I want you to imagine that it’s a Sunday morning, and you are in the church. People have gathered, hymns have been sung, you’ve been using the liturgy, all is going well, and now it is time for the sermon. The pastor goes into the pulpit and reads the Gospel from Luke 12:32-34. As you listen to the words, you ask yourself, to whom is Jesus speaking?
Peter had seen thousands of people in the crowd. Jesus was now telling them how He is pleased with their lives as his followers and is going to give them the Kingdom. Then Peter, in verse 41, says, “Lord, are you telling this . . . to us, or to everyone?”
As I sit in my study and study this text, I envision myself standing in a pulpit on a Sunday morning and reading this text to a couple thousand people sitting before me. Is the promise meant for all of them? Will all those present, who are receiving the message from our Lord Jesus, receive the Kingdom? Not according to other teachings of Jesus. Not at all. But He tells His flock, “Do not be afraid.”
Looking around this imaginary congregation, it is quite evident that not everyone is in church because they want to hear the Gospel again. Still, they hear Jesus tell them, “Have no fear little flock . . .” Does this mean they are part of Jesus’ little flock?
The biblical scholar, J. C. Ryle, has helped me a great deal in my attempt to understand these verses. He says that any time believers in Christ Jesus meet, they are “the little flock,” the group to whom Jesus is speaking when he says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
Oh how I love this verse! Jesus is telling us that everything is all right. You are a part of the little flock. I am with you. Your Father has been pleased to give you, and all those who trust in me as their Savior, the Kingdom of God. God the Father is assuring us that, when we breathe our last breath, we will be with Him in the Kingdom of heaven.
Not long ago, I watched my wife take her last breath, and I wonder what she saw during that moment. Not long after that night, I went to the wedding of her niece, whom she loved so dearly. I thought of my wife during the ceremony, for I knew she would have loved to have been there. However, she was a part of the little flock and is now with Jesus in His Kingdom.
My wife is one to whom the Lord had promised to give the Kingdom, for she was a believer in Christ Jesus. However, we need to remember that not everyone who sits in church on Sunday morning is part of the little flock.
Someone once took a poll of how many people in a worship service on Sunday morning are believers Ð those committed to Jesus Christ and living in a personal relationship with Him. They came up with a figure of around 24%. I’m going to use that figure and play on it, but I don’t have any knowledge of how many are actually in that little flock when it comes to any church.
Of those who are not part of the 24% are those who come to church simply to please others. Often times, when I used to do marriage counseling, I would hear the prospective groom tell me that before he met his fianc, he never went to church. However, he had been coming to worship services every Sunday and planned on joining the congregation. In reality, that young man had no real intentions of joining or continuing to go to church after they were married. He was simply trying to impress upon others that he would become a good part of the church. The preacher cannot tell him, “The Father has given you the Kingdom.” However, he could say, “The Father wants to give you the Kingdom, but you have not accepted it.” But that is quite a bit different.
There are also, of the remaining 76% who are not real believers in Christ Jesus, those who simply enjoy coming to church. It makes them feel good to get the day and the week started right by going to church. They enjoy the quietness and listening to the wonderful music that has endured through the ages, the beautiful organ, and the organist playing it. They love to hear the choir sing the traditional old anthems. These kinds of people believe Christ was a good man, but that’s not the reason they are in church. They come simply for the aesthetics.
Others come to church out of tradition. You hear a lady say, “In our family, we always went to church. I was baptized as a baby and confirmed in my teen years. It is our family’s way of doing things. We never talk much about the faith or being lost or saved in our home, but I am a part of the church.” When she is asked if she has come to the place in her spiritual life where, if she would die tonight, she knows she would go to heaven, she smiles and says, “Oh, I hope so. I’ve tried to live a good life.”
Why do some doubt when Jesus, so clearly in His Word, promises to give us the Kingdom? If is ours, even if we never have really felt it. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are part of God’s little flock.
It can be a challenge to know what to say to a congregation on a Sunday morning when 24%, give or take, are members of the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and others are not. It is my prayer that the sermon has something in it for everyone, and no one will leave that church thinking they could have just as well stayed home. The seed of God’s Word is being planted, and the Holy Spirit is at work. The little flock can be led to feed more on the Word of God so they, then, can reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others. Then others, who for one reason or another have not desired to become part of God’s flock, can be awakened and become different people in Jesus Christ.
This awakening doesn’t always work just in the church building. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son who wanted his share of the inheritance. Although his father pleaded with him not to go away, he went anyway. When he had spent all his money, he went to a farmer, who hired him to live with the pigs and eat what they ate. In the smell and dirt of that environment, he said to himself, “What am I doing here? Even my father’s servants are cared for better than this! I will arise and go back to my father.” This man was being turned around, converted.
When he went back home, his father saw him coming from a long distance away and said, “Rejoice with me, for my son who was dead is alive! He who was lost is found.” The son, in his humility and shame, said to his father, “I am not worthy to be called your child anymore. May I work as one of your hired men?” But the father embraced him and said, “You are my child.”
This is a picture of the forgiveness of sins, God receiving us into his Kingdom. God the Father is making us a part of the little flock that He calls His own. This is the great message of the scriptures, and we are thankful for it.
I thought about this the other day when I read something about Chuck Colson, which I have read many times. Chuck had not been a very good person. He had been connected with bad things in politics and had to go to prison. But before he went, he visited his friend Tom Phillips, Chairman of the Board at Raytheon. Tom was a Christian who had been converted at a Billy Graham Crusade. The seed of the Holy Spirit was planted in Colson’s heart that night. As he was left the home of Mr. Philips, the wealthy man handed him a copy of Mere Christianity, which would turn Colson’s life around. Colson became a part of the little flock, and out of that conversion came the outreach program, Prison Fellowship.
Are you a part of the little flock, which shares so freely with everybody what Jesus Christ alone can do in bringing us into the Kingdom of heaven? Without Him we are lost; but with him, we are His forever.