From Rachel: I apologize for the lack of a new blog post last week. Health reasons prevented me from writing, but I’m glad to be back this week!
Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground [apart from your Father]. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:28-31)
In this chapter so far, we’ve seen that Jesus sent his disciples out on mission with the full knowledge that they would face rejection and serious persecution, even to the point of death. He was clear and honest about the consequences of following him and preaching his message.
But starting in verse 26, he turned from warning them to encouraging them.
They didn’t need to be afraid, he said — but not because God would sovereignly step in to prevent the bad things from happening.
Not the Answer We Want, But Answers that Are True
I have to be honest and say that Jesus didn’t give the answers I would choose. I would rather he promised miraculous protection from evil at all times. I would rather he said that nothing bad would ever happen to his people, that we would be kept perfectly safe and comfortable in every circumstance.
But he didn’t. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples not to fear because God would prevent bad things from happening to them. On the contrary, he told them the bad things WOULD happen.
From a human standpoint, it would frequently look as though the enemy was winning and God’s people were losing.
Instead, he told them not to fear for four reasons. They aren’t the reasons we might choose, but they are true, and therefore we can find real hope and strength in them.
Don’t Fear, Because Eternity Changes Everything
First, Jesus told his disciples not to fear because their enemies could not kill their souls, only their bodies.
Put simply, eternity changes everything. If we truly are destined to live forever, nothing that happens to us in this infinitesimal point in time can have any real power to hurt us as long as we remain connected to God.
In the moment, pain hurts. The things that happen to us can be excruciating, even — in a sense — soul destroying. But God’s promise is that he will keep us — that he will care for us and keep us whole despite the worst things that can happen during this earthly life.
No human being has the power to hurt us beyond the grave or take away our source of life. (“Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” Paul later said.) So no human being or force of evil can have ultimate power over us, no matter how it may look in the moment.
Don’t Be Afraid, Because God Is at Work
Second, as we saw in the last post, there is an apocalyptic (revelatory) dimension to our suffering. In light of eternity, not only is any damage the enemy can do extraordinarily limited, but God is often working great victories through apparent loss. Just look at the cross.
In this sense, the book of Job has an apocalyptic quality. Job only knew that everything in his life suddenly went wrong. He didn’t know that all of heaven was watching and rooting for him. He didn’t know that Satan (not God) was attacking him, or that God himself had openly and confidently put his trust in Job — the greatest honor any human being could ever be given. And he didn’t know how things would turn out.
When Job thought God had rejected him, God was actually boasting in him. And when Job thought his life had been reduced to ash, to the point that he believed he would be better off dead, God was making plans to bless him in the future far beyond anything he had known in the past.
Don’t Fear, Because God Is There
Third, Jesus told them not to be afraid because God was with them even in their moment of greatest suffering, loss, and helplessness.
The Bible translation I’m primarily using for this series, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, renders Jesus’ words in verse 29 as “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.”
Instead, I’ve chosen to quote the literal translation found in the margin — “not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.”
If you survey different translations, you’ll find a number of different ways to express what Jesus said here. And it’s true that the Greek can bear the sense of someone willing or consenting to something. But it can also simply mean what it says in the plainest English — that when sparrows fall, God is there with them.
I believe this is true. God is the giver of life, all life. When life is lost, I don’t believe it happens apart from God’s presence.
Not even sparrows die alone.
Of everything Jesus said here, this comforts me most deeply. In some mysterious sense, God is always present in suffering and in death. I can face almost anything if I don’t have to face it alone. Jesus promises us that we will never be abandoned by our Father. God can go with us where people cannot.
Do Not Be Afraid, Because You Are of Great Value
Finally, Jesus told his disciples not to fear because they were valuable to God.
This was not, Jesus assured them, just a casual kind of valuing. God doesn’t just like us or think we’re okay; he knows us deeply and intimately, and he is keeping track of everything that happens to us.
The reference to numbering hairs means that God has taken a detailed inventory of who you are and counts every part of you as precious and valuable, including the perishable parts of you. Through resurrection, he promises to restore everythingthat is lost.
What was true for Jesus’ first disciples remains true for us today. God’s people will and do suffer, but we are never to think we are forgotten or unseen in our suffering. God is keeping track, and God will make everything right in time.
It’s not a promise to protect us from all hardship, but it is true. And it is enough to give us the strength we need to keep faith with God even in the hardest times.
This is Part 150 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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