If God is for me . . . who can be against me?

Sparrow . . .

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Do Not Be Afraid!

by Ted E. Bowling
Forerunner, "Ready Answer," October 26, 2022

 

 

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” (Matthew 10:29)

 

 

Not long ago, at the end of a day of inspections in eastern Georgia, I stopped to fuel my vehicle. As I stood pumping the gas, a sparrow landed about five feet away and began pecking on some crumbs, seemingly unafraid of me. I watched him for several minutes until he flew off out of sight.

 

I could not help thinking of Jesus’ words in Matthew and Luke informing us that our great God is mindful of this little bird. It seemed a little ironic that the whole nation fears increasing gas prices, worrying how they will cope if the gas crisis continues, and this tiny, vulnerable bird simply goes about his daily search for food without a care. It is especially ironic because Jesus uses the sparrow to teach us not to fret but trust Him in all things. He says in Matthew 10:31, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

 

Jesus chose this diminutive bird to answer the questions: Does God really notice us? Does He watch over us and love and care for each of us?

 

An Insignificant Bird

 

Understanding the context of Matthew 10 is helpful. At its beginning, Matthew lists the names of the apostles Jesus called and then launches into His instructions regarding their commission to do God’s work (verses 1-10). Within His instructions are warnings that their lives will not be easy. Many people would not be receptive to their message, and the apostles would have to learn to deal with it (verses 11-15).

 

In the next section (verses 16-24), He tells them directly that they will face persecution. They will suffer trials and difficult days, but He also comforts them three times—in verses 26, 28, and 31—saying, “Do not fear.” In so doing, Jesus reassures them that God was with them every step of their journey.

 

In Matthew 10:29-31 and in Luke’s version of the same event (Luke 12:6-7), Jesus uses the example of the sparrow to teach that nothing escapes the attention of our loving God. Why did Christ choose the sparrow? Sparrows are not majestic or powerful like raptors but just the opposite: Sparrows are extremely vulnerable, especially susceptible to birds of prey like falcons, hawks, and eagles.

 

Sparrows are small and nondescript. A sparrow’s average length is only five to six inches long, and one of the tiny creatures weighs less than an ounce. And most often, they go unnoticed even though they number in the billions (1.6 billion house sparrows are estimated to exist around the globe, and there are 28 true-sparrow species). They are drab brown and blend in with the ground, dry grass, or scrub.

 

I love to watch the cardinals perching in the small tree in our front yard, and in the trees behind our house, a family of blue jays often captures my attention until they fly off. Sparrows are there too, up on the powerline or hopping in the yard, but my eyes rarely rest on them. There is little to them to hold a person’s attention. They cannot match the brilliance of colored plumage other songbirds sport.

 

No one prizes sparrows. No one gets excited when one flies into sight. No one pays big money to import a pair from abroad. People do not keep them in cages for their pleasant song; in fact, their “song” is more of a squawk. To put it bluntly, the sparrow is probably the most insignificant of all birds.

 

Yet, it is for this very reason that Jesus used them to teach the apostles about God’s watchful care over them and us today.

 

A Worthless Bird

 

The two instances of Jesus’ comments about sparrows say much the same thing, although a few minor details are different:

 

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

 

 

Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

 

As Jesus often does, He uses an example that His contemporary audience would have easily understood. Vendors sold sparrows in first-century markets as food for the lower class, and Jesus draws on this common marketplace transaction to make His point.

 

As mentioned above, sparrows are tiny; they typically weigh less than an ounce. One would hardly be a mouthful, and what is more, their nutritional value is meager. The sparrow was indeed a poor man’s food, and even several of them would hardly make a decent meal.

 

It is easy to understand how little value they had in the Roman-era marketplace. No one would get rich selling pairs of sparrows for a copper coin, typically the lowest-value coins, similar in value to our modern penny. These tiny birds hold even less value today since modern people do not use them as food.

 

Luke takes matters a step further by saying that for two copper coins, one could buy not only the expected four sparrows, but the merchant would throw in a fifth sparrow for free! It is as if the fifth sparrow had no value at all. The fifth sparrow was literally worthless, yet Jesus says God does not overlook even it. Luke writes, “And not one of them is forgotten before God.”

 

It is difficult to comprehend how this is possible. But we can take this amazing watchfulness of God even further.

 

God Sees Everything

 

Matthew phrases what Jesus says a little differently: “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29).

 

The word “falls” (Strong’s #4098) is translated from the Greek word: piptō, which has the basic meaning of “to descend from a higher place to a lower one,” thus, “to fall.” For example, when the young man Eutychus “fell” from the third story of a house in Troas, the word Luke uses is a form of piptō. Luke also uses it to describe a donkey or an ox falling into a well (Luke 14:5), and Matthew uses it of a house falling or not falling due to flooding (Matthew 7:25, 27).

 

Alternatively, it can mean “to light upon.” The more common usage in Scripture is “to fall,” but this connotation is worth considering.

 

Most people assume that Jesus means that God notices when a sparrow falls to the earth and dies. This understanding is natural. But William Barclay’s commentary on Matthew 10:29 and this particular word are noteworthy:

 

The Revised Standard Version—and it is a perfectly correct translation of the Greek—has it that not one sparrow will fall to the ground without the knowledge of God. In such a context, the word fall makes us naturally think of death; but in all probability the Greek is a translation of an Aramaic word which means to light upon the ground. 

