Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:29a “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?”
Jesus, sending forth the Twelve to do ministry and missions, here takes time to encourage them. Their involvement in kingdom work entails danger. To depict God’s tender loving care for them, our Master used sparrows as an object lesson.
Sparrows, the smallest and least valuable of edible birds, were cheap finger food. They could be purchased live, if a buyer wanted to cook them fresh at home, or could be bought plucked and stuck on skewers, ready to be eaten like kebabs.
The price was right, two for a penny, five for two pennies (Luke 12:6). By paying extra, a sparrow was thrown in free to make a bargain. Sparrows were cheap, not valuable, in people’s eyes a trifle, but in God’s eyes, not trivial. Even the free fifth sparrow, the one thrown in to close a deal, was not forgotten by God.
Matt. 10:29b “And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your
Few things in nature seem less significant than a dying sparrow plummeting to the ground. Nevertheless, God attends the funeral of every fallen sparrow.
Our text does not say a sparrow falls without His knowing about it. This is a valid and accurate observation, but does not convey the precise intent of our text.
God knows, but also somehow vitally interacts, with a sparrow’s fall. Even seemingly callous, capricious laws of nature are not outside Father’s involvement.
What appear to us to be accidents of nature are never off God’s radar screen. He tracks each fowl on the wing, logging every mile they fly. Though birds are as numerous as stars, none of them, not one, is ever lost track of by God. Even birds of no value to people, including the free fifth sparrow, are never forgotten by God.
When gravity draws a dying bird to the ground, God descends in the fall, accompanying the flight as a constant active presence in the moment. In a very real way, God is with dying sparrows. When a bird fulfills its purpose, God gives it a nest in which to die, and the nest is His own soft, infinite presence (Morgan).
Well, this is all interesting and good for ornithologists and bird watchers, but what does it have to do with you and me? Everything!! If God is engaged in every small incident in a sparrow’s life, He is also intimately involved in our lives.
God is aware of every incident, however little, in our lives. They are not outside His knowledge, nor are they outside His care and involvement. Whatever minutia hurts us grieves the Father, draws Him near, and engages His intervention.
I desperately need this truth branded deep in me. In worship last Sunday we wrote on cards what we feel keeps us from growing in Christ. I wrote on my card “Distrust. I need to trust Jesus more.” To these verses about God’s interest in us I come with a profound spirit of humility. I approach them more as student eager to learn than as accomplished teacher. I must make progress in trusting Christ more.
My personal quest is not primarily focused on gaining increased knowledge about God’s ways, though this is a worthy goal. My chief objective is increased faith in God’s ways. Facts alone do not provide answers adequate for our frailties.
“If I understood God, he could not be the true God. . . .When I cannot climb, I kneel. Where I cannot build an observatory, I set up an altar” (Spurgeon).
We do want increased knowledge, but along with it we crave deeper peace, stronger confidence. We want to trust God more in every part, every inch, of life.
We yearn to draw closer to this One whose involvement in our lives is punctual and particular, whose omnipotence and omniscience make His interaction with us universal. Finite minds fumble with Infinity, yet long to love it anyway.
Our Father does not flit in and out of lives, stopping by only on occasions when He thinks He has time, and feels a need to deal with some matter of huge importance. God does not take care of big things and leave little things to chance.
The two are in fact indistinguishable. What we deem important often fizzles into being trivial. What we see as insignificant may change the course of history.
The Bible records two events that occurred at Dothan (GN 37:17; 2 K 6:13). Here Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and Elisha’s scared servant saw the mountain filled with God’s protecting horses and chariots of fires. The latter, a huge miracle, is often told to inspire confidence in God. Joseph being sold into slavery isn’t as exciting a story, but God used it to save the whole nation of Israel.
From our limited viewpoint, we can’t predict if an event, however trivial or important it seems to us, will prove huge or not. In high school, I rode horses one Sunday afternoon. I so chafed the insides of my thighs that I preached that night with my legs bowed to keep my pants from galling my skin. You may laugh it off as insignificant, but due to this, months later I did not go ride horses on a Sunday afternoon with a college revival team. One other student also chose not to go, for reasons I don’t know. We two were put in an elderly couple’s home that afternoon and fell in love. Ruth and I are wed today because we chose not to go horse back riding one afternoon in Ellington MO. Let us rejoice in serving a God engaged in each moment, each detail, each incident, of life. We must come to trust Him in all.
We need this blessed assurance, for tough times await us. God watches and cares, but sparrows still fall. Even in the Lord’s holy work itself, troubles dog our steps. Sometimes God wills His servants to suffer and yea to die. The Lord said of Saul of Tarsus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (AC 9:16 NAS). It helps us to know in all of life, but especially in doing ministry and missions, nothing bad can happen to us without our Father knowing about it in advance, allowing it to come, and accompanying it to us with His own dear presence. Harm can befall us only if God sees good reason for it to come our way.
In our text, Jesus was sending the Twelve on a dangerous mission, a microcosm of what their life work would become. In later years, they all were hurt, and most died, for their dear Savior’s cause. Come life or come death, they needed to know Jesus would be engaged with them. We too need to know this.
Recently one of our church’s beloved missionaries, Alicia Lindsay, fell 25 feet from a rooftop. She was badly hurt, but God spared her life. We all rejoice and with one voice acknowledge God’s intervention in rescuing our beloved Alicia from death in India. Father plunged with her as she fell, and caught her.
What if Alicia had died? Would we have been less likely to acknowledge God’s involvement in her fall? What about our four Southern Baptist missionaries recently assassinated in Yemen and the Philippines? Was God less with them than He was with our dear Alicia? Her parents have discussed this death scenario. Her dad told me, when Alicia left they committed her to God’s care, come life or death.
Master knew this would be difficult for us to grasp. It’s tough to think of people giving their lives to the Lord’s service and then watch them suffer and die.
To prove His involvement even in these situations, in what we would call a worst case scenario, Jesus appeared at the death of the first martyr in Acts (7:55). As Stephen died a martyr’s death, Master stood in respect and let His standing be seen. The sight speaks comfort into our darkest hours. If we believe God is with us in situations this inexplicable, we can believe He is with us in every difficulty.
MacArthur tells of Nero picking an elite guard of wrestlers and soldiers from Rome’s finest athletes. Their motto was, “We wrestlers wrestle for you, O Emperor, to win for you the victory and from you the victor’s crown.” When forty became Christians, Nero ordered their commander Vespasian to execute any who did not renounce Christ. They were camped by a frozen lake in the dead of winter. Vespasian gave them 24 hours to recant, but none did. To spare them being killed by their comrades, they were ordered to disrobe and walk naked out onto the ice at night. Soldiers on shore heard triumphant singing, “Forty wrestlers wrestling for You, O Christ, to win for You the victory, and from You the victor’s crown.” The singing grew weaker through the night. One soldier walked back, his faith too weak to face death. By then, singing could barely be heard, “Thirty-nine wrestlers wrestling for You, O Christ.” Vespasian was so moved that he threw off his armor and clothes and marched out to join the others, shouting, “Forty wrestlers wrestling for You, O Christ, to win for You the victory and from You the victor’s crown.” Yes, sometimes the sparrow falls and dies, but never without the Father.