free! The Fatherhood of God means freedom.
The list of implications of what it means to have God as our Father could go on—and all of them would serve to overcome the fear that God is begrudging in his kindness to us. Just the opposite is the case. He is our Father, and if we who are evil know how to give good things to our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give the kingdom to those who ask him.
Third, consider the word "give." "It is your Father's good pleasure to GIVE you the kingdom." Jesus does not say, sell you the kingdom. He does not say, trade you the kingdom. He says it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
We have seen it again and again in this series—and O, how I hope it is sinking in—that God is a mountain spring and not a watering trough. And therefore he delights to overflow—to give, give, give! And therefore the gospel is that God does not need a bucket brigade or sweaty pumpers; he wants drinkers!! People who will get down on their faces and satisfy their thirst with his love.
He gives the kingdom! It cannot be bought or bartered for or earned in any way. There is only one way to have it, and it is the easiest way of all—the gospel way—the way of Luke 18:17, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
God is not stingy. He is not a scrooge. He is not miserly or tight-fisted or parsimonious or niggardly. He is liberal and generous and ungrudging and bountiful. It is his good pleasure to GIVE us the kingdom. (See Luke 8:10.)
Fourth, consider the word "flock." "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Look how Jesus is piling up the metaphors. God is our Father. And since he gives us a kingdom, he must be a King. And since we are his flock, he must be a Shepherd. Jesus is at pains to choose every word he can to make his point clear: God is not the kind of God who begrudges his blessings.
We are his flock. What does that mean?
It means Psalm 23!
And it means that we should remember that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Begrudgingly? Under constraint? Emphatically NO! "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again" (John 10:18).
The Father did not begrudge the gift of his Son and the Son did not begrudge the gift of his life. It is the Shepherd's good pleasure to give the kingdom to his flock.
Fifth, consider the word "little." "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Jesus is as pains to choose every word that will help us see God the way he really is. Why does he say "little flock"? I think it has two effects. First, it's a term of affection and care. If I say to my family when they are in danger, "Don't be afraid, little family," what I mean is: I know you are in danger and that you are small and weak, but I will use all my power to take care of you because you are precious to me. So "little flock" carries the connotation of affection and care.
It also implies that God's goodness to us is not dependent on our greatness. We are a little flock—little in size, little in strength, little in wisdom, little in righteousness, little in love. If God's goodness to us depended on our greatness, we would be in big trouble. But that's the point. It doesn't. So we aren't. "Fear not little flock, it is the Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom."
Finally, consider the word "kingdom." There might be one little foothold left for the feeling that God is begrudging and ill-disposed toward us. Someone might say, "OK, God is our Father and not our slavemaster; he enjoys giving instead of selling; he treats us the way a good shepherd treats his flock; he has an affection and pity toward us in our littleness. But what, after all, does he promise to give?"
What He Doesn't Promise to Give
He doesn't promise to give money. In fact, he says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (18:25).
He doesn't promise popularity or fame or admiration among men. In fact, he says, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!" (6:22).
He doesn't even promise security in this life. In fact, he says, "You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake" (21:16).
What He Does Promise to Give
What does he promise to give to his little flock—to prove once and for all that it is not only his good pleasure to give, but that it is his good pleasure to give big? He promises to give them the kingdom of God.
And what does it mean to be given the sovereign reign and rule of God?
It means simply and staggeringly and unspeakably that the omnipotent rule and authority of the King of the universe will be engaged forever and ever on behalf of the little flock of God. What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9). And it is the Father's good pleasure to give it to his little flock.
Who can describe what it will be like when that saying comes to pass which Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, "As my Father has appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (22:29)?
Jesus Desires to Free You from This Fear
Jesus knows that the flock of God struggles with fear. He knows that one of those fears is that God is the kind of God who is basically angry and delights most of all to judge sinners and only does good out of a sense of constraint and duty, not delight. Therefore the Lord is at pains this morning to free us from this fear by telling us the truth about God. He has chosen every word for our comfort and joy and peace.
for it is your Father's
to give you