 

 

It is not that God marks the sparrow when the sparrow falls dead; it is far more; it is that God marks the sparrow every time it lights and hops upon the ground. So it is Jesus’ argument that if God cares like that for sparrows, [H]e will care much more for men and women. (Emphasis his.)

 

Jesus is declaring that if God cares enough to notice and acknowledge when the millions and millions of these little, brown-feathered birds light upon the ground, then how much more does He care for us, His children, whom He has made in His image?

 

His point is that we should never think of God as distant and uncaring. No matter what we may be experiencing in life, God is aware of it. When we have times of suffering, sorrow, persecution, hardship, separation, or even death, God is not somewhere else. He is right there with us.

 

In each text, Jesus gives hope, comfort, and strength to His disciples for when they would face persecution for preaching the gospel. He wants the disciples and us today to be much more focused on God and His will than the opinions of those who may test or discourage us.

 

We do not know if the disciples grasped what Jesus was telling them then, but in time, they learned from their experiences and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We can see it in I Peter 3:13-14 where the apostle encourages the church with the same thought:

 

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”

 

 

Peter had no doubt that God knows everything; nothing escapes His recognition or understanding. He knows our every thought, every action, every circumstance, and every experience—good or bad. And he adds, “you are blessed,” knowing God’s protection and compassion are endless.

 

We live in an age when God’s love and care are continually questioned, privately and publicly. But if we believe God’s Word, we show a lack of faith when we allow ourselves to think He has less compassion for us than He has for the little sparrow.

 

Worthless But Chosen

 

It is encouraging that, right in the middle of the sparrow analogy, Jesus says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Jesus puts His disciples dead-center in this analogy about sparrows.

 

Our Savior is saying God knows us better than we know ourselves. Do we know how many hairs are on our heads? Of course, those who are follicly-challenged have a far easier time counting. Yet, no matter how much hair we may have, God knows!

 

And we can be sure that His knowledge does not end with the number of hairs on our heads! God knows everything about us and cares about our every body part, thought, word, and action, and He still loves us.

 

We are like sparrows. Compared to the number of people who live on earth, compared to the great and the near great among humanity, we are so small and insignificant. Most of all, in comparison to God, we are literally worthless. We can offer Him nothing of value. Even our highest thoughts and ideas are meaningless. Paul makes this point for us in I Corinthians 1:27-29:

 

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

 

 

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus chose, not the strong, powerful, stately eagle but the sparrow, the weak and base of the bird family, to make His point. In the larger setting of His purpose, He has chosen you and me, the truly weak and base, those who are nothing special among human beings.

 

But the key words are in Paul’s repeated phrase, “God has chosen.”

 

We did not volunteer to become His elect. God has chosen us. We did not have any special skills or abilities that impressed Him. God has chosen us despite our insignificance. We did not have any stature in society to advance His work. God has chosen us out of obscurity. God chose those who were foolish, base, despised, and nothing.

 

From the beginning, the sovereign God has been working (John 5:17), creating godly children in His image and character. He has set us apart for a special purpose, sanctifying us, a process that takes a lifetime of constant refinement. He tests us, honing our ability to endure and resist sin, purifying and perfecting our character, and bringing us ever closer to His own righteousness.

 

Throughout that lifetime of refinement, God is there with us, watching over us and loving us. He is neither distant nor uncaring. In fact, just the opposite, as Jesus tells us in Luke 12.32: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

 

This term, “Do not fear,” or similar ones like “fear not” or “do not be afraid,” appears over a hundred times in Scripture. By this repetition, God is driving home a point. Do we believe it?

 

Jesus wants us to be much more concerned with the will of our heavenly Father than the opinions of those that may test or discourage us. Every church member needs and desires encouragement from time to time, and we can find no greater encourager than God. Nothing is more encouraging than reading about God’s sure promises in His Word, like those we see in Matthew 10 and Luke 12 about the sparrow.

 

God does not forget us, not even for one minute—and definitely not when we are suffering under trials. One of the most heartening scriptures is Hebrews 13:5, where God Himself assures us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

Sparrows will never know that a loving God watches over them constantly and never forgets them. They have no idea He notices when they simply light upon the ground.

 

But we know. We know our great God is aware of us at every moment of the day and knows what is happening in our lives down to the smallest detail.

 

Why? Because, in His eyes, we are worth far more than many sparrows.

 

Sparrows, do not be afraid!

 

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Latest comments

08.09 | 23:52

Thank you for this! You might enjoy my take on the whole 'Christmas' story, not born on Dec 25th etc,
https://tranzmachine.bandcamp.com/track/a-saviour-born

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17.03 | 00:11

Praise God! He is so good to all of us!

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16.03 | 15:20

I needed to hear this today. Its been sooo very difficult for a long time honestly asked God if I was the toxic one and just didn't realize it so I could repent

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11.01 | 20:32

this is so beautiful and such a testimony to the Lord's healing power and sanctification through our suffering. Much of my walk with Christ is similar to yours.

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