Whom Do You Fear?

Matthew 10:26-31

Audio Version

One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, “The big sissy!” 5-year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn’t want to go in alone. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared.” She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, “It’s OK–Jesus will be in there with you.” Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?” We fear many things, do we not? We fear unemployment. We fear bad weather. We fear the lack of money. We fear other people. We fear what they might say about us. We fear what they might do to us. Jesus tells us that these fears are needless. Only one fear is necessary, and that is the fear of God. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Jesus tells us here that we are to fear God and not man.

In the context, Jesus has been telling us about persecution. A disciple is not greater than his Master, and so we can expect to be persecuted in our lifetimes. Persecution, however, is a scary word for most of us who have lived in comparative comfort all our lives. So, when we hear that persecution is normal and to be expected, we can easily become afraid. I have often thought about how I would respond if someone held me at gunpoint and asked me, “Do you believe in God? If you do, I will shoot you.” That has happened to many people, even here in America. It happened at Columbine High School when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold asked Rachel Craig if she believed in God. When she said yes, they said, “Then go be with Him,” and shot her in the head, killing her instantly. She feared God rather than man.

Jesus tells us here that everything will be made known. He is not referring to the Final Judgment, however. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus did not want His ministry to be generally known. The reason for that was that He did not want people crowning Him king over the land of Israel, when He wanted His kingdom to be a spiritual kingdom. That is why He often told people not to tell anyone about their miraculous healings. So, right now, Jesus is telling people in secret. However, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when His kingdom is established as a spiritual kingdom, and there is no possibility left for Him to be made a physical king, then the apostles are to tell in broad daylight what was hidden before. There is a time, Jesus says, for things to be whispered. But then, there is a time for the truth of Christ to be emblazoned in front of the whole world.

But we fear the consequences of that, do we not? Now is the time for the truth of Christ to be proclaimed, and yet we hold back out of fear oftentimes. Christ tells us that we need not fear. After all, the very worst thing they could possibly do to you is kill your body. Jesus tells us that we are not to be overly concerned about when we die. God is sovereign. We will not die one day earlier than God has decreed. Actually believing this is what enabled General Stonewall Jackson to be completely calm even in the midst of unbelievable horror and devastation around him. He knew that he was just as safe in the middle of battle as he was when he was asleep, since his God would ensure that he did not die one day earlier than God had decreed.

Instead of fearing man, we should fear God. God can destroy both body and soul in hell. Literally, the Greek says “the Valley of Hinnom.” Hinnom was a valley just outside of Jerusalem where all the trash and refuse was burned. It became a metaphor for the eternal punishment of hell itself. We have a choice, in other words. We can either fear man, in which case we will wind up serving an eternity of punishment in hell, or we can fear God, in which case we may or may not experience intense persecution in this life, but none whatsoever in the life to come. And we cannot fear both. Jesus offers us here a stark choice.

However, Jesus does give us some help in making the choice. Verse 29 tells us about sparrows. Two sparrows were sold for a penny. The penny here is a coin worth about 1/16 of a denarius, which was minimum wage for most employees at the time. They were the least expensive bird that you could buy on the market. They didn’t provide much meat, and yet for many people that was all they could afford. We might say that two sparrows would sell for $5. Jesus says that even they cannot fall to the ground unless the Father wills it. Literally, the text says, “without your Father.” The Father is with the sparrow as it falls to the ground. In other words, Jesus is saying that even sparrows are important to the Father. And if they are important, how much are you important. After all, you are made in the image of God, and sparrows are not.

Jesus uses another illustration to drive home the point. The hairs on our head are all numbered. Most people have about 140,000 hairs on their head. That sounds like a lot of hair! It would take you quite a while to count them all, if you even could. Hairs often fall out of our head without our even knowing it. But God knows and has decreed even that smallest of events! So, if God is sovereign over even the smallest things, then He is certainly sovereign over our lives! How often we think that He is not sovereign. We think that man can somehow thwart God. We think that man can hold up his little finger to God and say, “Thus far shall you go, and no further.” That is whistling in the dark. The Scripture teaches the exact opposite. God is in control, and He will certainly stay in control. God controls the smallest details of our lives, even down to the very hairs on our head. Not one of them falls to the ground without our heavenly Father having decreed it.

You can then imagine Jesus smiling as He says that we are worth more than many sparrows. He is not saying that sparrows are worthless. Rather, Jesus is saying that if the Father values even the smallest sparrow, even the smallest hair on your head, then how much more does He value your person. The application of that truth is that the sovereignty of God should be the basis for why we can bear up under persecution. Because God is sovereign over the sparrow, over the hairs of our head, and most importantly, over our entire person, both body and soul, therefore we should fear God, and not man.

A great illustration of this can be found in Acts 5, where these very disciples whom Jesus was teaching here, put into practice the principles taught them by their Lord. They had been arrested several times by the Jewish authorities already. This time, the high priest unloaded on them. He yelled at them that they had been still preaching these ideas, when the high priests had strictly charged them not to do so. Peter and the other apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” The reason Peter gives is that even though the high priests put Christ to death (and Jesus tells us that men will sometimes put us to death), God is the God of resurrection. Men may kill the body. But that is a paltry power indeed when placed side by side with the sovereign power over death that God has in resurrecting Jesus Christ from the dead. Ultimately, that is our hope. We need not fear death, because Christ has gone through it and has come out the other side. You see, in our passage, there is absolutely nothing that Jesus tells us that He hasn’t already done Himself. He feared God rather than men. He feared the One who can destroy body and soul in hell more than He feared the men who were putting Him to death on the cross. And so, Jesus leads us by example. All those who have confessed the name of Jesus Christ before men will have their names confessed by Jesus before the world, as Jesus Himself tells us. That implies that the resurrection will happen. So, Rachel Craig feared God rather than man. Polycarp, the early church father, feared God, when the Romans asked him to deny his God, and he replied that he had served His God for 87 years, and His God had done only good to him all his life. How could he deny his Lord now? Has not God done good to you all your life? Do not measure your life by the hard things that have happened, for we deserve far worse than we get. Rather look at all that God has done in your life. I think if you do that, you will agree that you are worth more than many sparrows, and that God has numbered the very hairs on your head, and has given you the way of salvation. Walk in it.