Discernment (Luke 12:54-56)

Why do service stations put those stickers on the driver’s side of the windshield?  They know people are busy and they hope that the owner of the car will lift his eyes occasionally and remember that a certain action must occur at a specific time.  Normally it is a reminder that the oil needs to be changed after 3,000 miles.  Like blood to our bodies, oil is vital to the health of the automobile.  The service station is counting on the fact that the owner will see the sign and interpret it correctly.

It is not just the change oil sign in our cars that we must interpret correctly.  There are signs all around us that must be interpreted correctly in order to function in society.  One must see and correctly interpret a red light in order arrive at the destination safely.  The speedometer must be interpreted correctly in order to avoid paying a hefty fine and let us not forget the dreaded “Check Engine” light which is ignored at one’s peril.  From notifications to alerts, we are constantly trained to recognize and correctly interpret signs in the world around us.

Context

This morning we will be challenged to take our skills of interpretation and apply them to the Spiritual realm.  While we are being trained to interpret the physical world around us, let us not forget to be trained to interpret the spiritual world around us.  In Luke 12:54-56, Jesus rebukes the crowd for being able to correctly interpret “the appearance of earth and sky” but fail to “interpret the present time” (56).

Interpretation

In verses 54-55, we read that Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens.”  Jesus is not calling them prophets with an ability to see into the future, but is reminding them that they see and correctly interpret signs in their everyday life.  Geographically, at the time Jesus is speaking, clouds coming from the west regularly bring rain and a south wind is a hot wind. When the people saw these signs in the weather, they correctly interpreted them and prepared accordingly.

But in verse 56, Jesus says, “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  Jesus is not rebuking them for their ability to interpret the weather, but for their failure to understand that the person speaking to them is the promised Messiah.

This “present time” was a unique time in history.  Jesus said concerning it in Matthew 13:17, “many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  Jesus knew the significance of this “present time” because He previously said in Luke 10:23 to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.”  In John 8:56 Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”  Abraham saw the ministry of Jesus from a distance and rejoiced, but the religious rulers saw it in person and rejected it.

This brings us to Jesus’ charge of hypocrisy.  Jesus called the crowds hypocrites because (as one commentator put it) their inability to interpret the present time was due more to an unwillingness to interpret than an inability to interpret.  They displayed the ability to understand the wind, but showed an unwillingness to understand the Spirit.  They displayed the ability to understand the sky, but an unwillingness to understand the heavens.  They were rebuked because they are primarily focused on the physical to the neglect of the spiritual.

Application

We too, if we are not careful, can become very good at interpreting the physical signs to the neglect of the spiritual.  We change the oil in our cars, obey traffic laws, diet, and budget; but we must not neglect to interpret the signs around us that serve to remind us to put our spiritual house in order.  Let us not neglect reading, studying, and applying the truths of the Bible.  Let us not neglect to come before our Heavenly Father in prayer.  Let us not fail to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33).

Let us also not fail to strive towards maturity in our faith.  Hebrews 5:14 tells us that mature Christians are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Christians, let us open our eyes to see the importance of this present time.  Let us practice discernment in our spiritual lives and refuse to gossip about one another.  Let us refuse to watch the over sexualized garbage that masquerades as entertainment.  Let us refuse to become ensnared in pornography.  Let us know God’s Word revealed in Scripture so that we may know good and evil.

But, most importantly, let us remember that it is Christ who upholds us and saves us.  Jesus Christ “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).  The message of the gospel is not “do better and earn God’s favor” but “trust God and rest in the love of God through Christ.  Hear the message of our Lord Jesus Christ and do not be the person who is so focused on the cloud that brings rain that he fails to see the gospel that brings life.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Are you good at interpreting signs in your home or office?
  2. In what ways do you practice spiritual discernment?
  3. How do you know the difference between good and evil?
  4. In what ways do you “interpret the times” and distinguish between good and evil?