Read Matthew 10:26-31 with your family.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
In the past couple of weeks, we have been talking a lot about trusting God. But in order to trust God well, we need to know something about the God that we are trusting; you can’t trust someone you don’t know.
In this passage, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the opposition that will come as they proclaim the Gospel among the towns of Israel. But what he says about fear applies to Christians in all generations. Jesus says that we shouldn’t fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, we should fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. By the way, Jesus mentions hell more than any other writer in the New Testament. The doctrine of hell wasn’t invented by the church; Jesus himself taught it.
There is something worse than the death of the body – the eternal death of body and soul in hell. This has been forgotten by secular Western culture. It is even forgotten by Christians when we are more concerned about personal comfort and social standing than we are about our spiritual condition.
Why have we forgotten? I think there are two reasons: we don’t take God seriously, and we don’t take our sin seriously. First, we don’t honor God as holy and truly worthy of worship and fear; instead, we prefer to treat him like a buddy or like Santa Claus. We’ve domesticated God. Second, we don’t see our sin as a personal offense against God. To us, sin is nothing more than an honest mistake, rather than rebellion against the goodness and love of a holy God. If we think that God isn’t that great and our sin isn’t that bad, then of course we won’t fear him.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asks about the lion Aslan:
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That is the kind of fear we ought to have for God. God cannot be tamed; he cannot be domesticated. We fear God because he is good. This is the answer to all our other fears. Why are we afraid of what other people think of us? Why do we fear failing to get into college? Why do we fear sickness and death? The answer is: because we do not have the fear of God in us. If we are to have boldness in the face of evil and disaster, then we must learn to fear God once again.
Now, Jesus could have stopped with fearing God, but he doesn’t. He wants to show us how fearing God casts out all other fears. Look at what he says next: “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
I used to think that Jesus was emphasizing the value of human life – of course, you and I are worth more than a sparrow. Genesis tells us that human beings bear the image of God, which is not said of any other creature in creation. All of that is true.
But notice that Jesus places just as much emphasis on the kindness and goodness of God. He says that the death of a single sparrow will not escape the attention of God. How many sparrows have died today? Do you know? Do you care? God even knows the exact number of hairs on your head. When was the last time you counted how many hairs you have?
Job 38 & 39 make a similar point (take some time this week to meditate on these two chapters):
39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?
God looks after things that we would regard as irrelevant or insignificant – sparrows, ants, lion cubs, baby ravens, the hairs on your head. He comprehends things that we cannot even begin to understand. He is personally involved in upholding every detail of creation. As Mr. Beaver says, God is good and he’s the King.
So, we see that God is not only more understanding and more powerful than we are. God is also more compassionate. He is kinder than we are. God’s love is greater than our love. Therefore, Jesus says to us, Do not be afraid; do not fear. When we fear God, when we are in a right relationship with him, the fear of God casts out all other fears.
1 John 4:18 says, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Does this contradict what we’ve been saying about the fear of God? No. For John, the fear that is cast out is the fear that has to do with punishment. This is the fear that makes demons shudder before God (James 2:19). This is the fear that comes upon a sinner when he is first convicted of his sinfulness. But John says that this is the kind of fear that is cast out when we come to know God’s love.
What is the perfect love that casts out fear? 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” We do not need to fear punishment for our sin because Jesus has offered himself as a sacrifice for us, in our place. That’s what it means for Jesus to be a “propitiation.” God forgives us and accepts us for the sake of his Son Jesus, who died and rose again. This is the perfect love that casts out fear. If God gave his Son to save us while we were still in our sin, how much more will he deliver us from all things, even death itself?
Discuss: What are some of the things you currently fear? How does the fear of God (rightly understood) address those concerns?
The challenge for Christians in a time like this is to continue thanking God even in hardship. Yes, we must pour out our hearts to God, even as Hannah did with much anguish and tears. We must mourn with those who mourn. But even as we do this, our hearts must be filled with gratitude.
Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, ESV).
Some of you are facing the loss of the rest of your school year – plans to celebrate with friends, graduation, maybe vacations or trips. Though I pray that this is not the case, some of you may know friends or family members who have lost their jobs or are even losing their health. Are you still able to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the LORD”?
Discuss: What’s something that you should be thanking God for right now?